Home again, home again

Where’d the blog go? Where are you guys? Are you back?

Somehow, many weeks have passed since my last post, and in the meantime, we’ve returned to the Bay Area and are working on getting ourselves settled back in! For those who may have missed the update, we decided in December to come back earlier than originally planned for two main reasons: 1) Vaya Adventures wants and needs more of Jim’s attention, and he was quite busy planning fun excursions for us most days and didn’t have enough time for the business and 2) homeschooling all three of our precious little angels and finding ways for them to interact with their peers and get space from each other was a challenge with all the moving around we were doing.

We’re very happy we embarked on a such an adventure, and we consider ourselves so fortunate to come home to the Bay Area and be surrounded again by so many of our family members and friends.

Hike with Ryan, Eveli, Sebastien and Grayson soon after we got back home:


Our actual trip home was uneventful, but a VERY long travel day, including our flight from Panama City to San Francisco. Jim and I didn’t even realize until after takeoff that this flight would by 7.5 hours long. We were not mentally prepared! At one point the pilot announced that we had 5.5 more hours and I thought Cecelia might scream.

After landing at SFO we encountered a very long customs line (and this was in advance of the immigration ban), which put us square in the middle of the Bay Area evening commute (Welcome home!) By the time we reached Berkeley, we were 19 hours into a 20 hour day (which started at 4am in Cartagena) and somewhat delirious, but with the help of our sweet friends and family, we gathered our cars, were fed delicious snacks and Cheeseboard Pizza, and hit our pillows hard for a LONG night’s sleep.

We definitely experienced some culture shock the first few days of being back. The Bay Area is FILLED with people, and traffic, and wow, so different from where we’ve been the past few months. Somehow five months felt fairly long while we were gone, but once we were home seemed much shorter.

The kids were so excited that they could speak English to people we met throughout the day and be understood, but they’re still busting out their new Spanish vocabularies here and there. We will definitely be sticking with Duolingo to make sure the learning doesn’t stop now that we’re home. Just ask Colin about his Spanish- all three of the kids have better accents than Jim or I ever will, and Colin likes to rub it in.

We’ve quickly embarked on making up for lost time at some of our favorite local restaurants, but I’ve also been so happy to eat at home more, and to cook exactly what we like to eat for dinner. Within the first few weeks, we’ve hit Zachary’s pizza, the Cheeseboard (more than once), SOOP (soup!), Sol Y Luna (our neighborhood Mexican joint), and Scoop (amazingly delectable homemade ice cream). We certainly didn’t starve at any point on our trip, but it has been nice to have some of our favorites so close at hand again.


Cecelia and Sean are back at Cragmont Elementary, and fully into the swing of things after only a few weeks. The first few days they definitely had some anxieties about their knowledge of the curriculum, and just feeling like they knew what was going on, but it didn’t last long for either of them. Within a few days, Cecelia had been given a viola (4th graders get instruments and have music instruction at school) and Sean was back to full-court basketball games at recess and lunch every day. They seem to have great teachers (both of whom we did not know previously) and have been really happy to see all of their old friends and classmates again.

Colin and I took a quick trip to San Diego to see Grandma and Grandpa because I was homesick too! Colin didn’t mind the uninterrupted attention of all three adults in the house, and he had some special fun with Grandpa while me and my mom got to go to yoga (three days in a row!) and did some (totally unnecessary) shopping.


Colin and I have been spending a lot of quality time together and he will be back in preschool a few days a week starting next week. Unfortunately, his old preschool did not have space for him right now, so we’ll be trying a new school. I think he’ll do great regardless, and that he’s ready…the other day after 2 straight weeks of hanging out with (only) me all day long he asked “When do I get to go back to school too?” (Translation: “no offense, mama, but I need some space!”

The last few weeks we’ve been so happy to visit with our sweet nephews and nieces (and their parents of course) and to see our friends (and a newborn baby!) Colin has helped me babysit his cousin Greta (8 months), and until I find my next job, I have a hunch that we’ll have some more babysitting opportunities coming our way 🙂 (My siblings have babysat for us SO many times we’re in serious debt, so it’s good to start paying things back a little).

Cecelia with Grayson and Greta:


Sebastien in his new Kaka jersey (retired national player from Brazil):


Colin and Greta with a gorilla family at a local kids’ museum:


Colin and I babysitting Greta:




The winter here has been VERY wet- tons of rain all of January and we’ve had quite a bit since we’ve been back too. We’ve gotten in some good (muddy) hikes at the Green House and the waterfall is gushing!




The kids and Jim took advantage and headed to Lake Tahoe this weekend with friends…I was tempted to go too, but if I had, this post never would have gotten written 🙂 (besides, it’s good for all of us to have a little space, right?) I took full advantage filling my weekend with visits with friends and family, updating my resume (anyone want to hire me?) and catching up on all the ‘little’ things that pile up when you leave the country for 5 months 🙂

Colin took his first (and second) ever ski lessons, and the kids had a great time tearing up some fresh powder with their friends.







I’ve still got stories to share about coffee tasting and white sand beaches in Columbia and more, so despite the irregular chronology, this is certainly NOT the last post.

We look forward to continuing to see our families and friends we missed while we were gone. We are so grateful we had the opportunity to go on this amazing adventure, and the support of our family and friends while we were gone and now that we’re back has been great.

Thanks to everyone who has sent me feedback and encouragement on the blog along the way! It’s been fun to share this adventure.

Tchau for now,




Before mud volcanoes and coffee in Colombia, we were in Lima for a few days, enjoying delicious food, city sights, and doing a lot of laundry after all of our adventures in the (hot, sticky, rainy) Amazon (yes, we still have plenty of chores to do on the road!)

Lima is an old city (especially by U.S. standards), having been founded in 1535, and is on the Pacific coast of Peru. What’s amazing (and was surprising to me) about Lima is that the downtown has a mix of Incan archeological sites, elegant Spanish cathedrals, and opulent Spanish palaces, all set against the backdrop of beach life on the coast, including a vibrant surf culture. Given my prior experience with Lima (and Peru in general), I never quite imagined it as a coastal ‘beach’ city, but we were definitely happy to be near the ocean again, which we hadn’t seen since November in Uruguay.

We stayed in a neighborhood called Miraflores, which is south of downtown Lima and known as one of the more modern and affluent neighborhoods of the city. Our Airbnb was on a quiet street a few blocks from bluffs with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Our first day, we arrived in time for a glorious sunset. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our adventures in the Amazon had tired us out, and we ended up taking it VERY easy in Lima, which was enjoyed by all.





Neighborhoods around the city have been built up around many of the old buildings which makes for beautiful architectural sights where you’d least expect them. Some of them have been turned into boutique hotels, some into private homes, and still others into trendy restaurants in the happening Lima food scene.





On one of our adventures while in Lima, we ventured to the district south of Miraflores known as Chorrillos, which is rougher around the edges, to have ceviche at a ‘local’ restaurant. Peru is known as being one of the top destinations in Latin America for food, and the ceviche in Lima is one of the reasons why. (It also just happens to be one of Jim’s all-time favorite foods…)

Surprising all of us (including herself), after Cecelia tried fresh fish ceviche and fried calamari, she declared that she is no longer a vegetarian. Not sure if it will last, but her enthusiasm was still a major testament to the food for which Lima is best known.

We had ceviche two of the four days we were in town, and Colin was the only one who wouldn’t try it (preferring to enjoy two of his favorites, pizza and pesto which were in short supply in the jungle).





After stuffing ourselves with lots of fresh fish (and other yummy things), we needed a walk to keep us awake so we headed toward the local beach. On our way down a foot path, it was hilarious to hear the mom of a local family walking up past us say (in Spanish of course) “Mira los gringos, que lindos,” which loosely translates as “How cute, look at those gringos.”




And yes, they are pretty cute, especially when they’re goofing around like above. Just funny to hear her say it and of course she didn’t expect us to hear (or understand) her.

The beach in Chorrillos was packed and families were enjoying the perfect beach weather. In Rio we noticed that people sit really close to each other at the beach, and the same was true here. The density was truly impressive. We’ve seen the same thing at Coney Island of course, but it’s not the typical scene we’re used to from our experiences in San Diego and on the Jersey Shore. Probably the biggest disappointment of our Chorrillos outing was the amount of trash we saw people leaving everywhere on the beach. It was truly a mess; plastic bottles and bags were floating around at the shoreline and the beach was strewn with all the waste from the day’s festivities, waiting for the incoming waves to carry it away.




What was cool, however, is that the kids noticed the trash on their own and talked amongst themselves about how people shouldn’t leave their trash behind because of the animals, the ocean, and other people who want to enjoy the beach. I guess it was a small silver lining to an otherwise discouraging moment.

The coastline in Miraflores was a great place for us to get out on another family bike ride (we’re SO close to actually all being able to do this without special seats, etc.), and bike rides on this trip have been a highlight because they are something that we unanimously enjoy (there aren’t that many things on the unanimous list right now…) The coastline has been beautifully designed with parks, paths, and recreation facilities in mind (although some of it is under major construction currently which created some small detours), so our ride took us through sites like the Parque de Amor (park of love), with which its passionate starring statue, was not the kids’ favorite.


We even tried a mini BMX course (dirt, off-road) along the way!




After Lima, we said goodbye to Peru and headed for Bogota. The relatively shorter stays in the Amazon and Lima before leaving for Colombia left some of us in a better mood than others, but we rallied and got psyched up for our fun plans in a totally new place.


More to come soon!

Tchau for now,

All of us







Care for a dip in an active volcano?

My parents have had a lot of crazy ideas but none of them as crazy as taking us innocent little children into an active volcano.    It was kind of weird, we just woke up one morning and they said “we’re going in a volcano.”   No need to worry though, it was a mud volcano. It took about 45 minutes to get there and we drove to it in a private van.  When we got there we bought our tickets to go in the volcano.  To get to the entrance to the volcano we had to go up a staircase which was about 60 feet high.  Once we walked to the top of the volcano we slowly lowered ourselves into the mud.  It was really weird, you couldn’t sink even if you tried.



The mud felt kind of good but mostly weird plus it went 2,000 meters down. It was so weird that at one point my mom said that it felt like we were taking a bath in really thick chocolate pudding.





When we got out of the mud we went down to the lagoon to wash off.  After we got most of the mud out of our hair and stuff, we went to change into dry clothes for the ride home.  On the ride home we got one cookie each, they were chocolate chip.  By the time we got there we were done with the cookies and ready to relax.


(by Cecelia)

A special visit

Through Jim’s travels and connections in Peru over the past many years, he became aware of indigenous photographer Martin Chambi. Chambi has an amazing story: he was born in 1891 into a Quechua-speaking peasant family in one of the poorest regions of Peru. When his father went to work at a gold mine on a small tributary in a nearby province, Chambi went along and happened to learn the rudiments of photography from the mine photographer. This encounter sparked an interest in photography for him that led him to move to Arequipa in 1908 and serve as an apprentice in the studio of Max T. Vargas, and then to eventually establish his own studio in 1917.


Jim became aware that members of Chambi’s family are maintaining an archive of Chambi’s work in Cusco and has made a few attempts over the years at trying to contact the administrator of the archive, Chambi’s grandson Teo Chambi. On this trip, we were fortunate that Teo Chambi was in town and available and we were able to go and meet with him, hear stories of his grandfather’s life and experience as a photographer, and see the amazing trove of items that are being preserved.






If you’ve traveled in or read about Peru, particularly the Cusco region, you’ve probably seen at least one of Chambi’s photographs at one point or another. He was a pioneer in the subject matter of the people and landscapes of the Cusco region; many of his photographs of indigenous people and the Inca ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, including Machu Picchu, were the first of their kind that many had seen.



What makes his work all the more impressive (at least to a photography novice like me) is that at the time he began his career, photography was a newer art (or science) involving glass plates, chemicals (like nitric acid), and lots of other heavy equipment. For example, when Chambi visited a site like Machu Picchu, we would have with him a maximum of 30 glass plates for 30 photographs; very different than how we approach photography today with our digital cameras and iPhones, taking as many pictures as we want and deleting the ones we don’t like. He would have had 30 chances to get the ‘right’ shot. Such a different approach at such a different time. From his work, it’s evident that 30 was plenty, but amazing to think about the time and preparation that probably went into each shot when such a limited number were available. What has also struck me looking at his work is that despite how much set-up and preparation may have been involved, many of his subjects and the subject matter still seem to be captured in their natural state. Even in the posed, formal shots, he captures so much of the spirit and character of his subjects. His body of work is beautiful, and definitely work looking into (much is available on the archive website) if you are interested in Peru and the Cusco region.



Our visit to the archive wasn’t something the kids would put at the top of their favorites list, but even for the first 45 minutes of the 1 1/2 meeting, they were very busy looking through the books featuring his work and the examples around the studio. Very fun and interesting to get off the beaten tourist track (even a little further!) and get introduced to and more familiar with such an amazing artist.


This is a photograph of Martin Chambi, his wife, and their 6 children, including our host’s mom, second from the right in the checkered dress.


A basketball team in Cusco:


The archive meeting room, and coffee table FILLED with wonderful books of Chambi’s and other artists’ work:



We even got to pose against a re-creation of the backdrop that was used in many of Chambi’s studio portraits:


There will be an exhibition of Chambi’s work at the SF Moma in 2017, so Bay Area friends can see his work firsthand.

So many unique adventures in such a relatively short trip! We’re feeling very fortunate (and sometimes tired!) and excited to come home soon and share more tales of our travels with everyone in person.

Tchau for now!


All of us!