Monday, October 25, 2010

Peruvian Adventure





I guess I need a life..anyway here is the story of my trip to Peru in April/May 2006.

MY TRIP TO PERU


April 21/22, 2006 - Well the day was finally here. My cousin Joanne drove me to the airport -the flights to Toronto and then on to Lima were uneventful. Arrived into Lima in the early hours and of course my luggage was one of the last off. The taxi I had booked through the hotel was there and took me to the Hotel Embajadores in Mira Flores (posh suburb of Lima). My room wasn’t ready and I had to wait about three hours. I chatted with a Canadian couple who had just finished the same tour so got lots of useful tips. When my room was ready I had a bit of a rest then headed out to a nearby shopping centre. Met Andrea, the tour guide - a 28 year old from Switzerland who used to be a flight attendant for Swiss Air and has traveled all over the world. I had dinner in the hotel dining room - steak with rice and French fries (rice & French fries together are popular there) with broccoli and carrots. A good meal. Then I went to bed.

April 23, 2006 - Got up at 7 a.m. and had a light breakfast and met the rest of the group. All Brits. Four single ladies and three couples. I picked up English expressions easily (except for “Brilliant” which I detest - I refuse to use that word. Andrea and I joked about it and at the end she said “you were a brilliant group” and looked at me and smirked.) and this report will be full of them. We met with Andrea and paid our local payment and tip money and exchanged some money for Peruvian soles. Then we were off to the airport to board our flight to Arequipa. After 20 minutes In the air we turned around - “weather problems” we were told which turned out to be engine problems. We were given a snack and shortly boarded another Air Condor flight. Our hotel in Arequipa was the Hotel El Conquistador and it was formally a mansion - very beautiful. My room was nothing special but the lobby area was amazing - lots of wrought iron & stone steps leading to nowhere! We went to dinner at Zig Zag which was wonderful. I had a sampler dinner of alpaca, beef & ostrich with quino (corn) on the side. I wasn’t too keen on the ostrich but the alpaca was very nice. Back to the room for an early night as we had a 2 a.m. wakeup call!

April 24, 2006 - The 2 a.m. wakeup call came after just three hours of sleep. It was dark and cold as we boarded the bus and very cold when we ascended to the highest point in Peru. One of our group, Rosie had to get off the bus to be sick. I was happy I had started taking the altitude sickness pills the first night in Lima. We stopped in the town of Chivay and walked over to the market to get some bread rolls which we shared with the local stray dogs. One got on the bus and wanted to come with us!! On towards Colca Canyon - the scenery was amazing with terraces (80% remaining had been built by the Incas) built into the mountains. Colca Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon - not as spectacular though as it is much more narrow and not the spectacular colours of the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t discovered by “outsiders” until 1970 when they were working on an irrigation system in the area. We were there to see the Andean Condor - and see it we did. In fact they did quite a show for us - Lin was convinced one looked at me as he glided by as if to say “aren’t I a handsome lad”. It is the second largest bird in the world after the Albatross. We then headed to the hot pools and had a quick soak then back on the bus to lunch in Chivay - a delicious buffet of ethnic Indian food. My personal favourite was the Sweet Potato fritters! We had a little walk around afterwards and of course had to pay to take pictures of an adorable little guy with his baby llama. Got back to Arequipa at around 5 p.m. It was an amazing day but an exhausting one. I headed right to bed as I was coming down with a cold

April 25, 2006 - A relaxing morning. I learned that in Peru you water the coffee down - add hot water to the thick brew. I still shudder thinking about that first sip I took “straight“ !! Most breakfasts in Peru consisted of lots of fresh fruit such as pineapple,& papaya, bread rolls, cheese, ham & freshly squeezed fruit juice. At 10 a.m. we met Andrea in front of the Cathedral in the town square and walked to the Santa Catalina convent. Very impressive with brightly colored walls - a photographer’s dream. I should have gone back and photographed it in the late afternoon light. After the tour a few of us went for a cold drink and sat on a balcony overlooking the town square. Afterwards we went to see the musuem Santuarios which houses the mummified remains of “Sarita”. She was discovered on a mountain in 1995 - intact and still had her hair & clothes. She was a young Inca girl sacrificed to appease the gods (likely after an earthquake)about 500 years ago. These children were chosen at birth and were treated with special care all their life until it was time to live with the gods. Five children have been found on the mountains near Arequipa - kept frozen and covered with ice until the earth shifted during an earthquake and they were discovered. Dinner that night was in a restaurant overlooking the square and several of us tried the local specialty - a red pepper with spicy beef inside topped with cheese and scrambled egg. It was good.

April 26, 2006 - At 9 a.m. we set off for Puno. Along the way we saw lots of alpacas and llamas ( as common as cows & horses here) and every tourist stop had the requisite Indians selling goods. I bought myself an “Alpaca” cardigan- well for 30 soles (about $10 US) I knew it wasn’t real but it was colourful and I knew I’d wear it a lot. The landscape leaving Arequipa was desert like but as we got closer to Puno it turned green and lush. We picked up Reuben, our local guide and stopped at a local farm house which was interesting. The daughter of the family was just 20 but looked at least 30 - it's a tough life. Then on to Sillustani to see the culpa. (funeral towers). The trek up was tough because of the altitude and I had just gotten a cold so it was hard going. In retrospect I should never have done it. We checked into the hotel in Puno which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then took a rickshaw to a restaurant in the square. I had a plain omelette as was definitely feeling unwell at this point - us three sickies took a taxi back to the hotel while the others walked back. (this detail is important later!)

April 27, 2006 - Today we went off to Taquile island. We got the boat & stopped at the Uros Islands which were so interesting and unique. The women of the island greeted us with hugs and kisses as we got off the boat and showed us around their island. These islands are made of reeds and have to be constantly rebuilt. It was very disconcerting to walk around with a bit of a bounce to your step from the reeds! Quite a few children drown by falling through the reeds. The women dressed very colourfully and so I ended up being dressed up in an outfit and having my picture taken. We were shown into their little huts complete with TV & stereos - then we noticed the solar panels!! The men work in Puno which is a 20 minute boat ride away. I bought a couple of pendants & some postcards. A few of us opted to take the gorgeous reed boat from one island to the other - what an experience. The second island we visited wasn’t as quaint or homey as the first and all they wanted to do was sell us things. We got back on the boat for another three hours to Taquile Island. We walked up the path from the boat and I gasped the whole way due to the altitude and my cold - the views were spectacular so I guess I gasped at that too. We weren’t told about our accommodations as they wanted to surprise us and they were delightful. A simple villa built overlooking Lake Titicaca. We all had our own rooms with a candle to light at night and the “loo” down the path. No electricity on this island. It was beautiful. Lunch was served - an omelette with chips in!! We rested until 3:30 when we walked to the town square. My lungs were burning so I let the rest go on ahead to watch the sunset (which turned out to be a non-event - too cloudy) and I hung out in the town square and gave local kid some postcards I had brought from home and looked in the handicraft store. I met the rest of the group in the restaurant and we had ginger chicken with rice which was nice. (specially prepared for us) Back to our abode in the dark with our torches - mine was a pathetic penlight so had to rely on Rosie’s light to help guide me. I was tucked into bed by 7:15!!! I had to pull out my little pen light to make a pilgrimage to the loo - let me tell you I've never had such a dangerous trek in my life to 'spend a penny'.

April 28, 2006 - Despite pure silence - such I’ve never experienced in my life - I did not sleep well and my cold was horrible the next morning. We had banana pancakes with honey drizzled on top - very nice - and coffee. The owner of our villa, Pedro came with his wife and gave us a weaving demonstration - his wife did the weaving while he did the embroidery - the men on Taquile Island do all the embroidery. I bought myself a Peruvian hat with ear flaps!! I opted out of the walk to the school as I felt so rough which was disappointing as I’d brought pencils and sharpeners, etc. from home - however I found out later the school was closed! Jackie was not in good shape at all so she slept while I wandered around the villa property taking photographs and sat on a bench enjoying the beauty of the lake. You could see the snow covered peaks of Bolivia across the water - with the blue sky and sunshine the lake sparkled and looked like the Mediterranean sea. Beautiful. It is the highest navigable lake in the world. Jackie and I walked to the town square and met the others for lunch. Dare I say it was omelet again - that or fish and I was not in the mood for that. Then we began the descent down the 525 steps to the boat. I was just grateful we had not come up this way! My knees did not like this descent one little bit and let me know. The views down were spectacular - we were so lucky with the weather. Back on the boat to Puno. However my excitement for the day wasn’t over. In a moment of great insanity I decided to take a rickshaw to the nearby market - only my driver did not understand English and we went all over the place - me shrieking at him to turn around. Well you had to be there. I kept yelling at people “speak English?“! I told someone who did speak English Hostal Lago only I pronounced Lago wrong and no one knew what I was talking about. The whole fiasco ended with a police officer taking me to the tourist office in a taxi then taking me back to my hotel. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see my tour group again!! I was lost a good 45 minutes. I learned my lesson - never leave the hotel without a map. Due to not walking around and being ill I was not familiar with the area around the hotel. I am sure the poor kid on the rickshaw still talks about the crazy lady to this day!!! I was never so glad to see my hotel - the group of us went out for pizza that night. I got a good razzing over my adventure.

April 29, 2006 - Today we boarded the train from Puno to Cusco which is one of the top train trips in the world. It was ten hours and beautiful scenery - mountains, lots of llamas & alpacas, lush greenery, etc. We stopped at the highest point of the trip - and surprise surprise there was a market. I had a lunch with me but decided to splurge on “afternoon tea” which was five dollars. Well…I got a cup of tea ¾ full (no refill) , two small vile cakes that they serve on Air Condor, a tiny finger sandwich. No one could believe it and all the group had to come and look at my afternoon tea and have a laugh. Oh well - Andrea said she would tell her future tours to avoid the “afternoon tea”. For one dollar more I could have had a huge sandwich which is what some of the others did. We arrived into Cusco and stayed at the El Puma hotel which was gorgeous - the hotel we had been supposed to be staying in was being renovated. I skipped dinner that night as I was exhausted.

April 30, 2006 - This morning we took a tour out to the Sacred Valley and visited Sacsayuaman (yes, it sound like “sexy woman”) which is an Incan fortress overlooking Cusco. It took 90 years to build! We had a great view of Cusco from the top. On to the Alpaca wool factory where I got myself another cardigan - real baby Alpaca wool this time. Then on to the Pisac market which was very touristy but interesting. I got myself some llama earrings, a leather tooled photo album for my trip pictures (several of us got one so got a good deal as of course it was all bargaining) & some multicolored gloves. The Sacred Valley is very lush and beautiful - it is named that because of the wonderful conditions for growing produce. As we left Pisac several of us stopped at a bakery and picked up some gorgeous hot buns filled with onions and cheese. Yum! I resisted the baked guinea pigs…poor little things. I had a wonderful little guinea pig named Jennifer so I could never ever eat a guinea pig however they are a great delicacy there. Back to the hotel and at 1 p.m. our guide came back to give us a walking tour of Cusco. Okay. We visited the Santa Domingo convent which was built within an Incan temple. Very unique and beautiful. Then our guide said okay he was done - goodbye. We all looked at one another - some guided walking tour! Anyway Brian, Jackie, Malcolm, Rosie & I went for a cappuccino (Jackie was addicted to cappuccino so it got to be a running joke) and cake at a café overlooking the main square. Before dinner we had an orientation on our Jungle extension then we went out to dinner at a cozy little restaurant that only had two huge tables. You could see them making your meal. I had lasagna.

May 1, 2006 - Up early to get the train to Aguas Callentes at 6:15. It was interesting because as the train climbed up the mountain to leave Cusco we went back and forth on switch backs. We passed through a very poor area and I must confess it was the sight of the skinny stray dogs digging around for food that upset me. Once in Aguas Callentes we boarded a bus for a 20 minute ride on hairpin turns up the mountain to Machu Picchu (“old mountain“), the lost Incan city. Finally we arrived, stored our bags and got our tickets. And up we climbed - my knees were not happy. But what a sight awaited us. It is something you have to experience to appreciate. Absolutely beautiful. I will remember my first sight of Machu Picchu for as long as I live or until I lose my mind.at least. An abandoned ruin built on the top of a mountain - in a tropical region with lush green ferns and orchids. It was built in the 15th century sometime by the Incas but wasn’t discovered by the outside world until 1911. No one knows the full story of why the Incas built it there and what the true purpose was but there are lots of theories. Behind it is Wahnu Pichu (“new mountain”) which is such a gorgeous back drop. I sat for a while and just watched the clouds roll in and out - at 2280 meters (7500 feet) you are quite high! It started raining so we made our way back to the bus and to the hotel.

May 2, 2006- Woke up at 2 a.m. to the sound of torrential rain - not an encouraging sound. I fell back to sleep to be woken by a nearby rooster! At 5 a.m. I went downstairs for breakfast and woke up the staff. Breakfast was late needless to say - this hotel was my least favourite of the trip, a strange place. Off we went again on the bus and had a tour of Machu Picchu. I kept up with the tour until they did a higher climb and my knees said “STOP”. I walked around on my own - I was paranoid about falling down stairs and indeed I did fall. On flat ground - the ground was a bit slick from the mist overnight unknown to me and I slid and fell on my behind before I even knew what was going on. It is just lucky I wasn’t a few feet over near the side of the ruin as there was a sheer drop!!! I wandered around a bit and talked to the resident llamas then walked up to a look out and there was Andrea, our guide. So we sat together and watched the clouds go in and out for a couple of hours. I could never ever get tired of that view! The sun came out and I got quite a burn on my face as I hadn’t put on any sunscreen. I gave that beautiful spiritual place one last lingering look and then we walked down for a drink and met the others and headed back to get the train to Cusco.

May 3, 2006 - a rest day today and I took advantage of it. My cold had taken a turn for the worse so all I did was go to the main square to change some money and buy batteries and back to bed! That evening we walked to the same restaurant we had dinner in a few nights before and I had steak and chips. I placed my leftover steak in a quiet alley so one of the stray dogs could have a nice little meal. I am sure one of those hungry mouths would find it!

May 4, 2006 - We got an 8:30 bus to the airport. Our group was splitting up now - those heading back to Lima and then England and those of us who were going to the jungle. It was sad to see our little group down to seven. After a 30 minute flight we arrived in Puerto Maldonado. Rainforest Expeditions picked us up and drove us to their office where we stored the luggage. Then on to the dock to catch our boat. Tried not to get upset at the mangey skinny stray dogs hanging around the dock. Peruvian strays are adorable – like little Disney dogs - not like the dogs in Asia that all look the same. The trip on the boat up a tributary of the Amazon was about three and a half hours. On the way we saw a capybara - the largest rodent in the world. It was exciting for me as I love rodents. We arrived at the dock of the lodge and climbing up the hill was “interesting” to put it mildly. That hill was something I dreaded everything we had to go up and down. I was sure I would fall down and into the river every time! The lodge was brand new and our rooms were amazing. Open walls to the jungle - we had mosquito nets over our beds but otherwise we were open to the elements. Luckily no snakes around - that we saw anyway - I'd have died of heart failure on the spot as I am terrified of the horrid things. Even the littlest garter snakes gets a scream out of me. Before the lodge opened they killed a couple of bushmasters that were in the jungle nearby which are the one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. We went for a walk to see the sunset and were able to spot a toucan and several macaws through the powerful telescope our guide had. Back to the lodge for a dinner of rice, chicken and veggies. 9 p.m. was lights out - someone came along and blew out the kerosene lamps that were placed along the side of the rooms

May 5, 2006 - Today was exhausting. I was also very sad as it was one year since I lost my Sandy. After breakfast we went for a 45 minute walk to a hide (wearing rubber boots) but after waiting for an hour and nothing showing up our guide took us for a “short walk” which ended up back at the lodge! We headed back to the hide where we saw a beautiful butterfly and some birds. Then we walked down to the boat and had a short trip on the river to a farm. Another “fun” climb - oh my knees loved it. The farm was very interesting and we got to sample different fruit - some we’d never tasted before. Then back to the lodge for lunch and to rest for an hour. Then Carlo, our guide said we were going to a lake to see otters. So off we went on the boat and then about an hour hike (or seemed like it) through the jungle after another horrible climb!! What he neglected to tell us that we would be ON the lake. We all shrieked when we saw the ancient row boat we were going in with no life jackets!! Anyway we did it and it was lovely with macaws flying over head. No otters though. The lake was full of piranhas & caimans but we preferred not to think about that! As lovely and peaceful as it was I was glad to hit dry land - however by now it was dark and so out came our torches and we trudged through the jungle in the dark and had to navigate down a steep hill to our boat. From the boat we searched for caimans and were lucky to see a couple - one absolutely huge. Back for dinner and then bed. I was exhausted!!

May 6, 2006 - This morning I woke up to find my backpack had been tampered with. After some investigation I discovered some snacks were missing....we had been told to close everything..Anyway I had had a nocturnal visitor - probably a possum they thought who helped him/herself to my granola bars. Today was a quieter day and we were able to even stay in bed a bit later. Back to the hide after breakfast but nothing. We heard monkeys but didn’t see any - quite disappointing. I saw much more wildlife in Costa Rica. Back for lunch and a couple of hours relaxation - I flopped into a hammock and read. At 4 p.m. we went for a walk on the botanical trail and learned about various plants that are used for different illnesses & spells! Learned about shamans - good and bad. Then we propped up the bar for a while before having our last dinner there.

May 7, 2006 - It was time to bid goodbye to the jungle today - we got on the boat at 7 a.m. and flew back to Lima later that morning. That evening we went out for dinner at a traditional restaurant in a square about half a mile from our hotel - I had steak, rice, fried egg, chips & a fried banana!!!

May 8, 2006 - This morning we had a tour of Lima which was very interesting. We visited other parts of Miraflores as well as Barranco, another suburb plus central Lima. We walked around the main square Plaza Mayor - after years of neglect & being a dangerous spot for tourists and residents alike it was cleaned up in 1997 and is beautiful. Visited the Santa Domingo church and the San Francisco monastery with it’s catacombs filled with human remains. We had lunch at an outdoor patio of a restaurant - prawn and cheese lasagna which was a first for me - but it was very tasty. (there are lots of Italians in Peru hence the popularity of pizzas and Italian food) Four of us walked over to the Larcomar shopping centre and had a cappucino overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Then back to the hotel where everyone left but me. L I was very lonely after they left - and quite jealous that they were flying to London and not me!!! I consoled myself with a session in the hot tub!!

May 9, 2006 - Today was putting in time until my flight left. I walked along the ocean side paths & visited the Larcomar again. Finally it was time for me to go - the private taxi came to get me. Oh boy, what an exciting ride to the airport. The car kept dying every time he stopped which in Lima rush hour traffic was often. So he would keep changing lanes so he wouldn’t have to stop. I am sure my finger marks are still imbedded in the back seat!! We made it though - that was my most stressful time in Peru!! We had a slight delay due to fog (an ongoing problem in Lima) but were soon on our way and all too soon my wonderful holiday was over.

Enchanting India


Another blast from the past...my trip to India in January/February 2007.


AMAZING INDIA

Saturday January 20th - My adventure began at Heathrow Airport. I had flown over to England on the 8th of January - spent a fantastic weekend in Venice (how could I refuse with an airfare of a pound each way?) & the rest of the time in London. My real excitement began when I checked in and was told my e-ticket was no good - I needed an old fashioned ticket due to the fact I had booked through a travel agent. I gave the ticket agent my envelope and she walked away with it and brought it back and said quite coldly “This is no good - you will have to buy another ticket”. Well needless to say I was in a panic and almost in tears as no way could I afford to buy another ticket. She told me to go over to the customer service desk and as I was standing in line I saw a voucher under my eticket that looked like it should work. I verified with customer service and yes that was it. I didn’t even know I had it and it was tucked into the back of the envelope my travel agent had given me - I can’t remember my travel agent telling me about it but then she did drop it off at my apartment at 9 a.m. before I had my morning coffee (the perks of having your travel agent living in the same building) so who knows! It is just luck I decided to take the whole envelope with me. I still break out in cold sweats thinking about it! Anyway the second agent who checked me in was so sweet and gave me a better feeling about Virgin Atlantic. She packed up my small bag that I thought I could carry on - Heathrow airport now only allows one carry on even though the airline allowd two. That feeling intensified when I got on the flight and saw that everyone had their own TV screen with loads of movies & features to watch. I happily sat and watched “The Queen”, “The Da Vinci Code” and part of “The Devil Wears Prada” until my screen almost disappeared on me. Not to worry - between the movies and the delicious curry meal and breakfast the 9 hours went quickly.

Sunday January 21st - Arrived into Delhi International airport and the Imaginative Traveler rep was there to meet me. We got into a taxi and then half way there the rep got out and said he had to go back to the airport to meet more clients - it was the middle of nowhere. That was strange and I was a bit nervous but it all turned out find in the end - another girl on the tour had the same thing happen to her only hers was around midnight - much more scary!!! I decided it was a hairy ride but not much worse than the previous year in Peru. (I was still half asleep!) I arrived at the Hotel Florence and checked in. I had missed most of the orientation but was able to freshen up before we went out on an afternoon tour of Delhi. Our group was small - just seven of us. Michael (with an infectious laugh) from Birmingham, Anne Marie from Holland, Judy & Shanna - a mother/daughter team from Boise, Idaho and Susan and Melody, another mother/daughter team from Australia. The latter proved to be the bane of all our lives! Our guide was Karun - an Indian fellow about 30 - to be known in this report as “Mr. Hotty”. (he was GORGEOUS) The tour was interesting - we visited the huge Birla Hindu temple, a Sikh temple which was fantastic with a beautiful man made lake in the middle - it is one of the bigger ones in India. There were serving free water but needless to say we declined - they do serve food as well. You never see Sikhs begging - they take care of their own. (Sikhs wear turbans) We weren’t able to get close to India Gate due to high security for Independence Day in a couple of days. We went to see where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. After that everyone was going out for dinner but I decided to have a quiet meal at the hotel and go to bed as I was absolutely exhausted.

Monday January 22nd - After a quick breakfast we hit the road just before 8 a.m. as it was a long drive. I was more wide awake so was able to absorb more around me - saw a few “interesting” sights on the way out of Delhi. Open urinals on a city bridge - how quaint!! Pooping on the sidewalk - well why not! I am not laughing about it but in India you just cannot let it get to you or you would be crying all the time. You learn to walk through hoardes of beggars looking straight ahead otherwise you would never get anywhere. It sounds heartless and afterwards you wonder how you did it but it's just something you have to do. A lot of beggars have missing limbs and it is likely from gangs who do this and use them to make money. We were told not to give to beggars but to donate to a local charity if we truly wished to help them. Anyway once we got into the country it was exciting to see our first camel but not nice to see the first stray dogs. Being the dog lover I am I had to try and feed everyone I saw - most females had nursing puppies and they were too old to be nursing but their mothers‘s milk was all they had. It was heartbreaking to see dogs with puppies hanging on to their teats in the middle of the street with vehicles swerving around them and honking . What struck me the most was that the dogs were all polite and despite being starving waited their turn for the food and didn‘t steal from the others. Judy, Shanna & I sat at the back of the van and kept putting our hands over our eyes when we saw stray dogs nearly get hit. We didn’t see any get hit but we did see dead dogs in the ditches. The traffic in India is unbelievable - total chaos with horns going non-stop. It is considered “polite” to honk and trucks have “horn please” on the back so even in the country with no one else on the road (rare occurrence) you still blare that horn! We arrived into Mandawa in Rajasthan in the late afternoon and stayed at a havali - an old merchants house that has been turned into a hotel. These houses are decorated with beautiful frescoes - Mandawa was full of them. It was on the old silk route and merchants would vie with each other to see who could have the most beautiful home. Dinner that evening was a fantastic buffet (the highlight for all of us was the carrot pudding) eaten on the roof top with live music and fireworks. The desert is cold at night so all of us had a hot water bottle as a companion that night!

Tuesday January 23 - After breakfast we went for a walking tour of Mandawa and saw many more buildings with frescoes on - the ones done with natural minerals have endured for a couple of hundred years while the synthetic colours have cracked and faded. A short five minute bus ride and we were at our desert resort which was amazing. We all had our own luxury mud huts! I decided I could happily live there - I would adopt a couple of stray dogs from Mandawa and be quite happy. J The interiors were absolutely beautiful. After lunch (disappointing spring rolls) Ann Marie and I went for a walk around the grounds. Later that afternoon we went for our camel ride to a nearby village for masala chai (tea) and then back. I sat behind Ann Marie on the way there and then at the front on the way back - when the camel got up and down it was quite exciting! However it was something else I can cross off my list as I’ve been wanting to ride a camel for years! Dinner that evening was another fantastic buffet under a marque with live music, a puppet show and singing. (if you can call it that)

Wednesday January 24th - After a wonderful buffet breakfast (in case you hadn’t guessed I didn’t lose any weight in India!) we headed off to the pink city of Jaipur. Called pink as many of it’s buildings are pink. Our hotel Arya Niwas was basic but had a lovely garden and a great restaurant. That morning we relaxed in the garden and in the afternoon we went on an excursion to the Amber fort which was huge and very interesting with a beautiful view On the way back we stopped to see the Lake Palace which was surrounded by earth and not much water as there has been a drought. That evening we went out to a nice restaurant by motorized rickshaw - called a tuk tuk. When we weren’t in the van as a group we did all our traveling by either bicycle rickshaw or motorized tuk tuk. Quite exciting at times! No road rules seem to apply in India and traffic lights are few and far between. My tummy was burning a bit - not sick - I was never sick the whole time - but I decided to give it a break and had macaroni and cheese of all things (with the inevitable butter naan - I loved that stuff!!!) but it did the trick and I was back to speed the next morning. Just adjusting to the Indian spices.

Thursday January 25th - After a light breakfast we toured the world’s oldest observatory & then walked over to the City Palace. Not one of the more memorable ones - the most exciting thing was seeing monkeys close up for the first time on the trip. (like camels, seeing monkeys would become a ho hum thing) We stopped at a carpet factory - I never realized how long it takes to make an East Indian carpet. (6 months) They were absolutely beautiful but not in my budget unfortunately - I will continue to use my parents’ that is falling apart! Back to our hotel through the chaotic Jaipur traffic. Cows are all over the street and while no one will deliberately hurt a cow (and the cows know it - they do have an attitude) once they quit giving milk they are mostly left to their own devices. It is heartbreaking to see huge piles of garbage with cows, goats & dogs foraging around. Mr. Hotty said he knew someone who opened up their dead cow and found around 85 kg. of plastic. If they cannot find food they eat what they can. Any leftovers I had from meals I always took them in a ‘doggie bag’ and put them out on the side of the road or down a quiet alley as I knew some hungry mouth would find them. That was one of the painful things about India for me besides the terrible poverty - the cruelty towards animals - well maybe just the non caring attitude but when you are struggling to find enough to eat yourself you aren’t going to worry about animals. Yet as with everything in India there were contradictions - stray dogs that were taken care of by local tuk tuk drivers & businessmen - a couple of dogs I tried to feed toast to turned up their noses and walked away. I noticed the toast was gone later though. After a nice lunch with “the gang” - meaning the five of us (Judy referred to us as the “A team“) - Melody and her mother were off spending money which was the soundtrack for their trip - let’s spend a fortune on jewelry that we can show off but let’s argue with the local waiters & salesmen over every last rupee & make a fuss over every meal that might be a bit too spicy - duh..you’re in India! Ann Marie, Michael and I took a tuk tuk to the shopping area - and hoped we did not need to cross the road. Utter chaos! Michael took off to a local coffee shop to observe the locals while Ann Marie and I went shopping. We came upon a lovely jewelry store and both spent a bit there - myself on pretty silver with semi precious stone bracelets as gifts including one for myself. (the owner was upset I wasn’t getting anything for myself so I gave in….it was tough..ha ha) Back to the hotel on the rickshaw ride from hell in rush hour traffic (well it seems to be all rush hour there) - I took video as it was wild - we didn’t think we’d ever get back to the hotel especially as the driver kept asking other drivers for instructions. We arrived back in time for a quick change and wash up then out to dinner to a nice place called “Indiana” which featured musicians & dancers.

Friday January 26th - Happy Republic Day India!! After a breakfast of a masala omelette & fresh fruit we headed off for Ranthambore Park which is a good place to see Tigers. On the way we stopped at a rest stop and there was mama dog with her four babies (once again much too old to be nursing) and dad was lurking too. So of course Judy and I had to buy food and feed them! We arrived at our resort just before lunch - after a buffet lunch we headed off with another group on an open air safari bus. The park was beautiful - lots of hills and trees. No tigers though. The closest we got was seeing paw prints. We did see all kinds of deer, monkeys, a couple of wild boars and a few jackals. I hadn’t expected it so wasn’t disappointed - it is a beautiful area of India. After a delicious buffet for dinner I had a ‘dessert’ of English toffee in my room and out came what I thought was a filling. (actually some of the tooth came out too) I was distraught as you can imagine - who wants to go to a dentist in India. But it turned out fine - no problems whatsoever and I got it fixed on my return to Canada.

Saturday January 27th - Early in the morning we left for the park once again and walked up to the 900 year old fort. Lots of stairs but they were easy to navigate and it was well worth it. What a view!!! The fort is beautiful but badly in need of repair - sadly the Indian government does not have the money to fix it. From the fort we could see the huge lake and our guide told us any dark bits in the water were crocodiles. Once again our guide was hard to understand but Mr. Hotty came to the rescue. Back to the hotel for breky and then we set off for Karauli (a non-tourist town) which took about three and a half hours. We checked into the Maharajah’s palace - yep that’s right. The money that the company pays the Maharajah goes towards renovations on his beautiful city palace which we would see the next day. We stayed at his summer palace on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Hotty handed out our keys and when I went to mine I nearly fell over - it was HUGE! The bathroom was as big as my living room let alone the rest of the place. Mr. Hotty told me he had given me the largest room and not to tell anyone. Of course I had to tell Judy, Shanna & Ann Marie and they all had to come and take a look. Anyway Mr. Hotty told me he wanted me to meet someone so I grabbed my camera and went with him - WELL….here was a mom dog (boxer) owned by the Maharajah named Simone with her darling 7 black puppies. Judy was holding one and of course I had to grab one and we had a real doggie fix. We are both dog people and it was so hard not to touch the strays but we knew we couldn’t for our own health & safety. Dad was supposedly the Maharajah’s yellow lab named Simon but from the look of the pups I’d say Simone isn’t telling him everything!! Judy, Anne Marie and I went for a walk to the local market and were enjoying not being harassed for money until a little urchin asked for ten rupees but we ignored him. (and cursed the tourist who had given him money) Other than that one kid no one else asked us for money. A refreshing change! The children followed us everywhere and we got used to our “entourage”. Everyone stared at us though as they don’t get many tourists here - in fact no tourist hotels which is why we were staying at the palace. It was fantastic to be able to interact with people and know they weren’t wanting anything from you. Back at the palace we had a delicious dinner including fresh veggies (red carrots!) from the palace gardens. We sat and talked in the delightful courtyard after dinner and then I went and slept in my palatial suite. Although the bed was still as hard as the rest of the hotel beds in India!!!

Sunday January 28th - After our usual masala omelette (which I loved) we went on a walking tour of Karauli and visited the city palace which was exquisite. Much nicer than some of the more famous palaces we had visited up until that point. We also were able to attend a Hindu ceremony in a local temple. We had our usual entourage of shouting “hello!” children. On the way back we stopped at a bangle shop (Karauli is famous for it’s beautiful handmade bangles) and we all had to have ours enlarged as our hands weren’t as dainty as the Indian women’s. We nearly caused a riot with both adults and children congregating around watching us. I was able to get some fantastic photos of the children on my digital camera - they loved seeing the pictures and would struggle to be the one right in front of the camera! Karauli was definitely the highlight of the trip to me - seeing what a typical Indian town was like, our lovely palace home, unlimited doggie cuddles!!! After a lunch of soup, sandwiches & pakoras we had a rest and then the camel carts came to pick us up. We sat on blankets on the flat cart and it was great - we got to see the homes just outside of town and the children yelled “hello” and “ta ta” to us. Everyone was so friendly waving at us. We stopped at a lovely picnic site by a lake then went back via the same route with just as many “hellos” as before.

Monday January 29th - Time to leave Karauli . How sad. The route was scenic and I was able to get some shots from the van - images that stay in my mind are: children and adults bathing at the local water pump,(despite the poverty everyone seemed so clean and the men’s shirts were ironed and spotless) homes made of dung, people waving, beautiful smiles & bright saris. After another huge buffet lunch we arrived at Keoladeo Ghana bird sanctuary. We traveled by electric bus and stopped at various places - the very first thing we saw was a rock python. I am deathly afraid of snakes so can’t believe I watched it with fascination as it slithered back into it’s hole. I think because I knew we were going to see it and I was prepared - if we had come across it unexpectedly well I would probably have died of heart failure on the spot. We saw kingfishers and other birds - I am not good at birds but they were pretty!! After that it was off to Fathpur Sikri which is an ancient complex made of sand stone. This was created by a Maharajah who had three wives - one Muslim, one Christian & one Hindu - they each had their own temple & palace. On to Agra - or back to “tourist land” and chaotic traffic & beggers. The normal hotel was being renovated so we were put up in a beautiful business hotel. Another delicious buffet dinner and off to bed.

Tuesday January 30th - Woke up early to get to the Taj Mahal by 6:30 a.m. Words cannot describe the Taj - it is much better than in pictures and the detail is amazing. Went inside which was fantastic as well - way below the ground are the tombs of Shahjahan & Mumtaz Mahal. Shahjahan built the Taj in Mumtaz’s memory when she died after the birth of their 14th child. The original plan was for her tomb to be the in the white Taj and he would be entombed in a black twin version of the Taj but he was imprisoned by his son in the Red Fort (which we visited that afternoon) and spent the rest of his life gazing across the river at the Taj Mahal. I was so lucky to see such a beautiful tribute to love and seeing it was one of the highlights of my life. Back to the hotel for a well earned buffet breakfast. Judy’s daughter Taylor had arrived from Bangalore (where she was doing research) with a private driver to see the Taj Mahal with her mom and sister - they kindly invited me to come along in their private car so I spent the afternoon with them. We went to the Red Fort then on to Ikamd-Ud-Dailah which is known as the Baby Taj. It was very pretty and similar to the Taj but smaller - it was the building the Tah Mahal was modeled after. We got caught in horrible traffic getting to the market only to find everything closed but we did have a wonderful lunch at a place called Zorba the Buddha which had been recommended by our tour company. We then went back to the hotel, had a quick dinner in a nearby restaurant then went to the local train station to get the train to Varanassi. The train station had resident dogs & monkeys - not your typical station!!! Judy and I once again bought food for the dogs and I was told off by a tourist that I was offending the locals as “people are starving in this country and you are feeding dogs”. I was quite taken aback but after a quick pep talk with Judy I went back and deliberately fed the dog right in front of him!!! Monkeys were all over the tracks and even dogs would jump down onto the tracks but would jump up again - it made me so nervous!! I didn’t want to see a dog hit by one of the trains that came roaring in. The overnight trip was okay - I am not a fan of trains and it was definitely the low point of the trip for me. I was relieved when we arrived

Wednesday January 31st - It was absolute chaos at the train station but we managed to get to our bus which dropped us at our hotel. Had brunch then we headed out to Sarnath which is where Buddha gave his first sermon. Visited a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple then the site where the first sermon was held. There was a musuem on site with artifacts which was very interesting. Some Chinese monks (I had asked one where they were from) went through security and had to give up cell phones, digital cameras and they were all giggling like crazy. One lone monk had to sit outside guarding the ‘stash’. It was hilarious as you don’t think of monks as being that technologically advanced and their cheerful giggles made me laugh too. Back to the hotel for dinner.

Thursday February 1st - We were up early and out by 6 a.m. to have our early morning boat ride on the Ganges. Amazing!!! People come to the Ganges to purify themselves as it is a holy river. We Westerners can go on about how dirty the river is and how can they stand it but it was very humbling to see them bathing themselves and see the joy they felt at being there. From a distance we saw a cremation as well - it is said you will go right to Nirvana if you die in Varanassi and your ashes go into the Ganges. We got off the boat and walked to the Gold Temple - it is in the area with a very well protected mosque - there have been bombs in the past so we had to go through security. Once again a clash between Muslims & Hindus. We could not go into the temple as you have to be Hindu to go into that particular one. Walked through very narrow lanes filled with people, cows & motorbikes back to our bus. After breakfast four of us took rickshaws back to the Ghats and walked along several of them - fascinating. . Especially seeing the Sadhus - Hindu holymen who travel from one religious site to another. They coat their faces with ash and look prehistoric. We saw the beginnings of a cremation - fire wood is very expensive in India so you have to be quite wealthy to be cremated. Sometimes there is not enough firewood to burn the entire body before it is released into the water - bodies bobbing around are not an uncommon sight but we were lucky that we did not see any on our boat trip earlier that morning. Back via rickshaw to the hotel where I had a quiet evening in resting.

Friday February 2 - After breakfast we took off in a tuk tuk to do some shopping. We wandered around but it was so chaotic that we just gave up - we never did find any tourist type shops. We did see the local market which was interesting but not what we wanted at this point. I think we were all feeling a bit overwhelmed by Varanassi at this point - everything is so busy & noisy that it is very exhausting to even walk along the street. We took a tuk tuk out to the local university which was lovely - all green and quiet - we couldn’t get over that we were in the same city!! . We had dinner at the hotel then took a bus to the station for our return to Delhi. Poor Ann Marie was very sick - she had eaten something dodgy the night before. Luckily it was the end of our trip so she didn’t miss much but having been ill like that in London I could totally sympathize with her.

Saturday February 3 - The train trip was better than the last one but it was still a relief to reach Delhi. After breakfast the five of us got into a tuk tuk to go to Connaught Place - the main shopping area. The driver gave us a great deal - we found out why soon. We got out at what we thought was Connaught Place only to find he had taken us to a tourist shop where he got a kick back. So we got into another tuk tuk and when Michael went to sit in the front seat with the driver - something he’d been doing all along - the driver said he would charge us another 20 Rupees. Definitely back in the big city!!! In typical Manchester fashion Michael told the driver “You’re in dreamland Mate” and crammed into the back seat with us. Finally we got to Connaught Place - Judy & Shanna hit the shops and after a foray into a bookshop where we both bought Indian cookbooks Michael and I went to a yuppie coffee shop where we observed how the rich young people in Delhi live. It was quite an interesting contrast after the poverty we had witnessed over the past two weeks. We then took the subway (very clean) and both burst out laughing when we were informed by a taped recording to “mind the gap”. We got lost getting out of the subway station but asking people (who were very helpful) helped and we were soon back at the Hotel Florence. Ann Marie was feeling better so she was able to join the group for our last meal together. We took the subway and Melody and Susan joined us there. (pity!) the meal was good - my final Indian meal - boo hoo. I had a potato & cheese dish and a vegetable curry. I absolutely loved the Indian food and miss it terribly - it just doesn‘t taste the same here. Melody & Susan left early - yay - so the rest of us were able to sit and visit for a bit. Back to the hotel & time to say goodbye.

Sunday February 4 - Up early and after breakfast I headed down to the lobby and the car to take me to the airport was early. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the others (who were coming down just before 8:30) which upset me - the five of us got along so well and it was sad to realize I will probably never see them again. Mr. Hotty had suggested we leave for the airport early but I got there way too early and my Virgin Atlantic flight hadn’t even opened yet. I spent the rest of my rupees on tea and ceramic elephant coasters. (which seem to have disappeared) Then it was time to say goodbye to India and board my Virgin Atlantic flight back to London.

What can I say about India. Amazing, enchanting, disturbing, eye opening, humbling, life changing. And I can’t wait to go back!!!

Blast from the Past

Here is a write up of my trip to California in September 2007...in the good old days before I had a blog I would faithfully write in my journal (which I still intend to do) then type it up on the computer. I started doing that for my mother who loved to read about my trips and then everyone else (well maybe not everyone...I recall a couple of people who didn't want it!!! ) wanted a copy. As you can tell I do enjoy my food - oh yes!!! I will try to post pictures as well...Enjoy!!

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

Tuesday September 18: Up at 3:45 a.m. and as I walked down the front stairs to wait for the taxi I heard a gigantic bang, the lights went off and the fire door slammed behind me. Oh no. Everything around me - outside and in was black. Luckily when I peered out the door a taxi was making it’s way carefully down the street and I was off to the airport - no traffic lights along the way but luckily not much traffic either. Luckily the airport had auxiliary power - I never did find out what caused the massive black-out. I flew to Calgary, changed planes then on to Los Angeles. My luggage was there which is always a relief. Got the Fly Away bus to the Amtrak station - I had to wait a while which was no hardship as the LA train station has the most amazing court yards outside with benches and flowers. The trip down on the Surfliner was great - especially when the train ran along beside the ocean. Once we arrived In San Diego I walked to my hostel which was in the downtown area just a few blocks away. My room was very large and clean - very good to see after the grubby lobby. I grabbed a quick piece of pizza from across the road and headed to bed.

Wednesday September 19: I woke early and headed down to Richard Walkers, a breakfast place I had a coupon for. Had the most wonderful banana pancakes while sitting outside - it was voted the best breakfast place in San Diego and I can see why. I then walked over to the Holiday Inn on North Harbor Drive - the starting point for the 10km walk. It stayed pretty cloudy and cool all day which was good for walking - walked past the Midway and Star of India into Balboa Park which was absolutely wonderful. After completing the walk I went back to the hostel for a rest (ie: flopped on my bed in exhaustion). Then purchased a transit pass from the hostel office and headed out to Ocean Beach via a trolley to Old Town. I couldn’t get over the number of trains in San Diego - between the trains running to the suburbs, up and down the coast and the trolley you were always hearing tooting!! Once I got to Ocean Beach I walked down to the ocean and paddled in the water and then sat on the beach to let my feet dry. Eventually I walked down the long pier to the end and then back for a cappucino at the café. What a view. I fell in love with Ocean Beach! By the time I got back onto Ocean Beach’s main street the farmer’s market was in full swing so I wandered around. I had a couple of home made tacos while walking around followed with a wonderful fresh fruit salad while I sat and looked out at the ocean. I bussed it out to the Sunset hills to take photos but it was too early and cloudy for the sunset. Back to San Diego via the Target store where I got myself a new pair of Capri pants and a long sleeved top…just because….

Thursday September 20: After a better sleep I tried to find another place for breakfast to no avail. Nothing was open yet. I ended up at Starbucks with a coffee and a pumpkin scone. Caught the bus to the zoo and what a zoo! I had been there twice previously back in the 70’s. Highlights were the orangutans, the polar bears & of course the pandas. I spent a long time watching the polar bears play. A regular visitor to the zoo had brought them big brightly coloured balls to play with and they were having a wonderful time. Back to the room to drop off my heavy SLR camera and rest a bit then off by bus to Pacific Beach. It was pretty but very crowded and not as cozy as Ocean Beach. I had a cheese quesedilla and Belgian fries then hopped a bus to La Jolla. Trouble was I couldn’t decide when to get off and ended up at a huge shopping centre. Got an express bus back to downtown San Diego and looked in a few shops.

Friday September 21st: This morning I headed to Old Town by trolley. I stopped at the hotel to sign in for the 5 km walk and then went to a Mexican restaurant for breakfast - Ranchos Hueveras - which were very good!! I then did the 5 km walk which was disappointing. Afterwards I went to Old Town which is a state park highlighting San Diego’s Mexican heritage. I went on a very interesting (free) walking tour. From there I took a bus out to Pacific Beach and stopped for an ice cream then on to La Jolla where I got off the bus earlier this time - at Bird Rock which had some lovely views. Back on the bus to La Jolla village and walked over to the cove. Beautiful! It was busy with people swimming and sunning themselves. Sat and enjoyed it for a while then stopped at a little café for coffee and cake. Back to my room for a rest. (need that rest now - getting old!) and then hopped a bus back out to Ocean Beach for the sunset - which I just missed. Oh well. Had the most wonderful Greek meal - lamb kebob, greek salad, potatoes, veggies and pita bread. A masterpiece - and I told the chef that too!

Saturday September 22nd: Woke up to pelting rain. On my way out I almost wiped out on the wet floors INSIDE the hostel on the third floor. I mentioned it to the girl on duty in the hostel office and she cheerfully replied it’s always like that when it rains as it’s an open roof and she nearly wiped out too. Okay…On my way back to Richard Walkers for breakfast I noticed a quaint little old fashioned café was open so stopped there. MISTAKE. It was cheap but not that great when I knew what the alternative could have been. I walked over to the bus depot and picked up my prepaid ticket to Las Vegas and then got the bus to Coronado. It was raining at this point. I got off the bus at the huge Hotel Coronado and explored. It is beautiful. Finally it stopped raining and I walked along the beach and took photos of the place. I then got a bus to the Trolley station and had a LONG trolley ride back into town where I got off at Little Italy. I had a delicious late lunch of spaghetti AND lasagna - burp! I walked along the water front and saw a few of the planes that were racing but it was absolutely packed. Back to the room for laundry and a shower.

Sunday September 23rd: Up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the bus depot - what to my wandering eyes do appear but a Starbucks and open at this hour. What a treat! I am not a big Starbucks fan but I will take anything at that hour. Got on the bus to Las Vegas and arrived at 2 p.m. I had booked a room at the Plaza Hotel which was right beside the bus depot. My room was ready and I did a dance around it as it was huge with my own bathroom. Woo hoo! After five days of sharing one bathroom for the whole floor (the other one was out of order) I was in heaven! I then took the bus to the Strip and walked over to the Best Western to begin the 11 km North Strip walk. It was a LONG walk and I was exhausted by the end - especially as I had a long walk even to get to the hotel to begin walking. I wanted a really nice meal but every place I wanted to eat had huge line ups so I gave up and had a submarine sandwich at the hotel - not exactly what I had envisioned but it was food. Spent the evening sitting in my king sized bed watching TV!

Monday September 24th: Had a breakfast buffet this morning - it was okay - I’ve had better at home. Checked out of the hotel and stored my luggage. Then I headed out for the 11 km South Strip walk - I had been smart the day before and had stamped my book so I didn’t have to head back to the hotel until the end. On the way past the Mirage I picked up my ticket to “Love” and walked all the way down to the Mandalay Bay. With both walks I covered the whole Strip. Nothing much had changed in the two and a half years since I had been there except one more hotel - the Wynn which was being built then. Back to the hotel where the walk box was and had the $9.95 Steak and Shrimp special which was great. Headed over to the Venetian and looked around - it is my favourite hotel. Then across the street to see “Love” which I loved! The Beatles music of course was fantastic booming through the huge speakers but the dance and acrobatics were amazing as well. I was in the second row so could see the expressions on the artists’ faces. I would go and see it again in a heartbeat. Back on the bus to the hotel to get my luggage, have a quick change and head out on the night bus to Monterey.

Tuesday September 25th: We arrived early in Los Angeles so I had four hours to kill. The area the bus station was in was one which I wasn’t interested in exploring – to put it mildly. So I stuck my nose in my book. The trip to Salinas was good and the transit center to catch the local bus to Monterey was just a block away – 45 minutes on the bus and I was in Monterey. I walked to the Days Inn – after getting lost just a little bit and having to phone! By this time it was late evening and I just wanted my bed.

Wednesday September 26th: After a mediocre breakfast at the hotel I headed over to the Casa de Bogota to do the 10 km walk. I had to call the local contact to find the walk box but then I was on my way. The route went by Fisherman’s Wharf and of course I had to stop to explore and noticed that they had whale watching tours and it was a lovely day so I couldn’t resist. We saw three humpback whales which were amazing – I am humbled by those wonderful creatures. I never get tired of going whale watching! After a delicious shrimp melt lunch overlooking the wharf and watching the noisy sea lions I started off again on my walk along the walking path by the ocean. Beautiful sea views!!! Lots of rocks and smashing waves. I then visited the Monterey Aquarium where I spent a long time with the sea otters – they were gorgeous! Then I carried on to Lovers Point via Cannery Row – where they used to have sardine canneries and now have shops instead. For dinner that evening I had a huge hot fudge sundae at the Ghillardi chocolate shop – I sat outside on the deck of the shop and watched the sunset while having a chocolate overload. My idea of heaven and what a perfect day – ocean, sunshine, whales, otters and ice cream sundaes. One of the days you’d like to rewind and relive over and over again. J

Thursday September 27: I was fortunate I had my beautiful day yesterday as today it was dull and rained on and off all day. I could not face another crappy breakfast at the motel so I treated myself to a heuvos rancheros breakfast at the Old Monterey Café. Took a bus to Carmel and walked around looking in the expensive shops. I couldn’t face doing another 10k walk so I just did my own thing – walked over to the beach and people and dog watched. Lots of doggies in this town so I was happy. Took a bus out to the Crossroads and had a coffee at the start point – at least I know where it is if I decide to go back and do the walk. I then took a bus out to the Carmel Valley – very pretty with vineyards & hills. Some ladies were doing a do it yourself wine tour – looked like fun. Definitely a return trip is in order!!! When I arrived back into Monterey I had a delicious Indian meal.

Friday September 28th: Up at 7 and caught the 8:45 bus to Salinas and then the bus to San Francisco and arrived about 3:15. Got the local bus to the hostel which was an old hotel. My room was okay and the area was central so given the high cost of hotel rooms in San Francisco I would likely stay there again. I walked around a bit, purchasing a three day transit pass which proved to be invaluable and the highlight was seeing some hilarious anti-Bush protestors – one guy wore a Bush mask and even sounded like him. Had a so so Shrimp quesidilla at the restaurant next to the hostel. I walked over to Virgin and Borders and got a couple of CD’s and a new book and then back to the room for an early night.

Saturday Sept. 29th: I treated myself to a breakfast at Dotte’s True Blue Café which is very popular – I stood in line and got into a conversation with a Mormon couple. They were kind enough to let me sit with them and we had a pleasant meal together – they were widely traveled as well so it was an enjoyable conversation and a good meal although it wasn’t special enough to stand in line for. I knew they were probably big Bush supporters so tried to hide my orange ribbon which stood for “Impeach Bush”!!!! After breakfast I took the Powell & Bay cable car down to the harbour and hung on the outside – quite exciting! Then I walked over to Pier 39 and saw the sea lions – hundreds of them and the aroma is quite overwhelming! They came to the pier in throngs after the earthquake in 1989 and the authorities have let them make a home there as of course it’s quite a tourist attraction. I signed up for the 10km walk and off I went. All I can say is hills, hills, hills, - I think they picked every hill in the city but what an awesome walk. Highlights were walking down Lombard St., the most crooked street there, up to Coit tower and Telegraph Hill. Walked over to North Beach/Chinatown and Nob Hill then across into Pacific Heights. Back to Ghillardi Square where I had a fried shrimp dinner at Lori’s’ diner overlooking the bay. Took a bus to Haight Ashbury and walked up to Alamo Square to see the classic view of the “Painted Ladies” – Victorian houses – with a view of San Francisco Bay in the background. Took a streetcar back to the hostel.

Sunday September 30: Up early for the trip to Yosemite. There were 9 of us including Wendy – a lady from China who was on a 7 month trip to South America and Antartica. She is an accountant who has quit her job to go traveling – what an amazing lady! It was a magnificent day for the trip. After a few photo stops Peter, the driver and guide dropped us off at the Yosemite Village Store and from there most of us caught the shuttle to Mirror Lake. We did the easy hike there – no water in the lake but we had been warned. It was the end of the season and there wasn’t much of a waterfall either – just a trickle. Having been there in May 17 years previously I had seen the falls in all their mighty power and I felt sorry for people missing that. Unfortunately we also saw a couple on a cell phone – not a problem except they had it on speaker phone oblivious to the male and female deer close by. Grrrr!!!! On the shuttle bus on the way back Wendy and I spontaneously jumped off the bus at a gorgeous meadow and went for a bit of a hike and sat by a lovely river. We then got the shuttle back to the village and made quick trips to the Ansel Adams gallery - I was tempted to get a poster but decided against it as I didn’t want to haul it back as it didn’t fit into my suitcase. We headed out of the park and back to San Francisco – what a day!!!

Monday October 1st: After a quick breakfast at the hostel I put my bags in a locker and took a cable car down to the end of the line and then back again – just to video it. I then took the bus around San Franciso – jumping off at my favourite parts to revisit from another trip or even see my favourite bits I’d seen on Saturday. I had lunch in Chinatown at a restaurant the Yosemite guide’s wife had recommended. I then took the local bus to the Greyhound station and hopped the bus to Sacramento. Walked to the hostel which is a lovely old mansion. My room was tiny but clean. I tried to find a place to eat but had to make do with a sandwich at a convenience store deli – downtown Sacramento, like a lot of government towns rolls up its sidewalks early!! I felt very let down as after the excitement of San Francisco this was very boring!!!

Tuesday October 2: I had breakfast at a place recommended by the hostel and it was excellent – a very gooey cheese omelette – one of the best I’ve ever had. I then headed off to do the Sacramento walk – I had trouble finding the start point but finally did and chose the 6 km walk as had no interest in doing the 10km walk which went to the fort. It was interesting but once in my lifetime is enough. I did enjoy Old Sacramento which has been restored beautifully. I had a pizza for dinner which wasn’t too inspired and went back expecting a quiet evening but the hostel was full of kids so it was very noisy.

Wednesday October 3rd: After a pear scone and a cup of coffee I went back to the hostel and checked out – leaving my bags there to pick up later. While it was a lovely hostel & a good location the staff were not friendly at all. I visited the nearby farmers market and got some nectarines, grapes and kettle corn then sat on the huge veranda of the hostel and sampled a bit. I then picked up my bags and walked to the bus depot and got the “local” bus to Reno. It stopped everywhere. I was impressed with Truckee which is cute little town in the mountains (with a 10 km walk as well) so have put that on my “to do” list. The bus stopped right at Circus Circus and I had a very quick check in. Walked around the strip – I had been there previously in 1991 but it seemed so much smaller than before! Had an early night.

Thursday October 4th: Grabbed a Krispy Kreme donut and a coffee then got a city bus to Carson City. It is a commuter bus so only has a couple of schedules in the morning and then again in late afternoon back to Reno. It took almost an hour to get there but the scenery was pretty. I walked to the start point of the walk and got my instructions then stopped at a restaurant for another coffee and some toast. Off I headed on the walk which almost immediately headed out of town into the country in a rural area which was gorgeous. Lots of construction going on though so I am glad I did the walk before more McMansions were put up. Back into town to see the State Capital which I visited. The walk then followed the Kit Carson trail around town so I saw some gorgeous old homes – including the Governers Mansion – many decorated for Hallowe’en. After the walk was finished I had a buffet lunch (oink) at the Golden Nugget. It was okay. I then cooled my heels until the bus was due to leave by going to the library and checking my email. Back on the bus. I had wanted to get a ticket for Dancing Queen – an ABBA tribute but was too late plus too tired. Oh well!

Friday October 5th: Today was a cold day – snow in the mountains. After another buffet breakfast I left my luggage with the bellman and headed out. I wasn’t really dressed warmly enough to do a 10 km walk in that type of weather so just walked along the Truckee river a bit and looked in shops. I spent a long time in Starbucks nursing a spiced Pumpkin latte to stay out of the cold. One of those wasted days but sometimes you just need one of those “chill out” when you are on the road. I got the bus later in the afternoon from Circus Circus to Sacramento. The bus depot was crazy with loads of people.

Saturday October 6th: The overnight trip to Los Angeles was okay – we had a half hour break in Calinga Junction. Arrived into LA on time and then got a #60 bus to 7th and Spring and then a #33 bus to Santa Monica. Trying to be pc here let’s just say I was the only person on the bus representing the Caucasian race. The bus trip was LONG – it was a city bus but they had a TV on board – first time I’ve seen that on a local bus!!! After at least an hour I finally got into Santa Monica and checked into the hostel. The hostel there is quite nice – expensive but nice. A hotel room was way out of my budget. The hostel was in a fantastic location only two blocks from the beach. J I couldn’t check in so early so asked about a good breakfast place and the girl at the front desk recommended Jimby’s across the road. So I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving which was that weekend by having pumpkin pancakes which were delicious!! A fella walked in that made my fork stop in mid action and I thought “I know that guy”. I realized it was Ron Howard – well I thought it was and after checking the internet later for current pictures of he and his wife I realized it was them. So I got my first little taste of Hollywood before I’d even finished my first cup of Southern California coffee! After breakfast I headed over to the Santa Monica beach and pier and fell in love – with Santa Monica! I took my shoes off and paddled in the ocean. Lots of surfers. I noticed one particularly handsome specimen struggling to do up his wet suit and I thought to himself…hmmm…love to help him! J No sooner had I smiled at the thought then he was walking towards me and asked me to help zip up the back of his wetsuit. J J “If only my friends could see me now” I thought! I was going to ask if he wanted me to help him out of it when he was done but thought better of it. I walked along the boardwalk but decided to leave Venice until the next day. I wandered over to the Third St. Promenade which had some fun shops to look into and lots of street entertainers. I had dinner at Johnny’s and sat outside – had the best calzone I’d had since the one at John’s Pizza in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1999!!! As the light faded fairy lights came on along the promenade which was so pretty. I walked over to the ocean and watched a very beautiful sunset.

Sunday October 7th: I had brekky at Jimby’s again and sat outside this time – had a breakfast sandwich but it wasn’t as good as those pumpkin pancakes. Another perfect day in Southern California. I started walking along the beach in my bare feet then cut over to the pedestrian path (and put one shoes) once I reached Venice. What a place! I loved it. Lots of different funky people with lots of things to sell. I sat and people watched for ages. It was a wonderful day – Venice was very busy but that was part of the fun. I walked along the beach on the way back in my bare feet again. Venice is definitely on my list of places to re-visit! I had a spinach & feta crepe at Café Crepe.

Monday October 8th: Today I took the grand tour of Los Angeles. Our guide was from Croatia and a real cutie. We did all the tourist traps – Graumans Chinese theatre, movie star homes, Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive, the Hollywood sign, stopped outside Universal Studios but didn’t go in. I had seen it years before as well and now that I’ve seen it again when I return to LA I will just stick to Santa Monica!! That evening I watched the sun set again – fantastic!!! I walked over to REM and treated myself to a pair of Teva sandals as the Canadian dollar was kicking the American dollars’ butt at that point and they were much cheaper than at home.

Tuesday October 9th: After a last early morning visit to the pier and beach I said goodbye to Santa Monica I got on the local blue bus to the airport and boarded my plane home.