I go places, and I like to write about them. Simple really, until you’re in the jungle where Wi-Fi is just a tribal name for those flies that put you to sleep.

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Day 6 in New Hampshire: 7 Reasons Why We’d Go Back

John and I used to assume we’d never repeat a vacation. “Why go back to Ecuador when we haven’t been to Chile,” we’d say. Perhaps we will keep that mentality going forward, but not in this case.

On Day 6 of our peaceful vacation in Waterville Valley, we agreed that we’d be up for a return visit. Yes, there are more stunning vistas and more diverse cultures to experience in the world, but Waterville Valley in the beginnings of fall is easy and kind and beautiful. It is the perfect escape from city life.

So, the next time we go to Waterville Valley, what will we do? Read more

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Day 5: “God, I Love Vermont.”

That quote from a friend on our Facebook post from the capital, Montpelier, sums up most of our feelings toward the second least populated state in the country.

The Green Mountain State likely gets its name from its French-speaking Canadian neighbor to the north: Vert = Green. Mont = Mountain. And it’s true, the state is all mountains. And all beautiful.

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Day 4 in New Hampshire: Eating Pine Cones on Smarts Brook Trail

On our fourth day in New Hampshire with a 9-month-old, we rest. Or at least we stay close to home base.

Morning

Baby Quinn and I spend the early part of the morning wandering into town center, pausing for coffee, walking some more, smiling at strangers, and enjoying some pond-side Cheerios. This is what you do when you draw the early morning straw. You hate getting out of bed, but once you’re on the other side of grogginess, you thank the little fella for making you get up and enjoy the absolute beauty of the sun peaking over the mountains. Read more

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Day 3 in New Hampshire: The Real Fearless Ones

Chief Kancamagus, “The Fearless One,” was the last leader of the Passaconaway Tribe whose home was New Hampshire’s White Mountains until the late 1600’s – when, probably not by coincidence, it was taken by white men.

Since then, the government has paved a 35 mile stretch of meandering highway through the range, connecting numerous waterfalls, building the cutest covered bridges, plunking down trailhead signs around every turn and providing tourists dramatic views of autumn setting the hillsides on fire.

This day, we chose to drive the entire 100-mile White Mountain Trail, explore the smallest of towns along the way and talk ourselves into leaving Chicago for a place with endless nature and virtually no chance of finding decent work in our current career fields.   Read more

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Day 2 in New Hampshire: The White Mountains

We’re staying at a timeshare exchange called “The Inns at Waterville Valley – The Birches,” a cottage relic from the 1970’s with the only signs of modernity being wifi and the Coke cans in the $.50 pop machine.

It met the important criteria for an ideal escape from Chicago:

  1. Near mountains and abundant nature.
  2. A quick flight + car ride from O’hare.
  3. Virtually devoid of humans.
  4. Not in the “South.”

#1 left a lot of options open. #2 eliminated the west coast and more far-flung areas of the Rockies. #3 eliminated Tahoe, Park City, Vail, Breckenridge and other popular resorts. #4 eliminated, for better or worse, most states that sell Moon Pies.

To the Inns of Waterville Valley:

The Inns are part of a remote ski resort 16 miles from the nearest gas station [map]. Slow season means an empty 1700’s Cape Cod style town square and quiet hikes with the occasional wedding in a nearby lodge. Across the street is the town elementary school – a red-sided building that houses 40 children in grades K-6.

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Waterville Valley town square at dawn

The resort may be antiquated, but it comes fully stocked with kitchen/laundry needs and a friendly staff who are way too old to be hauling bags of linens around the grounds, but seem to be willing to die for good service or simply for something – anything – to do in this town.

To the Flume Gorge:

Day 2 was to be our first foray into the White Mountains, the largest in New England with the highest few reaching 4,000′. While most famous as a prime destination for fall foliage, for the other 46 weeks of the year, the main attraction is the ease of finding beautiful yet accessible hikes.

New Hampshire has no sales tax or income tax. Live free or die is their motto of course. They rely only on property taxes and user-fees for civic services. Thus, our trip to one of the most recommended waterfalls in New England, the Flume Gorge, was cut short at the ticket counter when we had to pay $16 per person to hike the 2-mile trail.

With throngs of tourists from Quebec and Boston lining up inside to fork over the cash to take a 90-minute walk (or shuttle) in the woods, we opted to drive down the road 15 miles (at the suggestion of the park employee) to one of the many other gorgeous hikes in the White Mountains.

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The Basin Trail:

There are more trailhead signs than stop signs in the White Mountains. It’s a web of scenic beauty that crosses granite filled rivers, crests 4,000′ mountains and puts hikers directly in the blaze of fall colors.

Today’s short yet rooty hike up the Basin Trail followed one of the more famous mountain creeks, written about by Robert Frost, a frequent visitor to the area. The crystal-clear water poured over granite slabs that created a giant’s stepping stones for frolicking in the stream.

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Find the baby.

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The Night Cap:

It didn’t take much to get worn out by lugging around a 20-pound chunk of squirminess, so our outdoor jaunt transitioned quickly to poblano and chicken taco night, two bottles of wine, a decisive Scrabble win by Margo on a well-played Q and some impromptu serenading by her husband and professional musician Walter Parks.

 

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Day 1: Kilted New Hampshire: The Highland Festival

After a short travel day from Chicago to Manchester to the middle of nowhere Waterville Valley, we began our first full day in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with tickets to the largest Scottish Festival in the country. Last weekend, 45,000 people went to Loon Mountain and created the biggest gathering of hairy men in dresses since last year’s Provincetown’s Bear Week.

This isn’t the reason we’re vacationing in New Hampshire, (although I would never admit it if it were) but when something like this is an hour away and comes up #1 in a Google search of “Things to do in the Granite State,” it must be explored. Read more

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To Mexico City With an Infant – Part 1

Traveling is something that neither one of us wanted to give up when we had a child. In our love-hate relationship with Chicago, the hateful days land primarily in the forever greyness between the end of winter and the real end of winter. For those of you who cheat at life by living somewhere without slush, it’s like the stressful 15 minutes between pulling pecan pie out of the oven and not searing your mouth with goodness.

So, we escaped five days of April to Mexico City and did some learning about traveling with an infant. Read more

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Free Range Colombia – Day 20: Enchanted

Originally, we thought we’d head to the northern coast of Colombia, spend the night in Cartagena and hop on a bus to Tayrona – a popular national park a few hours northeast of Cartagena. One American couple we met said Tayrona was definitely pretty, but not the best hike in the world. Hm. And the Spanish couple staying in the Amazon with us couldn’t stop going on about how “super enchanting!” Cartagena is. Hm. And we were tired of transportation. Getting to Tayrona from Cartagena requires a lot. Hm.

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Free Range Colombia – Day 17: Puerto Nariño

On Day 17, we took a trip to the small town of Puerto Nariño on the Amazon River. About one hour by powered canoe, it’s popular for a lack of streets, well-manicured walkways, a small museum and common services that can’t be found in the villages. However, we enjoyed the way our Lonely Planet guide spun the quaint, jungle town into an ecotourism destination. Let me translate from “American hippie” into “Amazonian Reality” in the parentheses…  Read more

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Free Range Colombia – Day 14: The Great Boat Caper

Today we woke up in a room cooled to a comfortable 68 degrees. It would have been even more notable at the time if we’d had prior experience to the perma-sweat about to come.

After a now typical morning breakfast of two fried eggs, a home-baked roll, a solid coffee and smile upon payment, we headed back to the hotel.

JOHN: I packed the backpacks, keeping the most necessary items accessible – in priority:

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Free Range Colombia – Day 12: Cleveland v. Pereira

We woke up too early – tired and crabby – in Salento.

or.

We woke up too late – hungry and rushing for the bus – in Salento.

 

We wanted the 7:50am bus to Pereira [map], the workman’s town and capital of the coffee region where we were to catch the plane to the Amazon on the following day. Many mountain-turns and grinded-gears later, our small bus arrived at the Terminales around 9am.

 

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Free Range Colombia: Day 10 and 11: On the Back of a Willys

When we told Jorge at Hacienda Guayabal that our next stop was relatively nearby Salento, his face dropped. He launched into the kind of story that every person has about someplace that was dear and has changed, but not for the better. When Jorge was a kid, Salento was quaint, beautiful and affordable. The people used to gather there on the weekends to sell and buy, but now it’s too expensive and they must travel further to sell and buy. Tourism has changed it… Read more

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Free Range Colombia – Day 8 and 9: Into the Coffee Fields

Today we completed our first domestic air travel from Bogota to Periera, a large working class city in western Colombia with connections to the Zona Cafeteria – the coffee zone. Located in the mid-elevations of the Andes mountains, it’s warm, muggy and covered in tropical coffee farms. First stop… Hacienda Guayabal – our splurge for the trip where we’ve read that the service is excellent and the coffee culture authentic.

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Free Range Colombia: Day Seven – Pride and Passion

Louis, John and I hopped in a taxi cab on Friday morning to check out Iza, a nearby pueblo known for its beauty and merengón (a cake-ish treat with a thick layer of jammy-fruitness)before getting the bus to Bogotá.

Louis is a get-things-done kind of fellow. As John and I casually looked for a nice shop where we might put our big backpacks for an hour, he was already inside a building with doors wide open, asking the first person he saw behind a desk to watch our stuff. This request occurred using perhaps 2 Spanish words, a string of Sp-English words and a whole lot of gestures. Smiles exchanged, bags dropped, “muchas gracias” expressed. Louis hadn’t noticed that the office was marked: “Juzgado Municipal ” as in, the municipal judge… Read more

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Free Range Colombia – Day 4 and 5: Seemingly Simple

Sometime in between the taxi, coach bus, mini-bus, and second taxi rides, I wondered if we had made a mistake. Villa de Leyva is one of the many colonial towns north of Bogotá in an area called Boyacá, and it was starting to feel like too big a pain in the butt to be worth the trip. Once we finished all the transportation, I still wasn’t convinced. Renacer Colombian Highlands seemed like a nice enough hostel above the touristy town, but they were doing some work on the buildings and it was noisy and not tranquil and I couldn’t stop sneezing because the crazy Páramo ecosystem is high and dry. Read more