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“Mark, you can’t finish the Inca Trail and not know that this was the end point of a pilgrimage.” — Johan Reinhard to Mark Adams, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” p. 222 As a kid in grade school, I read an article about a magical city in Peru called Machu Picchu. The huge building stones were fit together so tightly and with such precision that earthquakes couldn’t level them, and you couldn’t slip so much as a piece of paper between them. Looking back, I realize that might have been when I first got the travel bug. From then on, I knew I’d see this place with my own eyes someday.In my third-grade mind, I figured you pronounced it something like “MaSHOO PiSHOO – kind of like a sneeze. On our trek, we learned about a fine but important point on the pronunciation. If you say it like most people do,…

A serendipitous moment Oct. 9 was election day in Peru, and citizens across the country turned out to choose their local and provincial officials (in other words, mayors, aldermen, and state governors). And, lucky for us, Oct. 9 was also the day we arrived in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo — to hordes of Andean folks who had come in from their mountain villages to cast their ballots. We were spending a night in Ollantaytambo before starting our trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but that’s another story! Also known as Quechuas, the Andean people trace their roots to the original Inca empire. Their brilliant clothing signifies the village they’re from and the position they hold in their local society, including marital status. Quechua is their first language, but many also speak Spanish. Party time As fate would have it, our hotel, the Casa Blanca Lodge, was situated…

In preparation for our big trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in October, John and I have started pushing ourselves to get in shape for the three big hikes, at altitude, that we’ll have to face on that trip. Last Sunday and yesterday, we completed two 8-mile hikes in Chiriqui Province, both of which started right out of our neighborhood but ended in two separate areas. We also got a first-hand look at a huge road construction project that’s the talk of the area and will soon link Alto Boquete, Panama with the towns of Palmira and Potrerillos. To set the stage, we live in a neighborhood called Brisas Boqueteñas, just down the hill from Boquete, that sits on the edge of a beautiful canyon with our local volcano, Barú, as the backdrop. Although our own casa isn’t a canyon house (we’re in the cheap seats!), several houses in…

Colombia’s wax palms are a national treasure.  They grow in Colombia’s Quindío, Valle de Cauca, Caldas, and Tolima departments and nowhere else in the world. They’re spectacular, and they’re highly threatened. If you’ve never visited Colombia, chances are you’ve never heard of these fantastic trees (we hadn’t, before we moved here). Once we became more aware of the wax palms’ symbolic importance in our adopted country, we were excited to go and see them first-hand. We finally got our chance in December with a visit to Salento in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera. Our trip was cut short when I broke my ankle (yikes). But before the weather went south and fractures happened, we had a lovely day hiking in La Carbonera, a spectacular and off-the-beaten-path forest of wax palms. Here are a few more factoids about ceroxylon quindiuense, the Quindío wax palm:  It’s the world’s tallest palm tree, growing up to 60…

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, OK, a dark and stormy late afternoon. We were only 30 or so minutes from the end of what had otherwise been a fantastic day – a 19-km hike to see Colombia’s fantastic wax palms in La Carbonera, a beautiful canyon that is more remote and far less touristed than the well-known Cocora Valley. We’d enjoyed perfect weather until early afternoon. Then the clouds gathered and the sky opened up and proceeded to dump buckets onto us and our guide, Andrés. The steep, rocky, and narrow track we’d been following back down into the town of Salento quickly became a rushing creek. To avoid that, we inched our way about 5 feet above the trail. One misstep, and the soggy ground dumped me into the erstwhile-trail-now-creek. And along the way, I felt a pop in my left ankle. What to do? We knew…

Oozing with charm, Jericó, Colombia is a mountain hamlet in the southern part of our home district of Antioquia.  Another officially designated Pueblo Patrimonio (Heritage Town), Jericó had been on our list to visit for a while – and we finally got to make the trip by car in September. Jericó was our first overnight trip since the beginning of the pandemic, and it was a welcome change of scene after so many months confined to the big city. Without a doubt, this is our favorite rural Colombian town so far (but there are so many yet to see!). Jericó has many similarities to Jardín, another Pueblo Patrimonio that we visited last year (blog post here). They’re both colorful, picturesque, surrounded by the verdant hills of the northern Andes, and populated by friendly and laid-back paisas (as the people of Antioquia proudly call themselves). However, Jericó is further off the beaten…

It’s been over a year since we first posted our listing of Boquete favorites, so here’s an update for folks planning a visit here. Usual caveat: this is strictly subjective. Apologies in advance to anyone or anything we might have left out! And sorry, they’re in no particular order (although you can see where our priorities lie – outdoor adventures are first!).  FAVE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES Hiking, hiking, and more hiking. The cloud forests above Boquete are a hiking wonderland. We especially love the LostWaterfalls, Pipeline, Los Quetzales, and El Pianista trails. We recently completed the round trip on the Los Quetzales trail to Cerro Punta and back, and it was spectacular. Here’s the story.  El Tatica Waterfall. This one is simply breathtaking, especially during rainy season, and it’s relatively easy to hike to (about three miles round-trip). Kiki Falls. This spectacular cascada is not easy to get to since it’s on the Nöbe-Buglé…

Day Three – Otavalo and Environs Our third day in Quito started with an early wake-up call for our trip to the Otavalo Market. With our trusty driver, Rene, at the wheel for the two-plus-hour trip, we made our first stop near the town of Cayambe at the Quitsato Sundial. Quitsato is touted as the “true” tourist destination for standing on the equator (another far more-visited site – and, from what we’ve heard, a lot more touristy – is the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, but the monument there is several meters off from the ACTUAL equator). Sure enough, our iPhone GPS backed Quitsato’s claim. Since we were visiting the sundial the day after the autumnal solstice, we were able to note an interesting phenomenon: the tall column in the middle casts a shadow ALMOST perfectly aligned with the line designating the equator (if we’d visited the day before, it would have been…

New Year’s resolutions are so tiresome, aren’t they? More often than not, they’re about punishing yourself for last year’s behavior. “I ate too much last year – gotta lose weight.” “I drank too much – time to cut back.” (We’re working our way through an alcohol-free January, but that’s another story.) So instead of resolutions, we have a wish list for 2016. It’s all of the fun things we never got around to last year, and all of the fun things we want to plan for this year. The operative word here is FUN.

Editor’s note: Since we posted this entry, Panama has begun enforcing its immigration and visa laws more tightly. Officially, it’s no longer feasible to do a “quick” border crossing in order to renew your visa. Rio Sereno and San Vito are still worth a visit, though! With three months under our belts as Panamanian expats (where the heck did the time go??) we’ve passed a new milestone – our first border run. Everyone who enters Panama gets a tourist visa good for 180 days. But driving is the catch for people like us who are here for the long haul and don’t yet have a permanent residency visa. Although we have another 90 days to play tourist, we’re only allowed to drive with our California drivers’ licenses for the first 90. Soooo – to remain legal drivers in Panama, we had to cross the border into Costa Rica, spend the night, and then come back…

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