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.

Well its official:  we have decided to head to Peru this November!  I guess its okay that Mike gets what he wants – well, at least sometimes!  Besides, it will most certainly be an amazing adventure and a great learning experience with lots of great sights, food, and drinks.  I also read that the Pisco Sour is their national cocktail, and it sounds delicious! Surely a drink made with lime juice and egg whites will fortify me for the jungle trekking?  Right?

Machu Picchu is also listed as one of the top 6 things to see before you die, according to the 1000 Places to See Before you Die.  And if its good enough for Cameron Diaz, well heck, it’ll be good enough for me!

Its hard to believe its been 2 years since our last big adventure, and like anyone with a case of serious wanderlust, we are both itching to head out on another big vacation. Since I’m not working at the moment, it seems like the perfect time!  The first question to ask, of course, is: Where should we go?!

Mike has always dreamed of seeing Macchu Piccu in Peru.  I’ve always liked archaeological sites and ancient civilzations, but I have to be honest here, and I’ve never had much of a desire to visit South America.  I’m not sure why exactly, but maybe its because I don’t know an awful lot about the history.  Oh, and it is also the continent with the most deadliest and scariest bugs and things.  Such as the world’s deadliest snakes:  The Bushmaster, and the Anaconda.  Basically I’m nervous to go anywhere where there is even a remote possibility of running into something like this:

Don’t even get me started on my real fear: spiders.  I’m so afraid of these things, that even looking for pictures of South American spiders in Google Images upset me and made me squirm in my seat, uttering little squeaks of terror while trying to close my screen as quickly as possible.  So yeah.  Spiders.  And lots of em!  Is it wrong that I’d rather run into a Jaguar than a tarantula or a banana spider?  Oh, and lets not forget the Human Bot Fly, which is a disgusting creation which basically proves that god does not exist, because even he could not be so mean as to create a bug like this.  Seriously, a fly that buries its larvae in humans, and you can feel it moving under your skin! You can die!!!!   It can eat into your BRAIN!

Personally, I’ve always wanted to go to Russia.  I’d love to see Saint Petersburg and Moscow, the homeland of the Tatars, and Ivan the Terrible.  I mean, how cool would seeing this in real life be?

Or we could travel to Germany and see Munich, Berlin, and the Eagle’s Nest.  Or Scotland.  I’d love to stay in a haunted castle in the highlands.  We were even thinking of doing a housing exchange with another couple – and we could basically stay for free somewhere in someone’s house!  What better way to feel like you’re really staying somewhere and getting a feel for the culture and the way everyday people live?  So yeah, we’ve got options!!!  Exciting!

So where could possibly even be MORE romantic than Bali??? How about Vietnam?! We purchased our plane tickets there with our Aeroplan points, and got to fly business class for the first time. And it was SO worth it. It actually makes flying FUN (which might also have to do with unlimited free booze). In the airport lounge they even had a free breakfast buffet! How awesome is that? While they did have some toast and similar items, they also served Pad Thai, and Congee (rice pudding – and not the good kind). By the time we landed in Vietnam I was stuffed, and slightly hungover. Good times!

Hanoi is an absolutely beautiful city. Colonized by the French, the architecture and cuisine has a decidedly French twist. Women selling pastries and baguettes on the streets are a constant feature all over town, and ornate wrought iron and mouldings are over many of the older buildings. It was a cosmopolitan city, lots of trees, great shopping, and pretty awesome museums.

My favourite was definitely the Military History Museum. The museum featured items from their ancient past, up until the present day, obviously with an emphasis on the Vietnam War. It was quite exciting and eye-opening to hear about the war from the point of view of theNorth Vietnamese. The photos of American protests to the war featured strongly…and boosted the morale of the Vietnamese to see there was so much dischord within the American public. The outdoor display of captured and shot down American planes, choppers, and artillery was really stunning. They included stats on how many aircraft were shot down by Vietnamese soldiers, which was really shocking. The most upsetting items on display

were the clothing of killed US Airmen, as well as their ID cards and personal effects. I couldn’t help but wonder if their families had any idea their son’s final effects were in a triumphant display in a Hanoi Museum. Other items included the clothing of children who had been shot and bombed by the Americans, as well as colonial French helmets, samurai swords and a variety of bicycles used in various wars. Quite fabulous overall!

While in Cambodia we had the opportunity to visit the landmine museum. We were surprised to see that this facility was founded and funded through the efforts of the Canadian government and a Canadian NGO! How exciting!
The mission of the facility is twofold:
• To establish a land mine museum in Cambodia for the purpose of providing land mine accident prevention awareness and public education.
• To provide educational facilities, programming and rehabilitation facilities for survivors of land mine injury.

The museum taught us a lot about the history of landmines, their origin, manufacture, function, and most importantly, the debilitating damage they can do to the human body. Landmines were created to maim. The logic being that an injured soldier is a lot more taxing to a war effort than a dead one. Which, I guess is true. Unfortunately, more often than not, these mines are left in the ground long after a battle – lying in wait to injure and kill civilians, their livestock, and even endangered species.

I have to admit seeing our tax dollars at work here gave me just a little twinge of pride for our little country. It probably didn’t cost a whole lot to have this modest facility, to educate the public and to help clear numerous minefields throughout the country, but this effort has made a big impact on this country and to those who have suffered injuries because of landmines. When we told locals we were from Canada, more than once they expressed their gratitude to our government for assisting in their rebuilding after years of war and conflict. That felt pretty nice.

You can get more information on this organization and how you can help here.

The Killing Fields were the place the Khmer Rouge took their prisoners to be executed, once they had finished extracting information from them. There were over 350 of these Killing Fields around the country, with more being uncovered. The government has preserved one of these fields, Choeung Ek, just outside the capitol of Phnom Penh as a memorial. Upon arriving, the location looks like a farmer’s field, nothing extraordinary. There is one “building”, a glass Buddhist stupa, which contains the skulls of approximately 8,000 victims. Some bear obvious evidence of the violence visited upon them…tool marks, holes from bamboo stakes, and massive fractures. Bullets were expensive, so as much as possible they tried to use other methods, such as hammers, spades, burying alive, or the use of a machete. For children, it was easiest to beat their heads against nearby trees. The number of skulls…piling high into the sky, each one representing a person, a life lived. It was almost too much to take. And we hadn’t even seen the actual fields yet.

Walking around the site you notice dozens of sunken impressions in the ground. Each one was a mass grave. Unearthed in 1981, authorities are still unsure as to how many people met their end here. The fields have remained nearly untouched since then. Pieces of clothing and human bones quite literally litter the site, poking out of well worn paths, and accumulating in piles under trees, and bleached white by the sun. Every rainfall reveals more. The patterns on the clothing particularly struck me. I wonder if they might yet be recognized by a family member? A favourite dress, a well-worn blouse…I guess it’s possible.
All in all, visiting the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng prison was an incredibly emotional experience for both of us. I had studied the horrors of the Holocaust throughout school, and I thought I was somewhat desensitized to the horror of it all. I was so naieve. Cambodia was just so completely raw. I asked Mike how Cambodia compares to a place like Dachau, which he visited in 2002. He said there was no comparison. At concentration camp sites there are high tech museums, clean displays and modern sculptures representing rebirth and other abstract themes. Here, it is so recent, so gritty. And so completely in your face. It is difficult to say if the passing years and the continuous arrival of hordes of tourists will necessitate more protection of the site by the creation of a museum, but as it stands now, it is a fitting memorial for a simple and generous people so decimated by the ravages of extremism and civil war, and a place I will remember forever.

Tuol Sleng was a highschool in Phnom Penh that was converted by the Khmer Rouge into a prison. Men, women and children were tortured into naming names, creating a vicious cycle of thousands of innocent people being tortured and eventually killed. When the Vietnamese captured the city in 1979, they located the prison by the smell. While people were generally not killed in the facility (unless they died during torture), the Khmer Rouge had left in such a hurry that the remaining 14 prisoners had their throats slashed, and were left to decompose. The Vietnamese took a photo of each room as they found it, and this photo is now displayed in the room, along with the articles that were present – a metal bed, gas can for urination, and box for fecal matter. Sometimes, torture tools were also present. Upstairs, makeshift cells dividing the former classrooms housed hundreds of prisoners. The cells are unchanged since liberation, and bloodstains are still present on the floors.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge documented everything. We know approximately 20,000 people were brought through this facility. Before entering, each person had a photograph taken, and in this prison-turned-museum, each photograph along with the names of the individuals and date of arrest is displayed. Rooms after room after room of these photos are on display. Women with newborn babies and young children were not excluded from the torture and eventual death. Some, including children, have their ID tags pinned directly through their skin. What upset me the most however, was the looks on the faces of these people. Some were clearly terrified, others resigned to their fate, and others still were smiling. Perhaps they had no idea what was to come? Perhaps it’s a strange reaction we all have, to smile when someone points a camera at you. I don’t know. But looking into their eyes was heartbreaking. The pictures were so modern. These people were the age of my parents.
Our guide was also a victim of the regime. She told us the following story:
“I was 10 years old in 1975, and I remember everything. My father, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, they all died. Boys and girls were separated. My shoulder was swollen from carrying supplies to the camps. My shoulder hurt. I wanted to tell someone, but I can’t. So I was quiet. I moved back to Phnom Penh in 1983”.
It killed me. I even get welled up thinking about it. She turned to Mike and I and asked “My English, do you understand what I’m saying?”. We could only nod.
What I felt like saying was, I can understand the words you speak, but I cannot understand all this. And I still can’t. I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

The first 3 days in Cambodia we spent in Siem Reap, the second largest city. This area is home to the hundreds of temples built between the 9th and 14th centuries. Wehired a guide for the day, as we did not do our research and thought we would get more out of it with some local help. For 50 USD, we hired tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Son, and a guide, Johnny to show us the sites. Johnny learned English while living in a UN camp as a child (as it turns out, most Cambodians have experienced living in a refugee camp – the lucky ones lived in ones run by the UN) Johnny was a great guide. He was very informative without being boring. He was our age, which meant we could also connect on a personal level. He told us stories about meeting his wife, his frustration at the corruption in government, as well as sharing information on the latest styles of shoes (he preferred Adidas). But I digress – We started off watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This involved getting up at 5:00 am (and for anyone that knows me, they also know how much of a hardship this was! And I didn’t even put on any makeup!) Angkor was a sight to behold. And it is impressive. I have only seen it in books, and in person, it blew my mind.

We also saw a number of additional temples, all unique in their own right. The Khmers were true craftsmen…the carvings were so intricate and detailed, featuring Buddah, mythological stories, folk tales, and the beautiful Apsara dancers (boobie ladies). Many of the temples were completely abandoned and only “rediscovered” in the 1800s. Some have been overtaken by large trees. I think we both enjoyed the temples further away from the tourist trap…where you could really see the them without obnoxious tourists getting in the way (of which there were many, sadly).

Some additional tidbits:
– Angkor Wat remains the largest religious structure in the world
– the temples were designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992
– the temples are still used by the monks for prayer and ceremonies
– Entrance fee for 1 day = $20 US, 3 days $40
– this money does NOT go to preservation, but to a private company
– restoration is funded by UNESCO and 12 foreign countries, not the Cambodian government
– theft and looting of statues (or just their heads) is commonplace…items are most often purchased by Westerners through routes in Thailand
So anyway, we spent 2 days exploring these structures and it was fantastic.
And after a hard day’s work we settled down for some local brew…

Mike and I went to the Batu Caves outside of KL, which is a large shrine, at the top of a stairway of 272 steps. We chose the perfect time to go as the city was gearing up to celebrate Thaipusam, which is a Hindu festival of penance and a day to fulfill their vows for prayers answered. The festival didn’t start until the next day, so we had the benefit of seeing all the action without having to deal with the crowds (which are expected to be in the 100s of thousands). Pilgrims carry bowls of milk, fruit and flowers to the shrine. Other devotees shave their heads and cover them in a yellow paste. The most famous part of the celebrations are the massive piercings that some devotees receive…through their cheeks and faces mostly, but many of them also get giant hooks into their bodies, and pull a platform with peacock feathers. It’s a pretty big deal especially this year because it was proclaimed a holiday in KL for the first time. We had an amazing time…there were so many monkeys around the summit, begging for food and causing mischief. I also ate a coconut. Yum!

We are hoping to get a site up with more pics…we will let you know as soon as that happens!Posted by Picasa