Taipei, Taiwan: rain, pork buns and temples

It had finally come – our family vacation to Taiwan! We had originally been planning a trip to Thailand, but the flights went up in price before John had his leave approved. So Taiwan it was! It was Chaucer who wrote that spring is when folks long to go on pilgrimage, and I can’t deny that’s what we were feeling. It was time to go. After moving every year for 6 years in a row, we were feeling the need to go somewhere. This is the longest we’ve lived in one place since having children (mind you, it’s only been a year and 4 months). John had visited China in 2015 before the kids and I were able to move out here to Okinawa with him, but when we found out the Visas to get into China were over $200 we realized we wouldn’t be able to take the whole family. So for that reason I was really excited to see Taiwan. It was about as Chinese as you could get without actually going to China. The main culture we witnessed was Chinese, as the language spoken is Mandarin, but there is also a lot of influence from Japan and other Asian countries. India even has a pretty big influence on this large island. They call Taiwan the “The heart of Asia”.

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We had booked our trip to start at the end of the rainy season, and were hoping and praying that we wouldn’t get too wet. Overall, the weather ended up being perfect, and we only had rain the first day we got in town. We were so thankful!

It was a whopping 1 hour and 25 minute flight from Okinawa – so we were in the country before 10am and had there whole day to get settled and explore. I had booked us an AirBnB apartment in the Wanhua District, which is an up and coming hip area with lots of cute cafes and coffee shops. It was also a pretty short walk to the metro station which turned out to be very helpful. Thankfully, Taipei had just opened up a new line on the metro station that took us straight from the airport to Taipei Main Station, near our apartment.

We had decided to leave all our devices at home except John’s small iPad (he still had to receive work messages). We really wanted to unplug during this vacation. When we landed we got a chip for 10 days of data and  went on our merry way. It was a bit difficult finding the place, but I had printed maps and had a phone number to reach our host. Once we found a pay phone we were able to meet up with him. The apartment we rented was super cute, with turquoise walls and Art Deco light fixtures. It was Tiny!! But really perfect, since the kids had their own room with a bunk. They were so happy to have a new space all to themselves!

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As soon as we dropped our suitcases (all two of them – read about that here) we headed out for the famous beef noodle soup of the area. Our host had given us the scoop on a great hole in the wall place nearby. It reminded us of the tiny restaurants in the Mercados of Lima, Peru. You definitely don’t go there for the atmosphere!

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Lunch at the Beef Noodle shop

But the noodles were delicious. Violet had a lot of fun playing with them.

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Olivia wasn’t too keen on them though, so she was a bit pouty through the meal – just keeping it real 😉 At least she had fun playing with the noodles after we were done eating. I’m sure this was probably not considered good manners, but I don’t think anyone saw us…lol. Generally, you’re not supposed to touch your food with your fingers at all. We ate with chopsticks for 10 days straight! Thank goodness we all knew how.

It rained all morning and into the afternoon, but after a short rest back at the apartment it had cleared up pretty nicely. We walked out to the bus station and on the way found this beautiful tree blooming with the biggest blossoms!

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Blooming tree

The city was busy, but not overwhelming. Probably 2/3 of the people rode scooters, which made things seem a little less crowded.

We got to the bus stop and boarded, but either we boarded the wrong bus, or just didn’t know how to work the system. Regardless, we jumped out at the first stop, which happened to be several blocks past where we were trying to go. We just took the scenic route 😉 We were walking to the Dihua Street area, where there are a lot of new shops and cafes that have opened in the historic buildings. Along the way we tried a green onion crepe from a street vendor. It was delicious! Cliff really liked it. Once we got to Dihua St. we saw there was a lot going on – from plays and music, to the tea cart guy who’s teapot whistled sharply through the air to alert passersby to his presence.

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Tea cart/bike guy

We bought the kids a few taro and red bean treats while we were walking.

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Red bean treat

We saw our first temple here. It was busy, with lots of locals and a few obvious tourists lighting incense and offering prayers. To who, I’m not sure.

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We continued walking and found a nice little bakery, where we grabbed a loaf of sweet taro bread for breakfast the next day (we had learned in our previous trip to have backup plans for meals, especially the first one of the day – hungry kids are not fun to travel with!). We also found many little open shops selling dried fruits, so we bought a bag of dried kiwis, pineapples, and mangos, as well as some dried figs stuffed with walnuts. Those were lifesavers on some days when the kids needed a little pick-me-up.

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Walking further down the street we finally spotted something that would satisfy us for dinner – the famous pork buns of Taiwan. Their operation was coming to a close, but we managed to grab the last few they had left. They were already washing out the pans behind the stand in the street.

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Pork bun stand

After the kids ate we hailed a taxi, since we’d walked quite a ways by now and it was getting dark. Once the kids were in bed and settled, John went out to try one of the many foot massage parlors nearby. Most of them offered hour foot massages for the equivalent of about $15 USD. We tried out a few places over the 10 day trip… It was a great first day. We were excited to see Taipei 101 the next day! The 4th tallest building in the world! More to come later…

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Iquitos: On the Amazon River

Our second day in the Amazon just happened to be Easter Sunday. It was a very quiet morning in Iquitos and we had a little trouble finding an open place for breakfast. We managed to find one though, named for the movie that was filmed in the Amazon, Fitzcarraldo. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the restaurant was not much to write home about. Still, at least we had satisfied our hunger and were ready for the day. We grabbed a couple snacks and some blended coconut drinks and decided to hop on a boat for a tour. 

Boats along the river

Boats along the river

Olivia and Aunt Katelyn

Olivia and Aunt Katelyn

 Our tour guide told us he could take us to both Monkey Island and the Butterfly Farm. The boat was great. A narrow wooden boat with two boards running along the sides and a couple hammocks hung in the middle. It was nice and cool with the breeze blowing off the water.  We got to see the colors of the river change as we merged from one river into the other.  

Rivers merging

Rivers merging

 Not long after that, we had already arrived at what appeared to be Monkey Island. We walked up the planks to the floating platform and were greeted by several very friendly monkeys. 

The monkeys were happy to see us

The monkeys were happy to see us

The kids were pretty hesitant and Cliff definitely kept his distance. As soon as you had anything in your hands they would climb right up your legs and jump to the fruit! 

Looking for a snack

Looking for a snack

Katelyn and the Monkey

Katelyn and the Monkey

It was pretty funny to experience.

Next, they took us to see different animals found in the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, we discovered later that this was NOT the real “Monkey Island” but was an operation that draws tourists in by paying tour guides to bring them under false pretenses. We enjoyed getting to see the wildlife up close, but felt bad that we’d unwillingly and unknowingly supported a place like that!

Bridge to the animals

Bridge to the animals

Holding a sloth

Holding a sloth

Happy with a full tummy

Happy with a full tummy

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find specific information on places online and when you speak to your guides they usually tell you what you want to hear. So for those of you who are going to Iquitos, make sure you are very clear with your guide about where he is taking you, and know how long it should take to get there.

Holding the Macaw...Olivia wasn't so sure about this.

Holding the Macaw…Olivia wasn’t so sure about this.

Our next stop was the Butterfly Farm. We thought we were going to the Pilpintuwassi Butterfly Farm, which is a rescue center for jungle wildlife around Peru.  However, it wasn’t until afterwards that we realized no where had we seen the name anywhere….again we had been duped.

It was really neat seeing the lifecycle of the Amazon butterflies up close. Olivia loved all the caterpillars and was very excited to get to hold a couple of them.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

We saw all the life stages, from the eggs, to tiny caterpillars, to the large caterpillars, chrysalis and cocoons, and butterflies.

Holding a butterfly

Holding a butterfly

Then we got to see the butterfly house, where the butterflies fed on fruit and flowers. At the end, our guide let us release two butterflies from the cages and then picked some fruit off a tree to send with us. The fruit was reminiscent of a lime, and they eat it dipped in salt. They told us pregnant women in Iquitos love it, and I approved :). It was pretty refreshing in that heat!

More about our time in the Amazon coming soon!

Cartagena, Colombia: Old Town

We arrived in Cartagena from Bogotá in the late evening, just as the sun was setting on the horizon over the Caribbean.  I was glad we got to catch a nice glimpse of it – our first view of the Caribbean!  The drive from the airport to Bocagrande, where we were staying, was really pretty.  Cartagena had a small-town, beachy feel to it that I really liked.  It was warm and humid, and the sun felt hot.  Like, hot hot.  Not just regular sun-hot, haha.  We were even closer to the equator here than we are in Peru.

The first day in Cartagena we started at the clock tower in the Walled City.

The clock tower

The clock tower

There were some beautiful old buildings there.

Walking around Old Town

Walking around Old Town

Beautiful old buildings

Beautiful old buildings

Church

Church

Outside the church

Outside the church

Our little ball of energy

Our little ball of energy

We decided to visit the Naval Museum that morning.

Museo Naval del Caribe

Museo Naval del Caribe

It was an educational tour.  The kids were mesmerized by this replica of an impaled pirate.

Impaled pirate

Impaled pirate

Looking at the "little tiny boats!"

Looking at the “little tiny boats!”

Cliff thought all the canons were trains….so there was a lot of choo-chooing going on during the tour.

Say, "choo-choo!" Huh??

Say, “choo-choo!” Huh??

They got to steer the boat!

Olivia

Olivia

Cliff

Cliff

Sailing

Sailing

And shoot the bad guys.

More modern Naval ships

Modern Naval ships

From the top story of the museum there was a beautiful alleyway.

Beautiful views all around

Beautiful views all around

After the museum, we hunted down the famous ice cream “popsicles” that I’d read about before coming.  After a little searching, we found them, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Yummy popsicle ice cream

Yummy popsicle ice cream

While we had been in Bogotá, I’d found a necklace made of amber, so I was on the look out for more like it here in Cartagena.  Sure enough, I found a woman who was selling jewelry and she had some amber stones!  She took the one long piece she had and made it into two different necklaces for me.

Making amber necklaces

Making amber necklaces

Right there while we waited.  She was a sweet woman. The Colombians here in Cartagena seemed to be especially warm and friendly.  I tried a coco frio next, just a plain cold coconut with the top hacked off and a straw stuck in.

A cart of Cocos Frios

A cart of Cocos Frios

It was refreshing on that hot afternoon.  While I was sipping my coconut, we saw an artist making paintings on mirrors.  It was incredible – he finished each painting start to finish in five minutes!

Watching the artist

Watching the artist

Happy, hot, sticky kids

Happy, hot, sticky kids

It was a fun morning out. We’d already decided we really liked this place!

Music and trains

This week our household goods arrived from the states! It is so nice to have things like a decent cutting board, a rocking chair, a crib and our double jogging stroller! We were getting along without these things, but it’s oh, so helpful now that we have them! After we fed the kids this morning, we loaded them up in the jogging stroller for a leisurely stroll to the park. There’s a great little vegan/gluten-free cafe that sets up at an organic market, so we grabbed a few treats/breakfast and a coffee and enjoyed some time with the kids in the fresh (as fresh as Lima gets) air.

As soon as Cliff saw the train he started shouting, “choo-choo!!”

say "choo-choo"!

say “choo-choo”!

It’s amazing how trains and trucks are just somehow ingrained in little boys’ minds. They know they’re cool! He was so excited to see the train up this close. And so were all the other little boys at the park! This is the place to be…

boys and trains...

boys and trains…

The kids really needed some time to just run around and scream. Olivia even asks me sometimes, “mama, can I scream here?” Most places the answer is no…so they enjoyed screaming this morning.

running off some energy and exercising the lungs

running off some energy and exercising the lungs

An older group of men set out some instruments in the grass and before we knew it every child who could walk on their own two feet was making a bee-line for them. Cliff immediately went for the guitar and Olivia was fascinated by the drum.

beating her drum

beating her drum

"wanna trade?"

“wanna trade?”

It was a good outing for the kids. John and I were reminded that sometimes our day just needs to be about the kids, and not our to-do list. They sure had a great time!

playing guitar with daddy

playing guitar with daddy

Those smiles make all the rough days worth it!

climbing on the train

climbing on the train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preschool in Peru

On Tuesday the kids started preschool, or “Nido” as it’s called here.

First day of Nido!

First day of Nido!

We had never planned to send our kids to preschool, since our plan is to homeschool, but considering the circumstances we decided to take the plunge for this one year. We really wanted them to pick up Spanish in our short time here. Everyone in Lima does Nido. You will never see a child over 18 months old out and about in the mornings. These facts brought us to two realizations: 1) keeping the kids out of preschool would have meant very lonely days with little to no interaction with other kids at the park, etc. and 2) by enrolling them in a local Spanish-speaking school we are effectively immersing them in the language while simultaneously giving me time to focus on my own Spanish learning (through Rosetta Stone, other programs, and tutoring). We believe it was a good decision. So far both the kids love their school. Olivia was right at home, and woke up the first day ecstatic to go to Nido. Cliff had a harder time, but by the second day he seemed to mostly enjoy himself. He loves playing with the little girls his age!

Making new friends

Making new friends

Maybe because he has a sister…? It’s pretty cute.

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

Olivia has come home both days bursting with excitement as she recounts to us her day. I’ve never seen her so excited! It was terribly hard for me to leave them the first day, but I can see it will be good for them. It’s so hard for me to learn that my littles are just as safe outside of my personal care. God is always watching over them, and continues to guard and guide them even when I am not there to see. I’m so thankful that He does!