Posted by: michaelandtaylor | October 4, 2012

Reunited and it feels so good…

Taylor here again….

This time I write to you from the comfort of my OWN home back in Fort Collins, Colorado.  That’s right, I am wearing slippers again, I am watching movies on the couch, I am even grocery shopping!  Oh the simple joys in life….

I finished up my last two weeks in Guatemala and just when I thought I didn’t have the energy to blog one more time…something epic happened.  But of course you’ll have to read on to find out what it was :)

Overlooking Parque Central and the Cathedral in Antigua

For my last two weeks of Spanish school I had an unexpected visit from my friend Kathleen from Fort Collins!  She happened to have a few weeks off between jobs and she’s one of those lucky people who knows someone in the airline industry so why not hop on the next plane to Guatemala?  She moved into my host home and started classes right away.  I thought I’d be lonely my last two weeks of school, but it was so nice to share this experience with yet another friend.  While Kathleen was there we continued the daily grind of Spanish-learning and tortilla-eating and we also spent quality time hanging out with our host family and out on the town.

A jog up to Cerro de la Cruz with Kathleen

Party at the house for Martin’s birthday

I just had to include this one….with my adorable Guatemalan grandpa and host mom :)

A hike up Pacaya Volcano with Kathleen

The only two gringos at Martin’s soccer game – fun stuff!!

One of my favorite things about the school I attended is how flexible the classes were.  Sure, it’s great to sit around learning grammar for 4 hours straight, but what I really loved was getting out in the community and putting my knowledge to practice.  One day during class we went to a local coffee plantation and heard about the process of coffee-making from start to finish, in Spanish of course.  We also visited a chocolate factory (my personal favorite), hot springs, and a macadamia farm.  On another day Diego wanted to show me his village so we took a beautiful ride on his motorcycle and got to meet his family and even visit his wife’s school.  It’s a bit daunting to be standing in front of a classroom of children who have hardly seen a white person before and be told to “Diga algo” (Say something), but I like to think I did alright.

A visit to the coffee plantation with our teachers

The view on the ride to Diego’s village….Volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango

A visit to Diego’s wife’s school….I fit right in, huh?

And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  I’m talking about one of those “I will never forget this for as long as I live” kind of moments.  As it turns out, in my last week of classes, one of the volcanoes overlooking Antigua decided to ERUPT!!!  Seriously.  It happened during class one morning and we all took a break to sit on a balcony to watch it together.  To be quite honest I didn’t exactly know whether to be scared, excited, or just plain stunned…but I was definitely feeling a mixture of emotions.

The view from our school – WOW!

My teacher wanted a better view so we took a ride on his motorcycle to get up close and personal.  There we were, riding along on a clear sunny day, with the sound of “thunder” hovering over our heads.  Medical vehicles passed us driving towards the volcano while evacuation vehicles rushed past us carrying people in the opposite direction.  It was so surreal.  I wondered what the repercussions of this eruption would be for me since I was planning to fly home from Guatemala 2 days later.  In the end everything died down in 24 hours, the 30,000 people who were evacuated returned safely to their homes, and I flew out as planned.  One more adventure I can definitely say that I will never forget!

And they shall call us “Volcano Chasers”

A closer view of the volcano erupting!

Next thing I knew I was riding up the escalator at Denver International Airport awaiting my husband at the top.  After being together 24/7 for a year, then apart for 6 long weeks, I’m not sure that words can express how great it was to be together again.  I must say that we were seriously thankful for this time apart as it was good for us to miss each other a bit after the past year we’ve had.

It has felt extremely normal and wonderful to be back home in Fort Collins.  We have more to share in our final post of the trip, but we’ll get back to that once we have some time to readjust and reflect on the amazing past 16 months first.

Fellow Coloradoans – hope to see you soon!

Posted by: michaelandtaylor | August 29, 2012

Guatemala Take 2: Taylor’s Spanish Immersion!

I (Taylor) write to you from my cozy home in Antigua, Guatemala, where I am pursuing a lifelong dream of learning Spanish.  The decision to come here was borne several months ago while traveling with our friends Chip and Lindsay way back in New Zealand.  Lindsay and I were both venting about our strong desires to move somewhere to learn Spanish and it was actually our husbands who then said “So what’s stopping you?”  Fast forward 5 months and here we are!  (Aren’t our husbands so supportive?)  It has been so amazing to be here with such a dear friend and to pursue this dream of ours together.

Me & Linds on an afternoon run at Cerro de la Cruz

Antigua is a beautiful little town booming with brightly-colored buildings, extravagant churches, rich Mayan culture and restaurants galore.  If you’re an avid blog reader you might remember that the very first stop on our trip around the world was Antigua, Guatemala.  It’s a neat feeling to come full circle around the globe and end up right back where I started, in a town that I love.  I am here for 6 weeks this time, living with a host family, taking 4-5 hours of Spanish classes each day, and trying my best to immerse myself in the culture around me.

The classic streets of Antigua with volcanoes surrounding you

Parque Central

The colonial La Merced church in the old center of  Antigua

There are some definite perks to living with a host family as I have loved getting to know my host mom, Janet.  I’m learning more about what daily life is like here for the locals and it’s wonderful getting to practice my Spanish in the comfort of my own home.  I also can’t complain about the delicious meals I get served 3 times a day (oh my!).  My mornings begin around 7am and after a 30 minute walk through the town center I meet my Spanish teacher, Diego, in a beautiful garden owned by the school.  Diego has been teaching for 26 years, has lived his whole life just outside of Antigua, and is a really talented, patient teacher (key word: patient).

My lovely host mom, Janet!

Diego wins “Most Patient Teacher of the Year” award

For two weeks of our time here, Lindsay and I were joined by my dear friend and ex-roommate in Fort Collins, Courtney (or, as the Guatemalans call her, Cooorny). We have all had a great time learning this language together and we’ve loved having the afternoons free to get acquainted with some of the cutest coffee shops in town.  We have also taken advantage of the weekends to explore some activities outside of Antigua and are constantly in awe of the beauty surrounding us.

For my first weekend here, the three of us took a 3hr shuttle to Lake Atitlan, a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains, 3 volcanoes and a bunch of darling villages skirting the shoreline.  We had heard all sorts of recommendations on things to “do” at Lake Atitlan but I can’t say that we “did” much of anything at all besides eat, relax, sit in the hot tub and cry many (happy) tears talking about life.  It was a much-needed girls’ weekend away in a perfectly tranquil setting.

Gettin’ pruney in a hot tub overlooking Lake Atitlan

For our second weekend we decided to challenge ourselves a bit more.  Several tour companies in town advertise overnight camping trips on one of the nearby volcanoes (Acatenango Volcano) and the hike up is known for being one of the most strenuous in the area.  Why not give it a shot?  After hiking straight uphill for 6 hours in the morning we arrived at our campsite at nearly 13,000ft which overlooked an ACTIVE VOLCANO!  Talk about cool!  We got lucky with an enormous lightning storm that night, fresh lava flowing from the volcano crater and billions of brilliant stars shining above our heads.  Definitely one of those moments in life that I will never forget.

Hiking up Acatenango Volcano

Coolest campsite of all time! Check out Fuego Volcano smoking in the background!

Fuego Volcano blowing off some lava during a lightning storm

After Courtney headed back home I had just one weekend left with my sweet amiga, Lindsay.  We decided to take a shuttle to a nearby beach town (Monterrico) and hoped to relax by the calming ocean waves for a few days.  Relax we did!  Aside from a two-hour walk on the beach in search of sea turtles, I’m not sure our backsides left our hammocks for more than an hour the entire weekend.  It was fabulous!

Me and Lindsay at Monterrico Beach

Our amazingly cheap and super relaxing hostel right on the beach (for $6 a night!!)

Now that Lindsay has gone home I am here to immerse on my own.  In case you’re curious, I am taking classes from Antigüeña Spanish Academy, which is very highly rated and cheap as chips!  For 1 week of classes at 4 hours per day plus living with a host family (own room, 3 meals per day, (luke)warm shower, internet) it costs $170/week.  Seriously.  I have had an incredible experience so far and honestly can’t believe how fast you can learn something when you devote roughly 9 hours a day to only that.  I will also add that learning a new language is EXTREMELY challenging and humbling at times and I’ve definitely had moments when I’ve had to fight back tears of frustration.  I have always been a social, bubbly person…but I showed up to this country, could hardly speak a word of Spanish and quickly felt labeled as the shy girl with a boring life.  The good news is that my life is getting more and more exciting each day as I am learning to speak in different tenses and gaining more confidence in my conversational skills.  Whew!  Now I’m just an awkward 5-year-old, but at least there’s improvement, right?

Thank you all for your support and prayers over the past few weeks.  Living out of my comfort zone has been challenging in many ways but it’s also been a sweet reminder of my life back home and all that I’m thankful for.  Do I get painfully homesick at times?  Am I eager to get back to normal life again?  Of course!  But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.  I’ve got two and a half weeks to go….we’ll see if all of this studying pays off and I can hablo espanol like I hope I can!

To see more photos from my trip so far, click here!

Posted by: michaelandtaylor | August 9, 2012

Home Sweet Home!

We didn’t know what to expect emotionally when we landed back on U.S. soil for the first time in 13 months.  We knew we’d be exhausted after a 17 hour flight, but what would we be feeling?  Would we break down crying from the emotion of making it home safely?  Would we be able process all that we’d just accomplished?  Would it all just seem like a blur?

The boring truth is that walking out of the airport terminal in Houston felt really…normal…and we were just fine with that.  Normal is exactly what we want for a bit.

Before going back to Colorado to truly finish off our trip we couldn’t wait to spend time at home with our families whom we’d missed for the last 13 months.  I’m talking about that “let mama take care of you” kind of home.  I’m talking about that “walk into the kitchen and find anything you want to eat…anytime” kind of home.  I’m talking about that “sleep in your old bed that feels oh so good” kind of home.  And I’m definitely talking about that “sit on the couch, watch a movie, and just stop thinking” kind of home.

Can’t wait to eat refined sugar and processed foods again!

From Dubai we first flew to see my family (Michael) in Houston.  I come from a large family that seems to get bigger by the day.  We have 5 kids including myself (4 boys and 1 girl).  It wasn’t long ago that I can remember all five of us being single.  Now, in a span of 4 years, all of us are married (youngest getting married soon) and my parents have 3 grandkids.  Our family of 7 has grown to 15 in what seemed like the blink of an eye.  We’re spread out over 4 states so when we get the opportunity to all be home together we make the most of it.  None of us laugh harder than we do when we’re eating around the dinner table at home together.  It’s a special time for all of us that we seem to long for more and more as we get older and I’m so thankful for that.

So when we flew home…my out-of-state brothers flew home as well so we could all be together for the first time in over a year.  Nobody wanted to miss out on anything so all 15 of us slept at my parent’s house with people on floors and couches to make enough room.  It was a blast.  Taylor and I finally got to meet the two newest additions to the family in our niece (Madeline) and nephew (Tyce) who were born while we were gone.  My main project was to make sure our 3 year old niece, Abigail, remembered me after being gone for a year…I think I succeeded as she’s still asking her dad to bounce her “the way Uncle Michael does”.

Us with Abigail, Tyce and Madeline….how cute are they??

She sure loves her Uncle Michael!

While home in Houston we also took a two day trip to Louisiana to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It was so great to get to see them and share some of our stories from the road.

A visit with Pappy in Louisiana

What trip home is complete without a night out with the ol’ high school crew?  We got together with several of my boys and their wives one night over burgers and beers catching up on life and rehashing a few old memories.

The Fellas

After Houston we flew to Atlanta to be with Taylor’s family for a week.

I (Taylor) also come from a large family with 3 brothers.  My oldest brother, Conor, had just moved back south to Chattanooga, Tennessee from Durango, Colorado.  One of my triplet brothers, Evan, is living and working in Atlanta.  My other triplet brother Adam and his wife Stephanie, who we lived with in New Zealand, had only recently announced that they would also be home when we arrived.  The four of us hadn’t all been together in over two years (last time was at our wedding) so it was a much-anticipated time for all and we certainly had a lot to catch up on!  Our week in Georgia was a great mix of family, friends and even a little site-seeing!  We also got the opportunity to head north to Jasper to see my aunts, uncles and grandparents for my grandpa’s special 90th birthday party!  Wow!  It was such a special time to all be together and we packed in a lot of fun throughout the whole week.

With my Mom and Steph at The World of Coke in Atlanta

A night at the Brick Store Pub with Caroline, Katie Mo and Megan

Happy 90th Birthday, Papa! A great celebration with the whole fam!

From Georgia we flew to home sweet home…Colorado.  What sweet relief when our plane touched down at DIA and we stared at the mountains to the west.  We had a lot to do in the 10 days ahead…. We had friends to catch up with that we were dying to see, we needed to locate all of our stuff we left behind, we needed to find a place to live as well as move into it.  Why only 10 days to do all of those things, you ask?  That’s because I (Taylor) am off on yet another adventure, this time all by myself.  After 13 straight months of travel with Michael…it’s time for a break :)  For the next 6 weeks I’ll be doing a Spanish immersion course in Antigua, Guatemala!  It has always been a huge dream of mine to learn Spanish so I’m excited that I get to seize this opportunity while I can.  A huge perk is that our lovely friend, Lindsay (of Chip and Lindsay, whom we met in New Zealand) will be there with me, as well as my dear friend and ex-roommate Courtney from Colorado who will be meeting up with us for two weeks.  Meanwhile Michael will hold down the Fort (pun intended) and become fully immersed right back into football and school preparations and will probably be so busy sorting boxes in our apartment that he may not have time to notice that I’m gone!

I’d ask for your prayers for safety and smoothness over the next 6 weeks as this is quite the adjustment going from being with Michael 24/7 for an entire year, to being off on my own again for 6 weeks.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?  Hope you’re well and I’ll catch up with you from Guatemala as soon as I can!

To see all pictures from Texas/Georgia click here!

Posted by: michaelandtaylor | July 25, 2012

Cape Town and Dubai

Cape Town…you had us at hello.

What an incredible city.  It’s drop dead gorgeous to start with, but there’s so much to do you go dizzy trying to fit it all in.

Flying from Uganda to Cape Town we knew that our time of “roughing it” in Africa was over.  We were headed to meet up with a few more friends.  Stephen and Vicky were a couple we met one Sunday at church back in Queenstown, New Zealand.  They were traveling for a few months before moving to Cape Town from Bermuda and just happened to be in Queenstown on a Sunday.  We invited them to our weekly BBQ that night and while talking they commented on how we should look them up in Cape Town when we’re traveling through later on our trip.  Fast forward 6 months and there we were being picked up by Stephen at the airport to stay with them for 5 nights (this is the beauty of the traveling community).

Stephen and Vicky on the far right from way back in New Zealand!

Five days in one city is a really long time for us the way we’ve been moving around this year, but when we asked Stephen and Vicky about the length of our stay their response was “Wait…that’s all?”  Turns out they were right!  We highly underestimated this place.  Staying with people you know is the greatest blessing while traveling, but what made the pot sweeter was that they happened to be house-sitting for a friend who had an absolute mansion.  We were set up like never before on on our year of travels.  We had our own “wing” of the house including a maid that washed, dried, and ironed all of our travel clothes (every other day)…it was such a treat.

The Cape Town region

On our first day the four of us took a gorgeous drive down both sides of the Cape Peninsula.  We headed all the way to Cape Point on the very southern tip where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.  The views along the drive were stunning and we even stopped off at Boulders Beach to see some wildlife up close and personal.

The Indian Ocean side of the Cape Peninsula

Boulders Beach

These guys would get so close to you without any hesitation

The Atlantic Ocean side of the Cape Peninsula

The lighthouse at Cape Point

The Cape of Good Hope

The view of Hout Bay from the scenic highway

Since June is the winter in South Africa the weather can be a bit fickle.  It doesn’t get overly cold (lows in the 50’s), but cloudy, rainy days are common so you have to plan outdoor activities accordingly.  That being said, day two was a bit ugly so we opted to stay indoors and taste a bit of wine.  The Cape Town region is very well known for its wine and wineries are littered all over the countryside with gorgeous mountain backdrops.

Wine tasting in Constantia

The following day was our iconic Cape Town day as we hiked up and around Table Mountain. The mountain towers over the city and usually has picturesque 360 degree views from the top.  We had great weaton the way up and down the mountain, but we unfortunately didn’t have great views at the top because of the cloud that engulfed us.

The Pipeline trail

Lion’s Head Rock

Our stellar view from the top of Table Mountain

Our final, full day wasn’t one that we had anticipated, but one that we’ll never forget.  Cage diving with Great White Sharks has always been one of those dreams we thought would never actually happen in our life.  We had a chance to go in New Zealand, but it was going to cost us about $400/person.  So when we found out we could go in Cape Town — the Great White capital of the world — for only $125/person we couldn’t possibly pass it up….and what a way to celebrate our two year anniversary!

The cage diving company picked us up and drove us two hours outside of town to board a boat headed for “Shark Alley.”  This is the famous spot where most of the National Geographic documentaries are filmed.  As if that weren’t enough, just 10 minutes into our boat ride we experienced one of the most magical moments of our entire trip.  One of Taylor’s biggest dreams in life is to see whales in the wild, but there are specific parameters in which her dream needed to be accomplished.  She’s never wanted to pay for an actual whale watching tour because she has always wanted this to happen spontaneously.  She finally got her wish on one of the last days of our trip.  Our captain spotted two humpback whales ahead of us (which is rare for this area) so we cruised over to watch them play.

The seal island behind us creates “Shark Alley”

Two humpbacks slapping their fins on the water for us to see

Then, all of a sudden…

THIS HAPPENED RIGHT IN FRONT OF US!!!!

Are You Serious???????????????

Que Taylor crying.  It was absolutely amazing and about as spontaneous as it gets.  We were so thrilled by the whale breeching that we hardly cared about diving with sharks anymore.  Well, maybe not that excited, but you get the point.  It was an absolute dream come true and such a special gift.

Once the boat arrived at our diving spot we dropped the anchor, the cage, and the chum to start attracting sharks.  We threw on our wetsuits and before we knew it our boat was surrounded by massive Great Whites.

Here’s how the cage diving works since most people we talk to are interested in the details.  The cage floats about 2 feet above water and maybe 8 feet below.  You hang out inside the cage with your head above the surface while the guys on the boat lure the sharks in.  They use a foam cutout as a seal decoy and a tuna head on a rope.  Once a shark is coming close they yell for you to get underwater to see them.  You hold your breath, sink down, and watch as these magnificent animals swim right next to you and attack the decoys.  We saw 12 different sharks during our time before we had to get out of the freezing cold water.  It was such a blast.  Before you ask, yes, you feel really safe in the cage (but you do sometimes realize your foot has accidentally slipped through the bars).

Jaws!

Shark diving was the perfect way to end our time in Cape Town, but we truly had no desire to leave.  The place stole our hearts in much the same way that Lucerne, Switzerland did.  In fact, it’s now a close second behind Lucerne as the top city we’d want to live in outside of America.  The lack of a ski season keeps it from being a coin toss between the two.

Our entire trip was coming to a close and the cheapest flight home to America had a layover in Dubai.  We’ve always wanted to see this extravagant city in the desert so we made it a two day stop to give us a little more time.  Besides seeing the craziness of Dubai, another major reason we wanted to extend the stop was to visit my friend, Sim, and his new fiancee, Jill.

Dubai near the northern tip of UAE on the Arabian Gulf

Let me tell you about my friend Sim…he’s a pretty big deal.  We went to LSU together but we’ve probably hung out more since we graduated than we did in college.  Our quality time usually centers around mooching travel perks off of each other.  He’s stayed at my place in Colorado several times to go rafting and skiing while I’ve crashed on his floor in Hawaii (for 3 weeks!) and now Dubai.  It’s a very Simbiotic relationship (pun and misspelling intended).

Why is Sim in Dubai you might ask?  If your answer is oil…you’re way off.  He is the co-founder of a website called dubizzle.com (check it out!) and has been living in Dubai for seven years running his company.  To describe it simply, it’s Craig’s List for Dubai…only done WAY better.  Sim now has 70 employees and their site is expanding to other major cities all over the Middle East.  I was very proud to see what my boy’s gotten up to in all this time away from home.

Sim’s offices in Media City of Dubai

Sim showing some guy thigh in a popular Dubai magazine

Dubai is known for its extravagant building styles and creative architectural ideas.  We loved simply driving around and looking at the uniqueness of this city.  In many ways the place feels like a movie set.  The main highway is lined on either side by incredible skyscrapers but there’s very little depth to it.  If you went a few blocks behind those buildings you would basically find yourself in the desert.

Common skyline in Dubai

We drove around Palm Island to see the extravagance first hand

Our first night in town happened to be the 4th of July so Sim threw a party at his house for a bunch of ex-pat friends living overseas.  We had a great time meeting people from home and drinking classic American beer we haven’t seen in a really long time (what 4th of July party is complete without Bud Light?).

Our second 4th of July in a row away from home!

On our final night we went out to and had a ball listening to a great band while eating a scrumptous 3 course meal.

Us wilth Jill and Sim out to dinner

The Burj Al Arab in the background….watch out for flying golf balls!

We were sad our time with Sim and Jill was so short, but we made the best of what we had.  We’re ready for Sim to sell his company, make his fortune, and move back to Cajun Country so we can see them more often.  But after 13 months of being away from the motherland we were thrilled to get back to the comforts we know.  It’s time for some family reunions in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia before we make our way back to our home in Colorado.  “Laissez les bons temps rouler”  (let the good times roll).

To see all of our pictures from South Africa click here!

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