When last we left you (well over two months ago), we had just finished basking on the beaches of Ecuador and were preparing for the 30 hour trip back to Lima.  I’d love to tell you that we had a daring and adventurous time in the infamous capital of Peru, but truthfully, the tourist areas of Lima are pretty darn safe and even sort of boring.  We enjoyed walking along a clifftop walkway between the beach and hoity-toity shopping district, and we also took one of those double-decker bus tours, mainly because it would take us to the cathedral.  The cathedral was quite grand and featured the bones of Inca conqueror Fransisco Pizarro, but mainly we were just killing time until our night flight back home.  Quite possibly the most exciting moments of our Lima visit were to be had in the final hour of our ongoing Rummy competition; fueled by generous happy hour pours of Peruvian white wine and a chicken tamale, I came out victorious after months of keeping scores with a decisive victory in our final game abroad.  🙂

The flight into Houston was really uncomfortable; we both were feeling the painful effects of countless hours sleeping with crooked backs on night buses, and we also had managed to contract a stomach thing in Lima (and no, it wasn’t the generous happy hour pours).  Anyway, we were happy to land in Houston, which had very clean bathrooms.  Customs was backed up, but we had no problems getting back into our normal country.

More trying was the act of obtaining breakfast; you may not realize it, but you are all friggin’ crazy at the airport!  Rushing here and there, talking on I-Phones while simultaneously pounding on I-Pads, while also somehow holding a cup of coffee and a small child in each hand seems to be an American specialty!  All the while, the bright lights seemed to threaten my retinal well-being, and those guys on the golf-cart train that carry super-sized people holding super-sized Wendys bags and eldery people carrying eldery suitcases seemed determined to run me down!  I had gone for coffee while Sarah got bagels, and we met up only to realize that we had both endured equally horrifying moments…we found an empty gate and sat nibbling the bagels like nervous squirrels chomping acorns before the neighbor dog gets outside!  There was a plane to Portland leaving next to us, and I nearly got on it and headed directly home!

Things settled down as we made the flight on to Washington D.C. and enjoyed a grand greeting from Sarah’s mom and dad.  It was 100 degrees that day, so they treated us to a nice little air-conditioned driving tour of DC before heading up the road for a real American burger (which the Peruvian bacteria in my stomach seemed to detest).  As we headed towards the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I realized how really nice it was to have a few hours–the entire next day, in fact–just to catch up with Doug and Fay before the craziness of the rest world caught up to us.

We spent the next week with almost all of Sarah’s entire family; they had spent many family vacations on the beaches of the Outer Banks, and I must say that they know how to do the beach vacation like no others!  Some of the highlights were celebrating Sarah’s Grandma’s birthday a few months early, playing in the waves with our neice and nephew, spending afternoon hours hanging out with everyone at our swimming pool, and watching Doug do his best Gallagher impression as he attempted to determine whether watermelons or cantaloupes could float…this could only be accomplished, of course, by tossing said melons off of the third floor balcony into the pool.

The second week of our road tour home included Christmas in July with the Mathews after we had all gone back to Indiana, visits with Sarah’s friends in the Chicago area, a tour of Sarah’s old schools and neighborhoods in the town in which she grew up, and another road trip with Sarah’s grandma up to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  Ruth is an amazing person, and I am very lucky to have been able to get to know her better during our time up at her house the past two summers.

By the way, while I have mentioned spending time with friends…y’all kept saying that “things were about the same” and that you were just living your “boring lives,” but many of you have kids on the way, upcoming marriages, upcoming marriage proposals…what do you want, an alien abduction?  🙂  Seriously, we greatly enjoyed hearing what life has brought you over the past year, and your “boring” details were pretty exciting to two out-of-touch repatriots!

Another highlight of our trip was spending time with Sarah’s brother and sister-in-law, along with our new nephew!  Gracin is an adorable little guy who always seems to be wearing his smile, and we had a blast playing with him…Josh and Tracy even trusted us with him for a day of babysitting, and I was glad that he liked us so much that he didn’t poop all that day!  Josh and Tracy had scouted out a brewfarm in Wisconsin for a great picnic and tasting on a Sunday afternoon, and we laughed a lot during our visit.  They are fun people and great parents, and it was great to see how much they all enjoy one another.  We also got in some friend time while in Minneapolis, and life seemed to be good all-around.

Back on our own, we returned to our nomadic ways and spent a couple of days exploring South Dakota and Wyoming, with a quick stop in Iowa to summit the corn field that is the state’s highest point–Sarah noted that you couldn’t even see over the corn!  In South Dakota, we visited the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, which I would highly recommend, and the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial, which I would highly recommend avoiding.  A three hour hike took us to the summit of South Dakota’s highest peak, and then we rocked on to Wyoming.

Devil’s Tower ranks its own paragraph; in addition to being a very important figure in Native American folklore and history, it also carries a very significant meaning to Sarah…plus it looks cool.  As a child on a family vacation here, Sarah vowed to become a rock climber!  She has, indeed, become a very good rock climber, and next summer will include an attempt by the Raff family to climb Devil’s Tower.

As we headed back home, I was eager to see my family; it had been 13 months since I’d seen my parents, and I couldn’t wait to get home.  At the same time, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop in Bozeman, Montana, to visit my closest friend Dusty and his wife.  Sarah and I had been wondering whether they would have news for us, and a jubilant Dusty jumping up and down while pointing at Courtney’s belly and yelling, “look what I did!” answered our question.  We can’t wait to meet their daughter!

Finally, our trip led us back to Longview, Washington.  We spent three days catching up with my parents, who hadn’t seemed to age a bit over the past year…even though, we probably caused some extra worries for them, not to mention for Sarah’s parents, too.   We also dropped in on my uncle and aunt, and I gave Sarah a tour of my old stomping grounds, as well.  My parents seem to live a pretty relaxed lifestyle (they worked hard enough for long enough…would you have wanted to raise me?), and it was a perfect way to end a fun but hectic monthlong parade of welcome homes.  Thanks to everyone we saw along the way!

Our first couple of weeks back home were incredibly busy; lots of cleaning, moving, and readjusting to life.  The craziest thing, though, wasn’t how hard it was to readjust; surprisingly, it was how quickly the sense of adventure gave way to everyday life.  Thank you for your questions, it makes the trip come back to life all over again!

So, I guess this a wrap for me.  We left Portland on July 1, 2011, and stayed gone for 13 months…nearly 12 of them outside the United States.  We’ve travelled a lot of roads…six continents and 21 countries…making a ton of memories along the way.  From the Colosseum to Ephesus, from Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti to the Cape of Good Hope, from the Taj Mahal to the Annapurna Circuit, from rock climbing in Thailand to Angkor Wat, from snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef to trekking the fjordlands in New Zealand, from the slow hilltown life of Northern Argentina or the rugged beauty of Patagonian Chile, from the Amazon jungle in Bolivia to Machu Pichu in Peru, from climbing in the Andes to relaxing on the beaches of Ecuador, it was a long and glorious hit parade, but it’s also good to be home. 

Here’s a hope and a promise, though, that not too many moons pass over us before we tackle another (though shorter) version of our many-moons adventure again; after all how many people get nearly their entire first year of marriage all to themselves.

Y’all thought you were reading an adventure blog, but it turns out that at heart, it’s a love story.  Peace.

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