Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Mainland Ecuador 🇪🇨


In Quito, taxis cost about $0.10 a minute, US dollars, well, cents, but still — so cheap. Drivers use their horns often, ducking into winding streets, passing other cars on either side, rounding corners, giving a heads up to pedestrians. It’s fast and loud, if not furious. The buses blow black smoke through the city. But there’s plenty to see.

The Basilica del Voto Nacional is over two hundred years old and it’s a massive fortress. Its narrow stairwells lead higher and higher to spires that overlook Old Town. The highest point of the Basilica is the Condors’ Tower, accessed by a caged-in steel ladder, technically outside. A woozy climb for us adults. Chloe zipped up in her usual fearless fashion and Sylvie pretended she was 8 (required age) and went for it too.

After that we went to the Botanical Gardens and now we’re all orchid enthusiasts.

The teleferico is a enclosed lift that takes you to the highest peaks in the city. We tried to go our first day but it was a holiday so the line was too long. Luckily for the kids, Vulcano Park was right there and they got to go on some decent rides and play some carni games. Chloe took a couple of shots at a basketball game where you had to sink a b-ball through three hoops and she got it, winning herself a teddy bear. It was a highlight. The next day we took the teleferico way up, looked at the whole city, hiked around, pet some llamas, and rode horses . . . because why not?

Sylvie celebrated her 7th birthday in Otavalo! We stayed in cute cabins overlooking the city. So many dogs — some stray, some cared for, some charming, some in rough shape. It was like the book Go Dogs Go, and at night, the dog party was raucous.

The Otavalo market is the biggest and oldest market in South America and vendors set up and sell beautiful textiles, fresh produce, and all kinds of randomness. You can get some deals (leather purse for $20, a « North Face » jacket for $30, fresh juice for $0.15, 40 limes for a dollar!). The place was chaotic and full of energy. We may have seen 5% of it. Basically we had snacks and got a few bracelets for the girls because I can’t be carrying any more on this trip!

We spent a day at Parque Cóndor where they care for spectacular and mostly endangered birds — eagles, hawks, owls, and of course, condors. There’s an eccentric fellow who has been working there for many years and puts on a show. Very impressive. Speaking of birds, we tried caldo de gallino, which was a tasty soup. It was our first time ever spooning up a foot though. Hello.

The road to Mindo spirals through the mountainous cloud forest. Hard on the neck. Within our first hour in town we did  a chocolate tour at El Chetzal. Yum. Then we went to a butterfly farm, took another teleferico (why do we keep doing this? So scary.), and hiked to a waterfall. Our last day there we took shelter from the hours of rain by spending the day in a covered hot tub pool at a hotel. Great day.

We soaked even more in Papallacta. We spent an evening and a full day in the Balnearios — a beautifully designed complex of pools of all temperatures and sizes, built into the mountain, fed by the springs.

Also, we met Heather and John in Mindo. They have been traveling for five years! Their blog is www.roamingaroundtheworld.com. They have lots of insight and good advice for traveling, even a guide to Halifax, so they’re clearly good folks.


That’s all for now. Off to Galapagos today!











Thursday, 7 March 2019

Tulum & Cozumel

Believe the hype. The Tulum beach is beautiful and the water is warm, if choppy. It’s an Instagrammer’s paradise... We were privy to many awkwardly staged photo shoots. The sun was intense, and after hours playing in the waves, and walking around the Mayan ruins, we got burnt, despite our best efforts. Our condo, our first AirBNB experience, was a $10 cab away. The place was perfect. The kids had their own room and there was a huge pool shared with the other tenants. We met the sweetest family from Brooklyn, traveling with their baby and preschooler, both teachers too. We also loved the nearby truck stop with great Mexican food and incredible bands on the weekends (and quirky ones on weekdays). We ate so many tacos and panuchos at La Chiapaneca that I really need a break.

From Tulum we booked a tour to the Dos Ojos cenotes, and went cave swimming for a few hours.  Flippers, masks, snorkels on, we swam through different caves, some with a few fish, some filled with bats, some so dark we needed flashlights. The girls were awesome — strong, brave, and generally up for whatever we plan.

A few days later we bussed to Playa del Carmen, ferried to Cozumel, checked in to a funny little hotel and went on a short snorkel tour. The reefs we saw didn’t seem to be in very good shape but a few schools milled around us, probably because our guide was dropping feed out of his pocket (sketchy?).  When we got lightly stung by tiny jellyfish, we were like OW! And the guide was like, Oh no — no stingers here. Anyway, to make sure our Tripadvisor feedback was positive, we were given margaritas, rum punch, and strawberry pop for the kids.

Back at the hotel, the kids played in the courtyard where there were lush gardens and sixteen (they counted) turtles. They stalked them, petted them, admired them, and yes, washed their hands. We walked around the center of Cozumel that night, enjoying the plaza, the vendors, the outdoor restaurants. Mike had a couple of barley pops, the girls had the best popsicles of their lives — basically mango purée, and I treated myself to an obnoxiously large-pink-slushy daiquiri while enjoying tender acoustic covers of the music of my youth. The seed is planted for my snowbirding retirement years I guess. Haha

Our time in Mexico was awesome and I’m sure we’ll go back someday. Hasta luego.
—K












Sunday, 24 February 2019

Mexico 🇲🇽

Getting to beautiful Mérida was a mission: Hfx- TO- Mexico City - Mérida. We had that Amazing Race feeling in the massive Mexico City airport as we took a train to Terminal 2 to catch our plane to Merida, but once we settled into Hotel Luz en Yucatan, it was all worth it. We met some great people — long-horn cattle ranchers from Texas who bonded with Mike over football. We also met a French family from Bretagne. Their daughter played with our girls, and one of their sons is a history buff who knows all about Acadians. 😊 The plazas in town are vibrant with music, vendors, food stalls, and we watched a simulation of the ancient Mayan “ball game” pelote.

A few days later we caught the comfy ADO bus to Valladolid, another colourful town with a lot of character. From there we booked a taxi guide to take us to Chichen Itza — a huge archeological site with the big pyramid, as well as other temples and the big field for the infamous aforementioned ball game pelote, which required players to knock a ball through a ring high up on the walls (knees, hips, forearms only!). We picked it up instantly and shut out every family we challenged, beast mode. Hahaha imagine.

After our morning at Chichen Itza our taxi driver, Luis Arceo, took us to two cenotes: Ik-Kil and Suytun. Ik-Kil was busier than Mic Mac Mall on Christmas Eve, except with everyone in bathing suits taking selfies, GoPro selfies, and action shots. I must be in the background of several thousand pics. Dios mio. It really was beautiful and a refreshing dip. Chloe and Mike took brave jumps from quite high. 

Suytun Cenote was very different. It is closer to Valladolid and a much more rustic park. We didn’t know what to expect when we paid our entrance fee. They handed us life vests and pointed to a stone staircase going underground. Ok... eerie vibe, couple of bats, careful walking down stairs, then wow! An enormous cavern filled with stalactites (or are they stalagmites? maybe both?), a skylight illuminating the water below, with a walkway towards the center, and what made it even better was that there were only three other people there, total. The water was cool and a little murky, and there were quite a few little black catfish around but after some hesitation, we waded in and swam around. Muy refresca. 

We went back to Valladolid and after a bit of research decided to go to Rio Lagartos overnight to do an early morning boat tour with a naturalist. There were pelicans and frigate birds close to the dock, and when we ventured out into the mangroves we saw many birds, notably great blue herons, osprey, egrets, hawks, and large flocks of stunning flamingos. We were lucky enough to get close to two very mellow crocodiles. 

From Rio Lagartos we took three buses and two taxis to Tulum, where we are relaxing for a while. That’s all for now.  Oh my... the food has been exceptional: tacos for days, panuchos, ceviche, guacamole, Venezuelan arepa, churros, marquesitas! Next blog post might be all food. 

— K














Thursday, 31 January 2019

What's the plan?

Very soon, we are packing up the kids and starting our round-the-world (RTW) adventure.

The four of us will travel for six months, through fifteen or more countries. We hope to have fun, learn lots, and document some of the trip to share with family, friends, and fellow travellers.

Since it's February and our departure point is Nova Scotia, we are going south.
First stop: Mérida, Mexico.

—Kristen
(The pic below was taken by C. Sharp at my parents’ house in Pubnico on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. I’m guessing in our future blog pics we will look a little scrappier. 😅)


Mainland Ecuador 🇪🇨

In Quito, taxis cost about $0.10 a minute, US dollars, well, cents, but still — so cheap. Drivers use their horns often, ducking into windi...