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!

Vietnam

Our arrival in Vietnam was probably our most eventful yet.  Not really in a good way. Ha

For starters, the Visa on Arrival process is a little disconcerting. We  had all our paperwork in order, photos printed, paperwork filled out and the approval letter in -hand.  We turn it all in, along with our passports, and wait on some benches nearby to see our name come up on a screen.  We were one of the first people off the plane so there weren’t too many people waiting but it was unnerving to hand over our passports. Laney had questions and concerns. I had no solid answers except that this seems to be the process and we can see others doing it. HA. That is as much assurance as you can get sometimes in travel.

We got called, we paid our money in USD because we had no access yet to an ATM or currency exchange, we got our passports back and THEN went through immigration.

Got our bags and grabbed an Uber to our place

the Uber ride was great  our driver was young and spoke a little English. We passed over the beautiful bridge that was lit up in changing colors. As he pulled off the main road he seemed confused  turned around once or twice. At one point the car hit a bump and I think was stuck judging by the crunching sound. He ordered us to get out. We reluctantly did. Did I mention it’s 10 pm and dark? And things look a little sketchy by US standards.  And our luggage is in the trunk.  He gets the car unstuck then tells us our place is a 100 meter walk down a narrow road that he cannot drive. I confirm that google shows me the way, and we set off. When we get to the spot that google tells us it’s looking kinda rough, but I see women and families walking around so it must not be too bad . I tell this to Laney to try to keep her calm. We are looking for #22 and we see #19 and #25 in front of us. Right next to each other. No 22.  Uh oh

We walk a bit down the road/ alley and I see a family with a little girl and baby unloading their car. I approach them and thank goodness they speak some English.  I ask them by showing them the address and the woman says it’s 1km away and tries to tell us how Tom walk there. I ask her if she can help,us get a taxi I don’t want to try to find our way and we have big bags. I am a bit hesitant to walk in this unknown area in the dark and I’m certain we will get lost. No way we will find the place without the help of a map and google has failed me for the first time.

She walks up the hill/driveway with us and flags down a taxi. A complete miracle this is because we are on a very quiet back street with hardly any cars. The driver is off duty but agrees to come back in 5 minutes. He has food in his hands as he walks away from the car so he is either delivering something or eating his dinner.  I am relieved. Laney is still freaking out. IDO eyeball a guy standing near us in workout clothes, but soon the driver comes, loads up our luggage and takes us to the right place which looks a little better but not much. Ha.inside our place is immaculate, gorgeous and HUGE! And the door man is kind enough to help us turn on the AC. (because it’s not in English of course). HA!

WHEW  Welcome to Vietnam!!

The next day I do my usual exploring and grocery shopping. On my own, Laney isn’t feeling well  – a fever, yikes.

In my wandering I see a few cool spots including Furbrew which I tell myself I’m coming back to later, and i do, and it’s awesome. The staff is a handful of college students, mostly women but one guy. They are friendly and speak good English and we have a great conversation about their lives. One wants to work in travel. The other wants to be a translator. They all want to travel. They ask where I’m going in Vietnam and give me pointers. I ask where to get pho and they suggest a place and I go the next morning (pho is eaten in the morning) and it’s awesome

I also looked up a restaurant nearby for dinner one night -and enjoyed a wonderful experience and meal.  Poor Laney stayed home. I think she would have even if she wasn’t sick. So far, based on our arrival, she was not liking Vietnam. Ha

LOOK at that beer list!! Yay!
Condiments available for adding to your pho. I used soy and the red pepper sauce and some fresh chili’s.
Pho choices. Thank goodness there was an English description.

Being near the flower night market I think there were more of these in this area than others. Women selling beautiful flowers from a bike.
Gorgeous right?

I attended an Airbnb experience which was a dinner in the old quarter. I had some trouble with the Uber getting there but finally made it. The food was vegetarian and good. The company was partly American and partly German. Nice folks but we didn’t hang together long.
The entrance area to the Forest  restaurant.
Inside the restaurant
Beautiful inside the restaurant.
Delicious meal of fresh spring rolls and eggplant
Entrance
Cool restaurant in our neighborhood in the skirts of Hanoi

Aa few days later, we moved to our tour hotel in the Old Quarter.  I could not Believe how busy it was !! And loud! Constant honking!!

My friend Leslie suggested I stop by this posh hotel to see the pool bat and have a drink.
I asked, and the waitress suggested this fancy drink – the most expensive one there but still only about fifteen American. I had no idea what this would entail.
It’s hard to see in the picture but the liquor is being poured through 3 cups of spices and caught at the bottom. It is also on FIRE! Cool. It is caught at the bottom in a steel pitcher and while still on fire in the pitcher it is poured back through over and over.

The drink was very unique – the flavors were so amazing and different without being sweet. It included chili pepper so it also hd a kick. And it was served with lovely munchies.

Walking around Hanoi,  especially in the old quarter, is quite an experience! There are so many bikes, mixed with some cars, and there are no real laws regarding traffic. What we would consider a law, the Vietnamese consider only a suggestion. For example, which side of the road you should be driving on.  At times, I thought I was crossing a one-way street. But, not so! It is a 2 Way Street! only, if there’s no traffic the other way, people drive on the full width of the street.  Also, traffic lights. It is absolutely not unusual for cars and especially motorbikes to continue driving through a red light.

Crossing the street, especially in the old quarter,  is a little different for Local’s versus tourists. Locals will literally just start walking, completely trusting that the traffic won’t hit them. Tourists, on the other hand, wait for traffic to lighten up, a little bit. However, there is never a time when you can cross without traffic. You are always walking slowly, making eye contact with the drivers, trying to better the chances that they will drive in front or behind you, instead of through you.

Of course, my favorite trick, was to follow the locals across the street. Particularly, the older women in the traditional Vietnamese pointed hat. It seemed like the Red Sea would part for them. So if you align yourself with the right person you are much better off.

As usual, we met with our tour group at 6 PM in the lobby, and then headed out to dinner. It was a mix of people, some older, some about my age, and one young person, Lila, who is 21 and traveling alone. She immediately expressed gratitude at being with the group, versus the first few days on her own in Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.

Lake at the center of Hanoi
Cool statue in front of a building. There were two, and they were about my size!
Narrow hallway to our hotel room
First dinner with the Vietnam tour group
Pumpkin soup was really good and pretty common in Vietnam.
Fish with dill ina banana leaf
Traditional Vietnamese hats – apparently come in many sizes, including tiny ones for tiny people? HA
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Laney and Laila at the post it cafe.
Jim, Jackie and I at the post it cafe where we had our first egg coffee! OMG so good I can’t wait to make it at home!!
Beautiful – not even sure what it is! HA!
Perfectly aligned motorbike parking! Vietnam is the self-proclaimed motorbike capital of the world! In Ho Ch Minh City (formerly Saigon) there are about 11 million people, and 8.5 million motorbikes!!!
Gorgeous enormous tree growing in the middle of Hanoi.
Statue at the water puppet theater.
We attended the obligatory water puppet show which was pretty cool.
Crabs for sale on the streets of Hanoi.
My favorite meal here next to lemongrass chili chicken. Pronounced Boon Chow.
Bun Cha and a Hanoi beer. Known as the Obama combo because this is what obama ate when he was here!
Selling chicken on the street. Heads included!
Street food tour!! One of my favorite things of the whole dang trip! Great food, great fun and I learned a lot. The Bun Cha was on this tour too, that’s how I learned about the Obama combo.
Pronounced Bang Me. I laughed when the girl said it. She said it’s important that Me be lower than Bang. Tone of up or down has a lot of meaning in Vietnam.
BIA. In Vietnam, you say beer like a Boston guy. This is the beer lady. This beer is made fresh every day and only lasts 24 hours. And costs about 25 cents per glass. But it’s good!!
Chicken feet for sale!!
This is a snack, kind of like donut holes. We were advised not to eat them from the women selling them in the streets as they could be old.  These are cut up.  They are savory, not sweet. They have pork and I think green beans in them.
Vietnamese Apple. Looks like the thing the garden guy gave me in Thailand. Tastes about the same too.
EGG COFFEE AND EGG HOT COCOA! So so good!!
Ok so weasel coffee is coffee beans eaten by a weasel then pooped out then cleaned and sold for grinding and making coffee. I shit you not. Hahaha.

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As per our tour itinerary, we were to leave the next evening to take the overnight train to the north west of Vietnam, close to the borders Of China and Laos. We would be Viking a nearby minority’s village, then spending a night in a SaPa hotel, then trekking to a remote minority village for a homestay, then coming back by van and heading back to Hanoi for another night

Drums that are hand made by the people in the small minority’s village we visited.
Our cabin on the overnight train! A little old but clean. Sleeping was interesting, as the turns of the train Almost rolled you over and would have tossed me out of bed a few times but for the rail holding me in! I thought I slept well but got really tired later so I guess I did not!
Beautiful flowers are supposed to have medicinal powers. I think to help with hangovers. Bean sprouts, by the way, are supposed to help men, like Viagra.
The rooster is outside the cage, seemingly patrolling or guarding the hens inside….hmmm
A group of kids playing Chinese chess
A quick shot of a cave we went into at the top of the hill at the village.
Beautiful views from the bus on the way to SaPa
Beautiful
Outside a small local restaurant in SaPa
White rooster perched outside a hotel entrance.
Grapefruit tree outside the same hotel.
Beautiful shot looking down on SaPa
Hot pot dinner with the group. They bring all the food uncooked and you put it in the broth to cook it. Kinda like fondue. Same same, but different – as they say in Vietnam.
Church at SaPa lit up,at night.
Small children dress up in traditional costum and sell their wares. This was not during school hours but we were warned not to buy from kids because then they don’t go to school
Hot wine!! All of Vietnam was hot and humid butnSaPa was COLD. this hot wine with fresh fruit after dinner hit the spot! Supposedly a specialty of SaPa
Beautiful views on our trek. It was about 10 km
Beautiful
These ledges are built by hand with shovels. The government owns the land but allocates a certain amount per person to farm the rice and eat it or sell it. Families work together to divide the work of farming while others work in tourism or construction.
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Beautiful homes on stilts.
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At our rest spot on the trek we chewed sugar cane to extract the juice and then you spit out the fiber. Obviously it’s very sweet but quite refreshing!
We see how rice and wheat were ground into flour. I tried it, it’s not easy! Those parts are made from stone and they are HEAVY!!
Pretty flowers on the trek
The trek group with the local women.
End of the trail I meet Laney at the homestay… and she wants to take a walk. HA!!! I’ve been walking all day but I go anyway.
Pretty river near the homestay
Dinner at the homestay, with homemade rice wine. It was SO good tasted strong but smooth and clean.
Food at the homestay dinner. So so good. I don’t have a pic but we had crepes the next morning. PILES of crepes.

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Laney and Laila at dinner
The local women pulled leaves and branches from the bamboo on the path to make us figures. I thought it was a chair. Ha. Laney says it’s an animal.
Hard to see in this pic but these are supposed black footed chickens who also have black meat, and they are supposed to have medicinal powers. Imagine a black chicken breast? Doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.
This cat was in a bar in SaPa. He climbed down from the chimney when we arrived. Maybe fearing someone would light a fire? We called him squeaky because he NEVER SHUT UP. HA.
Squeaky.
Cats around the world.
Pretty
Love this photo
Back in Hanoi for one more night, I decided I must try the popular beer snack. Chicken feet with dipping sauce.
Time to try a local specialty, fried chicken feet. They had pickled too but I just couldn’t do that. Best part of this photo is Laney in the background, cringing.
Have to say the fingernails, rather toenails, freaked me out a bit.
Not bad!! Tastes like fried chicken. The colnel should get these going at KFC!! Think they would be a hit? HA.
Only Stan and I tried it. He’s one first guy on the left.
Cooking eating on the sidewalk is normal in Hanoi. In Vietnam in general. Seats are small so they can be moved quickly. Technically you aren’t supposed to sit on the sidewalk. Forces pedestrians to walk in the street and I’ve already explained about the street traffic. Nonetheless, the sidewalks are crowded with people and chairs. If and when the police come, everything must be moved off the sidewalk. Although I think this may depend on the ‘relationship’ you have with the police if you know what I mean.
Another person cooking. Not just for businesses, but how they cook their own meals as far as I can tell.
Next day on the way to Halong Bay we stopped at a place where disabled folks make crafts like needlework and carvings from stone. Some of these folks are born disabled supposedly due to the lingering effects of agent orange. Either environmentally or passed genetically.
I so want this Buddha.
A candy/cake meant to be eaten with unsweetened green tea. This cake is rather sweet and supposedly made from green beans.
Our room on the Halong Bay boat. So much nicer than the dive boats! Private bathroom! Who boo.
Beautiful flowers, prickly stem. Relatable for me.
Beautiful Halong. I have to say it would have been prettier on a sunny day. And it’s rather crowded, boats everywhere. There is a nearby bay that is not as crowded, and I would have gone there if I was on my own but sometimes it’s just so much easier to let someone else be in charge, like Rocky at G Adventures. . Ha.
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There. Are 1,969 islands in Halong Bay and the area is over 1000 km!! If you stay overnight for 2 or more nights you go out further and there are fewer people
This is the other bay.
After our stay on the boat, we went to a pearl factory. Where they raise the oysters, and pearls and then make them into jewelry. Did you know a cultured pearl is made by putting a seed made from oyster shell INTO an oyster? Then toss him in the water and wait a few years. Pull him out and harvest the oyster. Who knew? Before this process, only naturally occurring oysters were available and thus were much more expensive.
Harvesting pearls. Imperfect ones are sold and ground up for cosmetics.
Oyster surgery. She is inserting the seed in JUST the right place.
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Laila and Laney.
Dinner with the group. Notice Laney is sitting as FAR AWAY from me as possible. Ha. Yes, we spend a lot of time together so when we can, we separate. Ha.

After Halong Bay we made our way back to Hanoi for a few hours, picked up our bigger luggage and hopped on another overnight train to Hue. Pronounced something like We with an H at the beginning  HWE.  In Hue, we had a nice dinner and everyone opted for the motorbike tour the next day.  ‘Professional’ drivers would drive us around Hue to see all the sights  I have to say, this was one of our favorite things in Vietnam.  So much more interesting and interactive than traveling by car or bus. And you get around faster too!  We were mainly out of the city, Thank goodness because the bit where we came back into town to our hotel was a bit crazy! We loved it but I’m not sure we were all that safe.  Ha

First stop on the motorbike tour is this Japanese bridge.
BABY DUCKIES!! For sale in the market.
Fruits and vegetables in the market many I cannot identify with any certainty
Bridge
Bridge
Beautiful field of rice. In the north, Sapa, it had not yet been planted. Because of the cooler weather they do one planting per year up north. Two per year in central Vietnam, and three per year in the south.
Green as far as you can see.

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Fish at the kings residence, no longer in use. We learned about the mandarins and the concubines. THe king could declare any woman a concubine if she caught his eye, and she was required to live in his compound and be his until he chose to let her go. Usually upon his death. Even if she was married it’s children, she was required to desert them !!

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More sights inside the imperial city.
Inside the imperial city.
The motorbike gang. Ha.

hen biking it was suggested we wear masks due to the air quality. Many many people in Vietnam wear these when riding a motorbike. Ours were disposable but quality ones are for sale on the street by the thousands in every conceivable color and pattern imaginable!

Beautiful Buddha at the temple we stopped for lunch.
Beautiful orchids at the temple. I think Vietnam has the perfect weather for orchids. Hot and humid.
Pretty!!
Also at the temple.
Buddha at the temple
Laney and her motorbike guide.
Crazy cool looking Jeep.

Above, display of incense for sale.  Each color is a different scent.

Laney took a turn at rolling the incense onto the stick. It’s like a dough-like consistency and you roll it onto the stick. It takes 24 hours to dry after that before you can use it.

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I saw this painting and I wanted it so much. I just love it…

Beautiful river

Our motorbike gang, HA.

Beautiful stairway at the king’s burial place.  According to Rocky (our guide), most likely the kings bodies are not really there – they are buried by very few of their closest guards, and likely moved to a secret location.

Can one BE cool, with a face mask? HA I gave it my best shot!

Lunch at the Budhist temple.

Laney makes it look cool. hA

Drinks with the rowdy group after motorbikes and dinner. Some are saying the Vietnamese ‘cheers’, which is Moat, Hi, Bah, ZO (spelled phonetically). For one, two, three, cheers.

This is either the shrine I stepped on, or one that looks a lot like it.  In my defense, it was basically right behind my chair when I was sitting having my drink.  I was SO MORTIFIED when I did it. But the waiter says it happens a lot.  Perhaps they should find a different place to put it.  HA

When in Hoi An, we took bicycles around the countryside. Between the rice fields.

This is a photo of a famous post card in Vietnam. Its supposed to be the oldest couple in Vietnam.

Cool statue. We stopped at a lookout point when traveling from Hue to Hoi An.  The top of the Hai Van Pass.  I bought a Buddha stone necklace (for about $3) and snapped this photo of a cool statue.

A cool bike in Hoi An made of bamboo. Bamboo and coconut are so commont, they are used for many many things.  

 

Beautiful table setting for our group dinner.

Beautiful lanterns

One of Laney’s favorites – dragon fruit. Everyone in the group knew, if they didn’t want theirs, Laney would eat it. HA

Beautiful wildflowers growing along the rice fields.

AND, here I am with that famous old couple from the postcard. We visited their organic farm and got to try a few things like watering the garden manually.  He’s like 97 and she is like 90 if memory serves. Obviously, that’s a pretty long time to live – for anyone, but more so when you consider the average lifespan in Vietnam is less than 60 years! that’s like someone in the US living to 120..

Beautiful homes that border the farm.

Water buffalo were very common in Vietnam. Grazing in or near the rice fields. We had the opportunity to have a photo taken while ON the buffalo. I chose to take a selfie. HA

Beautiful beaches of Hoi An.

A snack served before our ‘boat’ ride. We were to ride on coracles, which are small round boats powered by paddle

 

Gorgeous palms (I guess they are some kind of palm) on the edges of the waterways.

 

A grasshopper ring that my boat ‘captain’ made for me from a leaf!

and a beautiful flower!

 

 

 

HA! This guy nailed it. A fishing pole and fish for me! Again, he made it in 5 minutes from a leaf nearby. So cool. I couldn’t take it with me so I gave it to Stan (friend on the tour) for his grandson

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We went to a noodle making class in Hoi An. It is sponsored by the tour company G-Adventures. Its such a cool concept, I could see coming back here. The organization, Streets, takes young people from impoverished conditions and trains them in the food and restaurant industry. They teach them too cook, or serve, and graduates from here are much in demand at the high-end establishments around Vietnam. The course INCLUDES learning English and it’s an 18-month program. This may be a great volunteer opportunity for me in the future.

 

 

This is launching the boat – but on the way back to the ‘dock’ / land, we raced, and, of course, my boat won. Well, because I had to. HA. I paddled as hard as I could, with absolutely no mind to steering. The ‘professional’ probably had a hard time keeping us on course. Steering a ROUND boat is pretty tough! HA.

Lanterns around Hoi An. So beautiful day and night.

Laney trying her hand at being a Vietnamese street vendor. It was HEAVY! Good, go to college. HA.

Oh Look, an Irish Pub. How shocking. I swear there is one everywhere. AND, we were in Vietnam on St. Pattys’.

My favorite motorbike I saw in Vietnam. This was in Hoi An.

 

Pina colada for Laney

Most expensive drink I had in Vietnam. And the cheapest dirty martini I’ve ever had in a bar/restaurant. Maybe $4??

A common sight – restaurants serving on the sidewalk.

While in Hoi An, we floated some lighted lanterns on the river for some special people in our lives. Laney and I each did one for my Mom, and I did one for Mai Hong, a Vietnamese girl in my class in grade school, who was killed in 8th grade. Jackie, a Canadian woman we became close to on the tour, and her husband, Jim, lit one for their moms too. We definitely bonded over missing moms.

Beautiful sights from the river

Another Irish pub. Not a seat in the house on St Patty’s night! Live Irish Music and everything.


This is a dragon fruit tree. FREAKY LOOKING right?? We visited an island in the Mekong Delta where the residents grow fruit. The Mekong experience was SO much fun. Boats, and tuk tuks and sleeping al fresco.

Dorian fruit tree (I think – they look similar to Jack fruit so I’m not 100% sure)

Special tea they served on the fruit island.

These urns, as you can see, collect the rainwater from the roof of the home.

 

Durian fruit

Small pineapple plant. For decoration.

I think the small fruits above are eaten by the locals and give a booze/cigarette kind of high. If you eat like 50-100 a day. HA

Snacks served with honey tea that remind me of peanut brittle. Same same but different. HA.

Crazy flower growing at the bee farm

 

Honey tea served at the bee farm. We got to hold the hive ‘drawers’ which were crawling with bees, and get a fingerful of honey right from it! Very cool. Laney, of course, passed on that experience.

 

This is also a pineapple plant, and also one for decoration. Personally, I think this looks AWFUL! Some kind of abomination of nature. Yuck.

 

Making chocolate. These are the cocoa seeds. We were each allowed to ‘eat’ one, which is really just sucking the soft/slimy stuff off of the inner hard seed, which is where the cocoa comes from. We saw the process for making chocolate and were able to try some.

 

Another pineapple abomination. HA

Probably Laney’s favorite part of the Mekong Delta trip – holding this (king?) python. It’s a constrictor, so not poisonous. It was SUPER HEAVY though. She wouldn’t touch the bee hive, but THIS, well, this is OK. HA

 

OK I liked it too.  HA

 

Cocao pods

 

Making coconut candy.

Man fishing on a tributary of the Mekong

Women hand-wrapping the coconut (and other flavor) candies.

Snake Whiskey. Yes, we drank some. It was good!

All of these are made with coconut wood. SO beautiful, wish I could have brought some home!!

 

Laney and Laila in traditional Vietnamese hats. Laney doing this somewhat under duress. HA

Beautiful flowers growing from this old tree.


Awesome place we stopped for lunch

 

Pond and decorative stones at the restaurant.

 

Yup. Butter fried. Frog legs. Tastes like chicken. But smaller. HA

me and my travel buddy.

 

These beautiful plants were growing on top of the water, when a boat when by, the whole thing moved, like a green plant-wave.

 

Getting around the Mekong, between the islands, we had a motor boat. But to get to our homestay for the night, we left one of the islands in a canoe type boat. Followed by a walk, a (rather exciting) tuk tuk ride, and a bit of a walk again. Jackie and Jim joined us in our little boat. And yes the hats are helpful for keeping cool! They really keep the sun off your face and shoulders and are much needed! Funny how we were cold in SaPa and then hot most of the rest of Vietnam. It’s a very long country.

 

A very unique looking coconut that grows on these trees.

Close up of that crazy coconut

Tunnel of palms as we a ride a small boat on a tributary of the Mekong, on our way to our homestay

Tuk Tuk rides with sugar cane juice

The rest of our group in the other tuk tuk

Home for the night! Basic beds under cover, open air, with mosquito nets.

Rocky taking a rare breather. Rocky was our guide on this G Adventures tour.

Chilling in the hammock at the homestay

The tiny rickety bridge we walked over when we left the homestay.

Its not very big. Or very stable. But it’s not a long fall and probably not deep water, so no biggie. HA


Beautiful flowers. Same as our cannas but different flowers.

 


Thoren, Stephan and Laila.

Cococut milk on the way. back to the mainland.

Map of the Mekong Delta and the islands we visited

 

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Display representing the Cu Chi Tunnels as they were used in the Vietnam War (as it is known in the US). In Vietnam, it’s called the American war (although the French had a lot to do with it, they aren’t mentioned). There are multiple levels. Meeting and eating rooms at the top could be used unless there was bombing, in which case the lower tunnels had to be used. In a worst case scenario, the Viet Cong had to exit via the tunnel far lower right, into water.

 

One type of entry into the tunnels, the most common, is a very small hole in the ground, covered by a small platform and leaves. Almost impossible to see when closed.

This is the cover still slightly raised. And it’s nearly invisible.

Another type of entry, much more visible. Were used under cover (tarp, etc,) in main areas where the Viet Cong were based.

We saw MANY of these while there. Different types of traps set up by the Viet Cong in the jungles. Our guide ‘admitted’ that they were short on manpower and weapons and so they had to use what they and and emphasis was put on psychological warfare. Not only to eliminate the enemy but to make it ugly and painful to destroy morale. Falling into this, with spinning bars with spikes, which puncture all over your body – would definitely accomplish that. And, like I said, this is only one of many examples that we saw.  Pretty gruesome and scary.

 

In HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) there is a great street food market, which was very near our hotel, so we went there a few times.


Laney’s Cheesesteak from the Street Food Market. Served with CHOP STICKS??

Beautiful building in HCMC

Lemongrass mojito on our farewell dinner

Highest cocktails in HCMC, the round platform at the top is a helicopter pad. Pretty cool.

View from the tower

my fancy drink

Random photo, but this is the ceiling of a car I drove in to go to a cooking class. It was not unusual for cars and vans and even buses in Vietnam to have the ceiling covered in plastic.

Cool multi-colored lights on the building next to the tower where we had cocktails.

Unusual vending machine fare. Fruit!

After the tour ended, Laney and I had booked an airbnb for a few nights. It had 2 bedrooms, so we had some extra space, which is nice. What was also great was our friend Laila from the tour joined us for a night.

The airbnb we stayed in HCMC had a locked door AND a gate to be locked every night! we were quite secure. HA.

Our airbnb in HCMC, where we went after the tour was over, was down this small alley lined with local restaurants, which are basically food trucks and seats. Our coffee shop, right outside our door, made amazing coffee, and we had 3 for less than what we paid for 1 coffee near our tour hotel.  I thought SEA was pretty cheap when paying tourist prices. But local prices are crazy cheap! HA

We didnt plan much for our extra nights at the Airbnb. As usual, after a ‘always moving’ tour, we were pretty tired. I went for drinks with Laila and met a few from our group at the tower I mentioned above.

A day or two later I attended a cooking class I had booked a while back. It was a bit of a drive out of town (like an hour), which I could have done without after all the driving and traveling we had done on the tour, but it was SO worth it!! I went in the afternoon and I was the ONLY ONE in the class!

Garden where the cooking class was held. A lizard is at the top of that middle sunflower. As an organic farm, there are no pesticides used, and, as a result, there are lots of frogs and lizards to take care of the bugs!

 

Above a front view of the mushrooms. My guide explained a complicated mixture of ingredients that go into these bottles, and explained that, once that is done, the amount of mushrooms you see here (the big ones) will grow in 24 hours!! Can you imagine? I bet if you sat for a bit, you could actually SEE them grow

Close up of the mushrooms at the farm where my cooking class was held.

Some of my fresh ingredients from the garden for my cooking. (my mouth is watering thinking about the food).

This is how peanuts grow… underground!

 

These are the spring rolls I made. So good. Deep fried, which is not normally my thing, but I was told if the temperature is right, hardly any oil is absorbed. Plus, they are served with LOTS of fresh greens. The traditional way to eat them – pile up a bunch of greens, wrap them around the spring rolls – so there is really more greens than anything.  SO SO YUMMY!!

Beautiful garden.

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There is a big frog near the edge of the patio here. If you can see it.

 

The amazing dishes I prepared in the cooking class. SO YUMMY!



Many houses in Vietnam were very tall, and not wide. We were told this was because when the French imposed taxes, they were based on ground floor square footage – so you could go higher without paying more taxes.  HUH. Makes sense  now. HA. Buildings in Vietnam were VERY varied. Like all of South East Asia, I imagine. Beautiful, perfect ones next to run-down ones.

 

 

Laney and I went out to dinner and met this nice woman, Sasha, from South Africa. Sasha got certified in Thailand to teach English and the company sent her to work in HCMC. She is provided a salary, plus a place to live and a motorbike. Hmm might be a good early retirement plan! Sasha and I have stayed in touch on Facebook.. I hope to visit her in South Africa or somewhere else in the future. She’s fun! HA

I so wanted to get one of these painted hats. Doesn’t pack or ship well, though. HA.

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That was it for Vietnam! Off to Borneo next! More jungle. Laney, not happy. HA!