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 its been months since I’ve last updated this blog, but I there are a few loose ends I’d just like to tie up before abandoning Kelly & Mike’s Trip.

Firstly,  we have to give props to a local artist we found in Bali and who cut us a deal on a painting.  We wanted to buy something there that we would always have, and remind us of our journey together.  One day while exploring the town center, we stumbled upon a small art gallery on East Monkey Forest Rd (very near the entrance to the Monkey Forest – duh!).  In exchange for the deal we told them we would put them on the Internet….so…here they are!  The artist is named Dodik Sarta and he and his brother paint, while Dodik’s wife sells the work in their shop.  They were lovely people and very excited that we had gotten married just hours before.  So, if you’re ever in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, be sure to patronize this great shop.

Secondly, we really need to thank Sonny in Sapa, Vietnam.  Sonny was the shop owner we purchased our warm hiking clothes from our first day in Sapa (who knew it would be so freaking cold?!)  Sonny loved Canadians, mostly because we were so “awesome”, and because he had a Canadian guy help him make his store sign, so it would have proper grammar.  This guy was truly a generous soul, and could literally procure anything your heart desired.

One evening, we ran into him around town, and he took us to his friend’s house where we drank beers and sang karaoke with their family.  No one but Sonny spoke any English, but it was still one of the most memorable experiences we had the whole trip.  I’m not sure where they got their karaoke set from, but among the songs you could choose from was “O Canada”!  Of course, I had to sing that one!
So if you’re ever in Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam, be sure to visit our man Sonny across from the Cat Cat Hotel.  Tell him we said hello!

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!