Canada – Friends! Axes, Downhill Mountain Biking – and more Friends!

Laney and I had long been looking forward to our arrival in Canada. We had planned for a YEAR to see some friends we had met in Paris the previous summer. And also added on another stop to see friends we made in Vietnam.  As you know, there were only a couple times on our trip that we had ‘familiar faces’ so this was definitely going to be a treat. We had no idea. HA.

We flew into Vancouver from Anchorage. A gloriously short direct flight. Love those. HA. We arrived too late in the evening to get a ferry so had arranged to stay overnight at the Red Rock Casino, which was very very nice!

The next day, we slept in, had a nice lunch, then hopped on the connector bus to the ferry. It was a lovely ferry ride, and I met a lovely Polish woman who had been living in Canada for 25+ years. She was planning a trip back to Krakow with her sons to visit her parents. It was fun to talk about how lovely Old Town Krakow is, with its architecture, lovely people and amazing food. HA.

Arriving in Victoria ferry terminal, we didn’t know what to expect – a little nervous would we even recognize them? Would we get along as well as we had that one day in Paris? HA. Yes, we really were going to stay 3 nights with women we had spent only ‘most of’ a day with on a bike tour in Paris. We clicked THAT much.

Well we needn’t had conceded ourselves. Emily ran up to us, and there were smiles and hugs all around as we joined Pat at her car and piled our big bags in. Conversation was easy, and joyful, in the car ride, and really for the next 4 days we spent with them.

Pat was an amazing hostess, making us feel so comfortable, and, as she put it “The rest of your trip was travel, I want these few days to be vacation for you”. Here’s a woman who knows travel, and knows how to make people feel welcome.

Within a short time of our arrival the house was full of family and friends. Pat was hosting a dinner in honor of her visiting granddaughters (from northern Alberta). Her son and his family joined, along with a variety of other friends and family. It was a wonderful group of people, I enjoyed talking with them SO much. It was great to feel the hug of a family gathering. And they made me feel like I was home.

Later in the evening, Pat and I enjoyed some wine together. Talking as women do. About all the really important things in life. People we have loved and lost. The future for ourselves and those we care about most. It was so wonderful to have this connection – so quickly developed but yet so complete.

The next morning I woke to coffee ALREADY MADE – ha. What a treat! Then we headed into the downtown area for an iMax movie and museum exhibit on Egypt, followed by lunch at the street food vendors ‘out back’ of the museum. We were joined by most of the previous night’s crowd.

That afternoon and evening we spent at home with Pat and her granddaughters, Emily and Sarah. Both sets of women (young and old) getting along wonderfully.

The next day, we were so so lucky, Pat’s son was available (and the boat was fixed JUST in time) to go to a nearby lake for the day. Another family friend had a camper at a campground on the lake, and we spent the day swimming, wake boarding, eating, talking and laughing. The weather was Alaska-perfect. I guess Canada perfect is the same! HA. Cool, dry air, hot sun.  Moving from sun to shade was the difference between being a tad chilly, or being nearly too hot. Doesn’t get any better. In her typical ‘you’re on vacation’ fashion, Pat had packed all manner of food and drink for ‘us girls’ which included myself and Laney, Pat, her teen granddaughters Emily and Sarah and her little granddaughters, in the 7 to 9 year range. Oh and her son, the token male. HA.

 

 

Saying goodbye was hard. It was so nice visiting with friends. We shared the ferry ride to Vancouver with Emily and Sarah then proceeded to get our rental car and move into our airbnb for a couple nights.

While in Vancouver, we visited Stanley Park and took a bike ride around part of it. I had intended to do it all, but the weather wasn’t great – and THAT PARK IS HUGE! HA! After that we wandered a nearby neighborhood and had some amazing Japanese! YAY! Hot Rock beef, noodles, all the foods!!

 

Also while wandering Vancouver we came across this gorgeous and unique hotel. I noticed it for it’s look, then the name struck me. There is a song by one of my favorite musicians, Cheryl Wheeler, and it’s called Sylvia Hotel (the album name as well) so we took a photo and I wondered if it was THIS hotel she was singing about. I looked it up later – Guess What? IT IS!! This is THE SYLVIA HOTEL. Love it.

 

 

Aside from some relaxing and some good Indian food, that was about it for Vancouver. On to Squamish!

Squamish was just a stop along the way, but I had heard it was THE PLACE to do some rock climbing, so I booked us a guide and we spent a great day climbing the cliffs. According to our guide, these were ‘easy’ and ‘not steep’ – ha. well they looked pretty steep to me! We learned some new skills and broke a sweat, and ate wild blackberries on the walk back down the hill – so WINNING!

Above – that’s ME all the way at the top. This is considered an easy climb, with a gentle slope. HA looks pretty vertical to me! Although there are lots of places for foot and hand gripping.

 

There’s Laney!

 

We didn’t spend the night in Squamish, though it looked like an adorable little town and I would have loved to spend more time. But we were booked to be in Whistler, so off we went to finish the drive. It’s only about 2 hours from Vancouver to Whistler, which is really great for an awesome ski and mountain bike location. Plus, there are shuttle buses that run from the Vancouver airport up to Whistler. Once you’re there, many many places are available to stay ‘in the thick of things’ so you don’t even NEED a car. I am definitely coming back for a snow season!

Laney and I checked into our adorable Airbnb near the center of Whistler mountain resort. I had a bit of a hard time understanding how to get around and park, which turned out to be justified – because hardly anyone drives in this area. It’s all bikes and walking. Hence the lack of parking. HA. We found the grocery store and YES, the liquor store pretty easily. Stocked up for a few days and got settled in our new home, which was a lovely little studio with a murphy bed and a convertible couch. Oh, and a patio. I love a patio, as you know by now.

One day in Whistler we slept in, then wandered the town. It’s like a strip of stores and restaurants and bars. We were looking for the best and easiest way to try out downhill mountain biking and we finally found it right at the base of the mountain. Whistler Mountain’s own bike rental with lessons and all. Perfect. Normally, they don’t allow children under 16 to do the lesson we were signing up for. I asked if Laney would be OK, and the girl we were working with called a manager, who instantly appeared and he laughed. He said “she’s no 13 year old – she’s a full grown adult! I think she could take me!!” HA. So, Laney was ‘in’ like Flynn.

Downhill mountain biking was a bit harder than I expected. They make it look so easy on TV (and at the competition which was running while we were there). First, just getting the bike on the lift to the top was a bit nerve-wracking. I mean, the lift chairs don’t stop moving. You need to pop your bike up on the back wheel, roll it into place on the back of the lift chair, then hop into the lift chair behind you. All pretty quickly. And those bikes are HEAVY! I mean, disc brakes people!

At the top of the mountain we were shown some basics of how to ride (neutral foot position, how far to lean on the handlebars, and basically don’t even think about sitting down). Then how to take a turn, how to ride over bumps. Then they took us on a practice track where, you guessed it, 5 and 6 year old kids were wizzing around us. HA. How humiliating.

Then, finally, after about 30 minutes in the heat (gosh I never imagined it would be so hot), we headed down the trail where, thankfully, it was shaded. We were both pretty nervous at first, but we started to get the hang of it pretty quickly and got more comfortable. It took us a good 45 minutes to navigate down the whole course. We stopped occasionally, but mostly we rode down, taking turns and bumps. It was really fun but more exhausting than I thought, keeping control of the bike and trying to hit those curves just right.

We got to the bottom and our lesson was over! WOW. 2 hours went really fast. We considered adding some time, but we were both beat – just as well we wouldn’t have to get the bikes back on the lift again! Yikes.

After that, we had a nice dinner and headed home for some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, we rented some trail bikes to ride around the lakes path that is well-known in the area. It was a gorgeous day, and the lakes are beautiful. There weren’t too many people around, which was nice. We saw some nice sights, and I even spotted a snake on the trail in front of me at one point.

After our ride, the bike rental place recommended a japanese place nearby – and wow was it amazing! All this food for something like $20 CAD!

After that, we were headed to the town of Kelowna, where our friends Jim and Jackie live. We had met Jim and Jackie on the tour of Vietnam, and we got along wonderfully. When they heard we were coming to Canada, they hoped we would visit their town, and I’m so glad we did. It was gorgeous!

I spent a bit of time at a ‘lake beach’ near our Airbnb. So peaceful, hardly anyone around and such nice tiny little waves. HA

Baby Waves at the lake

 

The first day we were in town, I thought we would go zip-lining, but then I read about a place with axe throwing. With the weather being kind of smokey from the forest fires, it was recommended to do something indoors, so Laney opted for the axe throwing. Not surprisingly, we were the only women there- HA. But we enjoyed it thoroughly! So much so that we decided to do it again the next day – and we talked Jim and Jackie into joining us!!!

On the second day, we paid a little extra to throw some specialty axes and some knives as well.  It was really great. Jim and Jackie liked it too.  Before we left the facility, we peeked in on the ‘rage room’. I had no idea what this was or what to expect. Well, it’s an interior room, with all plywood walls, where you can have a fit and break things. When we saw it, there was a pile of computer parts in the corner, fully smashed. HA. What a good way to get out your frustrations!!

 

 

 


My face when I missed. HA.

 

 

 

Jean Axe Throwing in Slow Mo

Laney Axe Throw in Slow Mo

Laney Specialty Axe Slow Mo

We had a couple nice meals with Jim and Jackie – as locals they knew which places were good (always a big help). One day, we were in the area for the Pride March of Kelowna and that was a fun experience as well!

On the final day in Kelowna, we went bowling, where I bowled the absolute worst games of my life. HA. Oh well.

Next, on to Jasper! Our last stop before heading home.

Driving across the western part of Canada was absolutely beautiful. In parts, unfortunately, our view was hindered by the forest fires and the smoke but at times it was quite clear and just stunning!!

On the way from Kelowna to Jasper we encountered two things. An elk on the side of the road, and an Anne, also on the side of the road. HA.

Seeing the elk was amazing. A fair number of cars stopped to watch. One couple was completely obnoxious about getting too close and taking photos. There’s always one right? Laney and I half-hoped it would charge them. HA.

 

After that, we encountered Anne. A young backpacker girl hitchhiking on our road with a sign for Banff. I said to Laney, “she needs to be with us” – mostly because I just couldn’t bear the idea that she would ride with someone else, possibly someone ‘unsavory’. So, we stopped, moved some things around, and got on our way.

Our encounter with Anne was similar to the (only couple/few) other times we encountered hitchhikers on our trip. For starters, she was young (college age), and so full of life and wonderful adventures. She explained how she had been planting trees in western Canada as her summer job. Hard work she said, but lucrative. Guess how much she made planting trees? They pay her per tree…………… 11 CENTS! CRIKEY! And she says she hustled and makes a lot. WOW. Well, Anne lives and goes to school in the Toronto area, and she has spent a few months in the USA. Her mom is originally from South Africa, and when Anne was young, they spent a year there, before Mom decided to come back to Canada and have another little girl. Mom is a doctor and has always been a single mom – no dads in sight. Brave woman I say (and I’m not even thinking about the social repercussions). HA.

Anne explained how she loves to hike, and how she finished her tree-planting job 10 days ago and just completed an 8 day hike BY HERSELF in the wilderness (national park). She carried everything she needed on her back for a few days at a time, after which she would stop in a town and pick up supplies. How did she manage water??? – this was my biggest question. Well, she uses water purification tablets. Though, she told a story that ONE TIME the tablets were accidentally and unknowingly exposed to air, and therefore useless, but she didn’t know it. And got sick. REALLY sick. And was all by herself away from civilization. WOW. She survived, but clearly could have died. Now, she also carries a ‘life straw’, which is a special straw you can drink from any old nasty puddle of water and it’s OK. This is in addition to  the tablets (which I’m sure she now checks regularly for damage to the container).

What a cool and interesting person!!! LOVE THIS. It is truly one of my favorite experiences in travel is the people and their stories!!!

She took this photo of us. Wish I had taken her photo too but I was a little embarrassed to ask (creepy old lady ha).

waterfall

After driving through the Jasper National Park, we arrived in the adorable town of  Lake Louise, we checked into the Lake Louise Inn. Laney was tired so I headed out to dinner myself at the adorable Station Restaurant. It was SO lovely, and a couple trains arrived while I was there.

Walk along the stream on the way to the restaurant.

View from my table. That’s a train right there! Yes, it was a little noisy when they came and went, but they all stopped, so not too bad. Not like a train rushing by at 80 mph!!

YUM fresh trout!

AMAZING salad!!

View on the way to the restaurant.

The next day, Laney and I took the shuttle bus to Lake Moraine, which I had heard was as nice (or more) vs. Lake Louise, but less ‘commercial’. Well, it was GORGEOUS. WOW. We climbed the rock structure (small mountain?) nearby then rented a canoe and paddled around the lake. Part way through our paddle we saw a bumble bee struggling in the water and Laney wanted to save it. So we pulled it out and left it on our bailer bucket until it dried out. Laney was really worried it couldn’t fly but once it’s wings were dry, off it went! We were so happy. I was so pleased, since when we left home Laney HATED bees. HA.  She’s still a bit afraid but better, especially with bumble bees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

That night, I headed to Chateau Lake Louise – a very posh and fancy hotel right on the lake (and too rich for our budget, ha). I decided to have dinner there at the bar, at a friends recommendation. Well, it was lovely, and as usual I met some very nice people. A father/daughter who were traveling from the US.

My wonderful salad with crab cakes

It was hard to capture the beauty of the place. Very elegant. Check out the chandeliers!

The view at Lake Louise was stunning! Unfortunately, some smoke dimmed the beauty a bit.

And the gardens at the Chateau Lake Louise were STUNNING!

After that, it was a night near Calgary (in Canmore), one night in Calgary and a flight home!

I took advantage of the small, quiet ambiance of Canmore to hit a spa for a nice massage, pedicure, etc.  So so nice!! Laney took the time to catch up on some ‘homework’ and talk to her friends online.

This is us, getting ready to board the last flight – HOME!

Here we are, arriving home in Philadelphia!

YES, we still like each other! HA

 

Alaska – Fishing, Pine Trees and Glaciers

After Costa Rica, we were headed to Alaska – and had a layover in LAX. This was our first touch down in US soil in 13 months!! OMG!! 

Travel time from Costa Rica to Denali, our first Airbnb in Alaska, was to be 35 hours altogether. Including a few extra hours to wait for the Verizon store to open so we could get me a new phone.   After arriving at 330 am and waiting a couple hours for the rental car place to open, we spent a few more hours outside McDonald’s soaking up the WiFi. Then shopping at Target. Some food, and a few essentials that we needed. A few non-essentials too. Ha. We missed American shopping. A bit.  We also stopped in a laundromat to get some wash done. I think that might be the first laundromat we used on the whole trip! Huh! 

Denali

With all that done, the drive to Denali was beautiful and uneventful.

 

Our Airbnb was a camper trailer on the property of the owners. It was adorable and perfect for us. It probably could have slept 6 but it was nice for just the two of us. 

 

 

View from the trailer.  

Those hosts had a small greenhouse onsite and we ended up getting some Swiss chard and some rhubarb out of the deal. Awesome. Ha. And Lane loved the chard! Win! HA. 

 

The next morning, we got up early and rode the transportation bus into Denali National Park. We rode to the visitors center hoping to see some wildlife. We saw some caribou and a marmot, my favorite was the ground squirrels which would poke their heads up and stand on their hind legs sometimes when we drove by. They reminded me of gophers. Ha. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also saw two grizzly families. Both were a mom and two little ones. One set of Cubs was a year old. The other was this year’s cubs. So so cute.  Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a decent photo with a cell phone. But very cool. 

The next day we visited the Husky Homestead where we got to hold puppies and learn about dogs that race in the Iditarod. It was very cool. Now I want to attend an Iditarod!! Ha. 

 

That night, partly seeking Wi-Fi, we ended up at a wonderful restaurant where we had dinner as well as a rhubarb dessert, which was glorious! We were seeking Wi-Fi because, although available in the advertisement for the Airbnb, the fact was we needed to sit outside and near the hosts home to receive a signal. It was not available in our camper. ah well. teenage coping skills.

View from our outside dinner.

 

Inside – we moved in for dessert because it started to get chilly!!

Rhubarb something – was like a bread pudding with rhubarb. so so good!

Amazing trout dinner…

Talkeetna

The next day we headed down to Talkeetna. We wandered around this adorable town, enjoyed a lunch at the brewery, and then bought polarized sunglasses in preparation for our fishing trip the next day. 

BBQ pork sandwich and halibut fish n chips. SO SO good.

The next day we were up early for our river fishing trip. The much-recommended trip, the Indian River Tour.

Wow!! What a day of fishing that was!!  First, you’re told to show up at 7 AM for breakfast, but I didn’t expect it to be so lovely! A great breakfast of coffee and juice and eggs Benedict awaited us when we arrived. Next, our fishing guide Josh suited us up with waders and boots and then we embarked on a short car ride with the boat to put the boat in the water. We had a rather long ride up the Susitna River it took about two hours to reach the spot we were looking for, which is where the Indian river merges into the Susitna. 

We hopped out of the boat and fished from the shore. Within the first 20 minutes, we had caught six fish of five different species including pink salmon, tiger salmon, Grayling, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden!! The catch continued to be amazing with nearly every cast yielding a fish or at least getting a bite. We were exhausted (but happy) from pulling in probably 40 or 50 fish that day! What’s not to be happy about? Fish and beautiful weather. It was a glorious sunny beautiful day with the air just cool enough, and the water, of course, was quite cool, keeping us from being hot.

Above, grayling. Josh was nice enough to hold up the dorsal fin. This is actually pretty big for a grayling. They don’t get that big I guess.

Tiger salmon. NICE one Lane!

 

 

 

Saw this boat as we pulled back into the boat ramp. Doris, my mom, is with us always, and sometimes she chooses to remind us.  On this day, of all others, it makes sense.

This photo is a little blurry. Lane likes it because her fish is bigger than mine. HA. In the iPhone ‘live photo’ version, Lane’s fish wiggles and wobbles and eventually jumps out of her hands. She looks at the camera with empty hands and LAUGHS and it’s literally the greatest photo ever. It represents the joy of the day, the carefree attitude, and her love of fishing. It’s a truly epic photo and I tear up just thinking about it.

 

Is this great or what? If you look near Lane’s reel, you see the ‘seam’ – where the waters come together. The clearer water on the left and in the foreground is the Indian River. In the background/right is the Susitna. The fish like the ‘seam’ where the water from one river has met the other but has not yet mixed together. In this ‘seam’water, we could many times SEE the fish. SO SO SO SO COOL.

The return trip on the boat was just as pleasant as the one up. Even though, at times, Josh advised us to hold on tight. Parts of the river are difficult to navigate and some of them are shallow. There was occasionally a risk of running aground. But we skated through successfully and without any issues. Upon returning to the B&B, not the one we were staying in, the host again greeted us and started to prepare dinner. Laney, of course, had selected steak and I selected salmon. It was a wonderful home-cooked meal including some broccoli and some couscous.  Our host also provided wine and soft drinks. It was a lovely evening just the three of us having dinner. The view was spectacular.

Also while in Talkeetna, we went on an ATV tour. We visited the original homestead house of a family who established themselves here back when the Homestead Act was in place. They drove for 5 days in a van with 5 kids!! (with a camper built onto the pickup – made of plywood!). They quickly put together a makeshift shelter for the winter and managed to survive, though not in comfort for sure.

Now, there is a lovely house by the river that we visited, owned by one of the children of those original pioneers. We panned for gold, shot an elephant rifle, and enjoyed a nice meal there.

 

Getting there and back was half the fun, though, on small backwoods roads. Going there and getting back we had to cross a bridge, on the ‘pedestrian/ATV’ lane, and I swear there weren’t 6 inches of clearance overall! Yikes.

 

 

That’s Lane ahead of me.

 

Little tight, right?

Getting ready to go!

Approaching the house – what a beautiful home, space, and view.

View from the porch to the gold-panning spot

Panning for gold! Yes, we found some. Tiny pieces and flecks. HA

Me, lining up the shot. HA. BIG gun, called an elephant gun. I don’t recall the name or caliber.

Everyone got ONE shot with the elephant gun (if you wanted more shots, you could have used a smaller gun, but, hey, why?). HA. MINE is the pink one dead center. YAY! WIN! Look out world!

 

Gorgeous porch on the back of the house, facing the creek.

 

I was so completely satisfied with the experience and overall really loved Talkeetna. In retrospect, I wish we had spent only one night in Denali and instead spent additional nights in Talkeetna. Oh well, lesson learned. I expect I will go back for some more fishing 🙂 

Homer

After Talkeetna, we were headed to the fishing town of Homer Alaska. Homer is the capital of halibut fishing in Alaska – An adorable little town where we stayed in an adorable little cabin. We had not booked a fishing trip there so we merely enjoyed the small-town ambiance, had dinner and explored Lands End which is a lookout point in Homer. I enjoyed a dinner out at a steak and seafood place where I had Alaskan King crab legs. They were enormous, of course, and delicious! Not exactly discounted in price, however. Perhaps I should have gone somewhere else but it was lovely and I met some lovely local and traveling people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seward

Our next stop was to be Seward Alaska. On the wat there, I spotted a beautiful serene lake through the trees. With an eye-roll from Lane, I pulled over for photos. HA. This happened a lot in our travels (me stopping, her eye-rolling). This time, though, she had to admit it was awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

Seward is also a halibut fishing Mecca and here is where I had booked us a trip. Our Airbnb here was to be a room shared with some local people who happened to be guides for the exit glacier tours. I very much wanted to book one of these ice climbing tours (they will drop you into holes/caves in the ice!!) however the weather didn’t cooperate for that – just as it didn’t cooperate for fishing. Net-net, we did not get to go halibut fishing. Instead, we booked a river fishing tour on the Kenai River which is a stunningly beautiful river of ice blue colored glacier water. This was to be a fly fishing trip, which Laney and I have zero experience on. Our fellow fisherpeople on the small boat was a couple – of which the woman also had no experience – perfect –  we were quite comfortable.

Well, our fears were unfounded – turns out, Laney is a natural! Her first try at a fly rod she pulled in an enormous rainbow trout!

 

The rest of the day wasn’t exactly big on catches as the previous trip was, but nonetheless, it was a wonderful day. This scenery is to die for, and we saw quite a few bald eagles!

 

 

I don’t think I will ever get over the blue glacier water – in New Zealand or Alaska. It’s unreal!!

Our last full day in Seward we spent looking around the waterfront and going to a nearby sea life museum which was quite nice. We also drove up to take a quick look at the exit glacier which was gorgeous. We picked up a couple college boys making their way back from the glacier to town. We got to hear how these two, who go to college in PA and live in CA, spent the summer in the commercial salmon industry. I love meeting these young travelers – so eye-opening for Lane to see what creative options there are for summer jobs!! I never would have dreamed, but she will!!

There are some really adorable houses in Alaska. I loved this red with the background of mountains.

Lots of bald eagles in Seward.

How majestic is this? WOW. Wish I had a better camera.

So I found this fascinating. I had no idea the transformation was so dramatic. Above, salmon in the ocean. Below, the same species of salmon, in the river. CRAZY transformation!!

I can’t name them all but the bottom one is the pink salmon, with the hump. The next one up with the red body and black face is sockeye. The striped one is Chum aka Tiger salmon. I am pretty sure the top one is Coho salmon, which leaves the middle one to be chinook.

Love seeing these puffins.

Enormous seal at the sea life center.

Bottom left of this photo, sea stars (aka starfish) entangled.  Starfish orgy. HA

We also walked around the marina, which was beautiful. Occasionally, we spotted an otter napping in the water. SO SO CUTE.

 

 

 

 

While in the house in Seward I managed to make time to cook rhubarb cobbler which our host and his girlfriend thoroughly enjoyed both after dinner as well as late night! Haha. They were kind enough to take me along in the First Friday downtown celebration where free wine and cheese are served and local artists show their works. I met quite a few other guides of all kinds there, most of them are summer-only residents and they tend to winter somewhere south like San Diego or Montana. Mostly a group of free-spirited young people following work and weather and enjoying the best of both. What a life!!

 

I loved this sign…. ha

Crazy cool paint on this library!!

Big Foot handmade by the store owners. Very cool.

 

The house where we stayed in Seward. ADORABLE right? I spent a great couple hours sitting in one of those chairs on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The weather in AK was amazing. Hot sun, cool shade. Crisp, pine air. Just perfect.

 

 The waterfront near our Airbnb in Seward. I saw an otter here on the first day but didn’t catch a photo. 

The morning we left, Jack, our host, left us a 4-leaf clover that he had found in the yard the previous day. So sweet. I’ve kept it in my journal ever since.

Our travel time was slowly coming to an end – and unfortunately our time in Alaska also nearly over. I had not achieved my goal of seeing a moose in the wild so on the way back to Anchorage we stopped at the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center and saw all the animals! Not the same as in the wild, but it was a wonderful experience. I think my favorite was something unexpected. This gorgeous porcupine –  we watched him/her eat – so adorable. 

View at the AWCC

Bison in the field

Brown bear at the AWCC

 

Isnt this guy totally adorable???

 

Bear Movie

Porcupine eating

I love how the porcupine uses his/her hands. SO CUTE

That night we spent the night in a cabin at the Brown Bear saloon just outside of Anchorage. Let’s just say it was a place with a lot of character. Haha. We went to the saloon for dinner and enjoyed some original music by a band from Seattle. They had spent about 12 days, like us, exploring and playing their music in Alaska. Ironically, pretty much in the same towns that we have been in. This seemed to me to be a very Alaskan experience. A rustic bar and saloon and hotel with a live band.

 

Loved this sign. So very ‘not fussy’ Alaska. Where flannel and boots IS getting dressed up.. HA

Jenni Don’t Band playing at Brown Bear Saloon near Anchorage

 

The entire place was papered with dollars, so we added some too!

Really cool car out front. Perhaps (likely) belonging to the band.

That was about it for Alaska – next stop Canada! Lane and I were both very excited to meet up with our friends Pat and Emily, who we had met in Paris an entire year before. They were kind enough to host us at Pat’s home in Victoria.

Goodbye again USA! See you soon!

Peru – Sand Dunes, Llamas and Machu Picchu

Lima

Our arrival in Lima was mostly uneventful. Our taxi drove us to our hostel. It didn’t look like a hostel at first – it looked like any other house on the dark street, ha. But a young couple approached and opened the outer door and then I was more confident that we were in the right place. Ha.

We arrived late in the evening and so we went right to bed.

The next day was a chill day we just relaxed in our room only venturing out to get food for a bed picnic. Cheese and bread and fruit and wine. Europe in Peru. Ha.

The next morning we were up early for a 530 am pickup by Peru Hop  -the bus service we would use to travel through Peru

I chose this method of travel because it allowed complete freedom of schedule and activities while providing safe and reliable transportation  -plus help with booking accommodations and activities. Plus discounts!!!

Paracas

The first stop on the bus route was Paracas. The main activity there is a boat ride around Ballestas Island – otherwise known as Poor Mans Galapagos. We stayed in a very nice hostel and enjoyed some local food. We also had a nice walk around and met a cool artist who made a boat and other artwork from bones and also made some beautiful jewelry and cool bookmarks. Most were made from a metal they call alpaca. It is a combination of copper, nickel, and zinc or iron – and looks a bit like silver or aluminum.

Our hostel in Paracas was beautiful – at least outside. In the room, as is typical for us, it was a complete mess. HA. I find that putting things ‘away’ for a night or two stay isn’t worth it – and for a longer stay, it just increases the risk of leaving something behind. I like things out and in plain sight, as you can see.

 

 

Huacachina

The next day we hopped back on a Peru Hop bus and arrived in Huacachina. Truly an oasis in the desert. A natural lake among enormous and expansive sand dunes. A population of only about 100 supports about 10,000 tourists per year and this local community city has created some fun ways to experience their town. We enjoyed a dune buggy ride and some sandboarding on the dunes. As well as some lovely meals and drinks around the lake.

Restaurant on the lake

 

Front, and engine of the dune buggy

The lake

Catching some rays…

The dune buggy, held about 10-12 people. Ours was mostly filled with a group of exchange students who go to a school in St Louis, but are studying for several weeks in Lima during summer break. This was lucky for us, as the instructions for sandboarding were only in Spanish and we didn’t understand hardly any of it. These students, of course, were becoming more and more fluent by the day, so we had free translators. HA. Not that the instructions were all that complicated.

Check out my desert-wear. HA.

We saw a beautiful sunset over the dunes.

The sand and dunes went on for MILES!!

 

 

The only downside here was I apparently missed some fine print about the hostel and so we were subject to some very loud club music from about midnight to 5 or 6 am. Ha. Ah well. Not a great night sleep but we survived. Lane actually slept through most of it.

Upon leaving Huacachina, the bus stopped for a Pisco tour and tasting. Well, what a nice surprice!

Tiny tasting cups of wine and pisco. The pisco was pretty rough, straight-up – HA. It is made from grapes and fermented like wine but also distilled like a liquor. It’s 40% alcohol so more ‘vodka’ than ‘wine’. HA.

 

Traditionally, pisco is fermented in these clay vessels.

Nazca

Next up in the adventure was Nazca.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel and prepared for a morning flight over the Nazca lines. While waiting for the plane, we enjoyed watching Peru play Australia in the World Cup. It was really great. Yes, Peru won!

The flight was so cool and so wobbly! I’m not normally prone to motion sickness but I had that airsickness bag in my hand a few times. Ha. We made it without anyone getting sick but it was definitely touch-and-go for a while.

You can see below that the flight pattern itself is back and forth. In addition, the pilot tips the plane one way, then the other, so each side of the plane can get a good view. VERY wobbly. On PURPOSE!. HA

 

 

 

 

 

The views from the plane were beautiful.

 

On the side of that mountain is ‘the astronaut’.

The monkey. This monkey is 190′ tall and 330′ long! . The lines are formed by removing dirt and rocks from the area, and have been preserved due to the weather in Nazca.

The tree and hands

The spider.

 

These are the potholes.

Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700.  Read a quick description by National Geographic here.

Arequipa

The white city. A beautiful historic center with a gorgeous square and perfect weather. We stayed in a lovely hostel with some resident dogs and cats and an adorable bar.

Kitty!

 

 

Breakfast area at the hostel.

As usual, on the first day, I  explored on my own. I saw some beautiful buildings, had a lovely beer in a courtyard, and I met this character Javier.

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That night I went to a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. I was given the table by the window and enjoyed a great dinner, including lamb, beef, and alpaca. 🙂 When in Rome… or Arequipa in this case.

So many buildings had arched ceilings, and they were all so beautiful.

My lovely dinner

My beautiful view over the park across the street. It’s hard to see in the photo but the purple flowers in the trees were just gorgeous.

 

The next day at breakfast, we met a lovely woman from  Texas, who had just finished a two week holiday with her daughter in South America. We went on a walking tour together. Saw some beautiful white buildings. Learned a little history. And visited the local market. Always an experience. I enjoyed a fruit smoothie made from 3 fruits, two of which I had never had before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A birds-eye view of the market.

If you look closely, on that table on the right, in front, is a leg/hoof. Of what, I have no idea.

I had one of these drinks. I can’t recall which one. I just know it had a couple fruits I’d never eaten. Plus orange I think. HA

Lane and I explored one evening – had dinner, where we ran into Javier and I introduced them. Ha. Then saw some of the buildings lit up at night. Even more stunning.

 

Full moon too! Or nearly.

Drinking alcohol in excess is bad.

 

But this is religious beer – so it’s OK? HA

Cusco

Leaving Arequipa we had a long bus ride to Cusco via Puno – most people visit Puno to see Lake Titicaca and to go to the Bolivian towns of La Paz and Copacabana. Yes that’s where it is. HA. Not us. I feared the lakes would be too touristy. I’m not a fan of ‘recreate what used to be’ – it just comes off too false to me. To each his own. And Bolivia, I have heard is lovely, but the visa is annoying and expensive and well, you can’t do it all. HA

The bus ride went through some beautiful rocky landscapes and also some very vast spaces where you would see an 8’x10’ hut made of bamboo or palm leaves where clearly a family lived (kids toys outside etc). About one every half mile. Nothing else around. Who are these people and why do they live here? I think this has stuck with Laney more than any other symbol of poverty we have seen.

Unfortunately, photos weren’t really feasible on the bus, not good ones anyway.

 

We also met a friend along the way. Laney did, actually, while I was off snapping photos at a scenery/bathroom stop. Ria was of Indian descent and lives in Australia. Lovely girl with whom I spent some time wandering Cusco.

We stayed in a two bedroom Airbnb in Cusco because we planned to be there more than a couple of nights. I was looking forward to some space and a kitchen. Ha.

Here’s me, in the kitchen, scrambling eggs in a – goblet?  because there were no decent sized bowls in the house. HA. never stop improvising. this is travel.

Originally we had planned and booked the Inca Trek to Machu  Picchu. Which was to be the main thing for us in Cusco and in Peru. However, shortly after we started traveling last June, I realized Lane wasn’t much of a fan of hiking. Ha. Yeah, let’s not do a 5-day grueling hike in altitude then. So that was canceled and I planned to book our Machu Picchu as a day trip and once we arrived in Cusco. Last minute booking of a key site is something that makes me nervous. Especially since when I checked online the reasonable tours that I liked looked booked. I kept reading there was no reason to book ahead so I waited and it all worked out OK.

In fact, this was one thing Ria and I accomplished together on our first day exploring the city. After a gluttonous western breakfast, we wandered to the Plaza de Armas and found some booking agents. We educated ourselves a bit then ended up booking with our friends at the Peru Hop office.

Then, Ria and I spent the day wandering the city, checking out markets, doing a bit of shopping. Ria bought this adorable poncho. Wish I had one but space is so tight and shipping home gets annoying in foreign-speaking countries and expensive too!!

Beautiful archways in a church Ria and I toured.

Plaza de Armas square in Cusco

These crazy statues were on display in a nearby square.

 

I bought this assortment of dried fruit from the local market. My usual, 1 of each. HA

 

Ria and I shared a decadent western breakfast at Jack’s Cafe in Cusco. HIGHLY recommend. I went back a few days later and enjoyed good conversation with a US/Canadian guy who has been living in Cusco for 3 years. below


 

Ria and I met at Paddy’s one night for a beer and a quick bite before our trip to Machu Picchu. Supposedly the highest Irish pub.

Speaking of which, YES Cusco is at elevation and YES you definitely feel it. HA. Even regular walking around can get you (me) out of breath. One evening, Ria and I met for a drink at a ‘bar/restaurant with a view’. Well, I should have known, if it was going to have a view, it was going to be VERY HIGH. Climbing those steps nearly killed me. I think the doorman, waiting at the top of the steps, got a good laugh at how many times I had to pause to catch my breath. HA.

Women wander the streets in traditional Peruvian outfits with llamas/alpacas for photos. Taking whatever you want to give in exchange for the opportunity to get the photo and hold the baby. I have seen these women carry the larger-sized animals in makeshift backpacks. Hmm. I guess the animal got tired?

 

Anyway, it was a lovely day. I just love the weather in Cusco. Although I would love it more with central heating. Ha. It’s sunny and warm in the sun. Cool and chilly in the shade. And downright cold at night!!  Great sleeping weather!! So dry too.

Our Airbnb was on the fringe of the tourist area and had a few ADORABLE little restaurants. At this point in the trip, our ‘going home date’ was looming in the not-too-distant future. My perspective was changing. Although annoying at times, I took a moment to embrace the fact that I was ordering food from a TINY restaurant with a wood-fired stove, and the fact that, once home, this would no longer be available to me.

Not in the place pictured, but when Lane and I stopped for food when returning from our Machu Picchu trip, we found ourselves in a tiny little place where only one woman was working. Her cat peeked from around the corner, presumably her residence. We watched as she rolled the dough, sliced the tomatoes and cheese, and fired up the oven. It was amazing pizza, and an awesome experience.

 

 

The three animals that represent the Incas. The puma (strenth), the snake (wisdom and knowledge) and the condor (soul, connection to the heavens).

Unfortunately, Lane didn’t join us on our exploring day, she was feeling crappy. We both believed it to be altitude sickness, which I had a touch of the next day, but later in the week she got really genuinely fever sick so who knows.

A couple of days later we headed off on our trip, to Machu Picchu. We stopped in a few towns in the sacred valley on the way to see some other ruins, have lunch and do some shopping.

Inca corn, served with a slab of cheese –  and fresh squeezed OJ

 

Sacred Valley ruins

Sacred Valley views

 

 

Many houses in this area have bulls on the roof.   The two bulls side by side (male and female) are said to signify various things; they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure wealth, health and unity of the occupants. The bulls may be combined with a ladder and a cross allowing an easy passage to heaven when the time comes. This is a curious mixture of Inca and Catholic symbology, but one that is typical of many things Peruvian.

My photo of the bulls wasn’t very good – too far away, so I borrowed this one 🙂 from my friend google.

beautiful flowers where we stopped for lunch

Adorable bulls can be found everywhere. This small one was in a jewelry shop we stopped (and shopped). HA. The colors of the rainbow are representative of the Incas.

Watching them make jewelry

 

This large one was outside a shop in Cusco

Soft and fuzzy llamas/alpacas are also EVERYWHERE. They are so so soft, some made from real alpaca fur. I so wanted to take one home. This is a particularly large and dense selection. HA.

Upon completion of our bus journey to the Sacred Valley, we were left in a small town, from which  e took the train to the town closest to Machu Picchu and spent the night (barely 6 hours) in a hostel there. (Am I the only one who wants to get some normal rest while traveling??? These schedules are greulling!) We got up around 4 am to wait in the VERY LONG LINE of people waiting for the bus up. Yes, you can walk but it’s very steep. And well I already mentioned Lane’s aversion to hiking. Ha.

We met up with our day-tour group at the entrance and did a fair climb even after that. We were exhausted and bundled up for the cold weather, which would turn hot (in the sun) by afternoon.

Well, Machu Picchu was amazing. It does not disappoint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred places were made from stones with no mud or mortar between. They are notched, similar to legos to keep them together. Pretty darn cool.

 

 

Sundial

 

 

 

In all honesty, I’m not sure I understand the sunrise thing. It’s not all that. But maybe it’s more when you’ve hiked it. We saw the sunrise over the adjacent mountains to light up the ruins. Perhaps the real sunrise experience is sunrise at the horizon? (Which you can’t see from MP – you are surrounded by mountains). I also think that might be the best light for certain photos at MP. Namely, that classic shot.

We spent a couple hours with the tour group learning about the Incas and the discovery of Machu Picchu and then spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the peace and beauty around us. We found a shady spot to sit and listen to music, meditating and just soaking it all in. It was a truly glorious afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We headed back on a late-ish train. Where we once again enjoyed seeing our French friends from the ride up. Ha. We barely made it back to our room without falling asleep. And crashed. Well, Lane didn’t really get up, the next day. She was terribly congested and had a fever. Yikes. We need to travel in a day or two!. And it’s not an easy day. 4 flights!

Good decongestant medicine isn’t available OTC in Peru. I got what I could and when we got to Lima (via a rather painful and scary flight for Lane) we got the good stuff.  I was prepared to pay any amount, beg. Whatever. But it was quite easy at the airport pharmacy. I have no idea why. We were still in Peru – but because it was a guy in a white coat? Or because it was an international airport? Either way, we got through the next 3 flights (one big one to Costa Rica then two small hops in a 12 passenger plane) without TOO much trouble. It was still a little rough for Lane. But she pushed through, didn’t want to stop, stay or drive.

That was Peru folks. Overall I really liked what we did there. It was fun and laid back, although busy. Cusco was a lovely city. No water nearby so not a place I could live but I would definitely visit again!!

Off to Costa Rica!

Ecuador – Jungle, Tortoises, Turtles and Sea Lions!

The next adventure. Ecuador!

Lane and I flew into Quito and stayed a few nights before our Local Living Jungle Tour. I had chosen a hotel/hostel in the Old Town knowing our tours would be based out of the New Town.

Well, the place we stayed was fabulous. Right in Old Town right on a square and just around the corner from La Rhonda street, which I considered to be the epitome of the Old Town charm. Plus check out these views and what an amazing (included) breakfast and the view from there!!

Beautiful indoor courtyard of our hostel in Quito.

Gorgeous view from the breakfast room.

Beautiful breakfast – my eggs arrived later.

View from my bed. Santo Domingo square.

Beautiful plant on the outdoor patio.

While I was outside enjoying the view from this hidden smoker’s patio, a woman came and hung up these plastic sheets then hung the meat. I guess she was drying it? This is one time I wish my Spanish was better. Ha. If we tried this at home the seagulls would steal that meat in a minute!

I took some time to explore Quito a bit. I walked to the Plaza Grande which was beautiful and bustling with locals and travelers. I walked (uphill quite a ways) to The Cathedral to see the gargoyles.

Vendors selling hard boiled quail eggs. A pretty healthy street food snack!

There is some gorgeous architecture in Quito, particularly in Old Town

I bought some of these not really sure what they were but it met my criteria for street food. Hot and the locals were buying it. It was good. Like not sweet cornbread with crumbly cheese inside.

This is the Basilica of the National Vow in Quito. It is gorgeous and has gargoyles of the native Ecuadorian animals all around.

There was some construction/repair going on while I was there – not surprisingly. The belief is that when it’s complete, the world will end. HA.

Anyway, I got some help from my friend Google in order to show you some good photos of the gargoyles on this beautiful church.

 

 

 

 

I think this one is my favorite. Sea birds. Left to right, I’m thinking boobie, red-throated frigat, and pelican.

 

 

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While exploring around town, I saw this music man. Pretty talented, I say!

 

 

So I think I’ve said before how I don’t do as much research as I should when going to a new place. Well, imagine my surprise when American money came out of the ATM! Oh and this is where all the dollar coins are. Ha. Oh and there are American outlets – unfortunately, we didn’t have any American-type plugs left (except my toothbrush). HA. So, I bought some!

Plaza Grande – This is La Catedral. You can climb to the top, and now down a tiny set of corridors that were previously unaccessible. I didn’t do it, but my friend Geraldine (from the Jungle tour) did.

But the big reason for being here was to visit the jungle and the Galapagos

We had a great group of people on the jungle tour. I like this type of tour because it includes some local or indigenous type experiences and tends to draw likeminded travelers. And this was no exception.

For the first time, we had a handful of Americans on the tour!  4 independent travelers, actually.

On this tour, we would be traveling 6 plus hours out of the city. On a public bus. I was a little concerned about Laney’s motion sickness but she made it through.

We stayed at an indigenous homestay which, as I expected, was a modified version of actual indigenous living. We had rooms of 3 or 4 beds with mosquito nets. Bathrooms and showers were downstairs around the corner, detached. There was a dining area in another building. Everything was open air and in the spirit of traditional living but clearly expanded to host groups of travelers like us. Plus, well, plumbing. Ha. I appreciate the accommodation.

Pathway to the homestay. It was a short walk, and uphill. Fortunately, Laney and I had pared down our luggage to only one bag. We left the other at the hotel in Quito – this move is common for us on a tour. Since usually on a tour like this we start and end at the same hotel, it’s convenient to leave things behind. Like the cold weather clothing since this IS the jungle. HA. Anyway, Laney was nice enough to carry the big bag. HA!

in the photo above the building front and center are the hammock and grill house. Lots of hammocks and an outdoor wood grill where the fish was cooked – also where we cooked up the chocolate.

To the left is the building with bedrooms.

Behind and to the right are the dining and hangout areas.

While there we experienced and learned a lot about the local Quichua people and the jungle life both past and present

Upon arrival, we had lunch which the family prepared for us. Typical Ecuadorian food includes plantains and yucca and rice at pretty much every meal. Made in a creative variety of ways. It is the staple of their diet. For the sake of the tourists, a meat or fish was included in each meal. The food was very good – especially the fish which was cooked in a large leaf which is also used for making tea and could be seen strung and drying from the porch nearby.

After lunch, we walked up the road and into the jungle following a stream and proceeded to be mud-masked by our hosts. One was the son, the other the son in law of the shaman host Delphine and his wife Stella.

In the jungle that big knife is called a problem solver Ha.

Our hosts. And guide, Franklin above, went a little beyond the mud mask. HA

One way to bond a group of strangers together is to make them look ridiculous shortly after they meet. Ha. This was truly a great group.

Gorgeous sunset from a high viewpoint in the jungle

This snake crossed the road on our walk back. Awesome.

My favorite meal the fish dinner. I’m pretty sure it was tilapia with lemon

After mud masking, we all washed up at the nearby stream and relaxed until dinner time.

The next day we took a (powered) canoe ride to an animal sanctuary and also spotted some wooly monkeys along the way. It rained the entire time we were at the sanctuary so some animals were hiding but it was still pretty cool

When we got back it was hot and sunny so we decided to take a dip in the stream. It was gloriously cold and great except for the GIANT SPIDER that jumped out when Ruth sat on a big nearby rock. This thing was the size of my hand! Laney was shocked to the point of being speechless. Ha. It hopped right in the middle of the pool we were dipping in and then hopped it’s way over some rocks and downstream away from us. Many screams and a few seconds later it was over – but not everyone wanted to hang out too much longer. Ha.

That wasn’t the only spider experience we had. One night we went up the hill to have a campfire in a nearby building with hammocks and tables. And on the way to the bathroom, Laney and some of the other girls started screaming. They came across a scorpion spider. Again as big as my hand but this one has CLAWS like a crab. Very creepy. I was taking a photo, and they were looking on as one of our hosts tried to scoot the spider under the building (with a broom). Well, it suddenly started scrambling towards us. HA. I definitely moved quickly to the porch. Laney and the other girls ran like 100 feet away, screaming. HA.

And to top off the night, upon entering a bathroom before going to bed, there was a scorpion on the wall. It was quite busy and content munching on a large cockroach. Ha. Needless to say, I chose another bathroom for the night. Ha. And yes, I had to go to the bathroom multiple times each night. (freaking beer) – Involving shoes, a flashlight and a walk in the dark to an outdoor, dark bathroom – and I didn’t have contacts so I couldn’t see much. Even with my phone light. I definitely wouldn’t see any  spiders or scorpions on the walls. I checked where I was stepping but that’s about all I could do. Perhaps it’s just as well. Probably don’t want to see what’s there anyway. Ha!

 

This photo of the scorpion is a little blurry because it was pitch dark – no lights in the bathrooms – and I had to turn off my phone flashlight to take a photo. Kinda creepy. Ha.

One night we got to witness a mock Quichua marriage ceremony and also saw how traditional chicha is made. Chicha is an alcoholic drink made from yucca. First, the yucca is boiled and peeled (or peeled and boiled) then the woman of the house chews multiple mouthfuls and puts the mouthfuls back in the pot. It’s all mixed together and then set in the kitchen and covered, stirred every day. The saliva starts the fermentation process. Water is added to create the right consistency. Yes, of course, we had some chicha while there. No, I don’t know if it was chewed, I assume so.

Funny thing while we were there-there was a film crew doing a documentary on ethical travel. Some of our tour group is bound to be in that film!

This is the powered canoe we took to the animal sanctuary.

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Wooly monkeys we saw on the way. These are now wild, having been previously residents of the sanctuary. They are on a somewhat secluded island in the river. Unfortunately, ‘exotic’ animals are sometimes captured and smuggled to other countries for sale as pets.

Please – if you are considering an exotic pet – don’t. Yes it’s cool and novel, but for every pet adopted, probably MANY had to die in the capture and transport process.

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Beautiful toucans at the sanctuary. Most, once pets, can’t be released to the wild, but some are being bred and their offspring will be released to the wild to replenish the population.

This is a walking tree. It can move! As you might imagine, it releases one root (the above-ground part you can see here), and grows the other, allowing it to move and survive as the landscape changes. For example, in the case of erosion near a stream. Pretty COOL!

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One afternoon we went to the nearby Laguna Azúl (Blue Lagoon). HA. Like Iceland or that forbidden movie when I was a kid/teen. Anyway, it was gorgeous clear water with a rope swing and some pretty serious currents.

Waterfall upstream of the lagoon.

There were lots of butterflies in the area. In fact, the name of the town of our homestay means butterfly in Quichua language.

We saw these blue butterflies everywhere. They are quite large, about the size of my palm. I wasn’t able to get a good photo, so I’m borrowing this one. HA

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During our jungle walk, Delphine showed us many things, including how to pan for gold. There’s a lot of panning for just a little gold, but can be worthwhile for some people.

Delphine also showed us a variety of traps that are used to capture wild animals for food. Including pigs, snakes and even monkeys.

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Check out this palm tree – very spikey.

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We all tasted this leaf, which tastes like cinnamon, but obviously is not. (Cinnamon is a bark, not a leaf).

 

.This is George and of course, we called him George of the jungle like ALL the time HA

We all got jungle-ized for our jungle walk. HA. The symbols on each of our faces meant something different like fertility, or warrior strength, etc.

.Delphine had a little fun with his jungle attire.

 

Delphine climbed this tree with only a circle of rope he made from a nearby plant. A few of us tried it – he made it look so easy. Ha it was not!

One of our favorite activities on this tour was the white water rafting. Supposedly 3 or 3.5 rating and in COLD water.  A couple of us took turns riding on the very tip of the bow of the boat with legs dangling the edge. Hang on cowboy! Ha, it was definitely a rough and wet ride!!

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Another favorite activity was the waterfall hike. Basically a hike upstream, and then up a few waterfalls. Ending with a solid dousing in the waterfall. Very fun, a little challenging/dangerous, but at least we wore helmets! Ironically, I was actually quite cold! Once I got wet the jungle wasn’t as hot as you might think!

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Next activity, chocolate making. We had seen versions of this elsewhere, but we really got to see the full process (and taste the results!) this time.  First pull the seeds from the fruit (you can eat the fruit that clings to the seed, it’s quite good).

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Then roast the whole seeds.

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Then grind the roasted seeds (in this case, in a hand grinder that looks a lot like a meat grinder).

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.Then cook the grinds with milk/cream and sugar.

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Here you have it! Chocolate fondue!!

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Next up, blowdarts! Unlike actual hunters in the jungle, we had a stand for the blowgun. It was SERIOUSLY heavy!

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The winners of the blowdart contest were given a present. This is it. It’s called Chontacuros by the locals. These Amazonian grubs are the larvae of the palm weevil. They were presented live (and lively). The ladies receiving the gift (Christene and Lauren, if memory serves) nearly dropped them when they opened the leaf. HA

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These are still live -I didn’t eat them that way. HA

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The preparation was pretty interesting. First, each one is ‘cleaned’ meaning the guts are taken out. One of our hosts managed this while we watched. Interestingly, they were still moving after this process.

Then, they were put in a pan. I’m not sure if there was any butter or oil involved, I have heard they have their own ‘oil’ so it’s not necessary. They squirmed for a while as they cooked. Then they stopped moving and a few minutes later….

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I was enjoying them!! Quite tasty actually! Some said they had a bacon flavor. It was definitely buttery and smokey and a bit like seafood. I would say similar to softshell crab or scallops.

On the way back to Quito we stopped and enjoyed a soak in the hot springs. Well, I did. Laney enjoyed soaking up some wifi at the nearby hotel HA!

 

After the tour, Lane and I were headed to the coast hoping for some surfing and beach time. Our new friend Matt was headed that way so we asked him to join us on our car ride. It was a long day and I was grateful to have another driver with us.

At the coast, we didn’t do much. We were pretty worn on out. It was nice to have a spacious, air-conditioned apartment after those nights in the jungle.

We did enjoy some beautiful sunsets from our porch, though.

 

Before we knew it, it was time to go back to Quito for the Galapagos tour.

Galapagos!!

Galapagos is a good example of me booking things with only a high recommendation and very little research. And very little by way of expectations. The days leading up to the tour I was thinking ‘gosh I hope there is more than seeing tortoises’. Ha. Wow. Yeah. There definitely was.

From Quito, we flew to Santa Cruz with a stop at Guayaquil which, ironically, we flew from to get to Quito. Just the day before. Ha.

Landing on Isla Santa Cruz we had a short bus ride to the channel where our bags were loaded on the roof of the boat. All of us were a little nervous about this. I mean the bags weren’t tied down. There was no railing or ridge on the flat roof. Won’t they fall off!? Well, this was the first of many of these experiences and frankly, it was the safest – things got much hairier from here on out, from a luggage perspective. Ha. But it all worked out ok.

We drove across the island and stayed in the town of Puerto Ayora for a night and explored the Charles Darwin Research Center.

 

These cacti grow a 3 meters in 100 years. That makes this one pretty old! This is a prickly pear cactus.

 


The tortoises above were hatched at the center and these are about 4 years old. At 5, they will be released into the wild. This is the age when their shells are hardened enough to survive in the wild, from native, and non-native predators (like goats and dogs).

We learned the story of Lonesome George

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t easy getting into and out of that shell! HA

 

Puerto Ayora is an adorable town with enough tourist amenities to be comfortable but still pleasantly small and extremely walkable. Our hotel here was quite adorable as well.

Above, that’s a real tortoise shell with wooden legs.

 

Inside that turtle shell/table.

Above, a map of the Galapagos Islands.

Some of the native animals around Puerto Ayora are pretty comfortable with humans, we saw some even just walking around!

 

This guy is no doubt worn out from begging for scraps from the people cleaning fish at this fishing-boat harbor.

 

Begging for scraps.

Also looking for a free meal!

Water Iguanas were everywhere!

The mom is begging for scraps, the baby is nursing!

 

The next day we had a kayaking and snorkel trip. It was really great. We kayaked first and most of the time we were paddling near the mangroves and the rocky shore. From the beginning, and for nearly the full hour we kayaked, a sea lion followed us. Laney named him Finn. He popped up regularly see what we were doing. SO GREAT! We spotted sharks swimming in the shallows, saw many pelicans resting on the mangroves and saw the famous blue-footed boobies diving in the water and also resting on the rocky cliffs as we paddled past. WOW.

The snorkeling was also really cool. The visibility wasn’t awesome but we saw some big sharks, some fish and lots of sea urchins. I left the water earlier than most because I was freezing but the others saw swarms of small and medium-sized sharks by the mangroves. Laney loved it. Of course.

After that, we dried off and drove a bit. We explored a nearby lava cave which was HUGE in parts (think 1-2 car tunnel) and very small in others (like belly crawl, but only for a few feet). These are caves formed many years ago by flowing lava from a volcano. The best part was the barn owl that we saw at the entrance to the cave. Just sleeping. Not caring at all that we were there. Ha.

Then a nap and dinner at a local street food type place. I had langostino which is pretty much the same as the Morton Bay bugs I had in Australia only these were HUGE so I only had one. Ha. Laney had grilled fish (shocking, she usually eats beef. Ha. )

The next morning we had breakfast and then some time shopping before we boarded a water taxi and then a bigger motorboat to drive to the island of Floreana.

Each of these drives between islands was about 2 hours, and every time it was pretty rough. Just a PSA for anyone looking to do a Galapagos tour. Laney was ok, I think she actually does better on boats than on buses. HA.

As soon as we got to Floreana (transferring from our big motorboat to a water taxi, to the dock) we spotted sea lions and water iguanas at the dock. We went to a local shop for snorkel gear, dropped our bags at our waterfront huts and hit the beach! Snorkel time!  Well apparently the Galapagos is known for wildlife that isn’t afraid of humans (I told you I didn’t do much research – HA) and boy is that true!! In a short time snorkeling from the black sand beach, we saw a few turtles and a few sea lions. WOW. The best part was the sea lions that swam past Laney and I were a mother-daughter pair – just like us!!

 

 

It was pretty chilly – we were going to get wetsuits for more snorkeling the next day. So we didn’t snorkel too long and soon headed beak for a miraculously hot shower (I think only ours was hot. Ha. ) and then a group dinner and a couple drinks at the local bar. There is only one bar on Floreana, the population being something like 141.5 – one resident is pregnant. Ha. The bar was great, we enjoyed the campfire until the rain kicked in.

 

After a good nights rest, we had a lovely breakfast and headed to another snorkel spot. This one was part of a national park and included a sea lion ‘nursery’. Well, I have never seen so many turtles – so close! I hung out near one HUGE one and watched him/her carefully nibble seaweed from the rocks in the shallow water. His/her head was as big as mine! Such an amazing experience. At times I could see as many as three turtles at once. At one point I was watching one turtle when another one joined from the right and a third one came up behind me and swam under me to join the other two!! Scared me for a second. Ha.

Also, the sea lions were coming and going from the nursery beach and would swim up, around and past you. Let me tell you they are FAST!

 

 

 

 

Even from the beach, you could see turtles and sea lions constantly. Popping up out of the water. Such a great experience. I would have stayed in the water all day except that, even with a shortie wetsuit, it was still cold! I thought we were on the equator! That’s the Pacific for you I guess. Lesson learned. Ha.

I napped after that while Laney went snorkeling again with some people from the tour group. After that, another good local dinner –  no bar for us this night – we were tired!

The next morning a nice breakfast and then off to Isabella island. One of the larger islands with a population of about 2000 if memory serves. This island is the home of our guide Linka, and was formed into the shape of a seahorse by its 7 volcanoes (6 are considered active, and one was expected to ‘erupt’ any day while we were there!)

Upon arrival our rooms weren’t quite ready – so, I went to the store with Kristi and bought some snacks for Laney and a can of Gin and Tonic for later for me. Then we chilled in the hammocks for a while.

 

 

 

 

Isn’t that a beautiful staircase? IT IS! Until you have to lug your big, heavy bags up 2 flights (eyeroll).

Later we went for a trek to Sierra Negra, one of the 7  volcanoes on Isabella. Because one volcano was currently a little too active we didn’t get to hike as far as usual. Just as well, the hike was at times really muddy and it rained almost the whole time. On the way back we stopped and switched from the van to bikes for a downhill ride. It wasn’t quite as downhill as I hoped but of course, I was too stubborn to quit. Ha. Upon returning to the Hostel, that G and T tasted so good I went to the store for more.  Ha.

 

That night we went to an international place for dinner and I had some Mexican shrimp fajitas. Yum. And margaritas. Yum. In Ecuador, they have happy hour pricing. It’s not at a particular time of day it’s more like bulk buying. You order 2 or 3 of your drink for a set price and they bring you one after the other as you are ready. I’m not sure how this works out for the restaurant but it works for me. Ha.

 

The next day we had an early start to snorkel a place they call the tunnels. Another boat ride for about 30 minutes. It was pretty rough going. I stayed dry. Not everyone did. Ha. Getting into the tunnels area was pretty interesting – I have to give these boat captain credit. They have to navigate into shore with lots of rocks, shallow areas oh and BIG BREAKERS. I did not envy their jobs. And once inside, there are some tight spaces they navigate to get to small, protected bays where they moor the boats. Very tricky.

The snorkeling there was pretty cool. Lots of fish, including big schools of tiny fish and small sharks looking for breakfast. Also a big ray. More turtles. And some bigger sharks. Some swim through tunnels, also with sharks. Laney spotted a moray eel. And we saw some puffer fish. Near the mangroves, I spotted some small mullet and some tiny shrimp swimming around. The best part, though was when our guide Gabrielle pointed out some seahorses.  2 separate ones, each clinging to a branch or stick on the bottom not far from the mangroves. Thing is, they were HUGE. I expected them to be small like my finger. They were bigger than my hand. Wow. First time seeing one of those in the wild.

I will say that snorkeling was a bit frustrating at times. Some people in our group seemed to have zero experience snorkeling (our tunnels group included people not on our G Adventures tour) and so they were kicking up sand and silt and standing and generally messing up the visibility. So that was annoying but Laney and I found some opportunities to get away from the group like when we found our own cave full of big sharks. Very cool. Ha.

When we came out of the water we had hot tea and lunch. The hot tea was quite welcome. Once again I was FREEZING in the water.

We had a walk around the tunnels area as well. By the time we walked it was full-on high tide, so we didn’t see as much as the other group. My friend Carol caught these images which are pretty representative of the boobies in the area.

 

 

 

On the boat ride back I spotted something unusual on the surface and sticking out of the water. It was vaguely fin-shaped but with a hook/knob at the end. It was a manta!! Swimming upside down on the surface I guess. Very cool.

Upon returning to the hostel I had a quick nap and then we headed out for a kayak and snorkel trip. I wasn’t sure I could get back in the water – I was cold at the tunnels with a shortie wetsuit and this time we had no wetsuits. Yikes!

Well, we paddled, saw some sharks in the water, red-throated frigates flying around and we saw PENGUINS on the rocks and swimming in the water. So so cute. This is the only place you can see them wild in the Northern Hemisphere, I am told.

It took all my willpower to get into the water -I was cold sitting dry in the kayak! But I did it and I am so glad I did. We saw, of course, lots more turtles. And schools of parrotfish. AND the best part. I swam off a bit away from everyone to some mangroves and a sea lion approached me. He/she swam toward my feet and somehow I sensed it was playing with me. It swam toward my feet and I swam towards its back fins. We circled each other a few times like this. Then it blew bubbles so I took out my snorkel and blew bubbles. Then it swam right up to me and looked me in the face. Titling its head like in curiosity ‘what are you?’  I mean, it’s adorable little face was about 10 inches from my face. It was looking me RIGHT in the eyes. What a crazy cool experience. I will never forget it. Wow.

So glad I got in the water and got cold. Ha.

We paddled back into shore and Laney and I surfed a few waves to the beach where a small sea lion was swimming around in the shallow water only a few feet from me. Very cool.

We certainly slept well that night! Ha. The next day was to be mostly a free day. And of course, given the opportunity, Laney wanted to surf! Fortunately so did several other members of our group.

We started the day with a visit to another tortoise sanctuary where we saw lots more tortoises of varying ages, including one pair of tortoises that were mating. The male was grunting and making all kinds of noise. Linka says it can go on for two or three hours!!  Ha. Laney of course was mortified. Ha.

 

 

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After that, we walked through a park of sorts and saw pink flamingoes and water iguanas and some other birds. This was a brackish water area where fresh and salt water mix. It was also a major crossing for the water iguanas and they were everywhere, like constantly. Very cool.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Iguana crossing!!!

Patiently (HA) waiting for the surf guy (and boards) to show up.

I was a bit obsessed with these crabs that were always on the rocks. They varied in color. I was told they are brown/black when they are young and develop the red/bright colors as they get older. Wow, talk about killing off the old. I have to imagine these colors make them easy prey for the many birds here!

A well-camoflauged group of small water iguanas resting on a rock.

 

A bit later the surf rental/instructor came by and drove us all in the pickup to the surf spot. It was a beautiful sandy beach and no one else was there!

The surf was great – though waves were a bit frequent so getting out was a bit of a challenge. There weren’t enough longboards so I waited until someone got tired. That didn’t trek long. Ha. Fortunately the water on the beach was warm so finally, I wasn’t cold in the water. It was really great getting on a board again. I’m not good but I do enjoy riding the waves in. The best part was, every single first-time surfer taking a lesson was able to get up and ride for at least a little bit. Yay!!

After that, a quick pack up and back to Santa Cruz. Another rough 2 hour ride but we saw dolphins. Cool!

One last night in Santa Cruz back to the same hotel and then the flight back to Quito.

Above, tiny tiny little lizard at our hotel.

Below, our tour friend Carol composed this video from her Go Pro footage.

 

We enjoyed a ‘last group dinner’ with most of our group at a nearby Italian/pizza place, had another night in Quito, then off to Peru!

Lima, here we come!