This Oklahoman Life

Home is family. Since I married Jun I consider myself as having two homes. One in China with Jun, and one in Oklahoma with my mom and brother. After three weeks of traveling around the Americas, Jun and I were finally going to visit them. And for us to go home.

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The flight into Oklahoma City arrived early on Saturday morning. My mom was amazing and met us at the airport and took us home to Guthrie where we were all soon fast asleep.

Our time in Oklahoma was mainly one of rest, with periodic activities interspersed, during the two weeks we stayed in Oklahoma.

Episode 1

The first weekend in Oklahoma was about family. My mom had planned to have a get together of family and friends for my brother and me. It would be a celebration of my brother’s engagement and upcoming wedding and in a way of my homecoming.

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The get-together was a nice affair. Jun and I finally met my brother’s fiancé and her family. I got to see many relatives and friends that I hadn’t seen in years.  Overall, it was a lovely evening and a nice way to start our stay in Oklahoma.

Episode 2

While my mom had to work in the morning, she was free most afternoons. That allowed us the opportunity to go to different places around the state.

The first place that we visited was the Chickasaw National Recreational Area in Sulphur. The area is located in the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains. We mainly visited the Travertine district, which had at one time been Platt National Park. The area had a number of springs and creeks. These springs and creeks then go over the slopping landscape to create small waterfalls, such as Little Niagara.

Mom, Jun, and I enjoyed walking around the Travertine area. With spring starting, some of the trees were budding and the weather was cool and crisp. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

From there we went for a quick visit to the Chickasaw Cultural Center to give Jun an introduction to one of the many Native American tribes in Oklahoma. The highlight of the center was walking around the re-creation of a traditional tribal village. Jun found it interesting and a good way to understand a bit more about what made Oklahoma special.

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Episode 3

My brother made plans with us to have dinner later in our first week there. Prior to meeting up with him, my mom decided to take us to visit Martin Park Nature Center. The last time I had been there was when I was in the second grade with my cub scouts troop. Sufficed to say I don’t remember much of that time.

Our visit to the place was quite nice. It was much bigger than I had anticipated. It was a nice walk around the different trails. Again, we got to see the budding plants and some indigenous animals like turtles and ducks play around in the afternoon sun.

Soon, however, we had to go and we were on our way to have dinner with Michael at Ted’s Café Escondido.

Episode 4

Before we left China, my brother made the request that I make some time to take pictures of him and his fiancé. He requested that we come down to Norman to take the pictures at the University of Oklahoma. I was happy to do so, and it gave us a reason to visit my undergraduate alma mater.

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The Saturday that we had decided to visit Norman had started off with a wicked thunderstorm. As we were on our way to Norman, we first stopped in Oklahoma City to have phở at Pho Lien Hoa. It was the perfect dish for a rainy day.

By the time we had finished lunch, the rain was starting to let up. When we got to Norman the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to emerge. We first went to visit Michael and Gina at their house. After catching up with them, we were soon on our way to the university.

The rest of the afternoon was walking around the main campus and taking pictures of them in different, secluded areas. It was nice spending time with them and getting to know Gina a bit more. Equally, it was just nice to show Jun where I spent four years of my life. The campus had changed a lot since I had gone to school there, but there were still the major buildings and areas that hadn’t changed as well.

Before leaving the campus, Mom suggested that as we passed Campus Corner we stop and get ice cream at the Baked Bear. It was a nice, cool treat as the weather had gotten increasingly hot in the late afternoon.

Episode 5

Near the end of our stay in Oklahoma, Mom took us to the Plaza District for lunch at Gorō Ramen. The noodles there were quite good. After lunch we went around the area and did some window shopping. There were quite a lot of interesting stores there.

One of the interesting things about the Plaza District are the murals on the buildings there. The area curated by Plaza Walls had a number of different murals in different styles that was quite impressive.

The End

The time in Oklahoma was meant as a time to spend with family and to rest before returning to China. While we did get to go to a number of places, I was simply glad to spend time with the people I loved and didn’t get to see often.

On our last day there, Mom and Michael took us to have sushi at our friends place in Oklahoma City: Park Harvey Sushi Wine & Sports Lounge. Our family friend made some wonderful artisanal sushi for us. It was the perfect meal to end our time in Oklahoma.

After lunch we took a walk around the Myriad Gardens before going to the airport.

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Our flight back to Shenzhen went smoothly. All through the flight, however, I felt a deep sadness at having to leave my family there. It’ll be quite some time before I will be able to see them again. But I’m glad Jun and I were able to spend those two weeks with them.

A Jaunt in Las Vegas

When we had started to plan our trip, everything was working out well until we had to arrange how we would get to Oklahoma. Arriving from South America late in the afternoon made it impossible to get the only direct flight to Oklahoma City from LAX. One option we had toyed around with was to take an overnight flight to Houston, and then take an early morning flight to OKC. That would have worked, but it wouldn’t have been fun. And on top of that the tickets would have been expensive and didn’t include checked luggage.

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At that point I went to the Will Rogers World Airport Wikipedia page to see what airlines flew there. That’s when I noticed Southwest Airlines. After doing some research it became possible to add a trip to Las Vegas, have checked bags, book a hotel, and still be under the price that the other airlines were offering for just going from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City with a wait of few hours at an airport. Jun and I discussed it and thought that it seemed like a good idea to essentially spend a day in Las Vegas before going to Oklahoma. It also would give Jun a chance to see a bit of Las Vegas.

Day 1

Everything worked out well. Our flight into Los Angeles arrived on time, and getting through immigration went much more quickly than the first time we had arrived at LAX. We were then on our way to checking in with Southwest and getting on our way to Las Vegas.

When we got to Las Vegas, we decided to take a taxi to the hotel, which ended up being quick but much more expensive than we had anticipated. Check-in went quickly at the hotel and we were soon in our room ready for bed.

Day 2

On our day in Las Vegas we started by going around the downtown area of the city. Then we took the bus to the Strip.

When we got to the Strip we essentially just walked around and did some shopping. Jun was looking for a new wallet, and he found one at Paul Smith. I wanted to buy the destination special watch that Swatch had for Las Vegas to add it to my collection. As soon as we completed those tasks we went and had lunch at Nacho Daddy. Later as we continued our walk to the Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign we stopped at Shake Shack to get some shakes.

At the sign we were amazed at how long people needed to take a picture with it. One group of three women had wardrobe changes and took multiple poses with the sign. Jun and I thought it was silly. We quickly took a picture and then went on our way to find a bus back to downtown.

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When we got back to downtown we walked around Freemont Street and just killed the time before we had to take our Super Shuttle (much cheaper than a taxi) to the airport.

At the hotel we collected our bags and waited for the Super Shuttle to pick us up. After a bit of miscommunication about who the driver was to pick-up, we were soon on our way to the airport and then off to Oklahoma to see my family.

Peruvian Explorations

When we first planned this month-long trip, the one place we kept circling back on was Machu Picchu in Peru. We played around with different possibilities, but it always ended up being quite expensive. Then on a lark we checked a travel website and saw that Avianca had a sale for that week and the prices became more reasonable. After a quick discussion, Jun and I booked the tickets and the South American leg of our trip was set.

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Day 1

After having left Bogotá in the afternoon, we first flew into Lima before catching our flight to Cusco. By the time we arrived in Cusco it was 8:00 in the evening. Our driver from the hotel—Casa Andina Premium—picked us up and drove us to the hotel. On the way he gave a brief history of the city and places that we would want to visit.

After we checked in, Jun and I were antsy from having just sat at airports and on airplanes for most of the afternoon. We decided to take a walk around the city and to do a bit of exploring.

Cusco illuminates a reverential beauty at night. The colonial architecture and the remnants of Incan structures were gorgeously lit, which transformed the area from reality to fantasy. By the time we found ourselves in the Plaza de Armas, Jun and I were enamored with the city.

As we finished our circuit around the plaza, Jun and I were ready to call it a night. We slowly walked back to the hotel. Jun was a bit hungry, so he ordered chicken noodle soup from room service and we soon were in bed.

Day 2

Our second day was spent exploring the city. After breakfast we first went to look for a place that would do laundry on a Sunday. After finding a place nearby and arranging the time of pick-up, we then went to visit the ruins of Qorikancha. During the time of the Inca, Qorikancha was the most sacred temple in their empire. The base of the temple remains, but the Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo on top of it.

One of the neatest things we saw at the museum on the site was a skull that had been modified to be elongated. The elite Inca had viewed such skull elongations as beautiful. The result was that the skulls look like they belong to extraterrestrials and not humans. As we left the museum we walked around the Jardín Sagrado before continuing our exploration of the city.

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After Qorikancha we did some shopping at the Traditional Textile Center. The center supports indigenous women maintain traditional craftmaking, as well as providing them an income source. They had a lot of beautiful items at the store. They even had indigenous women demonstrating how they weaved. Jun and I ended up buying these really neat hats there.

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From there we walked from the historic center up to San Blas. As we were walking we stopped for a mid-morning break at Pantástico Bakery. We ordered a lemon tart and two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. They were delicious.

After we were recharged, we continued our walk towards the Inca complex of Saqsaywaman. The walk afforded us with amazing views of the city as we were on the side of a hill.

At the site itself we had even better views of Cusco. The site of Saqsaywaman served as a citadel during the Incan period. It overlooks the valley where the Inca had their capital city. The structures there are grand. The Inca possessed a massive amount of knowledge and skill in being able to construct such a massive complex. While walking around the site we also got to see some really cute alpacas grazing at the site.

When we completed our tour of the site, Jun and I were ready for lunch and decided to find a place in the Plaza de Armas. We ended up having a wonderful meal at Mistura Plaza Grill. The food there was wonderful and left us ready to continue our wanderings around the city.

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As we walked around Cusco it started to rain. Jun and I ended up taking a break at Starbucks until it let up a bit. When it did let up, we walked back to the area where our hotel was to go and pick-up our laundry. That proved difficult since the place we had agreed to pick it up was closed. After looking for a bit, and getting frustrated, we found the person who did our laundry. It wasn’t ready and we would have to wait another hour to get it. When we went back she had picked up the wrong laundry and we had to go search for our actual laundry. When we did I was tired of this ordeal and we went back to the hotel to get a quick bite of dinner before going to bed.

Day 3

Machu Picchu! Our trip to Machu Picchu started at 4:00 in the morning so we could catch the bus to catch the train to catch another bus to get to the site. After finding the wrong entrance to Wanchaq Station, a nice worker there directed us to the correct entrance. As soon as we got there, we soon found ourselves on the bus and on our way to the train station at Ollantaytambo. When we got to Ollantaytambo, we had to wait a bit for our train. Jun and I bought some breakfast there as we waited.

When we were ready to board our train our anticipation grew. The train ride to Aguas Calientes was beautiful. We traveled along the river and through the mountains. It was breathtaking. As soon as we got to Aguas Calientes we booked our bus up to Machu Picchu and then went to find a place for an early lunch. We ended up at a small place called Cafe Restaurante Bijao. It was a really nice place. I got to try this stuffed mashed potato dish that was delicious.

After lunch we got on our bus and went up to Machu Picchu. The drive up there was along a winding road with few guardrails. It had been raining earlier that day so the road was a bit slippery. Sufficed to say I was ready to get off the bus as soon as possible.

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When we arrived at the entrance we had to wait a bit for our allotted entry time. Soon, however, we were walking inside the site and became amazed at what we saw. Machu Picchu was beautiful. The earlier rains had surrounded the site in clouds that slowly dissipated during our time there. It created a surreal feeling—as if the site were an island in the sky. Jun and I enjoyed our meandering walk around the place. Jun also had me serve as his tour guide based on what I remembered from my Inca archaeology classes.

Sadly, we soon had to go back down to the Aguas Calientes to catch our train back to Cusco. When we got back to the town, Jun and I went around the market and then ended up having an early dinner at a restaurant called Full House. They had a nice view of the Urubamba River. After dinner we then went to the train station for the ride back to Cusco.

After the train and bus ride, Jun and I were ready to head back to the hotel and go to sleep. It had been a long day, but an awesome one.

Day 4

Another early start so we could take a tour of the Sacred Valley. After a quick breakfast Jun and I soon found ourselves on the start of a great day touring different sites outside of Cusco.

Our first stop was at the site of Inca Písac. The site is broken into four main groups that was built on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley. The site that we mainly visited was called P’isaqa. It had these grand terraces that went down the mountain and a number of structures at the top of them. It was really neat to go around and learn about how the Inca created the terraces and how they lived there.

From the archaeological site we then went down to the modern village of Písac. We first learned a bit about the importance of silver to the modern economy and then took a walk around the central market.

We were then on our way to have lunch at Restaurante Tunupa. The food was nice there and it had a beautiful garden with llamas and alpacas grazing around. It was a nice break before going to our last stop at Ollantaytambo.

Our tour guide took us around the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, which served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance against the Spaniards. The site was quite distinct from the other Inca places we had visited. This one had a more militaristic feel to it compared to the other sites. It was quite intriguing to see the different architectural styles that the Inca had used over time as well.

By the time we finished going around the site, it was late in the afternoon and time for us to go back to Cusco. On the drive back our tour guide allowed us to stop for a bit to take in the view of the Andes. While it was overcast by then, it was still a beautiful sight.

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When we got back to Cusco Jun and I decided to grab dinner at Incanto and then do some shopping. Jun and I found some really nice products made from baby alpaca for ourselves and as gifts. By the time we were finished it started to rain again and we went back to the hotel to pack for our trip to Lima the next morning.

Day 5

Jun and I had a really quick breakfast and then went to the airport. We had a quick flight into Lima and our driver there soon took us to the Antigua Miraflores. The hotel resides in a Spanish-colonial style mansion built in 1923; it had a lovely charm to it. The staff was also quite kind and even upgraded our room to this nice quiet corner of the hotel. They even arranged for us to have a takeaway breakfast the next morning, as we had an early morning flight to the U.S. As soon as we got to the room Jun and I rested for a bit before we went out to explore Lima.

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We first took a taxi to get to the historic center of the city. At the Plaza de Armas de Lima we saw the changing of the guard at the Palacio de Gobierno. As we walked around the plaza we decided to have lunch at Lima 141 Sanguchería.

From there we went to the Casa de Aliaga; while there we had an impromptu tour of the place. The house has been occupied by the Aliaga family since 1535. It was really neat to get a glimpse in the evolution of a colonial house into the modern era. The history of different architectural styles and aesthetics was wonderfully woven together to create a balance in the house that was impressive.

After our tour of the house, Jun and I continued to walk around the historic center until we found ourselves at the Parque de la Exposición. After resting there for a bit, we took a taxi to the Larcomar shopping center in Miraflores. This was a neat place as it’s built on the side of a cliff face. After doing some shopping there we took a walk along the cliff towards the Faro La Marina. When we got there it was the start of sunset and we were treated to a beautiful end to the day.

Afterwards, Jun and I went to dinner at Delfino Mar. The food there was amazing! We had a lovely cerviche and two wonderfully prepared fishes for our last meal in Lima. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and called it a day.

Day 6

Our last day in South America had us traveling from Lima to Bogotá to Los Angeles and finally to Las Vegas. It was a long day of travel, but it was one without any issue.

Peru is an amazing place. The sites, the food, and the people were great. Jun and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and if possible we would definitely by thrilled to return in the future.

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Finding Bogotá

Our trip to Colombia was almost thwarted by an Avianca check-in staff member. When we began the check-in process, the staff member checked me in first without any problem since I didn’t need a visa to travel to Colombia. When she started to check-in Jun, however, she was unaware of the requirements for a Chinese citizen to visit Colombia. Jun at that point knew more than she did. She knew Jun needed a visa, but when she started to read through the visa requirements for a Chinese citizen, she didn’t read through the entire entry before she started asking questions. She kept asking him about his European visa being expired and that he didn’t have the required visa to enter Colombia. Jun explained that he was going to use his United States visa to enter the country since Colombia allowed Chinese citizens to use either a European Union or United States visa in lieu of a Colombian visa to enter the country. Jun explained this fact to her, but she kept focusing on the European visa.

I asked her to show us what information she was reading, and noticed that there was more information; she needed to scroll down the screen to see it. When she did scroll down, the next entry was how Chinese citizens may use a visa from the United States to enter Colombia. While she should have read through the entire entry before informing us we had a problem, she was aware she had made a mistake and apologized. She then quickly finished our check-in and we were on our way.

Day 1

We had an overnight flight and didn’t arrive in Bogotá until about 5:30 in the morning. Fortunately, the hotel we were staying at—the Hotel El Dorado Bogotá—sent a car and driver to meet us and quickly ushered us to the hotel. When we got there we did everything we needed to do to get to our room, take a shower, and go to sleep as expeditiously as we could. As soon as we did all that we slept until noon.

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After waking up and getting ready, Jun and I made a plan to go to La Candelaria. We asked the staff the best way to go and they said either by Uber or by taxi. Since neither of our phones would allow us to get an Uber, we took a taxi. Taxis here are interesting; the cab fare is based on a meter that ticks your distance and/or wait time. You use a card with the rate chart printed on it to figure out how much you owe.

Our taxi driver was nice and got us to our destination. He told us how to walk to the Gold Museum—our first stop. When we got into the Gold Museum, Jun and I were amazed at the many different pieces the museum displayed from different time periods and locations throughout the country. The intricate nature of some of the designs were impressive based on the tools available to the crafters. The museum was beautifully designed and gave a wonderful introduction to one core aspect of Colombian culture.

From the museum we then walked towards Bolivar Square to find a place where we could eat. It was already late in the afternoon and Jun and I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast on the airplane. After walking around the square we ended up having an early dinner at La Paella de la Candelaria. The place was wonderful. The paella was delicious and the staff friendly. It was also the first time in Colombia that I had to remember a lot of my Spanish, which at that point I hadn’t used in eleven years. At some points in a conversation I forgot the Spanish word and wanted to use an Armenian or Chinese word in its place. Fortunately, I was able to muddle my way through.

After dinner we continued to explore La Candelaria until Jun and I were ready to go back to the hotel to catch up on our sleep. After trying to find a taxi, we found one and soon were on our way back to our hotel and to the comfortable bed there.

Day 2

Jun and I really had been tired the day before and we slept in until around 11:00. By the time we were cleaned up and ready to start the day it was time for lunch. We decided to walk to the nearby Parque 93 area to find a place to eat. After a bit of searching we settled on a seafood restaurant—Pesquera Jaramillo—for lunch. They were quite generous with the seafood portions for each of our dishes. It was a delicious meal with wonderful service.

When we finished lunch, we took a taxi to the funicular station that would take us up to Cerro de Monserrate. We were lucky when we went as there were no lines and the funicular was about to leave. As soon as we hopped on, the doors closed and we were on our way up the mountain. The ride up offered a panoramic view of the city. As we got closer to the top we were soon surrounded by cloud cover from the rainy weather system that was in the region. As we got to the top we lost our view of the city, but we were still able to enjoy walking around the top with the abundance of flowers and the different buildings there. As we were going around the area, it started to rain. We then rested inside the Basílica Santuario del Señor de Monserrate until the rain let up a bit. It was nice to walk around the interior and take a moment for ourselves.

Soon the rain did let up and we were awarded with being able to see all around the city and surrounding mountains. Jun and I took a number of pictures. Soon it was getting busier at the top and we decided we were ready to go back down.

When we got to the bottom we decided to walk towards La Candelaria. We first went through the Universidad De Los Andes and were able to see a number of neat examples of street art. From there we then went straight to La Candelaria.

When we arrived we decided to visit the Botero Museum and the other museums in the complex that comprise the Banco de la República’s art collection. It was neat to see the works of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and other internationally famous artists. It was a great place to spend some time in the late afternoon.

Afterwards Jun and I went back to Parque 93 to find a place for dinner. We ended up having dinner at Karen’s Pizza and had a delightful meal to end our day.

Day 3

We had finally caught up on our sleep and work up at an earlier hour in the morning that allowed up to eat breakfast before we started our day. Jun and I decided that we would venture out of the city and go up north to explore that area. We hired a car and driver who took us, first, to see Laguna Guatavita near the town of Sesquilé. The lake is associated with the myth of El Dorado. While we didn’t see any gold at the lake, it was a nice hike around the portion of the lake we could get through. We also ended up visiting the lake with a school group. They were mostly a nice group, but they did take up a lot of space.

From the lake we then went to the town of Zipaquirá. We went there to visit the Catedral de Sal. The cathedral is built inside an old salt mine. As you go through the cathedral you pass through numerous stations on the way down to the three naves. It’s a really fascinating place. This is the second cathedral built at the side, the older one being above the newer one. The old one was deemed unsafe for visitors due to it being carved in an active mine, thus they built the newer one. While it’s a major tourist site for the region, it still functions as an active church with regular Sunday service. Jun and I definitely enjoyed our time here.

Soon it was time for us to get back to Bogotá. Before leaving Zipaquirá, we drove down to the central plaza and walked around it before we left.

When we got back we decided to do a bit of shopping before dinner. We ended up buying some nice chocolates for my mom at Truffelinos-La Chocolateria. They had such a variety of chocolates to choose from that we splurged a little and bought a bigger box than we had anticipated. They were worth it though!

From there Jun and I walked to a restaurant he had wanted to try: Restaurante La Estancia Chica. Jun wanted to try some Colombian grilled food and we ordered some chorizo and steaks for dinner. We also ordered a pitcher of sangria. The sangria was the highlight of the meal. It was flavorful and the best sangria I’ve ever had.

After dinner we went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 4

Today was a travel day. Our flight to Lima was later in the morning, so we took it easy before checking out and heading towards the airport. Our time in Bogotá was a nice, but we were ready for our next adventure.

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Southwestern Explorations

The second part of our vacation was a road trip to visit some of the amazing national parks in the Southwest. I was excited to visit these parks as I had wanted to explore them for a long time, and I finally had the opportunity to do so.

Day 1

The first park we visited was Joshua Tree National Park.

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We left early in the morning from San Pedro to get to the park. After leaving the traffic of Los Angeles, the roads became much more relaxing to drive. When we got to the park, Jun and I had fun exploring the Joshua trees and the rock formations there. We both enjoyed walking around them without having to deal with other people and just simply explore the unique landscape. It was really beautiful and serene. While we were a bit early, we also did get to see the start of the wildflowers blooming at the park.

After a few hours there we soon were on our way to northern Arizona to get to the Grand Canyon. It was strikingly different from Joshua Tree. When we got there in the evening it was significantly colder with snow on the ground. We were quite glad when we got to our room and turned on the heat!

Day 2

Jun and I woke up early so we could start our exploration of the Grand Canyon. When we got inside the park we soon found our way to Mather Point and were awed at the natural beauty before us. All the pictures and videos of the Grand Canyon only capture an iota of the magnificence of this place.

Jun and I soon started to walk around the southern rim and enjoyed the vistas we saw there. We also had a bit of fun with the snow.

For the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon we continued our explorations of the park before ending our visit at the Desert View Watchtower. The inside of the watchtower was beautiful with the Native American murals, and the views from the area were great. It was a nice way to end our visit before our next destination.

From the Grand Canyon we drove to Page, Arizona. The drive there was nice and we soon arrived at the town. We initially had wanted to visit Horseshoe Bend outside of the town, but when we arrived at the entrance we saw that there was construction going on and we weren’t sure if we were allowed to visit. We decided to first go to our hotel and then do a bit of research.

After getting into our room, we searched online and found that there was indeed construction going on at Horseshoe Bend that required parking some distance from the site and then taking a bus. That system, however, ceased operations at 5:00, but it was possible after 5:00 to try to find a parking spot in the construction area and hike to the site. I was skeptical that we would be able to make it in time before sunset, but Jun was optimistic that we should try.

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When we got there we had to wait to find a parking spot. We got lucky that someone was leaving just as we started to try to find a spot and we were soon walking to see Horseshoe Bend. The area is beautiful, and we got to experience a wonderful sunset. We also discovered that there were a lot of flying insects there during that time of day. Even with them annoying us it was a great way for us to end our day.

Day 3

We started the day by going to Antelope Slot Canyon Tours by Chief Tsosie in Page for a tour of Antelope Canyon. A little after we checked-in, we were soon in our van headed towards the canyon. Our tour guide took us through the slot canyon. It was really neat to see the play of light on the canyon walls. While there was a lot of people visiting the canyon, it was still a remarkable place.

After returning to Page, we had a quick lunch and soon found ourselves back on the road on our way to California. On the way we drove through Zion National Park on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and spent a bit of time enjoying the beauty there. Since we were trying to get to Barstow at a reasonable hour, we didn’t spend too much time at Zion. As we drove through the park we did stop at a number of spots to wander a bit before continuing our drive.

We ended our day in Barstow to get ready for our next adventure the next day.

Day 4

Death Valley National Park was our destination for this day. As soon as we got to Stovepipe Wells Village, we sought a place to have lunch. We ended up at Badwater Saloon for a simple lunch since the power was out. The wraps we had ended up being quite tasty and was healthy as well. So a good way to prepare for the rest of the day at the park.

From Stovepipe we went to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. This place was really fun to walk around. It was a calming place. Trying to walk up and around the dunes required a slower pace to ensure we kept our footing.

From the sand dunes we drove out towards Harmony Borax Works. We walked around the area and learned a bit more about the industrial history of Death Valley National Park. Borax was one of the few natural resources that early Californians could develop for profit, but it still didn’t have a long history in Death Valley.

From there we took a drive through Artists Drive to see Artists Palette and the different colored rock formations of the area. It was a nice drive, and Jun was able to tell me of similar places in China.

The last thing we did that day was to take a hike through Golden Canyon. We hiked for at least a mile and half before we turned around. During that hike we enjoyed the play of the late afternoon sunlight on the canyon walls.

As we drove back to Barstow, we were treated to a beautiful sunset near Owens Lake. That was a nice way to end our day.

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Day 5

Our last day in the United States before flying to Colombia. Since we didn’t have to get to LAX before 5:00, we decided to have an easy day by spending it around the Miracle Mile. We first went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for lunch and to go around the outdoor sculptures. One of the sculptures we saw was Chris Burden’s Urban Light. We then went to the Farmers Market and the adjoining Grove to do some shopping and to enjoy some ice cream from Bennett’s Ice Cream.

Afterwards we walked back to our car and then went to the airport to begin the next part of our trip. So far our trip had been amazing, and we were excited for the next leg of our journey.

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A Southern California Spring

Two weeks into my two month break from work, Jun and I started our month-long trip in Los Angeles.

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Our flight into LA went smoothly and we even arrived early. Our plane, however, had to wait 20 minutes before we could park at our gate. When we did disembark we then had to wait for about an hour to pass through immigration. All this waiting occurred near midnight; Jun and I just wanted to go to sleep. Everyone was professional and kind to us throughout the whole process. It was just tedious to wait.

After we had gotten our bags, we went straight to pick-up our rental car—still another line to wait—and then off to our hotel in San Pedro. When we got there our check-in was quick and we were soon in our room asleep.

Day 1

After a nice long sleep, Jun and I started our trip to Los Angeles by going to the Getty Museum. We first had to traverse the LA road system to get there. This experience would be the first of many on the reality of driving in LA. When we got there we were amazed at how beautiful the grounds of the Getty Center were. The natural beauty combined with the architectural beauty of the various buildings created a tranquil place to spend a few hours. Jun and I wandered around the place and enjoyed our time there. I especially enjoyed experiencing Vincent van Gogh’s Irises.

From the Getty Museum we then drove down to Santa Monica to spend the afternoon near the ocean. We had a late lunch at Azulé Taqueria and then walked around the area. We went to the pier and walked along the beach until sunset. It was a nice way to start our trip.

We finished the day with a seafood dinner at a really nice restaurant—Cassia—before heading back to our hotel and calling it a day.

Day 2

Out second full day in LA we experienced more of the touristy things of LA and we ended up going to Hollywood Boulevard in the morning. We first parked our car near Hollywood Boulevard and then walked the area for a bit. We saw the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After experiencing Hollywood we took the metro into downtown LA. We first went to grab some lunch at Grand Central Market and then took a walk to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall. From there we crossed the street and visited the Broad. The Broad had a nice collection of contemporary art and it was a nice visit.

We then walked down to the Last Bookstore to wander around the stacks. I had to reign myself in from buying all the books that I wanted to buy. From there we walked past city hall into Little Tokyo. After perusing the area we went to Union Station to take the metro back to Hollywood to get back to our car.

From Hollywood we drove up to Griffith Observatory and hiked around the area to see the Hollywood sign and experience the super bloom there. We then went and visited the observatory until sunset and the wonderful views of Los Angeles from Griffith Park.

After sunset we went back to San Pedro and picked up a pizza and watched TV in our room before calling it a night.

Day 3

On our third day we went into Orange County to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission was beautiful and the gardens were blooming in the spring weather. Jun and I really liked how they have preserved the historic mission since Spanish colonial times to the present. Afterwards, we walked around the town and had lunch at Bueno Bueno Mexican Kitchen. The town itself was quite lovely.

The rest of the day was spent looking for a pair of shoes Jun saw at a J.Crew in Santa Monica. He decided in the day since we had been there that he would like to purchase them. As a result, we went to a J.Crew near San Juan Capistrano. We went there and they didn’t have the size Jun needed, so we then went to another one where we did find the right size. We then did a bit more shopping there.

After we had finished that bit of shopping, we went back to San Pedro and ended up watching sunset at Point Fermin Park. It was a really beautiful way to end the day.

And that essentially ended the first part of the trip. The next day we began a road trip around the Southwest to visit different national parks and other sites for the remainder of our time in the U.S. before we flew to South America.