September 16, 2017

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (September, 2017)

The kids had the entire week off school and Cody had a few days off work for Chilean Independence Day (Fiestas Patrias), so we decided to head out to explore some sites close to home in Chile and neighboring Bolivia. We found some cheap flights from Santiago, Chile to Calama, Chile and rented a car for a couple days to drive out to the Atacama desert and check out the town of San Pedro de Atacama. After arriving to San Pedro, we checked into our hostel and then went out exploring the town. We grabbed some lunch and then decided to drive out to the nearby Valle de la Luna to explore some of the interesting moonlike landscape, dunes, and rock formations. The kids loved crawling through the cracks and caves and hiking over the rugged rocks and were in full imagination mode for a few hours. We hiked to the top of one of the peaks which was no small task given the elevation and us not being acclimatized yet.

 Eliza and the kids at the adobe Catholic church in the plaza in San Pedro de Atacama.

 Ryder, Nash, and Zander exploring the cracks and caves at Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama.

 Sawyer, climbing through a cave in Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama.

 The kids' favorite cave they found at Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 View on one of our hikes to a lookout in Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Ryder, Nash, and Sawyer at the top of the mountain we hiked at Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama.

 Sawyer, posing at some natural sculptures in Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama.

Entrance sign.

 Cody with the kids coming out of the caves and cracks at Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Video of the kids exploring the caves and cracks at Valle de la Luna near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

After exploring Valle de la Luna, we headed back into town and got some dinner and a little bit of rest before heading out into the night to check out the stars, planets, and constellations of the crystal clear night sky of the Atacama desert. We booked a private viewing with the most powerful telescopes in the area and an english speaking expert on the sky and we were not disappointed. We were able to see the sky from one of the best, if not the best, places on Earth due to the elevation, dryness, and complete lack of light pollution. The milky way was extremely clear and visible and we were able to get a great view of Saturn, with its rings in all their glory, as well as a clear view of 3 of the moons in orbit around Saturn. We learned about other stars, constellations, and were able to see Jupiter, all kinds of different colored stars, and other celestial objects. Our guide was incredibly informative and did a great job in explaining distances, times and the vastness of the solar system and the universe. It definitely was mind opening for the kids especially to learn about the stars and planets.

 Picture of the night sky from the observatory.

Picture through one of the telescopes of Saturn.

We returned from our stargazing tour satisfied and totally exhausted, but we had a big day planned the following day, so we quickly went to bed as we needed to get up around 5am to drive out to El Tatio to see the high elevation geysers when they were at their most active. 

We set out very early in the morning straight into the dark and arrived to El Tatio just as the sun was coming up. We were able to see hundreds of small geysers blowing off their steam. It was freezing, and the elevation was enough to make us suffer with headaches and discomfort. We probably could have dressed a bit warmer, but our sweatshirts and wind breakers were enough to get us through. The extreme temperature swings in the Atacama desert took us by surprise...it was hot and dry in the afternoons and literally bitter cold in the mornings. The Atacama desert is a rough place.

A wild vicuña on our way back from El Tatio after having seen the geysers.

 Zander, relaxing in a hammock and playing his iPad at our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama.

 Ryder and Nash, in a hammock at our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama.

Cody, with the kids on one of the side streets in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 The kids, warming up in the steam in the freezing cold morning at El Tatio near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 The kids, freezing in the early morning at El Tatio geysers near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Sawyer, dipping her finger in a geyser at El Tatio near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Ryder and Sawyer at the El Tatio geysers near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Cody with the kids in the fresh, cold morning at El Tatio checking out the geysers near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Video of a geyser at El Tatio early in the morning near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Cody, enjoying a fresh llama kebab from one of the local villages near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

After returning from El Tatio, we returned to San Pedro and had some lunch. We then found some sand boards to rent (snowboards) and headed out to Valle de Muerte (valley of death) to find some dunes to hike and sand board. We spent the afternoon hiking up and riding down a pretty good slope. The kids had some good spills and also some success in riding all the way down the dune. We had a great time, but the elevation was no small feat to overcome to hike up the dune.

 Nash, sand boarding near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Ryder, sand boarding near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Sawyer, sand boarding in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Ryder, sand boarding in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Nash, sand boarding in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Eliza, sand boarding (and screaming all the way) in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Cody, sand boarding in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.


 Family picture after an afternoon of sand boarding in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

After sand boarding, we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight and head out to Laguna Cejar to try our hand at floating in the salty lake. 

 Cody, Nash, Ryder, and Sawyer, wading out into the salty Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Cody, Ryder, and Sawyer floating on Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile with Nash in the water checking it out.

 Ryder, floating on Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

 Sawyer, Nash, and Zander on the banks of the salty Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
 Cody, floating on Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Video of Sawyer floating on Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Video of Cody floating on Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Zander, Ryder, and Nash chilling after a swim in Laguna Cejar near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Our 2 days in San Pedro de Atacama were fun and eventful: exploring caves and cracks in Valle de la Luna, stargazing in the amazing Atacama night sky, El Tatio geysers, sand boarding at Valle de Muerte, and floating in Laguna Cejar in addition to some quality time wandering around the quaint town of San Pedro de Atacama. We were excited to move on to the next leg of our journey, which was a 3 day, 2 night jeep tour through the Bolivian highlands culminating in the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats). We were a bit nervous since the elevation of San Pedro and El Tatio really affected us (especially Eliza and Sawyer), and we would be headed up to considerably higher elevations in Bolivia.

April 12, 2017

Cartagena, Colombia (April, 2017)

We flew from Santiago, Chile one way to Cartagena, Colombia on Avianca in business class for 20,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles per person (160,000 KrisFlyer miles for the 8 of us). Avianca had a nice, lay-flat Boeing 787 Dreamliner for both segments of the flight (Santiago to Bogota and Bogota to Cartagena). We stayed a very quick 2 nights in Cartagena at the Hilton that is right on the beach and very near the old city, redeeming 40,000 Hhonors points per room per night.

We spent some time at the hotel and the pool before heading out to get some Colombian food for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We had a very busy day planned the next day, so we headed to bed relatively early. 

The next morning we woke up early and had some breakfast in the hotel (complimentary for Hilton Diamond guests). There were a group of fishermen out on the beach, pulling in their nets and stacking up the fish they had caught in the early morning...it was interesting to see them pulling in their haul.

We left the smaller kids with Sawyer in the hotel for a couple hours and as adults (and Ryder) we headed to the old town for a Segway tour before the heat of the day came. We had an amazing time learning to ride the Segways and taking them all over the old town. We all felt that this was the absolute best way to take in the sights of this historic place and the guides we had were cool and let us have a bit of freedom to go where we wanted to go.

The old town is a walled city right on the Carribbean coast of Colombia which was founded in the 16th century (1533). It is full of colorful buildings, colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, historic churches, and squares/plazas. We learned a bit about some of the buildings and the history of the city and enjoyed taking in the sights and especially in the morning when the tourists and crowds hadn't arrived yet.

After a couple hours on the Segways, we headed back to the hotel to grab the kids and then we were off to catch the private boat we had booked for the day to go out and explore the Coral Islands of Rosario, which are about 100km off the northern coast of Colombia. There are about 30 islands in total, and we got to see 3 of them. We headed out of the protected harbor in Cartagena and the ocean turned from green to a crystal blue color. We enjoyed jumping the waves on the open ocean and before we knew it we had arrived. We enjoyed a local lunch on one of the islands and bought a few souvenirs from the locals, then headed to another, more secluded island for some snorkeling and swimming. We had a relaxing day in the sun out on the boat and at the end of the afternoon, the boat dropped us off right at our beach at the Hilton where we walked right to our rooms...great service!

After a long day of riding Segways and taking a private boat out to the Coral Islands of Rosario, we swam/relaxed by the hotel pool for a bit, then got ready and headed back to the Old Town to find some dinner and take in the sights at night. Cody was able to reunite with a friend, Richard Aragón, from his mission (Bogotá, Colombia South) 18 years earlier. Richard gladly showed us around the city and we had another tasty Colombian dinner. We enjoyed the night in the Old Town, then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep since we had to get up early the next morning to fly to Costa Rica for the next portion of the adventure.

Grandma and grandpa with the kids on the balcony at our suite at the Hilton Cartagena.

View of the hotel pool and the beach from our room at the Hilton Cartagena.


Enjoying an appetizer of plantains and sour cream at a local joint near the hotel.

Generous dinners of meat, rice, plantains, yuca, and coconut lemonade in Cartagena, Colombia.


Local fishermen bringing in their haul in the early morning near the Hilton, Cartagena.

A pile of fish that the local fishermen brought in near the Hilton Cartagena.

One of the churches in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Grandma, grandpa, Eliza, Ryder and Cody riding Segways in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.


People selling Fernando Botero art on the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Ryder and grandpa next to the foundation of an old church (made from coral) in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Statue of Simón Bolivar in the plaza of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.


Our crew posing in front of a Fernando Botero sculpture in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Our crew on our Segways tour through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Church in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Our crew atop the fort riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Eliza and grandma Toni on their Segways.

Ryder, loving every minute of the Segway tour.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.


Our crew on Segways in front of the entrance to the walled city in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Riding Segways through the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

Mom and dad with the kids at the front of our boat as we head out to the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Grandpa Scott and grandma Toni on our boat as we head out to the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Nash and Ryder on the front of the boat with the fortress in the background as we head out of the harbor towards the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Cody and Ryder looking at the old fortress heading out of the harbor towards the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Grandpa Scott, relaxing on one of the wooden benches at the Rosario Islands, off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Ryder and Nash, snorkeling at the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.


Our boys, Zander, Nash, and Ryder on the boat at the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Grandma Toni, with Sawyer on the boat as we head away from Cartagena, Colombia (in the background) towards the Coral Islands of Rosario.

Ryder, Cody and Nash at the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Snorkeling off the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.


The boys playing in a  fort and having fun with coconuts and sticks on the beach at the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Ryder, Zander, and Nash at the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.


Cody and Sawyer, relaxing in the shade on one of the Coral Islands of Rosario off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.

Our crew on the streets of the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia at night.

Sawyer, giving Eliza a piggyback through the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.

The kids, enjoying one of the street performances in the Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia.