For our honeymoon in July 2014, we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, and we chose Nicaragua. I'm so happy we did too, because we had a great mix of adventure and relaxation in a beautiful space. We stayed at Aqua Nicaragua, a resort on the Pacific Coast next to the surfing community of Playa Gigante. It was gorgeous, not too big, and we got to live in a treehouse for a week! We were also able to leave, which is great for people like us who like to wander around. The resort had so much to offer that we only wandered as far as Playa Gigante for some fish tacos and to watch the World Cup. It was an amazing honeymoon and we can't wait to go back someday!!
It's been about seven months since the last post and, I'm not going to lie, it's been really hard. Losing our little house and being in a terrifying car accident was the first in a long string of momentous life events, good and bad. It's a strange road and I'm not sure we ever really get there, but I'll keep you updated more frequently on the journey now.
First of all, let me tell you about the details and information we learned following the accident. The man who hit us had been taking a medication that made him drowsy. He fell asleep on the road and swerved into Timmy (the name of the trailer, if you've forgotten), which caused us to jack-knife and spin all the way around on I-75, just outside of Marietta, GA. Luckily, Timmy's hitch snapped off the car and while the trailer rolled over on the highway, we were able to straighten out and pull off to the shoulder. In the rear-view mirror I saw the car that hit us speed away, making me think he was fleeing the scene. We learned later that he was asleep at the wheel. All of us were incredibly lucky that we weren't more seriously injured, and that no other drivers were involved in the accident. My first thought was "that's our house lying on it's side in the middle of the highway". I knew it was destroyed, it looked like it had been picked up by a tornado and dropped from the sky. There was glass and clothing strewn everywhere. They had to close four lanes of the highway to get it on the tow truck and carry it to the wrecker lot, where it would live for the next several weeks while we figured out the insurance.
Now, for those of you with trailers, it is very confusing for someone without a trailer to realize it's value! Our insurance covered a deductible, but not the entire thing. Luckily we did not have to fight with the guy who hit us, he claimed responsibility and his insurance took care of the whole thing. We had taken so many pictures that it was very easy to prove the amount of work and money that had gone into it. The first offer they gave us for it's value was still way under though and we had to do some research. We sent them a ton of links to comparable trailers for sale and links to this blog. The second offer, while not an exorbitant amount of money, paid for the trailer and what we'd lost in it and we accepted. They also paid us a nominal amount for 'pain and suffering', though I'm not sure how they quantify that. The bumps and bruises went away but I have had terrible anxiety on the road since the accident. This entire process took about five months and lots of phone calls, we became very well acquainted with our insurance agent.
Since right before the accident and immediately after, Eric and I have gotten married, been on a honeymoon, been to a funeral, and moved to Philadelphia. We have a lot of travels to fill you in on! I'll leave out the time right after the accident when we were stuck in Marietta and Savannah - that was mainly a lot of gross hard work and moping. There have been a lot of changes that were put into action by the accident, most glaringly the change in our lifestyle it caused. We hope to have another trailer in the family some day soon, but for now we're pretty stationary. We'll begin filling in the gaps of the last seven months and get all caught up, then it's onward and upward 'cause there's nowhere else to go.
Last Saturday, August 2nd, at approximately 4:15 pm, Eric and I turned to each other and said "what is happening!?". We had been driving down I-75 in Georgia on our way to Savannah for work when someone hit Timmy from behind, causing the trailer to sway and then jackknife into our Honda Element, which then did a full 360 spin before we were able to come to a stop on the shoulder. We had the cats in the car with us but all of our personal belongings in the trailer, which was now fifty yards behind us and on its side in the middle of the road. Some of our belongings faired better than others. Luckily, Eric's cameras were in his ThinkTank case, one of the few things to come through apparently unscathed. To say the least, the entire experience was terrifying.
We have been hanging in Marietta, GA at a pet-friendly hotel with the cats the last couple of days and tomorrow we'll head to Savannah in our rental minivan so we can get to work. We'll come back to pick up the car, but we probably won't be coming home with Timmy. We've been feeling very displaced and are so saddened by this turn of events. At the same time, we feel very lucky to be alive. We'll probably be dealing with this for a bit longer, cross your fingers that everything works out!
We haven't updated in a while, but we've been a little busy :) Last month Eric and I were married in wild & wonderful West Virginia, then hurried off to Nicaragua for our honeymoon. Not too much to report on either, except it was the most special day and we were happy and exhausted! We'll have pictures from both coming soon. As a reminder that no matter where you are, life goes on and not on your schedule, when we returned from Nicaragua we headed straight to North Carolina to celebrate the life of a family member. It was a beautiful weekend with family on the Outer Banks. After one wedding, one honeymoon and one funeral: we were gone from our home exactly one month and one day. This afternoon we'll leave again. We are taking Timmy and the cats and heading south to Savannah, by way of Nashville. We'll be mostly working but will try to sneak an adventure or two in :) There will be more posts coming from trips we've yet to update too - planning a wedding is hard & time consuming!
As i mentioned, Cotopaxi was one of our favorite places we visited in Ecuador. One thing that made it so amazing were the herds of wild horses roaming the landscape. They were slightly wary of people, but if you were easy going and didn't run at them you could get pretty close. It was an incredible experience.
We spent our last weekend in Ecuador on a mini-getaway with my cousins. We headed to Mindo, a cloud forest in the Andes. We stayed at an amazing hotel made up of gypsy caravans. Our first day there we visited El Quetzal, a chocolate factory, and got a tour of how chocolate is made from the cacao bean and a treat of a delicious chocolate martini. Unfortunately later that evening I had a very bad reaction to some food (ugh gluten sneaks into everything!) and spent the rest of the weekend wondering if I was going to have to be medi-vac'd out of the jungle. We did get in a nighttime frog hunt before I got sick and I made half of a short hike later on, so it wasn't a total loss. However, we're going to need an extended trip back to Mindo and the Amazon next time - the jungle is my favorite place to be!
Eric and I needed a little break from all the touring around and decided to spend an afternoon exploring a new part of Quito. We headed to Parque Metropolitano, an expansive park overlooking the city. It was pretty quiet there and we wandered around looking for wild llamas - unfortunately there was a big fire there several years ago and the llamas no longer run free. We did find some but they were cordoned off and we couldn't approach them. We did come across some really interesting sculptures and lots of bike trails. It is a really impressive and large park! It's even more impressive that we made it out without getting too horribly lost. We ended up walking all the way through the city to get home, about 7 miles and a great way to get to see all the parts we hadn't had a chance to yet.
My favorite place we went in Ecuador was the park surrounding Cotopaxi, an active volcano. We were only able to go for one day, but Sarah and I totally want to go back and spend more time camping and climbing. Even in the one day we spent there, we saw some incredible landscapes. There was the peak of Cotopaxi itself which would occasionally peek out from behind huge clouds and all around were other jagged peaks with vast flatlands in between them. It was a magical place.
The morning after we returned from Alausi we were off again to visit Cotopaxi, a volcano south of Quito. Cotopaxi is the second highest summit in the country and an active volcano. It was a special trip for me because my grandfather had climbed Cotopaxi and it was my first trip there - it was amazing to feel so close to his past. We first went to the wrong entrance of the park and visited with some llamas before heading to the main entrance. Once there, we were told that without a proper guide we would not be allowed to the base of the volcano. Our driver shook on it that he wouldn't take us that far and we were allowed in. We went as far as the lagoon with the wild horses and convinced him to let us out to wander. Eric and I split up as he jumped a ravine to get closer (his legs are MUCH longer), and I went to find some horses. It was cloudy but there were moments when you could see the peak and it was beautiful. The rocks and foliage were amazing, not to mention the wild horses which we were able to get much closer to on our way out. It was cold and rainy and after about two hours of exploring we called it and headed to lunch. We definitely plan on going back someday to climb to at least the glacier (one of very few on the equator), if not all the way to the peak!
Lunch was at Hacienda la Cienega, an incredibly beautiful hacienda near Cotopaxi, which despite many years of eruptions remained intact. The hacienda was used as a residence in the 1700's by scientists studying the volcano and you can clearly see the peak from it's front balconies.
Nariz del Diablo is a short train ride through the Andes from Alausi to Sibambe and back. To get to Alausi we had a driver pick us up bright and early, after a quick stop in Tumbaco we headed south on the Pan-American Highway. We stretched out the trip (with some protests) to make a couple pit-stops for snacks and a little walk around Riobamba. True to nature, there were no short stops on this trip and we got to Alausi about 12 hours after setting out. By that point some of us (ME) needed a drink and we set out to explore the very small town. It was late but luckily we inquired about an open bar to a local who happened to own a bar and he opened it back up for us! It is called Marley Bar and features red lights, hookahs, reggae and a very nice staff. We had our nightcap and headed back to the hotel for a short nights sleep. The next morning we woke up at dawn to do a little exploring before the train ride. We were staying at the Hosteria La Quinta and it was adorable, offering great views of the town and hillsides. They offered a traditional breakfast with fruit, eggs, bread and loads of coffee.
We made it to the train on time and settled in. The Nariz del Diablo ride features a zig-zag railroad down a mountain that, at the time of construction, was an engineering feat. Once down the mountain you can see the features of the area that give it it's name. It's a short 2.5 hour trip but incredible. There is a quick stop at the bottom in Sibambe where the locals show a traditional indigenous dance, give llama rides and you can shop. It's pretty touristy but beautiful and provides great economy for the area.
Once back in Alausi we walked around town for a while and had a quick, delicious lunch before heading back on the long trip to Quito. We wish we could have stayed longer in Alausi, it is such a quaint and lovely (and photogenic) town! You can now see Ecuador by train, check out the many options at www.trenecuador.com.
Otavalo hosts the most famous indigenous market in Ecuador. The market takes place in a large square and you can find lots of local handicrafts, as well as more manufactured, items here. Haggling is traditional but it is also important to support your local artisans. We walked around for a bit and bought presents for family and some for ourselves. Then we were off to another amazing lunch at Hasienda Pinsaqui! The history of this place was interesting, Simon Bolivar once spent the night with his mistress there - they still have the room but unfortunately it was occupied. Lucky for us, my Tia knows the manager and he gave us a private little tour. After that it was a bus ride to Cotacachi, a village known for its leather work. We wandered around a bit and I wandered right into a leather jacket....funny how that happens.
The main reason for making the long trek to Alausi was to ride the rails on a scenic train ride through the mountains. The train trip is called Nariz del Diablo (the Devil's Nose). It was a wonderful and exciting 2.5 hour trip in a old wooden train through the lush green canyons. We also found out there is a 3 day trip you can do from the mountains to the sea. Next time!
We went to Ecuador because my great aunt was celebrating her 95th birthday and it turned into a bit of a family reunion. My mother was born in Ecuador and while I was born in the states, we still have a ton of family there that we keep in touch with. My cousin Rossana and her husband Fernando recently completed building a beautiful home in Tumbaco, a suburb of Quito, and hosted the party there. It was a huge success with lovely toasts, family from all over, and then hours and hours of dancing. Feliz dia!
On our second day in Ecuador we explored beautiful colonial Quito. Quito was the first capital city to be named an Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site. The original name of the city was Quitsato, meaning "Middle of the Earth" in ancient 'tsafiqui' language, as Quito is the only place where the Equator passes over the highlands. The history of Quito alone is pretty impressive. We began our tour of Colonial Quito at La Compania De Jesus Church, one of the richest in the Americas. La Compania is located near La Plaza de la Independencia, which is very central to all tourist desires and surrounded by the Presidential Palace, Municipal Palace, Archbishops Palace and the Cathedral. We were a little late (per usual) for a tour of the Presidential Palace but were allowed to walk to the front entrance and wave to the people.
Quito is 9000 ft above sea level, so a little walking around can make you very hungry. We had a good source on a restaurant and after walking past it 3 or 4 times, figured out it was the one. San Augustin Heladeria & Restaurante knows whats up - they list their ice cream first. Because it really is that good! We walked lunch off with a visit to Cantuna Chapel. The legend is that Francisco Cantuna, the indigenous architect, made a deal with the devil to finish the construction on time. When the atrium was almost completed he stole one of the large stone blocks and saved his soul. There's a lesson in here somewhere. We also hit up the Casa Del Alabado, one of the most impressive collections of pre-Columbian art I've ever seen, housed in an amazing building.
Always watching over the city is La Virgen de Quito, standing on El Panecillo. The original can be seen at the main altar of the San Francisco Church. You can enter La Virgen (I KNOW) and go on up to the balcony for an amazing view of Quito, or of terrifying lightning clouds. We got both! We also got some mariachi music and an amazing hot (and strong) drink. The drink consisted of a local spirit made from sugar cane and a splash of fruit juice. It was just what we needed since it was cold and rainy.
We avoided the torrential downpour and finished our day with a very special date night at the Hotel Plaza Grande, the same hotel where my grandparents had their first date. The hotel was the first luxury hotel in Quito (then called the Majestic) and is uniquely located on La Plaza de la Independencia. We had a beautiful dinner and also took cabs to and from the hotel to our apartment by ourselves. Successful day all around!
Sometimes getting around in Ecuador can be a chore. A trip that you expect to be 5 hours of driving is really 8 hours. Then when you factor in stops for lunch and sightseeing, it drags out to 12 hours. Such was the case with our trip to the beautiful little town of Alausi. Once we were there, however, it was all worth while. Alausi is a quaint little mountain town with friendly people and stunning views in every direction.
We recently had the amazing opportunity to go to Ecuador for 2 weeks for my great aunt's 95th birthday party & family reunion. I had not been in 20 years and Eric had never been, so we jumped at the chance. Granted, we booked the trip before we got engaged and didn't know that we would be leaving the country in the midst of planning a wedding - but it was worth it. Since we never know what work will be like for either of us, we need to take advantage of these opportunities when they come up. We are so glad we did, we saw a beautiful country, reunited with family and had a blast.
We arrived in Quito in the evening and were met by my cousins who took us to the apartment we had rented downtown. We were sharing the apartment with family from the states but the first night it was just us. It was an amazing place to wake up! The views were fabulous and it was so sunny it was impossible to sleep past 7am, which in this case worked for us. There is no time change from Chicago to Ecuador, so there was no need to adjust our clocks.
We took the morning to check out the apartment building and then met my Tia's for lunch and a trip to Mitad del Mundo (the center of the world). Lunch was over a canyon that unfortunately had some clouds rolling in, but we did see our first llamas of the trip. Then off to the Equator! I remembered the monument of the Equator from my last visit, but since then we had discovered GPS and there's now a new museum and "new" equator line. The museum has some exhibits recreating life in Ecuador from the Incan's and other indigenous tribes. Eric acquired a new nickname from our museum guide, "El Gigante", as he is very tall and literally towers over most Ecuadorians. The most interesting activities are the ones you do while walking the equator line, the magnetic pull is pretty strong and water really does drain in different directions on the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. They have an Incan sun dial that has to sit vertically (rather than lay flat) and joked that since they don't do daylight savings time on the equator, and because there are actually slightly less than 24 hours a day, Ecuadorians are actually on time - its the rest of the world that's early. If, like me, you grew up with any Ecuadorians, you may strongly disagree.
We ended our day with ceviche and margaritas on Plaza Foche near our aparment....Foche yeah!
While traveling through Ecuador and visiting the South American side of Sarah's extended family, we got to see some incredible places. On one of our first afternoons we went to lunch at a beautiful restaurant near Mitad del Mundo. The restaurant overlooks a beautiful valley. Or at least, that is what we were told. When we were there low lying clouds filled the valley and sadly we couldn't see into it. But the food at the restaurant was delicious and when we walked up to it we were greeted by a welcoming committee of a couple of tethered llamas. We saw llamas all over Ecuador, they are a common livestock, but these two were particularly photogenic.
Being back in Chicago has been good. Well, in most ways it has been good. In one very prominent way it has been bad, which is to say cold. This has been the worst winter Chicago (and the rest of the country) has seen in years. I had the chance to escape the cold for a few days for a great shoot down in Houston, but the rest of the time we've just been enduring it. On one particularly cold day Sarah and I went down to the edge of Lake Michigan to see what a 92% frozen lake looks like. In a word, beautiful. It almost made the frostbitten ears worth it.
Once we made it home to Chicago we had a couple days to relax, unpack and get organized....to re-pack and head east! We left Timmy in Chicago and flew to New York for so Eric could make it in time for a photo shoot and I could meet with some ad agencies. It was still winter everywhere and we didn't want to risk getting stuck again. After the shoot (which was great) we took a bus down to DC to meet my newest niece. While in DC we got hit with another storm and our flight was canceled before the first snowflake fell. This time we were OK with getting stuck - more time to hang with the kids! Two days later than planned it was finally time to pack it up and head home again. We've been back for a bit now, working in our home offices, taking meetings (and planning a wedding!) - I even spoke on a panel at Columbia College about alternative careers in photography. We're not here for long though. Eric has already been to Idaho and Houston for family & work, next week we head down to Ecuador for my Great Aunts 95th birthday and a family reunion. We'll have 10 days there to catch up with family, explore and photograph portfolio work and personal projects - we can't wait to share the pictures and stories!
PS - one thing I mentioned during the panel talk about benefits of my job? I just spent a month on the road with my fiance! I could only do that because I organize my own time. It's hard work and a struggle (and a juggle) every day, but the benefits far outweigh the doubts/anxieties that creep in to my thoughts.
Once we left Los Angeles, the goal was to get back to Chicago as quickly as possible. Despite not wanting to get back to the worst winter in Chicago in decades, we had a job to get to in New York. We decided to fly rather than risk getting stuck in the snow with Timmy so we had to drop him off in Chicago first and make our flights. The last several days were longer with an average of 8-10 hours of driving a day, but we did manage to stop at a couple of cool places like The Salton Sea and Petrified National Forest for picnics and photos.