Tour


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.

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I think many travellers are divided on the issue of group tours.  There seems to be a wide variance on the types of tours you can take, and along with that the types of people that tend to take these tours.  Many travelers shudder at the thought of taking a group tour, imagining them to be like your grandma taking a bus to Branson, Missouri, or a huge group of Japanese tourists checking out the Path in downtown Toronto.  As a  teenager, I took an EF tour with my highschool to Italy and Greece.  As a 14 year old, a group tour really is the ONLY way to go, and for me, it was a wonderful introduction into the world of travel.  As adults, Mike and I have done lots of travelling, but have never particpated in a group tour – save for a bus jaunt to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (if you can count an overnight  boat tour as a group tour).

The worries  that travelers have about group travel are many:

1) Will we have time to do what we want to do, away from the group?

2) Will we be annoyed with the other people in the group, and unable to escape?

3) Will we miss out on the “real” experience of travelling by going from chain hotel to chain hotel on an airconditioned bus?

4) Will we not see how “real” people live, and eat local cuisine?

On the other hand, there are unquestionably lots of great advantages to travelling in a group:

1) Travel arrangements are made for you, and the hotels and attractions are usually vetted and pre-paid

2) You have the chance to learn alot more about the place you are visiting by having a good guide – much more interactive than reading it out of a book

3) There is safety in numbers

4) If you have an issue, the organization will have a back-up plan

Because Peru is such a large country with a wide variety of must-see sites, we knew it would take at least 2 domestic flights, and a great deal of inner-country travel to see everything we wanted to see – and that is a heck of a lot of planning.  Also, we only have 2 weeks.  And to hike the Inca Trail, you are obligated by law to have a guide.  We decided that an experienced tour company would have figured out the most efficient way of seeing all the highlights with the minimum amount of wasted time.  We spent a lot of time investigating different companies, and reading up on the experience of fellow travellers.  GAP Adventures is without a doubt one of the most well-respected tour companies in the world.  They are also a Canadian company, and head office is conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my house.  They have a HUGE variety of tours to choose from, so if you are into active adventures, have kids, want to volunteer, or  take in a cultural festival around the world, GAP seems to have everything covered.

We decided on a trip called Quest of the Gods, which will start us off in Lima, then off to the Amazon Rainforest (COOL!).  Then onto Cuzco, and from there a 4 day hike to see the legendary Machu Picchu.  We will also get a chance to go to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.  Altogether a whirlwind 14 day tour.  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!
Question: What is the best footwear for trekking in the jungle and climbing ancient stone steps?

Answer:

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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…

Sunday night with nothing to do….how about a bumboat ride?

These are traditional Singaporean boats, now used only to carry tourists up and down the Singapore River. It was pretty romantical, lit up with paper lanters, and the smell of gas fumes making me a little giddy (could that have had something to do with the leaking gas can under my feet??)

This was a great way to see the city, the driver pointing out various sights along the way – museums, statues, the new casino. The biggest hit among the tourists was stopping to see the Merlion fountain. It is basically a mermaid bottom and lion top, which is the national symbol of Singapore. And to further prove I’m a hit with the octogenarians – my new boyfriend let me drive the boat!

Saturday we took the bus to KL, a 5 hour ride from Singapore. We booked a space on a First Class bus, and for a mere $60 CAD we were on our way! The bus was roomy and very comfortable, with lazy boy recliner seats. It also came with a meal, pictured below:


This was rice, with sketchy chicken and bean sprouts, green beans, and tofu. Kind of edible. But not really. Luckily I had packed a tin of Pringles…which I KNEW would come in handy!

The bus also featured a TV, which once crossing the Malaysian border played a movie. Can you guess from the picture below what this movie was? Bearing in mind this is a largely Muslim country, conservative. Bear in mind also that this is the year 2008. Can you guess????

Wait for it…..

WHITE CHICKS. No joke. Bus to Malaysia – White Chicks.

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