Vacationing in the Rainforest

As odd as it sounds, we are in summer vacation now.  Our summer vacation goes from December to February.  We took a family trip to Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Buenos Aires.

Jack said that he thought Iguazu would have a lot of animals because the name, “Igua- zoo.”  Jack and I think that is funny.

We left early in the morning on New Years Day to go to the airport (I had wanted to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve, but if you are going to wake up at 5:00 am that is not such a good idea). We had to make a connection in Buenos Aires.  On the flight there, Mom was taking a nap and I was reading a book when an announcement came – first in Spanish – which I didn’t understand a single word of – and then in English, “Ladies and Gentleman, we will now be spraying the cabin with an insecticide.  Please remain calm, this will not effect your health.”  I whimpered.  I could tell mom had just barely woken up.  Then the flight attendant came through the aisle with a big can spraying as she walked.

Once we landed in Iguazu, mom said, “this airport might compete with Calama.”  It was just as tiny as the little airport we landed in at the Atacama Desert.  We got a cab to take us to our hotel which was the only hotel inside the National Park.  We saw a sign that said something like, “animal crossing” and had a picture of some strange animal we had never seen or heard of before.  We were truly in the rainforest.

While we were checking in to our hotel, The Sheraton Iguazu,  through the windows we could see a beautiful big waterfall.  But it wasn’t just one waterfall, there were like five or six separate waterfalls, some were huge and some were fairly small.  The waterfalls are basically a connection between three countries:  Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.   The Iguazu River separates the two countries, Brazil and Argentina.  Apparently, when Eleanor Roosevelt saw the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara” because it was so breathtakingly beautiful.  It is one of the seven natural wonders of South America.

Iguazu Falls

As we were checking in to the hotel, we saw another sign which said, “do not feed the monkeys”  in big white print.  I thought to myself, “I hope we see some monkeys.”  We went up to our room and mom said excitedly, “Madie, Jack, come here.”  We went out to the balcony where she was standing and saw that there were monkeys climbing all over the roofs and balconies of the hotel.  One pooped on our porch.

Brown Capuchin Monkey

The next day we began walking through the park.  We saw the little animals from the sign, they are called Coatis, and a Toucan.

Cuidado sign Iguazu



Isn’t he cute!

One of the most recommended things was a boat ride to the waterfalls.  We decided it would be the first thing we would do.  So we got on a truck that took us through the jungle and down to the river.

Jungle Jeep Trip

Our guide on the Jeep.

Arriving at River

We have arrived at the river.

When we got to the river, we saw lots of butterflies.  They seemed to really like it near the water.  There were tons of them where we were getting our life jackets on. It was like one of those butterfly pavilions you see at the museum or the zoo but it was their natural habitat.  One of the butterflies landed on our field guide trying to find himself.

Butterfly on Guidebook

We had pictured getting on a boat, going near the waterfalls, and getting a little damp from the mist.  We actually ended up getting absolutely soaked.  The rocks that the waterfalls were hitting sent a lot more than just mist our way.  I felt like a little ant in a thunderstorm.

Jack on the River

Madie, Jack, Mom in front of falls

MAdie, Jack, Mom Falls



John, Madie, Jack, Falls

Just a LITTLE wet from our boat trip to the falls.

Madie at the falls

Madie with Rocks Iguazu

While walking back to our hotel, we got to explore the different waterfalls and parts of the jungle.  The size of the park is nearly 68,000 hectares.  That’s really big.  As big as six Disney Worlds including all the parks, water parks, hotels, golf courses and everything.  And that is only the Argentina side, the Brazil Parque Nacional do Iguacu is another 185,000 hectares, or 20 Disney Worlds.

Shot of the falls from the Brazil side

At the waterfall chico, we saw this little guy.  He is a Golden Tegu Lizard.  The ground in one part of the area was crawling with ants.  The lizard apparently really liked to eat ants.  He would go into the ant nest, eat a couple, they would climb on him and begin to bite him, he would fling the dirt in the air causing more ants to climb on him and bite him, rub his body on the leaves and bark as he squirmed away from the ant nest, and then he would go back in for more! He did this many times until he got bored of getting bitten by the ants.


Ants with the Lizard

Lizard and ants

Lizard rubbing head

Next, we saw a tree swaying back and forth.  We quickly realized that it had a monkey on top of it.  Dad joked that there were probably five or six coming up behind us because you can’t really find monkeys alone.  Sure enough, we continued walking down the path and we came upon five or six monkeys.  One of which had a baby on his back.

Monkeys on the path

Monkey with Baby Iguazu

The next day we went to the Brazil side of Iguazu park, Foz de Iguazu.  Mom and dad got to do a ropes course.  It looked really fun but Jack and I were too short to do it.  We did get to do a few things in the beginning and the zip line at the end.

Ropes course Madie

JAck ropes course

Kiersten Ropes Course

Mom and Dad on the ropes course.

Jack and Madie ropes course

Jack on zipline

JAck on Zipline

We also got to do this activity where you climbed up a big pole and jumped off the top (you were connected to something of course).  Dad thinks it was 50 feet tall.  Imagine climbing up to a four story building that was as round as a log that shook when you stood on it.  You were supposed to try and grab the bar but Jack and I were way too short.  It was fun anyway.

Madie climbing pole

JAck on pole

Jack jumping from pole

Madie with butterfly

Also recommended for the Brazil side of the park was the bird Sanctuary.  It was really interesting.  It had a bunch of different types of birds reptiles and butterflies.  In one of the enclosures that you could walk through there was a toucan sitting on a railing.  Next to it was me looking at it, behind me was a girl who looked about my age, and behind her was a little boy.  The toucan immediately began to hop in our direction.  I quickly moved out of the way, as did the girl but the little boy wasn’t paying attention.  The big old toucan pecked him on the forehead.  He cried but he was ok.  I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Bird Santuary

My friend the toucan.

My friend the toucan.

MAdie with Green Parrot

The last day we spent in Iguazu we did the canopy trail.  About half way through, after seeing birds and a little lizard, we saw the black vultures.  We had seen them before circling the falls to find the fish and birds and other creatures that had gone over the falls, but never as close as we saw them that day.

Black Vulture


Plush Crested Jay

The Plush Crested Jay


We took a canoe down the Iguazu River.  The ride started up near the Devils Throat.  One of the things dad said he really wanted to see before we left was a toucan flying.  The rest of us had already seen one.  On the canoe ride we saw a toucan and just before we floated away, the toucan flew.  Dad was glad that he got to see it.

Iguazu River

Canoe trip Iguazu

There was a little butterfly that kept following us around.  I think he liked us.

Butterfly friend

I am helping the butterfly crawl on Jack’s finger

Butterfly Iguazu


I think this was my favorite trip ever.  It was really different from other trips and it had lots of animals that I had fun learning about.  We had a field guide and checked off all the animals as we saw them.  By the end, most of the animals in the book had been checked off.  It felt good to know we saw almost the whole jungle.

Madie and Jack Iguazu

The Atacama Desert

Family at Salt Flats

Family at Salt Flats

Instead of Trick-or-Treating this Halloween we took a family vacation to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.  It is said to be the driest place in the world.  Our hotel, Explora Atacama,  offered many different hikes, horseback rides, bike rides, etc.

When we arrived at the Calama domestic airport, instead of going out through the jetway, the opened the stairs off the plane.  We had truly just landed in the middle of the desert.  The Santiago airport is rather impressive compared to the one in Calama.  I can’t imagine having the job to advertise for the Calama airport, “Welcome to the Calama not-so-international-airport, where you can fly to places like Santiago, Santiago, and Santiago.”  Really.  I looked at the departure board and there were no flights to anywhere but Santiago.

We got in a van with a Brazilian couple speaking Portugese and drove to our hotel which took about an hour. My dad tried to do a call on the trip to the hotel and got disconnected twelve times in seven minutes. There was obviously no cell reception in the desert.  Looking out the window, my mom said, “those mountains look like a bunch of volcanoes.”  We later found out that those mountains were a chain of volcanoes, and a few of them were active.(yikes!)

Once we got to the hotel, we departed on our first excursion.  The van took us to a small town.  We noticed that the roofs were only sticks and dried grass.  I guess it is because they don’t get any rain there so they don’t need a roof to keep the rain out.  Our guide said he wanted to show us some llamas.  He led us to a small door in the wall.  We opened the door and there were a few people standing with three llamas.  The baby one liked me.:)


Llamas in the small town on the way to the Salt Flats

Rocks? Sand? Nope! Actually, these rock-ish things are clumps of salt.

We got back in the van and the guide took us to the Salt Flats.  At first I thought it was a bunch of rocks.  I asked the guide why they were so weirdly shaped.  He explained that because the salt flats were so old the salt had formed itself in big shapes.  The salt flats, the largest in Chile, are home to the Las Flamencos National Reserve and hundreds of Flamingos.

The Gray Flamingo (a la izquierda) is a Baby.(if you don’t know what “a la izquierda” means, look it up.)

Our Guide Showing us the Salt Formations

The Sunset’s reflection on the mountains Was Beautiful

The next morning we set off on our second excursion to the Valle de Muerte.  Our guide said they called it the Valley of Death by accident.  The Frenchman who named it had meant to call it “Mars” after the planet but his accent on the Spanish was misunderstood and therefore “Muerte.”  This was my favorite excursion.  First we hiked up for about an hour.  My mom kept telling us to stay to the right of her because on the left was a giant cliff.

We got up to the top and the guide informed us that we were going to go down.  I wasn’t sure if he meant we were going to walk down the sand dune or if he meant that we had to hike all the way back.  Then he took off running down the sand dune.



Our guide and me.

Running in the sand dunes was hard because of the elevation.  Atacama is at 7500 feet high which is even higher than Lake Tahoe where my grandparents live.

Start of the Hike

In the afternoon, we did the Cactus hike. It was a very different hike from any of the other hikes.  There were multiple times where we had to cross the river.  We also climbed over many rocks.

We found a lizard!  I like Lizards!

He is Blurry Here, But Isn’t He Cute!

We walked into a canyon and followed the river for about two hours.

Then we began to climb up out of the canyon.  Jack got ahead of most of the group on this hike.  He did really well.

Hiking Out of the Canyon

Jack  and our guide leading the pack on the hike

The next day was the official “Madie day” of the trip even though it was my dad’s birthday. In the morning we went horseback riding.

Getting Fit for my Helmet

Jack and Me on horses

Mom and Jack had gone back to the stables because Jack could barely breathe (he is allergic to horses). After a while of walking our guide explained to Dad and I how we could get our horses to trot. All we had to do is bounce up and down on our horses, giving it a little bit of a beat to trot to. It was really fun.

The next excursion we did was a mountain bike ride to a salty lake similar to the Dead Sea.  We could float in the water when we got there.  When we were deciding which excursion to do, and they suggested this one, we actually said that Jack wasn’t the strongest bike rider but they said he’d have no problem with it.  When we were getting ready to start biking the guide admitted that he didn’t have a bike small enough to fit Jack.  Jack ended up having to ride in the van.  When we began to ride, mom asked the guide how many kids did this excursion.  “Not very many” he replied.  We had a feeling this was not going to be an easy bike ride.  Biking in Atacama

The ride was 18 kilometers. We had no idea it would be that long.  It was really, really hard.  By the time we got to the salt lake, I was absolutely ready to pass out pooped.  But the swimming was fun, even though the salt really burned our sunburns.

The last excursion we did was probably the prettiest.  First we walked across a field of salt – very different from our first experience with salt flats.  

Valley Of the Moon

Valley of Moon

salt formations

When we reached the bottom of the canyon, the salt began to look less like salt and more like frosting on a cake or snow.  Our guide said we had to be very careful not to damage any of the salt so that the next people who came and did the hike could experience it like we did.

Okay, so sure I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to celebrate halloween, but the desert was even better!

An Amazing Weekend

We had an interesting weekend.  It started with Fiesta Huasa which is a party that happens in September every year that celebrates Chilean history and culture.  My mom said it is part of Fiestas Patrias which is part of the Chilean Independence Celebration.  It is kind of like one of the festivals in Piedmont Park except different.

There were games that you might find at a festival in the United States such as sack races or games where you try and get the ring on the bottle.

Jack and I doing Sack Races

There were also games that were not common in the United States.  One game had a circle of what looked like bunny houses with numbers on them.  In the middle of the circle was something that looked like a cage.  A man in a festive colored poncho sold tickets with all the numbers of the bunny houses.  After he sold all the numbers, he would open the cage and a scared little guinea pig would come out, look around, and skitter into one of the little bunny houses.  We didn’t win, but I didn’t really care.  The prizes were barbies and dinosaur figurines. (You have to watch the video below.  It is Hilarious!)

Guinea Pig Game

Selling Tickets for Guinea Pig Game

Next we ate some food for lunch.  They had a booth for hotdogs, a booth for anticucho, a booth for empanadas.  Jack said he was in the hotdog line and they asked if he wanted avocado (palta) on his hotdog.  I had no idea that hotdog toppings would be any different in Chile.

Food Menu at Fiesta Huasa

Horses are a big part of Fiesta Huasa,. The Vice Principal of Nido was riding a horse as part of a parade, he fell off his horse and his horse fell on his leg.  I saw him a day later with a cast. (Don’t worry, he is okay.)  He and his family also just moved here from Oregon.  His wife is Jack’s teacher.

The Horses at Fiesta Huasa

During Fiesta Huasa, I noticed that I was one of the only people wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  Many girls were wearing flouncy dresses that didn’t think even existed anymore.  There were also women and men in equally elaborate outfits doing traditional Chilean dances on a stage.

Girls in their traditional Chilean party dresses.

A tradition in Chile around this time of year is to fly kites.  It looked like there were thousands of kites in the air during the fiesta.

Kites for sale at Fiesta Huasa

On Sunday, my mom found this little church with a Mass in english.  She suggested that we go on a short hike after church.  The church happens to be located next to the largest park in Chile and one of the largest in the world.  Parque Metropolitano de Santiago is also where the zoo and the madonna are located.

Directional Sign in Parque Metropolitano

We began the hike thinking we were only going to go to a lookout post we could see on the horizon.  We ended up just taking a break there because we realized we could walk all the way to the zoo.  We were not sure how long it would take but it looked like it was about seven kilometers.  We knew we couldn’t walk 14 kilometers (7 there, 7 back) so we decided we would take a taxi back to our car after the hike.

Map of Parque Metropolitano

A park ranger on his caballo

Top of San Cristobol

Our plan was to walk to the Madonna at San Cristobal  and take the funicular down the mountain.  After three hours of hiking we arrived at the top of the mountain only to find the funicular was closed.

Sign posted saying that the funicular is closed

So, after three hours of hiking, we found out we had another hour and a half hike to go – this time down the mountain that we had just climbed.

At first it seemed okay.  The path was really steep so I was glad we were going down instead of up. We kept saying to each other that our legs felt like jello but there was really nothing we could do about it since we had to get down the mountain. Eventually we got to the bottom.

Once out of the hiking trail area, we landed in Barrio Bellavista and we found a great pizza place in Patio Bellavista called Pizzeria Constitution and sat outside.  We celebrated the end of our weekend (and our incredibly long hike) with the best pizza in Santiago.

Becoming Eagles

We are beginning our third week at Nido de Aguilas . The school is about the size of three football fields, which is considerably larger than TCS.  Back in Atlanta, every grade had two classes. Here, every grade has five or six. I’ve been put in 4C, and Jack is in 2D. There are people from all over the world in my class. I have a few boys from Chile. A girl from Denmark. And a girl who has just moved here from Turkey. My brother has even more countries represented in his class. There is a boy from Australia.There is a girl from Boston, a boy from Asia and a kid from Paraguay. My teacher is from Ecuador, but speaks perfect English. All the classes are in English, but I have Spanish class every day.

My mom has absolutely no idea what to give us for breakfast, let alone what to pack in our lunches, so we’ve been getting hot lunch at the school cafeteria. It is normally not that good. For instance, one day there was this weird fried meat and I couldn’t tell if it was chicken or fish. And for dessert there was blueberry-flavored foam. But the Pizza Fridays I can live with. A slice of pizza is 1000 pesos which is  equivalent to two dollars in the States.

We wear uniforms at Nido. It is a little disappointing because I don’t get to do any back-to-school shopping, but then again, they are not the scratchy skirt and collared shirt that you would expect from a uniform. We actually get to wear sweatpants and t-shirts that say  “Nido de Aguilas” across the front. They are very strict though. You’re not allowed to wear any non-Nido sweatshirts and if you have any non-Nido clothes on, you need to cover them with something “Nido” and you can’t take them off. There is also a swim suit you have to wear for swimming (Nido has its own gigantic swimming pool).

Jack looks hilarious in his swimsuit!

We started after school activities last week. Nido has everything from introductory golf to cooking. I’m taking Climbing and Trekking on Mondays. Introductory Golf on Tuesdays. Art Reinforcement on Wednesdays. And Girl Scouts on Thursdays. Nido doesn’t have options for Fridays. (I don’t exactly know why.) I was a little disappointed to learn that Girl Scouts don’t sell cookies here. I’m going to need to ask my friends back in the states to mail me some Thin Mints.

At recess, instead of your teacher choosing a playground and sitting down to watch you play and make sure you don’t get hurt, they just say, “it is recess time, go explore the school.” You are allowed to go to the art room, to the library,or you can play on the playground. You can also use recess as time to catch up with your friends in other classes (not that I have many of those yet). And at the end of the school day, instead of waiting for your mom or dad to arrive, they just say, “Goodbye Madie.” and let you leave. You can play soccer with your friends (which Jack does every day) while waiting for your mom or dad to arrive. Nobody escorts you to and from the buses either.

I take the bus every morning. It picks me up right outside the giant gate to my house. (I think it might crash if it went down our 20-foot almost vertical driveway). The only bad part about school is that the bus picks me up at 6:53 a.m. and school starts at 7:45. Back in Atlanta, we were not even our of beds until 7:45. My mom tried to take a picture of us getting on the bus the first morning, but it barely came out it was so dark out.

You can see my backpack as I gets on the bus.

I was really, really sad to leave TCS, but I think we may have found something that is (almost) better!