Category Archives: Adventure

So you think you are brave…

Adventure travel is supposed to be … well …. an adventure and to some people that means taking a deep breath and saying to yourself over and over –

“I am not scared of …..  (insert your particular paranoia here, be it spiders, heights, dying, falling, weird food) and I am absolutely going to do this.”

First of all I am a coward.  Just doing a guided bike ride in Amsterdam had me quivering with fear but determined, nonetheless, to do this or regret it forever.  It worked out fine.  I wobbled a lot, concentrated so hard I was exhausted at the end, but I did it and I felt great about it.  A recent trip to Costa Rica brought more challenges as the group had signed up for a zip lining excursion.  Oh I had the option to cop-out and go and do a sedate boat cruise on the river but … wow …. ziplining!  How many times had I seen youtube clips friends had posted to facebook?  How many selfies can you take on a zipline?  How many times would I see this featured on BBC Travel Channel?  No – I had to do it.

It was only on the bus ride there that my first misgivings started to fidget around my heart, clustering together and setting up a nest there, raising my pulse slightly and making me second guess myself.  Then the guide came around with the forms – you know the ones where you totally forgive everyone on the planet if you should happen to slip and plunge to your death.  Yes, those ones.

OMG – I hate making a scene and I was afterall on the bus and committed.  So I signed the forms and started to think happy thoughts.

Finally we arrived at the base where we were given a talk on how to wear the equipment and what to do and how to zip.  All well and good.  They were all lovely people and very knowledgeable and the equipment looked top class.  Oh yeah – I am totally going to cream through this.

Right – off we go.  To the first platform where we climbed up and clipped on.  One by one getting to the edge.  No going back now Lesley.  Don’t close your eyes idiot – that’s the whole point of being there.  I took a leap of faith – literally – and jumped off.

Oh Wow – adrenaline overload – never saw a thing.  Got to the next platform.  Deep breath.  Thinks to self – Yeah girl – you rock!

Now imagine if I hadn’t done that.  How disappointed I would have been with myself.  My fear seems to be of killing myself or at least hurting myself badly.  Others however have other fears.  The fear of spiders – this is very real.  There are courses you can go on to get you over this particular fear.  Now myself – I am not really scared of spiders.  Yes of course growing up we would all scream when there was a spider in the house and jump on the nearest piece of furniture and the only person able to save us was my mother.  (Yeah my dad was on the furniture with us too!)  When I moved to Africa, however, it was a case of either get over it – or get over it!

My first scary experience was deep in the Transkei province of South Africa.  We were driving to Umgnazi River Bungalows and the only way there was on a dirt road.

umngazi River bungalows

Umngazi River Bungalows in the 70’s

As we travelled and travelled I began to realise how remote this place was.  We arrived at the Bungalows late at night – our accommodation being what they call a rondavel.  A round building with a thatched roof.  There was no electricity – the generator went off at 10 pm – and there were spiders and geckos everywhere.  What was worse was that you couldn’t see them on the thatched ceiling so of course my imagination doubled their size and tripled their numbers.  I spent a sleepless night with a torch in my hand intermittently checking the ceiling and no doubt giving the geckos a sleepless night too!

Every experience makes us grow and (after a long while) I went from this to sleeping out in the open under a tarp when we had forgotten our tent.  We were on the banks of a crocodile infested lake with leguaan (rock monitor) lizards rustling past us in the grasses and goodness knows what else.  I slept like a log although I did wake up in the morning covered in bites of some sort.
leguaan

So next time you travel and you are faced with a challenge think about how amazing you are going to feel about yourself the next day – even if at the moment you think that you are going to throw up!  It’s worth it – honestly!

So who’s a scaredy cat?

scared catMe! So no-one was more surprised than yours truly when I signed up for the Witch’s Rock Canopy Zip line tour in Costa Rica. Holy Cow! What was I thinking? This is definitely not the sort of activity for a girl who is allergic to adrenalin. But really – how can you go to Costa Rica and not zip line? You gotta do it.

The briefing started on the bus – just after we signed the waiver that confirmed that we were not pregnant, allergic, drunk, high or crazy. Don’t do this but do that – the zip lines are strong – they can hold up 10 cars etc. etc. Ok, enough already. Just get me on the damn zip line so I can do it before my resolve takes to the hills.

Off the bus we piled and there were a whole team of Costa Ricans ready to fit us into our harnesses. Now I might tell you that this can be a pretty intimate exercise bearing in mind that you certainly want the straps to be tight and secure. The young Costa Rican guy who fitted me was professional and friendly and graciously did not notice that my boobs were sitting at odd angles underneath the tight straps.

Then the second briefing –

Rule number one – lean back and just gently hold the line behind your head for guidance – this will prevent you from turning round and round.

Rule number two – don’t hold the zip line in front of the running clasp – otherwise Ouch.

Rule number three – have fun.

OK – deep breath and the first zip line was upon me. By this stage my heart rate had gone up and my hands were shaking but no-one could see that inside those big gloves. Hands on the wire and a quick jump so the guide could hook me onto the zip line. Are you ready he asked – I just tersely nodded as he pushed me off the platform into the void.

Oh………..my………g………….  IF

Silence – just the vibration of the wire, the sound of my heart beating, the wind in my face. Oh wow – is that a waterfall. I am swooping like a bird over the tops of the trees.

24 stations later we trooped back to the start where ice cold beers were waiting for us on the rooftop verandah of the little hacienda style building. Sitting at the bar there hot and sweaty looking out over the hills to the sea beyond I felt like a superstar!

You don`t know history

No, really.  Forget Stonehenge, Angkor Watt, the Parthenon, Pompeii …

Yes I know that sounds like sacrilege but it’s true.  Unless you have seen Ancient Egypt you ain’t seen nothing yet.

How come you can visit tombs in the Valley of the Kings in lower Egypt where the paint is still fresh and vibrant looking after 3000 years…. And today we can’t get a paint job for the house that will last at least 10.  It’s mind-boggling.  Let’s consider – the ancient Egyptians were working on sophisticated engineering projects like the pyramids, irrigation, surgical instruments and the use of medicinal herbs while our ancestors (North American / European) were living in caves wearing animal skins.  Makes you think?

If you have a fascination for ancient history – for all things related to what we are today as human beings and how we developed – then Egypt has to be the next place to visit.  Put this country on your bucket list.  There are more important archeological and ancient historical sites in this country than Tim Hortons locations in Canada.

Another very good reason to visit now is that the Canadian Government has lifted the travel ban for Egypt.  The Arab Spring brought democracy to Egypt but it also brought a swift decline in tourism numbers.  Hotels, river cruise operators and tour guides have all suffered through this decline but savvy tourists who visited the country over this time experienced almost private experiences at the pyramids, the tombs and the temples.  Consider the numbers – before the Arab Spring over 200.000 visitors a day arrived at sites such as Luxor and the Valley of the Kings and Queens.  To enter some of the tombs you might feel as if you were at DisneyWorld without an express pass with wait times in line ups of up to 45 minutes for each tomb.  Your photographs of famous sites such as the Temple of Edfu might resemble Times Square on New Year’s Eve due to the number of people visiting.

My experience was very different.  Although there was a fair number of tourists our guide made sure we were up early every morning to get out to the sites in order to be the first people there.  I was able to wander around the terraces of the temple grounds and feel that I was the only person there.  A real opportunity for wonder and reflection.

Some tombs cost a little extra to visit – for example the tomb of King Tutankhamen.  Just four of our group decided to fork out the extra $16 to see his tomb.    Wow – now that was an experience.  The original mummy is there in a sealed glass case.  My husband and I dawdled and the other couple left the tomb.  We just couldn’t believe that we were experiencing a private viewing of King Tut.  Priceless!

Another reason to go now….. plans are afoot to close the original King Tut tomb and replace it with a replica.  There has just been too much damage and the concern is that they want to protect these incredible ancient wonders.  Some tombs are already closed to the general public and not accessible with your permit to visit the Valley of the Kings.  You can still visit these tombs but it will cost …. Some permits cost in the region of $3000 a visit.

Apart from the pyramids and the tombs and temples you will be charmed by the Egyptian people.  They take hospitality to a whole new level and I can honestly say that I felt like an honoured guest wherever I stayed.  Yes it’s hectic and the traffic in Cairo is a nightmare, the streets are dirty, the muezzins call to prayer will wake you at 5 am, the street vendors are persistent in their extravagant compliments as to your smile, your hair, your eyes – anything for a sale.

I loved it….. and I will return.

You should go too.

Junking in Vietnam

Junk  – the word has bad connotations for North Americans – so the idea of spending a night on a junk in Ha Long Bay was received with mixed feelings.  “Don’t worry”, said Huy our guide “You will have a soft mattress and a small private shower.”  In fact what we had was a beautiful room furnished in rich warm woods, crisp white linens and a constantly changing view of magical Ha Long Bay.

 Now that it has been named one of the natural wonders of the world Ha Long Bay is certainly busy with visitors from all over the world.  I couldn’t help wondering what it was like for those intrepid travellers who ventured out to this region before it had been “discovered”.  It must have been magical.  Even with numerous junks and day trippers the area has a certain mystery about it – especially when the mist slides over the sea and wraps around the tall jagged islands.

 Our visit there included a ride around a floating village.  The village is relatively new, about fifteen years, and was a brilliant solution to the overcrowding of Hanoi.  People without homes were offered the chance to come out and start a fishing village and pearl farm which in turn has developed a little tourist industry all of its own.  The local people – mostly young girls – ferry visitors around in traditional Vietnamese boats – almost like a gondola in a way.  Kids here learn to row from an early age and we saw several very small children lying back in the boats and operating the oars with their feet.

 Other highlights of the area include visits to immense caves in the heart of the limestone islands as well as a gruelling 400 step walk up to the top of one of the islands for the “view”.  That’s if you can breathe by the time you get up there.  Phew!  In the heat and humidity that was a mini marathon.  By the time we all got down to the beach a dip in the sea was a must – even without a swimsuit.  Yes some of our ladies just walked right in with all their clothes on!  Good for them!

Zebras in Hanoi

….. as in crossing that is.  Our guide was very specific about instructions for negotiating the streets of Hanoi.  “Always cross at the zebra crossing.  Once you start crossing the street keep going but slowly.  Do not run.  Walk slowly so motorbikes will have a good chance to avoid hitting you.”

And they're off!

Now that’s pretty good advice if you ask me.  Forget about traffic lights.  They work for the most part but don’t be surprised to find scooters, motor bikes or even cars driving around you, in front of you and behind you while crossing at a pedestrian crossing.  Oh and don’t get too relaxed walking down the sidewalk.  Many bikers use this as a handy way to avoid the traffic.  Go figure.

I use the term “bikers” loosely.  For us in North America it conjures up Hell’s Angels or mid-life crisis executives clad in black leather from head to foot sitting confidently astride beautiful Harleys or BMW’s.  In Hanoi a biker could be literally anyone wanting to get from point A to point B.  Lots of girls.  Pretty office workers in stockings, suits and heels.  Moms and Dads with one or even two babies wedged between them.  It’s amazing what these bikes can do and how the riders can balance huge bags of rice, baskets piled sky-high and very long unwieldy aluminium ladders with no sight of that familiar red cloth tied to the end.  It’s pedestrian beware and the sight is enough to make any North American traffic cop want to hang up his radar.

I was astonished to see a group of tourists on a bicycle tour through the city.  Truly they deserve a medal – maybe this is going to become an Olympic sport one day.  It would certainly call on athletes with nerves of steel and great balance – qualities unfortunately that I do not possess.  So you won’t be seeing me on the bike in Vietnam – at least not in Hanoi that is.

If this is Hanoi where are my tighty whities?

There lies my suitcase – on the living room floor – and it’s packed.  The remarkable thing about this is that it was packed a good 36 hours before I am due to leave the house and head for the airport.  This must constitute a record.  It is such an amazing occurrence it has been giving me a headache and caused me to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I have finally gone off my rocker!  People, this is an unheard of phenomenon.  I have been known to finish my packing with the taxi waiting at the front door.   This has caused huge distraction and lack of concentration – like the time we drove all the way to Calgary airport and left my bag sitting on the floor of the garage.   Or the time I completely forgot to pack my underwear.  Yes, you try wearing a pair of your husband’s tighty whities under your skirt and see how it feels.

Tighty Whities - or what I would call Y-Fronts

So I am feeling rather smug at the moment – which is not a good thing as I know from experience.  I am heading into untrodden territory – at least for me.  First stop is Hanoi, followed by Ha Long Bay, Siem Reap and the Mekong.  Wow – I feel dizzy at the thought.  Have I really packed the right stuff – maybe I should go through it all just one more time…. just to be sure.

Stop it Lesley – it will be fine.  The bag is packed – let it be….. but just double check you packed your knickers.

Insomnia in darkest Africa

2.14 am …….I can’t believe I am camping out in a small two man tent in the middle of the African bush and there isn’t even a fence between us and them … the predators.  How did I talk myself into this?  Even more curious… how did I talk my sister into this.  She hates spiders and creepy crawlies so much that she sprayed our tent with DDT and now we can hardly breathe.

This wasn't what I had in mind

2.35 am ….. Holy cow!  What is that noise?  Sounds like hyenas.  Oh… there goes the garbage can.  They must have found the leftovers from the barbecue.  Ugh, I hate hyenas – I know that sounds irrational but they look so primitive and evil.

3.05 am….. Hell’s teeth.  What’s that shouting.  It sounds like Peter.  He’s in the other tent with the kids.  What should I do?  He’s banging on the side of the tent and shouting “Voetsak” (get away in Afrikaans).  Is someone trying to break in.  How do you break into a tent anyway?  Shouldn’t I rush over there and save my babies….. mmmmmm …. where’s that Tiger Mom in me?  Oh yeah – we’re in Africa, not India.  So where is the Lion Mom in me?  Hang on a minute.  It’s gone quiet again.  He must have scared them away.  I’ll be brave and stick my head out of the tent and shout over to him.   zzzzzzzip  zzzzzip – “Are you ok Pete?”  “Yes, go back to sleep”.  Sleep?  Who is he kidding?

3.15 am ….. so what happened to the Ranger.  He said he was going to take the rifle with him and if we needed anything in the night just shout.  He must be as deaf as a post. Shame such a young man too!  Just hope we don’t get a herd of marauding elephant through here.

3.45 am …… I wonder how Trish manages to sleep with her hat on.  She’s had it on all night.  Says it keeps the spiders from falling on her head.  Yawn….

4.15 am….. Oh how lovely – an owl in the tree over us hooting away.  At least it will keep us company.

4.50 am ….. Wish I had the rifle.  I would shoot that bloody owl.

5.10 am….. Hang on.. I think dawn is coming.  I can see a pinky light through the mosquito netting of the tent.  Maybe we can get up now.   zzzzzzip zzzzzip – Oh wow look it IS daytime.  And here comes our trusty ranger with his rifle.  “Hi!  What a night hey?”…. He looks puzzled “Really?  I dunno.  I had my wisdom teeth out yesterday so I took two percocet and slept all night.  What’s wrong?  Why are you looking at me like that?”

Really!

Flying carpets and Genuine Fake watches in Kusadasi

  “As you walk down these streets remember that you are walking the same streets as St Paul, St John and probably Mary, the mother of Jesus,” our guide told us as we walked into the ancient city of Ephesus. 

Just go and immerse yourself in history

It was also the honeymoon choice for Cleopatra and Marc Anthony.  Imagine that!  Excavations continue on an ongoing basis as and when funding is available and only about 10% of the city has been excavated so far.   If you do have Kusadasi on your itinerary a tour of Ephesus is a must.  Our guide (a high school teacher) made the place come alive for us so please don’t feel that this is just another tour of ancient ruins. 

Inevitably as part of our tour we ended up at a carpet weaving demonstration.  Our guide joked that this was part of the tour and assured us that the proprietor was not his cousin and he wasn’t getting a commission. 

Honestly - they flew - they really did!

It certainly was interesting learning how the carpets were made and we were served with refreshments of our choice while a whole team of robust looking Turks rolled out carpet after carpet on the floor.  When they got down to the smaller ones they skilfully spun them up in the air so we could truly say we had been to Turkey and seen a flying carpet. 

When the demonstration was over however the skilful carpet spinners honed in to see if they could spin a sale.  Don’t get me wrong – they were quite pleasant and polite when we declined to purchase.  Some of our group did indeed buy rugs and came home with some delightful examples of extremely skilful work from the carpet co-operative.

Kusadasi was really not what I had expected.  It is very Western in feel.  The people are sophisticated, friendly and speak English quite well.

Genuine Fake Watches - gee what a find!

  Shopping in Kusadasi was a treat.  Great silver, leather, silks and ceramics and even some Genuine Fake watches.  I had to keep in mind that I was planning to return to Turkey later in my trip and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was calling my name.  I did however make a very small contribution to the economy with the purchase of a silver necklace.  Well really – I like to do my part!

Donkey fighting in Santorini

Now back off Mr Donkey

Now I feel sorry for the donkeys, don’t get me wrong.  But I know where the mule part comes from and when you are negotiating a steep rocky path from the top of Santorini down to the ferry station everyone is fighting for territory.  Maybe we should have taken the gondola – we did have the tickets after all – but the line-up was horrendous so we thought we would be clever and walk down.  What we didn’t realise before we started was that the rocks on the path were polished smooth by the thousands of people (and donkeys) who have gone up and down this path.  In addition to this they were well oiled by liberal doses of donkey poo.  I was halfway down the path ahead of my sister when I realised that she was in a confrontation with a donkey.  Unable to move and squashed up against the side of the wall by the donkey she burst into tears so her husband had no option but to punch the donkey in the neck.

Now before you go all PETA on me it hurt him a lot more than it hurt the donkey.  Trust me – his hand was red for days. 

Any idea when these cruise ships go away?

The problem was of course that there were no less than 7 cruise ships in the harbour.  Imagine pouring out all those passengers into the tiny streets of Santorini.  The people pressure was unbelievable and I was told that 11 ships were expected the next day.  What a shame.  It is indeed a beautiful island with stunning little hotels literally hanging onto the side of the cliffs.  My best bet – if you really want to see Santorini go in October, sleep late, eat lunch at the pool of your hotel and then by 4 pm you should be safe to venture out and enjoy the island as it was meant to be enjoyed.

She's shopping - he's sleeping

After seeing Monemvasia I am sure there are many such undiscovered and beautiful places to visit in Greece and I plan to find them.  Stay tuned!  Preferably somewhere without a donkey ride involved!

Roots – Malta style

Trish with our taxi driver Chris outside the hospital in Malta where they were both born

Despite being covered in tattoos and only having one tooth – Chris is truly the best taxi driver in Malta. 

We had decided not to take any of the shore excursions in Malta as this was a very special stop for myself and my sister.  She was born there back in the 50’s (not sure if I have permission to disclose the actual year!) while I was just a toddler.  Our father had been stationed there with the Royal Navy.  We had a bunch of old photos and a vague idea of where to go to see special family places. 

We decided that the best thing to do was to hire a taxi for 5 hours.  This was very reasonable for the 4 of us – less than 100 Euros.  The taxi concierge waved Chris over and told us not to be put off by his appearance.  Really he did look a bit like a Maltese Hells Angel.  Battered face, arms like sides of ham covered in tattoos – and that one lonely tooth.  Turns out he was a big teddy bear with a heart bigger than his biceps.  He took charge of the “investigation” and wasted no time driving down the narrow streets regularly stopping to shout for help from passers by.  “Hey Charlie!” he would shout – followed by a long animated conversation in Maltise.  A few blocks later he would wind the window down again – “Hey Charlie!”…. another discussion.  Naively I asked if all the men in Malta were called Charlie.  “Yes” he replied “ or Joey!” 

Other words of wisdom from Chris included the recommendation never to ask a teenager or a young person anything.  If you want to find out something in Malta ask an older person.  The older men were always Charlie and the younger men were Joeys.  True to what Chris had said –  the Joeys knew nothing.

So Grannie came out to help

Things got really interesting when we were trying to find the house where we lived.  All I had was an old photo of myself as a baby and a Maltise lady who was the landlady.  “OK, wait here,” said Chris and with that he knocked on the door.  Before we knew it we were surrounded by about 20 people all from the street, all looking at the photo, passing it around, offering advice.  Maybe it’s this one’s cousin.  No, no – it’s this one’s Aunt.  Let’s get granny out – she is in the back room having a snooze.  No really she wouldn’t want to miss this.  She knows everything.  She’s 92.

Before we knew it we had a small crowd.  The people from next door joined in and they called a passer-by to come over and give their opinion.  The photo was passed from one to another with much excited shouting in Maltise.

And then there were more

Apart from all the “Down Memory Lane” experiences we also spent time down at the harbour famous for its prettily painted fishing boats and quay side markets.  Another must is the walled city of Mdina which has been carefully preserved.  We really only scratched the surface when we were there and truly the island warrants at least a week to enjoy all that it has to offer.

  The Maltese people are so friendly, speak excellent English and as part of the EU are now revitalising their island with new public transit.  Having said that many people, both locals and visitors, are sad to see the end of the famous yellow buses which have been operating in Malta since the 1950’s. 

Goodbye Yellow Bus

Our trip to Malta ended with bear hugs from Chris, new photos of old places to include in the family history and a determination to return to Malta for a longer stay.