Intro to Chris’s Corner

Chris asked me to create a part of the blog where he can add his thoughts and experiences during our journey,  so I decided to create Chris’s corner! I am sure it will add an amazing amount of humour to the blog and it will be wonderful for him to share his perspective on things. Check back soon for his first post!

Itinerary

We have officially booked our around the world tickets through one of the amazing people we met on our trip through South America. What started as a wild idea has developed into a reality over the last year to what you see below. As Dr. Seuss so famously said;

Oh, the places you’ll go!

Here is a list of the countries we will visit on our around the world journey. For any specifics on the timeline (if you are interested in meeting up with us) please message me for details!

Leg one: Eastern Europe January 7,2015 – April 28

  1. Prince Edward Island (where we are departing from)
  2. Czech Republic
  3. Poland
  4. Slovakia
  5. Hungary
  6. Slovenia
  7. Croatia
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Montenegro
  10. Serbia
  11. Romania

Leg 2: The Middle East April 28- May 15 

  1. Turkey
  2. Jordan
  3. Dubai, UAE (3 day stopover)

Leg 3: Africa May 15- July 11

  1. South Africa (Cape Town and around)
  2. Namibia
  3. Victoria Falls, Zambia
  4. South Africa (Johannesburg and around)

Leg 4: Asia July 11- November 1

  1. India
  2. Nepal
  3. Back to India for our friends wedding (incredibly thankful to be able to attend)
  4. Sri Lanka (4 day stop over in Colombo)

Leg 5: SouthEast Asia November 1- February 

  1. Singapore
  2. Indonesia
  3. Thailand
  4. Laos
  5. Cambodia
  6. Vietnam

**Note: I grouped the countries based on where they appear in our lonely planet books, Please no geography lessons!! 🙂

Chile and Argentina: The Last 10 days

After catching the collectivo across the border to Chile we landed in San Pedro, where we boarded a 1 hour bus to Calama to head to the airport to try to catch a quick flight to Santiago, as otherwise it would be a 24 hour bus. We landed at the airport and the flights were not nearly as cheap as we had hoped, but we were able to get a flight within half an hour of arriving and it did give us an entire extra day extra. We landed in Santiago, caught the airport transport bus to the center, and wandered until we found a hostel with availability. We lucked into Landay Hostel which is very close to where the buses depart Santiago for Mendoza, Argentina. We treated ourselves to sushi that night and hit the hay early. The next day we woke up, packed our daypacks, and headed for the bus terminal for Mendoza. We barely made the bus as Argentina now charges Canadians $75 USD for a one time entry into the country, which is only available to purchase online (gah), meaning we had 30 minutes to run around the city and find an internet cafe, try to navigate the Argentinean website entirely in Spanish, buy our entry visa, and book it back to the terminal. It did feel like we were in the Amazing Race, which was somewhat exciting, but given the fact it was 35 degrees out and we didn’t want to miss the bus and waste a day, it was more stressful than fun. Luckily we made it, and the 8 hour bus ride passed quickly as we purchased the first Game of Thrones book as well as The hobbit, so we spent the entire ride engrossed in our books. We arrived late evening in Mendoza, and we were a bit surprised by the city as it is known as the wine capital of Argentina, so we expected a quaint little town. It was much larger and busier than that, and it took us 2 hours of walking from hostel to hostel to finally find a place for the night (that is partly our fault for not having booked one in advance). We wanted out of Mendoza as soon as possible, so we spent the next day researching where is best to stay to experience the wineries in the area. We discovered staying 30 minutes outside of Mendoza in Maipu is much better, as it is closer to the wineries and you are able to rent bikes (insert eye rolls here) and bike from winery to winery. We booked a hostel ahead of time (learning from our 2 hour debacle the previous night) and headed to Maipu on the city bus the next day. We arrived to Hostel Wineries midday and were immediately welcomed by Maria, the owner, and her sons Gabrielle and Alexandro. They spoke very little english but we could tell how sweet and caring they were immediately as they sat down with us and made recommendations for 3 days worth of winery visits. They offer a traditional Argentinean roast asado night which we opted for that evening to save ourselves from having to cook or find a restaurant. We relaxed most of the first day and planned our route for the next, as it was a bit late in the day to head out on bikes. The asado night was truly an experience, they start a fire on a clay pit using local oak trees, and allow the fire to burn down to only embers. They then transfer the embers to a second pile, place a grill over top of them, and place the meat on top of the grill. They then slow-cook the meat over several hours, keeping the fire going to the side to add embers as needed. The resulting meat is extremely flavorful and tender, and unlike anything we have tasted in our lives. We chatted (as best we could, Chris was much better than I) with the family and got to know a little bit about them and vice versa. They have 2 dogs and a cat, so it very much is a family atmosphere and almost felt like we were doing a homestay rather than guests at a hostel. On our last night we went to the supermarket and bought cuts of meat and sausage, potatoes, leeks and onions to share a meal with Maria, Gabrielle and Alexandro. We prepared mashed potatoes with fried leeks, and sautéed onions to go with the meat. They loved both, it was a very enjoyable evening and ended our stay on a memorable note. Our 4 day stay turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our entire 4 month trip!

The next day we walked to Orange Bikes and rented 2 bikes for the day. Now, let me clarify. My bike had an adorable basket on the front and was in no way shape or form a mountain bike. The town had bike lanes on all main roads, and was entirely flat. If ever there was a time biking was semi-okay for me, this was it. The first winery we went to was Domiciano which is a small scale winery that produces less than 100 000 bottles per year. It was a lovely winery and a great way to kick off our tour! We also stopped at an Olive Oil Boutique and sampled numerous types of oils and balsamic vinaigrettes, which we purchased as one of the 4 souvenirs we invested in, only to have the bottles shatter on the way home making a giant mess of Chris’s bag. Womp womp. One our favorite vineyards was Trapiche which is the largest producer of wine in Argentina. As an added bonus, it exports to Canada and you can find most of its varietals in any NSLC. I highly recommend the Malbec, it is exceptional and only $12-15 dollars per bottle. We also toured Tempus Alba, which is a small scale family run vineyard. It had by far the best atmosphere, with a gorgeous balcony where you could have lunch. We spent one afternoon enjoying a tasting, lunch, and the free bottle of wine that went with the purchase of lunch. Quite the life! 

Unfortunately, on our third day of biking I had troubles parking my bike which resulted in a large cut that has scarred nicely for life. That my friends, was the grand finale of 4 months worth of biking. I have come to realize that I really do need to keep to my word of “never biking again.” Luckily the scar will serve as a ahem, gentle reminder of that.

Therefore on our fourth day we opted to take the city bus, which was an excellent option in the 40 + degree heat as the buses were air-conditioned and very cheap. We headed to a lovely vineyard (I forget the name now, started with a “C”), that you were able to have lunch among the vines. It was one of my favorite afternoons, it was so beautifully picturesque and the food was delicious. The wine of course, as always, was impeccable.

After our relaxing week in wine country we headed back to Chile to the small port city of Valparaiso, which is a world heritage site. We had met numerous other travelers who highly recommended a visit there and it did not disappoint. We stayed at a family run B&B called La Nona (the husband and wife live in the house as well) which again had an excellent atmosphere and definitely the best free breakfast of the entire 4 month trip. They make their own yogurt, have delicious deli meats, goats cheese, homemade jams, and homemade breads. They were excellent with making recommendations of places to see around the city. They city has beautiful cobblestone streets and very interesting elevators (highly inclined cable cars) as it is built on dozens of very steep hillsides. The city encourages graffiti and the alleyways are full of incredible art. It was a much cooler climate than Mendoza, and much less busy than Santiago, so it was an excellent place to spend our last few days relaxing. We then headed back to Santiago to catch our flight out the next day. We were very apprehensive about this as we had been keeping a close eye on the weather and it was not looking good for us. Many flights in the days leading up to our flight had been cancelled or delayed, and the weather looked questionable at best the day we were flying in. With crossed fingers and toes we headed home to surprise both of our families, who thought we were not coming home until January 15th. Santa must have wanted our surprise to happen as we had absolutely no problems with any of our flights. I hopped off in Halifax and Chris continued on to PEI. I pulled into the yard and Mom poked her head out the kitchen window, which made me believe that she had seen me and my surprise was spoiled. When I walked in the front door she was not waiting for me, so I continued onto the kitchen where she was distractedly working on a pie. As soon as she heard my voice she whipped around, and looked like she was having a heart attack which made me question my surprise, but she then tearfully spoke “You’re home.” Which was a really great moment, but was followed with “There’s no lobsters?” Lol. I asked what they were having for Christmas Eve dinner about a week earlier (as I was selfishly hoping for one of my favorites when I arrived) and when she told me ham I said “Oh…really???” She then said they were thinking of getting lobsters, which I proceeded to try to encourage without being obvious. Unfortunately, she interpreted that as I was having lobsters delivered to her for her Christmas gift. It was a very comical moment as I pointed out I just travelled almost 24 hours to surprise her on Christmas eve and she was disappointed with the lack of lobsters. It was absolutely a Christmas to remember. (We invested in lobsters for New Years Eve).

Chris and I are now living in Halifax and trying to get settled back into “real life.” It is quite the change of pace, but in many ways a welcomed one. Thank you for joining in our travels, I hope that you enjoyed the blog. I really enjoyed writing it and Chris and I are going to have the blog made into a memory book. It is a great way to document all that happened so we can look back fondly at our memories some day. We are committed to work year contracts, and after that our next big adventure (tba). Until then..

Bolivia

After Machu Picchu we boarded a night bus to La Paz, Bolivia and arrived around mid-day the next day. We stayed at Adventure Brew Hostel, which was a microbrewery that served its own beer on tap. We spent most of the day relaxing and then headed to Restaurant Gustu, owned by some big-wig that owns the best restaurant in the world and chose La Paz as his next endeavor. (Read more about it: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/jun/13/gustu-restaurant-la-paz-bolivia-review) La Paz is a gigantic city, so it was a 45 minute cab ride to the restaurant, during which we lost our way several times, but arrived in what seemed like a suburb with houses all around it, but there it was. We walked in to an absolutely stunning interior complete with an exposed kitchen to watch the chefs work. We opted for a 7-course tasting menu this time (who knew we were such foodies) along with the wine pairing. They started us off with delicious rolls along with artisanal butter, one of which was a coca leave butter that was delicious. We had an outstanding dried llama salad, the most mouth-watering lamb I have ever experienced in my life, and ox-cheek which is the most tender meat possible. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the other courses right now (why blogging at the time is so important), but all of the mains were just outstanding, the deserts were nothing to call home about, but were not bad by any means. The wine-pairings were impeccable, and certainly not on the small side (may be why some of the courses have eluded my memory). Compared to our 24-course experience at Astrid y Gaston, I have to say I much preferred this experience. Mostly because the portion sizes were bigger and you were able to truly explore the flavors in each dish. Also,the flavors were not blended and all mixed together, there were definite distinctions in each dish which I enjoyed. So the ruling (for me) is Gustu is now officially, the best food experience of my life. Chris disagrees, he still says Astrid is number one for him.

From pure enjoyment we moved to pure horror, as we left to bike down the death road the next day. Yes. I am aware that I am receiving many eye-rolls from friends as they read this due to my hatred of biking, but I felt that it is something I should do while in Bolivia. We went with the company Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking for its outstanding reputation with quality of bikes as well as overall safety profile. The bikes were absolutely fantastic, but they did not make up for my extreme dislike of biking.

What is the death road you ask? It was deemed the world’s most dangerous road by the inter-american development bank in 1995 and is a 64 km downhill ride. An average of 16 vehicles go over the cliff while driving the death road, claiming hundreds of lives each year. This is mostly due to the fact the road is only wide enough for one car, so if two cars meet, the car that is driving downhill must reverse uphill until they reach a widening in the road that they can safely pass. Sadly, tourists on bikes also have lost their lives while biking the road, the last of which was last year while trying to take a selfie. You descend over 3600 m throughout the ride, beginning in the mountains with snow, and ending in tropical  jungle. The first 22 km or so are on paved road, allowing time to adjust to your bike. Then you hit the official death road, and the “fun” starts.

After finishing biking the death road we ended at an animal sanctuary for a delightful meal and well deserved beverage. Our tour guide then asked if our group wanted to take the old death road home or the “new” death road home. The new death road is still dangerous as people drive faster on it, even though it is equally as windy and narrow. We opted for the old death road, as neither were true good decisions we might as well have the bragging rights of having survived it. It was much more terrifying in the old, beat up, dilapidated “bus” we were in as it was scarcely wider than the bus, and when you looked out the window there was nothing but cliff-face. All was well, until we suddenly came to a halt. Believe me, this was not a road you wanted to be stationary on for any longer than possible with the blind turns at every turn and all. It turned out that the cable that connects the accelerator in the engine to the peddle snapped. “Don’t worry, the driver dealt with this same issue just last week!” assured the guide. Sure enough, we were in motion within 10 minutes with a rather crafty solution to the problem. The drive attached a cable to the accelerator and fed it through the dashboard to his seat, so that he could hand-accelerate by pulling on the cable. Meaning, he had to hand accelerate, steer (with no power steering), and shift whilst we drove up the death road. There was a collective sigh of relief when we turned back on to the paved road. We were pretty certain the brakes on the bus also went as he seemed to be trying to coast back to La Paz, and any time he needed to brake he shifted down…It was a slightly stressful day. Worth it? Definitely.

Also, the day we were riding death road our tour guide told us about a crazy Kiwi that for his 40th birthday was having a ramp made off death road so he could ride a bike off and base jump from the side of death road, on Friday the 13th. I looked up the youtube video when I arrived home- needless to say it did not go as planned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db2vv6Vl98I&noredirect=1

The next day we left for Uyuni to start our 3 day Salar de Uyuni (salt flat) tour. The salt flats in Bolivia are the worlds largest, and provide exceptional photo opportunities. It was 3 days in a jeep, with a very enthusiastic guide (we later found the source of his enthusiasm was not a pure source) who was extremely knowledgeable. We had heard horror stories of people going on tours with guides who spoke no english, or with drivers who drove drunk so we went with Red Planet who had an excellent safety reputation, and luckily we had no issues at all (besides the enthusiasm).

The tour was a highlight for us, the scenery was stunning and we were able to see lots of wildlife as well as different landscapes. Our last night we took in hot springs at an altitude of 5000 m, so the stars were out of this world and we were able to see several shooting stars. The tour is a must-do! At the end of the tour Chris and I were able to catch a collectivo to the border of Chile, while Patrick and Christine made their way back to Cuzco for their flights home. We would have liked to spend more time in Bolivia than we were able to as it was absolutely incredible (and cheap!), but we wanted to get to wine country for our last 10 days in South America.

Cuzco and Machu Picchu

We headed to Cuzco to meet up with my brother Patrick, and his friend Christine, who flew in to join us for the next 2 weeks. Our first order of business was booking our hike to Machu Picchu, which we decided to do the 5 day 4 night Salkantay trek due to the diversity in ecosystems along the trek as well as the fact it is much less popular than the Inca trail. We were set to leave in 2 days, and spent our time enjoying the fine cuisine of Cuzco, including the sister restaurant to Astrid y Gaston in Lima (only 1 course each) and heading to Pisac to browse the local handicrafts at the extensive market there.

The day of the hike began at 4 am with a few hour drive to where we had breakfast, and began hiking. Our first day had some tough uphill sections for the first few hours, but after lunch it was mostly flat to our first campsite. Unfortunately, it began raining with an hour left to camp, so we arrived rather soaked and very tired. Hot coffee, tea, and chocolate as well as snacks helped raise our spirits. It was an early night for us as it would be an early morning to begin hiking to reach the Salkantay pass.

On our third evening we spent the night in a little town that had hot springs that our guides preferred to those of the town of Aguas Calientes. The were by far the most beautiful hot springs I have ever been in, they were so clean (especially compared to those in Banos, Ecuador) and the setting was so serene. We had a great few hours unwinding in the hot springs, nursing our tired legs.

On our fourth day we had the option of hiking 4 hours with all of our gear, or ziplining and only hiking 2 hours. For us it was a very easy decision. The ziplining was an absolute blast, we did one line that was 1.5 km long and you were able to get going 80-90 km/h, we had one line that was extremely high from the bottom of the canyon, and one line that we landed on a floating platform and repelled down from the platform to the ground. None of us had ever ziplined before so it was a very fun experience, not to mention cutting out a few hours of hiking was a major bonus!

After ziplining we had to walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu where we would spend the night and leave at 4:30 am the next morning to reach the ancient city. We had a few Pisco Sours and a delicious supper, before hitting the hay early. We began hiking a little later than intended, so we hustled hard to reach the gates at Machu Picchu for opening at 6:00 am. There are buses that would drive you to the gates, but after hiking 4 days we felt it would be an injustice to take a bus. So up the approximately 1000 – 1500 stairs we went, the humidity doing us no favors, and reached the gates shortly before opening. It was a very exciting moment, as we had in ways forgot the end goal with all the excitement along the way. Our first glimpses of Machu Picchu, were much like those at the Salkantay pass…..

However, within an hour the rain stopped and the clouds began to dissipate and we were able to begin exploring the city. After seeing so many pictures of Machu Picchu it was very surreal to be there in person, and to imagine the city at the peak of its empire. It would have been nice to do a more indepth tour, our tour guides knew…the bare minimum. Not their fault, we cheaped out. But their explanations consisted of, “Okay my friends, this, is a house. It has windows. Okay friends, lets move on” Lol.

 After a few hours of exploring the city we headed towards Machu Picchu Mountain to complete our final mountain climb. We chose the mountain over Huayna Picchu as it is more than twice as high and we had heard the view is better and far fewer people do the mountain. That was very accurate advice as there were only 16 people who completed the mountain the day we were there. It was another excruciating amount of stairs along some very precarious terrain, but once we reached the top we were able to see exactly how the Inca people integrated Machu Picchu into the natural surroundings. It was incredible.

Although we were exhausted, we were happy we made the final climb up Machu Picchu Mountain. Not only did it provide a very unique view of Machu Picchu it was a nice ending to an insane amount of hiking and climbing during our trip. I was very happy to hang up my hiking boots and begin the last few weeks of relaxation.

Would I recommend the Salkantay trail? 100%. We started in the mountains amidst freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather, descended into the hot and humid cloud forests, and ended up at Machu Picchu. I haven’t done other trails, and each trail offers its something special of its own, but we did really enjoy the Salkantay for the diversity of the surroundings and the challenge it offered. Certainly you can avoid hiking altogether and take a train to Aguas Calientes, and then a bus to Machu Picchu, but that would just be- easy?