My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

My Top 6 Favourite Travel Moments

I’m someone that uses a lot of hyperbole. What can I say? My life is a roller coaster of emotions and as an extroverted, chronic over-sharer I just can’t seem to help myself.

Back in December I wrote about my top 6 worst travel moments… because (a) the disaster stories are usually pretty entertaining after the fact, (b) to show people that even the best laid plans sometimes fall short of the mark, and (c) there just has to be a silver lining to my little tragedies.

But, I think it’s finally time to provide the positive yins to the unfortunate yangs in my travel past with my top 6 favourite travel moments! These were all pinch-me, isthisreallyhappening, I’m SO happy right now moments of pure bliss that I wish I could re-live over and over again!

Walking the Walls of Dubrovnik

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I’ve waxed poetic about Dubrovnik, Croatia quite a few times on this blog and for good reason. It is a stunningly gorgeous city. I can even pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in love and it was while strolling around the old city walls at golden hour. The views were incredibly breathtaking. The lighting was magic. The crowds were sparse. And the temperature was finally comfortable. It was the perfect storm of elements combining to show me once again why I am so obsessed with Europe.

Trekking to Machu Picchu

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Doing the Lares Trek in the Andes.

Where to even begin with Peru. Let’s start with the fact that I was slightly terrified of a three day trek in the Andes Mountains. Factor in my lack of physical fitness, abismal hiking record, lifelong struggle with asthma, and high potential for altitude sickness and this could have easily ended up on my worst travel moments list. Instead it was an unforgettable experience, topped off with the most impressive sight I’ve ever laid eyes on. Machu Picchu absolutely lives up to the hype and then some. I will never ever forget the moment when I got my first glimpse of those misty mountain peaks with llamas dotting the horizon. Spellbound.

Getting Upgraded to Business Class

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Air travel is one of those necessary evils that most people merely tolerate. I am one of the few people that actually kind of enjoys airplanes (say what?!)…probably because I have short legs and love any excuse to watch movies all day. So when I was boarding my flight from London to Seattle and was MIRACULOUSLY upgraded to business class (on British Airways!!) I was beyond giddy. I can’t even describe how exciting it was to have a fully reclining bed (in a pod!) on an airplane! I got to use real dishes and order from a menu and drink champagne and eat/drink pretty much constantly and sleep and watch movies and And AND!!! It was the BEST and I’m forever ruined because no flight will ever compare.

Paragliding in Lima

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I was feeling a bit sad on my last day in Lima, Peru. After a full month of amazing travels in South America, I wasn’t quite ready to return home, find a summer job, and finish off my degree. I needed one last adventure before boarding the plane. Laura and I had been reading flyers about paragliding all over the place and finally called a place that our hostel recommended. But, the company sadly informed us that they weren’t flying that day due to weather concerns. We were disappointed but not deterred so we headed down to the nearby cliffs anyways hoping the winds would change. And as luck would have it, we immediately saw that the skies were full of paragliders so we jumped at the chance to sign our lives away. To this day paragliding is my all-time, favourite extreme sport. It is the perfect mixture of thrilling, exciting, and relaxing. I was able to sit back, take pictures, and enjoy the view while my hot Peruvian guide did all the work. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Skiing in the Swiss Alps

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My most memorable Christmas was spent in Frutigen, Switzerland. I awoke in the home of the incredibly generous Schmid family to learn that they had gifted me and my friend Diana with lift tickets. I had met Diana’s family friends just a few days prior but they welcomed me into their home with open arms and made sure my first trip to Switzerland was unforgettable. We had a delicious breakfast of my home-made Swiss Musli (my fave!!), spent the whole day on the slopes, and capped it off with a 3-course family dinner and more presents! If you can’t spend Christmas with your family, I can’t think of a better place than skiing in the Alps.

The Sound of Music Tour

IMGP1272When I decided to spend 3 months living in a little town in Austria about an hour outside of Salzburg I knew that I had to see the birthplace of my all-time favourite movie, The Sound of Music. I was only a couple months into my 8 month European adventure and knew that my budget was going to be tight. But, I never questioned for a second my decision to break the bank on the official Sound of Music tour. I was able to visit many of the filming locations including the famous gazebo (pictured above), the church from the wedding scene, the Mirabell gardens (Do Re Mi), and the exteriors of the mansion. I even got the Trivia question right when no one else knew the answer. Yup, I’m a nerd! It was a perfect day in a country that will always have a very special place in my heart.

What are your favourite travel moments? Leave a comment below.

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My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments

My Top 6 Worst Travel Moments

If there is one thing that I’m sure about… it’s my unquenchable love of travel. I love (almost) everything about travel: airplanes, packing, researching new destinations, walking until my feet hurt.

But if truth be told, travel is often more glamorous in retrospect. I have an uncanny knack for forgetting about the stress, the misconnections, and the little disasters when it’s all said and done. Especially when recounting the tales to friends and family. It’s all hyperbole about the most stunning sunsets, most delicious food, and best time of my life.

Now, I’m a planner by nature and most of the time, my plans are executed to perfection. But travel is an unpredictable beast and the unexpected is bound to happen when navigating foreign cultures and languages. In the moment, I tend to have a colossal meltdown when things go wrong but the payoff is usually a great story. Yeah for silver linings!

So, in the spirit of keeping it real… here is a list of the top 6 worst travel moments that have happened to me in the recent past.

Getting stranded in Bologna

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I didn’t know much about Bologna until I saw it appear in my book of the Top 100 Most Beautiful Cities in the World. I am a sucker for recommendations like that so I added it to my itinerary. It was the perfect midway point between Venice and Florence so why not? Well, to this day it is one of my least favourite cities of all time. Why you ask?

Well, for starters, we arrived there on some random Italian holiday that we knew nothing of, meaning that the very few buses that were actually running were few and far between. I’m pretty sure my friend Diana and I waited two hours for a bus from our remote hostel on the outskirts of the city (the only one we could find sadly) into the centre. So our day got off to a lack luster start but little did we know that the worst was yet to come. After walking around all day in search of something interesting (we didn’t find much) we finally decided to head home after a very disappointing dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese. How can you have bad pasta in Italy? Clearly luck was not on our side.

Unfortunately, the early morning bus predicament continued when we realized that the only bus that would take us to our hostel had stopped running for the night. To make matters worse… our hostel had a curfew (lame) so we would be locked out for the night if we didn’t make it home by 9pm. We started rushing from stop to stop hoping that the schedule was wrong but alas our bus was done for the day. In fact, there was nary a bus to be found. Our meager backpacker budgets could not afford a pricey taxi ride and I was distraught. I had all but given up hope when we stumbled across the bus depot. We saw a flurry of buses and hoped to flag one down. One saintly bus driver stopped for us but was out of service for the night. He clearly didn’t speak English but observed our frantic hand gestures and calmly replied in Italian. We eventually got the message that we were to wait. He drove away and once again we were convinced that hope was lost.

But, then, out of nowhere comes our guardian angel bus driver in his personal car. He motions for us to get in and miraculously drives us to a bus stop where a bus would soon be able to pick us up and take us exactly where we needed to go. We made it to our hostel just in the nick of time. As horrendous as the whole ordeal was at the time, I’m still blown away by the kindness of this man. I may not be Bologna’s biggest fan but I’ll always have a warm place in my heart when I think of this story.

Missing the train in Rome

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Knock on wood. WHY DIDN’T I KNOCK ON WOOD? I’m not usually a superstitious person but sometimes I wonder… like on my 2013 visit to Rome. My friend, Mindy, and I were on our way to the train station and no sooner had I uttered the words, “I’ve never missed a train before” and the unspeakable actually happened.

After five days in the eternal city, we were headed to the Rome train station to catch our 2:50pm train to Bari, Italy where we were scheduled to board an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia. This of course had been carefully researched and booked in advance to secure the cheapest and best way of getting there. After our 20 minute city bus ride we were watching the giant train screens to see from which track our train would be departing.

The number finally came up on the screen about 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart: Track 18. Great! It was right in front of us. This was very good news since Rome boasts the second largest train station in Europe. Unfortunately Track 18 was actually 400 metres further down. We started walking but then quickly began to feel uneasy as we thought we heard that our train had been switched to another track. This happens quite often and they announce the changes over the speaker in Italian and English if you are able to catch it. We stopped and I stayed with the bags while Mindy went ahead to check. Nothing was showing on the sign so we gambled and decided to stay. Wrong decision. It was not our train but since we were 400m away from the main screen and now only had 5 minutes we knew we weren’t going to make it.

We started running and calling for help like hopeless idiots. The police, customer service, other passengers, and a poor travel agent named Marina couldn’t help us. We had missed the only train that could get us to Bari in time to catch our ferry. The next ferry didn’t leave for 2 days. After switching our train tickets twice, going to an Internet cafe, talking to a travel agent for about an hour, and waiting in line for customer service for about an hour we had a new game plan. We called our landlord Sergio and were able to get another night in our same apartment in Rome. We also had new train tickets (this time to Ancona, Italy) and a new ferry ticket from Ancona to Split, Croatia for the next day. We would still make it to Dubrovnik but it just meant a lost day, a 5 hour bus ride down the coast, and a lot of extra money.

Being sexually harassed in Egypt

Happier Times

Happier Times

So, I’ve received quite a bit of unwanted attention while travelling abroad over the years.

  • The classic pickup lines in Italy: You look like Jennifer Lopez. Really? Do I?
  • Marriage proposals in France.
  • Cat calls (sounds like hissing) in Spain

But the absolute worst thing that a stranger ever said to me happened in Egypt while visiting the city of Luxor.

It was a hot day (really, all the days were hot), so my friend, Stef, and I ventured out on our own (stupid perhaps) to find ice cream. We were in port for the afternoon on a Nile River cruise and for some strange reason there were no snacks or refreshments on board. The harassment and crude comments came within seconds of leaving the ship as some older gentlemen nearby noticed us passing by. We ignored them and sped forward only to be followed by a young Nubian man. We tried to ignore him but he really wouldn’t leave us alone with the questions. It seemed harmless at first. Where are you from? The basics. But, when we refused to come with him to his Nubian village the conversation took a turn for disgusting. We had already decided to head back at this point (ice creamless) but we still had a ways to go. He asked if we wanted to BE with an Egyptian man. We told him we were both married (lies) and our husbands were on the ship (more lies). This did not deter him though. Do you want to kiss an Egyptian man? Um… let me think about that… no thanks. At this point we were practically running when we were asked this gem. What about BUM SEX? Excuse me WHAT?!?! That is so not okay. NOT OKAY! Ew… What was his thought process? Oh, so they are married and said no to a kiss, but bum sex, oh yeah, they will totally go for that… Ugh. We made it back to our ship in one piece but I will absolutely never forget that walk.

Crossing the Border from Ecuador to Peru

Flee Market Village?

Flee Market Village?

While researching my options to get from Ecuador to Peru, I learned that the cheapest way was an international bus from Guayaquil to Lima. The cost to fly was over $400 more so it was an easy decision even if it meant a 28 hour overnight bus. How bad could it be?

We left Guayaquil at 11:30am and we were actually pleasantly surprised that the bus was much nicer than we expected. It was not, however, without its medley of quirks. The lights occasionally flickered as if we were in a lightning storm. It rattled and creaked like the roof could’ve flown off at any moment. And, the bathroom was wretched. I mean so terribly disgusting that it was not even an option. Give me a hole in the floor over the state of that toilet seat any day.

Our first “excitement” of the trip occurred at our first petrol stop. The women all rushed off the bus to use a real bathroom and then I decided to grab a bottle of water as well. I was just about to pay, when my friend Laura cried out… Our bus… it´s leaving! The water suddenly became insignificant and we ran after the moving vehicle. We were screaming WAIT but that was fairly useless since our driver didn’t speak English. We both leapt onto the moving vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, this bus waits for no one. Although we did make him stop for the fellow passengers we had almost left behind.

The next major adventure was crossing the border itself. We arrived at the Tumbes crossing and were told to take our passports and get off. We lined up and everyone got through quickly until Laura. The computer system magically stopped working… and we had to wait for about 15 minutes. At least the border official found a use for Laura´s passport, which he used to fan himself while we waited. But, we were not home free yet. This was just permission to exit Ecuador. We still had to go through customs again 3 miles down the road. We continued on and drove through a flee market village until we were told to get out again. This time Laura and I were first in line and luckily experienced no technical difficulties.

Back on the road, it was getting late and we were watching another terrible movie, when suddenly the bus stopped and the lights went out. We assumed this meant bed time even though we hadn´t eaten dinner and it wasn´t even 8pm. Then everyone at the back of the bus started getting off… we had no idea what was going on. Were we entering yet another country? We were then told to take all our belongings and get off the bus. So we frantically gathered our stuff and got off. We then walked through a small building and ended up outside again. Minutes later our bus pulled up and we all got back on. We still have no idea what that was even about. They didn´t even check our bags or ask to see our passports.

The rest of the trip was uneventful but excruciating. We made no legitimate stops for the next 15 hours and since I couldn’t enter the toilet room without gagging… that meant dehydrating myself and holding my blatter the entire rest of the trip. We did have reclining seats but I could not get comfortable and I was afraid to relax for fear of… well you get the idea… so I spent a sleepless night staring at the dark desert counting the minutes until we could get off the bus.

Dropping my camera in Lucerne

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I received my first digital camera back in 2005 as a going away present before embarking on an 8-month European odyssey. Can you believe that I had actually planned to bring my film camera on a trip that long? Needless to say I quickly learned to love my little Panasonic and couldn’t fathom traveling without it.

Three months later, while gallivanting around Switzerland in chilly December, I fumbled with my camera as I tried to take a photo with my gloves still on. The lens was open and it landed with a crack on the icy ground. DISASTER! My travelling companion had partially broken her own digital camera two days prior and now mine was rendered completely useless. What was I going to do? I had 5 more months of travel ahead of me… I needed a camera.

My meager backpacker budget was incredibly insufficient to cover the cost of a camera replacement. Not to mention the fact that I was in SWITZERLAND! The most expensive country ever! But, I had no choice. After a tearful call home (because sometimes you just need your mom) and a mug of hot chocolate (because chocolate is always a good idea) I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new camera. My Swiss hosts took me to their local shop and made sure I didn’t get ripped off. It was a tough pill to swallow but I definitely learned my lesson when it comes to handling equipment. The photo of Chapel Bridge (above) in Lucerne was the photo I took right before dropping my camera.

Getting Home from Lima

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You know that saying When it rains… it pours. Well I got caught in a figurative hurricane on my trip home from a month in South America. It was just one thing after another after another… almost laughable if I wasn’t so frustrated. It all started at our hostel in Miraflores.

My friend Laura and I had ordered a taxi to take us to the airport. We made sure to leave lots of extra time and it was a good thing we did because our taxi was at least an hour late. We were a bit anxious as we arrived at the airport but we still had enough time. Then began the arduous ordeal of getting to our gate. First they had passport control outside the airport, which of course meant we had to queue. Then we had to wait in a seemingly endless line to check our bags. After that we rushed to security but before we could go through we had to pay the airport fee. Once again we got in the queue but it turned out that they only accepted cash. Since we were on our way home we had conveniently spent all our remaining soles so we got out of the line and scurried off to find an ATM. We took out just enough money for the fee and got back in line. Once we reached the front, the agent rejected our Peruvian money and informed us that we must pay in US dollars. WHAT? It didn’t occur to us to check the currency since WE ARE IN PERU! Why would they want US dollars in Peru? So back out of the line we go to exchange our currency but of course we didn’t have enough soles to reach the US fee so we had to take out more money at the ATM. Just ridiculous. All of it. At this point (if you’re counting) we had already waited in 5 lines.

After our third attempt to pay the airport fee, we succeeded! Not my finest travel moment. We hurried through security, quickly bought bottles of water and arrived at our gate minutes before boarding. Phewth. Home free we thought. Wrong! They then proceeded to inform us that they would be screening our carry-on baggage prior to boarding and no liquids were allowed. Oh good… I’m glad I just bought a bottle of water. We chugged our waters and got in line again… feeling a bit queasy.

We finally took our seats on the plane and were ready to relax. That’s when the show began. One of the flight attendants was having a heated discussion with a passenger who didn’t seem to have a boarding pass. They argued and shuffled around for a solid 45 minutes before the passenger was allowed to sit down. It was all fine but now we were late. Very late. And now I was in for an anxious plane ride to Newark airport where we already had a tight connection that had just got a lot tighter.

I was trying to rest my weary mind when all of a sudden Laura grabs her barf bag and starts throwing up. What is happening? Did someone put a voodoo curse on us? We landed in Newark, tired, sick, and apparently ready to run. We moved through customs as quickly as possible but got stuck again at baggage claim. We had to retrieve and recheck our luggage. This is why only taking carry-on is the best strategy. My bag came after what seemed like an eternity but Laura’s bag did not. I decided to run ahead and try to hold the plane for her. With only 15 minutes to go I threw my bag on the conveyor belt and asked if my luggage would get on the plane or if I could wait for my friend. The agent said I had to go right then or my bag wouldn’t make it. I decided to go for it… sorry Laura. I rushed back through security and to my gate which was of course at the very end of the terminal. But once I got to my gate, it had a different departure city on the sign. Had I read the sign wrong? I turned around to find a screen when I saw Laura running up… and yelling that they had moved our gate. We ran up to the gate just as they were closing the doors. Breathless. Sweaty. And completely drained both physically and mentally. But we made it. My bag made it. Laura’s did not. What a gong show!

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you while travelling?

My 7 Wonders of the World

This is a special edition of my Favourites series.

It seems like there are so many variations of the Seven Wonders of the World floating around that I decided I would create my own from places that I’ve actually been.

My 7 Wonders of the World

Machu Picchu, Peru

Without a doubt, Machu Picchu is the most spectacular, awe-inspiring site that my eyes have ever seen. It absolutely lives up to all the hype! I trekked 33 kilometres over three days from Lares to Ollantaytambo before finally taking a train to Aguas Calientes and making the early morning trip to Machu Picchu. From touring the ancient capital of the Incas to hiking Wayna Picchu, the whole experience was incredible from start to finish. These Incan ruins need to be on every person’s bucket list.

Machu Picchu

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

While I was planning my trip to Egypt, people were constantly asking me Why Egypt? This question seriously puzzled me. Don’t people understand that to see the pyramids one would have to go to Egypt? Well this original wonder of the world certainly earned its place. Riding camels around the site didn’t hurt either…

Camel Time

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The most recent wonder on my list is the magical Halong Bay. Even on a mostly cloudy day this place had a mystical hold on me. With nearly 2000 limestone islets and floating fishing villages creating a tropical kaleidiscope above the green waters, this place is more than worthy of a spot on the new 7 wonders of the world list… and mine too!

Fishing Village

The Colosseum, Italy

I’ve visited this famous amphitheatre twice now and both times it transported me back in time. I’ve read so many stories and seen so many films (Gladiator anyone?) from the era of the Roman Empire and it is always haunting and humbling to be standing in a place so rich in history and tragedy. I can only imagine how impressive it would have been back in its glory days.

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The Eiffel Tower, France

Paris je t’aime! Sometimes I still can’t believe that I’m not living in a chic apartment in the Cinquième (5e) arrondissement splitting my time between the cafe culture and long walks along the Seine. But, I digress. There is no building on earth that I was more excited to see than the Eiffel Tower. After studying French for 8 years, this was the place that I most wanted to see when I went to France and the place that I would most like to re-visit… and soon!

Paris

Alhambra, Spain

This palace/fortress, originally constructed in 889 and reconstructed in the mid-11th century by the Moors was a major highlight of my 3 months in Spain. It might not be as popular as some of the other wonders on this list but it is every bit as beautiful. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures… I was too busy experiencing in the present tense.

Alhambra

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia, Croatia, Croatia. The country that won my heart in one, all-to-brief week. And the crowning jewel is this absolutely stunning national park filled with turquoise lakes and magnificent waterfalls. This was the perfect day trip from Zagreb and a must-see stop for any trip to the Balkans. I can’t wait to go back!

Plitvice Lakes

 

Uros Islands & Lake Titicaca Homestay

Well… this adventure is quickly coming to a close. I can hardly believe that a month has flown by already.

The past few days have definitely filled up our cultural quota for the trip. A couple days ago we took a boat to the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca near the Bolivian border. These islands are made completely out of reeds and are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We stopped at one such island and visited a traditional home. It’s hard to believe that people actually live like that. If they have a disagreement with their neighbours, they just lift up the anchor and float away to a new destination. Crazy!

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After that we continued by boat for 3 hours to Amantani island. We were greeted at the port by our homestay families. All of the various tourists were divided into groups of two or three and assigned to a family. Our mama was named Inocencia and she was the sweetest woman in the whole wide world. She led us up the mountain (the hiking just never ends) to our home away from home.  We helped her make lunch by peeling and splitting peas which were later used for soup. The food was amazing. It’s hard to believe that their rustic little cocinas can produce such delicious food. We had quinoa soup with potatoes and cheese for lunch; a very traditional meal. Our Spanish 101 class came in quite handy at this point because our family didn’t speak any English and it was nice to at least say a few things to them. We then met with the rest of our group to hike to the top of the mountain. The timing wasn’t ideal because it started to rain just as we got to the top of the mountain but we got our mandatory photos and then hurried back down.

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Our home stay

Our home stay

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Laura wasn’t feeling her best so she opted out of the hike so when I got down the mountain I went to look for her. I wasn’t able to find her so I decided to hide out in the little community store and make friends with a Swiss couple and some Israeli guys. I totally lost track of time and didn’t even realize that not only had the storm worsened but it was also now pitch black outside. Fortunately, my mama came to get me and guided me back to our casa with her incredible night vision. I literally couldn’t see one step in front of me. When I got back to our room, Laura was waiting for me. She had also been hiding out at a neighbour’s house and got lost in the rain. But once again, mama Inocencia saved the day and guided her home as well.

Dance Party

We had dinner later that evening, which was delicious once again and then our mama came and dressed us up in traditional clothes for the evening fiesta. We walked over to the community center where we all danced around to traditional music. Fortunately, we all brought flashlights for the walk home. After crawling back through the little hobbit door that I banged my head on several times we had quite a lovely sleep under layers of alpaca blankets. It was definitely more comfortable then I thought. We even had an outhouse, which was better than I had expected. However, it was hard to use in the dark of night. Laura and I ventured out together and held the flashlight for one another. It was a little awkward since it felt like a spotlight was being shone on me at my most unflattering moment, but you do what you gotta do. Just another one of the comedic moments that we’ve come to appreciate during this trip outside our comfort zone.

The next morning we had breakfast in bed… we felt pretty spoiled. Then we said goodbye to our families and loaded back into the boat for an hour boat ride to Taquile island. We hiked up yet another huge hill to the top of the island where we hung out in the main square until lunch. We were all amazed at how lovely the day was after the torrential downpour the night before. The views of the lake were seriously stunning. Lake Titicaca is apparently the highest navigable lake in the world but I don’t always believe everything the guides tell us… sometimes they seem to exaggerate the facts.

Taquile Island

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After lunch we took the 3 hour boat ride back to Puno. Laura and I sat on the top of the boat with some of our new friends and thoroughly enjoyed the sun and the fresh air. Although, I’ve been careful to bundle up since I burned to a crisp on the hike to Machu Picchu. Even though it’s winter right now, the sun is still intense during the middle of the day and my poor neck and nose are paying the price.

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Puno

We are now preparing for our last epic bus ride back to Lima. After about 20 hours on Cruz del Sur (apparently the best bus company ever) we will be back in our beloved Miraflores and getting ready to come home to Canada.

I’ve had the most amazing journey and now all I want to do is plan my next trip back to South America. The mosquitoes may have left me alone this trip… but the travel bug has latched on and doesn’t show signs of letting go anytime soon.

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

Well… I’m finally back to civilization/Internet and it’s time for an epic blog… so brace yourselves.

After our time in the jungle, Laura and I flew to the former capital of the Incan Empire… Cusco. We had a whole day to wander around and explore the beautiful city. We visited the Temple of the Sun and did some damage at the local markets. As the gateway to Machu Picchu… Cusco is definitely a bit of tourist trap. We were hassled everywhere we went… hey lady… eat in my restaurant… do you need to book a tour?… would you like a manicure or pedicure? I’ll give you the best price… or our personal fav… the massage mafia. Literally every other person seemed to be offering massages. We saw a fellow tourist wearing a shirt that said No gracias and couldn’t have agreed more. Aside from that… I would have loved to spend more time in Cusco but with only a month to travel… we pressed on.

Cusco

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We began our Lares Trek with G Adventures on May 22. With our day packs and a small duffel bag each, Laura and I met our wonderful guide Gladys bright and early at 5am. We then began picking up the rest of our group members who were spread out from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Our group was 15 and we had 2 guides, Gladys and her assistant Pedro. We spent the morning busing to the village of Callca where we picked up some food at the local markets to give to the local children throughout our hike. We then continued on to Lares town. It just so happened to be the town’s anniversary that same day so the streets were all closed off for a big parade. We began our trek there and hiked for about 4 hours to get to our first campsite.

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Most beautiful location for a "toilet" tent ever!

Most beautiful location for a “toilet” tent ever!

Since we decided to do the Lares Trek instead of the more famous Inca Trail, we were able to hike through local villages and interact with the locals. This was such an amazing experience. The children were absolutely precious and I couldn’t get enough of their grubby little faces. We all bought bread and packages of porridge to hand out instead of the sweets that rot their teeth. It’s a hard life in the mountains and because of the elevation they can’t grow much of their own food so bread is actually quite a treat.

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Also, the Lares Trek allowed us to hike without the throngs of other hikers that you find on the Inca Trail. We so enjoyed our solitude and the scenery was breathtaking… or maybe that was the altitude… haha! Anyways, our camp the first night was all set up by the time we got there thanks to our amazing porters and horseman. We had llamas and horses to carry our duffel bags and equipment so that was always amusing. The sun goes down early in the mountains (around 530 or 6pm) so we quickly needed to bundle up for the freezing nightly temperatures. Some local village women brought over some of their handicrafts as well as beverages, and just like that we had our very own bar in the middle of the Andes. Our group began to bond over my deck of cards until dinner.

Our Lares Trek Group

The food was always amazing! We usually had warm soup followed by a main dish that usually included rice and chicken… and of course the local delicacy coca tea. For a self-declared city girl… this whole tenting in the middle of nowhere thing certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I almost froze to death the first night even with four layers of clothing, a toque, and a thermal sleeping bag. I think I probably got about 20 minutes of sleep the entire night. Our 6am tent service couldn’t come soon enough. Our waiter, Miguel, brought us coca tea and bowls of hot water to help us defrost which was quite wonderful. After a wonderful breakfast in our meal tent… we started the hardest part of the trek. We hiked uphill for 4 hours and about 600m before finally reaching our highest point on the trek at 4400m (14700 ft) above sea level. Once we had reached the pass we hiked down for another 40 minutes to our lunch stop for the day, which was beside a beautiful lake. At this point I would like to brag about how well we did. Laura and I were the 4th and 5th people at the camp and the three that beat us go trekking through Nepal regaularly and so forth. With my asthma, the extreme altitude, and general lack of cardio, I was quite proud of myself… and I’ve actually learned to enjoy hiking. I feel like I can accomplish anything now

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Can you spot me?

Can you spot me?

The rest of the day was a downhill hike to our second campsite. By now, everyone on the trek had become fast friends. We had a wonderful and ecletic group made up of 6 Canadians, 7 Brits, 1 Norweigan, and 1 German. We were all hoping for another village bar but nobody came. So one of our wonderful horseman went into the next village and picked us up some rum and coke. We then spent the whole evening in the meal tent playing cards and trying to stay warm. At dinner that night I somehow managed to dump my entire plate of uneaten food onto the ground… but I’m blaming that on the altitude.

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Our second night was much better than the first. Our camp was in a more sheltered valley and Laura and I drugged ourselves with gravol so that we would sleep regardless of the cold. It worked like a charm. Our third day was mostly downhill again and we ended our hike (35km in total) at lunch time. The rest of the day was spent busing/training it to Aguas Calientes which is the nearest city to Machu Picchu. There was unfortunatley a mix up at the train station and Peru Rail had double booked us so our group didn’t make it onto our scheduled train. That meant we had to spent a solid four hours at the train station while we waited for the next train. Fortunately, I once again had my trusty cards.

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On day 4 of our trek, the day we had all been waiting for had finally arrived. Most of us decided to wake up at 340am to queue for the first bus to Machu Picchu. We waited at the bus station for over an hour and made it onto the 530am bus. We arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu just before sunrise and once again lined up to be in the first 400 so that we would be permitted to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (the iconic peak in the famous photos of Machu Picchu) because they limit the number of hikers per day to 400. We then entered Machu Picchu and spent the next 30 minutes taking photos and standing with our jaws open. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular places in my life, but this takes first prize.

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Then, because I hadn’t already hiked enough, we began hiking the extremely steep Huayna Picchu. I powered up the mountain once again and made it about 45 minutes. The view of the ancient city from the top couldn’t possibly get any better. The hike down was actually quite harrowing. It was nearly a sheer rock face at times and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever make it down. But, of course I did and I have the stamp in my passport to prove it. Our guide Gladys then gave us a tour of the Incan ruins and that concluded our Machu Picchu experience. It was totally worth the extruciating pain I am in today. My legs have never been this sore before but at least it is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have experienced such an amazing place.

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We are now in the city of Puno and tomorrow we are leaving for a homestay on the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca.

Jungle Time in Puerto Maldonado

Since I was 8 years old, I have dreamed of visiting the Amazon Rainforest. That dream finally came true but it was not exactly what I expected.

Laura and I flew from Lima to Puerto Maldonado which is near the Brazilian border. As we walked off the plane we were expecting it to be hot and muggy, but apparently we had arrived during a cold wave from Patagonia. The air was crisp and the sky was drizzling slightly. We were more than happy to have our warm layers. We were met at the airport and taken to our new home, The Anaconda Lodge, in the back of a wagon. A great start to our jungle adventure.

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The Anaconda Lodge itself is a series of bungalows nestled in a botancial garden on the edge of the town of Puerto Maldonado. Our bungalow was adorable, complete with mosquito netting and hammocks. Almost instantly we were greeted by some of our neighbours… a couple extremely tame and very friendly spider monkeys. We were quite entralled with our little oasis in the jungle and spent the chilly afternoon bundled in our coats so that we could still enjoy the hammocks. That evening we headed down to the main building where the owner’s Thai wife runs a restaurant. We had some amazing Thai food and made friends with 2 other couples from Canada.

Our Bungalow at the Anaconda Lodge

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Our second day in the jungle was much less relaxing. We started our day at 6am when we finally emerged from our bungalow after the most restless night of our lives. The pack of howler monkeys and the wild roosters kept us up ALL night long. I was under the impression that roosters were supposed to wake you up at dawn but apparently they act more like a grandfather clock with regular chiming (1am, 2am, 3am). Not impressed. Fortunately our pancake breakfast was so excellent that it put us back in good spirits. Then at 7am we were off for a full day trip to Lake Sandoval. Our guide, Jose, picked us up and drove us by motokar (like a tuk tuk) into town. The town itself is quite forgetable. The market is like a giant dollar store with the strangest mish mash of items you’ve ever seen. Need a flashlight… got that. What about some 80s scrunchies… you’ll find that too. The town is definitely not set up for tourism which is kind of refreshing in a way. We never got hassled, which was a very nice change of pace for us.

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Anyways, back to the day trip. We then boarded a motor boat and cruised down the Madre de Dios River for close to an hour. We almost froze because once again the weather was crazy cold during our stay. But once we got to Lake Sandoval it was actually the perfect temperature. We didn’t have to worry about getting burnt and we happily wore long sleeves to keep the mosquitoes away. As much as I love hot weather, the temperature was actually perfect for what we were doing.

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We then hiked through the jungle for about 5km looking for animals and then finally emerged at the lake. Our guide paddled us around the lake for a solid 5 hours… with a short lunch break. That’s right… 5 hours. You may be wondering what we did… good question. We saw lots of birds (my favourites were the Macaws), squirrel monkeys and Capuchins, black otters, and caiman (like small crocodiles). The lake itself was stunning and Laura took tons of photos but it was a very long day. We had to make the same trek back, followed by the motor boat ride and didn’t get back to our lodge until 7pm. The sun goes down here very early, so we trekked home in the dark which made it seem even later than it was.

Me and Jose

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It was a good way to see the jungle, but we were definitely done after a couple nights. Our favourite part of our trek was our guide Jose. He had a limited knowledge of English but as soon as he discovered we were Canadian he went on and on about Avril Lavigne. I think he thought that we must know her and could hook him up or something.

Laura and her monkey friend just before it bit her

Back at the Lodge we encountered a group of 24 American students from a private Christian university in Nashville, TN. Our favourite little Thai chef was cooking up a Thai buffet for 24 soles (approx. $8) so we decided to join in. We sat with our new friends Ryan and Stephanie from Toronto and devoured plate after plate of the best Thai food I’ve ever had. Then a couple of  ‘rebellious’ students decided to join us upstairs in the loft so that could drink some wine. Apparently they would get kicked out of their school for drinking so this was quite scandalous. The conversations that proceeded were dominated by religion and politics and was highly entertaining. On one side you have Stephanie, the Liberal minded atheist from Canada. In the other corner is Mark, the conservative Christian with a history/political science major from the South. Throw in some cervesas and we were up until 11pm watching the debate go around and around.

Throughout our travels, Laura and I have met so many people from so many walks of life and I think that has been one of my major highlights so far. I just love meeting people and learning about their views… never a dull moment.

For our last night at the Lodge, I learned my lesson and used ear plugs. It was a vast improvement but still less than ideal. I can rough it if I have to… but cold showers and no sleep is not my favourite way to travel.

Next stop… Cuzco and the land of the Incas.

Loving Life in Lima

The decision to spend an extra day in Lima was one of the best yet.  We had very low expectations for this city, which many told us to not waste our time on. However, we have been pleasantly surprised.

We started our day with waffles at a nearby cafe courtesy of Hostel Kokopelli. We then learned of a Starbucks literally minutes from our hostel. We were off to a fantastic start. We then spent most of the day wandering through the most adorable shops until we found ourselves at the most beautiful mall I’ve ever seen. It was an open air mall located on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Talk about prime real estate. We even got to watch Robin Hood in English. The movie theatre was gigantic, spotless and virtually empty. It was like our private screening. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Yeah Starbucks!!

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I know that we didn’t exactly get a taste of true Peruvian culture… and we basically did everything that we did at home, but somehow you just appreciate it more in a third world country.

Tomorrow we are off to the Amazon and this time we are taking a plane. I’ve had enough bus rides for the time being. I’m praying that the mosquitoes won’t devour me like they usually do but I’m sure the jungle will be worth it.

Odds & Ends… the last bit of Ecuador

The last few days have been a whirlwind of travel, so today I will attempt to tie it all off with a neat little bow. This could prove to be difficult since I just spent 28 hours on a bus… but I will do my best.

After our stay in Quito we spent the entire day on the bus (10 hours) travelling to Cuenca. The bus was an interesting experience. We boarded at 5:30am thinking that we were going to be able to relax and spread out since there were only 4 other passengers on our bus. Wrong! We proceeded to stop in every city, town, village, and abandoned hut to pick up anyone with a nickel to their name. We ended up on a full bus of interesting characters. I was most entertained by the bus driver´s assistant who collected the money. He looked like he had just stepped out of the movie Grease with slicked back hair, jeans and white T-shirt. Another highlight was the Kung Fu movie dubbed in Spanish that we were subjected to. I don´t even like Kung Fu in English.

Fortunately, Cuenca was worth the trip. We were finally in a city that we could walk around in without having to take taxis all the time. It was a lovely little place and we enjoyed not having to do a whole lot.

Cuenca

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Our last stop in Ecuador was Guayaquil. This time around we opted to spend an extra $5 to take an air conditioned van. The three and a half hour drive was easily the most beautiful one of my life. We drove through the Cajas National Park and I wanted to stop every hundred feet to take a picture. We didn´t of course but we definitely didn´t mind the drive.

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Once in Guayaquil we were finally back at sea level for the first time since Cartagena. We were greeted by a large, muggy, tropical city. We spent the afternoon wandering around the Malecon 2000 boardwalk that runs along the Guays River. The area was beautiful with many parks and playgrounds for families. We intended to reconnect with our friend Luis who we met in Colombia but we waited and waited and he didn´t show. Knowing us, we probably got the location wrong. We decided to just go out for dinner ourselves. A simple task we thought. We have been successfully feeding ourselves for the past 2 weeks. However, we walked for at least half an hour and could not find one single restaurant in the downtown core. Apparently these people only drink soda.

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Guayaquil

We left Guayaquil behind to board the long dreaded overnight, international bus to Peru. We got on the bus at 11:30am and 28 hours later we arrived in Lima. On board we made friends with three American travellers from Colorado and Pennsylvania. The bus was much nicer than we expected but it was not without its quirks. The lights occasionally flickered as if we were in a lightning storm, it sounded like the roof could’ve have flown off at any moment, and the bathroom was wretched.

Our first excitement of the trip occured at our first petrol stop. The girls all rushed off the bus to use a real bathrooms and then I decided to grab a water as well. I was just about to pay, when Laura cried out… “Our bus… it´s leaving!” The water suddenly became insignificant and we ran after the moving vehicle. We were screaming WAIT but considering that the driver didn´t speak English I can understand why he didn´t. We both lept onto the moving vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, this bus waits for no one.

The next major adventure was crossing the border itself. We arrived at the Tumbes crossing and were told to take our passports and get off. We lined up and everyone got through quickly until Laura. The computer system magically stopped working… and we had to wait for about 15 minutes. At least the border official found a use for Laura´s passport, which he used to fan himself while we waited. But, we were not home free yet. This was just permission to exit Ecuador. We still had to go through customs again 3 miles down the road. We continued on and drove through flee market village until we were told to get out again. This time Laura and I were first in line and luckily experienced no technical difficulties. We then got ice cream to celebrate. YEAH PERU!!!

Flee Market Village??

Flee Market Village??

It was getting late and we were watching another movie, when suddenly it stopped and the lights went out. We assumed this meant bed time even though we hadn´t eaten dinner and it wasn´t even 8pm. Then everyone at the back of the bus started getting off… we had no idea what was going on. Were we entering yet another country? We were then told to take all our belongings and get off the bus. So we frantically gathered our stuff and got off. We then walked through a small building and ended up outside again. Then minutes later our bus pulled up and we got back on. Fire drill? We honestly have no idea what that was about. They didn´t even check our bags. Oh South America… good times.

We are finally in Lima, Peru and will happily spend the next week without buses. Our next big adventure is the Amazon!!!