≡ Menu

Bali and Back…to the US of A

Bali. Bali. Ahhh, Bali. We loved you the instant we met. We missed you the moment we left. Bali.

There are a thousand vacation spots you can go to for beaches and palm trees, music and liquor. And yes, many people go to Bali for just that. If you want to spend a vacation pestered by people on the street trying to sell you junk trinkets, or massages, or lame t-shirts, or go elbow to elbow with the lower class of Australian society (unaffectionately called “bogans” in their home country), hang out in Kuta and Seminyak. These two suburbs are basically one and the same; you can’t tell where one ends and the other one starts. It’s just cheap stores, loud noise, bad air, and the most persistent street vendors we’ve ever seen…and yet for some reason this is the number one tourist spot in Bali. Beats me.

If you want to experience Bali for what Bali is, not for what Westerners have made of it, go anywhere else. If you still want a little comfort thrown in to the mix, with a deep sense of culture, tradition, and religion, go to Ubud. If we had three months to spend in Bali, 2.5 of them would be in Ubud.

Ubud couldn’t have gone any better for us. We were able to quickly find a perfect house for our stay there. We slept on the top floor with a balcony, and there was no need to ever shut the doors to the back of the property. We woke up to views of jungle and rice fields below us, a lazy fan blowing just enough air to keep things comfortable. Our $4 a day scooter got us every where we wanted to go. Organic food was everywhere, with raw and gluten-free options at almost every restaurant. The street food was incredible, most of the time. What the Balinese people eat on the streets is a full meal that feeds both of us and costs $1.50 or so, is normally pretty healthy, and is always made from scratch right in front of us. Yoga every morning, a massage almost every day. (How can you not when they’re only ten bucks for an hour and a half?)

It was so nice, especially after our Costa Rica experience, to see a country that, even though they had at one time been colonized by Europeans, still held on to its traditional beliefs and customs. Unlike Costa Rica, the citizens were not bending over backwards to be whatever the Westerners wanted to be, and it’s for that exact reason that so many Westerners go there. Take a walk out into the rice fields and you’ll find men and women doing back breaking work from sun up to sun down. Looking at the tools they’re using, it’s hard to imagine that their way of life has changed at all in the last few hundred years. And it’ll make you think twice about the value of a grain of rice.

The saddest part about our experience in Bali was that we only had three weeks there. It’s a very indulgent life, so no, it’s not a place we could live forever, but it is definitely worth more than three weeks. The rest of a three month stay would be out on the other side of the island, away from Kuta, scuba diving at some of the most incredible dive spots in the world. After Ubud, we moved over to Amed where the streets are lined with dive shops who want to take you to the local ship wrecks and amazing reefs. Both of us had a chance to scuba dive just off shore and see some amazing creatures, including lion fish, barracuda, shark, and countless numbers of dazzling reef fish. There’s no chance a visit to Bali is complete without a visit to either scuba or snorkel at these amazing spots.

From Bali to…America. Wow. We’re back in the States. The last few months of travel honestly feel like a dream. We came into LAX, the same airport we left from in February. It felt like we had never left. Good to be home, but odd feelings for sure. A few days in L.A., some fun times with San Diego Kleins, then on to Houston for a week, and now in Austin. Could this be our new home? So far we’re digging it. The local community is definitely intriguing. High-tech smart people, countless musicians and artists, organic foodies of all philosophies, and beautiful outdoor scenery. It’s definitely a place we’re happy to spend some time in and see where it will take us.


Cosmopolitan Australia

Melbourne is where all stereotypes of Australians go out the door. There are no crocodile hunters here, and nobody sounds anywhere close to “You call that a knife?” Melbourne is cosmopolitan to the core, and it’s proud of it.

Two things define Melbourne: sport and cafes. We’ve never seen a place where the day’s games are the leading story for television news and the newspapers. America has the Statue of Liberty,  France has the Eiffel Tower, Melbourne has the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds), home of Aussie Rules Football (footie) and cricket.

Oh, there’s a third thing…the weather. The famous saying about Melbourne is “four seasons in a day.” The first things Melbournians do in the morning is check the day’s weather forecast, because whatever the weather man predicted yesterday is worthless today, and you need to know what to wear and how many layers to take with you. It does have its summer and its beaches, but Melbourne is definitely not the beach bummer hangout. Where Sydney is all about beaches and body image, Melbourne seems to be a mix of Seattle weather and Chicago culture with an emphasis on creativity.

It was footie season while we were in town, and that was definitely the main show. We couldn’t get a good read on how big cricket was and what the fan base is like, but our impression is that old retired people who can spend days watching a single match like it. But the action is definitely in footie.

We were lucky enough to go to a game our first weekend in town, being played between two 100-year old clubs with massive fan support. On our tram ride down we were discovered to be Americans going to our first footie match, and we were instantly adopted into the family. From there on out we were shown where to buy tickets, where to sit, what to eat, and had the whole crazy game explained to us. At the end of the game they invited us to come along to the pub and have a few beers with them.  That’s Aussie hospitality for you. Complete thrill of an afternoon.

Melbourne Cricket Grounds

The MCG footie pitch. The players run a marathon each game. The field is huge, and they swarm the ball like 5-year olds playing soccer.

You can't go to a footie game without eating a Four 'N Twenty meat pie, and drinking a beer. We tried the pie. The beer might have been better.

What brought us to Melbourne was a potential job opportunity with a small organic food manufacturer that focuses on raw chocolate and superfoods sourced from indigenous populations. So after half a year off, Melbourne turned Brad back into a working man having to – gasp! – set an alarm clock.

The experience was fantastic in numerous ways. In the end we ended up not being able to overcome the visa hurdle, but the knowledge and inspiration we gained from seeing the inside of this type of operation was phenomenal. We both loved all the free chocolate we could eat, and Kelli liked the fact that Brad came home covered in the stuff. He felt like the conquering hero every time he came home with a load of the goods.

The working experience allowed us to get into the stream of real life in Melbourne, doing what the locals do. We learned some of the hidden highlights, took Mandarin classes at our local chapel (large Chinese membership in the ward – meetings translated into or held in Mandarin), and made some incredible friends.

We loved the energy of the city, and in a city where the fourth most common surname is Nguyen (Vietnamese), the diversity is mind boggling.

Most of our getting around was done on the city trams, but we also rented a car a few times to get out and explore the countryside. The greenness of the outskirts would make you think you’re in the American heartland, but then you turn around and the sight of the Southern Ocean reminds you where you’re at.

There is no doubt that we could be very happy living in Australia and we may just devise a way to do that still. For now we’re excited to return to the States and explore a few of the ideas that we’re leaving with.

The Aussies' effort to remember WWI and WWII fallen soldiers was remarkable. The emphasis on WWI was surprising. We learnt that it was this war that defined what it means to be Australian and it definitely gets more attention here than in the States.

Melbourne skyline from the ANZAC memorial.

Royal Palace Hall

Dandenong Forest, the nearest "mountains" to Melbourne

Some crazy cool gardens up in those mountains

And some strange carvings

One of the most famous drives around Melbourne is a trip down the south coast on the Great Ocean Road, which is the path you take to the famous rock formations called the Twelve Apostles (name changed in the early 1900’s from Sow and Piglets cuz that wasn’t drawing the tourists like they had hoped). It was built as a memorial highway to world war veterans, and also functioned as a way to create jobs for them when they came home. The road is cut into the cliffs along the coast and you spend the day traveling only a hundred fifty miles or so, creeping along the curves and bends. The scenery is gorgeous, and you have to watch out for koalas and kangaroos along the way.

While we were driving, we continued to read the Bill Bryson book In a Sunburned Country, his tales of of his trips to Australia. One passage struck us in particular, and made us feel good that we weren’t alone in this experience.

Back in Perth, when we took our road trip down south, we stopped along the coast to walk around, and maybe up a lighthouse. As soon as we got out of the car we started getting bothered by flies. First five, then twenty. You would swat them away, then they’d arc right around your hand and come right back. Unbelievably persistent nuisances. It was so bad, after five minutes of it, we were borderline insane with arm flapping fury. Feeling defeated and silly that flies had forced us to call a retreat and cancel our plans, reading this bit by Bryson made us feel better:

“I had gone no more than a dozen feet when I was joined by a fly-smaller and blacker than a housefly. It buzzed around in front of my face and tried to settle on my upper lip. I swatted it away, but it returned at once, always to the same spot. A moment later it was joined by another that wished to go up my nose. Within a minute or so I had twenty of these active spots all around my head and I was swiftly sinking into the state of abject wretchedness that comes with a prolonged encounter with an Australian fly.

Flies are of course always irksome, but the Australian variety distinguishes itself with its very particular persistence. If an Australian fly really wants to be up your nose or in your ear, there is no discouraging him. Flick at him as you will and each time he will jump out of range and come straight back. It is simply not possible to deter him. Somewhere on an exposed portion of your body is a spot, about the size of a shirt button, that the fly wants to lick and tickle and turn delicious circles upon. It isn’t simply their persistence, but the things they go for. An Australian fly will try to suck the moisture off your eyeball. He will, if not constantly turned back, go into parts of your ears that a Q-tip can only dream about. He will happily die for the glory of taking a tiny dump on your tongue. Get thirty or forty of them dancing around you in the same way and madness will shortly follow.
And so I proceeded into the park, lost inside my own little buzzing cloud of woe, waving at my head in an incrreasingly hopeless and desultory manner, blowing constantly out of my mouth and nose, shaking my head in a kind of furious dementia, occasionally slapping myself with startling violence on the cheek or forehead. Eventually, as the flies knew all along, I gave up and they fell upon me as on a corpse.
I tried to have a look around, but the flies would give me no peace. I had intended to stroll out to the headland where there was a nineteenth-century fort, but the thought of having the flies for another hour was more than I could endure, so I set back along the empty road by which I had come.”

Knowing we were not the only ones to have been defeated by these tiny pests restored our sense of being the more advanced species.

We came upon this sign driving down the Great Ocean Road towards the 12 Apostles. Worth a chuckle.

At the 12 apostles

The real 12 Apostles, meaning, the rocks of course.

One of our favorite spots, early in the morning at the top of Tower Hill.

It took some patience, but we finally found a wallaby...basically a goofy looking dwarf kangaroo.

Yes, you can eat kangaroos. Doesn't taste like chicken.

Back in Melbourne, enjoying some of the good food.

Evidently you're not supposed to do that. Holy cow. Did she pull that look off or what?

Saying goodbye to our Melbourne apartment.

We stayed in Melbourne until our apartment lease expired, then headed back to Perth to visit the Oz Kleins for a few more days until our tourist visa expired. We really enjoyed our time with Kevin, Leah, Lexy and Tyler. They are an amazing family and we feel very lucky to have had the chance to spend time with them in their home.

Strange people

Out of the dark and into the light. We, the Shepherds and Oz Kleins, are getting closer...hopefully. 🙂

If Dad says it's ok, it's alright to climb up a sheer cliff face. Right?

Fountains are made for swimming in...even at the temple.

Kelli and Lexy on the swing at Kings Park, Perth.

For some reason Tyler thought it'd be funny to kiss me when there was no escape. I laughed, and I got more kisses. Had to stop that train right away.

A visit to any Australian city isn't complete without stopping by its first residences, ie, the prison. This one's in Fremantle, lovingly called Freo by the Aussies, kings of word shortening.

Yep, she got busted in Melbourne and she got busted in Freo. And yes, she could slide her hands right through those holes.

After working for a few weeks, we needed a vacation! Off to Bali for some R&R before heading back to the land of ‘work your butt off.’  🙂


The Land of Oz

As we’re half way through our time here in Bali, our last stop before heading to see what the United States has to offer us, it’s way past time to sum up our three months in Australia and share a little of what we’ve experienced here in Bali. This might take a couple posts.

Leaving New Zealand was hard. We absolutely adored everything about the place. Seeing family in Perth was really the only piece that made us look forward to our departure from NZ. I told Kelli, who had been to Perth before, that Australia was going to have a lot to live up to if it wanted to hold a candle next to New Zealand.

Guess what? We fell in love with Oz too. It was hard not to make comparisons when we first arrived, but after we settled in and got to know the place a bit, we realized that we had room in our hearts for more than one country.

Our entry point was Sydney which is absolutely as pretty as you’ve been lead to believe it is. It’s hard to imagine that a bridge and a nutty looking concert hall could make a place so cool, but they do. We felt like our three days there was barely enough to even peek at the place but we had fun while we could.

We found out pretty quickly that we were “in luck” because we were going to be there for the annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras festival. It was on our second night that we found ourselves caught in a sea of people dressed in costumes (fancy dress) that I’m not going to describe. A few strange sightings on the streets, and some lurid comments shouted at me from guys in cars passing by was all it took to send us running to the train station to head back to our hotel.

So yeah, check out Sydney but beware of that one weekend in March….

the rocks

The Rocks - Sydney's original settlement at a penal colony.

Sydney Opera House at Night

Sydney Opera House at Night

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge, affectionately known to the locals as The Coat Hanger

Looking over the harbor from the bridge

This takes religious confusion to a whole new level

Sydney Barracks

The Sydney Barracks. This was the first building to house the prisoners, a decade or so after they started shipping them over. Before that, they would leave work at 5 and then have to go find a place to sleep with local settlers. And of course hopefully return for duty in the morning. Yeah, you can see the sense in building this.

The best part of  our trip came next, heading to Perth to visit this long lost branch of the family, affectionately known as the Aussie Kleins, who went over the top in making space for us in their home and going out of they way time and again to help us out. Good on ya.

This was Brad’s first time meeting niece Lexi (6), and nephew Tyler (5), and Kelli last saw them when they were only 2 and 1. So we had some “getting to know” to do.

Their secrets weren’t hard to discover. With Tyler, if you’ll kick a soccer ball with him you are instantly granted best mate status (I learned on our visit to Melbourne afterwards that if someone else comes along after you and does the same thing, the last “best mate” is quickly forgotten.:)

With Lexi, the smartest six-year old I’ve ever seen, give her a chance to teach you something (my favorite was her teaching us to speak Australian), or to tell you a few of the heaps of words she’s learnt to spell (mind you the letter “h” is pronounced “haych” in Oz), or spend some time with her doing craft, you’re golden. And of course buying a few lollies for them doesn’t hurt either.

A fun day at the beach, five minutes from Kevin's place. Righto.

The Pinnacles are a large group of random sandstone pinnacle that shoot out of the desert floor. No reason. They just do. Lexi loved climbing all over them.

The battlefiled

The battlefield. Many tears were shed, drops of sweat poured out, and blood spilt, and I still couldn't beat him without cheating.

Western Australia has so many gorgeous beaches, drive 20 minutes north of town and you can have a few miles to yourself. Kelli and Lexi went exploring on the fourwheeler.

Tyler, the king of Grasshopper Soccer League.

Bought this ostrich egg at the Fremantle Markets. Turned it into an omelette that fed the whole family...twice.

One of the best ways to get to know the nieces and nephews is babysitting right? So, with permission from the parents, we just have to share this story from our Adventures in Babysitting. We were cleaning up after dinner, and Tyler and Lexi were running around with the soccer ball (Tyler waiting for us to finish so we could go play). All the sudden we both caught wind of a bad smell – definitely smelled like poop. “What do ya reck that is?” Kelli checked the bottom of her shoe, and sure enough there was the culprit. Odd, since she had only walked from the car in the garage into the house.

She was perplexed: “Where did I step in it? Why haven’t we smelt it before now? Is there dog poop in the garage?”

With the shoes outside and floor sterilization begun, Kelli spots a plop of the nasty on the kitchen floor. More questions: “How did that come off my shoe? Is there a dog in the house? Where did this dog come from and how did it get in? I’m so confused!”

I tried to help Kelli find answers to her questions and sudden desperate need to make sense of the world, keeping the kids quarantined in the living room while Kelli cleaned the floor. Suddenly Lexi and Tyler’s conversation was getting louder and slightly heated. Then Lexi dobs on her little brother: “Tyler pooped his pants.”    Say what???

Kelli walked over to Tyler (the kid who likes to run around at night with only his flash boxers on) and a quick check confirmed Lexi’s story.

After a shower and some odd conversations, we got things settled down and the kids to bed. But we still couldn’t figure out why Tyler pooped his pants. Certainly it wasn’t usual for him. Kelli was still a confused woman and she wanted answers.

The next morning, Kelli mentioned it to Leah, just because she  figured that was incredibly unusual and, as his mum, Leah would want to know. She couldn’t believe what we told her. She told Kevin, who decided to ask Tyler straight up about it as soon as Tyler walked into the room: “Tyler, why did you poop your pants last night?” Tyler immediately became shy, looked the other way, cracked his adorable, sly grin and said in his lispy five-year old Aussie accent, “I thought it wath a fluffy.”

Finally the world made sense again. We’ve all been there Tyler. Too right.

The coolest Aussie kids on the planet.

Ok, a little about Perth now. Last time you went to the store there’s a good chance you bought something made in China. If so, there’s an even bigger chance that a piece of that thing you bought was made from materials that came from the state of Western Australia. If you look at Oz on a map, that big piece in the upper left corner is being slowly shoveled away and shipped over to China one boat load at a time, and China is paying well. The state is flowing in cash, and the trade is so strong that the GFC (global financial crisis) was barely more than a hiccup for the entire country. It’s made Perth a magnet for people willing to get their hands dirty and work odd schedules.

Perth is one of the smaller main cities in Oz but has the highest per capita count of millionaires in the country, most of them are tradies who have been smart with their money. Meeting a “mine widow” is a daily event, meaning her partner works for weeks at a time up in the mines then comes home for a couple weeks. Even with a couple million people Perth still feels small, and you can certainly feel the “country” side of it. The bogan teenagers love to speed their old Holdens down the streets and then  hit their breaks to see how long of skidmarks they can leave on the road. In fact, this happens so much and they so often lose control, that the city has to place water barriers in front of all the signs and poles along the streets.

The idea of a college education is a tough sell, and many don’t ever finish high school, because as soon as you’re 18 you can head north to the mines and make close to a six-figure salary. Even the tradies who stay behind make just as much money as the people with the bachelors degrees. Life is definitely pretty cruisey in WA.

The city itself is beautiful. The central business district is fairly small, but everything is very clean and well kept. The Swan River and Estuary provide the backdrop for the city and it makes for quite the postcard.

Perth Australia

Perth Skyline

Kelli at King's Park

King's Park. Doesn't take Kelli long to display her dominance.

London Court, Perth

One of our favorite streets in Perth, London Court, made to look like an old English setup.

Fremantle Dockers

We went to a preseason Aussie Rules Football game. These are the Fremantle Dockers, and we were able to get right up close to these Aussie superstars. These boys are to Oz what NFL and NBA players combined would be in the U.S. Gotta love those short shorts. Darling.

Kelli got into the action at the Fremantle Chili Festival. That frying pan is big as!

We threw our swimsuits on and walked across the sandbar to Penguin Island. The water was up to our chests as we walked across, fighting the waves. It was fun as!

Yes, you can find kangaroos right in the middle of Perth. Kelli does a good imitation.

The koalas take driving a little bit north to find. They sleep during the day and look like people sleeping off a wild party from the night before.

Some look like they might have a few regrets.

Zonked out.

Other than the economy, what draws people to WA is the coastline, agreed as the prettiest beaches in Australia. We took a few days to drive south along the coast and visit some of the smaller cities along the way. It doesn’t take getting too far south before the scenery changes quite a bit, and pretty soon you’re wondering where the desert went and if you’re still in Australia.

There’s the beautiful Margaret River wine region, massive forests that dominate massive portions of the south of the state, and then you get to the green beauty of the southern coast with its enormous cliffs and unforgettable views of the Southern Ocean.

Kelli and the Pirate Cow. Why a pirate cow? Just cause.

We stayed a night in beautiful Bunbury. No red rocks here. We explored the mangroves, went toe to snout with a wild dolphin, and found good food. Loved it.

The Busselton Jetty

The Big Orange at Harvey, Australia

The Big Orange. Aussies's love making a roadside attraction. Make it big and they will come.

Someone thought it'd be a good idea to stick a bunch of poles into a tree so you climb all the way to the top. Then someone thought it was a good idea for us to climb it. Scary. Yes, I was scared.

Albany Bridge

The Albany Bridge, and Brad's new friend who insisted on being his guide for the rest of our visit.

After a month in Perth, our travels took us to Melbourne to investigate a potential job offer. That needs a post of its own.


Catching up on some New Zealand pics

First off, we have to share our favorite pictures from our sealing during our visit to Utah. We LOVED having Becky as our photographer. Call her when you need someone to take some awesome pics.

wedding dance

Now, onto our New Zealand visit.

So how about this: the scenery is gorgeous, everything is clean, the roads are nice, the people are great, the fresh produce is cheap and the meat and dairy are expensive. Does that sound like our kind of place or what?

We were able to see a lot in two weeks, but it actually feels a little like torture. Two weeks is not nearly enough time in New Zealand and we are itching to go back. I’ve never seen anywhere like it. We peeked into paradise and then had to leave. Maybe we were better off not knowing. Nah. We just gotta go back, that’s all.

After arriving in Auckland and overcoming our fear of driving on the wrong side of the road, we made our way down the freeway to Hamilton. If there’s a Provo anywhere outside of Provo, Hamilton would be it. There’s the temple, the stake and mission offices, the church high school (now closed) and a whole neighborhood called Temple View that is three wards big and 100% mormon. Right away we were blown away with how pretty the area was, and we had a fantastic setup with great hosts. Maybe a little too much Mormon, though, if you know what I mean.

Our Hamilton hosts, Gordon and Jerry. We couldn't have asked for anyone or anything better to get us started off right in New Zealand.

This is where they filmed the Shire scenes in Lord of the Rings. No exageration at all, this is what the whole north island looks like. The whole island is the Shire!

On Saturday we drove out to the East coast just to see what it’s like – Tauranga – and then drove over to Rotorua, which is like our Yellowstone, but with a whole modern city around it. We had a chance to use a private, two-person hot spring jacuzzi right on the edge of the lake, which was amazing. Picture an indoor hot tub but with the fourth wall missing, and where the wall should be you have a view of Yellowstone Lake and mountains all around you. Yeah, that was nice.

Imagine this setting: a private, thermal heated spa overlooking a thermal heated lake. "But we didn't bring our swimsuits." No worries. Just lock the door. 🙂

I just had to share this one. We, I mean I, didn't see to many urinals in New Zealand. It's just a wall. No privacy. Only one rule when other blokes are around: don't look down.

This is in the Maori area of Hamilton Gardens

India Garden, Hamilton

If you haven't seen Rocky Horror Picture Show, then just forgive me for the weird pose

Sunday was a drive out to the West coast to attend church at a small branch in Kawhia (wh is pronounced “f”, so it sounds like Kafia) where our Hamilton hosts attend. When I say small, I mean small. Besides our group there were maybe another 6 or 7 people there, so guess who got to speak in sacrament meeting. “Thanks for coming today. What are your names? Great. I’m the branch president. We have a little time left to fill on our sacrament program today so we’ll have you two take a few minutes. Nice to meet you.” And just like that we were on the program. That was actually the most fun we’ve ever had with a speaking assignment. No time to get nervous, no time to prepare, so you just talk. Love it.

After several days in Hamilton, visiting the city’s famous gardens, we did a straight shot down to the capital city Wellington. Beautiful. If you could take away the San Francisco type weather, we’d find a way to make it our home. Week one ended with a beautiful drive down to the capital city Wellington. Imagine a really green, clean, straight San Francisco.

We stayed with some locals here as well and that made it even more enjoyable, even if we did have to sleep on the floor. Ouch. Wellington is laid out between three big hills and the Cook Strait to the south. So you can imagine there were plenty of ups and downs coming in and out of the city. The downtown area is fantastically nice, and we also walked by the theatre where they did the world premier for the Lord of the Rings movies. Yeah, the LOTR craze is still loud and proud here.

Wellington would be an easy place to live. We enjoyed everything about it except for the fact that there we were on a summer day, the wind blowing, rain coming in sideways, and our hosts told us that we were lucky to have such nice weather. Too cold and windy! We read an official sign saying that the city gets 235 days of near gale force winds every year. Yikes.

Overlooking Wellington

We were planning on making a visit to the south island to see Christchurch. The earthquake happened the day before we were going to head down there so that quickly changed our plans. It really was sad to see that happen there. The country has been put in a state of shock because of it. After meeting a few tourists who were there for it we felt lucky to have not been there. So we headed back north.

Mt Doom. More incredible NZ landscapes on The Great Desert Highway. Even their "desert" is gorgeous.

This is the bungee tower we both jumped from.

After a quick bungee jump, we stopped by the Taupo Falls on our way out of town...

Then had a good time sawing logs and shearing sheep at the Billy Black show...

Kelli doing the Shepherd ancestors proud...

And then we got suited up for our venture into the deep, dark, Waitomo caves, famous for their glow worms. Something about the Spice Girls outfits got everyone feeling a little goofy.

Yep, Brad too.

Kelli's rappel down a cold, wet cave

Cold water, tight cave. Let's take a picture.

This is the traditional Maori village of Whakarewarewa. Imagine a whole town powered by thermal heat from the ground. And it stinks like sulphur.

The Maori version of a luau is called a hangi. Worth going to when you feel like being slapped up side the face with a reminder that you're a tourist.

Auckland skyline on a cloudy day


More to come

As a token to show that we haven’t abandoned this site, here are a few things for your entertainment while we are still having too much fun to write a proper post. More to come later.

First off, watch this video and see if you can tell which appendage is whose. This is honestly the most fun I’ve had since I was a kid.

And these next ones are much longer than they need to be (Kelli’s is super long because I kept her standing on the edge of the plank forever while I was looking for a good place to take pictures 🙂 so fast forward to about half way through to cut through all the unimportant stuff. Just a bunch of funny sounding Kiwis talking. The jump itself was amazing. Kelli drew attention for being the quietest jumper ever, and my scream made workers wonder if something went wrong. No shame here. It was scary!


Now you see us, now you don’t

Ok, living out of a backpack and spending countless hours on buses doesn’t easily lend to updating a blog. Then coming to Utah with only two weeks to do what would normally take a month, desperately trying to see loved ones we’ve missed, and dealing with winter storms that wreck plans…again, not so easy to find time to update a blog. It’s a tough life, isn’t it? Oh, but we have decided where we’re going to go next! It’s…

First of all, our backpacking time in CR. First stop, Finca Luna Nueva. A self-sustained organic farm on the slopes of Arenal Volcano. In one word: Heaven, heavenly, paradise, glorious, dreamy. Take your pick. Excellent food, cooked with what grows on the farm, the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in, great food, cool people, and really good food. Just don’t corner us and make us decide what was our favorite part.

Finca Luna Nueva

Finca Luna Nueva

Trying out the homegrown basil

Brad the Organic Farmer.

Brad the organic farmer...almost

Costa Rican Tucan

Tucan on the farm

From there, we headed down to Grecia, just outside of San Jose, where we met up with our good friends Brandon and Jennifer. They’re another couple from Utah, having an awesome experience in CR. It was great to see their place and hear about how their time in CR has been. After a restful night there, we bussed an hour down into Grecia town center, than an hour into San Jose, caught the 2-hour bus out to Puntarenas, waited for 2 hours for the ferry across the bay, rode the hour-long ferry to the other side, then caught the final two-hour bus out to Montezuma, the hippie center of Latin America. Turns out we had booked a room at a party hostel. After meeting our not so cool roomies, we withdrew to a corner, shed a tear for ourselves, went back into the room, put on our eyemasks and earplugs, and tried to sleep through the lame, obnoxious conversations that were happening on the other side of the screen window. And it was hot. And we had to use mosquito nets. And the dumb roomie turned off the ceiling fan. We decided that night that we’re never doing the shared hostel room thing again. And the next day we moved out.

Montezuma. This is a town where the hippies won. They rule. It’s a fun little town. Has good food, and an organic farmers market. Originally we thought we might stay for three nights, two was enough.


Montezuma Main Street

Lunch at Ylang Ylang

One of our favorite restaurant meals in all of Costa Rica. Ylang Ylang Restaurant.

pargo dinner

Followed by dinner at "the most romantic restaurant in Costa Rica." It really was.

white face monkeys

A view from our hostel balcony.

Next stop, Manuel Antonio National Park. This will be remembered forever in our minds. It’s a famous park. Most tourists stop here. We saw raccoons and a sloth, our first in Costa Rica. A gorgeous beach, and a leisurely stroll, and then, a busted ankle. Ok, not busted, but badly sprained. Yep, we lost Kelli in Manuel Antonio. Instead of her usual cussing replacer, “Swear!,” she said the real deal so I knew it was serious. We tried limping along for a while before coming across some helpful Federal Police. They were super nice, considering that they represent Costa Rica’s only hope of mounting a national defense being that they have no army. The older of the two called for help. Turns out it was a call to the Red Cross, their ambulance service. A wooden stretcher board was brought to us to get Kelli out of the park. Yep, lay down Kelli. Kelli on the board, me on one corner, two police on the other side, and a recruited Costa Rican tourist to complete the entourage. I only wish I were strong enough to carry and take pictures at the same time. I would love to post one up for you right now. It will have to survive in memory, but take a moment to picture that. Love ya Kelli.

We made it to the ambulance, had the ankle checked out, not broken. Our friendly ambulance driver was kind enough to give us a ride back to town, lights and all. Then it was a short hike back to our hotel, piggy back style. That was the last of our hiking attempts in Costa Rica.

We ventured on to the Osa Peninsula the next day, luckily all by car for this leg. We stayed in Bahia Drake, and Brad did a solo entrance into Corcovado national park. Osa is basically like the Yellowstone and Yosemite of Costa Rica. It’s wild jungle, famed for its countless wildlife. I saw more in 3 hours in that park than in 3 months in the rest of CR. I promise I took tons of pictures for Kelli.

On the way to the park, humpback whales. Males fighting for a female. Minutes into the park, spider monkeys leaping in the trees, sloths, howler monkeys barking like mad,  crazy cool birds, leaf cutter ants, and wild chickens (yep). There were wild turkeys, caymans, lizards, crocodiles, and then the illusive squirrel monkeys, found only in this part of Costa Rica. We even got our hopes up for spotting a jaguar, and by the sounds of the howler monkeys we were close, but limited by our vows to not leave the trails and the enforcer guide. Oh well. We’re young still. Go to Costa Rica, go to Corcovado national park, and wear the rubber boots. Trust me.

Spider monkey

Spider monkey

wild chicken

This is what a wild chicken looks like. What do you think it tastes like?

rubber boots

Rubber boots make the day in Corcovado a lot more enjoyable.

From Bahia Drake we took a flight back up to San Jose. Thirty minutes on a plane to save two days of bus rides? Yeah, we took the plane. We had our first “couch surfing” experience and met a fantastic American lady who welcomed us into her home and spent hours talking with us about raw food, as well as making some for us. We loved it. We learned more about what we missed by not being closer to San Jose, and it was a blast to try some of her food, all organic.

And then we went east. The Caribbean side. Oh man, I just looked at the photos for that trip. Wow. I have nothing left to say. It was honestly our favorite stop in all of Costa Rica. It’s a whole different side to CR than you will experience on the west coast.  I don’t have the breath to talk about it all. Here’s a summary:

First night there, dinner at Loco Natural, amazing food, complete with a mother and baby sloth crawling through the rafters. Crazy cool.

Day one, on a  rented scooter (yes, we took it offroad and through some rivers). An organic farmers market on the Bribri indian reservation 40 minutes outside of town. Incredible, incredible experience. A short tour of a Bribri family’s chocolate making venture with stories of their cultural uses of the cacao bean. And chocolate samples. Mmmmm. A ride into Cahuita national park, the largest corral reef in CR. And a ride to Manzanillo, reggae capital of CR…you might as well be in Jamaica. Dinner at Soda Isma, where Ismerelda cooks up the best rondon in the city, to be ordered a day in advance. Unreal.

bribri farmer's market

Bribri farmer's market

chocolate samples in bribri

Sampling the Bribri chocolate. All smiles.

soda isma

Dinner at Soda Isma, with Ismerelda herself

Day two: a little more subdued. Time on the beach, and time for photos.

worm bite specialist

Good to know we have one of those in town

Day three: a chocolate tour, complete with making our very own chocolate.

kelli mill

Grinding the beans

chocolate maker

Our chocolate coach, one of the coolest guys we ever met

Then onto the botanical garden, with tropical fruit ripe for the picking and eating.

fruit harvest

The local harvest

red frog

Red poison dart frog. Don't touch it Kelli!

And that was just the morning. Holy cow. I’m gonna stop there.

After four nights, we bussed back into San Jose and up to Grecia to reclaim our suitcases. A night there, then a bus trip back to San Jose where we finally had a chance to check out the downtown a little bit before heading out to our new friend’s house (the raw food pro). Her landlord’s husband happens to do airport transfers so it was an easy hop into his car in the morning to catch our flight back to Utah, where we’ve been for the last two weeks.

Oh Utah, how do I wish to leave thee? Let me count the ways. Hold on, that sounds like we don’t like it here. That may be too strong. We just know there are other places we like better. It’s great to come here to visit, but we are definitely excited to start the next leg of our home-seeking venture.

chocolate shot

Here's to you Costa Rica. It's been amazing.

Next stop, New Zealand.


Ok, a little bit more catching up to do.

We’re leaving Costa Rica. Much sooner than we thought. Why? It’s just time. We sold everything in Utah and pulled up the anchor so we could travel around and find a place where we want to live forever…or at least for a long time. It’s not Costa Rica.

Maybe we would have stayed a little longer had we picked a town closer to San Jose where there’s a little more going on than just a beach, and beach bumming. We also hear about good restaurants down there, organic food stores, and communities that have a bit more social interaction. Out by the beach, in this part of the country that is tourist central, Americans are expected to pop in for a few days, spend a bunch of money, then move on. We’ve never felt like we were doing anything more here than vacationing, when what we really wanted to do was mesh in with the pace of real life and feel like we were home here.

We talked about just moving down to the San Jose area. Some parts of it are appealing; but in the end, we know that we’re not going to live in Costa Rica so we might as well pick up our search now. Honestly, with how familiar this feels to places we’ve been in Mexico, Brazil, and Peru, we’re thinking we can go ahead and scratch off the whole of Mexico – meaning, Central and South America – from our list of possibilities.

Tonight is our last night in the apartment we’ve been staying in for the last two months. So long Coco. You’ve been hot to us.

We’ll bus out of here early in the morning and then spend a night in a lodge at an organic, self-sustained farm near the Arenal Volcano. Check it out: http://fincalunanuevalodge.com/. Includes an organic dinner, organic breakfast, and a two hour tour of the farm. (Still trying to talk Kelli in to waking up early so we can milk the water buffalo.)

When we leave there we’ll finish our trip down to San Jose where we have some friends from Utah who have agreed to host us for a night and hold on to our suitcases while we travel around the country for a couple more weeks. This will be our first taste of going completely mobile, meaning, trying to figure out a place to stay each night, and live and work without any type of permanent location at all. We’ll see how that suits us. On tap is a tour of the Caribbean side of the country, a peak into northeastern Panama, then a trek back to the Pacific side where we’ll stay at the national park that is rumored to be better for wildlife viewing than anything America has to offer. We’ll see about that.

Two weeks of that kind of traveling around, then we’ll head back to San Jose, grab our bags, and fly back to Utah. Please, please warm it up for us by the time we get there.

As far as what we’ve been up to here, this past weekend we took a little journey to a famous beach just south of us. It’s called Playa Conchal (conchal being Spanish for seashell) because of the billions of little seashells that wash up shore, get crushed by waves and flipflops, and turn into a sparkly wonderland. Get wet, roll around in it, and your skin too can look like diamonds (see your nearest Twilight fan if you don’t get that one).

The 5-hour bus ride to this wonderland 50 miles south of us was worth it. Again, the scenery in Costa Rica is amazing. This is a vacationer’s paradise. You could stay here for months and do nothing but travel around, and you still wouldn’t see all the cool stuff. The beach was gorgeous with great waves to swim in.

Seashells, seashsells, seashells

Our highlight was our half hour ride on a rented wave runner. In that 30 minutes we smacked into two fish that jumped out of the water right in front of us, we saw another huge fish leap entirely out of the water just to our side, we almost ran into a turtle bobbing on the surface, and then the trip was topped off with a whale siting. No joke. We wondered if it was sleeping because it was hanging out just below the surface, moving along slowly on auto pilot. We’re no nature tv show hosts, but by the gnarly bumps that poked out of the water we guessed it was a humpback. Sitting right next to that huge thing with us on our little waverunner was a thrill.

Here’s Kelli enjoying our favorite beverage:

Love the pipa fria

and further down the same road we came across this sign. It says “Bathroom and Services for Rent.” We didn’t dare find out what services they were renting.

Service for Rent

And food. We actually found a great meal in this tiny little town. We’ve been asked, and we’re still trying to figure out, what country we’re going to next. Still not sure, but could this be a sign?

Are we still in Costa Rica?

Then after dinner, back at the hotel, we had this view from inside our bathroom:


If you look on a map, as a bird flies it might be 30 miles between this beach and our town of Coco. By road, it’s 50 miles. By bus, 5 hours. I think I could have swam (swum?) there faster. But it was certainly a fun trip.

We’ve definitely enjoyed our time here and we have some fantastic memories that we’ll treasure.  We’ve also learned a lot about how we are and what we like.  We’re ready to move on, but we have learned to love the charm of Costa Rica that comes with, with…life. Pura vida.


Where’d You Go?

After this much silence on this blog you might have wondered if we weren’t having anymore cool adventures down here. Our bad, cuz the adventures don’t stop when you’re living in a third-world country where few things work like they’re supposed to but the gorgeous scenery is endless.

To catch us up, I’m thinking we may need to divide this up into two posts so we don’t overburden the sensitive eyes of our more, hmmm, “experienced” readers.

First off, Christmas. But for the few strands of lights strung around a couple of palm trees, we would have wondered if they even know about Christmas here. It really was hard to tell that anyone was excited about it or looking forward to it. At church we were lucky to get one Christmas hymn in a 3-hour block of meetings. Finally, the Sunday before Christmas, someone actually mentioned it in a talk. It was really quite surprising how mellow it was.

Since we’ve been married we’ve always gone on a fun trip around Christmas time. So, we debated where we should travel to this year. Hmmm, how about somewhere in, say, Costa Rica? Done.

We learned of a little mountain settlement called Monteverde. This town was settled by Quakers who left the US during the Vietnam war because of their pacifist ideals. In the last half century they’ve worked really hard to preserve the natural rain forest that surrounds them. Now it’s a huge tourist stop, referred to as the “cloud forest” where you’re supposed to see amazing trees and tons of crazy animals, sloths and the world famous quetzal bird being the main draws. So a little logistical preparation (meaning, figuring out how to get there by bus) and we were off.

First surprise: it was cold!! Seriously, we had to put our jackets on and Kelli even wore pants. At night the wind blew so hard it made the trees howl, and it never stopped. It was so cold that Brad actually slept with socks on, which he dreads.

Another change was that most buildings in that town are finished with wood. After two months of seeing only plaster and cement, it was fantastic to feel the coziness of wood walls and floors. It was our little Christmas miracle. It actually felt like Christmas for a minute, kind of…almost.

Right at Home

Our first full day there started with an early morning walk around town with a guide, hoping to spot some cool birds and a real live sloth. Tons of birds, no sloths. But the guy actually knew so much about the birds, and the birds were so pretty, that it was actually a lot of fun. I never really understood the whole bird watching thing, but after that little walk about I have an appreciation for it now. Here are a few of the birds we saw, pictures taken through the guide’s telescope.


Blue crowned mat mat - Nicaragua's national bird

After that stroll we did a bit of a thigh burner trek up to the town’s mountain top radio towers, hoping for a cool view of the area and the neighboring volcanoes. Because of the clouds the coolest thing we saw were the radio towers.

People live in that house. One dude likes pink, the other guy likes yellow. I wonder if they're friends.

Later that evening we meandered through town and found out that the place is really pretty cool. It’s has a mini, and I mean mini, Park City feel to it. Fun little shops in a mountain setting.

Monteverde internet cafe

Taking the bus to school would've been cool if it was like this.

We ate dinner at a tapas (mini-plates) restaurant which turned out to be one of our favorite meals we’ve had here…also the first time either of us have had non-fish meat in Costa Rica. It’s amazing how good meat can be when it’s not deep fried in grease.

For our second day we went into the actual rain forest reserve. Within a matter of minutes it changes from sunny and dry to cloudy and wet. I’m not sure if it ever stops raining there. It’s literally a forest in the clouds, and they are always dropping something, thus the borrowed umbrella:

Real men wear pink

Look up

Quick! Can you spot Kelli?!

Jungle deer

Finished off by the best rice and beans plate we’ve had:

Best lookin' rice and beans we ever saw

The pinnacle of the trip was supposed to be the night tour. Everyone hyped it up as the best part of Monteverde, with the best chances of seeing sloths, huge snakes, colorful frogs, crazy jungle cats, and other stuff. Maybe the animals knew it was Christmas cause the took they week off. But we did see a gorgeous sunset and a couple of critters.

We saw tons of these guys. Yuck.

Mini frog

We came home from that trip the day before Christmas Eve. We learned that the big tradition here is for everyone to get together Christmas Eve night for a big dinner. (We did hear a few Christmas hogs meeting their end…that’s not a fun sound to hear. Kelli has sworn off pork.) Then on Christmas day they hang out at the house, go to the beach, lounge around wherever, and eat tamales all day long.

There you go. Christmas Costa Rica style.

Second round of catching up to come….


Costa Rican Birthday

This year I got to celebrate my birthday in Costa Rica.  It was really cool to experience my first ever warm birthday (I’ve never worn shorts and a t-shirt on my birthday before). 

I had a great start to the day with a 7 am outdoor yoga class overlooking the beach.  I was in heaven.  

I got back to the apartment to find that Brad had secretly gone out to the grocery store while I was at yoga and purchased ingredients for a special birthday “cake” he knew I would love.  He put it together while I got ready (I even washed my hair for the occasion), and before we headed out the door for the day I was eating a very healthy fruit cobbler.  It was sooo good! 

Then it was off to the bus for the one-hour ride to the “big city” of Liberia.  We had to run to catch the bus (couldn’t stop eating that birthday cake).  I felt like a little kid again.  And like Tommy Boy. 

We got to Liberia and saw the Harry Potter movie (with subtitles).  We had the whole theatre to ourselves.  It was awesome.  We even got in trouble for putting our feet on the seats in front of us.  An employee came into the theatre in the middle of the movie and shone the flashlight in our eyes and everything (yes, I did mention we were the only two people in the theatre).  For pushing further into my thirties, I was really enjoying all the opportunities to feel like a little kid again.

Before we knew it, it was time to catch the bus back to Coco.  As we were waiting at the bus stop we watched a street vendor that sells pipa fria (coconut water in the actual coconut) cut discarded coconut shells in half and give it to anxiously-awaiting squirrels.  It reminded me of watching an old man on a park bench feeding pigeons.  When the bus arrived at our stop, it was already so crowded we barely made it on, and for the first half of the ride we each had one foot balanced on a 3-inch ledge.  

Back in Coco we watched a gorgeous sunset on the beach as we ate dinner at a great fish and sushi restaurant.  It was a great birthday.


Goin’ Local

This past week we’ve had some fun experiences that have made us feel right at home, adding a little “Tico”-ness to our lifestyle. Goin’ local.

It started last Sunday afternoon when we were walking around Liberia, the province capital. We could tell there was a little extra energy in town – the streets had more people than normal and we kept on seeing cars and trucks drive by flying different colored flags. The street around the city park was blocked off and there was a scattering of tents and tables with a team of people at each one. Election Day. As we got closer, we were approached several times and asked if we had already decided who we were going to vote for. When we smiled and said we weren’t Ticos, they always looked at Kelli with a puzzled look and asked, “Really?” We’ve always joked around that Kelli had a little Mexican in her, and now it’s been confirmed. Sweet, we’re blending in. (So why does it seem like restaurants and taxis charge us more than the real locals? Hmmmm.)

Next, earlier this week we started seeing posters announcing this weekend’s rodeo in Artola, a small town about 15 minutes away. Of course we had to check that out. Pure Tico. The setup: carnival games for the kids (two trampolines-not special trampolines, just the kind most of you have in your backyard; the kids loved it), a food stand selling BBQ meat, tamales and horchata, and then the arena. Homemade bleachers that looked like they were made from the drift wood that washes up on the beach. These were for the big spenders that didn’t want to stand up the whole night. Most people chose to watch the whole thing through the fences around the ring, again, drift wood construction which required a few adjustments by chainsaw throughout the night.

So the rodeo. The announcer comes out to the middle of the arena trying to psyche us all up for the riders who are going to “fight with valor for our pleasure.” He calls out the night’s thirteen riders who walk into the arena in two groups each going down one side of the ring, the meet in the middle for us to clap for them, then peel off and return to the shoots – I mean shoot, singular –their name is read. At this point it’s obvious this rodeo is just going to be bull riding. Sweet. We’re all good with that since that’s the whole reason rodeos exist in the first place, right? We wait a little longer, the announcer starts getting more excited, we hear the word “Pull!” and out comes the first rider, both hands flailing in the air. The bull gives him a few bucks and then stops. The rider brings both hands down, grabs the rope that’s around the bull and then gives the guy a few kicks in the side. When the bull starts bucking again the rider puts his hands back up and keeps going…until the bull stops again and he has to give it another kick to go. Finally after a few more bucks the cowboy jumps off, everyone claps, and the announcer congratulates him on his 24-second ride. Those 8-second American bullriders couldn’t hang with these cowboys! Dropped jaw, what-the-heck-was-that look on all the gringos’ faces. But then the real Tico fun started. In between each ride some of the fans that were hanging on the fence would drop down into the arena, take a seat on the grass and drink their beer. They’d climb to the top of the fence for the ride, then when the cowboy was off and the bull was free, they’d jump back down and lend a hand to corral the bull. No, they weren’t helpful. Most would just jump up and down, wave their hands, and then jump back on the fence whenever the bull even glanced at them. But as the night went on, after a few more beers, they got braver and braver. I’d like to say we got to see a drunk Tico take one in the gut from the forehead of a ticked off bull, but we weren’t that lucky. Tico rodeos…ain’t gonna make any of our Texas folk proud, but sure was something to see.

Oh yeah, throughout the night we were attacked by an army of grasshoppers. Large grasshoppers, as big as birds! (We decided that these things should be deemed the national bird of Costa Rica…they do have large talons.) I think Kelli was the only one who didn’t scream when they landed by us.

Ok, last one. We had just left our church building today when, not half a block up the street, our conversation came to a halt when just to our left we noticed one of the neighbors out on the porch washing his windows. Of course we had to circle back from the other side of the street and take a picture. Nice to meet you, neighbor.

Yes, those are on backwards. Now we have to find a new way to church.

We promise to leave the country before we get that ticoed.


Be sure to notice the last minute fence repairs before the ride.

What’s a rodeo without a good soundtrack?

Here you can see the killer grasshoppers in action.