Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Hong (Thai Lagoon) by Starlight

Today Donna had arranged a day trip for the whole gang to sea kayak to the limestone lagoons off of Mainland Thailand, North of the island of Phuket with John Grey`s Sea Canoes.  Of course, nothing goes exactly according to plan.  Tyler and his family (Donna's eldest, my cousin) were set at arrive in Phuket yesterday around noon, but flight delays in New York City (!) kept them in Vancouver an extra 36 hours - I am sure that was fun with a baby and two young kids.... ugh.  So by noon today, they still had not arrived, so missed the trip.  Jaclyn woke up not feeling well, so she and Rick also stayed behind, and our group was reduced to 14, not the orignial 20+ plannned in September.
For the remainder of us, a great day.  We had a whole dive boat to ourselves, a ton of food, and a relatively uncrowded sojourne to some incredible cave-accessible lagoons on the inside of the islands.  We watched monkeys in the wild, crafted some banana-leaf flower wish-makers (I cant rememeber the thai word for them?)which we floated away at dusk, and then played in the glowing water (seriously, Avatar-like algae that flashes when stirred.... you could see jumping fish 30 feet away, and released sparks by swishing your hand around, splashing sparks onto the cave walls,etc.  super cool.)  The Hong (lagoons) we surrounded on all sides by high cliffs, completely covered in jungle, and often a tight squeeze to pass through the only sea-worn access.
As we visited near high tide, there was a traffic jam to get out (quickly) while still able, and a very funny episode with my cousin Janelle and Scott stuck prone in their kayak, while her guide argued with another operator who refused to move out of the path, and another guide yelling loudly that he needed to pass NOW as he had a "watermelon belly" man in his boat that still needed to pass through.  We did all manage to pass through the narrow entrance, not sure what happened to "watermelon belly man" though, lol.
We didnt return until 10pm, a long and full day, and hopefully Rick and Jaclyn will be able to join Tyler and his family at some point in the next week, though at this point our plans are really up in the air.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beach Days

The Beach is right across the street from our hotel, and a nice beach bar attendant reserves our chairs and umbrellas for us each morning. Sometimes the ocean is calm, but we have also seen it red flagged and with a fun surf for boogie boards.  Beer and french fries, as well as ice cream and even wonton soup arrive at a whim, and you could shop for dresses, singing frogs, folding fans, wisk brooms, jewelry and tablecloths while you sunbathe.  All at bargain prices.
Most of the tourists are European - many from Sweden, Germany, some Russians, Japanese, Singapore, some from Kenya, England, Hong Kong, Australia, NZ and elsewhere. Few North Americans.  Many families, but it is Christmas holidays so that is to be expected this time of year.  The Thai people are very friendly and helpful, quiet spoken for the most part, and lots of smiles.  I dont know what to say about the men hooking up with the Thai girls, as I just dont really get that.  But it is obvious, and seems to be accepted here, even by the other tourists.  I try not to be totally revolted, but that is my true reaction.  Those poor girls.
Janice only has until the 28th, a short trip for such long flights.  We are extremely glad she joined us, as it was wonderful to see family and made our Christmas special to have some items from home, as well as a chance for all of us to get "grounded", like home coming to us!
We managed to go for pedicures and leg massage (for some reason, leg swelling seems really common here - humidity, long flights, heat, not sure why?) but boy that felt good.  For all three of us girls we spent 950 baht ($35) for nails and massages lasting 1.5 hrs.... very nice. The boys had Thai massage, which was rather humerous as they explained the pretzel formations and finger snapping it included.  The advertised "happy ending" was passed upon.  Only in Thailand.....

A day at Phi Phi

Boxing Day, and we arranged a private charter speedboat to Kho Phi Phi islands. ( go pee pee, Katie laughs)  Our Swedish friends that we met the first day on the beach,  four parents, four teens, plus our German friends from the hotel, Claus and Corolla, joined us to make 17, so for 18000 baht ( like 30 bucks each) away we go!
The boat left from Phuket town, and first stop was a coral atoll for snorkling, but the jellyfish were as big as Rick so none of us felt like swimming with them (apparently harmless, but we werent taking any chances, thanks).  Next stop, another atolll with mobs of tour boats, all of them feeding the fish bread, so yes, hungry tame fish that bite.  Nibble, nibble, ha ha, but one particularily hungry fish took a large bite of Travis' ankle and drew blood.  not so funny.  They seemed more attracted to hairy legs.... of more amusement than the fish were the Japanese non-swimmers who were screaming at the top of their lungs while being swarmed, bread bags in hand.  click, click, click.
The Phi Phi islands themselves are limstone, so very beautiful columns of green rising from the green of the sea - and our day was clear and bright, so very pleasant.  Once we were away from the other tour groups we could enjoy the little coves and bays for some time in the water with the fish.  We stopped next at Monkey beach and were at first disappointed to find it deserted.  But as we were returning up the shore along came a monkey parade - adult male in the lead, next the crew, about 30 feet apart and following the same path as the leader, 25 monkeys big and small and not too concerned about our presence.  Rick moved himself closer into their path, and the male gave him a slight pause then stepped right on his foot to get by, and continued on the way.  Once they all passed, Travis and Katie went with Emilie, Victor and Mats down to the place the monkeys had stopped and watched as they were fed by another group of tourists - Katie watched a baby take a banana from one girl and peel it then munch it up.  So cool.  We stayed a little longer then headed back to our boat for our lunch on the main island at a restaurant.
One more stop at Maya Beach, great snorkling stop but we were already getting tired, and I think all of us fell asleep on the boat ride home.... about 45 minutes back to Phuket.  It would be nice to stay longer at Phi Phi, and we will see about an overnight trip in the new year, once all the Christmas rush slows down.  Those monkeys deserve another visit.

Christmas Thai Style

Katie was pretty concerned that Santa would not find us here in Thailand, so we went to extra efforts to alert him.  We released paper laterns on the beach on Christmas eve, and each made a wish as the latern lifted high into the Thai sky.  The firecrackers were an extra boom.
To celebrate Christmas morning, we exhanged names and asssigned a 1000 baht limit (it is quite amazing how much we can by for $30 in the markets).  Santa brought Katie a stocking with some candycanes and chocolates (kinder!) from home, and Tim hortons hot chocolate too! Thanks Auntie Janice!  After our breakfast at the hotel, we hired a private tour and headed to the agriculture area south of here, to the elephant farm.  And for Christmas day, we played with the baby elephant and then the kids went for elephant rides.  Very sweet.  The baby could do tricks, kissing your arm and saying hello, as well as thank you bow when we fed him some pineapple, his favorite treat.
The rest of the tour saw us up to the Big Buddha, over to the elephant temple and down to the Rai lei beach area for lunch. We also visited the pier in Phuket town to arrange for a PhiPhi island tour the next day - and then back to Caron Beach.
We changed for dinner then headed to the little street behind our hotel, via the market shortcut.  The Calypso Bar was rocking, with Donna and Mark (my aunt) and my cousins in the front row, pina coladas flowing.  The bar has a great singer with 80's,90's rock and Swedish favorites (Livin next door to Alice - Alice? Who the #$%@ is Alice?)  We rocked along with our Swedish friends and Alberta/Ontario family til the wee hours ... it wasnt til the next day that Derek reminded us we never did have Christmas

Christmas Break - Diving the Deep Blue Sea

I truly thought it would be easier to write every day, since we are settled in one place and have had time to catch up and breathe here in Thailand.  But the reverse is true. We are much more relaxed, and we have shifted frm traveller to vacation mode. Hveing Janice here for the past week has been wonderful, and I didn't want to miss any visiting time by curling up over my keyboard, so I apologize, I have been very lax in our posts.
What has happened in Phuket?  Well, Travis and I completed our diving course with 2 shore dives to 30 feet and 2 boat dives to 40 feet.  He got 100% on his exam, I am so proud of him.  And he took to the underworld like a pro, too, even managing to astonish our instructor when he lost his weight belt and did exactly the right things rather than shooting dangerously up to the surface in panic.  He is a natural diver, and I can see it as a life-long hobby, career opportunity for certain!  The final boat dives were extra-special as our instructors at Phuket Pro-Dive allowed us to invite the rest of our family along on the trip, and we enjoyed the boat ride to Raya Island and lunch together, and they were able to snorkle while Travis and I were beneath them.  A great day on the ocean.
On the way boat-trip back to Phuket, Derek and I met some other travellers, a mom and her 14 year old son (Job) from London, enjoying Christmas break in Thailand. Job plays rugby and football, and seems a very outgoing friendly young man - athletic and charming, and a new "facebook" friend for Derek.  The whole world is linked to Mark Zuckerburg now..... he, by the way, is also in Thailand right now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seaside at the Golden Sand inn

Our family room in Karon Beach is wonderful - clean and quiet, a view of the ocean from our room, and tucked in a neighborhood of restaurants and shops and everything we might need for an extended stay... we are very pleased.  Beer is less than a buck, ice cream 80 cents, and an excellent meal for about $3.50 Canadian.  It is Christmas season, so busy time, but still not crowded, just many other families particularly from Northern Europe happily escaping winter snow.  A very friendly, welcome place.
Travis and I started our PADI scuba course this morning, and are enrolled for the pool and dive site classes over the next three days.  That was the main thing he wanted to achieve on our trip, and I am going to be his "buddy".  Derek and JC are joining us on the third day as resort divers to try it out (Derek is not certain he will like scuba) and Jaclyn is a little young.  Katie and Rick will be able to snorkle at the same location (and Janice too, scuba or snorkle, we will ask when she arrives)
Yes, we are getting company, and very happy to see family for Christmas.  Rick's sister Janice is coming to Thailand tomorrow night to spend 10 days with us in this little piece of heaven.  Also arriving is my mom's sister Donna and all of her family and extended family (I think there are 23 of them in total!)  They are staying at the sister property to here, and from what I understand have different flights/timeframes/etc, but we are all getting together on Dec 30 to do one activity together... 30 of us in all!  Wow, what a clan that will be!
So, good internet here, and we will be able to post more regularly... though the odd beer clouds might get in the way.... lol

Middle East to South East Asia

Travel day.  Pack up all our stinky, sandy gear and had a big travel day - three planes overnight trip from Amman 2.5 hrs to Doha, Qatar (on the Persian Gulf, city-state that has won the 2022 World Cup bid, if you follow soccer) quick layover (wow, incredible duty free in that airport!) then 8.5 hours to Bangkok (5 timezones) quick switch to domestic, then an hour flight south to the island of Phuket, our home for the next month or so.... ahhh.
The first six weeks of this trip have been fantastic, so much to learn every day, but experiencing only a taste of each destination and the "top 3" of each location... too fast.  It is our hope that by this positive sampling, the kids will wish to return on their own those places that most intrigued, and that they will have the confidence and spirit to explore further (on their own dime! lol)  We have followed the path of Ancient Civilizations, and now need time to reflect on what we have learned.... so the beach it is!
We arrived at our sweet beachside resort around 1:30pm, on Katie's 7th birthday.  And for that little water-baby, boy was she in for a treat.  The ocean here is 28degrees celcius! and the sand so soft and clean it squeeks when you walk.  Air temp is the warmest we have had since we left Canada too, low 30's and humid, with jungle flowers sweet and birdsong loud - the perfect place for r and r.
We all dug through our smelly clothes for the buried shorts and bikins and hit the waves!  (Laundry can wait til tomorrow!)  After swimming til sunset, we sampled our first Thai food (mmm) and Katie enjoyed a virgin maitai served in her very own pineapple, followed by chocolate ice cream in a coconut (what more could a girl ask?)  Jet lag then settled, and after a quick dip in the pool, off to bed to recoup and adjust to our new clocks (14 hours ahead of Canada, eh)  Happy Birthday Katie (hope you enjoy your elephant ride! coming soon....)

Another Peek at Petra, and Down to the Dead Sea

We woke early to return to Petra, this time with special arrangements to enter via the “back door” in order to view the areas further from the entrance and closer to the Bedouin town where our company from the previous night all lives.  A short walk into the valley past the collanaded streets, then we were met by our guides and a pack of donkeys.  Riding on a donkey up the steep stairs to the Monestary was so much fun –  the steps were difficult yet the donkeys were very sure-footed and it must have been 1000 stairs to the top!  Our young guides, boys ranging from 10 to 15 years old, ran behind (smoking!) slightly winded but with huge smiles and grateful for the drinks we bought them at the top.  Many gentle offers of mint tea,  hand-beaded necklaces  and sliver bracelets,  and a few other tourists but not crowded.  Again, we are lucky to travel during off-season, as there is generally more space and patience all around.  The morning was cool today, but once the sun shines down jackets are not needed, though the local people are very cold. They are more accustomed to the 45 degree heat of summer, which for us would be unbearable.  I would love to see these desert cliffs in February, when the wild daffodils would be in bloom.  The beauty would be even more spectacular – this is a very special place on Earth, and worthy of its treasures.
Off the donkeys, into the van, and a three hour drive down, down, down to the salt plains of the Dead Sea, at 400m below sea level.  There is a lot of industry in the southern area, extraction of salts and minerals, as well as agriculture irrigated from the mountain springs above.  Tomatoes galore, also cabbage, banana trees, sugar cane, lots of vegetables for export.   The soils look rich and the farmers happy, also picnicking with their families this Saturday, lots of children playing and meals being shared on a blanket in the shade near the sea.  The Dead Sea is very blue, and the mountains of Palestein are clearly visible in the distance on the opposite shore.  It is strange to be in such a place, as we have heard about in biblical reference or in news stories of war.
The Amman public beach in the northern shore is where the tourists are taken for a dip, with full facilities and a certain level of comfort for us ladies – I have been acutely aware of the level of modesty and different role of women in the Middle East, though easier here than in Egypt.  Still, most local ladies do not bare themselves in a bathing suit (or even take off their head scarves)  to join their families, but rather sit back and wait on the shore…  We changed and braved the cool waters, as we arrived around 3 and the sun was already cooling down.  We all laughed at the sensation of great buoyancy, it was ridiculously easy to float, and in fact when the three older kids went deeper, they found they could not sink deeper than their shoulders even if they tried.  The water is very salty (duuhhh) and actually hurts – Katie was almost in tears with the burn so only stayed a little bit in the sea before washing off very well.  Trav and Derek had to taste – and it burnt their tongues ,  no one wanted to dunk their head, even for a chance to “break the rule”.  The mud bath could be applied for an additional 3 JD each, but with the cost of over 80JD to get into the “public beach” (like 110 USD), we felt we could make do with the grey mud on the bottom rather than the black mud they would sell you.  It did leave our skin soft, especially feet and legs, but my hands were dried up like a prune and sore…. could use some olive oil instead of more salt.
Our arrangements were a night at the Dead Sea, but there is a snow storm on its way (really? In Jordan? Yes, I guess it snows in the mountain areas here in the winter, and the roads become impassible).  Rather than chance a missed flight to Thailand, we returned to Amman for dinner and hotel.  Our Amman guide took us to his favourite haunt, on a pedestrian high-end shopping street , more proof of the extent of globalization – Gap, Mavi Jeans, Sposabella wedding gowns, all western styles sold to customers in the land of the Birha… I don’t really get how it goes together, unless the cultural shift is just on the cusp….  The King and Queen of Jordan have strong ties to America, and the culture we know is invading the Middle East.  I cannot help but wonder if this is good, bad, or just the way of the new millennium.

The Magic of Petra

Feeling well rested after a night of pampering and good meals in our belly, we met our guide,  Jafer,  this morning and drove the three hours south of the city of Amman to the Bedouin community that has inhabited the siq and valley of Petra for the last 1500 years.  Here we visited “Little Petra”, a smaller practice type area that pre-dates the well-known Petra that UNESCO protects.  The carved cliffs are markers for the hidden caves where water is stored, having been channelled from the mountain above.   Then to a wonderful hotel in the Swiss Movenpick chain (seriously, this hotel is HIGHLY recommended with its unbelievable views, 5-star design and service, and pastry chef/staff extraordinaire!  If visiting Jordan, BOOK HERE!)
The afternoon was super.  Off to the site of Petra, dating to pre-Roman and Roman times, and area of many hidden secrets. The Treasury is just one of sights to inspire, with the natural cliffs in shades of red, orange, pink, black, even blue, and like the sand pictures layered by artisans in their bottles of colored sand. We rode horses to the main site (Katie loved that, as she rode her own horse without being led), and we stayed until the sunset played off the colors of the cliffs.  Our van then transported us back to the hotel then on to a Bedouin BBQ that Jafer arranged for us.  Many family groups were out for the evening, with fire grates and food, blankets and candles in tow.  Weekends in Muslim countries are Friday/Saturday, so a Thursday night is a great time to get together with family and friends around a campfire…  lots of laughter, good food and company surrounded by the beauty of the Petra valley.  We were grateful to share this evening not as a tourist, but as welcome guests.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Onward to Jordan

Truthfully, we are getting a little travel weary.  We have been moving at a very fast pace for the last month.  Early mornings, long drives, information "overload" and cultural/food/language differences are starting to take a toll, so we decided to do a quick pause.  This morning an early flight to Cairo (we were up at 3:30am), with connector to Amman, capital city of Jordan, got us to a sweet swimming pool and soft cushy bed before our last three days in the Middle East.  Air Miles are awesome.
Jordan is very different from Egypt - their dollar is stronger than the Euro.  The tour here was arranged by our friend Thimo in Cairo, and promises to be great.... so rested again, we will be off first thing tomorrow!  Stay tuned for the next three days in our Amazing Race!

Valley of the Kings

After a restful night at the Queen Valley hotel (with an incredible rooftop view of the Nile and the Temple cliffs beyond), we rose early for our tour of the Ancient city of Thebes (Luxor, called by the really old Egyptians Ba-Ra, house of Ra, the sun king).  An extremely knowledgable local guide/Egyptologist joined us and led us into the tombs of three ancient pharaohs, one tomb only recently re-opened (like, 4 days!) to the public.  The sights were amazing, entering the wide tunnels carved into the sides of the cliffs, with carvings and paintings on walls and ceilings (and well-lit, airy too).  We were glad to have avoided the high tourist season, as there were crowds but we understood it is usually way worse, and way hotter.  From the tombs, we visited an alabaster vase carving house, with beautiful glass jars I would have loved to take home, but can't since we aren't headed there....)  Then to the incredible Temple of the Egyptian Queen Hush.... gotta look that one up....) then the Colossis of Memnon back on the East bank of the Nile, and after a quick bite to eat, one more stop. 
The grande finale was the greatest monument in Luxor, the Temples of Karnak, a series of spendor with each pharaoh outbidding the one before to create the best spire, statues, columns, etc to the main god, to guarantee their own eternal life.  Absolutely breathtaking, and 3500 years old, to boot.  Talk about a lesson in history.
We are very glad we have taken our path in the order we have, from Inca to Roman, Greek to Egyptian, because the Reverse Time Machine gave good perspective on the ages of the monuments we have seen.  I think the kids were impressed by the scale, by the obvious expertise these ancient cultures had mastered.  And we are all inspired.

Long drive to Luxor

Waking in the desert was a pure delight.  The sky was pink, reflecting off the sand and the formations, with the star shining so bright in the East, you couldn't help but feel a link to the biblical story of 2000 years ago.... We enjoyed a cup of desert coffee, then broke camp for a journey through the southern oasis region normally closed to tourists, by special permission of our Bedouin hosts.  Unfortunately, this meant a stop every 20 minutes or so (and sometimes for up to half an hour!) to confirm our papers and ensure our safety.   At one point we had a police escort join us in our vehicle,  and at times a car helping us along our way.  It was a slow affair, and our 5 hour journey extended to over 12 hours before we spotted the lights in Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes. 
Our drivers Mohummed and his brother Momut were wonderful and patient, but we were all weary after the long trek, and we had no choice but to rethink our travel plans for the next couple of days.  Rather than the single night in Luxor, followed by another such drive (but twice the distance) we pulled the "fly" trigger to Amman.  Our guide, Thimo was incredible and understanding, and was able to re-work our itinerary for both our last days in Egypt as well as Jordan, and we truly appreciate his help.   The differences in language and culture make Egypt a magical place, and one that is best with a good navigator.  To you, our friend, a huge Shukran!

A night under the desert moon

So we left our humble hostel in Cairo to head out into the desert, on a safari to the Bahyrian Oasis area in the Western Desert.  After a four hour drive, we checked into Badr's Safari camp for a lovely cup of mint tea and a review of the days itinerary:  Black Desert, Crystal Mountain and White Desert for a night under the stars.  Our Bedouin guide expertly steered our Landcruiser through the sandstorm that whipped up for us (Rick thinks he would do well in the Dakar rally), with the grill of the jeep smeared in Palmolive to keep the paint from blasting off during the drive.  We found a shelter spot between two towering cliffs of lava sand in the black desert, and the wind calmed down for better visibility by our lunch break, a delightful "cafe" with a natural spring pool that was routed through the building to provide natural air conditioning.  As the temp often reaches above 50 degrees C in the summer, this is no doubt a big drawing card.  As it is winter now, we enjoyed a day of roughly 20, which for the Egyptians we travelled with translates to parka weather.  Thimo, our main guide, purchased a new touque and gloves especially for our journey (and to be fair, with the wind, it was cool.)
Next stop was a sparkling mountain made of pure quartz, natural desert formations left on an ancient seabed that makes up this desert area.  As the sun was setting the wind calmed and we enjoyed a surreal moonscape in the White desert, where each strange formation takes on shapes similar to how you might look at clouds - truly bizarre, and a wonderful place to set up the two-sided tent (windbreak) for our fire-baked dinner and sleeping spot.  The night brought a calm, clear sky and together we counted well over 50 shooting stars.  It was truly a magical place to be.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

To the pyramids, by camel

This morning we headed to Giza, just outside Cairo and home to the iconic Great Pyramids.  The weather for the day was sandy.  When the wind blows in the desert, there is no other way to describe the effect, other than dusty, grit-in-your-teeth, this is the desert in winter, kind of day.  There, we boarded our camels and horses in the stables, and headed through the gates around the backside of the pyramids, away from the tourist bus mobs, to a mountain lookout for a great photo stop.  The camels were picturesque, but not particularly comfortable.... Katie's quote was "bumpety, bumpety, bumpety BUMP!" and we were happy to trade between the horse and the camel during our 2 hour tour.  Jaclyn did a great treble jig, Travis walked like an Egyptian, Derek and JC held the pyramid in their hands, and we all built our human pyramid to mimic the Egyptians, it was great fun (and now we all have sand everywhere!)
Next stop was Saqqara, the oldest pyramids, where we were able to go inside! the tomb (down a 50' corridor, rather claustrophobic but well lit) to see the hieroglyphics on the walls, and experience the feeling of discovery first-hand.  Again, amazing.  All the kids loved going inside, and the sense of discovery and amazement of history.... There is still so much more to be uncovered, with an estimate 10 percent of sites uncovered at this date.  So much more to learn!  From there to the ancient city of Memphis, old capital of Eqyptian time, where we met the greatest pharaoh, Ramses II in super-human size, like 150 feet tall?  Also impressive, but we are finding that of everything in this incredible place.
Tomorrow we head to the desert on a jeep safari, and to sleep overnight in a Bedouin village, underneath the stars.  We are all hoping the wind will settle down...

A Date with King Tut

We arrived in Cairo Egypt, population 22 million, and settled in our Bedouin abode, very central to the Egyptian Museum and a fully cultural experience.  From here we were able to plan our eight day adventure hitting all the highlights from here to Jordan, traveling overland with a private guide.  Our first step was to find a quick bite to eat - donair with meat cooked on a spit, very tasty - and head to check out King Tut.  Just crossing the road to get there was like a giant game of Frogger, honestly, one lane at a time and lookout! everything in traffic from a cement truck to a donkey cart, all full steam ahead.
The Museum was certainly the best yet.  The Tutenkhamen exhibit is home to all the treasures found in the Valley of the Kings, preserved underground (and undisturbed by centuries of grave robbers) and completely amazing.... gold masks, statues, the scargophagas, even his chariots and a boat.... wow.  Also in the museum: ancient tablets and pillars, pottery from 7000 BC, jewelry, and Katie's favorite, real mummies of Royal descent.  Absolutely fascinating, and truly the climax of our study of Ancient History.  Truly, there were so many items that it was overwhelming, and apparently it is still only a fraction of the artifacts that they have found.   A new museum is under construction, set to be the Worlds Largest, and not due to be complete for another 8 years.... perhaps on another visit?
For dinner, we enjoyed a special night out on a Nile River Cruise, with buffet and belly dancing, and a special "twirl dancer" -  I don't know how else to describe this male dancer.... he spun in circles (maybe 500 times?) to music, while spinning a special quilted skirt out like a top, only to lift it into pieces like 2 tops spinning at once.  While spinning, he was able to converse, and then did a trick holding a tray, pouring himself a glass of water, it was truly terrific, and like nothing we've ever seen.  The belly dancer joined us for a second show, and chose Derek to be her special assistant, encouraging him to spin the baton, then balance it on his chest (like she could...with her rather ample bosom)... she stuffed his shirt with napkins to help him out, to the enjoyment of the crowd.  He was a very good sport about it, and hammed it up well, which earned him a great photo op...)   Certainly a highlight of his trip.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sour grapes?

Today started off an hour late.  I thought I was up early, with time to spare, but when we woke Derek, he grumpily corrected my error - I did not change my clock from Italy time to Greek time... so an hour late.  UGH.  Rick had made arrangements with a private car company to drive us to Athens in time for site seeing, but the day just did not unfold as planned.  Understatement of the year. (Never dull with the Andersons?)
So, after a hurried breakfast and Caio! to our lovely Greek refuge...highly recommended! we drove not 3 minutes down the road into a roadblock.  Police in wait, and two taxis coming up behind us.  What? 
Yeah.   So, the local cab company,who had given us the great tour only yesterday into the port city after Olympia, were upset we did not give them theransom fare that they had quoted to take us to Athens.  They suspected they were being "undercut" by the van rental company (from the same small town) and had voiced their complaint to the policzia.... off to the cop shop we all go.
Seriously.  After the translator, and the lawyers, and more cabbies, and the father of our driver/car hire company owner, and the police chief all showed up, and we waited for the correct "papers" we were finally able to start our 4 hour journey to Athens. Three hour delay - crap.  So much for seeing anything but the dark.
Okay, that covers hospital, fire dept, and police so far on this trip, and we would like to think that will be it for emergency situations.  We have the tri-factor, and feel complete.  Please, all good from this point forward right?
So, Christos got us safely to the capital of Greece, population 4 mil.  We did the quick must-do Acropolis and museum, ate the donairs and greek salad, and now off to Cairo in the am..... how to get to the airport? I really don't want to take another cab.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This morning we had a wonderful fresh-baked breakfast, and then a quick taxi down the hilly path into Ancient Olympia, the archeological site of the ancient Greek games,circa 750 BC to 430 AD give or take....  The artifacts in the museum dated much earlier.  There was pottery and bronze dating to 4000 BC, proving this the home to peoples for at least the last 6000 years or more.  Wow.  The site of the museum has been under re-construction since the late 1800's, mostly by German scientists and funding.  Considering the historical value of the site, it is amazing that it is not more fully excavated, but obviously there is motive in having it remain looking "ancient"....  The Olympic flame starts from this very place every two years (winter and summer games) and it is well touristed in the summer, but we had it virtually to ourselves today as it is off-season.  That in itself was a treat.  The kids enjoyed challenging Dad to a hundred yard dash on the original stadium ground, which Rick thought he should try in true Greek fashion, naked and covered in olive oil.... Jaclyn veto'ed him on that part.
Lunch was a side trip to the port of Nakikikikiiii what?....( my Greek is truly aweful) where the cruiseships dock.  We have made a pledge to return to this part of the world in the summer months (sans enfants!) at some point soon... Greece is truly beautiful.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Special note for Fabrizio

Ola!  Just letting you know Rick took my stitches out and all is healed - mucho gracias again for your incredible above-and-beyond help, and the greatest adventures in Peru.  It is truly the people that make a country special, and we have very fond memories of yours.  We hope you allow us to return the favor and make it to Canada some day.  Cheers, amigo!

A room with a view - OPA!


you should hear the music for full effect...

All Greek to Us

Waking this morning on the ferry as we cruised between Crete and athe Greek mainland, then into port in Patras was beautiful.  The sky was covered and the sea calm, then the sun peaked through to shine on the mountains on the shore in the distance - truly inspirational view.  Last night aboard ship, Rick managed to find his way to the casino and hooked up with a few fine folk from Michigan with a tour group through Italy and Greece.  Seems we were following basically the same path, and were both disappointed in not being able to climb into the crater at Vesuvius due to icy road conditions.... not driving on ice? Heck, Canadians would be stuck at home half the year if we didnt!! Anyway, great people and cold Heinekin meant a re-think on travel plans this am, as we had intended to rent our own car and find our way up to Olympia ourselves.... but, well, ever tried to read a Greek road sign?
So, enter two Greek cabbies and a two hour coastal tour of the Greek area of Peleponesia, a olive-tree and oranges drive through small towns and up to the site of the original Olumpic games, held to honor Zeus around 2500 years ago...  Another great penzione (we are really lucking out on accomodations so far this trip), perched on the mountaintop, and here I type while listening to greek music sent from the valley below, as greek farmers are raking olives off their trees onto tarps (much the same way Derek and Travis picked cherries in Penticton a couple summers ago!)
And again, the food, ahhh.  Our family owned inn is also a taverna with the best Greek meatballs and feta salad, tomoatoes picked from their own gardens.. This is a sleepy little village of Pissa, 3k above Olympia, where we shall visit the museum and center tomorrow. After a very restful sleep!

Two days in Pompeii

What a beautiful little b and b, the Certi Notti, and our hosts Antonio and Ione (and the sweet puppy Romeo) were wonderful, even delivering us to their favorite restaurnt and again to the correct train station when we left yesterday morning.  To confuse things, there are three entrances to the ruins of Pompei and three train stations, so it is easy to get turned around in that town.  We loved the oranges and lemons and pizza and especially the people, who were very friendly and helpful.  Well, apart from the lady at the ruins park entrance, who insisted we could not possibly from Canada since my children could not understand spoken to in French.... Canada is a bilingual country right? Then either we are not Canadian, or they are not my chldren...Well, tough to argue that one in my rudimentary
Yesterday was a big travel day.  We enjoyed a quick train to the town of Selarno (seaside capaccino bar, awesome view) then a "train-bus?" well, a bus, operated by the train company and touring each town along the way.  Lots of mountains, and small farms with vegetables and orange orchards and vineyards, very pretty.  Then to Taranto, another seaside town on the in-step of the "boot" to catch the next train (a real one again) to Brindisi for a quick in-the-dark jaunt to the ferry station to board the Endeavor Lines Ionian Queen.... these ferries are awesome!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Past Fat City.... Napoli to Pompeii

After another late night pasta and pizza (have I mentioned we eat A LOT here?), we were off to the train station this morning to travel south to the ancient city of Pompei, where Roman civilization was trapped in time by the unfortunate eruption of Vesuvius, a supposedly distinct volcano above the town of 20,000, at 11am one hot summer day in 79 A.D.?  Under the hardened ash and cinder-stone, in the 1800's archeologists discovered the voids of human victims, as well as ancient art, buildings and truly, a town trapped in time.....
Our home here is a delightful bed and breakfast, with an orange and lemon orchard in the backyard.  December means the fruit is ripe on the trees, and incredibly sweet on the tongue.  Our cab driver gifted us each upon arrival, as did our hosts, and our restaurant, and even the man at the cappacino bar, leading us to believe everyone has a tree with more fruit than they can eat right now.  We don't mind, the fruit is small and sweeter than any we have tasted before.  Pompeii is now a modern city at the foot of the ancient, "scavi" ruins.  The church and its square are central, and the restaurants and hotels are anxious for guests, as we are in off-season so the prices are half of normal - very nice!  A huge dinner buffet - more than enough to fill us all including dessert is under 40 euros (about a third of Rome)... maybe we will stay longer?  If yes, we will all be FAT! ;)

When in Rome...

So Friday morning, we woke to a bright sunny day in Rome - and a long list of things to see, but only a day to do it?  Well, time to focus.  Our trip so far has been structured on Ancient Civilizations.  First the Inca in South America, then the Spaniards who conquored them.  Now to the Romans, who were the founders of Barcelona the Spanish city we visited... so Ancient Rome it is.
We started on foot from our beautiful penzione towards the Colesseum, about 6 blocks south on ancient paved stones.  Past the Opera House (last night was opening night, and the fur coats and tuxedos were in full force). downhill to the incredible piazza and a glimpse of immense propotions around the next curve.  Truly AMAZING!  We opted for a guided tour that allowed us to queue-jump to the front of the line and have a Romanian/English leader give us the history of the Empire as well as the popes who "borrowed" its materials as a quarry for the churches of the Medieval age.  There, the gladiators and animal hunters, as well the "man condemned to death" fought to the end surrounded by blood thirsty Romans, citizens and Emperors alike.
From there, a tour (included) of Paletine Hill, home to the 160 acre castle/courtyard of the ruling class, build on the place where Romulus killed Remus, his brother, for ultimate control in around 750 B.C..... wow, that is old.  Beautiful columns, pillars, domes and arches, ancient fountains, spires, and pools, Ancient Rome is still amazing, and inspires awe at every turn.  After another wonderful Italian lunch (veal, pizza, canneloni, tiramasu!) and beer (twice the volume, half the cost of coke!) and a spin past the Trevi fountain, we headed on sore feet back up the hill for a nap.... what an incredible day.  Italia - ti amo!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cruising the Med Sea

The ferry was surprisingly nice.... it was actually a re-fitted cruise ship complete with casino, swimming pools and disco, though it was off-season so though 3200 persons could ride the ship, only 150 or so did.  Mostly it seemed to be in use for commercial vehicle traffic (we could smell the load of pigs in the hold below), but it was very comfortable and warm, and our cabins were a perfect place to rest with jetlag while we continued our voyage.
Also en route to Roma was a young American student travelling by himself for 4 months before college.  He is doing something called "couch surfing", staying with host families for a night or even a week in different cities across Europe.  He is enjoying his experience, and recommends the way to travel as very affordable as well as a great way to meet local people in each place... what a great idea - he is off to Hungary and Austria before returning home to Seattle.  We enjoyed his company as we ran from the ferry port in Civitivicchia in the pouring rain to the train for Rome, which wasn't the easiest with our backpacks and carry-ons in the dark, rather lost but determined.
Now we have another gem of a lodging here in Roma, two triples which are spacious and friendly.  Apart from the elevator that is - Rick and the boys had to be rescued by the fire department after dinner tonight (honest to god, not exaggerating here, pictures to follow).  That was good for some excitement.  But after the delicious dinner of Italian pizza and desserts, they didnt mind, as they said that could have been their last meal and they would have been happy.  Italy - pizza, calzones, bruschetta and gelato, all adding up to heaven.  Bikini?  Who cares!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Definately returning to Barcelona in the summer!

Wow what an incredible beautiful city, founded in 15 BC by the Romans, and huge in history.  Home to two native languages, Spanish and Castille.... Catherine of Aragon lived here, and Christopher Columbus sailed from here to discover the New World.  Modern impact of Gaudi makes for incredible architecure.... the church he built is unbelieveable.... deocrated in the usual gothic mystical figures, and fruit? beyond bizarre..... colorful, huge steeples, really amazing ideas, all designed at the turn of the last century 19 to 1926, when dear Mistro Gaudi got hit by a train, of all ways to go..... The city tour on the double dekker bus was well worth the money, esp the olympic stadium and the soccer 100,000 stadium and the views from the Mont by the olympic flame....
We stayed in a 500 year old hotel right on the Romblas, THE happening place to be in Barcelona.  All kinds of street performers, and market stalls and amazing shopping '5 story H & M store!  Great restauants and street cafes, open even in the chilly 10 degree air.  Awsome energy in this city, and we definately want to return here for a longer block of time when we can enjoy the beaches and museums.  Great pizza and seafood, and tiny wine bars too.
Now boarding a cruise ship ferry to sail across the Mediterranean sea to Roma, right past Sardania and Sicily to arrive in Civitaviccia, just like the Romans of Troy... All Aboard!

Coffee with Juan Valdez

Quick stop after a 3 hour flight to Columbia, then a short layover (yes the coffee was excellent) in Bogota, then a 10 hour flight to Barcelona.  Night flight, so with jet lag and not so great sleep was a tough haul.  We flew over the Amazon jungle, which is amazing from overhead too.  Very cool, and now the culture shock of going from South America to Europe!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A final Pisco Sour

What a whirlwind of a visit to Peru.... we had time to reflect today on what our previous thoughts were to the realities we have seen in this country. Not expected was the "Americanization" or I suppose "globalization" we witnessed... MacDonalds, KFC, Domino's and even Tony Roma's has reached perhaps every corner of the planet.  Technology like cell phones has been embraced in the same way as home, and is perhaps even more accessible with cheaper service and better coverage than Canada.  While problems with political stability seem in the background, they are not far from memory... super-inflation and a civil war is in recent memory yet the people seem confident in the current system, and are building and investing in themselves and their new system.  The history of Peru is rich, and the future is, it seems, positive.
One last visit today to a pier-perched restaurant in Miraflores, where a fortune-telling monkey entertained passer-by's... don't see that everyday!  We watched the crabs scramble across the rocks and the boobies rest only a pinch away.  The waves were smaller today, so the beginning surfers were out practicing new skills as they prepare for summer (the water is brown and foamy and smells like, well, a good incentive to stay on the board).  We toasted (a Pisco sour and a cervesa, 4 Inca colas for the road) our last day in Peru... tomorrow an overnight flight to Europe via Bogota, Columbia.

Special shout out to Elizabeth, and the awesome staff at 3B Barranco, who made Lima our home base.  You are welcoming, friendly and very good at making visitors feel completely at home!  Gracias!!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

LarcoMar, Miraflores Starbucks


starbucks, in lima! next best to timmys...

Same day, more adventure

Following seaside lunch, the second part of our day was even more an adrenaline rush.  A half hour south, we passed through Ica to the natural sand dune formations, towering mountains of sand of Huan.... (sp?) and a desert Oasis below.  On board our 9-person "buggy" (say " boo-gey" for true effect), we climbed up and over and around the hills and valleys at warp-speed - YAHHOOO! Great fun.  Atop the first "small" hill, we took out the sand boards, and had a go at sliding to the bottom... Katie loved it, and Derek tried it snow-board style, zip zip down the 70 degree slope to the bottom, and back up again (harder to climb sand than snow).
Back in the buggy, off and over to the next slope, this one higher and steeper than the first, everyone down again, until a slight mishap and I took my board in the head.... Jack and Jill went up the hill, Jill fell down and , well, the rest involved a quick trip back into Ica to the nearest clinic where Fabrizio, aghast at the price of stitches, shooed us back to the parking lot and with all the medical instruments and supplies in hand was able to fix me right up there in the street.... CLASSIC!  A parading funeral procession went by, with horns and cars and tuk-tuk taxis, and school kids, and yes, us in the minivan-cum-surgical unit, fixed again and heading back to the dunes to finish the second half of the ride.  Unfortunately, we were too long and lost our buggy,  so had to settle for a boat-ride in the oasis and then lunch at Katie's favorite, Rorky's, for bbq chicken and a climb in the play-place ball-pit (for her, anyway).  Only a slight headache, no concussion thankfully, and a long trip back into Lima to wash off all that sand.... honestly, what a fun day, but I think I prefer tobogganing (cold, yes, but snow melts)

Islas Ballistas, Peru's Galapagos reserve

This is a must-see on any trip to Peru.  When we first started planning our trip, the Galapagos Islands were high on our list, but the cost was very prohibitive.  Located off Equador, and only reached by air and boat, there were restrictions on age (older than Katie) for most tours, and a high price tag for a group of 6 - well over $10G for most 5 day tours.... plus the extra time.  A good alternative in the guide books was Peru's "poor man's Galapagos", which honestly was perfect for our family - a day trip south of Lima and a taste of the wildlife unique to this area.... and truly 3 hours of bird poop was lots for this crew!
After an early start again with Rosita, and our awesome guide from our first day in Lima, Fabrizio, we headed south by 6 am for a VERY eventful day.  The area of Paracas 3 hours south of Lima was hit by a major earthquake in 2007, but the tourist facilities have been rebuilt in an effort to attract visitors and support the local economy.  Our 30-man motorboat was led by a bi-lingual Naturalist guide, and cost roughly 50 soles (less than $20 each).  The waters were calm, and the trip to the islands very enjoyable on the warm, sunny day.  There we saw colonies of Sea Lions, local penguins, and nesting cormorants - like, 200,000 of them!  And yes, holy guano, Batman, the island does STINK!  The refuge is basically a giant volcanic island, with caves and arches, and reminants of past bird-poop-harvest still evident (no longer actively mined, this resource was very valuable as a fertilizer for a couple hundred of years, more valuable at the time than gold, and even led to the "guano" wars with Spain and neighboring Chile... $75/kilo... drove the Peruvian economy in the 1700-1800's...

Punta Hermosa y Playa

A day at the beach in order for this crew, so Thursday we hired our sweet Rosita (Nascar road racer extraordinaire) to command her minivan 45 minutes south of the city to the summer resort of Hermosa.  It is late Spring in Peru in November, so few locals venture to brave the chilly waters, but to these Canucks it is plenty warm for a dip in the ocean.  The sky cleared by 11 am, and under a warm Southern sky we played in the waves and sand and surf.
Lunch was seafood, freshly caught in the quiet bay we overlooked during our meal, and cold cervasa and Inca cola for the ninos, along with slow-roasted corn and fresh avocado.  Katie is getting her fill of calamari, soft and tasty.  You can't beat a seaside dinner, watching the surfers from the point restaurant - a million dollar view anywhere, here in Peru.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happily Back at Sea Level

After a trip to downtown Cusco and the Star Peru airline offices, we were able to change flights and return to the metropolis of Lima, and our ocean-view abode.  Whew.   Everyone is feeling well again, after a 15 hour-or-so night of rest (insomnia is cured) and appetites have returned.  Rick is creditting his Viking roots for his preference of the sea.  And the rest of our trek will most certainly be not far from a beach... Amen.

Today we saw another side of Peru.  Off to upscale Miraflores and the JW Marriott, the fanciest hotel in Lima, and casino, Vegas-style.  My brother Aaron and his wife Tania have a connection there for us, a family they know who have moved from Grand Cayman.  We left a message and hope to meet them before we leave.  Then we were greeted by a screaming crowd of teenage girls waiting for the rock band "Tokio" something.. (anyone heard of them? a German boy-band with MTV awards?) Apparently, they are holding a concert here tonight. Across from the hotel is an up-scale mall built into the side of the ocean-side cliff, complete with bowling alleys, chain restaurants (Tony Roma's, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts...) and a cineplex, so yes! Kids got to see Harry Potter in English with Spanish subtitles...  ex-large popcorn and pop, plus movie for 18 soles (6 bucks) each - Derek got his pop for free (!).  And the theater was empty (the 6 of us, plus 4 other people) for the matinee show.  Perfecto! 

After an American meal and a show, it was easy to forget where we were, until we emerged and were approached by 2 young moms holding infants, begging for money to feed their children.  Along the street there are old, banged up cars mixed in with Porches and BMW's, and mini-busses crammed with 60 or so people inside.  There are shiny, glass buildings next to piles of rubble and rebar.  And noise:  constant honking as impatient drivers switch from lane to lane to lane, and then up on the sidewalk!  Driving here is truly crazy, even with police whistling on every corner and pedestrians dodging between cars.  Dogs running everywhere, some on leash but most without.  And EVERYONE, young, old, rich, not-so-rich, tourist, local, even the lady in traditional Inca dress, talking and texting on a cell.  Definately:  Loco.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Titicaca a "no-no"

Well, after yesterday's return to the 11,100 ft altitude, and the return of malaise by the majority of the group, Rick and I have decided to re-route and head back to sea level - Katie also can't wait to swim.  Dad and Betty caught a bus tour at 7am to head up to Puno, which is the entry to the "world's highest navigable lake", resting on the border of Peru and Bolivia.  It has been inhabitated by various indiginous groups for over 4000 years, and is the oldest center of agicultural practice in the "New World", but alas at 12,500 feet above sea level (or more?) this younger part of the family did not want to climb any further up hill..... back to the sea, Billy! for us.  In this case, the grandparents have won!

Jaclyn's fever broke during the night, but she is still not up to snuff, and the altitude is not great for Rick.  Travis seems to have recovered fully from his flu, though headache and a general feeling of "unwell" combined by insomnia (is it the altitude, the barking dogs, the horns all night long, the upset belly, or the "what if's" keeping us awake?) plagues us all.  Katie is the only one seeming unfazed, and Derek is just hungry.... This morning with the help of very friendly Cusi Wasi staff, we were able to change our flights to go instead back to Lima, skipping out the high altitude and the jungle.  We were also able to find a restaurant that served all-day American style breakfast (pancakes and maple syrup!) which calmed everyone's stomach, including Jaclyn.  Today will be a quiet day of rest, and tomorrow we head back down to the coast, where sea breezes can replace this high mountain air.  I don't see Mount Everest in anyone's future.  Except maybe Derek...

Speaking of Derek, it should come to no one's surprise that he is loving the bargaining shopping experience here.  If we need anything at all, he seems to be able to negotiate the best prices in both stores and at the markets.  His Spanish is coming along quite nicely too, as he can read the menus and talk prices, barter for lower cost and seem to come away with exactly the items he wanted.... quite the gift that boy has.  Si, gracias y por favor!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Back to the Cusi Wasi

The magic that is Machu Picchu is still setting in, and we are glad we have made the journey but it is now hard not to find the next week a little anti-climatic.  We have had wonderful weather - the guidebooks all said November is spring, and the temp would range from 8 to 18 degrees, but we have had over 25 with a strong sun shining down.  The evenings cool off, but just to make sleeping comfortable.  Amazingly, no rain even at the sites where we were warned it rains most afternoons and evenings.  We have met several people who have braved the 4 day hike, and now Derek has the bug to return and complete the same feat.  With the amount of climbing involved in simply visiting the sites, let alone hiking to get to them, we are glad we are taking the "easy" path with the bus/van/train combos.  We have also met a number of people who have injured themselves (not surprising) or are suffering quite hard from high altitude, to the point of doctors and one being medi-vac'd back to is serious stuff.  Jaclyn is now ill, but most likely with a version of the bug Travis brought from home.  She has the added complication of upset stomach, but is now sleeping so we are praying it doesnt worsen.  Rest is the order of the day, rest and gatorade.
We are back at the same hotel in Cuzco, a friendly hostal with 20 or so rooms, though so far we have been the only guests.  Our 6 are going to stay until Jaclyn is well again before we continue anywhere, but Dad and Betty are going to continue up to Lake Titicaca (altitude 4300m).  We will have to see if we have time once we are all back to feeling fine... travelling with kids means alternate routes!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

AHHH Machupicchu....

Staying up at the tourist village of Aguas Calientes, the end of the train line and only access to Machupicchu, one of the New Wonders of the World.  And a wonder it is.  After a 30 minute switchback narrow road up an incredibly steep mountain side (I had to close my eyes much of the time as Peru is not really a good place for people who are afraid of heights!) we arrived to a misty city high in the clouds, build in the 1400´s and hidden until 90 or so years ago.  This archeological find made famous by a Yale professor truly unveils the unbelievable dynasty of the Inca empire.  It is awesome.

Yesterday was a difficult health day for at least half of our group of 8.  Travis has been suffering with a head and chest cold, complicated by altitude sickess from a couple of days at 12,000 feet above sea level.  Derek and JC have been eating Advil to ward off headaches, Rick has had a racing pulse (high blood pressure and high altitude are not a great combo, especially with the high test coffee they serve here.  I think I went down to a bad guacamole... anyway we rested well after the train ride down to this area, and woke this morning ready to brave the trek.  Katie is the healthiest of the bunch and she is literally running up the hills and having to wait for us all.  But once we hit the height of the city, we honestly could feel the power of that place.  I know that sounds hokey, but truly Machupicchu is mystical.

I forgot to mention that Jaclyn did her Irish jig at the top of Machu Picchu - a treble reel she made up herself, to quite a crowd and recorded by her brother,Travis.  After we rounded the terrace to descend to the main ruin area, a 20-something girl stopped her and asked if it was she dancing up above?  Being from Ireland, she herself had danced as a youngster, and wondered if Jaclyn would join her in a reel?  So then the two of them danced together at Machu Picchu, united in both the wonder of the view and the joy of the dance.... it was positively great!  U-tube to follow!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Sacred Valley

The Inca culture is really incredible, and we are all in awe of their technology especially in agriculture. Today we visited a place called Moray where they constructed what amounts to a research station, with concentric irrigated rings of terraced land on a mountain plateau (3700m high).  There they developed seed for multiple crops in multiple varieties - 3000 types of potatoes alone.  Some of the lower terraces in the Sacred Valley remain in production today, continuously farmed for over 500 years now, and high in corn, as well as wheat, oats, and vegetables like squash and yams.  We also spent time at an alpaca farm, much to the kids delight - we all fed and pet them, and they are really friendly creatures.  Later at lunch the buffet included local dishes with quinoa(sp?) soup (a rice-like grain) and of course, alpaca in gravy.  We all tried it and thought it tasty - can you tell our kids were raised on a farm? Love it.  The Sun Temple at Oliantatambo was an awesome example of astronomy - the alter lined up perfectly with the summer and winter solstice shadows between the mountain peaks.  Truly, an incredible day of learning (not to mention about 1500 steps to climb?) - we are all very tired tonight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Up, Up to the Land of the Inca

This morning we packed up and flew StarPeru to Cuzco, a city of 10,000 high in the Andes.  And I mean high enough to make all of us light-headed.  Altitude sickness is a real issue here, as we are over 10,000 feet in a mountaintop valley that has been inhabited for like, 2500 years!  The Museo Inka was fascinating today, with pottery and textiles from various cultures from this area, as well as the more kid-friendly jewerly, weapons, golden statues and of course mummified bodies. Even an example of a "midget Inka" (I think the better translation would have been "little people" but I didnt correct our guide... it was the only humerous thing he said all afternoon)  The city here is quite the tourist scene, and we were constantly approached to buy this and that, so we did buy this and that until even Katie was getting very firm in her "No GRACIAS" to make them go away. We did get some cute photos of a baby alpaca while we were eating in a restaurant.... they were also on the menu, which we did find ironic.   This is a very steep town.  The cars cruise down the hills without needing much fuel and the pedestrians scramble at the bottom to cross streets - brakes are not guaranteed, and though I think those red octogonal signs probably mean STOP here too, no one seems to pay any notice.  Between the honking and vendors and traffic and lights flashing and tourists, we are all looking forward to tomorrow, when we can leave the city behind.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A day around Barranco

Today was quieter after the excitement of new discovery and the down of the Inca Cola - way too much caffeine for Katie, must find something else for her to drink!  Dad and Betty flew in late last night, and we made arrangements to plan our itinerary for the next 12 days together.  A trip to the Banco (unfortunately long line-ups, we will never again complain of this in Canada again) then a delightful lunch in the central square of our little suburb, Barranco.  Our neighborhood is a seaside village, rather high-end with cobblestone streets and cafes and sea views from the tops of cliffs overlooking the crashing surf below.  A gorgeous day today (I sunburned my arms and nose) and a great day to dine on incredible ceviche that we had to photograph it was so pretty!  Pictures as soon as I can figure out how to load them on this page!  We had to pick up a sweet sweater with llamas for Katie, and a Peruvian touque for Derek, so they will fit right in, as tomorrow we leave bright and early for a flight high into the Andes to discover the Sacred Valley and the Lost City of Gold!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amazing Day in Lima

Okay, I won't be writing every day, let alone twice, but today was really amazing and I wanted to write it down so I wont forget.  After a short walk up our street this am, Rick was hesitant to venture forth with a sleepy Katie in tow, so we decided instead to arrange for a driver and English speaking guide to share the highlights of Lima today.  Enter Fabrizio, a wonderful dentistry student who has spent many months in Chicago, Boston and NYC hanging with friends and learning perfectly fluent English who also has an amazing grasp of his home country's culture and history as well as what kind of things most interests teenage boys and the girls too.
We were met at our (did I mention this before?) super-clean and SAFE B&B with a van (without dents! rare indeed it seems) and navigated our way to the central square.  We witnessed the changing of the Peruvian Guard (very British-style ceremony, plus policia in riot gear), and next to the Monestary and into the depths of the catacombs - kids LOVED that part.  On to a tiny street cafe for our first taste of Cerveza and Inca Cola - pop that tastes like bubble gum.  Katie had to pee, of course, and I could go on about that, but Fabrizio summed it up:  "dont expect the Radisson".  Baahhaaaa.
Then to a Inquistor museum (think Spanish inquisition and wax museum torture chamber), where a school group of young teenage Peruvians seemed much more interested in the attraction of two Canadian boys vs the exhibits.... Jaclyn was annoyed they kept taking OUR picture.....
The architecture was influenced by Spain, yes, but also France and Italy, and was opulent, then around the block was the antithesis of shanty-style markets., really an amazing contrast.
Later for lunch, we went to a local family restaurant, complete with indoor playground and ball-pit (like Ikea used to do), that served our first pisco sours (yummm, dangerous!) and lunch for meat-a-tarians.... oooh, what is this on the bottom of the pile on this grill of steak, pork, sausage, chicken, and what? yeah, heart, bowel and some chicken "from the area where the egg comes from"  - really?  yeah.
Spanish is not coming that easily, and I find myself wishing I had a better command of the language.  After Derek and I blew the power not once but twice due to a faulty serge protector (they were gracious, it was only the whole building, not the entire block...) I wished I could apologize more fluently.
Now after another dinner of "safer" chicken nuggets and fries, we await the arrival of my parents - and tomorrow we continue our journey out of the city and on to more adventure!

Waking up in Lima

Before I opened my eyes, I could hear horns blaring, engines revving and the clinking of morning dishes.  We have lucked out at a gem of a bed and breakfast in the suburb of Barranco, on the Peruvian coast neighboring the more expensive Miraflores.  The hotel is new, with wooden floors so spotless you might eat off of them, sparkling showers with 24-hour hot water - apparently rare in this part of the world.  If all the hostals are like this, we have no worries at all.
Breakfast was cooked to request eggs and toast, strong coffee and fresh squeezed juice.   Yum.
Impressions when we arrived, well, they treat families here with special preference.  Katie had special meals on the plane (grilled cheeze!) and then they fast-tracked us through customs in the crew only line.  We were met by our driver at the airport - what a sight to have around 300 drivers waving placards with names, and us searching for the one with Rick on it.... Derek got a great photo.  Our van weaved through the dark streets at 1am, surprisingly busy for the middle of the night, and we got our first glimpse of South America, with low flat-roofed row houses - laundry flapping on the roof!, dogs running across the roads, and flashing reds at intersections that seem to mean "slow down slightly here".
Today we are off to explore!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Grand Adventure Begins

What a successful trip to Vancouver, for the Oirechtas mostly - Jaclyn did AMAZING!  She recalled, and then qualified for the North American Irish Dance Championsips, which will be in July.  So glad we delayed the few extra days in Canada so that she might compete in this worth it!  We will be practicing our dance every day so no steps are forgotten, the dance shoes made it into the backpack too.
And of course, after a few days of spoiling ourselves at a fancy hotel (Westin's Heavenly Beds are to die for....) we start the true journey to South America via LAX. 
We checked our bags straight through, and have carry-ons with a swimsuit and change of clothes - Katie LOVES the ladybug, Deb! - and are excited to be meeting up with my Dad and Betty in Lima on Monday.  We have pre-booked the shuttle to our first B&B in Miraflores, a seaside district of Peru's capital city that looks like a perfect place to start our journey.  Macchu Picchu is a balmy 20 degrees celcius today... perfect for a big hike!  Here we go....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Stop, The Edge of Canada - Vancouver

This morning, with backpacks stuffed and excitement high, we boarded our first of many airplanes and made the trip across the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, where we will each "dunk a toe (brrr,)" for posterity sake alone.  Jaclyn is dancing in the Western Canadian Champion regional qualifier for Irish dance on Friday.  We simply couldn't miss that after all the hours and hours of practice she has already invested.  Good luck to her - we are very proud of her accomplishments to compete at this level - she amazes us both.  Pictures  to follow.

Rick and the boys continued from the airport to the ferry to cross to Vancouver Island to visit Uncle Jack and Auntie Donna at Alberni for a couple of nights.  Today was bright and sunny and warm - gotta love that for the Canadian West coast in November.... hopefully it will hold until the weekend. The girls were able to do a "polar bear swim" in the outdoor hotel pool this afternoon, yes it was really that warm!  Well, we are Canadian!


Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting Ready and Set to GO!

Well, we leave on Wednesday - YIKES!  Trying desperately to get everything arranged, packed, purchase the few things we might still need, plan the business stuff while we are away, arrange for the house and vehicles, and of course see everyone for a visit before we are gone for 5 months.

The kids' teachers were also on that list - wow, their schools have been incredible and super-accommodating with our "winter avoidance" journey.  We leave at Fall Break, and are home just after Spring Break.... as little snow as possible this year!  Their assignment for the missed classes is a little bit of math and science, and then blog away for social and English.... their links are under the blogs I'm following if you'd like another viewpoint of these adventures..... I'm sure that will be worth a laugh by itself!

So this is the story of a family of six, with plans to visit five continents in five months...or at least have a small taste of each.  This will not be a five star trip, as we have warned our tribe, but they no doubt do not understand yet.  To travel for this long, there is a strict budget involved, not only because that is what is affordable, but also so that they get a true understanding of the places we are going.  We plan to experience the culture, not just as a tourist on "any beach, any where", but meeting other families and learning about the places and history and nature of it all.  By discovering others, we will discover our selves!

So we invite you to follow along - this is my journal, for two purposes.  One is self - I want to remember each place and our impressions as they occur, so that one experience is not overshadowed by the next (and in my aging, I seem to be remembering less lately!).  The second is to share.  Family and friends, here are the tales of the Anderson"s - Lisa and Rick (40'ish) and our children, Travis (16), Derek (14), Jaclyn (12) and Katie (6), a farm family from small-town Alberta, Canada, who is taking this opportunity to share the world with our kids, before the are all grown and gone.... which indeed is happening too soon!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Starting Out

Well, I guess the first thing would be to see if the "blog" works....mmmm... technology and ways to communicate back home have certainly changed  since our last "walk-about" with just the two of us 18 short years ago B.C. (those would be the days "before children").  I remember clearly trying to figure out how to use a pay phone in some small town in the middle of the day so that we wouldn't wake anyone out of bed in the dead of night on the other side of the world.
So, next step will be to get each of the kids online too, and figuring out how to link the whole thing together so it's easy for everyone to follow.... I am feeling my age on this one.
Okay, let's check this out!