My Top 10 Favourite Cities

According to my Trip Advisor travel map, I’ve been to 265 cities and counting! I believe that this stat gives me a bit of credibility in listing some of my favourites thus far. I wholeheartedly recommend all of these cities and have visited half of them more than once. As always, I reserve the right to update this list whenever I like because I’m constantly visiting fabulous new destinations. But, for now at least, here are my top 10 favourite cities.

My Top 10 Favourite Cities

San Diego, California

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I first visited San Diego on a family vacation when I was 10 years old. We did the typical touristy activities like SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. I loved them both and even got called up on stage during two of the shows (my 15 minutes of fame). Flash forward a decade and my views have certainly changed. I may no longer support animal captivity but fortunately SD still has a plethora of amazing (cruelty free) things to do – try whale watching or surfing instead. When one of my best friends moved to the city in 2012 I was beyond excited about frequently visiting (and I have!). With blissful temperatures year-round, stunning cliffs and beaches, and amazing restaurants, San Diego is my favourite winter getaway. I could even see myself living here someday – Hello Vitamin D!

Paris, France

Paris

A wise woman once said, “Paris is always a good idea” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were to visit my apartment, one thing would quickly become apparent, and that is that J’adore Paris! I can’t possibly think of a city with more class and culture. Just imagine perusing the markets in Montmartre, strolling the grounds of les Jardins du Luxembourg, or savouring a crepe on the Champs-Élysées. An exemplary model of urban planning, this world-class city has so many unique neighbourhoods to explore. Not to mention being home to some of the world’s most famous sights; L’arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Le Louvre, and La Tour Eifel, to name a few. Now if only I could remember my 8 years of French lessons…

Rome, Italy

Rome

Ah Roma… a textbook example of why you sometimes need to revisit a city to truly appreciate it. Ten years after my first visit, I went back to the eternal city to discover what I had missed back in my teenage years. Yes, I remembered that the monuments were impressive and that the gelato was tasty but I couldn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you – Rome is simply magical. The entire city is like an open air museum with rich history spanning more than 2,500 years and amazing architecture around every corner. You could easily spend years in Rome and still not discover it all. I’ve thrown my coin in the Trevi Fountain twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again!

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

My inaugural trip to the pearl of the Adriatic was almost ruined by a missed train and a spiral of lost connections. Fortunately, I pushed passed the roadblocks with the lovely premonition that I was about to fall in love. Most of the cities on this list are places that I’ve courted over several trips but Dubrovnik is my only one night stand. So, you can imagine how intoxicating a city it must be to have such power over me so quickly. Well let me tell you that one walk around the old city walls is all it took to have me spouting off grand declarations and adding Croatia to every list in my book. Dubrovnik is quite simply the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen and even though our time together was brief, it left a lasting impression on me. I hope I won’t have to call her The One that Got Away for long.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh

Edinburgh was one of the very last stops on my 8 month European backpacking adventure in 2005/2006. I arrived there feeling a bit of travel burnout and was definitely looking forward to heading home. Fortunately I arrived to perfect spring weather and a gorgeous city dripping with classic European charm. Edinburgh has a distinctly medieval feel with cobblestone streets, Gothic architecture, and a castle resting on an extinct volcano. But, it’s also a great city for young people and maybe even a place to find love… I mean if it worked for Will & Kate! I have yet to hear a negative review of this Scottish gem so if it isn’t on your bucket list yet… you know what to do.

Bogota, Colombia

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This is one that may raise some eyebrows. Bogota is a very unconventional choice and probably won’t make many top ten lists (unless you’re looking at the negative side). But, I don’t care what the critics say – I have my own opinions and my own experiences and Bogota won me over big time. It likely had a lot to do with my personal tour guide / travel agent friend who hosted and entertained me the entire 5 days, but that also proves that there is plenty to love about Colombia’s capital. The historic district La Candelaria (pictured above) has lovely Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture with a wealth of churches and squares to fill your camera. The city has great shopping and dining options plus Monserrate, one of the most beautiful mountain top attractions I’ve ever seen – the funicular ride to the top is a must-do for all tourists. Transportation may not be super easy (although I was kind of taxi fairy) and English still isn’t widely spoken (if at all) but the effort was definitely worth it to discover the inner beauty of this very misunderstood city.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg

Visiting Salzburg was the realization of a childhood dream – to step into the world of Fräulein Maria and the Von Trapp children. After growing up with an obsessive passion for the Sound of Music I knew I had to do the official SOM tour when I finally made it to the famous city – and it did not disappoint. Even in the fall, the Mirabell Gardens (pictured above) with views of Hohensalzburg Castle were enchanting. The nearby palaces, abbey, and Lake District easily appeased the fan girl in me and proved that my adoration of Austria was well deserved. But, the city has even more to offer. As the birth place of Mozart, culture in the way of museums and music is at a premium and the lovely riverside hosts one of my favourite little Christmas markets in the winter. Although it is much smaller than Vienna and harder to avoid tourist groups (sorry – that was me), it is worth your time and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Florence, Italy

Florence

Tuscany. That’s probably the only descriptive word that I need to use to explain why I love Florence so much, but this is a blog, so I will elaborate. Firenze is another city with a medieval feel. Often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is so easy to get swept away with the impressive art (Michelangelo’s statue of David), gorgeous churches (Duomo and Santa Croce), and unique bridges (Ponte Vecchio). I loved exploring the winding streets and discovering epic views (see above) from the Piazzale Michelangelo. And to top it all off, Florence is where I first discovered gelato (Tiramisu flavoured nonetheless)! There’s something dreamlike about this part of the world and it’s orange roof tops – it easily makes my list.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Welcome to Nawlins y’all! There is just something special about the South that makes me want to slow my speech and eat something fried… but maybe that’s just the Bourban talking. Joking aside, New Orleans is a truly amazing city that in many ways doesn’t even feel like part of America. With buildings dating back to the 1700s and a unique French influence, Louisiana is easily one of the most interesting of the 50 states. Known for its delicious Cajun food, amazing jazz music, beautiful colonial architecture, and the wild and crazy Mardi Gras – NOLA has something for everyone. You can party in the street all night long or step back in time on a beautiful antebellum or creole plantation. The city has faced a lot of adversity with its history of slavery and recent tragedies like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. But, what I saw here was beautiful resilience, hope, and a whole lot of fun! Do your part to help and make New Orleans your next vacation stop.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver

My city. My home. My happy place! The past two years of living in Vancouver have been some of the very best of my life. I still pinch myself every time I cross the Burrard Street Bridge (which is usually twice per day) because I can’t believe that this is my real life. Vancouver is by far my favourite place on earth. Wherever you look you see water or mountains or both! You can ski, golf, bike, sail and kayak– all on the same day. Not only is this city breathtakingly beautiful but it is bursting with activity, diversity, and general awesomeness (that’s a technical term)! In Vancity we know all about living well – we are clean and green. We love yoga and craft beer and playing outside all year long. If you’re not planning a visit to the magnificent Pacific Northwest – then you should be!

Honourable Mention:

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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!!!

Exploring Quito & The Mindo Cloud Forest

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere!

After two days in Ecuador we are starting to get a real sense of the adventures that are before us. We are staying at a wonderful hostel (Travellers Hotel) in the northern part of the city where most of the tourists stay. We have met many great people at our hostel from all walks of life. One older lady is staying by herself in Quito for 5 months!!! That makes our trip seem like a weekend getaway.

On our first full day in the city we decided to be really adventurous and take the trole bus. Up until this point we had been taking cabs but for 25 cents the Menno in me decided to give it a chance. We made it to the Plaza Grande in the old part of Quito just in time for the weekly procession of guards on horseback and parade of music. We weren’t sure at first if we had simply lucked into some special occasion… but apparently this happens every Monday. However, we were also able to wave at the President of Ecuador from our front row perches. We felt pretty fortunate and the hundreds of guards also made us feel extra safe. Unlike at home, we love seeing police in the city.

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Quito

The day was simply beautiful: clear skies, 23 degrees, pretty much paradise. We ended up just wandering around the old town for a while until I spotted some high steeples in the distance. To get there we had to walk up some steep hills that would rival the streets of San Francisco, but we made it. We are definitely wishing we had spent the past semester mountain climbing. Machu Picchu should be very interesting. The basilica was magnificent. It was only “finished” in the 1980s so it is much newer than most of the churches in Quito and was modeled after Notre Dame. We paid the $2 fee to climb up a series of steep ladders until we were standing at the top of the steeple. The views were simply stunning. During our time at the top we chatted with various travellers and eventually made friends with Jenny from New Jersey. She is doing a study abroad in Quito and was travelling solo that day. She asked if she could tag along with us and together we walked back to the main square. We eventually started discussing our future travel plans and we told her that we planned to go to Mindo the following day. We were more than happy when she asked if she could once again tag along.

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Sitting on the Top of the Basilica

After our full morning in the city we headed back to our hostel to relax. Instead I ended up having one of my typical panic attacks. The bus situation for our next trip was causing problems and I was stressing out as per usual. But, fortunately our hostel is the best ever. Diego (who speaks English fluently) was taking us on a night tour of the city and drove us to the bus depot first. There, he did all the talking and got us booked on our bus. We officially love the Travellers Hotel!!! From that point we were perfectly content. Our tour consisted of Diego driving us around in his SUV so that we could see and stop at all the major sights for pictures, and finally learn some of the history. We had a great time and since travelling at night is not advisable for tourists… we knew we had lucked into a great opportunity to see this beautiful UNESCO city.

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Today was one of my favourite days so far. Our new friend Jenny met us outside our hostel at 9am and we walked to the nearby bus station. Together we took a 2ish hour bus to the town of Mindo, which is located in the Cloud Forest. We hopped off the bus on the side of the busy road and were immediately greeted by a staff member from Mindo Ropes & Canopy. We drove deep into the jungle where Jenny, Laura, and I met our four fellow tourists and suited up for the day. We then spent a good two hours ziplining on 10 different lines through the canopy. It was AMAZING! Our guides let us experiment with many different positions such as Superman (face first, no hands, basically just like Superman) and the Butterfly (upside down, no hands, with your feet in the air). Don’t worry… I have photos and videos to prove it. This was such an exciting experience for me since I not only worked on a challenge course in Texas but also because my favourite travel show (Departures) went to this exact same place.

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After our day of flying through the trees at speeds of 65km/hr, we boarded a bus back to Quito. After a second city bus and a short walk… the three amigas decided to break for an actual sit down dinner. We ate at the coolest restuarant called Azuca Latin Bistro. We sat on a rooftop patio with a sand floor and ate fantastic food. It would definitely be a trendy place to go in Vancouver. After dinner we walked back to our hostel and said farewell to our new friend.

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Tomorrow we are leaving Quito behind and boarding at 12 hour bus to Cuenca that departs at 5:30am. We are hoping that the scenery is mind blowing so that we are semi-occupied for the day, but we do have fully charged Ipods and some snacks that should carry us through. Let’s hope Cuenca is worth the trip.

Beach Day at Playa Blanca

Today was… eventful.

Laura and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday afternoon after flying on our first South American airline, Avianca. It was THE BEST flight! We had English television and spacious seats and the service was excellent. Colombia has been so impressive.

We arrived by taxi to our adorable little hotel in Bocagrande called Hotel San Pietro. It´s about 30 minutes outside the city and a mere 3 minute walk from the beach. We absolutely love it! The weather is extremely hot and humid; nothing like Bogota. We are extremely thankful for our A/C… that´s for sure. We’re also big fans of our roof top hammocks. Now I really feel like I’m on vacation!

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Today we decided to take a boat tour to the Isla del Rosario, which are 27 islands just off the coast of Cartagena… or at least I think so. We actually don´t really know what we´ve seen since we appear to be the only white females in the city. All the other tourists are from Colombia as well so the tour was led completely in Spanish… great!

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Our first stop was on an island where we could take an optional visit to an Aquarium. We didn´t want to pay the extra to see what looked like the worst aquarium in existence so we opted to bake in the sun instead. We had to push away some pesky vendors for a while but they mostly left us alone. More boats arrived throughout the morning and we watched as idiotic tourists proceeded to buy raw seafood from the sketchy vendors on the dock. When is that ever a good idea? Do you really want raw shrimp that badly?

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Fortunately, we made friends with the most adorable Colombian family in the whole wide world who ended up saving our lives later that day.  And then, we met the day´s entertainment… the oddest couple you could imagine. First, meet Daniel: a middle-aged, overweight, gay flight attendant from Miami. He complained about pretty much everything but won us over with his hilarious comments and unique charm… oh and Laura enjoyed having the company of a fellow red head. Then, meet Luis: a native Ecuadorian, gypsy/flight attendant who agreed to travel with Daniel and act as his translator.

Once we arrived at our afternoon destination, Playa Blanca, we spent the whole afternoon chatting with our new amigos. Luis speaks 6 languages and has been to virtually every country in existence. In short… I want to be Luis. We found a secluded spot on the gorgeous white beach and floated in the warm Caribbean ocean for hours. It was so wonderful.

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Playa Blanca

On our walk back to the boat… Laura and I were standing with Daniel as we got harrassed by more vendors selling goods that I wouldn´t even donate to MCC. Daniel then proceeded to auction Laura and I off to one young and unsuspecting vendor. “Which one of these lovely ladies would you like? We have Miss Vancouver and Miss Toronto over here.” The vendor quickly decided to vacate the premise. Daniel was an expert at giving the locals a hard time.

The boat ride back was also an experience. Our motor boat was driving so fast that we crashed up and down on every wave. Laura was continually splashed with water as we went so that provided some humor… although I´ll definitely need to see a chiropractor when I get home.

The worst part of our day was once we got back to the main dock. All of the other guests on our boat magically disappeared and we were left standing in our towels, without a guide, without a bus, and completely clueless. Hmm… we wandered around the “terminal” aimlessly until we stumbled upon our favourite little Colombian family who we promised to email pictures to when we got home. They didn´t speak any English but they understood that we were clearly lost. They offered to share a cab with us and tried to explain to the driver where our hotel was. We found it thanks to my amazing ability to remember the two intersecting streets at the corner by our hotel. I am no longer directionally challenged!!!! Anyways, we were never so relieved to see our room again and to shower away the salt. However, Laura was left looking like a little lobster.

We decided to treat ourselves after our long ordeal and waited till the sun went down to take a lovely stroll to Crepes & Waffles. This restaurant was so gorgeous. We sat on the outdoor patio and I had waffles with Arequipe (like caramel) and Bananas. Laura had a vegetarian pita. We were both so satisfied! Ice cream has become a nightly tradition in Cartagena.

Well, the Internet lineup is growing so I better vacate my seat. Miss you all but I am having the time of my life!

Pigeons, Puppies, and Pan Pa Ya

Time for another Bogota blog.

Laura and I are quickly learning that Colombia and Canada have more in common than we could have ever imagined. Sometimes we forget where we are… and we often compare the city to Vancouver. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that it rains constantly… we feel so at home. But seriously, they have everything that we have at home plus more. If the embassy is hiring… I’m applying.

So the past few days have been eventful. Yesterday we woke up very early by our standards so that we could beat the morning traffic. Unfortunately mother nature had different plans. Many people in Bogota take the taxi to work and apparently they are not difficult to get. However, when it rains, EVERYONE in the city suddenly jumps in a cab. And in a city of 6 million people you can imagine how that worked out for us. We called a taxi company… but they hung up on us… and then we called them back… and then they put us on hold for a long time. So we decided to try our luck on the streets. After another half hour of waving our arms in the air, a nice lady told us to cross the street instead.

Sidenote: Cars DO NOT STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS EVER in Bogota. There are multiple stars traced on the streets to mark the deaths.

So… with trepidation we ran at the only available break in the flow. Literally seconds later, we were in a taxi. We took an hour ride to the old historic part of the city called the Candelaria. We still arrived before the crowds so we were left pretty much alone in a square with thousands of the fattest pigeons we had ever seen. I decided to buy some food so that Laura could get some good photos. It was actually really fun to get attacked by birds… and they didn’t even poop on us.

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We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the old part. We visited some churches, the library, the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and Juan Valdez… of course.

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We planned to go out again after lunch but Beatrice wasn’t feeling the best (she is almost 7 months pregnant) so Laura called her friend Anne who also lives in Bogota… small world. She is still in high school but magically didn’t have classes that day so we took a taxi to her apartment. Anne lives in a gorgeous place in a very nice part of Bogota. We picked up her friend Santiago and then drove up the mountain to Monserrate, which has beautiful views of the whole city. We took the funicular up to the peak where we wandered around until sunset. There’s a gorgeous cathedral and a unbelievable restaurant that is apparently extremely expensive. I’ve decided that I want to be proposed to in that restaurant… I guess I better start gold-digging.

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We are definitely starting to feel the altitude these days. Any incline pretty much does us in… so that 3 day hike in Peru is going to be interesting. Laura is finally experiencing the tingling limbs that have been plaguing me since the flight here… I’m secretly enjoying her discomfort.

We are both a little concerned about leaving our translator tomorrow. Last night when we walked back to Beatrice’s apartment we accidently got out at complex 9 instead of 9A (they look identical). The guards turned us away and pointed in the opposite direction so we walked around the block to find nothing familiar. We wandered back looking clueless and begged for help. The guard was super nice though and escorted us to the right building. Oh dear… these next few weeks are going to be an adventure. That A in Spanish 101 doesn’t mean much in Colombia.

Enjoying a traditional breakfast of Tamals at Pan Pa Ya.

Today we went to the Colombian equivalent of Tim Horton’s called Pan Pa Ya. We had Tamals, coffee, and Mandarin Juice… delish. We spent most of the day shopping in some of the gorgeous malls that put ours to shame. They have all the stores we have and more. We went into about a dozen jewellery stores looking for an emerald ring for me to add to my collection. We finally found THE ONE so I have a gorgeous ring to show off at home.

Shopping till we drop

Shopping till we drop

I’ve also been christened the Taxi Queen. At least three times now, I’ve separated from the group and immediately got a taxi after we had been trying unsuccessfully for quite a while. It must be my good looks and business skills.

Now… mi favorita nuevo amigo… Paco. This dog just LOVES me. And, I do NOT love him back. I will say that he has been much nicer these past couple of days. Unfortunately, Paco has now learned how to get on the couch and has eaten the carpet, the chair, the plants, the toilet paper roll, Beatrice’s shirt, as well as actual food. Well, he paid the price for his disobedience today. This evening he puked at least six times… probably one for each banana he stole from the kitchen. I almost feel bad for him as he whimpers outside my door… but then I remember Mika’s scar… and the hole in Beatrice’s pants, and the empty living room and the feeling goes away. I will miss Mika, and Beatrice, and Joaquin, and Anne, and Bogota, but I will not miss Paco.

Don’t be fooled by his innocent face… this dog is vicious!

Sidenote: Laura enjoys Paco and finds this whole situation very amusing. What can I say? I am not an animal person. I prefer to appreciate them from a far. Only a very small, select group of exceptional animals work their way into my heart (Stefi… you can tell Wilson that I miss him).

Anyways, we have loved Bogota immensely. Our flight to Cartagena tomorrow is bittersweet. We are excited for heat and a new city but we will miss our friends here very much. I guess we will just have to visit again soon.

“Jesus meets the Holly mother”

Hola mis amigos! Prepare yourselves for the onslaught of travel updates to begin. After a very lack luster attempt at my final exam of the semester… Laura and I eagerly jumped into the back of my parents SUV for the daunting task of crossing the U.S. border. Laura, with wide-eyed fear, waited nervously for our fate. My dad pulled up to the border guard… and to our dismay… it was a woman. No good could come of this. That is until my dad turned on the charm. He immediately won over the female guard, explaining that these two young girls in the back were leaving them behind for a glorious trip to South America. She was so wooed by him, that she neglected to ask us any questions, even which country we were going to. I guess we’ll let that one slide, since most Americans think South America is a country. We were off to a great start. To summarize our epic day of travel. Whitney = 60 hours and 45 minutes without sleep. Laura = Gravol addict. And we both would like to thank Menno Travel for our free guest passes to the President’s Club Lounge in Newark… amazing airport by the way. I now skip ahead to midnight on May 1st when Laura and I were greeted in Bogota, Colombia by my friend Beatrice, who I worked with at Menno Travel and her wonderful father-in-law, Joaquin. We were welcomed with open arms and crashed as soon as we got to our new home away from home.

Beatrice's Apartment

Beatrice’s Apartment

Today was our first full day in South America. We woke up early to take the tourist train to the nearby town of Zipaquira. The two hour ride was filled with photo ops and live music from our cute little traveling band. Upon arrival we visited the Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) which was quite impressive. The underground salt mine boasts the largest indoor cross in the world at 16m tall and 10m wide. We were also shocked to learn that they actually hold weekly mass in this one-of-a-kind cathedral. Although, the mines are frequented by tourists during the day, they still mine 50 tons of salt per day during the night. Along the way we read some interesting Spanish signs with English translations. One of which read, “Jesus meets the Holly mother.” No that was not a typo on my part… apparently we’ve been wrong all along. Holly, not Mary, is the mother of Jesus. We definitely enjoyed that one and are now on the lookout for more Spanglish errors. We ended our time with a short 3D movie about the history of the mine… seriously? 3D? So random.

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Entrance to the Salt Mine

 

Lunch that day was at a typical Colombian restaurant in the town square. I had plantains with the freshest, most delicious guacamole of my life. The only downside of the day was the extremely annoying and continual tingling sensation in my hands and feet. Apparently, this is a very serious side effect of my altitude sickness pills (Bogota is approximately 2500m above sea level). According to my information, I am to seek medical assistance immediately. Oh joy… thanks body… hit me baby one more time.

Mmm… so good!

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Once we were back in Bogota, Beatrice’s father-in-law, my new favourite person, picked us up at the train station. We drove to pick up Beatrice’s four year old daugher Mikaela from her friend’s house. Mika and I are buddies from back in Canada so we were excited for our reunion. We then drove up into the mountains that surround Bogota to Calera where Joaquin’s siblings live on a gorgeous farm. We had tea with his family where I tried to use my newly acquired Spanish skills. I’m giving myself an A+ for effort. We were also able to indulge in some Colombian coffee, and I now fear that I may become an addict by the end of this trip. Sorry Starbucks, but Juan Valdez is where it’s at.

Me and Mika at Juan Valdez

On the way back into the city Laura and I had a sudden and unexpected burst of patriotism when we sang Oh Canada in the car to remind Mika of her birth place. That’s right friends… we’re representing. I guess the view of Bogota by night was just that breathtaking. But honestly, this city is beautiful… which I didn’t expect with a population of nearly ten million. We’ve both felt so safe and welcomed… Colombia is definitely winning us over. The night took an interesting turn when we returned home to find that Paco, Beatrice’s two month old labrador puppy, had completely trashed her apartment. He had destroyed an orchid plant, devoured five bananas leaving the peals all over the floor, ripped up several newspapers, and left six special presents for us all over the apartment. I’m about ready to call the Dog Whisperer. Cute only goes so far before the constant urination and attempts to tear off my jeans with his teeth bring out the worst in me. Although, I am blaming all bad behaviour on the altitude sickness pills. I’m sure Beatrice will forgive me if I accidently lock her dog in the freezer. Well, that’s the condensed version of our first full day. More to come as we continue what is proving to be an exceptional trip thus far. Ciao!