Viñales Valley- Jewel of Pinar del Rio

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Current Location: Viñales Valley, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba

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We chose to head to the Viñales on a 3-day tour to escape the hustle and bustle of noisy Havana. The internet hails this lush green oasis as a must-see part of Cuba. Tobacco, coffee, sugarcane and numerous other crops are cultivated at the bottom of the valley and towering limestone cliffs (called mogotes) offer tourists numerous hiking and rock climbing options. Among these elevations are the oldest mountains existing in Cuba and some of the oldest in the Caribbean. There are also impressive geological formations and cave systems throughout the hill faces.

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Viñales is about a three hour drive from Havana, although naturally it took us about six in the ancient truck that was sent to fetch us for our tour. It kept breaking down on the highway and needed to be restarted by hot-wiring. Still, it beats the crowded sweat-soaked buses, or horse-drawn carriages that many locals still ride into the city to sell their crops.

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Though it is small, Viñales thrives on tourism. The town consists of rows of beautiful pastel colored casas—each distinctively named—-where visitors can rent out rooms. We were dropped off at a bright pink house (much to my delight) called Casa Musica. However, this pastoral place is not just houses. Just down the road is the seat of commerce, where numerous small businesses—-including a market, shops and restaurants—-make their home.

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Back to China

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Location: Jian’ou, Fujian Province, China

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China is a country where everything changes and nothing ever really changes. Where the old meets the new and the future mingles intimately with the past. It’s been more than 2 years since we left China, but the country welcomed us back with open arms.

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William Gibson once said something to the effect of: the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. As a corollary to that, China is where the future is happening in real time. You can go there and watch a government and its people leapfrog over half a century of entrenched infrastructural decisions and come up with something that addresses their needs in a more innovative way.

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With a quick overnight stay in Fuzhou, we took the newly constructed fast train back to Jian’ou for the wedding of our dear friend and translator (more on the Chinese wedding experience in our next post). Now Davi is an English teacher himself with an apartment, car, and a beautiful new wife who we were meeting for the very first time.

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Under the Tuscan Sun

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Location: Montalpuciano, Montalcino, and Pienza, Tuscany, Italy

Before I can tell you this story, I have to admit to something rather embarrassing.

The day before our weekend in Tuscany, I sprained my ankle in a completely mundane and un-fascinating way. At least, I assume it was unremarkable–I am not even sure how it happened (other than wearing the wrong shoes to traipse across Rome). But I do know that it swelled up like a giant purple balloon. Real talk: this is the completely not glamorous side of adventuring.

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I was so bummed about my useless ankle that I nearly cancelled our Tuscan adventure. How could I enjoy my fancy wine and Pecorino cheese and views of the countryside if I couldn’t walk? I was looking forward to climbing atop buildings and running through fields of olive trees.  I was absolutely certain my sour mood and painful limp would ruin everything.

But I am so glad I didn’t cancel.

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It turns out that, rather than prescribing medications, Italian doctors will send their patients to Tuscany. They’ll take thermal baths to relax for a week or two and be as good as new. Tuscany is literally just as good as–if not better than–medicine. The landscapes are unparalleled, the pace of life relaxed. It’s one of those places where depictions in films and books are 100% spot-on.

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And I got a concentrated dose.

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Vieques- Island of Horses

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Location: Vieques, Puerto Rico

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Vieques island is one of those truly magical, untouched gems of the world. As a United States citizen, it still baffles me that you don’t need a passport to travel there. Only eight miles east of the mainland, it is accessible by ferry or small plane. It’s commonly referred to as “Puerto Rico’s little sister.” Unlike its crowded neighbor Culebra (home of Flamingo Beach- the most photographed beach in the world), Vieques is primarily visited by Puerto Ricans and only 9,000 people call the island home. As you might expect, this makes the place quite serene.

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El Yunque Rainforest

Location: Carolina, Puerto Rico

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This post will be short and sweet! We only spent a day in El Yunque Rainforest on our Puerto Rican adventure, but I felt that the remarkable scenery deserved its own post.

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It used to be called Luquillo National Forest because it’s located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains and overlooks the stunning shores of Luquillo Beach. We hiked the famous La Mina Trail and swam in the beautiful Juan Diego Falls.

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Old San Juan- The Walled City

Location: Old San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan) makes up only a fraction of the sprawling metropolis- most of it firmly rooted in the 21st century. Founded in 1509, it is the oldest settlement within Puerto Rico and the entire area is a protected National Heritage Site.

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Old San Juan still contains blue cobblestone streets and flat roofed brick and stone buildings (many dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries). My best friend and I stayed for about a week in the most gorgeous artist’s loft right on Calle San Francisco. Although Puerto Rico is a protected territory of the United States, and the majority of people speak English, I was grateful she could speak Spanish because I felt like it helped me to appreciate everything more fully. We were also able to get some incredible recommendations from our host.

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Pacific Northwest- The Best Return

Location: Seattle, Washington, Blaine, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Now, although this post doesn’t represent any of our travels around Asia, it was possibly a bigger adventure than any other that we had this summer. It was the first time we had set foot on our home continent in over 14 months, and yet it was completely unlike the North America that we were used to. The one that we had left- flat, unchanging. It was lush and vibrant and filled with all of our favorite things. We were in awe at the amount of greenery we saw when our plane touched the ground.

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