Thursday, May 27, 2010

Iguassu Falls!!! (The Argentine Side)

Get ready. . . for some of the most spectacular pictures EVER!!!

I was SOOOOOO excited when the morning dawned on the day we were going to tour Iguassu Falls!!! It took a really long time before we actually saw any waterfalls. Iguassu Falls is right on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and the two countries share the falls. Our hotel was in Brazil, and we had to cross the border with everyone on the tour bus to go see the Argentine side of the falls first. It seemed like we waited forever at that border before we finally got in! When we arrived in the national park, we waited in line with a whole lot of people to take a train to the section of the falls known as Devil's Throat. We waited and waited. . . and then we rode the train, got off it, and walked and walked and WALKED to get to Devil's Throat! And it was HOT. Not really easy for a pregnant person who doesn't like the heat, but I made it. It was an insane amount of walking, over a whole bunch of metal walkways suspended over the rivers. Finally, we started to see mist rising from part of the river and we knew we had to be getting close.

Along the way, we saw tons and tons of colorful butterflies, and some really beautiful birds like this one:

We just had to laugh at the English translations on some of the signs:

And then we found out that all the walking was definitely worth it. . . because Devil's Throat was AMAZING!!! We were right at the top of a whole ton of waterfalls crashing down into the depths below, and we literally stood right at the edge and looked down. Wow! I was floored!

I have never seen so much water in my life! Wow, what a place!

I've never been to Niagara Falls before, but Stephen has. He thought Iguassu Falls was much cooler, because you can get SO much closer to the waterfalls and really feel like you're a part of them.

I thought we got some of the most gorgeous pictures I've ever taken in my life, anywhere!

This cool butterfly decided to land on me and stayed on my hand for the longest time! I think he was actually drinking water off me, since I was dripping wet from all the spray!

After we were done at Devil's Throat, we got to walk back the whole way we had come, ride the train back down to the starting point, and then we got to walk around and see a whole bunch of other beautiful waterfalls. We were just enthralled!!! Can I live here??? Imagine waking up to that view every day!

The rainbow in the spray was just incredible!!!

And then we had our wild animal encounter!!!
Does anybody know what this guy is???

If you do I'll be way impressed! I didn't know until I read my guidebook the day before we went to the falls. This adorable critter is a Coati, and they're actually one of the most commonly seen animals in Iguassu Falls. We saw three more that day, so they really are pretty common there. But this was the first one we saw, and I was thrilled! This guy was seriously friendly!!! I never would have expected that he would get so close to us!

And here it is. . . proof that I actually petted the wild animal of Iguassu Falls!!! Aren't I brave?

The other coatis we saw that day were more skittish, but this one was sniffing around our bags and didn't seem to mind coming right up to us!

Isn't he just so CUTE??? I kinda wanted to take him home with me.
So if anybody ever goes to Brazil and wonders what to bring back for me. . . I'll take a coati, please! But only if he's a friendly one, like this guy.

We could have spent SO much more time on the Argentine side, and it still bugs me a lot that there were trails we didn't get to go on because we ran out of time. We need to go back someday and spend more time there! But we had to catch the bus to head back over and see the Brazilian side of the falls. Read my post about that next!

The Brazilian Side of Iguassu Falls!

We got to the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls in the late afternoon, and of course we had MORE walking to do along a nice, paved trail. The great thing about this trail? It was all downhill, and at the very end we got to take an elevator back up to the main road where the bus was waiting for us. Niiiiiice!

There is much less to see on the Brazilian side overall, but it gave us some really beautiful panoramic views of all the falls.

Stephen got some more great butterfly shots! They really should be called "Butterfly Falls", the butterflies are absolutely everywhere!

I think this one was the smallest of all the waterfalls we saw:


The most spectacular part of the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls was at the very end of the trail, and it made it entirely worth it to see the Brazilian side:
We got to walk out on a really long wooden walkway and got amazingly close to a whole bunch of huge, roaring waterfalls!!! It was one of my life's most thrilling moments, where you could really feel the true power of nature in its wildest form. WOW!

We got soaking wet out on the walkway so we couldn't take the camera out for the whole thing, but we did get some beautiful pictures from the drier part of the walkway!

I loved seeing the colors of the setting sun reflected in the waterfalls!

I'm so happy that I got to experience nature's majesty like this with Stephen!

Our very last view of the falls. I did NOT want to leave!!!

Now I know why Iguassu Falls has been near the top of my life's list of places to go see. Because it really is THAT amazing and awe-inspiring!!! Everyone needs to go there someday!

An Awesome Way to Save Money and a Great Giveaway!!!

I'm so excited to share this with all of my readers. . . my friend Sarah has dedicated a whole lot of time and effort to sharing her tips and info about how to save a lot of money! She uses coupons combined with sales and great offers and does all the work for you so that YOU can save money on your groceries, household products, and tons of other stuff!

She has the cutest blog called "The Life of a Couponaholic" and she writes really frequent posts full of money-saving tips! Some of her recent posts include:
*Great deals found in Albertson's Twice the Value coupons for Memorial Day weekend
*Great tips about how to save money on your grocery bill
*Freebie Tuesday (one of my favorites. . . I just LOVE getting stuff for free in the mail!)
*Special buys she finds at Target
*Instructions about how she organizes all those coupons

Tons more stuff too! This is a really great blog to add to your Google reader. She stays home with her cute little baby, so she's always on the look-out for great deals on formula, diapers, wipes, and all kinds of other baby stuff too. Go check out The Life Of a Couponaholic and I'm sure you'll become one of her loyal followers just like I am!

She also re-distributes the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper! I always get them from her, because I hate buying the entire Sunday paper when I know I'm not going to read it. She re-distributes packs of 10 inserts for $10.50 to ship them to you, and if you are local to the Seattle area it's $7.50! You can find the info about how to get those from her on her blog too.

I'm so happy to be offering a giveaway on my blog! Sarah is offering up a $5 Amazon gift card, as well as 10 of each of the following inserts from the 5/16 paper:

So if you win you will get 20 inserts total! That's a whole LOT of coupons! Plus a $5 Amazon gift card, and who couldn't use one of those? Here's how to enter:
*Go visit The Life of a Couponaholic and leave me a comment on this post, telling me what you think is totally awesome about her blog!

Get extra entries when you:
1. Follow my blog!
2. Become a follower of The Life of a Couponaholic
3. Be a fan of my blog on Facebook! Go here if you haven't already!
4. Become a fan of The Life of a Couponaholic on Facebook here.
5. Talk about this giveaway in your Facebook status!
6. Tweet about this giveaway.
7. Talk about this giveaway on your blog.
8. Leave me another comment on this post, telling me why you either do or don't clip coupons.

*Don't forget to leave a separate comment for each entry! This giveaway will end on June 3'rd. Good luck and go save some money!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What A Week!

So in ONE week from today I get to find out my baby's gender! I'm getting more excited (and a little more nervous too) as it gets closer. I just want to KNOW! I don't know how people can wait the entire 9 months without knowing. The curiosity would just drive me wild! So everyone has to get their guesses in this week. What do you think I'm having???

I'm loving being in the second trimester! At 17 weeks, I'm feeling great and less tired than I was before. I haven't really felt the baby move yet, and I'm not in maternity clothes yet but my regular clothes are starting to feel a little tight. I'm still craving lemon EVERYTHING. I may or may not have made a pan of lemon bars and eaten every single one myself a couple of weeks ago. And then made a lemon cake the following week. :)

Kirsten thinks we're going to go get a new little baby from "the baby store". She's pretty excited about it. I decided not to put away the baby swing or the play mats, so they're taking up a bunch of precious floor space in my house. Really though, why put them away when I'll just need to get them back out in five months?

This post has two purposes, really.
1. I want to know what you all think I'm having!
2. I want to hear from other TV fans.

It's been a long time since I posted anything about TV shows, but there's just been TOO much great stuff lately to let it pass by without writing something about it. Of course. . . I'm going to start with the Lost finale. Wow, I thought it was a really amazing ending! I was definitely a latecomer to the whole Lost phenomenon. I had never seen an episode, but I borrowed Season 1 from my friend Miranda last year and started watching it with Stephen. We were hooked almost instantly! We totally got sucked into the plot and the characters and all the crazy questions. And it was nice. . . when we got to the suspenseful endings, we could just instantly start the next episode on the DVD. This last season was the first one I watched where we actually had to wait a whole week to find out what happened next.

Yeah. . . there's still a ton of unanswered questions. It's kind of annoying not knowing what really happened or what the point of a lot of stuff was. But I loved the finale anyway, and thought it was a really great way to end the show. So many emotional moments! My very favorite moments were when Charlie and Claire remembered, and then again when Sawyer and Juliette remembered. I sure will miss Sawyer. . . I mean, I'll miss ALL the characters. :)

It really was sad to have a Tuesday night with no Lost. And there will be no Lost on Tuesday nights, ever again. Gosh, I hate it when awesome shows have to end.

In the American Idol world. . . is there any doubt in anybody's mind that Crystal will be the winner? I thought it was obvious all season! She will definitely win, but I think Lee might sell more records than she will. His music is more my style than Crystal's is. Crystal has a very good voice, but am I the only one who thinks she's like a female version of Taylor Hicks?
I'm really going to miss Simon next year. I can't imagine the show without him!!!

It's also sad to have Thursday nights with no Survivor (especially after such an awesome season! Heroes Vs. Villains was GREAT), and Monday nights with no more 24. It's fun to see all the finales, but sad that all the good shows are ending. At least Survivor will be back in the fall.

The only summer shows I'm truly excited about are So You Think You Can Dance, starting this week, and the new season of the Bachelorette. Okay, who else watches the Bachelorette? I really liked Ali, so I'm looking forward to watching her this season. I watched the first episode today while the kids were napping, and here are my early favorites:

-One of the Chris's (seriously. . . I think there were THREE of them!)
This was the one from Cape Cod, with the really nice deep voice. I think he'll stick around for a good long time.

-Justin, even though the other guys didn't like him and he's a wrestler. I thought he seemed genuine, and he's very cute!

Yeah, I saw that first impression rose coming. She was swooning over him! He's by far one of the most attractive, that's for sure.

-Ty from Tennessee
The fact that he was divorced might be a red flag, but I thought he was cute and funny

There were some weirdos too, like "Shooter." I can't believe he told her the reason for that nickname! I'm glad she booted him.
My least favorite (of the ones she kept around) is Craig. Ugh. . . I never would have kept him!
If you watch the show, let me know who your favorites are too! A lot of you reading this probably think the Bachelorette is pretty dumb entertainment. . . but it sure is entertaining! After the kids go to bed, give me a blanket, a purring kitty, a lemon bar, and a good show to watch, and I'm happy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rio de Janeiro!!!

At last! I'm still working on getting all the vacation pictures edited and organized, but I'm excited to post now about the very first part of our trip!

We got the kids all settled in with my parents in San Diego, and then it was off to LAX for our LOOOOOOONG flight. And I do mean long! First there was the 9-hour leg to Lima, Peru. The plane stopped there, and then continued on for 5 more hours to Santiago, Chile, where the 30 missionaries on our flight were all getting off to serve in various parts of Chile. Unfortunately, we had a 12-HOUR layover in Santiago before continuing on to Brazil. By far the longest layover I have ever had! We wanted to take a shuttle and go see the city, but we found out that just to exit the airport U.S. citizens had to pay a fee of almost $200 per person. So, of course we ended up killing time and trying to sleep on the uncomfortable benches in the Santiago airport for 12 hours. Not the highlight of the trip. Funny fact about the Santiago airport: All the food options in the terminal were American. Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and Ruby Tuesday of all things.

Finally, we boarded the next plane for our 3-hour flight to Sao Paulo, and then our short flight to Rio de Janeiro. By the time we got there, we had spent almost two full days flying and waiting around in airports. I wanted a bed so badly! A bed, any bed at all, just sounded amazing. Thankfully, we did get to Rio at night and were snoozing away in our beds at the hotel by 1 am. And we got to sleep in the next day! It was blissful!

So was it worth it to fly all that way to get to Rio?
You be the judge. . .

That was Ipanema Beach. SO stunning!

I had always read about Rio de Janeiro being the most beautiful city in the world. On our first full day there, we had a city tour and I got to find out for myself. We were supposed to go see the Corcovado statue of Christ the Redeemer, but the roads up the mountain had actually been wiped out by the floods from the week before. So we weren't able to go up, which was a bummer. But we saw no flood damage in the actual city.

My verdict is. . . I do agree that the setting for the city is among the most beautiful in the world. The beaches, mountains, rainforests, and everything the city is built in is just a complete paradise! But the buildings in the actual city, for the most part, are ugly. Seventies-looking concrete and lots of graffiti. Take a look at their cathedral. . .

After seeing all the ugly buildings, we got to the real highlight of the city tour and one of the things I was most excited about for the entire trip. . . riding the cable cars to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain!!! And it did not disappoint! It was truly spectacular! There were actually two mountains, and we rode two different cable cars from one to the other. Check out the awesome views of the city of Rio from the first mountain!

And this was the view looking from the first mountain to the second mountain. The cable cars were really big, and a lot of people fit into them. Stephen laughed when I told him I had imagined tiny little open-air cable cars like the ones at the San Diego Zoo. These ones were completely glass-enclosed.

We saw the CUTEST little tiny monkeys on the first mountain. I wanted to take one home with me!

We got to watch the sun set over Rio from the second mountain. It was such an unforgettable experience! Pictures don't do it justice, but enjoy the pictures anyway. It was really cool to see the sun gradually fading away and all the lights of Rio turning on.

It was SUCH a crazy amazing day that I will never forget! We loved it! We figured we'd end our awesome first day in Rio with a spectacular dining experience, so we went to one of the top-recommended Brazilian BBQ houses in the city, called Marius. This place was truly over-the-top! The meats they served us were SO tender they melted in our mouths, and I've never seen a more lavishly decorated buffet. We were definitely wowed!

The ceiling of this place even had all kinds of awesome stuff on it. No matter where you looked in this restaurant, there was tons of interesting stuff to see. When I travel, I love to find unique experiences that you can't find anywhere else in the world, and this was a dinner that fit the bill! It did not come cheap though! We were blown away by how expensive everything was in Rio. The dinner was incredible, but it cost over $100 US for the two of us!

Some other things I was surprised about in Rio, besides the extravagant prices on pretty much everything, included:

*I was really excited to have real Brazilian limeade there, like the kind you get at Tucano's or Rodizio. I LOVE that stuff, and we have an amazing recipe for it and Stephen makes it for us when we have tacos or enchiladas. So when we ate dinner at Marius we ordered it. Oh my gosh, it was nothing like our version. It was SO sour, pretty much straight lime juice with no sugar at all! I got a whole bunch of sugar packets and mixed them all into it, which made it tolerable. Brazil had lots of fresh juices, but you had to order ones that were already sweet (like orange or pineapple juice) because they didn't add sugar to anything! So I don't know where our American version of Brazilian limeade comes from, because it's not from Brazil!

*There were NO souvenir stores or handicrafts stores in Rio. Seriously! None! On the beaches a bunch of locals would walk around selling some things like jewelry, snacks, sunscreen, fresh coconuts, drinks, little sarongs that they lay on like beach towels, stuff like that. But I've never been to a big city like that with no places to buy cool stuff. So I didn't even get a Christmas ornament or anything cool from Brazil. Pretty disappointing and strange!

*We didn't meet a single other tourist from the US while we were there. All the other tourists were mostly from other parts of South America, and we did meet one couple from England. Stephen speaks Spanish, but not Portuguese, so we did have the most trouble with the language barrier there and couldn't always read the menus.

*Very weird thing: I saw NO seagulls in Rio at all. I thought they lived everywhere! Their beaches had a whole bunch of pigeons, but no seagulls!

We really enjoyed our three days in Rio! It was VERY nice, after all our time spent flying, to have free time to just relax on the beaches. Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach are both BEAUTIFUL! We spent most of our time on Copacabana Beach, because it was very close to our hotel and we liked it the best. The sand was SO soft and clean, and the water was really clean too! We were Brazilian beach bums for a couple days, and loved it! Wouldn't you?

I thought the water was a little too cool, even though it was clean, but Stephen went swimming in it!

Everything about staying in Rio was so enjoyable! We loved the food, the fresh juices (except for the sour ones!), and the gorgeous scenery!

I thought this sign was pretty funny. . . not a beach bathroom, but actually a little bar on the beach where you could buy drinks. They had these everywhere!

Livin' the beach life in Rio de Janeiro!

Little pizzerias were all over the place, so we finally tried some pizza on our last day in Rio. They actually don't put pizza sauce on them, so they serve ketchup with their pizzas. Weird! That big pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice was delicious, and we both liked Brazil's national soda, Guarana.

Our first day in Brazil we had perfect weather, a breezy but sunny day with temps in the 70's. But our last day it climbed to the 90's so we couldn't walk very far without getting wiped out. Oh, this was another cool thing about the beaches. . . they had a whole ton of sand sculptures and sand castles built along the walkways! And they also had places everywhere for people to rent beach umbrellas and chairs.

So if you are a lover of the beach, the ocean, gorgeous scenery, and delicious Brazilian meat, I highly recommend visiting Rio de Janeiro! It was seriously awesome!

We were sad to leave Rio, but also really excited to get to our next destination. . . Iguassu Falls! A place I had been wanting to go for YEARS! Stay tuned for that post and some of the most spectacular pictures I have ever taken anywhere in the world!