How could I not use this as a title, at least once?!

Landing in Iceland you immediately notice three things:  it’s stark landscape, clean air, and the freezing temperatures!

It’s very much like winter in Canada, but with an added breeze (read: whipping, screaming wind) off the North Atlantic.  I was grateful to have brought my parka and sealskin gloves!  Interestingly, it actually isn’t a very cold place.  Because of it’s position on the jetstream, it rarely gets colder than -15.  It just seems a lot colder and damper coming from a balmy Canadian autumn where we’ve had temperatures in the 20’s!  In any case, we spent the first day strolling around Reykjavik and enjoying the sites.  With a population of 120,000, it really felt like a small city.

I loved the colourful homes and rooftops.  One of my favourite things to do in every city I visit is walk around and see how people really live.  Most of the homes are made of tin, as it seems to handle the weather better than other materials.  Interestingly, all the homes are heated by geothermal technology, since Iceland has a steady supply of hot springs.  This technology is also used to heat city streets, driveways and sidewalks.  Just imagine: NEVER having to shovel!

Here`s a pic of one of my favourite homes:

Iceland seems to have a wonderful cafe culture, and each neighbourhood features a friendly local place to get your lattes and carrot cake.  Carrot cake was all over this country  – just one more reason Iceland is awesome.

So it’s finally safe to post this little tidbit of information: We’re heading to Vegas on Wednesday!
The impetus for this trip is actually to surprise my mom in celebration of her 60th Birthday. Pretty big deal huh?

As of today, my parents have already flown out (which is why its safe to post this blog entry!), and we will be joining her halfway through her trip.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Vegas, and to be brutally honest, I’ve never really wanted to go. My preconcieved notions are as follows:

*its too noisy
*its garish and tacky
*I get sad when I see old people blowing their pensions on the one-armed bandit
*its cheesy
*its full of Americans and punks and ne’er-do-well gangsters
*showgirls, showgirls, showgirls! (okay, I’m kinda excited for that!)

Okay – so its all out there in the open! I know SO many people who LOVE Vegas, and think it is the best thing ever. So, we’ll see. I’m keeping an open mind. If nothing else, the weather is supposed to kick some serious ass – 91 degrees! Hooray!

I am just so excited to see my mom’s reaction – lets hope someone’s got a camera!

So Lima’s got a pretty bad rap in the travel world. People say its boring, dangerous, not much to do, etc. etc. etc. These people are just wrong, I tell you!
Like any city, its got its rough neighbourhoods, but generally speaking, Lima is a lovely cosmopolitan city with lots to offer. The architecture in spots is extremely European, thanks to the Spanish Colonialists. They’ve got lots of lovely little churches, like this one:

The Church of San Francisco was really cool, because underneath is a giant crypt full of bodies. They are arranged by body part, so for example – the femur section, kneecap section, and skull section. You’ll have to take my word on how cool this was, because there were no photos allowed, unfortunately.

The Church la Merced was the very first church in Peru:

Oh wait, have I just stepped into Paris?! Nope, still in Lima! Another gorgeous building. Upon closer inspection however, it is really gotten quite shabby.

Lets hope the government puts some cash into preserving these amazing structures!

Wait a minute, are we in Spain now?! Nope, still in Lima! This is the stunning Plaza de Mayor. We saw a workers protest here on the final day of the trip – what is with all these protests?!

This gorgeous square is also home to the very first Pisco Sour. Now that is a little bit of information I can get excited about!

The Lima coastline is also incredibly stunning. It is very clear that the government is investing in this area to make it a hot attraction. It is lined with gorgeous new condos, parks, and even a shopping mall in Miraflores that has cleverly been built into a cliff, so as not to obstruct the views.

I could definitely see this area of Lima becoming a playground destination for rich travelers and retirees, much like Panama.

I guess this title is a little deceiving, as we didn’t really get to see too much of Puno at all.  By the next afternoon the sickness had dissipated enough to warrant heading outside in search of snacks, and to also catch a glimpse of Lake Titicaca.

Most of the tourists depart early in the morning to see the lake tribes and return late in the evening.  This means that most of the shops nearby are closed the rest of the day.  We took a  couple photos, grabbed some bananas and dinner rolls, and headed back to the hotel.  On the way we caught an example of globalization initiatives by one of Canada’s finest brands:

After our tour mates returned to the hotel, we got together to head out for a traditional Peruvian dinner: Guinea Pig!   It seems so interesting to me that these little fellows are kept around the house as pets, until one night you can’t decide what you’d like for dinner, and your pet’s cute furriness suddenly begins to look…delicious!

Here is a photo of one of our friends demonstrating the typical spread – the guinea pig is flayed out on a plate – claws covered delicately in tinfoil.  This restaurant was first class, and they gutted the beast for you – covering its empty body with a fresh and tasty salad.  Also notice the side serving of Peruvian tater tots with cheese sauce?!  SO GOOD!

Notice the head and teeth are intact.  Our guide Alim showed us the traditional way of eating this part of the head, and the neat crafts you can do with it afterward:

Notice it is in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird of the Incas!  Guinea pig looks very unappetizing, but its really just like dark meat with a fried skin.  Not quite like chicken, but not really unlike it either.

So Machu Picchu was NOT the finale of our trip, but I think it might have been better if it were.  After our hike we had a couple additional days in Cusco to recuperate and relax before heading south to Lake Titicaca.  The plan was to take a 7 hour journey by bus to the town of Puno where we would take a boat cruise of  the lake, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. The scenery changed dramatically as we went from jungle to mountain, to an almost desert-like environment.   All seemed to be going well until the last stretch, when we were inexplicably stopped in what appeared to be a traffic jam.  After waiting for an hour, our guide discovered that the traffic jam was part of a protest by local Puno residents, who had blocked the entrance to the city by throwing masses of boulders on the highway.  They told us if we attempted to pass, our vehicle would be stoned.

Our only option was to backpack the last 30 minutes into the city.  Ugh. I normally wouldn’t mind, but my stomach was kinda sore.

In any case, we unloaded our gear and began the walk.   It was very disconcerting seeing the blockages on the road, but even moreso seeing the numbers of people at the clifftop ready to throw rocks at us.

The area was dusty and polluted, not to mention the extremely high altitude, which made it very difficult to breathe.  At this point, my stomach started hurting a bit more.  Within about 10 minutes I was unable to walk, the pain was so strong.  Luckily, my tour mates grabbed my bags and helped me onto our bus, which our guide had somehow procured and was ready and waiting for us.  It really warmed my heart to see the numbers of local men and women who rushed out of their homes and shops to come to my aid, bringing coca leaves, smelling salts, and all manner of medicine to help.  I was surprised to see the level of care and concern these people had for me – a stranger in the middle of nowhere.  Despite the discomfort (ok – PAIN), this was one of the best memories I have of the kindness of the Peruvian people.

Luckily we had an AMAZING GAP Adventures guide, as well as the best medical insurance money could buy.  Within 15 minutes of our arrival to the hotel, a doctor had arrived from the local hospital to treat me, with our guide acting as interpreter.  I ended up having a vicious intestinal infection, complete with delirium, shakes, fever, and a racing heart.  A cardiologist was also called in to make sure I wouldn’t have a heart attack.  A little over the top, I’m sure – but it was great to be in good hands!  A needle in my bum, handfulls of pills, and a good sleep later, I was ready to rock on the next adventure!

Did I mention in my last post that part of this trip entails hiking to Machu Picchu?  For, like, 4 DAYS?

Did I mention that I have never been camping before?  In Ontario, let alone in the Andes, where creepy crawlies exist that will KILL YOU!

Did I mention that the highest point is at 4200 M, or 13779 ft?  And that you can DIE from altitude sickness?  And I already have asthma?!

Be afraid, be very, very afraid.

For these reasons, I was hesitant about this part of our journey, but the more research and preparation I do, the more excited I get for the challenge!

The Inca Trail in Peru is considered one of the top 5 treks in the entire world, and as such, it can get quite busy.  Luckily for us, a limited number of passes are issued for it every year, and we booked far enough in advance that we were able to obtain one!   Also, each person gets their own porter who carries your stuff up for you, sets up your tent, and even cooks your meals, so its not all roughing it!  I mean, it could definitely be a lot worse.  And the bathrooms can’t be any worse than the ones on the roadside in Malaysia, right?

The average temps in November are between 6 and 22C, and because the higher you go, the cooler it is, we are going to need to invest in some thermal clothing.  Of course, I’m excited about the shopping aspect of the preparations!  (“Any excuse to spend money”, my dear husband says – and of course, he’s right!).   So far I’ve gotten my hiking boots on sale at Mountain Equipment Coop, as well as some quick dry pants that zip off at the knees, and a thermal shirt and tights.  Still on the list:  second pair of pants, quick-dry undies and socks, and most importantly:  a cute hat to protect my skin from the sun (well, truthfully, I’m more concerned about a cute hat to cover up the 4-day buildup of unwashed greasy hair!)

Also in preparation for this trekking adventure, I have begun to workout.  Yep, you read that right.  Kelly O is hitting the gym, AND spinning!  I will not be the most out of shape person on the trip… I refuse!  The spinning is a great workout for the thighs and lungs, which will be critical when spending days hiking up ancient stairs in a decreased oxygen environment.  I’m also going to hit up my doctor to stock up on asthma puffers!  Apparently the best thing to do for altitude sickness is to chew/brew coca leaves, which are high in loads of vitamins and are supposed to help counteract altitude sickness symptoms.

In any case, I’m excited to make the journey, this will no doubt be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I have been meaning to write about this topic for quite awhile. I find many things about watching the tube here interesting:

1. Programming
TV in our apartment is definitely slanted toward an Anglo viewer. We have History Channel, Discovery Channel, MTV and other things you would likely be familiar with. The difference is that these shows all have a distinctively Asian twist: History spends more time airing stuff on Asian historical events than European or Canadian ones. The Discovery Channel airs more shows on Travel and local flora and fauna than back home (obviously)

Also, America has imported some of its best, and some of its worst shows. CSI airs here at least twice a day for EACH spinoff show (awesome). Law & Order also airs daily (awesome-r), even Oprah is on daily, Family Guy, Seinfeld, and the Simpsons!

But there are also soooo many bad American shows that it is almost embarrassing: TNA Wresting airs ALL night EVERY Saturday, along with WWE and Smackdown – which might be the same thing…I have no idea. And ever wonder what happens to unsuccessful shows with only a season or two back home? Yep! They get picked up in Asia and shown ad nauseum. For example: Bionic Woman, Terminator: The Sarah Connors Story, Dirt, etc etc.

2. Commercials
I dont know what the laws are, but commercials here are completely different. They don’t advertise products, only other TV shows. Its strange, but much preferable, in my opinion.

Also, the skip a lot of commercials. Like every other commercial during Oprah is just skipped. They fade to black and then reappear instantly. So what do they do with the leftover time since they dont take up the full hour? you might ask. Simple…show clips from other shows! Other Oprah shows, clips from a movie, or a little interview with a Hollywood Starlet.

3. Random

They play the same shows on at the same time, every night. For example, they will play the whole season of Lost in 2 weeks. Cause a new episode is aired every day. Which is great, unless you are busy one night a week..then you’re totally confused! They do this with Amazing Race, Last Comic Standing and many other shows. So when they run out of new shows, they just take it off the air and replace it with something else! So you can never really bet on your fav show at all. So annoying!

4. Subtitles

If a show is in English, it is subtitled in Mandarin. After awhile you don’t even notice, but I have to wonder how they can possibly read all those characters so quickly!
If a show is in Japanese or any other language, it is subtitled in English. This is because most people here also speak English.

Overall, this is far too much analysis of television, and I’m kind of embarrassed for having written this at all.

But there you have it! Everything you wanted to know about TV in Singapore!

I have come to notice simply by watching MTV Asia that Singaporeans have the most questionable taste in music. This does not include any reviews of the current Mandarin or Japanese hits, only the largest English-language hits, (I think we can all agree that I am not equipped to judge the likes of Jay Chou or Prince Michael!) I think you may be surprised at what made MTVs top 10 songs this week:

  • “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” Randy Jackson feat. Paula Abdul
  • “No Air” Jordin Sparks feat Chris Brown
  • “All Amercian Girl” Carrie Underwood
  • “Like Whoa” Aly & AJ
  • “Outta My Head” Ashlee Simpson
  • “Hands on Me” Vanessa Carleton
  • “Feels like Tonight” Daughtry
  • “Slow me Down” Emmy Rossum (who I believe played Christine in the movie adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera)
  • “Run the Show” Kat Deluna
  • “Touch my Body” Mariah Carey

Its unfortunate that I only got around to writing this list this week…because the songs that were in the top 10 even 2 weeks ago were even worse (like that awful Colby Caillat song…you know “starts in my toes and I wrinkle my nose, and it comes and goes and I already know, and thats a good show and I like snow” song) Simple Plan and Avril Lavigne are also super popular. I am by no means a music snob…but listening to the radio in this country is like listening to nails on a chalkboard. North America is just not quite exporting their best, in my humble opinion.

Every Saturday, our building is home to a bizarre and wonderful phenomenon. Weekly, from 6:30 until 9 pm, Singaporeans from all over the city state gather here to do 1 thing: line dance.
Its true! We noticed them since our arrival, however never got sneaky enough to take any pictures. But we HAD to…because the sight is just so ridiculous that you wouldn’t believe me unless I had concrete proof.

Last night we got bold enough to take a few shots.

Notice the man in the white shirt and jeans… he seems to be the ringleader. Everyone pays a fee to him to dance every week, which likely goes to paying the DJ and equipment rental. And yes, there IS equipment. And lots of it!

Last night we also saw a couple in matching Stars and Stripes mustang shirts and matching hats, and matching white cowboy boots. Its a good look!

It seems that every day here we get mistaken for Australians (or Swede’s…see previous posts). Getting mistaken for an Aussie isn’t really a bad thing, because I associate all good things with the nation down under…former British colony, fine weather, and good looking citizens! And being mistaken for one of them is surely much more complimentary than being taken for an American! But even after you tell them you are not from Australia, it doesn’t seem to matter, so I’ve just been going with it.

Typical cab ride in Singapore:
Driver: “So…whey you fra la?” (Translation: Where are you from?)
Me: “Canada…Toronto”
Driver: “OOOH Canada…big place yah. Cold! Haha!”
Me: “Yah, pretty cold there this time of year”
Driver: “You know, our Prime Minister has been to Australia many times”
Me: “Oh really?”
Driver: “Yes, many, many times”
Me: “Nice”
Driver: “Yes, nice”
Me: Silence
Driver: “Australia has great golfing”
Me: “Nice”
Driver: “Yes, nice”
Me: Silence

And often by this point I have arrived at my destination and can extricate myself from the rapidly deteriorating conversation. It simply puzzles me every time it happens. I can’t figure out if it is the nearest frame of reference for Caucasian habitation, or if they are unsure about Canada. Maybe it sounds like Canberra???? That thought just occurred to me…OMG. I might have just figured this mystery out!!!

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