On our way to Poland to attend the wedding of Dale's friend David and his fiancee Dominika, we flew to Berlin and spent a few days here before continuing to Poland.
Our flight from JFK to Berlin was only 7 hours but felt longer after watching The Avengers Endgame on the flight. Passage through immigration was so fast and painless it felt criminal. Because we were driving to Poland, Hertz limited our car choices to economy, manual options. Hence, we drove a Ford Kuga (apparently it only dates younger models?) to our first hotel in Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. At least it wasn't a Trabant, the infamous East German car.
Malaysia was our last stop on this adventure. Per usual, we reserved a centrally located hotel because we love walking around a city. We quickly learned that KL is not a walkable city. To quote the travel website Travelfish, whose KL article is titled, Walking in Kuala Lumpur: Are you mad?: "Kuala Lumpur, with its energy-sapping climate, would be a tough place to be a pedestrian at the best of times. But combined with inadequate pavements, dangerous road crossings, and drivers who never, ever, stop for you, it can often be a complete nightmare to walk in the Malaysian capital." True that! Nevertheless, we persisted...
Good morning [from] Vietnam! We spent several days in Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, where everyone and their mom owns a motorbike. There are literally millions of them! Similar to Shanghai, Hanoi traffic horns seem to be everyone's second language: drivers honk their horns, not in rage, but as a continuous communication tool ("Let me in," or "I'm passing on your left...on the sidewalk.")
We had 4 days in between our Galapagos cruise and our annual pilgrimage to Mexico for Thanksgiving (pun courtesy of cervezas) with Darcie's family. To fill the time, we spent 4 days at Rancho Las Cascadas, a horse ranch and spa outside of Mexico City, before heading to Puerto/Nuevo Vallarta.
Named after the giant tortoises that inhabit the islands, the Galapagos Islands are famous for their endemic species and for inspiring Darwin's theory of evolution. Ecuador was not on our original list of destinations, but Darcie's dad recommended the Galapagos as a bucket-list excursion, especially since we were already in South America. After comparing cruises vs. land-based tours, we opted for a week-long cruise on a smaller (16-guest) yacht.
About 15 years ago, Darcie took a week-long Spanish language course in Samara Beach, Costa Rica and loved the experience. Dale had never visited the country. To continue our Spanish learning and explore Costa Rica as a potential future home, we flew to San Jose from Panama and stayed in Heredia, a town 10km outside of San Jose.
At Bocas Del Toro, Amanda and Roberto met us at the airport, which is adjacent to a schoolyard and walkable from downtown Bocas! It was great meeting Roberto and seeing Amanda again. Unfortunately, the condo we reserved for our stay was already occupied--by cockroaches--so Amanda spent the first full day of our visit helping us find a better hotel.
Bet you can't get Van Halen out of your head right now! We visited Panama for two reasons, first to see Dale's daughter, who has been living in Bocas del Toro, Panama for a year. The second was to explore whether Panama City would be a good place for us to retire some day.
Overall we loved Santiago and would definitely return after learning more Spanish! Looking back on our week here, we noticed:
There are stray dogs everywhere. During our first full day, we went jogging in a park where we became concerned about packs of stray dogs patrolling the area. However, they didn't bother us, and mainly chased pigeons, motorbikes and each other. On our guided walking tour of the city, two strays accompanied us on the entire, four-hour tour, thereby keeping our tour pigeon- and motorbike-free. They were super well-behaved! Apparently stray dogs are part of the Santiago community.
While in Chile, we took a side-trip to Valparaiso, a coastal town about 90 minutes outside of Santiago. Valparaiso was supposedly the major seaport between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans until the Panama Canal was built, and is also famous for its colorful houses and street artists. Our tour guide said that homeowners grant permission to artists to paint murals on their houses. Many of the murals have a story or message behind them. (Unfortunately, there is a lot of graffiti and tagging too.)