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Polaroid of the Week

Polaroid of the week: The otherworldly scenery of the Atacama Desert

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polaroid of the week atacama desert chileWe are back in San Pedro de Atacama, where we left off in April before returning to the U.S. and Europe this summer. We love it up here, and were happy to return to head into Bolivia from here via 3-day jeep tour through the Salar de Uyuni.

Although most only pass through here once, we understand why so many travelers end up living here for a while, since San Pedro and the surrounding desert are some of the most spectacular places in Chile and the world! Driving into this surreal landscape feels like entering another world – or even another planet! In fact, NASA has been using the Atacama Desert to test vehicles for driving in Mars-like environments, since the soil in the 3,000 meters (10,000 ft) high desert is comparable to that on Mars. In the most recent project this past summer, NASA used a four-wheeled solar-powered robot named Zoe searching for microbes beneath the parched surface of the desert to prepare the launch of a comparable robot on Mars in 2020.

The Valle De La Luna, pictured above, is a part of the Atacama Desert that is said to resemble the surface of the moon, as the name of the valley indicates. The Atacama Desert, stretching over 1,000-kilometre (600 mi), is known as the driest desert on earth and offers some fascinating natural wonders, such as vast salt flats, geysers, volcanoes and sinkhole lakes. We toured much of the surrounding scenery already during our last visit, but have one thing left to check out before crossing into Bolivia – the Geyser de Tata, which belongs to the Tata geothermal field, whose 80 geysers count among the highest in the world.

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Polaroid of the week: The crumbling grandeur of Potosí, Bolivia

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polaroid bolivia potosiAlthough we made a grand entrance into Bolivia by way of the seriously amazing Salar de Uyuni salt flats, the town where the three-day tour officially ends – Uyuni – is basically just meh. So after one night of a scalding hot shower and ten hours of sleep we hopped on the bus from Uyuni to Potosí, our first official stop in the country.

And what a grand stop it was. This colonial town was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, thanks to the unmissable ‘rich hill’ or Cerro Rico, which was once filled with silver. Today the pure silver is gone, though the miners continue to go in every day under the most atrocious, dangerous and even life-threatening, conditions – breathing in silica dust and asbestos, to scrape out the remaining minerals.

The main reason for our stop here was that I wanted to visit this mine for myself – stay tuned to find out how that experience went (obviously, I survived!).

We spent our days walking up and down the breathtaking streets – literally breathtaking since Potosí sits at 4,000m (13,500ft), catching our breath in the beautiful central plaza and marveling at the colonial houses with their unique wooden balconies before climbing to the top of several churches and cathedrals. From above as well as on the ground, it is easy to see why this city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, one with such historic importance and grandeur that sits just beneath the clouds.

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Polaroid of the week: The Stone Tree in Bolivia’s Siloli Desert

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polaroid bolivia arbol de piedraOne experience we were looking most forward to in South America was a trip through the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. That’s why we traveled north through Chile back to San Pedro de Atacama, so we could hop on a three-day off-roading jeep tour from there to Uyuni, Bolivia.

We had seen pictures of the great expanse of white salt flats as far as the eye can see and were so excited to see this up close on the last day of the tour.

It turned out that the salt flats portion is just a half a day out of three, and the other two days we saw some of the most incredible scenery we’ve seen anywhere in the world: Red lagoons, green lagoons, white lagoons, volcanoes, beautiful rock formations, hot springs, geothermal geyser fields and colorful, rainbow mountain ranges.

Our stop at the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) had us all in awe – this particular rock, projecting out of the sand dunes of the Siloli Desert, has been whittled down into the shape of a tree over time by sand and 120km/h winds that whip across 4,000m high Bolivian Altiplano in the colder months. Much like looking down at the Colorado River from the rim of the Grand Canyon, it is incredible what simple elements like wind, sand, and water can sculpt out of the earth!

There will be many more pictures and stories to come about our Uyuni Salt Flats tour. For now, let’s just say that after 3.5 years of travel, it takes a lot to impress us – and Bolivia’s southwest definitely knocked our socks off!

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Polaroid of the week: A perfect spring day in New York City

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polaroid of the week usa new york city bryant parkNew York has been extremely good to me over the last couple of weeks. Even though I had some unexpected stress with my living situation (more on that to come), I couldn’t be happier where I am staying right now, a cozy Upper West Side apartment.

The weather has been exceptionally warm, with the second weekend in a row being so hot that I was tempted to get my bikini out and join my fellow sun seekers in the parks around the city – I had no idea that girls would lay out in their bikinis (or sometimes underwear!) anywhere you find a tiny spot of grass as soon as the thermometer shows 75°F!

There have been several days when it was hard for me to convince myself that I actually needed to work and not just go out and enjoy the glorious spring weather – the hardship of not having a boss! 😉

I have been lucky enough though to visit all my favorite parks over the past couple of weeks, including Bryant Park, pictured, Central Park (where I can’t get enough of the cherry blossoms), Brooklyn Bridge Park, the High Line and Washington Square Park, plus a few parks I hadn’t known yet, such as Astoria Park, Morningside Park and Riverside Park along the Hudson River.

This weekend, I also found some time to return to Harlem, where I hadn’t been in many years, and was surprised to see how much the neighborhood had changed since my last visit – expect a full post on Harlem soon!

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Polaroid of the week: Island paradise on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

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polaroid of the week mexico 2016 isla mujeresI visited Isla Mujeres in 2010 on a day trip while I was living in Playa del Carmen, and even though it was a (too!) short visit, I was smitten with the tiny Caribbean island immediately. Crystal clear water, powdery sand beaches, palm trees softly swaying in the wind. It was a glorious day. And yet it took me nearly six years to return to Isla Mujeres, the Isle of Women. I decided to spend my last weekend in Mexico on the island, and I don’t think I could’ve chosen a more perfect place to end my Mexico trip with a bang, but it also made saying goodbye even more bittersweet. I know that I’ll be back in Mexico (hopefully rather sooner than later), but I was definitely not ready for this trip to end, especially after our fabulous road trip.

As the last stop for our road trip, the island was perfect! It is tiny enough to be explored in a golf kart in half a day, so we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything when we spent most of the weekend on the beach, sitting in a swing bar with a cool beer or searching for the best palm tree to spread out our beach towels under.

Even though Isla Mujeres isn’t the tiny fishing village it was once, and word has definitely gotten out about this little gem, it is still paradise. The island was much less touristy when I first came here, but being only a short 20-minute boat ride from Cancun, I was surprised that word hadn’t gotten out earlier. And even though we were there over the weekend, it didn’t feel crowded, and none of the spring break crowds that you find in Cancun had made their way over to Isla Mujeres.

Next time I’ll be back for a whole week…

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Polaroid of the week: Mysterious and beautiful – the cenotes of the Yucatan

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polaroid of the week mexico 2016 yucatan cenote jardin del edenWhat a week it’s been – my whirlwind road trip through the Yucatan is coming to an end – how can this even be?! It seems like it was just yesterday that I boarded my plane to Cancun in Mexico City, but looking back at all the places I’ve visited since then, it almost seems too much to fit in one short week!

After so many adventures, which I’ll be sharing in detail with you soon, I am having the hardest time deciding which picture to share with you today! The magnificent pyramid of Chichen Itza? The stunning Mayan temples of Tulum, with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop? Or the jungle ruins of Coba? One of the many beaches I’ve visited in the past seven days? But since I just posted a picture of an ancient pyramid in Mexico and will be posting a picture of one of my favorite beaches in the world next week (so excited about returning to this place – you can get a sneak peek of it in my journey through Mexico picture post from 2010, it’s the second to last place we visited in Mexico back then), I narrowed it down to a cenote – but even that wasn’t easy, considering we visited five different amazing cenotes last week!

If you’ve never been to Mexico, you might not be familiar with cenotes, which are unique to the Yucatan peninsula: there are over 3,000 of them scattered across this part of the country! So what are they? Cenotes are underwater sinkholes, natural swimming holes that were formed by the collapse of porous limestone rock. Some of them are open, framed by the limestone rock, some are closed, only accessible through a small hole in the ground. What all of them have in common? Mineral-rich, fresh water, and incredible underwater rock formations. The water is usually crystal clear, which makes for splendid snorkeling or even diving in the bigger ones, where the small opening often doesn’t even reveal how far underground their cave systems reach. In some cenotes I saw divers appear seemingly out of nowhere; it made me almost want to give diving a try (it’ll happen one day, I guess!).

The word cenote means ‘sacred well’, by the way, and cenotes were used by the Mayans for sacrificial purposes long before we used them to cool off from the hot and humid temperatures of the Yucatan. What makes these swimming holes so special are not just the underwater rock formations and the stunning stalactites in the closed cave-like cenotes,  but also their surroundings – usually lush green jungl-y scenery. Sitting on the edge of the limestone rock looking out over the crystal clear water never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many cenotes I’ve visited.

On this trip, I visited Cenote del Jardin (pictured above), an open cenote south of Playa del Carmen, Cenote Zacil-Ha (also open) near Tulum, el Gran Cenote, which is partially covered and partially open (also near Tulum), and two closed cenotes near Valladolid: Cenote Samula and Cenote Xkeken. You might think one would tire of cenotes after a while, but they are all so different from each other that each and every one is an awe-inspiring experience – at least my fellow globetrottergirl and I were in awe in every single cenote we visited, and we would’ve happily visited more had we not been on such a tight schedule.

Stay tuned for one last dispatch from Mexico next week!

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Polaroid of the week: Pride March in Buenos Aires

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polaroid of the week argentina buenos aires pride 2012We arrived in Argentina just in time for the biggest pride parade in the country – the 21st gay pride march in Buenos Aires. The parade starts on the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada (the office of Argentina’s president) and follows the Avenida de Mayo up to Congress. Argentina is the gay-friendliest country in Latin America and has improved gay rights significantly over the last few years.

The first country to legalize gay marriage (including adoption rights) in 2010, Argentina is also the first South American country to approve a gender identity law, which grants people the right to change their physical gender identity without having to undergo a longsome psychiatric and judicial process beforehand.

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Polaroid of the week: Renewing our energy in Germany

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polaroid of the week germany wind turbinesAfter two months exploring New York, the two of us need some serious downtime, so it’s fitting that we are renewing our energy in Germany, a country leading the world in renewable energy.

The cynical might see the fields of wind turbines and solar panels as an eyesore, but for us this technology represents serious positivity and a kind of forward-thinking we rarely see as we travel the world.

President Angela Merkel, once a supporter of nuclear energy, has taken a complete turn toward renewables since the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe in Japan, and while the country is already at over 25% renewable energy in 2013, if the Energiewende, or energy transition, goal is met, this number will hit 80% by 2050.

Such a transition has hiccups, such as higher electricity bills for private homes, but poll after poll indicates that Germans would prefer to pay higher prices in the name leading the way to energy independence. First generation turbines are being swapped out for far fewer, much more powerful second generation machines (taller than a redwood tree) that are safer for wildlife. Today we drove past hundreds that were newly built in fields along the highway.

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Polaroid of the week: Buffalo in Bloom

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polaroid of the week new york buffaloI just returned to New York City from Buffalo, where I spent nearly a week. A welcome escape from the Big Apple, where life has felt pretty rushed lately. (That might be because I am trying to fit in as much as possible before I leave next month.)

Buffalo was a complete surprise – I had no idea the city was filled with groundbreaking architecture, world class art, historic sites, quirky neighborhoods and good food! I’ll tell you all about my visit shortly but as a quick teaser: I saw five (!) Frank Lloyd Wright houses – plus one mausoleum designed by him -, paintings by the who’s who in the art world (think Picasso, Miro, Matisse, Warhol, Monet, Van Gogh …), cycled 30 kilometers through the town’s different neighborhoods, visited Niagara Falls, toured the beautiful Forest Lawn cemetery and saw the fascinating abandoned grain elevators on a river cruise, marveled at Art Deco buildings and Victorian houses, sampled local micro-brews and in lieu of famous Buffalo chicken wings I tried Buffalo eggplant wings, which – trust me – are just as delicious.

I also happened to be in town for the annual Garden Walk Festival, during which 380 locals open up their gardens to the public. You can just wander around town with a map and go on a self-guided garden tour, pop into the houses that participate in the festival, and admire their fabulous and well-designed gardens, which range from artistic and exotic to more traditional Japanese and rose gardens. I loved seeing the garden owners proudly show off their gardens, offer lemonade and talk with visitors about flowers and gardening. I am a huge flower lover, so the sight of all these gardens made my heart smile.

How did you spend your week? 

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Polaroid of the week: The long way down to Vernazza | Cinque Terre, Italy

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polaroid of the week italy cinque terre vernazza

Vernazza is one of the five famous villages of Cinque Terre in Italy. Laundry lines the narrow lanes of this fishing village, which show no immediate signs of  21st century life.

The five villages are all located in a rugged, mountainous area of the Italian Riviera and some of them, like Vernazza, are only reachable by train, boat or on foot – not by car. The best way to visit Cinque Terre is by hiking the path that connects all five villages. The path leads up and down through vineyards and olive orchards along the steep cliffs into which the villages have been built. Although the hike can be rigorous in parts, those who opt to hike rather than take the train from town to town, are rewarded with incomparable, stunning views of each town below.

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