Valladolid, Chichen Itza, and Ik Kil

One of the main reasons we wanted to go to the Yucatan was to see some ancient ruins. We were able to arrange through our hotel to hire a driver for the day for very little cost who took us to Chichen Itza and a beautiful cenote at Ik Kil.

Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities hundreds of years ago and is now a large site of ruins. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has millions of visitors each year.

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I was amazed by the size of this site, it felt like we could keep walking and walking and there was always more to see. We could turn a corner and suddenly there would be another huge stretch of ruins. Actually standing there and walking around creates a really special feeling, like you’re somewhere you’ve only read about in textbooks in the past. It brings the whole history to life, something you can’t get from reading.

If you’re going to visit, I highly recommend doing a little research on when to go. One day of the week is free for Mexican citizens, making it way more crowded than other days. I also recommend going as early in the day as you can because by mid afternoon there were ten times as many people as when we first arrived and the temperatures were scorching. And as it was extremely hot, naturally we had to take a break for ice cream.

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After a few hours exploring everything this beautiful place has to offer, we were so ready to head to the cenote and go swimming to cool off and relax. Our driver took us to Ik Kil, which is very close to Chichen Itza. The water is about 130 feet deep (40 meters) and the denote itself goes 85 feet under ground (26 meters). This was the most beautiful cenote we visited on this trip.

 

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Swimming in that cold water was exhilarating and refreshing. Experiences like this are why I travel. The clear, bluish-green color of the water makes it hard to realize how deep the water actually is. This is a moment I’ll never forget because feeling so in touch with nature is one of the best feelings – with birds and bats flying over you, fish swimming beneath you, and butterflies all around.

 

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Overall this was one of the best days of the trip because we saw such a historically significant place and had the perfect afternoon in a stunning cenote. The next day we headed to the town of Tulum.

Leaving for Mexico and Finding Valladolid

So despite having travelled to far away places across the world, like Fiji or Cambodia, I had never actually been south of the border to Mexico before this latest trip. I was excited to go on some new adventures because I hadn’t been out of the country since the previous Summer.

Arriving at the airport was extra exciting because I walked up to my gate and got called to the podium to receive a note. I wondered what it was about, but it was actually sweet.

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I also found out I was upgraded to First Class, which is always an excellent benefit of being a frequent flyer. The meal was pretty great, especially because it was unexpected. I got lobster ravioli and a delicious summer salad. Thanks United!

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The guy I sat next to on the plane lives in Cancun and had a ton of information about traveling around the Yucatan. I went into this trip pretty blind and was thankful my cousin Katharina had done some research for our adventures. Finding a great travel partner is essential to having a great trip, and luckily my cousin and I love to travel together and are always planning new trips. So this guy next to me gave me great advice of cities worth seeing, places less worth seeing, and what was safe/dangerous nearby. I always recommend asking locals for their opinions because then it’s way easier to break out of the tourist bubbles and see something “real” in the country.

So after arriving and finding my cousin, we made our way to our hotel. She had been waiting a few hours, so she had plenty of time to gather information about buses and traveling around, which became so helpful. Unfortunately it was close to midnight when we got going so it was dark and hard to see much on the drive besides the lights of other hotels. We had a beautiful suite that was way bigger than anything the two of us needed, but we were excited to spend the night somewhere so nice.

The best part of arriving in Mexico was the following morning. Because of Katharina’s jet lag , coming all the way from Germany, and my general excitement, we were both wide awake and ready to go out by 6am. We went straight to the beach to enjoy the amazing weather. When we were there, it was April, which means it was still snowing where I’m from. Just being able to put on flip flops and feel the sand on my toes was spectacular.

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Cancun was only our arrival point, we had no real intention of staying there because the plan was to backpack around and head to Belize. So after a delicious breakfast, we decided to get going to our first destination – Valladolid. We took a local bus, where we were the only tourists on board, and headed to a bigger bus station.

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The trip from Cancun to Valladolid was a few hours. We weren’t on a fancy bus, it was a smaller company that seemed to be more for locals. We stopped frequently to pick up people along the road and it wasn’t as direct as other bus companies would have been. But it was worth the ride, because Valladolid is so beautiful and we picked a newer hotel that also has spa amenities. Talk about paradise…

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We went to Valladolid for two main reasons – 1. To be close to Chichen Itza and 2. To see some cenotes, which are like caves with natural water where you can go swimming.

So after settling in, we took a taxi for super cheap to two cenotes called Samula and Xkeken. The great part of Valladolid compared to other cities we ended up visiting is how much less expensive it is. We could take long taxi rides for barely anything once we split it between the two of us.

These two cenotes give very different vibes. One is super dark, creepy almost and has tons of bats. It’s beautiful for sure, but a little less inviting to go swimming.

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The other has a high ceiling inside the cave and has a large pool. We could see fish swimming throughout the water.

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Both cenotes are incredibly beautiful and worth visiting if you’ve never seen one before like the two of us. They were practically empty of visitors which makes them more appealing than some other cenotes. We loved exploring, feeling part of a natural wonder, and getting refreshed in the cool caves and water when the outside temperature was so hot. Not to mention, the areas around the cenotes are super unique as well!

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When we finished this part of the day, we ended up unexpectedly getting a lot of time to see Valladolid. Our taxi driver had no idea where our hotel was (perks of a new hotel!) and gave up looking really quickly, so he dropped us off in the town square and sent us on our way. Instead of trying another taxi, we decided to brave it and walk. But that was perfectly okay because it gave us the perfect opportunity to see some of this city and it is a beautiful place!

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After walking in the heat for a half hour, we were ready to jump in the pool at the hotel. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening relaxing. We had a delicious dinner with some tacos that were some of the best I’ve ever had in my life (as expected). Amazing. Writing this while sitting in Sweden months later, I am craving Mexican food!

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We went to bed early that night after quite a long day of travel, cenotes, and heat. We had big plans for the next day to visit Chichen Itza, so we needed some rest.

 

Heading South From Dublin

When we talked about what to do in Ireland, we decided we definitely wanted to leave Dublin and see some other parts of the beautiful landscapes around the country. We looked at tons of day trip options that leave from Dublin to go all directions throughout the country and we found one that just sounded like such a perfect day.

We picked a fantastic tour through Railtours Ireland First Class. We met our guide Paddy at Connolly Station, which was super easy to get to from our hotel. I loved this tour’s options better than some others because it gave us a chance to take a train along the coast. We had a lot of time on buses throughout the trip, so it was nice to do something different.

From the train we could see the beautiful Dublin Bay and then the spectacular Killiney Bay, which is home to many celebrities such as Bono, Van Morrison, and Enya. We were so lucky with the weather because we were really able to see clearly and enjoy gorgeous skies. Looking out the window during this train ride was so enjoyable because the views were pretty epic.

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The train went through the town of Bray, which was once designed to be a huge spot for tourism as a seaside resort. We could see the Irish Sea, where there were amazing cliffs by the water.

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The train then headed inland into the county of Wicklow. We stopped at tiny Arklow station, about an hour and twenty minutes after stepping onto the train. After arriving, our guide showed us to our coach, which would be our ride for most of the day.

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We then headed to Avoca, which is a small village where the oldest hand weaving mill in Ireland is located. The mill has existed since 1723. We were given a personal tour of the mill and had an opportunity to watch how they make their famous woolen products, a truly fascinating experience. They showed us around different sections of the mill and explained various steps of the weaving process. We were also given plenty of time to shop in their impressive store.

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We walked through the town and had lunch in a little pub called Fitzgerald’s Bar, which has been featured in the BBC television series BallyKissangel. We had a yummy lunch and were able to get to know our guide and the other travelers. We met some really nice people and were lucky to have an awesome group! The group was mainly made up of Americans, which made it kind of fun after traveling abroad for a few weeks.

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We continued our drive and stopped at the Meeting of the Waters for a really nice photo stop. The guide was very patient and let everyone explore and have fun, even though we were on a tight schedule. I really appreciate that in a tour because that’s what we’re there for.

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We drove for a little while longer, passing through small villages and able to see spectacular views of mountains and other impressive landscapes.

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If you’re prone to getting car sick, there’s definitely potential on this part of the ride, especially after eating lunch – but it’s totally worth it. When we got to Glendalough, it was absolutely stunning! I really didn’t know what to expect with this day trip, but this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It is a National Park, famous for its scenery. We visited both the lower and upper lakes.

 

We waked through the park along paths and arrived at an ancient monastery. There has been a settlement here since the 7th century, which is when the monastery was founded by St. Kevin. We were able to walk around the ruins and see the cemetery. It is amazing to be surrounded by ruins from that long ago. The round tower once served as a bell tower and is 100 feet tall.

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After taking in so much beauty, we headed back to our car and drove back to Bray station. Here we were able to hop right on a train that headed straight back to Dublin. Again, the views from the train were incredible.

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If you’re looking to do a day trip out of Dublin, this one is exceptional. It showed us so much of the natural parts of Ireland and gave us a real look into the age of some of these places. The guide, Paddy, was phenomenal and everything on the tour was exactly how it should be. Another bonus to this trip is that this one was only 7 or so hours while many other day trips into Ireland are more like 13-15 hours. Overall this day was perfect and gave us so many worthwhile memories!

Ireland – 10 Reasons It’s Perfect for New Travelers

If you’re new to traveling or looking for a first adventure to embark on abroad, I highly recommend visiting Ireland – this especially goes for my American friends! I like to think I’m pretty well travelled (even though there’s so much more to see!) and yet I have so many friends back home who have never been on an airplane, never left the country (or have only made a quick 30 minute hop over the border to Niagara Falls). I completely understand that traveling is not part of everyone’s upbringing and that financially it is not in everyone’s budget. But if you are someone who is dying to go abroad and start adventuring into new countries, then Ireland is a perfect place to begin! I was amazed and overwhelmed at how easy it was to travel around, I’ve gotten used to some more complicated places so it was wonderful to kick back and relax and just take everything in.

So here are my reasons for why Ireland is perfect for someone new to traveling:

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1. Everyone speaks English

When people ask me about my travels, one of their biggest concerns is communicating with locals. I get asked all the time things like: How do you order food? How do you find where the bathroom is? How do you ask where you’re going? Sure, this can be tricky in small villages in non-English speaking countries.  (But even then, you can always point and use hand gestures to figure things out!) But in Ireland this is hardly a problem and every major tourist area is full of English speakers as well as people from all over the world. Signs, traffic symbols, maps, etc. are all readable and recognizable, making it incredibly easy.

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2. Tourists are so Welcome

I have definitely been to some parts of the world where I’ve felt less than welcomed by locals, although most people in the world are proud of their culture and country and are happy people want to visit their home. Ireland is full of such friendly people and there are tons of tourists everywhere, making them used to travelers of all kinds and prepared to handle them. For example, in Dublin, there are reminders on every major corner of which direction to look when crossing the street so pedestrians don’t forget that drivers are coming from opposite directions than most people are used to. People are very willing to help, answer questions, and tell you about the country. They have maps everywhere. Cities and large towns have signs pointing in directions of tourist attractions and sites so even if you get lost it’s easy to get back on track.

3. Awesome Transportation Options

Ireland has all kinds of transportation options for any kind of tourist. I’m not sure I would recommend driving yourself around Ireland if you are not used to manual cars, small European roads, or driving on the left. But if you’re up for a challenge then you can rent a car and drive all over the country (you may be left with white knuckles though). I know I am not equipped to drive there, but it was no problem because we still went to many parts of the country during our short trip. If you like to walk, Dublin and many of the smaller towns are completely walkable and it’s definitely excellent exercise. If you’re more of a car person but don’t want to drive, then there are taxis all over the cities. The buses in Dublin are incredible because they are everywhere, totally accessible for tourists, and are quick and easy. They have options to hop on and off certain buses throughout a day if you want to get quickly around many parts of the city, buses going straight to and from the airport for much less cost than a taxi, buses to sightsee if walking isn’t your thing. And they have trains that are super comfortable, pretty timely, and easy to figure out how to get tickets and where to go (unlike some other European cities).

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4. Fantastic Tour Options

If you’re like us and you want to see outside of Dublin, but have no idea where to start, check out a tour! We realized we weren’t up for driving, but we wanted to see more of the country and get a better sense for other parts of this beautiful country. We did a lot of research of tours that leave right from Dublin and take you all over the country. Many of these tours take up the entire day, but are completely worth it! Every tourist I talked to who had tried a day tour absolutely loved it. They are also very affordable for how much you can do and see.

5. Beautiful Nature

Ireland is famous for being full of green landscapes, but actually going there and seeing the beauty of this country is just breathtaking. The Cliffs of Moher, the Wicklow Mountains, Burren National Park, all of the vast coasts, and the green rolling hills and farmland around the country are spectacular. There are fewer and fewer places left in the world where you can see nothing but nature for miles, but in Ireland there is more than enough of that. It’s hard to describe in words how phenomenal the views are. It is perfect for hikers! If you love to get awesome photos, this is definitely the country to visit.

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6. The History

For those of you who are history buffs, Ireland is full of historical places to visit. Just driving around, you will see old stone buildings all over. Ireland was discovered thousands of years ago and you can see that for yourself just from driving around looking at different places. Walking around Dublin, there are monuments, statues, castles, and old buildings to visit on every corner. I highly recommend stopping and looking at signs to read about what happened on that corner a hundred years ago, or how old that church you’re passing by is. The stories this land holds of people who had suffered and fought for liberties for generations and of people who made their own success out of small resources around them, and how the environment has changed or remained protected over hundreds of years. There are endless amounts of things to learn and even if you know nothing about Irish history, you’ll discover so much just from being there.

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7. The Weather

Someone may laugh when I say the weather makes it worth the visit since Ireland isn’t known for the best weather. If you’re all about the beach and catching rays, then maybe this isn’t the place to go. But I found it very refreshing to get away from the heat and direct sun and just relax in regular clothes. I’ve travelled other parts of Europe in the Summer and the heat can be exhausting and even painful at times. In Ireland there’s no concern for sunburn or heat exhaustion. Its cool, breezy, and yeah sometimes there’s some rain. If you pack a raincoat, it’s no problem. And like some locals told us, the weather changes every five minutes, so even if it starts pouring, it may be sunny within minutes. If you are someone who likes a cooler temperature, then Ireland should be high on your list!

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8. Delicious Food and Excellent Shopping

Ireland has some great restaurants and shops! If you love fish and chips, you’ll be happy to find some in pretty much every restaurant or pub around. They have excellent dinner options with tons of meat dishes. The seafood around the coast is amazing and fresh. In Dublin, you can find any kind of cuisine you feel like. Walking by restaurants, everywhere smelled so good it was hard to decide where to choose to go. And they have yummy desserts, bakeries, and ice cream places all over the place. And there are so many stores around that there’s plenty to buy everywhere!

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9. The Beer and Whiskey

For anyone who loves to try new beers, explore a brewery or distillery, or just hang out in a pub for the night, then I think there are few places better than Ireland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pubs and bars in one city like I did in Dublin. You can check out the Guinness Storehouse, it’s definitely a popular attraction for tourists and the Jameson Distillery is definitely a common choice. There are even museums dedicated to these gems. Many tourists love to go to a pub, listen to live music, and have a good time. It’s a great way to end the evening.

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10. Endless Attractions

Whatever kind of traveller you are, I guarantee there is something in Ireland for you. There are all kinds of museums, zoos, parks, excellent hiking locations, historical sites, castles, libraries, big cities and small towns, and plenty to do or see. There are tons of stores so shopping is awesome. After heading back to the airport, I left only wishing for more time. There is enough to do or see to make a trip for two weeks filled, but you can also easily see plenty and enjoy just a few days. You can travel in style or find cheap options to get around. So any kind of traveler will find something in this wonderful country!

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Returning to Sweden

I’ve written about visiting Sweden a few times before. It’s somewhere I try to go at least once a year with my family and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can make it out here twice a year. I’ve travelled here close to thirty times in my life. We stay in a little beach town on a peninsula sticking out at the southwestern point of the country. My visit here is something I look forward to all year.

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This time, getting here started out with a bit of stress. I’m used to the trip out here and I fly enough to know not to expect things to go perfectly…but it can still be frustrating when flight one of three suddenly becomes 3 hours delayed because of too much air traffic. In those moments it’s important to act fast, talk to an attendant, and make a plan to get to the final destination in case future flights are missed. The airline told me I would be fine and didn’t need to change anything. But because the flight out of Buffalo was grounded and there was no real schedule for when it would be taking off and the estimated takeoff time would leave me about ten minutes to catch my next flight, I told them they needed to give me a backup plan. Luckily we took off a little earlier than the estimated time and I made it to Newark with a half hour to eat a very rushed dinner before boarding my flight to Brussels.

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I had a great long flight and could even stretch out because the seats in my row were empty! The flight went by quickly and was very relaxing. And Brussels has a nice airport to sit in, even when you’re on the brink of falling asleep at any moment. I should’ve stopped to buy chocolates, but I was so sleepy.

I was relieved to sit down on my last plane after a long day and that flight to Copenhagen was quick and easy. I even got a mini nap in.

I always love landing in Copenhagen airport, seeing the bridge to Sweden, the beaches, and the red roofed houses.  Walking out of customs is always special, especially when my dad is there waiting to meet me. I’ve been coming here just about every summer since I was this age…

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The porch looks a little different now

 

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So coming to this small Swedish town every summer is important to me because it’s definitely somewhere that has a special place in my heart; it is one of my homes. My first few days here always feel magical because it’s just a time to walk around, take everything in, and enjoy the silence. For me, this is a place with few distractions, little technology, no unwanted work, and a place to constantly explore and learn. It is a place where I truly can connect with the natural world around me and focus on the little things that make each day so special. And of course it’s the perfect place to do a little photography

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Long Beach

I recently had such a great day visiting Long Beach in California, I just had to share! This is definitely not my first time visiting the area, but it was such a special day.

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After getting lucky with little traffic out of Los Angeles, we started off the morning right with some ice cream after breakfast.

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And then we got in line for a whale watching boat tour. I did one of these trips a few years ago and it was amazing to see marine life and enjoy the boat ride.

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So I was definitely thrilled to do it again!

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The boat ride lasts a couple hours and it’s such an exciting joy. The trip out of the harbor area is full of waves, making it feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. The wind blows sprays of water on you, but it just makes the whole experience feel that much better.

We quickly were surrounded by dolphins and their little ones. I love seeing animals in the wild. Unfortunately, you never know when a dolphin will jump out of the water or where so it’s very hard to capture a good photo. But I did my best.

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And then we got very lucky and were able to find a fin whale! 

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After finishing the amazing tour, we realized we hadn’t had our fill of marine life, so we decided to take a trip to the aquarium right around the corner. I’ve been to a few aquariums, but this one was really special. The size was perfect, the variety in animal life was spectacular, and the exhibits were wonderful to look at.

It was so much fun hanging out with guys like this during our visit

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We were even able to touch some animals in their opens tanks

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It was a great experience overall and I definitely recommend this aquarium to anyone in the area!

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!