A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador:Galapagos:Floreana:Playful Peguinos Party with Pedro

October 27, 2011

sunny 86 °F

We were greeted today by several dolphins on our way to shore. One was a baby dolphin flapping his little tail awkwardly--so cute! I wish we could have gotten a good photo but they are so fast and by the time we would look one direction they would swim around us to the other side. It was an amazing experience even if we didn’t get the photos. On the island of Floreana is a small box called the Post Office. It’s a tradition on Floreana to leave a letter addressed to someone and the next sailor who happened to be sailing that way would deliver the letter for you. Unfortunately for us we didn’t see any from New York, but a lot of our friends got them including the boys that picked up two from California. Man are those people going to be surprised to see those letters show up at their door!

Our guide Pedro said that we would walk a little bit until we would arrive at the Lava Tunnel. On the boat they had told us that we would be doing some cave diving and if we had them bring a waterproof flash light. Unfortunately none of us had waterproof flashlights but if you go, bring any light you have! A headlamp will do just fine! It was pitch black inside the cave with an uneven walking surface and jagged rocky edges poking out every direction. Our group of 10 people only had two lights, one good one and one from a keychain that Ruby borrowed from a guy walking out. Tony did his best using the flash from the camera as a light and Ruby stayed close by our guide. With only two torches we all felt a little vulnerable and I think some of us were surprised that we made it out without any bumps to the head! At the end of the tunnel was a waist deep pool of fresh water—yes it was chilly.

We arrived back to the beach hot and ready to do some snorkeling. As we walked into the water Ruby stepped on a green sea urchin but lucky for her/us it wasn’t too painful and Tony easily took out the barbs. As we jumped in the water Ruby spotted two penguinos swimming just a few feet away. This was an amazing opportunity to swim with penguins and it sure helped Ruby get over the whole barbs in the foot thing. We swam with them for a few 100 feet and watched excitedly as they called out to each other (braying like donkeys) and zipping past us above and underwater. The island is great for snorkeling and had tons of gorgeous colorful fish, sting rays, and even some sea turtles but we didn’t see them because we were hanging out with PENGUINOS!

Back to ship for some rest and lunch before heading to Punta Comorant and what had to be the stinkiest flamingo pond ever—without flamingos! It was so smelly that we could hardly stand to look at it. We saw lots of indigenous plants but don’t remember most of the names. The end of our hike was a large cove –with you guessed it, beautiful white sand and crystal clear water. The water was teeming with sea turtles and sting rays which you could see swimming just feet away from shore (see video below or linked on our website). Sally Light-Foot crabs (which are extremely photogenic by the way) were crawling in the shallows. There were also several tracks in the sand from where sea turtles crawl into the bushes to lay their eggs.

We decided to do some laundry in preparation for the Amazon or as Ruby liked to call it “Lavenderia del Decko”. After our around the world trip washing clothes in a sink and hanging them to the top rail of a boat doesn’t seem that strange. Tony took a shower and had a few beers with the boys while Ruby laid out on the deck reading Bolognia (dermatology bible) and chatted with our new friends. We got to see another sea turtle swimming next to the ship before leaving Floreana. As usual we had another gorgeous sunset and did our best to capture it so we can look back and remember how fabulous this day really was!

Today was our last night aboard the ship and the cook made us a yummy dinner complete with farewell cocktails. This mixed with the wine we snuck on board and we were ready to party in town. The ship dropped anchor and most of the crew and almost all the passengers boarded the water taxi to shore. Our guide Pedro would be showing us around town and kept us out dancing until 1am! It was a total blast-- Pedro was doing the most amazing dated dance moves, from the 70s and 80s and maybe the future, needless to say he was getting DOWN! We arrived at the dock and told the water taxi to take us to our boat. He looked at us and asked where was it anchored? This is funny because it’s dark and all the boats in the harbor just look like lights. Lucky for us one of the guys in the taxi worked on our boat and pointed out our light!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:48 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Tony No Hablo Espanola

October 26, 2011

sunny 85 °F

Today we awoke to the Island of Espanola and the beautiful Gardner Bay outside our window. From the boat we could see that there were tons of sea lions on the beach! It was our first wet landing, meaning they get a few feet from the beach and everyone hops off the side of our inflatable raft. The water was clear and warm and the sand white and amazingly soft. We brought all our snorkeling gear but started with a walk on the beach.

As most of you know Ruby loves baby animals and for some reason every time she stopped to take a photo with/of a baby sea lion it would start waddling along after her on the beach. It was so funny to watch all the baby sea lions follow her like she was their mom. We kept exploring and just a few more steps down the beach we had the opportunity to watch the prettiest marine iguana munching on the grass on the rocks. It was like watching the Discovery Channel; iguana in the surf eating grass on a rock with sea lions playing in the background and sea turtles swimming by! :) We walked back down the beach to the rest of our group. Before we got back to the rest of the group we enjoyed watching the “beachmaster” patrol his territory. This is the largest male sea lion who has a harem of females on his section of the beach. We watched him swim up and down the beach barking out commands for all other males to stay away :) After that we started snorkeling around but you can see Ruby was nervous about the beachmaster. You definitely want to steer clear of him when you get in the water.

The visibility was not great in the shallow water but we did manage to see several sea turtles and sea lions. After being in the water for a few Tony decided to take a “shortcut” back to shore. It worked out perfect for him but for some reason Ruby kept stepping on every rock in the ocean! Tony was laughing so hard as he stood on soft sand and watched her stumble over the rocks. Needless to say, Ruby is the better navigator!

Back at the boat we had a quick snack and loaded up again to do some deep water snorkeling. They dropped us off next to a large rock with water around 15’-25’. The visibility was amazing and we got to see our first white tip shark, tons of fish, and of course more sea lions (the girls said Tony looked like a sea lion with all his playful moves and deep dives).

After lunch and a nice hot shower we sailed over to the other side of Espanola and arrived at Punta Saurez. It was a dry landing and as we climbed out on the rocks we were greeted by tons of sea lions and a few marine iguanas swimming back to shore! We stood on the beach watching them in amazement as the rest of our group started walking down the beach. When we caught back up with our group we were greeted by a few blue footed boobies and Nazca boobies nesting on the path. We also got to see an all-out “bar room brawl” between a pair of Nazca boobies and their mates. They were honking at each other and sticking their beaks down each other’s throats. It looked a bit painful too. I think we have video of this—we’ll post it on the website if we can find it :)

This must have been the island that the Bishop of Panama was talking about in 1535 when he wrote “birds so silly that they do not know how to flee, and many were caught in the hand”. It’s a good thing that it only had silly birds and not gold or King Carlos V may have destroyed it before we got to see it! This island is a major breading island for the waved albatross (large white birds with yellow beaks) and because of its steep cliffs one of the best places to see them takeoff. The waved albatross chicks are some of silliest looking baby birds around, they’re large with wispy brown feathers but Ruby still thought they were adorable.

Standing on the cliffs with a huge blowhole in the background we got to see them run off the cliff and float gracefully though the air. We also watched mocking birds and Galapagos hawks soaring high over head. Once again we got distracted by beautiful brown eyes of baby sea lions and noticed our group leaving us behind. Eventually Tony was able to pull Ruby away from the babies and catch back up with the group just as we were loading back on the boat.

When we arrived back to the boat there was a hitchhiker on the back resting—a sea lion sunning. As we started sailing off into the sunset (yes, literally) dolphins appeared at the front of the boat, jumping and doing tricks. This paired with a gorgeous sunset and cocktails with friends is a great way to leave the island. At night we could see a trail of sparkling green lights in the wake behind our boat—it turns out this was bioluminescent algae activated by the movement of our boat! We lay on chairs on the deck and watched the sky with our new friends Estuardo and Mario. The sky was absolutely like nothing we have ever seen before--you could hardly see black because we could see sooooo many stars! It was confusing to look for constellations because on the equator you can see both the Northern and Southern hemisphere stars. We were all lying watching the sky when Angel, our guide, came out and shined a flashlight in the water. Just then a dolphin came flipping out of the water. We got to see a few more dolphins around midnight before heading to bed! What an amazing day and night!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Head North to Seymour Frigates

October 25, 2011

sunny 89 °F

Getting up at 5am is never a good way to start the day on vacation . . . but at least we saw a surprise Galapagos penguin swimming like a torpedo underwater to send us off. We took the earliest speed boat back (6am) to Santa Cruz Island to join our cruise. After the 2.5 hour speed boat ride and another 1 hour drive we arrived back to the Baltra airport. We meet up with some of our crew including our guide Angel. We all boarded a bus and took a short ride over to the dock to board our cruise ship.

We immediately had a good feeling about our fellow travelers and crew. Aboard the ship were two guides Angel and Pedro, Vicki the housekeeper, and Ricky the bartender. On the ship with us were 18 other passengers, including 3 other doctors. We met two guys from Northern California: Mario and Estuardo while waiting for our first panga ride, Estuardo was wearing a Macchu Picchu t-shirt which of course sparked a conversation. The “Mario brothers” as we like to call them were just as lucky as us and also got one of the two top cabins on the ship (on the sundeck level instead of below)! We all settled in and relaxed on the deck—Ruby caught up on some reading while Tony went to go take a nap. As usual, Ruby didn’t get much reading done because there were just too many great distractions. This time, within minutes of sitting down she saw a huge frigate bird fly inches past her! These birds have wingspans of about 6 feet so it was pretty hard to miss. She got up and got the coolest video (see below) of this bird coasting along next to the ship. We’ve never seen anything like that; you could reach out and touch this giant bird!

We coasted along until we could see North Seymour island, it looked beautiful as we approached with rocky cliffs amidst a bright blue ocean and throngs of birds overhead. This would be our first island stop. We were separated into two groups of 10 and hopped into our panga boat for our first island landing—this would be a dry one. Ruby was reminded of Cuban refugees as 12 of us all crammed into our little inflatable raft—of course in quite different circumstances. On land we encountered a rocky beach with tons of cute baby sea lions crawling over the rocks. This is a great time to come if you would like to see baby animals! Next came a yellow colored land iguana, stopping only to eat some plants and for a quick photo shoot with Tony.

A little further up the trail we came to the blue footed booby nesting area. We saw a blue footed booby baby that had a heart shaped design on its feathers when the wings were tucked back. It was really cute and we had to take a photo so you wouldn’t think we were just being cheesy in love! :)

As we continued walking around this small island we started seeing more and more frigate birds. They are amazing because the males blow up a large red sack in their throat and do a little call to attract a mate from up above in the sky. It’s just like when Ruby looked at Tony standing by the bar; these guys have something eye catching for that flyby! :) We took so many photos with these guys and had the opportunity to see them up close because some had nested right on the trail. On the way back we also got to see swallow tailed gulls with red color around eyes thought to absorb more light for hunt at night. We can’t believe all the things we’ve seen and it’s only day one of the cruse! We both watched a beautiful sunset while Ruby read her Bolognia chapters followed by a delicious dinner and drinks with our new friends. It had been a long day so we decided to call it an early night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 00:30 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador:Galapagos:Sierra Negra: Calderas and La Concha Perla

October 24, 2011

sunny 87 °F

After breakfast we packed our own lunch with the sandwich items the lodge had put out for us. We then loaded into our modified pickup truck/bus and drove down the one road to the volcano. The drive took about 45 minutes and it was surprisingly cold but we warmed up pretty quick on the walk. Along the way there was lots of evidence of previous volcanic eruptions in the form of hardened Pahoehoe lava flows. The last eruption of the Sierra Negra volcano was on Oct 22nd, 2005, looks like we were almost exactly 6 years too late to catch the action! Our group today was a young couple from Japan (who didn’t really speak English) and four other people from Spain (who also didn’t really speak English). We know right away that this wouldn’t be one of those times when we would make lifelong friends.

Back in New York we had been reading blogs about how hot and difficult the hike up would be. We were also told that the hike would take at least 6 hours. In reality, it only took us about 45 minutes to walk up a dusty trail and about 1 hour taking the long flat way down. As we climbed up we were able to look back and see many of the other islands out in the distance. The caldera of the volcano was amazing, it’s the 2nd largest in the world (and by the way yes we have been to the largest caldera, it's in Tanzania :) This one is 10 km at its widest diameter. Much of the caldera floor is covered by quite young lava flows which give it the black color you can see in photos. There is absolutely no vegetation which makes sense as it is still an active volcano with heat in the center. We walked along the ridgeline and Ruby had me take a few photos of her walking in the sunshine surrounded by greenery so she could be reminded of the feeling when we get back to the cold NYC winter weather. During the hike we did have time to observe some of the local vegetation and birds—some of our faves were a purple flower that sort of resembled lavender, one of Darwin's finches and a red-breasted male flycatcher bird.

After the hike we stopped at a small bar to eat our lunch. Tony sat in the sunshine and Ruby used this time to take a nap in a hammock. After relaxing for a few hours at the lodge we headed out to an area called “La Concha Perle”. We walked over a bridge while ducking under vines and branches of mangroves before arrived at a large natural lagoon. The water was pretty cold so we were happy to have our wetsuits on hand. Snorkeling around we weren’t seeing much until we found 4 marine tortoises . . . one of which was almost as large as Tony and definitely weighted more than him?! Wow, never seen anything quite like that. It was lovely swimming alongside and above them as they gracefully floated through the water. Afterwards we were quite happy to hit the beach and relax. We shared a few beers over delicious fresh “ceviche de camarones” while watching a group of Blue Footed Boobies dive into the water like missiles to catch fish. We can’t ever resist watching a good sunset so we sat on the beach until the sun disappeared. It’s not surprising that Ruby was so exhausted that she passed out in less than a minute after dinner that night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 06:49 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos: Isabela : Swimming with Sea Lions

October 23, 2011

sunny 88 °F

Today we officially felt like our vacation had started, we made it to our first destination! After breakfast we headed out on a small boat to Las Tintoreras, an islet only about 20 minutes away from Isabela. Right away we saw three penguins zipping around underwater followed by a sea turtle lazily passing us by in the boat. Our first blue footed booby was gorgeous and was sitting on a rock along the coast. These animals hardly seemed to notice us at all when we came close.

We made a dry landing, meaning onto a dock (or rocks), at Las Tintoreras and we were immediately greeted by a lava lizard and tons of baby marine iguanas basking in the sunshine. These guys all have some white stuff on top of their heads—it’s actually dried sea salt from their special salt excretion glands to get rid of the salt that builds up when they’re out diving in the ocean. They actually snort the salt out and it looks like they’re sneezing every now and again.

On the island there is a small channel with 50-100 white tip reef sharks slowly swimming along or laying on the bottom trying to get some sleep. It was really neat to see them right next to the marine iguanas and crabs. As we walked around we saw a sea lion doing his best imitation of a shark fin. We took a short boat ride out to a snorkel spot and as soon as the boat stopped we were greeted by three little sea lions. It was an amazing opportunity to swim with sea lions and one I don’t think we’ll ever forget. They were so playful! They would whizz around us in circles inquisitively checking out our responses with their beautiful brown eyes.

After lunch and a little hammock time we visited the tortoise breeding center. They keep the tortoises until the age of 5 when they are dropped out to their original sites in the volcanic highlands. Fun Fact: the center can control the sex of tortoises they breed by the temp they incubate the eggs. Ruby liked the faces of the tortoises and even went so far as to call them handsome. She thought they looked like old men. If you would like to see for yourself, you have some time because some live to be 200 years old.

We then boarded our modified pickup truck/bus and drove up to visit the Wall of Tears. This wall was built by prisoners in the 1940 and 50s as the start of a prison. It was never completed after a prison revolt in 1959 but many men died due to lack of fresh water and hard labor. We made a few quick stops at a lava tunnel, a lookout point to see the wetlands, and a large cactus species that was so big Tony couldn’t even put his hands around it.

After dinner we enjoyed a great sunset on the beach where we felt like we were the only two people on the island, very secluded feeling compared to Santa Cruz. This is the largest island and there is only about 3000 residents total. I think we have more than that in our building in New York! :) If this is what our first day on Galapagos is like we can’t wait to see what else is in store for us.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Ecuador: Galapagos Islands: Isabela: Destination Difficult

October 22, 2011

sunny 85 °F

After a long night and maybe a bad movie or two we arrived into Guayaquil, Ecuador. I don’t know what it is about South Americans but people always clap when the plane lands. When we travel we are always being reminded of our friends back home. This time it was a guy in front of us in the customs line with a City Year bag (Ruby’s sister Preety works for them). Normally we would have started up a conversation with this guy but his outfit was just so over the top that we were afraid of what he might say. He was fully clad in leather everything including a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and the brightest ostentatious red and black sneakers we’ve seen in a while. Sorry we didn’t take a photo but we were in customs and didn’t want to get arrested! We quickly grabbed our bags, ate a “desayuno ejectivo” and headed to our connecting gate to the Galapagos. The flight was about 2 hours to get to the islands 600 miles of the coast of Ecuador. From the air we couldn’t help but notice the color of the water—it was turquoise and crystal clear, not what we expected at all so that was a pleasant surprise! We landed onto the barren island of Baltra and quickly started the trek to get to Isabela. We took a bus to a ferry to a pickup truck just to get to the harbor. This totaled a little over an hour and by this time we were starved, luckily for us we ate lunch at La Isla Grill . . . who knew they would have such delicious BBQ pork chops? YUM!

Our next step was a long and painful speed boat ride. This was about 2.5 hrs of bouncing around and staring at the Pacific Ocean. Tony got sick and puked off the back of the boat! Gosh, we sure hope Isabela is going to be worth all this trouble! It was low tide when we arrived so we had to be ferried in on smaller “panga” boats. We quickly knew we had made the right decision because we saw a huge spotted stingray and sea lions swimming around the panga boat. Our guide met us and quickly ushered us to get to the flamingo pond before sunset. As luck would have it, those flying flamingos continue to be elusive. Finally, after a long day of travel we arrived at our hotel San Vicente. . . the hot showers felt amazing and we were definitely ready for dinner. We met some fellow travelers including Sylvan from Switzerland and enjoyed some classic Ecuadorian soup and cuisine before passing out.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 08:11 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

USA: New York: Happy Birthday Ruby

October 21, 2011

semi-overcast 70 °F

Today was Ruby’s birthday and we spent most of it at work! :( We could tell you all about how New York drivers suck and how crazy people are on the East coast but we’re trying to keep this blog short. We celebrated with an amazing dinner at Terri and John’s house, complete with some delicious Italian food, chocolate cake, and a bottle of vino! Tony’s family even got online with us on Skype to sing Happy Birthday. . It was just perfect! The gorgeous scarf that Terri got Ruby for her birthday was wrapped so beautifully that Ruby almost didn’t want to unwrap it.

The spoiling continued with a personal sendoff to JFK. Upon arriving we realized that Ecuador starts at the gate! No matter where we travel we always notice that the country starts at the airport. South America is known for impatient people and who don’t like to form lines, so it came as no surprise when we got to the airport and it was sheer chaos at the ticket counter and gate!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 09:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

USA: Indiana: South Bend: Vicki and Brett's Wedding

July 22, 2011

sunny 75 °F

We were so excited to see the family after our long trip and there was no better place to meet up with everyone than South Bend Indiana for Tony’s baby sister Vicki’s wedding. We are so happy and excited for Vicki and Brett who actually met at Notre Dame during school! Everyone looked amazing, Joan, Tony’s mom looked fantastic as the mother of the bride. The wedding was held at the gorgeous chapel at Notre Dame. The ceremony was traditional Catholic and beautiful. All the Froude kids were absolutely adorable, especially Tony’s nieces and nephews--Samantha, Annika, Jimmy, and Gabe and we got quite a few good pictures of them.

Afterwards we all got down at the wedding reception! Let’s just say a lot of dancing ensued. Tony’s dad Jeff danced with Vicki to “Scotch and Soda” and Uncle Ed and Leann did some crazy disco moves! Ruby had fun catching up on all our adventures with the cousins Kara, Katie, Hilary and Kristin. We were so excited to see Aunt Pat, Jackie and Lillian too! Kira and Randi were pretty busy wrangling the kids! Luckily Kira had some help since her mom Joan was there too! Tony was in love with the groom’s cake that Brett picked out—it was in the form of a sub sandwich! Later on we had an after party at our hotel room where everyone got to catch up some more and we were so excited to finally empty our “toddler” and give everyone their “around the world” presents.

The next morning we all got together over brunch and popped open a bottle of Dom Perignon which Tony’s brother Jeffy and his wife Kira brought from France to celebrate the occasion! That was our first time tasting the stuff. . .no wonder it’s so expensive! We had to say our sad goodbyes to a bunch of the relatives who had to get back to their respective states and/or countries! CA, VA, NC TX, OK, France etc . . . . we wish we could have had more time with everyone but it was great while it lasted. We look forward to seeing everyone again around the holidays.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 17:21 Archived in USA Comments (2)

USA: New York:Newton’s Big Apple Has Hit the Ground

May 26, 2011

sunny 75 °F

We arrived into Madrid at 5:30am and immediately headed to the hotel where we had left one of our bags. We quickly grabbed it and took the Metro directly to the airport. We were so proud of ourselves when we checked in for this last flight on our around the world trip. We had made it without having paid ANY excess or overweight baggage fees . . . that is until we got to security and realized we had forgotten to move the gourmet olive oil and marmalade we had bought for Jess and David into one of our checked bags!! :( Ruby was pretty upset and really didn’t want to have to throw these expensive things away so in her state of delirium she tried to give them away to fellow passengers—LUCKILY she didn’t escorted out by security! Instead she found a girl from Texas whose friend was seeing her off all the way to the security gates and Ruby happily handed the gifts off to her.

The security guards probably looked at our passports and decided we needed an extra security check—and on the x-ray machine they noticed that our alabaster vase from Luxor, Egypt had cracked :( Luckily these were the only two hiccups we had at the end of our trip. Our flight was pretty uneventful and we contentedly watched Gulliver’s Travels (the doll house scene is hilarious) and the new Karate Kid movie until the pilot said we would be landing at JFK in 30 minutes. . . and that’s when gravity started to have its effects (figuratively and literally) as we came back down to earth.

We were happy to see Tony’s dad Jeff as he picked us up at the airport. We immediately suffered through horrendous NY traffic on our way to Queens. You guys would never guess our first meal back in the states: White Castle. Yup, that’s right White Castle. Couldn’t have picked anything worse. We felt pretty ill eating that after all the delicious fresh, natural foods we had enjoyed on our trip. We thought we were dreaming when we saw a Chase Bank, Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack, and CVS all in the same block! Never has life been this convenient. It was like paradise. Funny how our perspective had changed.

That night we met Jeff’s friend Terri and her daughter Christine for a little bit and settled down at our friend Makeda’s house. She generously was allowing us to couch surf until we found our own place in Brooklyn. As usual, we weren’t ready to relax so we drove around researching the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn to figure out the parking situation at night! Ruby instantly wanted to go to her fave Italian spot in Park Slope so we ate dinner at Tutta Pasta. It was perfect but expensive (as we’re realizing most things are going to be after visiting so many third world countries). BTW, Happy Birthday Aunt Jackie!

Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: We are coming home and Happy Birthday Preet!

May 25, 2011

sunny 103 °F

Today was our last full day on holiday! :( Tony hadn’t skated very much in Spain so he started his day with a quick trip down to the skate park by the river. Ruby used this quiet time to updating the blog and work on the internet. After a quick shower back at the hotel we had the pleasure of knowing this would be the last time we would have to cram all our stuff into these tiny bags! We don’t know how much more the bags could handle but doing a trip like this will definitely test anything you bring . . . especially the bags. Levies was delicious yesterday so we went back and this time we tried the “berenjenas con salmorejo y miel de cana” one of their specialties. The flavors were really unique, crispy savory eggplant with salmorejo sauce mixed with fresh honey. YUM :) This would be our last lunch on a very long vacation (well other than airplane lunch we’re sure to have tomorrow). We burned off some calories by taking a walk past the Giralda Catedral, stopping to smell the orange trees and seeing if Embrujo boutique had another dress like the one that Ruby was wearing last night. Sadly, they didn’t have any that Ruby liked as much as the one last night.

We then took a leisurely walk thought the Plaza de Espana on what we think was the hottest day we’ve had in Spain. Ruby used what we think was the worst bathroom in all of Spain and we paid for it (in more ways than one). As we walked around we met two guys from New York, Eric and David who lived in Spain for school a few years ago. We had a great conversation about New York and the new adventure we would be starting tomorrow. We then tried our best to grab a late lunch but everything was closed. The only places that are open in the early afternoon are tourist destinations and bad Spanish versions of TGIF. We made a bad decision and ended up eating some fish balls instead of what we thought would be an amazing afternoon of tapas.

On our way back to the hotel we ran into our friends David and Eric again with Eric’s wife Melanie at a small bar in Plaza Alfalfa. We drank sangria and started planning her True Blood Sunday Nights with Melanie. It was so nice to meet them! Thanks for picking up the tab you guys! We must have looked so defeated as we pushed, pulled, and dragged all our stuff over cobblestone streets to the bus station. All we could think was “just one more night bus” until we get back to our comfy bed! Our new friend Melanie Bolyai is an acupuncturist in Manhattan so we may be paying her a visit when we get back to town for our backs after all these bus rides! :)

On the 6 hour bus ride to Madrid (our last on this trip) we could hardly breathe, we felt such an amazing sense of accomplishment. We had set out to do this trip while taking risks and making sacrifices to make it happen. We were able to go above and beyond everything we had hoped to do. We saw the good, the bad, the ugly AND the REALLY ugly about each other and other people. We were able to strengthen our trust in each other by infinite amounts. Ruby cried like the day she found out she matched into dermatology in New York—in a way, the sense of accomplishment was the same. We’re just so happy that this trip worked out the way we had planned and couldn’t have asked for a better experience! Looking out the window as the sun is setting we are thinking about all the amazing things we’d done, places we’ve been, and most importantly people we’ve meet. This has been an experience that will change us for the rest of our lives! Good night Spain!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 04:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: Friends, Fresh Olive Oil and Flamenco

May 24, 2011

sunny 88 °F

This would be our last full day in Sevilla and we were trying to make the most out of it! First thing we spent some time booking flights for Wikki, Jenny and Vicki’s weddings today and realized that the Icelandic volcano eruption could impact our flight from Spain tomorrow due to heavier particles hanging out in the air . . . hopefully not! We are ready to get back home and unpack our bags for a while :)

We started by looking for a lunch spot . . . and we found the perfect one for our budget! In Europe they always talk about the "menu del dia" or the menu of the day which is supposed to save you lots of money . . . they only problem is: we usually want something other than what they're serving that day! It was our lucky day though when we found Levie's and the sign said: "a eligir de la carta" which essentially means pick what you like from the menu! :) We had such a yummy lunch that was a total throwback to our time in Argentina because we ordered the chicken in mustard sauce!

Afterwards we wandered around town checking out all these little boutiques and tapas spots along the street until we ended up where all the tourists hang out--near the main Cathedral at the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes and Giralda tower. It is quite a sight to see, it's huge but beautiful with horse drawn carriages taking people on romantic rides around this area. We enjoyed walking in the shade of the cathedral until we came to the Alcazar. We contemplated going in there but after The Alhambra we didn't think it could compare so we opted to skip it. While walking around here Ruby had seen something about olive oil tasting in Sevilla and we were off on a hunt for a place that did olive oil tasting. Along the way a mannequin wearing a silk dress caught Ruby's eye. We ended up walking into this little boutique and she tried on all the silk dresses they had. While Ruby was trying them on two girls walked in and decided to offer their opinions of their favorites too. Both Catherine and Ruby bought dresses. Before we knew it, the four of us were heading off for some olive oil tasting together. Caitlin and Catherine are two very interesting people--Catherine lived in India for years as a baby clothes designer and Caitlin lives in LA-- both would be heading to Morocco next. We couldn't help but tell them both how much we loved it. Even luckier than us, Catherine had some local friends down there. . we'll need to compare notes and see how they like their experience.

We finally found the olive oil tasting place and sat down for some wine and sangria to go with it. It was pretty fun--we never knew how distinctive each olive oil could taste until we tasted them in sequence. Some were very grassy/green, other super olive-y and others just pure delicious! We settled on our favorite and bought some gourmet orange marmalade (Sevilla's famous for it) for Ruby's sister Jess and her fiancé David to go with it! Afterwards we were all ready for our afternoon siesta! The art of Flamenco originated in Sevilla and since we had so much fun with the girls we invited them to the flamenco show that we would be going to later that night.

After napping we got up and ready. Since it was our last night in Sevilla Ruby couldn't resist wearing the new dress she just bought. It's silk and oh so very Indian! We met up with the girls and enjoyed a truly authentic flamenco experience complete with a guitarist and intricate clapping and stomping! The costumes weren't fancy so we knew we were in an authentic spot. Some of the locals were drinking a milky looking liquid and we found out that's a local specialty: kava with whipped cream . . . we gave it a try of course. Not our favorite :)

We couldn't end the night so early. . It was only midnight! So we decided to go find a late night snack. The Plaza and Giralda were gorgeous at night and it was so warm you didn't even need a jacket. After walking around we realized that most places were closed already! Luckily we found a spot serving tapas and ice cream. After chatting it up with this crazy group of guys wearing red pants we all enjoyed some more wine and dessert before heading home. We gave the girls hugs and hope that we'll get to see them again in LA or NYC.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Spain: Sevilla: Tangier to Tapas

May 23, 2011

sunny 83 °F

Unfortunately for us, this was no better a night train ride than any of the ones we’d had previously. This silly pair of men decided to SIT in our car for their short ride in the middle of night instead of moving down to an empty car or the train car with seats. Somehow we did manage to get a few hours of sleep in. Tony slept facing one direction and Ruby facing the other on a 2 foot wide by 5 foot long bench seat. At 7am, groggy and exhausted we hauled our bags loaded with Moroccan goodies off the train and headed directly into the wall of taxi drivers. After a bit of negotiating we were off to catch the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa. Ruby would like to blame the sleep deprivation for her falling into a tout trap so early in the morning—at the ferry station some guy directed us where to go and started filling out our forms for the ferry. Of course at the end he tried to get 10 Euros out of us but little did he know that we were at the tail end of our around the world trip! Besides, do you know what you can buy for 10 Euros in some of the countries we visited!?

Instead of a restful 1 hour nap to Tarifa we were assaulted by the sound of excited school kids on a field trip. Needless to say we could not wait to get to a hotel . . . it would be a while though. Tarifa was cold and windy. Besides that, the bus was ready to drive off without us so we just took a quick photo or two and then jumped on the next bus heading to Algeciras. The 45 minute ride passed through rolling hills spotted with horses and windmills before dropping us off at the port in Algeciras. We tried to rent a car but they were all booked so we just caught the next bus up to Sevilla. On the ride we finally got some blissful rest but did see some cool statues along the way.

Finally at long last we arrived in Sevilla but of course neither one of us had done much research on it. So we did what we normally do: look for the two most American-looking people at the bus station and ask them if they have a travel book or map of the city that we can look at! A few minutes later with our bearings gathered we were off to the old part of town. The first thing we noticed were the gorgeous orange tree-lined streets. Of course these streets are tiny and convoluted so we got lost along with tons of other tourists. It was hilarious to see everyone carrying a map, looking confused and trying their best to find a street sign. Ruby sat down for an afternoon glass of wine and some tapas while Tony looked for an inexpensive hotel in Sevilla (which by the way is not an easy task!). Eventually we settled on Virgen de La Luz Pension which was in a great location. The hotel is a little hidden but the staff is friendly and the room was nice and bright. If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning then you know that our favorite thing to do after a long night of travel is shower, rest and go find some delicious food . . .which is easy to do in Spain!

Downstairs in the lobby we went another couple travelling and they recommended we cross a bridge to the other side of town. We had perfect timing and got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset followed by a colorful sky at dusk while enjoying our fave: “gambas al ajillo” (garlic butter shrimp) with wine. We strolled around town until we found another local spot. This was REALLY local because no one spoke English and the bartender kept track of our order by writing the total in chalk on the countertop! One of the big specialties in Sevilla is “caracoles”. We watched people scarf down these small snails, we were tempted to try them but couldn’t muster up the courage. Not quite ready to head home we decided to try one more spot. We ended up drinking sangria until one in the morning. The last place we went to did not have pimientos de padron on the menu but when Ruby asked the girl said “yeah we can do that” and promptly went to the grocery store around the corner to buy the peppers! WOW, talk about service. It was a great way to end the evening . . . content. Unfortunately in our contentment we missed the last bus but looking at the map it really didn’t look that far. You would think that by now we would have learned that paper maps are often NOT to scale! We slowly meandered our way back to the hotel stopping occasionally to ask directions; luckily we found it before passing out in exhaustion.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:35 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Morocco: Marrakesh: Exotic Spices, Soaps and Scrubs

May 22, 2011

sunny 88 °F

Today is our last day in Marrakesh and we are really sad about it. We walked around and tried to enjoy every last second while soaking in the culture. Marrakesh has to be the best place for exotic travel by far! There are lots of Europeans who live here so Tony was able to blend in instead of his usual obvious tourist appearance. We went on a mission hunting for the plates we love so much and ended up on the other side of Marrakesh in front of a closed store (Sunday) :( That was disappointing but thanks to our awesome camera we were able to zoom in on the price tags from OUTSIDE the store and take pictures for negotiating in the market later. Once we got that sorted out we noticed that we were in a very French neighborhood which makes sense since Morocco was colonized by the French for some time—this is where Tony fit in well. After gaining some bargaining power we headed back through the souk . . . along the way we could smell the spices, hear meat sizzling on the grill and see lanterns glowing on their display hooks. Ruby couldn’t resist the smells and ended buying lots of spices including the Moroccan 35 spice mix for cooking in a tagine and seasonings for chicken and fish. We hope to use these in our own cooking at home. She didn’t care for Moroccan curry though—it’s too sweet! We also picked up some black soap which is made using the oil from olives as a base.

By this time we were starved and at a rooftop restaurant we ordered chicken kebabs but ended up eating something that may have pigeon. We didn’t eat much before we walked out of there. . it was terrible! At least the view was nice . . . and we got to admire some Moroccan carpets from afar; if we got too close Ruby might be tempted to buy one and lug it around with us on the rest of the trip like our friend Carine from South Africa did!

Before we said bye bye to Morocco Ruby couldn’t leave without indulging in a classic massage at our hotel and spa. This was insane, for $35 (including a generous tip) they bathed her with eucalyptus black soap , shampooed her hair, scrubbed her with a loofah, applied a mud mask to her entire body with an herbal mask to her face and followed all that with time in the steam room. Afterwards, Ruby had a full body massage with warmed scented oils and a facial. It was heavenly and they played Buddha Bar 4 during the whole time; Ruby liked it so much that she asked to borrow it so she could play it and remember this amazing experience! Afterwards we watched the sun go down just as we boarded our night train to Tangier . . . we opted for second class again . . . fingers crossed that we don’t have to share our cabin tonight!

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 13:00 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Morocco: Marrakesh:Ten Tagines Just to Start---FOODIE ALERT

May 21, 2011

sunny 92 °F

We started our day at 5am with some woman yelling at us in Arabic to make room for her and her baby while trying to squeeze her way into our cabin. Ruby was so out of it that she yelled back “GET OUT and go to another room, we’re sleeping”! After that, the lady grabbed her bags and we never saw her again. Don’t mess with Ruby at 5am! Besides that, there were several other cars with people who weren't trying to sleep. We arrived into Marrakesh and grabbed a cab going over to the medina around Jemaa El Fna Plaza and the old part of town. As we quickly learned the medina is actually a walled area containing tons of narrow maze-like streets that are easy to get lost inside! After a little walking around with a new found “friend” (aka tout) we finally found our hotel, which we love! It’s called Les Colours de’ Oriente, it’s sort of like a spa and boutique hotel. There’s a center court yard, tiled walls, and great seats for chilling outside. We dropped our stuff off and were oh so happy to take showers and start our day.

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As we walked around the souk (market) while catching whiffs of exotic spices, dodging speeding scooters and stray cats we realized that we had definitely made the right decision coming to Marrakesh. It was so exotic but at the same time easy. The shop owners were friendly and didn’t give us a hard time if we decided not to buy anything. All that scooter-dodging made us hungry to we headed to Dar Essalam, personally recommended by the owner of our hotel. It was just down a small alley not too far away. The restaurant was established in 1952 with amazing detailed dining rooms that look exactly like what you think of as being Moroccan. One of the first things we noticed were the gorgeous place settings at our table. The restaurant was featured in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film “the man who knew too much” . . . thus being a little more expensive than those on the main square. However, the place was so beautiful with wonderful service and yummy food that we couldn’t complain! We started with a Moroccan salad which turned out to be six types of salad including carrots, white beans, cucumbers, and an aubergine dish to die for! Our first Moroccan tagine prepared dish was of lamb and vegetable and it was perfect. After eating so much that we could hardly breathe we decided to continue our Spanish tradition of the afternoon siesta and headed back to the hotel.

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After waking up we went for a walk down to the medina and did some window shopping looking at hand-made lanterns, leather bags, and spices. We tried to avoid the snake handlers because we don’t like their practice of de-fanging the cobras but they were hard to avoid . . . or resist! A familiar sound was Tony getting offered another 1 million camels for Ruby. Must be an Africa thing because Tony wasn’t offered any camels for Ruby in Spain! We stopped at a beautiful area selling spices and olives where Ruby got a bag of FREE seasoned olives from one of the vendors. We wanted to pay but didn’t have any small change and he said don’t worry about it! As we walked around town we came across a shop selling the same porcelain plates we ate on earlier today at Dar Essalam. . . we couldn’t resist and bought tree serving plates. . . so when you come to New York maybe we’ll serve something on them for you! On the walk back we had some of the best fresh squeezed OJ EVER! :)

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Back at the room we got on the computer and did some “work”. We didn’t really know how we would be getting back to Spain but we had to be there soon. After doing some price comparison we decided taking the night train, then a taxi, then a boat, and then a bus to Sevilla. . .yeah, the cheap way! This was in competition with a direct flight to Madrid for $88 USD each but we didn’t want to skip Sevilla :) We had dinner at Dar Nejjarine, another personal recommendation. We got a little lost looking for this one too but after a little walking around we found another “friend” to show us the way. This restaurant was even more amazing, with 10 different Moroccan salad starters in mini-tagines, bread, and a bottle of wine. Then our main dish, a tagine of cous cous with chicken, Yum! We didn’t think we’d enjoy Morocco as much as we have but tonight with the light breeze blowing through the tented ceiling, live Arabic music and belly dancers we wish we could stay longer! Just for a moment we forget just how close we are to going home.

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Afterward we walked back through crazy alleys on a lively Saturday night and arrived into the large square with music, food and tons of street vendors. A café at Jemaa El Fna square was the site of the terrorist bombing a month back but everything seems really safe and calm now. We didn’t want to test our luck on this perfect day so we headed to bed.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 01:26 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Morocco: Tangier: Back on Africa Time!

May 20, 2011

sunny 85 °F

We got up this morning and man are we happy that we left one of our bags in Madrid! We didn’t think the hill was this steep when we walked down it the other day? Ruby stopped at the store and grabbed some fruit on the way up the hill and we realized that it’s cheaper to eat apples and bananas than candy! We got on a bus in Marabella and just an hour later we arrived at the port in Algeciras, Spain. Unfortunately Tony forgot to grab our backpack from the bus so instead of getting on a ferry we ran half way across town to the other bus station. Luckily, we got there just as the bus that dropped us off was pulling up and grabbed the bag :) Now Tony doesn’t have to buy Ruby all new toiletries!

We arrived at the port a little after 3pm and the next ferry was going out at 3:30, but only to the new port at Tangier MED 45 min outside of town (33 Euros per ticket). They told us that the ferry would take an hour and 45 minutes and they would have a bus there to take us into town for FREE. This sounded good and it was . . . too good! We forgot that we were now back on Africa Time! The boat didn’t even move until 4, it took over 2 hours to get into Morocco, and then we had to wait 45 min for the bus to arrive before it took us into Tangier over 45 min away. That’s a total of over 7 hours and even more if you add in the taxi to the train station. If you plan on doing this trip we suggest you pay the extra 4 Euros and got straight into Tangier (Old Port)! The ferry crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and we had some great views of the back of the Rock of Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar is only 14km wide and leads to Tangier which is known as the “Gateway to Africa”. We arrived and were surprised to find that Tangier was pretty modern. There were nightclubs and McDonalds within easy reach. After exchanging some money we grabbed a sandwich and the guy didn’t even charge Ruby for the olives she asked for (so nice)! We watched the sunset on the beach and then walked up to the train station which is only a 5 minute walk from the boardwalk and got on the 9:45pm night train to Marrakesh. The trip takes around 10 hrs (Africa Time so maybe around 11 hours).

The second class seats are insane, with bench seat rooms built for 8 people. Everyone runs in to grab an open area to sleep. We were told that the train is usually not busy so you can usually get an open cabin and sleep all the way. I don’t know if it was because it was Friday or because the information we got was outdated but there were so many people on the train that eventually two people came into our cabin. The lady lived in Spain but was on her way to visit her husband for the weekend. She was super nice and even helped keep more than 4 people from coming in and joining us (by yelling at them in Arabic)! It was great having them in the car until these two started talk to each other. It was crazy; they were yelling to each other back and forth and talking incessantly for 3 hours of the ride. We were pretty tired from our traveling day and lucky for them the guy finally got off the train before Ruby killed them! We finally went to bed and were not disturbed for most of the night.

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Posted by Tony.Ruby 15:37 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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