Melbourne, Australia

After an unbelievable stretch of coastal road we finally got to Melbourne.  Melbourne is unique, at least unique to us, because it combines a sense of individuality, soul and artisticness with a big city backdrop, boasting 4 million people.  Melbourne also cascades itself to other regions that feel completely different due to the tranquil beaches, ethereal vineyards and charming suburbs. 

The people were also crazy friendly.  Granted we were staying at a hotel and they’re supposed to be that way, but they were genuinely cool.  People on the trolley, in cabs, at restaurants, on the street, you name it, pretty much wherever we went.  Sure we were turned away from trying to bring in our own bottle of wine, which burned a hole in Skyler, the whole night, but the Counting Crows concert we saw helped ease that pain.

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentleman, the voice and music behind such hits as Long December, Hanginaround, Round Here (which we missed) and Mr. Jones (which they didn’t play… unreal), were live and in color for us to enjoy.  Leah thought they were really good, Skyler, just average, but it was still a fun show in an intimate venue. 

Melbourne wasn’t all smiles and (no) Mr. Jones, as it had a steady overcast and rainy presence most of our six day visit.  However, we did manage to rent one of the Hotel’s SmartCars and venture to wine country in the Yarra Valley, which if the wine tasted half as good as the vineyards looked, we would literally have found nirvana for wine-o’s everywhere.  The cheese, however, was insanely good.  Just ask Leah.

Two of our favorite highlights came in the form of an AFL match, or game of ‘Footy’, as they call it, which pitted rivals Geelong vs. Hawthorne.  In one of the most lopsided scores in the last decade of their meetings, we and the other 75k enjoyed an Easter Monday bit of entertainment.  The second, was the Mornington Peninsula.  Located in southern Melbourne, this place had it all.  Awesome beaches, cute towns, appeal, and these amazing sheds full of color called bath boxes.  Located directly on some of the beaches, each individual bath box has no power, water or windows, but earns its keep by storing people’s beach gear so they don’t have to lug anything with.  While we’re told these things hardly go up for sale, when they do, all 64 colorful square feet go for $500k and up!

Melbourne, we have unfinished business.  When the weather cooperates, we’re coming back!

Great Ocean Road, Australia

Cow pasture.  Sheep pasture.  More cows.  More sheep.  It was an interesting start to our over 560 mile road trip from the Barossa Valley to Melbourne, indeed.  But it wasn’t before long when we started to see the Australian flare of Kangaroos and some Joey’s hopping, giving way to luscious shades of green, and crystal embers of blue coastline, when we finally realized, this is the Great Ocean Road.  And great it was.

See, most people start in Melbourne and drive until Port Ferry before making a U-turn and heading back to the city of ‘Melbs.’  Our route, while a bit less traveled, took us through some of the most majestic and pristine quaint’s, what the locals refer to as old-fashioned, small towns, with equally stunning coastlines.  Our first stop took us to Robe, which had we planned more than three days and two nights, we would have spent one of our nights there.  There, we casually strolled down the city center flanked by charming boutiques and cool eateries and watering holes.  We snapped a few pictures, hit the information center for some essential maps, which Leah can swiftly and precisely untangle like a human Ovaltine secret decoder ring, and off we went for our next stop, which we had yet to figure out. 

One other thing to point out is we had zero accommodations booked, since we figured there would be more options than we knew what to do with.  Wrong.  It just so happened that we timed it perfectly to coincide with Australia’s second biggest holiday, Easter (Christmas takes the first spot), where they help themselves to a 4-day weekend (Easter Monday, really??) and two weeks if you’re a student.  And of course they too travel along the Great Ocean Road.  If the movie The Perfect Storm had a sequel it would actually be a documentary of our decision on how to time this road trip.  But hey, that’s part of the fun; and fun is what we had when we rolled into the tiny town of Nelson after a quick eight hours of driving.  After getting turned away from lodge after lodge either due to the fact they were insultingly expensive or wouldn’t be working the following day due to Easter Eve (no joke), we were literally strategizing how we would sleep in our car.  Not this time, however, as the most happening pub/liquor store in town, which was the only pub/liquor store in town, had rooms in back!  $65 AUD gets you your own room with a quasi-waterbed and a shared bathroom.  It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to our day and the people who ran the bar and restaurant couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming.  Truly a fantastic experience, especially when you think about how we ended up there.  We give Leah credit for her sixth sense to even ask them if they had rooms.

Waking up bright and early for day two, we started to see the GRO come to life even more with stop offs for the Bay of Isles and 12 Apostles.  We enjoyed some of the most scenic beauty of our trip with jagged rocks jetting out and rising up from the ocean.  So ridiculously beautiful.  As we moved east towards Melbourne, we planned to stop in Port Ferry and Apollo Bay.  Port Ferry was amazingly quaint.  This place probably has more forgotten charm and character than most places will ever know.  It literally had us saying “wow… this place is unreal”.  After all, it is appropriately named “The World’s Most Livable Town.”  This is another place we would have made a stopover at; and if any of you do this drive, you must make time for this town.  So far everything was going according to the unplanned and Apollo Bay was to be a lunch spot before rolling into one of the other cities we had pegged as stopovers for the night in Anglesea, Lorne and Torquay (pronounced Tor-Key). 

Why those places you ask?  Well for one, Torquay had to be a stop on the third day before we headed to Melbourne so Skyler could watch the Rip Curl Pro at the famous Bells Beach.  See, we told you we timed everything up perfectly, right?  And while Skyler’s limited knowledge of surfing is only rivaled by his lack of surfing ability, we just had to make this a stop along our journey.  The other towns were described too awesomely in our guide books to miss out on.  Plus, we had finally hit some of the best the GRO had to offer, which was beyond cool with its long stretches of glittering beach.  But we hit a bit of a hiccup in Apollo Bay as the whole hotel room thing was an issue.  We were faced with a potential evening in one Hyundai coupe or driving pretty much all the way to Melbourne where we had to end up anyway.  Things were not working out.  Before giving up entirely, we thought we’d stop at another pub and hope they had rooms.  And when we asked about accommodations, Simon, whose ear Skyler would end up chatting off, simply stated that they’re a pub, not a motel, but there was one across the street we could check out.  Oops.  Anyway, we walked across the way and grabbed one of the last two rooms they had available.  Jackpot!  We then went back to the pub for some much needed grub. 

On the third morning, things were going swimmingly.  The clouds lifted and gave way to immaculate sunshine.  We drove through a Sherwood Forest-like patch of road with trees leaning over each side as if they were knighting us in the form of a tube and spitting us out right to Bells Beach for the Rip Curl Pro... that was cancelled that day.  Seriously guys?  Oh well, we still spent the $2 to park and walk down to the beach to see the locals show off their skills.  Pretty bitchin’ to see perfect sets of waves pumping into a small cove of beach.  Plus, the city of Torquay was incredibly rad as well.  Home to the founders of Quiksilver and Rip Curl, it reminded Skyler of what North County (San Diego) must have been like in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

As we drew closer to our destination of Melbourne, we were smiling from ear-to-ear deeply feeling how cool our little road trip was, the unbeknownst adventure and awesome people we met along the way.  We could have spent a week doing the GRO, as it seemed that every 50 miles there was a turn off to indulge in one memorable activity after another, but it just gives us, and hopefully some of you, a reason to get out there and see it again or for the very first time.

On to Melbourne.  Check back soon for more…

Cape Town, South Africa

Hey All!  

Trying a different format for this installment as there was so much coolness to capture in Cape Town.  The ‘Mother City’ blew our minds and nurtured our souls. 

Day 1 

Our hotel and room is definitely out of architectural digest.  It is posh.  It has loads of international art.  It oozes character, down to the creaky stairs.  It has a rainfall shower head that might rival a lunar eclipse.  IT was a fraction of the price, after Skyler negotiated a sweet deal.   I mean who in their right mind is going to turn down two amateur bloggers preparing to write about their city and not want to help shape that vision by scoring them a sweet deal on a hotel?!  Plenty, I'm sure, but fortunately Cape Heritage wasn't one of them.  We were absolutely blown away.  This is by far the most luxurious place we've stayed at.  Oh, and the fresh baked whole grain bread every morning… so good the butter was excited!

Day 2

We found our beloved red bus again to get a glimpse of what we'd get to explore over the next 10 days in Cape Town.  Battling some serious wind and a bit of rain, we were both literally and figuratively blown away with how uniquely gorgeous this place is.  Markets at the Waterfront were something else.  With one section offering amazing art, jewelry and hand crafted pieces of imagination, and the other a bazaar of world food and delight.

Day 3

So day three came around and we decided we are moving here.  We went to wine country in Constantia, part of the Winelands.  The vineyards have million dollar views and equally as valuable wine.  By the second winery, with their quaint backyard setting and brilliant cheese plate, we phoned the nearest real estate agent.

Day 4

As we arrived at the foot of the mountain, we looked up, searching for where there might be a trail for anything but a Billy Goat to actually hike this sheer wall of rock.  As we started the hike, we did indeed find a trail, one consumed with rocks and boulders.  As we're grasping with our hands and pulling ourselves up, Skyler pants out, "This is so steep, it would make steep jealous." Welcome to Table Mountain.  Sure there is a little cable car that will take you up to the top in 8 minutes flat, but we decided we would huff and puff our way to the peak of this Cape Town gem.  The view was well worth it, although don't ask us to do it again.  The cable car down Table Mountain was the scariest part.  We’re sure our faces were green from the spinning aspect of the cable car designed so each rider could view the 3,000 meter vertical drop.  Whether you wanted to or not.    

Day 5

Skyler mastered driving on the opposite side of the road and on the other side of the car, while ascending up mountain roads on the way to Boulder’s Beach.  It's not every day you get to hang out with penguins beach-side.  Those little tuxedo runners were freakin adorable and swam through the ocean waves with such speed.  They didn't seem to be bothered by all of us tourists ogling them and just went on playing in the sand.  We continued to the southernmost point of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic currents collide at the Cape of Good Hope.  We chased the sunset back home trough Chapman's Peak, which took our breaths away.

Day 6

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch! First winery was supes pinkies out.  Skyler wanted to check out a library book instead of tasting wine.  We might have even had a spotting of Thurston Howell III.  Second place was a glass house on top of a hill, looking down on vineyards and strand beach.  Classic James Bond—shaken not stirred.  The wine was also stellar.  We pretended we were in our future living room.    The final winery was on a farm with animals of all sorts.  Skyler loved driving the 4 km round-about to get there.  But that illusory dirt road led us to chocolate and wine tastings with a little brandy mixed in.  Cheers!

Day 7

[Cue theme song to Jaws]....  4:20a wake up call.  Early.  2 hour bus ride.  Long.  Boating 30 minutes in the rain.  Cold.  Cage diving with Great White Sharks.  Priceless. 

We were the very first group to get in that metal cage and be dunked in frigid temps.  Okay we had wet suits but FOURTEEN DEGREES (Celsius) is shiveringly cold!  As our shark handlers concocted their recipe of salmon head necklaces, fins stared to emerge as did several rows of teeth.  Here we were, mere feet from the apex of the sea and it couldn't have been more awesome! Yes it was cold and scary, but well worth it.  Skyler even went in twice and was the last one back on board.  Pretty sure he wanted to grab a hold of one of their fins and ride it back to shore.  And that's understandable, these beautiful creatures are much more docile than their infamous rep. 

Day 8

Boated to Robben’s Island.  Upon arrival we were given a thorough image of the island’s history by bus tour before landing at the prison where a former inmate divulged what life was like as a prisoner.    Hearing first-hand details about being an inmate was a unique experience.  As was seeing the cell where Nelson Mandela lived for many years, a chilling feeling indeed.  Fortunately, the auspicious boat ride home had a striking sunset to marvel at, which capped off an informative day.

Day 9

Hiked the king of Cape Town: Lions Head.  All limbs were in use as we struggled, sweated and shimmied to the top of this massive mountain.  Quickly struggling to put one foot in front of the other, the faint sound of buzzing wind caught our attention.  Growing louder and louder, we turned to see what else this massive layer of rocks had for us and there was a helicopter suspended in mid-air life flighting a person off the mountain due to a broken leg.  The decision of whether or not to keep going entered our minds, but as we soon saw a young girl hiking up this rocky terrain, barefoot, we forged ahead knowing we were almost to our summit.  There we saw spectacular views; a 360 of beautiful Cape Town.  And oddly enough, the way down was more difficult in many ways than the way up.

Day 10

With just one more day left and having yet to take advantage of the killer beaches, we headed to Clifton 4th Beach and enjoyed a sun-soaked day of chilling and even chillier water.  That was a seriously cold Atlantic batch of ocean, but refreshing to a polar bear… named Skyler.  On a recommendation we proceeded to The Bungalow, a chateau sprawled along the pristine coastline.  A preppy, but still beachy vibe with flowing white linens, Beachwood and basil-decked cocktails.  We closed our Cape Town chapter with the lovely company of a local gallery owner, whom Leah referred to as The Mayor of Cape Town, and her fascinating group of friends at the local Weinhaus + Biergarten.  There we listened to live music and soaked up as many recos as we could on our next destinations. 

How 10 nights and 11 days went by so fast we’re still trying to figure out, but one thing is for sure, Cape Town is special and a place we’re certain to visit again.   

Johannesburg, South Africa

Contrary to what some may think, pretty much just Skyler, the Big 5 aren’t the Chargers, Padres, Lakers, CU Buffs Football & Basketball.  Here in Africa, they are indeed the Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and the White/Black Rhino.  And when waking up 4:30am to go on Safari with our awesome guide, Matthew, to try and spot some of this big game, we drove through the most brilliant orange and neon pink sunrise.  It was like South Africa put on a watercolor show for us.  Not to mention fields and fields of sunflowers fully awake saluting the sun.  Just picture millions of bright yellow smiling petals.

As soon as we entered the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, we had unreal exposure to animals in their natural habitat.  The kind of situation where you don't get out of your car because who knows what will run up beside you.  To them, you're not a sweet 90s Land Rover.... you're breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The first animal we saw was the Black Rhino, which is extremely rare (as compared to the more common white rhino) and our guide admitted this is only the second one he had seen in over 10 years.  He was HUGE, double horned, large and in charge.  Leah was nervous.  Even being the animal lover she is (come on... you guys saw the puppies!) this experience is much more sobering when a multi-ton exotic animal is less than a 9 iron from your car.  I mean, we're in the wild and invading on the animals' territory, who knows what they’re thinking.  This is where they sleep, hunt, mate and brawl.  Competition is intense and hierarchy is survival.  After a couple hours we loosened up.  We saw hundreds of animals in addition to the Black Rhino.  We also the saw the White Rhino, elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas, springbok, the list goes on.  We did miss out on seeing lions and leopards, but the experience was still epic and gave us a reason to come back for a much more robust safari experience. 

Later we returned home and found a German Pub, oddly enough.   Plenty of beers and schnitzels ‘til the cows, er, lions come home??  Skyler even learned a new handshake from the bartenders.  On our last day we found ourselves enjoying a Big Red Bus tour, where Skyler swears Richard Simmons was on, too.  If not, it was the South African twin of that energetic fellow.  On our last stop of one of the world’s biggest breweries, we befriended some awesome locals who took us under their wing and allowed us to crash their dinner plans.  We found ourselves at a Mexican restaurant that tried their best to be authentic and they did a pretty good job in succeeding.  Experiencing a city, especially one like Joburg, with some locals changes the entire experience…. in a good way.  At dinner we got to exchange stories of our lives back home, favorite TV shows and bands.  A perfect way to end a cooler than expected experience in Joburg.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

With songs of Copacabana and girls from Ipanema humming in our heads, we were anxious and intrigued to explore this beach-side city.  However, we also felt a bit of hesitation due to all the conflicting things we’ve heard and read about with regards to safety, or lack thereof.  Upon landing we were certainly intimidated walking through the airport as dusk was settling.  But we arrived at our hotel and breathed a sigh of relief… this place isn’t so bad.

Believe the hype of the Copacabana beach in terms of the backdrop and overall setting.  Tons of people on the beach, walking, tanning, playing soccer and literally selling everything imaginable. From bbq’d shrimp to henna tattoos; we even saw people carrying clothing racks with dresses packed on hangers and colorful bikinis strewn from umbrellas. 

We grabbed a great bike tour from Bruno who took us from Copacabana through Botafogo, Urca Flamengo and Lapa to name of a few.  Along the way we saw the city from a different perspective that wasn’t as much of the brightly-colored hustle bustle that Copacabana and Ipanema create.  We cycled through locals drumming and strumming beautiful live music, the house where Carmen Miranda grew up before she famously topped her head with fruit and an incredible tiled-staircase called Escadaria Selaron, created by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron.  Each piece of tile covering the 200 plus stairs was unique and it is still evolving with new additions – some even from people’s own homes.

Of course we had to take the train up Corcovado to see Christ the Redeemer, which we discovered is another New7Wonders of the World we can check off our list.  Seeing a 125 foot statue of Jesus was something else.  And the view in general, made big bad Rio seem almost small and unassuming.  As people started to head back down the mountain, we stayed, watching the pink and purple colors of evening drown Rio de Janeiro.  

Lucky for us, we also happened to be in Rio while it was celebrating its 450th birthday, which came on a Sunday.  This also meant that everyone was out in full force.  We headed over to Ipanema – home to the tall and tan and young and lovely  to the beach and were greeted by thousands of people enjoying an even nicer beach set up than Copacabana and some pounding surf.  There we rented some chairs, an umbrella and took full advantage of an absolutely beautiful day. 

Big miss on Sugarloaf as we waited until after our Buzios trip to sneak that in and give us something to look forward to, but the overcast skies and drizzle didn’t allow for much sky scanning at the top of the mountain.  But our comical living situation the last three days took our mind off it.  We decided to save money and rent a private room from a couple who failed to mention they had a newborn baby, the a/c didn’t work and the bathroom (which was shared by another room-renter) stretched out to all of about 7 feet high and 3 feet wide, at most.  Skyler nearly had to exit the shower to turn around.  Silver lining was it was located in Ipanema, which is a great pocket of Rio that felt safe and accommodating due to everything being walkable.

Between beach days, awesome seafood, friendlier people than we had expected, it’s safe to say we enjoyed Rio much more than initially anticipated.  It really was a beautiful place with dramatically stunning views.

And with this, after 7ish weeks, we wrap up South America.  On to South Africa! 

Buzios, Brazil

Buzios had us at hello.  As our three hour long bus ride strolled into this quaint fishing village with more charm than a teenage girl’s bracelet, we let out an exhale.  Granted the bus driver told us to get off about a mile too early, but we quickly found our way to our periwinkle blue Pousada (think B&B) by the beach.  As we walked down cobble stone paths lined with beachy restaurants, boutiques and passersby, we quickly dropped off our stuff and bee-lined it to the closest eatery with a view.  We settled upon the first beach front restaurant and were graced with whole grilled snapper freshly caught that day accompanied by the perfect side dishes of fresh vegetables and rice.  We sat and watched the suns radiance etch further into the sea, over the many schooners, cascading a classic mix of sunset colors while boats began to dock and the fisherman and tourist boats called it a day.  It almost felt like we were in another country.  Since that first meal and throughout our stint in Buzios, every time we passed by that waiter from our first restaurant we were greeted with a loud, but affectionate “Hey California!!” along with the brightest smile lighting up his face.  In fact what was originally supposed to be a three-day stay turned into five, which would have been more if we didn’t have to fly out to our next destination.

Our Pousada was owned by a husband and wife who migrated from France.  He cooks, she runs the shop.  A nice combo and an even better life they live for six months until they hop on their boat and sail the seas for the other six.  Not a bad gig, eh?

During our time there we got to enjoy some authentic Samba song and dance.  We even have a few pictures to show our attempt to keep up with the experts who had bounds of energy.  We had some of the best seafood of our lives.  Farm to table in this instance was high tide (or low depending upon the time of day) to table.  Buzios is also home to 23 beaches and as much as we would have loved to get sandy with all of them, we managed to hit up three and they were all well worth it.  We even took a water taxi to one, which is a rather unique way to get to where you’re going.  And when we needed some down time, we had a hammock on the balcony of our room facing the water to simply drift off. 

This 'lil fishing village was overflowing with soul, seafood and teal colored waters.  Days spent on boats filling our sun baked bellies with acai bowls and afternoons sipping green coconuts on the soft sand beaches are our favorite memories of Buzios.  This one will need another visit. 

Iguazu, Argentina

The taxi driver turns left off the main road and we start bumping down a red clay dirt path.  On the left and right there are simple bungalows surrounded by an abundance of plush greenery.  Dogs are roaming the paths and adorable sun-kissed kids are chasing their friends’ bikes.  We roam deeper into this village and at the end of the road, our driver points to a humble brick house and says, “This is it!” Wow, we really went local this time.  We walk on the property and are greeted by half a dozen golden retriever puppies.  Leah is in Heaven.  

But we’re here to see the Iguazu Falls.  We enter the park bright and early and are stoked to take in a healthy dose of nature.  There are two paths on the Argentine side, one leads you below the falls and the other one brings you to the top.  We stroll through the lower trail, trekking past butterflies, smaller waterfalls and stunning views.  Joining us at every turn were the unofficial mascot of Iguazu, the Coatis. These fellas look like small furry anteaters mixed with raccoons, who scurry throughout the park.  We eventually reach the end of the path and jump on a boat that takes us under the largest of the falls, La Garganta del Diablo (also known as Devil’s Throat).  This was the most amazing experience (check out our video below!).  Your adrenaline is pumping as you ride closer to the chill water spraying and eventually soaking everything. Your vision is completely lost from the blur of the powerful natural wonder spilling over you.  Totally exhilarating.   

Needing to dry off after the drenching boat ride, we hiked through the upper path. The feeling of being suspended over these massive falls was something else as were the views of the recently minted New7Wonders of Nature.  We came across a colony of monkeys interacting with the passer-byers.  We were hesitant to get too close for fear of an attack, but others handed these furry little creatures fruit. The access to animals and the plush grounds was like nothing else we had experienced.

We swung over the border to Brazil for our last day in Iguazu, and for as many good things as we had heard about the Brazilian side, we wanted our lasting images to be of the Argentina side.  Plus, it gives us another reason to come back.  And if you’ve never been, you must go!

Check out a video of our boat ride into the falls!

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, what an amazing city!  In our two weeks we saw a total melting pot of vibrancy, history, redemption and evolution.

So for those of you who don’t know, or haven’t been, Buenos Aires is broken up into several barrios.  While we’re not the authorities of BA Tourism, we found that each of these barrios is very distinct and has its own unique vibe.

Vibe #1 for us was Recoleta where we stayed our first week.  A sure bet for us as it’s known as one of the safer neighborhoods.  Plus, it’s considered the wealthiest area full of name brand shopping and chain restaurants, or this place called Freddo, which served ridiculously good ice cream that we had to try more than we probably should have. 

Our excursion got off to a bit of a slow start as one of us was fighting a big time cold.  That would be Leah.  However, we were within walking distance to a few things, one of which was the Recoleta Cemetery.  The Cemetery, while ominous, was a rather remarkably beautiful homage to respective family members featuring elaborate vaults including the unbelievably popular, Evita.  Just to describe what one vault might look like, picture precious cuts of granites and marbles crafted into a beautifully detailed mini-cathedral-like building, with a looking glass to peer inside.  Each roof allowed for the sun to shine through a kaleidoscope of colors.  Vines and flowers were climbing across the walls of the vaults, with each completely unique to the lineage it held.

Between the heat, humidity and habitual nose blowing, we took solace in a cold, dark theatre to watch Bradley Cooper and Sienna Millers' riveting performances in American Sniper.  While the acting was phenomenal, it was interesting to watch such a U.S.-Patriotic film amongst an international audience.

Vibe numero dos leads us to Puerto Madero, which is Buenos Aires’ newest barrio and quickly becoming the most expensive.  When this port was initially built, draw bridges were installed to let passing ships through the river, but the wealthy people living here also had the advantage of raising the bridges and separating themselves from the rest of the city, basically becoming an island.  The Ecological Reserve, a beautiful accident with thousands of species of trees and plants spread across the coastline of Puerto Madero.  Imagine a park with dirt trails, picnic spots and ocean views, but with wild, lush jungle vegetation surrounding you.  Puerto Madero is also home to the famous Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge.  You can see in our pictures it’s unique (or somewhat unique as we learned like 6 other bridges just like it have been designed by the same architect around the world) design, which is inspired by a couple dancing the tango. 

When we moved from Recoleta to Palermo, we felt more at home.  The tree lined streets, younger crowd, artsy cafes and mom and pop restaurants, gave us the feeling of the Westside (L.A.).  Palermo has multiple neighborhoods within it, however, two of our favorite places to hang were Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho.  We signed up for a cooking class not knowing what to expect, but were greeted by a friendly couple: Manu, the chef and Veronica, a sommelier, in their charming apartment.  Manu showed us how to create traditional fillings and artistically wrap empanadas.  We also attempted to whip up flan, dulce de leche and alfajors (a sweet filling sandwiched between two cookies, possibly coated with coconut or chocolate).  We sipped on local wines from all over Argentina and chatted with them into the wee hours at a local watering hole they took us to.

Another total highlight of our time in Palermo, and in Buenos Aires, was an intimate tango show.  Live music set the stage with an extremely talented band and singer who brought us through the evolution of tango.  The dancers gracefully moved from one era to the next with athleticism and beauty.  We were wowed!  After the show ended, Skyler sat with the band chatting up in broken Spanglish about music and their favorite bands.  Totally smitten.  We did pick up their CD and you guys are welcome to check it out, or better yet go to We Are Tango in Buenos Aires and see the magic in person.

There were so many great restaurants, but we have to talk about Skyler’s birthday dinner!  After some quick research, we walked up to Don Julio Parrilla (think steakhouse) and were greeted by at least 60 other people trying to grab a table.  But… champagne while you wait isn’t a bad way to pass the time.  The service and the food were outstanding. We celebrated with a bottle of wine we had picked up in Mendoza a few weeks back.  This experience was really made special when they asked us to sign the bottle so they could put it up on display with those of other lucky guests from the past – our bottle even got a 50 yard line seat!

To top off our stay in Palermo we took a run to the rose garden, which was breathtaking and a great way to spend Valentine’s Day.  Imagine fields of roses, every color, every type, thousands of blooming beauties!

From rose gardens to straight up husltin’.  Calle de Florida is a long pedestrian street in the Retiro barrio that is nestled between Recoleta and Puerto Madero.  This is where you go to exchange your dollars into Argentine Pesos at what they have nicknamed the “Blue Market.”  Instead of exchanging money at banks, where the government has set a lower rate, you can get more pesos for your dollar trading them on this black market that lingers in a gray area of legality.  Literally every other word you hear walking down the street is “Cambio” where the young, old, men and women alike are vying for your U.S. Dollars.   

We got a great view of all these wonderful areas and more with a bike tour of BA.  Pedaling by churches, rivers, parks, landmarks and historical sites gave us a great understanding of Buenos Aires and the identity that makes this city so special.  Ciao for now! 

Mendoza, Argetina

Ahhh…. Mendoza.  You do a good job of playing hard to get.  But we managed to be together at last, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.  Sure our hopes could have been dashed with a 10 hour bus ride that was supposed to take 6.  That extra helping of patience you tested of ours in the form of a 4 hour wait in the Chilean/Argentine detention area was quite the zinger, too.  Or the 7:45am bus ride we were originally supposed to take that we ultimately missed due to Santiago’s phobia of identifying bus stops correctly could have made us think otherwise as well.  However, we found you O master of the Malbec, and we're glad we did.

Mendoza is a fantastic place.  Small enough to make you feel like you can master the city grid in no time, but just big enough to make you feel like there’s still a ton more to explore.  When we first arrived, we found ourselves at an Irish Pub and in 80 degree weather with another 80% humidity, at night mind you.  That kicked off an amazing 3-day stint, which included lots of wine tasting sprinkled in with some olive oil factory tastings as well.

We saw about a handful of what we learned is over 1200 wineries in Mendoza.  In fact, the Mendoza region is responsible for producing nearly 70% of the country's Malbec wines.  From the boutique and hand-crafted family run wineries to the big mass producing wines of Lopez, it was all awesome.

What was so unique about this winery tour experience is that from the very beginning we got to pick grapes straight from the vines.  Whether it was Domiciano de Barrancas and their strategy behind picking grapes at night due to the higher sugar content resting in the grapes or the huge winery that is Lopez and actually seeing their white grapes churning followed by the bottling line infusing the yielded grapes into mass production, overall it was a great experience.  And the lunch stop we had on our second to last day was one of a kind.  It’s hard to put the experience into words but here it goes…

Do you know what it feels like to be treated like Royalty?  We don't either, but if we could imagine what it would be like, it would be the meal we experienced at Cava de Cano Winery’s Restaurant.  Picture walking down multiple flights of stairs into a secluded, yet almost cavernous cellar with authentic local music to match the unreal tapas spread of meats, cheeses, wild rices, tapenades, mulled apples, roasted garlic, toasted pumpkin, crisp potatoes, I mean the list goes on, like over 30 plates to choose from.  We can't forget the fact it's only the two of us with a jug of red wine. It’s crazy seeing surreal become real.

Had we not already booked a flight to Buenos Aires the week before, we may still be there!

Santiago, Chile

First of all, THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts for all the comments and encouraging notes; we LOVE all of your love and appreciate it so much!! It’s a huge bright spot when we have a little something something from you all to read.

Okay, so we have to admit, we were a little hesitant about Santiago at first as the people in Peru did not paint the best picture of the country largely due to their historical differences and competitive spirit.  However, we quickly learned what an energetic and modernized city Santiago is. 

Our first meal was at the Patio BellaVista, which is an incredibly lively area!  In particular, where we had dinner, must have featured a square block of thousands more doing the same thing.  Literally restaurant after restaurant, shop after shop, live music, happy hours, everything was rockin.  Leah was so fired up by this that she even knocked over a full glass of wine all over Skyler.  It was a scene out of a movie. 

The following day we went exploring.  Thankfully the Santiago metro system is easy to use (or Leah just makes it look that way) and we were able to catch up with a free walking tour of the city and learned some incredible history.  The tour was full of fun facts.  One of Skyler’s favorites was a small pub they called La Pica that was across from the Opera House.  Apparently it wasn’t making any money and the owner was set to shut it down.  But fortunately for him, former President Bill Clinton happened to be Jonesin’ for a Diet Coke after the show and headed to the pub to quench his thirst.  Not only do they still have that same Diet Coke preserved in a glass case for all to see, but it reenergized the pub and saved his business due to all the hype.  We also learned that almost every 25 years Chile gets hit by a massive earthquake, with the last one being an 8.8.  But the city holds strong and rebuilds quickly and the architecture remains as beautiful as ever.

Lunch that same day was at a super hole-in-the-wall local place called Galindo.  There we shared a traditional Chilean dish that was served in a cast iron pot filled with ground beef, spices, shredded chicken, eggs, raisins, olives and a caramelized layer of corn bread to top it off.  What we could barely finish between the two of us, some kid next to us polished off an entire bowl by himself.  Must be the competitive spirit?

Yearning for more culture, we grabbed a bike tour of the city the next day and saw beloved poet Pablo Neruda’s house, the unique street art and the Vega; think local one stop shop market, bazaar style.  Afterwards Skyler talked Leah into a hike up Santiago’s highest point for a view of the city (because the Inka Trail just wasn’t enough).  Then Leah talked Skyler into watching the Super Bowl.  Doritos, beer and possibly a little local flair they call Papa John’s, we enjoyed a night of American Football… in Spanish.  Oh and did we mention Skyler won his Fantasy Playoff League?!

Deuces Santiago, we love you!

P.S. For those fans of the movie There’s Something About Mary, Skyler tried with fierce abandon to embed the famous scene about Santiago, but sadly no one else thinks it’s worthy enough to post a clip online to share.

Cusco, Peru

We’re in love with Cusco!  Everything that Lima lacked, Cusco delivered in spades.  The smiles were wider.  The beers were colder.  And the scenery was absolutely priceless.  Sacqhca restaurant was a total highlight on our first evening.  A family owned eatery where the owner, a young smiling man in traditional garb, explained how his daughter ran the computer and his wife was the chef – a great one at that!  The local hot sauce, which was made up of minced red onion, carrot and red pepper in a citrus juice served alongside warm Andean bread made in house was delicious.  Traditional artwork surrounded us, along with tables filled with people in their (new) Alpaca sweaters with their friends and the crackling fire.

That was the first night.  By the second night, Skyler was in bad shape with what we think was food poisoning, that or he somehow drank the water???  But prior to that, we took a double decker bus tour, muchisimo tourist-style, of the local sights including Jesus Christo on the hilltop, Llamas, Alpacas and even got our picture taken with one. 

When we returned from the Inka Trail trek, that first shower back was easily top 5.  The same could be said for that night’s sleep, considering we weren’t positioned diagonally amongst rocks and mud.  That was some much needed downtime and also allowed us one last day to explore this quaint little city.

Off to Santiago we go!

Inka Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru

Leading up to trekking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu, we felt pretty nervous.  Is the altitude going to get to us?  Are we in shape enough?  What unknown elements are out there?  Can we do this?  No.  Kinda, not really.  A bunch.  Yes!

Curt Schilling pitching in the World Series with a bloody sock?  Was that really even blood, Curt?  Michael Jordan scoring 35 with the flu in game 5 of the ’97 finals?  Admirable.  Keri Strung helping Team USA to Gold in the ’96 Olympics with a sprained ankle?  Courageous.  Philp Rivers playing QB in the AFC title game with a torn ACL?  Gritty.  Skyler Maiman trekking the Inka Trail with a severe case of food poisoning, Peruvian stomach break dancing, or whatever name you want to add to the worst feeling possible?  Heroic.

OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but up until 3 hours before we had to be at our 4:30am start time, Skyler was ridden with a fever, chills and a serious case of “I hope we get our money back if we can’t do this.”  Fortunately, Leah’s nursing skills, fate and some mental toughness allowed us to proceed on what was easily one of, if not the, hardest things either of us have ever done.  Asking that much of your body and mind is truly an experience we won’t forget.  However, the trek itself, wasn’t either, and we can’t imagine how it will be topped. 

The pictures we have don’t do it justice.  With a mystic fog framing the Andes Mountains, we hiked the same trail that the Inka’s built over 800 years ago.  The stunning backdrops that you only read about in novels inspired us to see how the next day would unfold.  We camped alongside a group of four other trekkers and a host of porters, a chef and our guide who navigated this treacherous real estate like a bunch of Gazelle’s.  Among our fellow Australians, a Canadian, an Indonesian and Peruvians, sleeping in the jungle without any amenities, we carried through during endless bouts of rain with the entire contents for our trip on our backs.  The entire trek was 46 Kilometers (or 28 miles), which included a handful of unbelievable Inka sites where we learned a great deal about how noble, efficient and trailblazing this civilization was for the 100 years they were in existence.

If you’re thinking about doing this, do it!  And please pick our brains leading up to it.  There are things that looking back we wish we would have brought and done differently.  Even with the extreme, and we mean extreme, difficulty this trek offered, the views, the experience and the sense of achievement are unparalleled. 

Or to put it in our guides’ words, this experience was “Mucho WowWow.”

Lima, Peru

Here we go, first stop…!

The flight from LA to Lima wasn’t half bad.  Got a little sleep, but not nearly enough as we crashed immediately for half the day.  The search for some food thereafter was an experience in itself before settling on what had to be Lima’s version of Marie Callender’s.  Seeing as how they have a Tony Roma’s and a Pinkberry, maybe we’re not far off?  We have got to say though, the food was outstanding, it just had the ambience of Bingo night.

And it turns out Skyler doesn’t know as much Spanish as self-proclaimed.  Thank goodness for iTranslate.

Quick pit stop at one of the beautiful supermarkets only to find they need mucho identification for breakfast bars, water and wine.  Seriously, what are they going to do with our passport number on a grocery receipt? 

Probably one of the biggest surprises is that sleeping isn’t really a priority here – maybe just on our block?  Perhaps that’s because we experienced polite horn honking.  Barking dogs.  And Latin Opera.  All night

We took an awesome bike ride the next morning.  During our ride, we decided to take a little nap in one of the many gorgeous parks in Miraflores.  Ready for some grub after our rigorous cycle, we were set to belly up at a local restaurant, but low and behold that would be our one and only meal of the day as Skyler lost some coins during said nap in park.  Thankfully it was well worth it as the ceviche mixto, 6 (count ‘em seis) Cusqueñas and steak and fritas at Punta Azul were delicious.  Cusqueña has been flowing as it’s practically cheaper than water.

The sun is gnarly here!  Not sure if it’s the proximity to the equator or the flowing cerveza, but sunscreen is a must.  In fact, Leah even discovered what it feels like to be sunburnt.  Skyler is also rocking a killer Farmer’s Tan, which he may try and trade in for some sweet Alpaca gear over in Cusco.

Uber in Lima?  Yep and it’s the smart way to go!

GoPro is quite the challenge making us feel like GoRookies.  SOS!!  No seriously, if you’re a Pro, get in touch with us.

In Cusco now, which is breathtaking.  Anxious for our Macchu Picchu trek in a few days, but for now enjoying what this cool little city has to offer.

Day of Departure


Passports… check.  Backpacks… check. Sense of adventure… check.

Today is the day we set out for our world journey.  We were able to grab a practice hike in the hills of Laguna Beach, CA to break in our gear and prepare us for Machu Picchu in a few days.