Travel


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.

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One of the most interesting activities Vegas has to offer is the ability to head to one of the many shooting ranges and try out some weapons.
Growing up, we were not allowed to have guns of any kind in the house, including the bright, plastic water guns. Truth be told, just the idea of real guns scare me.
But hey, it’s Vegas! …and dad and hubby really wanted to go.

My dad got the WWII package, and Mike got the Coalition Forces package, which contained the weapons used in Iraq today.
I shot the women’s package, which consisted of a handgun and a beretta.

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In the next photo, I would like to point out that I have accurately hit Osama Bin Laden in the left eye- the same eye shot that actually killed him. Coincidence?! You’re welcome, America.

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Okay, so Vegas wasn’t as creepy as I had imagined. Yes, it still is kind of awful in terms of the chain smoking, prostitution cards and gambler addictions, but if you can look past those things, its actually kind of great.
Yep. I said it. It was kind of great.

Its just a gluttonous kind of place. Lots of food, lots of booze, lots of gambling, smoking and partying. None of which I’m opposed to – in principal.

We were lucky to enjoy the most spectacular weather in Las Vegas. It was warm and extremely dry. Yes, I know it is a desert, but it’s a type of feeling that I’ve never experienced! I loved the landscaping of regular peoples homes – stones, cacti and neat rocks.

We had the opportunity to rent a car and travel out to the the desert. We drove out to a place called the Valley of Fire, which is a State Park known for spectacular rock formations in vivid red colours. It was not a disappointment. The colour is so shocking red, even my awesome iPhone camera couldn’t capture it accurately – you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

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!

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