Exploring Barcelona

I was so excited to wake up in Barcelona and have a full day to see the city. We started the day with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t believe how many options they had – they know how to accommodate to people from all around the world.

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It was spectacular to see all of the beautiful buildings, fountains, and sights along the streets. The weather was perfect, which made the day even better. People were out and about all around us, but because of the winter, it wasn’t too crowded anywhere. This made it perfect! It was so nice to see people biking and walking for transportation.

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We started walking down La Rambla, a central street in the city full of shops, restaurants, and history. It stretches all the way to the Balearic Sea. We walked along this main street, but also made sure to check out side streets around the area.

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We stopped in the famous Liceu Opera House just to take a quick look.

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And looked at the pavement mosaic designed by the famous artist Joan Miró who is known for Modern Art, Surrealism, and Dadaism. His style can easily be seen in this colorful mosaic.

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We also found our way to the huge indoor market nearby. I always love to look at all the different foods and items markets around the world have to offer. I was amazed with this market and didn’t want to stop looking at all the interesting foods. Just check out some of these photos

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We continued our walk towards the harbor. My dad even made a friend!

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So we finally made it to the harbor after plenty of walking and beautiful sights, and we weren’t disappointed!

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After taking in the fantastic views from the harbor, we took the metro to get closer to the hotel. We had hoped to find lunch pretty quickly, but as what happens when traveling, it took longer than expected. We walked down one street and didn’t find a restaurant, so we tried another street with less luck, and then kept going on this way for a while. But these things happen and eventually we found the perfect place. And on the way we stumbled upon this

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After lunch, we took a little break at the hotel. From my window I could see a school and all the kids were having recess on the roof. I work with kids at home and I thought these children were adorable

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After a quick but delicious dinner, we headed to see a guitar performance. My mom is a professional guitarist so she was very excited. We walked to a local church. When we arrived, they told us that the church was taking in homeless people for the night to keep them warm because the temperature dropped so much that evening. There were many homeless people in the streets in Barcelona, so it was nice to see people helping them and taking care of them. They could hear the guitar performance because they were clapping from downstairs, so it was great knowing they could enjoy it too. The performance was very intimate and small, but extremely impressive. Even if you knew nothing about music, you could appreciate the skill and talent of this duet. It was a really amazing experience.

 

It was a wonderful day full of incredible experiences, it’s almost hard to believe we saw and did so much in just one day. That’s how traveling should be though – unbelievably great and special!

Barcelona Bound

After a quick visit to Sweden, it was time to head to Spain! It’s always exciting to travel somewhere new and I couldn’t wait to experience everything Barcelona has to offer.

In the airport in Copenhagen, we arrived to our gate and a famous Swedish soccer team quickly took over the area. They were on their way to Barcelona to compete. People were taking photos with them and getting autographs. The pilot made a special welcome announcement to this team.

 

We had a smooth and relatively quick flight with Norwegian Airlines. I was exhausted after a lengthy trip getting to Sweden that was full of delays and a lost suitcase with everything I needed. I had to resort to buying clothes and necessities at the grocery store once I arrived. But it all worked out in the end because I got my suitcase a few days later when we arrived to Copenhagen airport before Barcelona. I passed out on the plane because I was so tired and woke up as we started getting closer to our arrival. The views as we landed were incredibly beautiful and I was so excited!

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We luckily got all our bags (something you really appreciate after an airline loses yours) and we found a taxi to take us into the city. The drive was about twenty minutes and our driver was speeding through the streets around other cars. The buildings around us looked beautiful and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore this amazing city.

 

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When we pulled up to our hotel, I think my mouth actually dropped because it was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. And once we got inside, I was not at all disappointed. I felt overwhelmed with how impressive the hotel was. I felt like I was on the Titanic or something. The beauty and class of an old European place like this is in the tiniest of details.

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The view from my hotel room’s tiny balcony was also pretty fantastic!

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Since we were all very hungry and pretty tired, we decided to grab some lunch in the hotel restaurant. Lunch was so delicious, I’m still craving it now more than a week later.

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We decided to rest a little so that the next day we could really go out and see a lot. People in Spain tend to eat and go out a lot later in the evening than many other places in the world. So by the time we were ready to go out, it was normal dinner time around the city. And we had another spectacular meal.

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My first impression of Barcelona so far was that it’s a great city full of beauty and extremely nice people and it definitely has the best food!

Traveling Home To Sweden

I am fortunate to have homes in a lot of places – places that make me feel at home. I’ve mentioned a lot throughout my blog that while growing up, traveling to Southern Sweden happened every year at least once. My mom bought the house we live in here a few years ago from her parents. If you look at this map below, our small town doesn’t even make it – but Trelleborg is very close to us. If you look closely, we’re on the tiny piece of land sticking out right over Trelleborg. My mom grew up close by in Lund and Falsterbo was her summer home.

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People often ask me what I do when I visit here for weeks at a time year after year, and honestly there isn’t that much to do in a town this small. Of course there are a few stores, restaurants, and local sites to see, but for me it’s not about any of that. I come for the peace I haven’t found anywhere else in the world. Here in one of the most striking, naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen, serenity is everywhere. Just take a look at what I’ve photographed around town:

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I’ll tell you more about each day, what we do, and how we live in this small town in Sweden in other posts! I hope you enjoy all these photos and see the natural beauty of this part of the world most people don’t know about

 

A Perfect Vacation Spot In Cuba

I’ve been to beaches in different countries around many parts of the world – from Santa Monica to islands of Fiji, from Ghana to South Africa, and from Israel to Sweden – just to name a few. I couldn’t begin to count the number of beaches I’ve been to throughout the world, and some are definitely famous for being the best in the world. But walking through the sandy beaches of Cuba was really spectacular.

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After Havana, we spent the rest of our trip in Varadero on the northern coast. We arrived to a resort that couldn’t have been more beautiful.

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And besides the obvious beauty of the hotel itself, the beaches nearby were incredible. With white sand, crystal clear turquoise water, and endless miles of open space.

 

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While vacationing in Cuba, we were able to do a variety of activities, including horseback riding along the coast, taking a boat ride into sea, and snorkeling off coast in beautiful coral reefs.

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And in case the beaches and pool weren’t enough to keep you occupied, the resort was sure to offer a crazy amount of entertaining activities from foam parties, to dance lessons, to exciting evening shows.

 

We could even ride around in style with our old 1950’s car

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And there was always plenty to eat everywhere we went

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It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’ve really been to many beautiful places. It’s a wonderful place to visit because there is plenty to do to keep you busy, so much lovely scenery to enjoy and experience, and natural wildlife close by. It’s exactly the kind of place people dream of  with real serenity and relaxation all around.

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I hope one day I’m able to go back!!

 

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History and Sites in Havana, Cuba

We started our second full day in Cuba with breakfast on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the beautiful view again.

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We left to see the Revolution Museum, which was interesting, but majority of the exhibits were in Spanish so it was harder to follow and understand. There were tons of photos, newspaper articles, clothing, and personal belongings from the revolution.

Let me give you a very brief summary of some of Cuba’s interesting history.

Cuba was inhabited by Mesoamerican cultures before Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the land in 1942.

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Cuba then became a Spanish colony. In 1762, the colony was occupied by Great Britain before being traded back to Spain for Florida. The Spanish-American War caused Spain to withdraw from Cuba in 1898 and the United States gave Cuba its independence in 1902 with the requirements of the Platt Agreement. This agreement gave the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba and have access to Guantanamo Bay. In order to prevent fighting within Cuba and protect American economic interests, the US occupied Cuba for several years in the early 20th century after President Palma’s regime collapsed. During this period, the Cuban Communist Party was developed. American troops withdrew in 1909. Several presidents took over in Cuba over the next three decades. In World War I, Cuba declared war on Imperial Germany on April 7, 1917, just one day after the United States entered the war. Cuba could not send troops to fight in Europe, but played a major role in protecting the West Indies from German U-boat attacks. Cuba suffered an economic collapse due to a significant drop in sugar prices. In 1925, President Machado took over and did not step down after his term ended. The revolution of 1933 undermined the oligarchic state. In 1940, Fulgencio Batista, who was endorsed by Communists, won the election. Ramon Grau was elected in 1944, and with the end of World War II came economic boom. The increased prosperity brought corruption and nepotism within the country and as Cuba gained a reputation as a base for organized crime, Mafia mobsters came to Havana. Batista was re-elecred in 1953. The country did well economically and continued to grow for while, but the middle class became dissatisfied with the administration. In the 1950s, the economy started to collapse as unemployment rates soared and domestic product growth diminished.

In 1953, Fidel Castro and his supporters led an attack near Santiago de Cuba, which failed. Castro was sentenced to prison and after being released he went into exile in Mexico. This is where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and began organizing how to overthrow Batista. After many failed attempts to overthrow Batista and after the United States imposed trade restrictions on the Batista administration, the military situation became untenable and Batista fled.

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Castro took over in 1959. The revolution became increasingly radical and many opponents were executed or imprisoned.

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Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the island and many went to the United States. Castro opposed the United States’ influence in Cuba and even threatened a war on the US. The relations between Cuba and the US continued to deteriorate rapidly and the dispute escalated. The two countries severed all diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. The Kennedy administration forbid American citizens from traveling to Cuba or conducting any financial or commercial transactions with the country. The Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred in hope of overthrowing the Communist regime, but the invasion failed. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.

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Throughout the 1970s, tens of thousands of dissidents were held and tortured under inhumane prison conditions and many were executed. Between 1959 and 1993, around 1.2 million Cubans fled for the United States by small boats or rafts, it’s estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 died trying. Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 and withdrew from public life and officially resigned in 2008. As of 2015, Cuba was one of the few official socialist states in the world. The United States and Cuba have worked on their relationship and now it is legal again for Americans to visit Cuba.

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After our visit to the museum, we took a trip to a Jewish synagogue. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m Jewish and often visit Jewish museums or synagogues during my travels around the world. There are only 3 synagogues left in Havana and only 5 total in Cuba. We looked around the sanctuary and talked to people who work there about it. They told us how the Jewish population went from about 20,000 to 1,300 because of the revolution and events I described above. The Jews fled and emigrated to America, Europe, and Israel.

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After our visit to the synagogue, we walked to a main street and waited for a taxi to drive by to flag down and headed back to the hotel to shop a little and clean up. We packed and got ready because the next day we would leave Havana. We had seen and experienced so much during our short visit in the beautiful city, so it was hard to think about leaving already.

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For dinner, we drove to a nearby restaurant where we had to walk up a long staircase to a beautiful dining room. The service and food were exceptional and we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious meal. I had lobster and chocolate cake. We stayed for a long time relaxing and talking.

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We walked through a big square and looked around.

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We walked to another main road to find a taxi and had to argue about the price because they wanted to charge us $20 for a less than 5 minute drive, just because it was a touristy area. I would never accept that kind of price and if they say they won’t lower the price, just walk away. We walked away and kept walking until they chased after us and brought the offer down to a quarter of the original offer. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we went back upstairs to the balcony to listen to Cuban music before going to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Havana, Cuba

I woke up feeling pretty refreshed, but definitely not ready to get up. It was 3am after a very long day by the time we made it to sleep the night before, so I could’ve easily slept in late. We went upstairs for the hotel breakfast and it was a mediocre buffet. I wasn’t totally sure how the food would be in Cuba. The view from the breakfast table was great.

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After breakfast, we decided to take a walk around and see what there was nearby, but as soon as we got outside, a man offered to take us around and give us a tour in a car. He explained all the places we could go and was very excited to hear that we are Americans because he had lived in the states for a few years. We decided to take him up on his offer. The car was a 1951 Chevrolet convertible and it was awesome.

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We drove around the city and saw many military areas, monuments, beaches, markets, and general city life. It was a great way to get a sense of the city and see so much.

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We stopped in a famous cigar shop that has the world record’s longest cigar displayed on the ceiling.

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We stopped for lunch in a local place for lunch and had amazing lobster like nothing I’d ever had before.

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He drove us to places where there were no other tourists so we could really see how people actually live in Havana. I think it’s always important to break out of the tourist bubble on some level and see different parts of a country.

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We drove out to Ernest Hemingway’s old home and were able to tour the beautiful and very spacious property

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And the views from his home were incredible!

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The drive back was a little long and I had a hard time keeping my eyes open after the five hour tour of the city. Once we made it back, I was happy to clean up and climb into bed for a short nap. Once we got up, we decided to head upstairs for dinner because there was music playing all evening on the balcony. We had a delicious meal and relaxed for a few hours just enjoying the music and watching people dance.

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It was a day filled with excitement. By 11, we headed to the room to relax and get some rest so we were ready for another day of adventure.

Flying To Cuba!

I have been interested in going to Cuba for so many years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make the trip. Since the flight from Toronto to Cuba is only three and a half hours, I didn’t think the trip would be too intense, which was dumb on my part – considering how much I travel, I should’ve known better. We started off the day in the morning with a three hour delay, causing us to stall on making the drive up to Toronto. The drive wasn’t too long, so after getting across the border we stopped in Niagara Falls for a quick lunch in one of our favorite Japanese restaurants. Then we had another hour and a half drive to the airport and arrived a few hours before our flight. After checking in and going through security, we found our gate and sat around for a long time. I have a lot of experience in airports, but it gets boring none the less. We explored meal options and decided on Indian food real quick, got some snacks and water for the trip. When we got back to the gate, it was ridiculously crowded and chaotic and after we made our way through the crowd and found a seat, they informed us that our gate had actually been changed. So we made our way back through that chaos and headed to the other end of the terminal. We waited another 45 minutes until we finally started boarding, several hours after our scheduled departure. We were all a little nervous and unsure about transportation and hotel checkin once we eventually would arrive because it was getting later and later at night. Because Cuba is different from many other countries in a lot of ways, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know that my flights often tend to be very delayed with my luck. After boarding, we sat at the gate an extra half hour then had to get the plane de-iced and sit there for another half hour so we were another hour delayed than the expected delay. I sat next to Canadian two siblings , a boy who was about thirteen and a girl who was probably sixteen. The sister was trying to be the responsible one of the two and make sure the brother knew how things worked, but she didn’t seem to actually know what she was talking about so I tried to help them as best I could with questions and concerns about flying and planes. They were really adorable. The flight went by pretty quickly once we finally got going. The Sunwing flight had wonderful service and was quite an upgrade from many airlines. They started with complimentary sparkling wine for every passenger, had hot towels, chocolates, and a meal – most airlines don’t do such things anymore for shorter flights.

 

Once we arrived in Varadero, we had to go through customs, which was relatively easy and then get our luggage. When I travel to other countries, I’m never completely sure what to expect with customs and because of the political issues between America and Cuba, I was definitely curious. It was pretty standard though. They had cute dogs running on the baggage claim machines like it was a treadmill as they sniffed everyone’s bags.

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Once we got outside the airport, we exchanged money. Because Cuba doesn’t have systems that accept credit cards, cash is how people pay for everything, so there has to be some planning involved. We found our bus and got on. With the delayed flight it was after midnight by the time we started our two hour drive to Havana. I had a hard time staying awake on the drive and found myself drifting in and out of sleep. I was happy when the scenery changed and we made it to the city because we arrived at the hotel shortly after. We weren’t sure what the hotel would be like because the hotel we originally booked had been oversold and they moved us to this one instead. By the time we got there, we were so happy just to have a bed to lie down in that it really didn’t matter at that point. I slept so well through the night. It felt amazing to know I’d be waking up in Havana the next morning!

Some Animals In The Amazon

So that next morning we woke up at 4:30am! This is the kind of crazy thing I would only do when I’m on the other side of the world exploring a jungle. We wanted to see the sunrise when we went to do the canopy walk. This was a good idea in theory, but unfortunately in reality it was very cloudy and foggy/misty from the night rain, and it just wasn’t the best spot for seeing a sunrise. We had to walk very very fast through the jungle in the dark to get to the canopy thingy, which I had a hard time with so early in the morning. I was exhausted when we got to the canopy area, then we had to quickly climb up 50 meters worth of stairs to this tower.

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There were three towers connected by bridges. We walked to the middle tower and stayed there almost two hours in this tiny space like 10×10, to look for birds and monkeys, which we saw lots of at the top of the canopy.

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Although the quality wasn’t the best and with the distance it wasn’t easy to do, I took some photos of the animals through a telescope. We saw like 4 different species of monkeys and tons of birds.

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We then crossed to the third tower and stayed there almost another hour.

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After an incredible experience and seeing so many amazing animals, we walked back a half hour to the hotel through the jungle.

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On the walk we saw tons more monkeys!!

 

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Once we got back to the hotel, we had an hour break. We decided to go fishing off this small wooden area into the lake that has black water. There are sardines and piranhas in there. I had a lot of fun because I love fishing and being outside. We didn’t do it long though because it started pouring rain! (Imagine that – it rains like crazy in the rainforest).

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We ended the day with another canoe ride through the jungle after the rain subsided. This was like one of those rides in Disneyland but much better. We got to see monkeys real real close up like probably could touch them if I tried, they were all around our canoe climbing and jumping and swinging and everything. It was very special. We saw more birds and other things too. Then we had dinner and then could go to sleep. It was such a special day!

 

Adventures In The Amazon

The next day, we woke up even earlier at 5:30am. We left with a British group of people plus our group and took a short canoe ride and walked 40 minutes to the river. Once we got there, we all got on a big motorized boat, the one we had originally taken from the town where the airport was. The boat ride was long, it was nice to relax and look around at all the scenery. We stopped at this spot but stayed in the boat so we could see parrots. We saw a snake too.

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We kept going until we arrived at a village and got off the boat there. We were able to look around at the school, the farming they do, and how they live. It was interesting to see how other people in the world can live and survive with very little to no technology and only basic necessities. They are a very self-reliable village.

Here are some photos of the village and the school:

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After taking a look around and our tour, the villagers cooked a small meal for us with traditional food including kasava, tilapia cooked inside a big leaf over a fire, and even cooked larvae.

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After our meal, we took the boat back to the lodge, did the 40 minute walk again, and our canoe ride back. During the walk, we stopped for a long time because there were nice birds and lots of toucans!

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And as we got closer to the lodge, we saw a big caiman sitting in the water!

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After resting a short bit, we went just the two of us to look at the butterfly house. That was really nice and I enjoyed it a lot. I love seeing butterflies fly around and it’s great when they land on you!

 

After the butterfly house, we went with the group on a canoe ride through the jungle. We definitely had to watch out for branches!

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We arrived at this tower that we were able to climb up. It was 43 meters tall!

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We could see a lot from up there, it was like a really tall tree house.

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We were up there looking for birds and just taking photos and looking at the surroundings for probably almost an hour.

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We then climbed down and walked around a little bit in the jungle.

 

We took the canoe ride back for about 40 minutes then had a break before dinner.

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Dinner was nice because we were able to have time to talk with the group and guides about everything we had seen, it was an important time to bond with one another after such unique experiences. After dinner we did a night walk for a half hour in the dark jungle. We looked for frogs and tarantulas and other such things, which wasn’t my favorite activity, but I managed.

 

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After the night walk, we went to sleep because we had another early morning ahead of us!

Another Day In The Amazon

The next day, we woke up early and went straight on a hike through the jungle with our guide. He was a little older than me, from Quito, and he could speak and understand English well. Our older native guide who grew up in the area and doesn’t speak English at all really.

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We took a canoe ride then walked a lot and saw many different things.

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We walked through the jungle for a long time and saw tons of insects, frogs, birds, and crazy cool plants. Take a look at some of what we saw:

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We stopped at a building they have near the lodge, where we got dropped off from the boat ride originally before having the 40 minute walk towards the hotel. It was nice to take a break and rest. While we stopped, it started to rain very hard so we waited a tiny bit. And then suddenly just as we were thinking of moving on through the rain, a bunch of monkeys started swinging and jumping around the trees nearby!

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That was very special and super exciting. We watched them for a while then walked back almost an hour towards the canoe, took that back to the hotel, then went to our room to rest.

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That afternoon, we met again at 4pm and got other group members because the first day had just been us. We had a young married couple from the UK, originally from India, they were really fun and nice, and then a lesbian couple from Australia. That night, we did another walk through the jungle with the whole group.

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Later that night, we did a canoe ride in the dark to look for caiman and bats. No caiman that night, but it was cool anyway. We saw a caiman earlier in the afternoon so it was okay!

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