Monthly Archives: February 2012

Outback Odyssey, Part 1

One of the best and most memorable adventures I’ve ever had traveling was to the Australian Outback. The itinerary for our three-week jaunt down under offered some varied places to stay: a jungle hideaway in Byron Bay, a luxurious 5-star beach club on Hamilton Island, and a quaint boutique hotel in Sydney. To further add to the mix, I booked us on a 3-day backpacking camping tour through the Australian desert: day trip to the Olgas, camping in the Kata Tjuta wilderness park that hosts Uluru (aboriginal name for Ayers Rock), and finishing with a three-and-a-half hour hike through famous Kings Canyon. We figured since we were flying halfway across the world, we might as well go somewhere we would likely never go again in our lifetime.

Since this post could go on for quite a while, I’m going to take mercy on you and separate it out a little. Enter Outback Odyssey Part 1: The Olgas and Ayers Rock.

Approaching the Olgas

The adventure begins when we land in the tiny Ayers Rock airport, straight from the lovely cosmopolitan town of Alice Springs (no facetiousness there, really – it’s the bloody Paris of the Outback). As soon as we land, the heat smacks me in the face, full-on. It’s I-just-landed-on-Mars hot. Hotter than Melbourne. Hotter-than-the hoary-hobs-of-hell, as Cam and I like to often joke. Pure, unadulterated, 45-something-degree-dry desert heat.

We settle in to wait for our tour company to pick us up. A long time later, bored out of our minds in the tiny confines of the airport, we decide to brave the heat and go outside. There’s nothing out here besides the bare, unforgiving desert, red sand, the blazing sun, and a few taxis. Not much better, but at least it’s different.

We continue to watch the minutes tick by, with only the scrubby flora and the eerie silence to keep us company. Thinking we were going to be forever stuck counting shrubs and trying to wrestle a water bottle out from the broken vending machine, something happens. Actually, a few things happen, and in typical fashion, all at once. The airport gates open up, unleashing the next crowd of arrivals; the taxis come to life; and lo-and-behold, our tour bus appears, chugging, spitting and backfiring across the lot. Cam immediately snaps to attention, wrangling our bags.

Then, so close to me that I almost miss it, a giant red lizard casually crosses the parking lot. I’m not talking about some small commonplace gecko type, or even an iguana. This thing is huge; like Great Dane huge. And it’s not slithering along the pavement, either; instead, it’s walking on all fours. As my brain struggles to catch up with what I’m seeing, the bus pulls up, blocking my view, and I try in vain to catch another glimpse. But as fast as it came, it disappears, amazingly agile for such a large creature. This pic is pretty close to what I saw, camouflaging itself to blend in with the red sand desert:

Of course, being busy flagging down the bus and all, Cam completely misses it. So, I tell him that he’ll have to trust the that I’m not exaggerating (for once), and yes, it was as tall as a Smart Car. He’s dubious. However, I’m later vindicated when, en route, we stop for lunch at a place which happily is right beside a museum with dioramas with Outback flora and fauna.

It’s here where I learn what the small dinosaur I thought I saw (and find proof that I wasn’t completely losing it) is a Perentie, (you gotta watch this video), the largest lizard in Australia. I point out this awesome fact with pride. It’s my first Aussie freakshow animal wonder, the first of many to come. (Think: giant poisonous snakes, king toads, and plate-sized spiders. It’s true what they say: Australia is trying to kill you.)

Back at the airport, I am suddenly fueled with adrenaline as I help Cam throw our bags on the bus. After brief introductions, we find the only two remaining seats, one of which is right beside our guide and driver: Aussie born-and-bred Kyle, a young, amiable fellow, who looks like he walked straight out of Crocodile Dundee. Our small group consists of a smattering of Europeans, including a British family of Mom, Dad, daughter and son-in-law, a couple of Danes (natch), a young Spanish woman and her companion: a young Argentine fellow whose name we instantly forget, but upon whom we bestow the nickname “Argentina”. I have an instinct that this guy will no doubt be a constant source of entertainment for the rest of the trip, and sure enough, he doesn’t disappoint.

Olgas: up close and personal

Off we go to the Olgas, a group of large domed rock formations in the middle of the desert, a place where many spiritual ceremonies are performed. As we all clamber out of the bus and start making our way to the rock trail, we quickly notice a lot of tourists wearing funny hats with a mesh net draped across the front. How ridiculous, we think, sniggering to ourselves. It doesn’t take long before we realize why they are wearing them. Within minutes, we’re swarmed by black flies, who, attracted to sweat and the liquid protecting your eyes, literally cling to you. It’s a good thing it wasn’t more than 517 degrees out.

We then join the ranks of those who were stupid enough not to have purchased a ridiculous hat, and begin endless swatting motions, AKA the “Australian wave”. Let’s just say at that point, we would have paid $100 on the spot for one of those hats. The people wearing them certainly looked comfortable – well, in the sense that they were only melting rather than melting and being pestered to the point of insanity.

Next up is Ayers Rock for sunset, and a preview of what we’ll be hiking around the following day. Although we aren’t the cheapest tour group going; we’re not top-level luxo, either. Put it this way: when it comes time for the viewing, loads of massive air-conditioned coaches show up at the viewing spot and tourists spill out, quickly overrunning the place. They busy themselves with setting up lounge chairs and helping themselves to champagne, water crackers and brie; a supposedly perfect accompaniment to sunset over the rock. By contrast, we’re in a tiny lemon of a bus reminiscent of the 70s, the air conditioning being the windows, and chips, dip, and wine from a box at our disposal in case we get sunset-hungry. Chairs? I don’t think so. Turns out it didn’t matter; with a backdrop like Ayers Rock, you really didn’t need anything more. The sunset was, in a nutshell, out of this world (see above), just like the 10 million pictures you’ve already seen of this … rock.

Many oohs, ahhs and camera clicks later, it’s time to head back to our campsite in the pitch-black dark. When the sun goes down in the desert, that’s it; no lingering light, just complete, utter darkness. Definitely no streetlights. As we were the last people to be picked up (due to a scheduling error; don’t get me started), this is the first time Cam and I actually see our campsite.

Or not see, as was the case. Because we didn’t have the daytime advantage of the rest of the campers, things become quite tricky quite fast, especially since we can’t find our flashlight. I think it was at the bottom of our humongous backpack; the perfect place for it. We commence unpacking our gear in utter darkness, careful not to bump into a bilby, or God forbid, a Thorny Devil. As is the only sane thing to do, most Aussie outback animals tend to hide during the harsh heat of the day, coming out to forage at night. A comforting thought when you’re tiptoeing to the loo in the middle of the night with nothing but flip-flops on and armed with a roll of less-than-pointy paper.

A cool rock formation at Uluru

Pre-dawn arrives way too quickly. We rise to the sound of Kyle banging on a kitchen pot, our cue to move. Although slightly primitive, it definitely works, and I feel like I am 10 again, back at summer camp in BC’s interior. Rubbing our eyes, we trudge to the communal bathroom to wait in line with numerous other sleepy, crabby campers, brushing sand and picking dirt off their bodies. The line-up is out the door, and it’s survival of the fittest for a bathroom stall. As soon as I see a free one, I lunge. So does our good friend Argentina. Desperately having to pee means manners are out the window, so I swat him away and he grudgingly acquiesces. Machismo does come in handy sometimes, I think.

With less than 10 minutes to departure, there’s no time for modesty, let alone any kind of primping. All I can manage is to splash water on my face, run a brush across my teeth, check my clothes for spiders or other creepy-crawlies, and I’m done. The Fairmont, it ain’t, and that’s just fine with us.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Kings Canyon. For those of you who have seen Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, be warned that the only thing our experience has in common with the film is the geography.

– S

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Categories: Adventure, Australia, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paris: A Memorable Acquaintance

I’m writing this post in part because I don’t want you to think that I travel only to warm, sunny, tropical places. I actually do like a little culture every once in a while. So, let’s queue up Paris – in the spring, naturellement.

During the weeks preceding our trip to France, we were breathing, dreaming, and talking Paris. We would have two glorious weeks strolling along the Seine, tasting crisp champagne, gazing at the Eiffel Tower, sipping ridiculously expensive café crème, munching crêpes on the Pont des Arts… you get the idea. We couldn’t wait.

Paris street scene, complete with Tower

Anyway, to dream of traipsing around Paris is a fine thing; to get there can be a bit more trying. As it was, we were flying on air miles, so it wasn’t a direct flight from someplace close, like Vancouver. We had to go through Toronto, which is a 5-hour flight away. It’s a milk run, but it’ll be fine, we say. Uh, sure. Turns out getting to Toronto is fairly painless. But then the fun starts. Two hours before we’re due to take off, tornadoes start touching down around the city.

Again, this is Ontario, not Kansas. Of course, air traffic immediately comes to a standstill, and we’re subjected to nine hours of waiting at Pearson airport, the only entertainment a recording stating severe weather is in the area playing at 10-minute intervals. After such anticipation of our trip, it’s torturous. My expensive coffee-and-crêpe dreams begin to fade. And to top it off, we’re unable to contact the owner of the pied-à-terre we’re renting in le Marais. We try emailing from an extremely hokey computer kiosk (this is back a while), thinking that he’d check before heading out to our arranged meeting spot. However, it’s impossible to tell whether the message actually got sent, never mind received. We could only hope.

After what seems like an eternity, the horrible weather passes. Desperate to get out of the of the airport, we stampede the gate, knocking down fellow passengers to secure our seats. Well, that’s how I remember it, anyway. Once settled, we quickly down an Ativan to help us sleep. Fortunately, the flight is uneventful, and we wake to find ourselves at Charles de Gaulle airport. (BTW, part of the terminal collapsed just about the time we arrived, leaving several people injured. We didn’t even know until we received a frantic call from Cam’s mom the next day, hoping we were OK.)

Feeling like we’ve been travelling for days, we gather our bags, etc. and try to figure out the myriad transit choices to reach central Paris. In relatively short order, we find ourselves zipping through the French countryside via train with a coterie of sorry-looking travellers (probably from the TO flight), a few accordion players, and – wait for it – a mime. The weirdness begins.

We eventually make it to Châtelet metro station, and, eyes blinking in the early evening light, step out of the underground and onto a busy Parisian street. Paris! I can hardly believe it – I am overcome, speechless. I breathe in the smell of leather, tobacco, sweetness of cigar, pungent coffee, perfume. All around me people zip past at a frantic pace: fashionistas, working class, men in scarves, women dressed in black and sporting fake red hair. Heels click on the pavement: rushing home after the work day, out for drinks, to gallery shows, I think. The ordinary never seemed so glamorous until now.

However, there is a problem: twilight is approaching, and we are a good 4 hours behind schedule to meet the owner of our flat. I loathe being late, so I am a contradictory a mix of desire to keep moving, yet desperately wanting to sit back and take in every bit of this amazing place.

Sensibility takes over, and we forge ahead, trying to orient ourselves and locate the Centre Pompidou. We arrive to find – and this is no surprise – no Frenchman leisurely waiting for us. Sighing, I realize this is not over. I’m exhausted, and all I want is wine. Preferably French, at some cute brasserie in Saint-Germain, but I’ll take anything at this point.

After a short debate about whose French is better, it’s decided that I will call the contact number for our apartment. We locate a pay phone only to discover it requires a calling card. Of course. Off we go again to find a tabac that sells phone cards. Fortunately, they exist on every corner (this was back when smoking was permitted everywhere). Back we go to the pay phone, I call, and a woman answers instead of our guy. She speaks perfect French, which is not all that helpful. I inwardly curse myself for a) not taking those damned French lessons before we left, and b) being on the phone, where you can’t rely on eye contact, hand signals, and the like. By the time I hang up, I have the vaguest notion that this person is meeting us in 10 minutes in front of the apartment building. At least I’m hoping that’s what’s happening.

To our immense relief, she arrives. Then starts the clown show of communicating back and forth, although this time it is marginally easier, despite the fact that I’m suddenly speaking louder than necessary. She shows us up to our flat, a humble but funky abode on the third floor of an ancient apartment (no elevator). We’re in le Marais, after all, one of the oldest quarters in Paris. Also one of the coolest, with its broad array of restaurants, shops, coffee bars, pâtisseries, just steps away from the Hôtel de Ville and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Once in, we take in the neat and tidy place: wood floors, sitting room, dining area, art adorning the walls, and, best of all, our own kitchen. Mind you, the place is the size of a shoebox, but it’s all ours. She hands us the keys, we give her the first week’s rent (or was it two?), and she’s off.

Pont des Arts, with the Louvre as a backdrop

We’re here! The arduous journey starts to fade as Cam and I throw our bags on the bed, freshen up, and head back out to the street. With renewed energy, we bound down the stairs, giddy with excitement and relief, and make our way to a nearby brasserie (not hard to find, as it turns out). We get a table on the sidewalk facing the Seine, order our long-awaited café crème, and, since wine flows like water in Paris (and in some cases, can be cheaper), a glass of bordeaux. It’s twilight now, that magical hour when everything dims but comes alive. The sun casts a warm glow across the city, making its way into my heart. I smile, and although I am jetlagged beyond hell, I feel truly happy. I take a sip of wine, feel its warmth spread in my body, and sigh deeply. Home at last.

– S

PS. We did all of those things we dreamed about. We also went to Euro Disney… but that’s another story.

Categories: Europe, France, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

13 Quirky and Cool Things about Sayulita

Shar in front of a Sayulita institution

Okay, I just have to write about Sayulita again because, well… we’re here. And, there are so many funny and lovable things about this place that it just has to be done.

1. What Time is it, Sayulita?
One thing you must know when going to Sayulita is that you will most likely never really know what time it is. Due to many confusing time changes, and of course DST, some residents here have adopted the same time as Puerto Vallarta; however, some cling to the previous (Mountain) time zone, which is an hour behind PV. In any case, when you ask a local for the time, you can’t seem to get a straight answer. You can’t even trust the clocks, if you happen to stumble across one. My advice? Forget it and have another sip from your impossibly huge margarita.

2. Snorkeling in the Marietas
We did this on our first trip to Sayulita, and let’s just say the experience deserves its own blog post. For the moment, I’ll only mention that the journey came with its own brand of weirdness. If you’ve ever seen that movie “Captain Ron”, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

3. Blue-footed Boobys
We saw these rare birds on our Marietas sailing/snorkeling trip, as we were heading back to the boat after touring some caves. Seeing as the Galapagos Islands is the only other place where these creatures reside, we felt quite fortunate to experience this. I don’t have access to my own pics, but here’s the Booby in all its blue-footedness.

4. Food Service in the Sand
Along the main beach in Sayulita, you can get anything you want to eat without stepping foot anywhere. Just sit back on the beach and let the vendors come to you. You can get empanadas of all flavours (amazing), shrimp on a stick, macaroons (heavenly), sushi (hmmm), watermelon, oysters, coconut drinks, even cotton candy. As I write this, we just polished off a massive sugar doughnut that rivals the best bakeries back home for about $1. Trust me, you’ll never go hungry.

5. The Candyman

The Candyman displaying his wares

This one is my favourite. The first time we saw an old guy trundling along the beach pushing this enormous wheelbarrow filled to the brim with a colourful array of candy, we were charmed. Sugar-coated almonds, pecans, chocolate, spicy peanuts, pistachios, unidentified soft Mexican things – heck, even gummy bears were on display. It doesn’t hurt that the Candyman is generous with the samples. We didn’t see him at first this time around, and were afraid he maybe retired to Berlin or something. But then I spied a younger man at the wheel from a distance and almost jumped up to flag him down. Must be son of the original Candyman, come to save us from our confectionary crisis.

SP

SP

SP

SP

SP

6. Store Hours
There are no regular store hours in Sayulita (or at least, we haven’t been able to crack the code of irregular regularity). This also goes for restaurants: some are open on Sunday; some don’t open until 4; some are closed during siesta; and, most are closed on Monday. Or, open – I give. Case in point this jewelery store which sells stuff that I absolutely covet. When we asked the clerk if the store was going to be open that evening, she enigmatically answered with, “It depends on the traffic.” Basically, I’ve learned (after much frustration) that when you see it open, that’s when you should shop, because you never know when you’ll get the opportunity again. Also, keep your eye on the traffic.

7. Restaurant Names
There’s this bar/restaurant we like to frequent that has a distinct Asian feel that reminds us of Bali. The funny thing about this place is not so much the atmosphere or food, or the great view of the ocean, but its name: Buddha Mar. Your first instinct is to call it Buddha Bar, and that’s basically what everyone does, including the locals. It’s definitely a much better roll on the tongue. I do love the play on words, though, with Mar being the Spanish word for sea. (By the way, there’s some sort of semi-secret algorithm about when this place opens as well. It apparently has something to do with whether the next-door Don Pedro’s restaurant is having Salsa Night. Might also have to do with whether Mars is in retrograde. If you know the formula, please pass it along.)

8. Unspoiled, Secluded Beaches
Sayulita is the place for these. You seriously can walk 1,000 meters along a pristine, expansive beach and be almost completely alone. Or, take a stroll through mountainous jungle and stumble upon a secluded cove with a soft, white-sand deserted beach (not just for the Yucatan!). You may even run into the tropical paradise of a governor or important dignitary perched on the top of a cliff. I’m not kidding.

9. That Real “Family Feel”
We recently stumbled upon a quirky little reso called Aaleyah’s Nachos & Wings, a real gem of a place just off the main square. This definitely deserves its own post. An outdoorish affair, with room for maybe 15 people, you could say this is a cozy place. Think: baked barbecue chicken wings the size of a squirrel and amazingly fresh fresa margaritas, all served by a precocious 11-year-old (whom the place is named after). Seriously, she provides some of the best service I’ve ever had, even compared to fancy places back in Canada. Apparently many people agree, as it’s currently rated the number one restaurant in Sayulita, and it’s only been open for three months.

10. Surfing

Twilight surfing

This I don’t do, but will watch for hours. Much as I’ve entertained the thought, I’m not too keen on spending one day surfing (or being beaten to a pulp by the ocean more like) and then the rest of the vacation with a badly-bruised ribcage. Definitely some great wave action for those who know what they’re doing. Makes for cheap entertainment while you’re nursing that mojito at one of the many beach bars.

11. The Cake Lady
Located in the town’s main square, the Cake Lady is your answer to “What’s for Dessert?” after a superbly satisfying Mexican feast. For as little as $1.50, you can get a humongous slice of your choice of banana, chocolate, black forest, carrot, creme brulee… hungry yet? It is, simply put, divine.

12. Sunsets
Ridiculously beautiful, otherworldly sunsets are on offer almost every evening. Click picture to enlarge – need I say more?

Does this even need a caption?

13. And, of course, other unexpected delights like the Drunk Cowboy.

– S

Categories: Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

The Monkey Chair

Weird Dining Experiences, Episode 1

Those who know me well (or sometimes even a little) know that Bali is one of my favourite places in the world. I’ve been there three times in the past four years, and I’m going back this November. Yeah, you could say I’ve got big plans for this place, which includes retiring there before I’m 50. For at least half the year, maybe more. And it’s not just to escape the cold; I live in the warmest place in all of Canada (which is like saying you’re the tallest midget in the room, but it is a lovely place).

Full disclosure: for Westerners, Bali has its share of weirdness – heaps of the stuff, in the raw. But, it tends towards the very best weirdness. Our home base when we go there is the amazing and extremely hospitable Tandjung Sari in quiet Sanur, on the east coast of the island. This family-run boutique hotel is a real gem of a place, where you are welcomed warmly and treated like family. We’ve become friends with the people who run the place, and they’re a big part of why we keep coming back.

Sunrise on Sanur Beach

Because of Bali’s diverse mix of tourists (tons of Aussies, Europeans, Japanese, and a very few Canucks) it’s full of all kinds of restaurants, serving every imaginable cuisine: Italian, Australian, Chinese, French, German, and of course, ridiculously amazing Indonesian. One place we stumbled upon as we were wandering around a maze of cobblestone streets, with scooters whizzing by and noise everywhere was a place called Le Resto Ming. Because there are so many restaurants in Bali, many are often empty, which was a bit weird to us at first, but by this time we had gotten used to it; such was the case with Ming on this particular night.

Let the weirdness begin…
We walked through the open entrance and were instantly greeted by at least five smiling Balinese, who promptly trip over themselves to seat us in this expansive place, with its ornate decor of Indonesian carvings and artwork adorning the walls. It’s got a distinct Asian feel, complete with carpets, fringes and Buddhas. Soooooo… we were a bit surprised when we discovered it served French cuisine. Then again, why not?

As we followed the enthusiastic hostess to our table, we noticed that we’re almost the only two people there, aside from another couple who are in the process of paying and leaving. The hostess helped us to our seats, and her male sidekick pulled out our chairs, placing napkins on our lap. It was sorta like we’re in this weird Asian adaptation of the snazz dining room at the Empress in our hometown.

“Would you prefer Primate or Non-Primate?”
We opened the menu and started perusing the choices, trying not to notice three or so people hovering over us, ready to take our drink order, even though we’ve only been there for about 20 seconds. We attempt to take our time, noticing out of the corner of our eyes another staff member coming over to our table with a tiny chair, which he proceeds to place beside my own. Baffled, I raise my eyebrows to Cam, and – without missing a beat – he stage-whispers: “It’s for the monkey.” We laugh.

The server senses our confusion, and, with English not being his first language, gestures to my purse. “It’s for my purse?” I exclaim, amazed. “Yes, yes, your purse,” he answers, smiling broadly, apparently very proud that they offer this service. Although at first it seems a bit absurd, I quickly find this idea brilliant, and happily go along with it. Chuckling to ourselves a bit more, we order some wine, which appears almost immediately. At this rate, we figure we’re gonna finish dinner and be out of there in about 20 minutes.

Hall of (washroom) mirrors
Now, when we’re on vacation, Cam and I tend to comment on the washrooms of restaurants we frequent; it’s often a bit of an adventure, and we always make sure we report back. Well, with Ming, it was no different. My slightest movement resulted in someone zooming over and saying, “Toilet?” It was eerie – and highly convenient.

I’m led through a narrow entrance, an ornate wood door, leading to a cramped hallway with individual rooms on either side. Turns out each of these doors lead to your very own washroom, with a sink, full-length mirror, even your own Buddha! I almost expected to see someone there, waiting, ready to flush the toilet for me. Crazy and over-the-top, but I loved it.

The Countdown
I come back, place my purse on my special chair, take a sip of wine, and then notice that Cam has almost finished his glass (I was having so much fun in my own private washroom that I was reluctant to leave). Sure enough, our waiters are well… waiting, trying not to be obvious, and failing to an epic degree. Cam suggests we play a game and guess how long it will be before they jump to fill his wine glass as soon as he’s finished. We decide it will be about 10 seconds. Sure enough, he drinks the last bit, and we start counting down: “ten, nine, eight seven, six, five, four, three, two, ….” and there they are. Under 10 seconds. Impressive.

In a nutshell
Le Resto Ming: great food. Decent wine list. Funky, electic atmosphere. Impeccable service. And your very own monkey chair.

– S
Categories: Bali, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

800-foot Drop

Waimea Canyon, Kaua‘i, Hawaii

Sooooooo…. one day while vacationing in beautiful Kaua‘i, Hawaii, a few years back, the husbo and I decided to go for a hike in the huge and expansive Waimea Canyon.

Must backtrack a bit. Before the hike we decided to take a helicopter ride, which we heard was a good way to familiarize yourself with the island. It sure was; I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting Kaua‘i for the first time. Our captain was a 350-lb ex-navy pilot who, upon our arrival and seating (Cam and I got front row seats, just out of pure luck, and the fact that we had to balance out the weight), announces to everyone: “I’ve never had a crash, and we’re not going to start today.” Hey, that’s reassuring, right?

Some of the many highlights of the tour included flying into the center of an (inactive) volcano, seeing where Jurassic Park was filmed, and of course the famed Napali Coast, where the movie Six Days Seven Nights was filmed. In our guidebook, this piece of coastline was described as so amazingly beautiful that many people are rendered speechless and – get this – often start crying at the sight of it. We both laughed and laughed at this notion: what kind of loser would cry about topography? Sure enough, as we came ’round the coast, this sneaks up on us, taking me by total surprise (click photo to enlarge):

The breathtaking Napali coast

Instantly I start crying. Well, more like weeping, really. Loser! Cam starts laughing at me – good, solid times.

Inspired by the helicopter ride, the next day we decide to explore some of the canyon region on our own. Off we go, stopping at the touristy lookouts and having lunch atop a steep cliff. Eager to explore further, we start off again, our destination being the top of an 800-foot waterfall, one that was highlighted as a must-see in our guidebook. Almost immediately, we get lost, and it’s a bit like Deliverance, Hawaii-style (dueling ukeleles?).

Shar dipping her feet at the top of the waterfall

After tripping through some brambles and skipping over rocks along a billy goat trail, getting a few other people lost with us in the process, we figure it out and find ourselves hiking beside a Canadian couple from Parry Sound, Ontario (which Cam finds intensely moving because it’s Bobby Orr‘s hometown). They seemed to know where they were going, so we tag along. However, as per usual, Cam decides to strike out and lead the pack. Shaking my head and calling “careful!” as I watch him traipse along the rugged terrain, brazenly climbing up big outcrops of rocks and such, I follow, the lady from Ontario and her husband right behind me.

Then, just as we were rounding the corner, the top of the waterfall in full view, Cam trips on the tip of a particularly crooked boulder and tumbles forward. Like really forward. Towards the top of the waterfall, in fact. I stop, the lady behind me, who saw everything, also stops, and we’re both frozen on the spot. I couldn’t even shout his name as I watch, dumbfounded, as Cam hurtles towards the cliff’s edge. I think the lady may have crossed herself.

Amazingly enough, Cam’s fall is broken by some random thick bush growing on the very edge. Apparently it had been there for a while, because it was strong enough to not only stop him, but to actually fling him back up, right on his feet! It was like an act out of Cirque de Soleil. I couldn’t believe it. Cam then strides over to his gaping audience, practically unharmed (save for a few nasty scratches). He smiles his crooked smile and responds easily to my “what if, what if” fretting with: “Don’t worry, Shar, I’m well-insured.” Well-heeled in luck is more like it.

– S

Categories: Hawaii, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Most Un-Glamorous ‘Journey’

Vegas, baby

Travelling isn’t always glamorous. Take the case when we decided to celebrate a milestone birthday of mine (I’m not going to tell you which one that is) in Vegas last year. We’re creeping up to its one-year anniversary, so what better time to share? Warning: this is a bit of an epic story. Fantasizing about being somewhere different and (sometimes) exotic is one thing; getting there can be a whole different scene.

A couple of reasons we chose Vegas – a complete freakshow that’s an absolute must-see before you die – was a) I wanted to have my birthday dinner in the Eiffel Tower without having to go all the way to Paris, and b) to see the band Journey in concert. We’ve been known to travel great distances to see bands we love – often to San Diego or San Francisco for a weekend just to see the Tragically Hip in a small, intimate venue (to be so annoying, it was totally awesome).

Here’s the ticket, just for nostalgic kicks:

Journey live in Sin City.

The ‘Plan’

Since I worked close to the airport, the plan was to have Cam drive me to work, turn around and go to his work, then return several hours later to pick me up, go to airport, and leave the car there for 4 days. Uh-huh. So much for that plan.

We wake up the morning of our trip to find Victoria covered in a blanket of snow. Not only that, it’s still snowing. This is at 5 in the morning. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, what were the chances? After much cursing and complaining, we suck it up and start driving the 30 minutes to work. I mean, how bad could it really be? It was bad. Quickly it becomes evident that the further north we go, the worse the weather becomes. We are now in full blizzard mode, with visibility less than a foot ahead. In fact, there was none at all. I turn to Cam and say “there’s no way you’re turning around and going to work.” He agrees, white-knuckling it, not taking his eyes from the road. And he’s from Manitoba.

We get to my place of work, settle in (Cam decides to set up shop there and work remotely), and start counting the hours to when out our flight leaves. If it leaves, that is. The concert is that night, of course, with the opening act (Night Ranger – yeah!) starting at 8 pm. Although we’re cutting it pretty close to begin with, we’re now entering the doesn’t- look-like-we’ll-make-our-flight-let-alone-the-goddamn-concert-at-all realm.

So in between Cam checking our flight status and looking out the window to give me the weather report every 15 minutes, I try to work. And have meetings. And quell the nervous butterflies and feeling of utter dread in my stomach. It was agonizing. Finally, after a few hours, Cam announces that our flight is delayed. Well, duh. The blizzard shows no signs of letting up. Then again, I think optimistically, this is Victoria, where the weather changes so often – one minute it’s snowing, the next raining, with a few sunny breaks in between – that there’s a good chance it stopping altogether, say in the next 5 minutes would be ideal. The snow would melt, the sun would come out, heck, even flowers would begin blooming, leaving a golden path from here to Vegas. What? It could happen.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, it’s looking worse, and our car is now covered in snow and the air has that eerie quiet to it. Under normal circumstances, that might be considered peaceful, I think, delusional. Finally lunch time rolls around. Even though we still have several hours before our ‘delayed’ flight is scheduled to leave, I am so strung out at this point, I just want to get the hell out of the office. I don’t care if we’re hours early – I just want to be that much closer to our destination. Even if it’s only 2 kms closer.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

So off we go, practically crawling the short distance to the airport. It’s not looking good, but at least there’s not much traffic. We park the car and settle in for a long time of waiting. Which involves investigating other flights (there are none), eating at the White Spot (where I proceed to vent and cry via text to my sister), and sitting at the bar in the security lounge (where I down 2 glasses of white wine in about 20 minutes). Keep in mind we still have to transfer in Seattle – by some miracle, they didn’t cancel our flight from there, even though at this point there was less than a half-hour window between flights. Finally, we board at about 4 o’clock. The snow has stopped for the moment, and I am happier than I’ve felt in years. Mind you, that could have been the wine.

We get to Seattle 30 minutes later, literally run to customs, which miraculously has a short lineup (this almost never happens), wait the agonizing 10 minutes before our luggage appears, and then go through security yet again. The stars must have been in our favour, because the lineup for that was almost nil as well. We couldn’t believe our ‘luck’. Of course, it’s the whole rodeo show of taking-off-your-belt, shoes, and any jingly-janglies before going through. Luckily we did so without any problems, only to find the train to our departure gate has just arrived. Although the trains run only a few minutes apart, there was no time to waste; we had maybe 10 minutes before our flight took off. We make a run for it, Cam with his jeans sliding down because he had no time to put on his belt, me hopping along with one boot on and one off. We were quite a sight.

Thinking we’re in the clear, we jog to the terminal, only to discover they just closed the gate. We hurriedly identify ourselves (fortunately we weren’t the only ones in this situation; there were a few others, some of whom had kicked up a bit of a fuss on the way over). Turned out they had just given away our first-class seats. Grudgingly, they go and basically kick the people back to their original seats in economy. We felt a bit bad about that, but what can you do?

Elated, exhausted and just plain relieved, we make our way to our seats, fortunately at the front so we didn’t have to walk the yes-we-are-the-idiots-who-held-up-the-flight walk of shame. As the plane reaches cruising altitude, we sit back and start to relax, until the stewardess comes around to tell us that because our initial flight was delayed and there was such a short turnaround time in-between bla-bla-bla, our luggage didn’t make it on the plane. It’s a good thing I already had a couple of champagnes at this point. I think to myself, “This better bloody well be it!” And then help myself to another champagne.

The Arrival

By then we both accepted the fact that we’re gonna miss the opening act altogether, but there’s a good chance we’ll see most of the main show if we don’t dawdle getting there (that’s an understatement). We land in Vegas, wrangle our luggage, and then have to waste yet more precious time filing a report for our ‘lost’ luggage. It’s almost 9 o’clock at this point. No Sister Christian for us, unfortunately!

Outside, we flag a taxi which slowly makes its way to the hotel. Of course, we get every light. I am buzzed, anxious, and given the chance, ready to jump out the door and run to the goddamn hotel if I had to. Then it’s waiting in line at the hotel service counter to check in. I am beside myself at this point, muttering loudly about slow, dumb people before Cam finally gives me a look that makes me quickly shut up and quietly join the rest of the sheep shuffling along until it’s their turn. We make our way up 30 something floors before we get to our room, where I throw my carry-on down on the bed, take one quick look in the mirror at my frazzled state, and then turnaround and run out the door, and into yet another interminably slow taxi. Finally, we’re at our destination: Planet Hollywood. I am so relieved and excited that, in my haste to get to the floor, I trip down the stairs and practically do a face plant in front of a crowd of gaping people. It doesn’t get better than this.

But we’re there, and all is good. The opening act is just ending and Journey is on, playing the first chords of Separate Ways. Literally music to our ears. We grab a couple of Vodka Redbulls and make our way to our seats in the dark. The perils of getting there slowly recede; in fact, it feels like a million years ago that we were in snow-ridden Victoria. Clinking our cheap plastic glasses together, we blend in with the crowd and lose ourselves in the music. It may be travel at its most trying, but it makes for a good story.

Categories: Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Embracing the weirdness.

I’m a big lover of history, art, culture, and new discoveries – let’s just say my favourite magazine is National Geographic. Not too surprisingly, one of my biggest passions in life is travelling. Travelling as in not just going places for the sake of it, but really experiencing places. The first landing. The smell. The anticipation of the new, the untouched, the unseen. Laughing with the locals, witnessing a Balinese funeral procession in the street, singing Christmas carols in Spanish with Mexican children at a local reso. Getting lost in the twisting, winding (and often smelly) corridors of Venice. Fumbling with the language, feeling like an idiot, eating tapas and swilling wine in a small, crowded bar in Spain’s old-quarter. Dining in a underground grotto wine cellar in a medieval fort in southern France, eating duck liver and trying to talk over the blaring music of Celine Dion.

Travelling isn’t about another notch in your belt, nor should it be about the comforts of home. It’s about embracing the weirdness. There’s a little bit of it everywhere (and in some places, a lot), and most often it’s unexpected. I love it – it feeds my soul, reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to experience all the amazing wonders this earth has to offer. Even if I never travelled again (very slim chance of that, but you never know), I could honestly say I am happy and fulfilled with what I’ve seen, experienced, smelled and tasted. I wish to share some of it with you, before I get (really) old and forget how to tie my shoes, let alone recall the time a monkey climbed up my back and started picking at my hair at a monkey forest in Bali. Or when the husbo nearly fell off a 800-foot waterfall in Hawaii. Okay, maybe I don’t really want to remember that, LOL.

So, consider this blog an unorthodox adult travel series of sorts: from Barcelona to Bali, Sydney to Sayulita, Nice to Negril, you will find a little bit of everything: funny stories and insights, pictures, pictures of the weirdness, hidden gems of places to stay, links to awesome eateries, things to eat (or not to eat), even how to keep up your exercise routine, if you’re so inclined (and don’t have access to some swank gym facility). Most importantly, have a read if you just want to escape or need a good laugh (or both).

Next stop: Sayulita, Mexico, for the third time. Fittingly, it’s my first travel post. Some places you just can’t get enough of.

– S

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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