Thursday, December 30, 2010

DECEMBER in a Catholic country!

Most people don't know that I started boycotting Christmas about 7 years ago - I'm just not a big fan of the commercialism of it all. And the fact that I don't consider myself Christian, but rather as someone who is a believer of all faiths; it's fair to say that it's hard to get into the religious aspect of the holidays. Yes, you can call me Scrooge if you'd like. However, having said that, it's almost impossible not to give in to the whole thing when this country has been counting down to Christmas day since September! So, I dusted off my Santa costume and decided, what the heck, might as well try to get into it...

The fun stuff:
  • There are lights everywhere. And I lurve lights. I'm generally distracted by shining bright things and they're on gates, coconut trees, windows, etc. I'm particularly a big fan of the Filipino "parols" (beautiful illuminated star-like things).
  • Christmas carolers - In the province and small towns, basically people just randomly walk around singing carols. Most are terrible, but some are pretty good and definitely entertaining.
  • Getting to spend it with family (bringing merienda for Nanay & crew) and the Dela Cruzes (Champagne and Celine).
  • Going to Church - Maybe fun isn't the right term, but in one I learned about Christian symbols and on Christmas eve there was a Nativity play. I think I've definitely topped up on the Christianity quota for the decade.
  • Be a good "Cruz" and hearing that I'm God-sent.
  • Getting boozy and going Christmas shopping. Thanks Dana and to the margaritas!
  • Finding my nanny Ate Ne (who took care of me since I was a baby til I was 20 - ok, by then she wasn't taking care of me so to speak but you get the point). That was an awesome reunion!
The stuff I miss:
  • My friends. I do get lonely and it's tremendously difficult to be neurotic when people don't know you very well...I miss how Yasmeen gets me, hearing inspiration from Chrissy, Astrid's giggles, drinking wine with Jen, traveling with Yuko etc....although I do have my very own psychiatrist here (lol. Thanks Bing)
  • Snow. Yup, I miss the cold. It's easy to forget it's winter when you're spending the holidays sweating.
  • Home - I've realized how much I truly do love Vancouver.
  • Xmas Dinner - Turkey, stuffing, Baileys and coffee, drinking with Duazel ;)
  • Not having scars on my legs from mosquito bites. I've spent a lot of money on OFF and I'm still being eaten to death.
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon = Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Church Lights.

Finding my was like Make a Wish

With Celine loading on Filipino treats.

You don't need to be religious to have Faith.

Baby Jesus in lights.

Nanay's smile - the reason why I stayed here til the Holidays.

Proof that I got into the Christmas Spirit :)

2010 and the Reality of Traveling:

So the reality is that traveling for most of 2010 is this - It's both great and challenging at the same time. Sometimes it's glorious with moments of epiphanies and excitement. Other times there are also periods of boredom and frustrations. Its got its own set of challenges. Mostly, I try not to complain, especially since I'm well aware of the fact that luckily, "I'm living the life" so to speak! I feel enlightened by the things I'm learning. I've realized that I struggle a lot about mostly everything...but when I get to it, I do it BIG! Lol. That said, I appreciate the fact that I'm going to come out of all my travels wiser, smarter and definitely a much better person - more assured and definitely more worldly. Not bad things at all ;)

2010 was a tremendous year. It was very empowering having chosen to spend it traveling. I got to do most everything that I wanted to and it's amazing to have a year and actually feel fulfilled by how you've spent it. Among many things, I had the chance to:
  • Experience a vast and exciting new continent
  • Find zen and rediscover my zest for life, battle some demons and come out stronger and wiser
  • Eat and drink in one of my new favorite cities, Buenos Aires
  • Dance at the largest street party in the world during Carnival
  • Trek for 4 days and watch the sunrise in Machu Pichu
  • Learn about adaptability from the animals in the Galapagos
  • Pick up a few new skills and hobbies
  • See and be overwhelmed by the beauty of Iguazu Falls
  • Be challenged, touched and grow as a person
  • Live more freely, openly and honestly
  • Have some great conversations about everything - faith, God, purpose, sexuality, politics, drugs - the kind that make you a better person
  • Reconnect with loved ones and make new life long friends from around the world
With the year and this decade coming to an end, it's exciting to think about what 2011 will bring. I'm determined with greet the New Year working on health, happiness, love and while I'm at it, accomplish some goal setting and achieving. I wish for everyone to be blessed with all great things that make them feel fulfilled. I think we all want to live great lives feeling like we have purpose and passion. Although I'm no closer to any answers I thought I would to some of my questions, I have learned that if we all take the time to appreciate and be thankful for the chance to improve and truly take advantage of another day then we're pretty lucky. It's that sense of optimism and hope that I wish for everyone to have.

Happy New Year! Bring on 2011!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Scooter Diaries - the Filipino TeleNovela

I've had a really great last couple of weeks and I figure that showing pictures would be the best way to share my experiences this last month. I was inspired by the amazing last couple of days I had renting a scooter and booming around Negroes Oriental. I loved it! To me, it's everything that the Philippines should be - friendly, safe, fun, laid back, beach and great waters. To be honest, if my family came from somewhere awesome like this - I'd be here for even a longer time! In any case, this is November through my eyes and experiences:

For some reason, I associate random wild animals and religious icons as Filipino phenomenon.

Undas - Usually hanging out in the cemetery is not my idea of a good time, but hey, anything for the sake of culture! I wish my picture of the cotton candy man turned out better...

After that, it was finally time to start seeing some of the beautiful sites the Philippines has to offer:

Banaue Rice Terraces - The 8th wonder of the world. 2000 year old rices terraces carved on the side of a mountain. I've always wanted to see them so it was awesome to finally get a trip up Northern Luzon to see it!

Scorpio week long appreciation - Holy, it was a never ending Birthday of good times! There was a total of 4 celebrations! A few lessons learned:

1. Don't break a glass in the Philippines - they make you pay for it.

2. I'm still a dangerously wicked bartender. Energy shooters will keep you up all day.

I finally got out of the "mainland" and went to Cebu to visit my uncle, Boss Mike and my Tita Ruth.

Enjoying the fresh seafood.

Ended up taking a boat to another island - Negros Oriental.

Apo Island is in the world's list of “100 dives to do before you die.” Ya, no kidding! They have the most biodiverse reefs in the world!

I did 3 dives it was so awesome!

Renting a scooter and seeing Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. I really do love the feeling of the wind as you whip around in speeds that a 100cc scooter really shouldn't do. There's something liberating about having 360 views of everything as you drive by

And the ride was ridiculously beautiful.

I mean, it's not all glamorous with the bugs, smoke from the cars, and getting rained on, but I suppose it's all part of the experience.
Right before a downpour!
I drove a total of over 200 kms and checked out Mabinay to see caves. I'd have rappelled down them but I've learned that unfortunately, the Philippines isn't as conducive to independent travelers - I'm having a really hard time justifying paying for a solo adventure priced for 4-5 people!

Kayaking around Twin Lakes - basically the Filipino version of Buntzen Lake!

I headed over to Siquior looking for some beach action and found an awesomely cheap place near the ocean.

and made some new friends.

I feel like I'm in the traveling groove again - check my fresh mango juice with an umbrella
and my new Finnish boys!

Snorkeling in the Marine Sanctuary in San Juan with my awesome underwater camera!

Finding Nemo ;)

Going to see a faith healer up in the mystical mountains of Siquior and getting her to explain the voodoo preventing amulets and resisting buying the Love Potion...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mmm, The far...

It's interesting to be back "home" to the Philippines. I'm here - well, for so many reasons.

HOMETOWN: My family comes from a small town in the province of Nueva Ecija. For years I thought it was really far away because it always took anywhere between 5-6 hours to get here. Since Google Earth came out, I learned that apparently it's only 150kms north of Manila - ya, not so great road conditions. There's not much around, my sisters call it "Boringville". All that's really here is the university that my family has been an integral part of. It goes back generations - My grandparents were a big part of elevating Central Luzon State University - my Lolo and Lola (grandpa/ma) were Deans, my uncle is called the King of Goats (sounds better in Tagalog), my father was the Dean of Fisheries and my mother was a Director of Research, my cousins teach here - it's like a Cruz stamp across the whole campus. In that sense, it's cool to be reminded daily where you come from and what a difference my family has made in the area.

CULTURE: A big part of it is to get back in touch with my cultural roots. To be honest, I'm proudly Canadian and have never really felt very Filipino. In many ways, I'm here trying to either fall in love with the country and the people or find peace with not really belonging here. I'll let you know the verdict in the end. Part of my struggle is not really understanding how the people think, while I speak Tagalog relatively fluently (and it's getting better everyday) - I'm neither very conservative nor am I Christian (for those that don't know...I'm agnostic - I'm a believer in all faiths). However, when you're in a country that was ruled by the Spaniards and Catholicism for close to 400 years, you're surrounded by highly judgmental and fairly religious people...not necessarily my favorite combination. Here, white is good and dark is bad. I mean, all you have to do is go to the lotion section and you're surrounded my whitening everything. It's worse than Michael Jackson - seriously, there's whitening soap, lightening lotion, fairer toners, bleaching creams, there are injectables and even pills you can take - it's an insane obsession that boggles my mind. I mean, you all love my skin tone specially when I get darker...imagine the opposite here. There's a post colonial trap that's prevalent everywhere and I struggle with all the discrimination - forget the basic socio/economic gap - there's a plethora of other issues like gender, level of education, generation, last name, job title etc. However, *** Travel Advisory: If you are white and reading this, holy moly, COME TO THE PHILIPPINES - Wanna know what's it's like to be treated like royalty?! This is the place!! *** So, ya, it's a struggle and I'm trying to find the beautiful parts of what I know is/can be a glorious country.

WEATHER: I'm seriously melting here. Either it's ridiculously hot or it's flash flooding torrential tropical downpour. So far I've experienced a signal 2 (out of 3) typhoon. For those who have no idea what that's like, it's basically insanely gloomy, dark, gray and it rains so much that roads turn into rivers. There's a constant raging wind that slaps the coconut leaves around, trees sway maniacally and you're bombarded with constant wind. The skies are just plain angry. The last one hit the northern part of the Philippines, wrecking millions of pesos in damage. Unfortunately, the torrential rain barely cuts the debilitating heat that engulfs this area. It's 34 at 9am!

FAMILY & FRIENDS: To be honest, I'm kinda lonely. I mean, not all the time, but I terribly miss my family back home in Canada and my best friends. I don't have a crew here or as they say "barkada". Hanging out with my sisters' childhood friends and hearing stories that the people I played with when we were younger already have 2-3 or more children, some of whom are teenagers is a constant reminder that I don't have solid roots here, nor do I have much in common with most people. However, I've been blown away by the sheer love and how so many family, friends and people have opened their houses and welcomed me. The Dela Cruzes who've set me up with swank accommodation - complete with TV, AC, private bathroom and a balcony. Forget hostels, this place is the bomb! Staying with Gian Karla and her roomie in Makati and chilling with Mojitos (the by way, you can find everything here but mint is really difficult to find!) The best part is being able to reconnect with family and all it's extensions - I suppose I'm getting to that age where it's so important to know where you come from, your heritage and your family tree. I'm having fun bonding and truly getting to know people.

  • Liquor Ban - Ya, who knew those still existed?!? I went to Manila just in time for a liquor ban due to local elections. I can't believe that they actually stopped serving alcohol for 3 days!! So insane! Not that I wanted to drink, but seriously, take away the option and that's all you can think about! Oh well - we made up for it as soon as it was over.
  • Superstitions - There's an eerieness about the dark parts of this country that makes me believe that ghosts, dwarfs, vampires and other odd urban myths are actually true or could possibly exist here. Hard to explain but with Halloween and all, it makes me think weird things. The bats flying everywhere do not help...
  • All Saints' Day/Day of the Dead/"Undas" - Filipino tradition dictates that people go to the cemetery and celebrate/remember the dead. Translation? It means that everyone goes and has a reunion - I mean, hordes of people go, picnics are set up, drinking, gambling, popcorn, cotton candy, there's even kara/videoke in the cemetery for the whole day!!!
  • Malls - The shopping malls here are epic and legendary. There are so many of them. So. Many. You think capitalism is bad in North America, we've gotten nothing on the wide array of choices here. It's ridiculous - they have more of everything (um, expect tampons...) but aside from that, they have all the European, North American, Asian brands. Seriously, there's a La Senza, Aldo, GAP store all next to each other and more that I'm sure are actually popular but just haven't heard off cause I don't like shopping.
  • Money - I don't understand how I can buy a brand new cell phone for the same price as treating 5 people for coffee. Or how I can buy lunch for the family and have it be the same worth as someone's salary for the month. Or how it can be ridiculously cheap here and yet be so expensive at the same time.
I'm off to go up north for a little pics to follow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Party Like You're 90 - Filipino Style!

Ah, the Philippines, "the mother land". It's been almost a month since I've been here. I'm not really sure I've come close to acclimatizing yet since I'm still melting (and that's putting it mildly)! It's insanely hot at a balmy 32 degrees at 9am! I've been meaning to write but honestly between the heat making me lazy, the carb comatose, the little trips we were taking and being really busy with my whole family - it's been hard to even catch up on rest!

Everyone came home - Charmaine, my sister from Toronto, Cheryl, Kalli, Dean from NFLD and my parents and now they're back :( The reunion happened cause it's my grandmother's 90th birthday. Let me tell you, I come from great stock! Expect for some memory gaps, she's thankfully in great shape. The best thing about being here is really reconnecting with the whole family and all it's extensions. The older I get, the more desire I have to really get to know and keep in touch with loved ones. Plus, I really do come from a ridiculously interesting clan!

  • My Grandma's (Nanay) 90th birthday party - it's the best family reunion ever! Although we wished that Everybody could come - it was amazing how many made the trip to celebrate with us. For those that weren't there - tons of pics on FB!
  • Spending time with the family! It's been amazing reconnecting with everyone.
  • Meeting all the cousins (I have a billion of them!)
  • Late night chats about everything and nothing at all - "Everyone's a suspect".
  • Drinking wine with Nanay - she's got a wicked sense of humour. "I love you Nanay" "I love you too, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10" LOL! ;)
  • Treetop adventure, Zip-trekking, Zoobic Safari, Fish Pedicure (it's hysterically ticklish)
  • Drinking coffee until 1 am laughing about childhood boyfriends, pimples and "patris"
  • Saleslady cupping my boobs in Greenhills and asking me if they are "original"
  • The carbs are killing me! Imagine eating rice 3-5 times a day! For breakfast (yes, it's true), lunch and dinner plus all the "mirienda" (snacks) in between!!
  • Super sonic bugs - they eat you alive. OFF does NOT work!
  • Everyone gaining 10lbs in 3 weeks (that's without alcohol!)
  • The intense heat!! Yes, it is a bit too much.
  • I'm already missing my family :(

I'm not sure how long I'll be staying here - the heat is rather unbearable specially since my body seems to be looking for the Canadian fall. I need to start researching and figure out where I want to go, what I want to do and what kind of volunteer or work opportunities come my way. So far, I've been getting some interesting job offers ie. bar tending instructor, ecology conservationist, editor, customer service trainer - so really who knows what I'll be doing! Although I'm in my hometown staying with family friends, I think I'll be looking into taking trips really soon.

I've got a cell in the Philippines - it'll be great to hear people's voices, buy a phone card or skype it -011 (63) 927-890-7155!

Taking a bite of the cake!

Fish pedi - I guess it's organic right?

Family trip to Subic.

Zoofari with the fam.

The Cruz/Reyes/Santos Clan & friends!!! Ya it was FUN!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Goodbye Vancouver (again) and Hello Asia!

Hard to believe that South America was just 2 weeks ago. I wanted a more comprehensive, we traveled x amount of kilometers but man, I'm not sure I like google map. But here's a quick map with all the places we went to. Tally - 1 continent, 7 countries, over 30 cities and countless friends:

View South America - Te amo! in a larger map

I'm fully aware that time does fly but I'm in complete shock how quickly being home in Vancouver has come to an end. I have never had 17 days go by so quickly. It's seriously been a whirlwind. I barely had enough time to refuel on best friends, get a new passport (with more pages of course) and get things done. When I first got back, I had a bad case of 'Reverse Culture Shock' - I was really weirded out by everything, including seeing an immense number of white and Asian folks (I know, I'll have to get over this. lol) Everything just felt so surreal. It's been great being back but it still doesn't feel real and yet here I am completely panicked about leaving in a few days. To be honest, it was too short - I didn't even get a chance to see everyone, or do everything much less process and reflect about how traveling has impacted and changed me. I would have loved to have spent more time with people. I don't really want to go through the whole "missing everyone" ordeal again. I'm a little heart-broken about saying good bye.

Don't get me wrong, I'm excited about exploring Asia. I bought a one way ticket to Manila and start in the Philippines with my whole family for my Grandmother's 90th birthday! It'll be epic and a fantastic party! After that, I'm not sure what I'll be doing. I do plan on staying put for a little while, slow down a bit and do some volunteering. This part of the journey will be different since I'll be on my own - I'm going through Yuko withdrawal already! :( However, I know that it'll be filled with new experiences, lessons and more adventures.

PS - I've given everyone a hard time on this but I really REALLY want people to keep in better touch. Technology makes it easier with Emails, Facebook, Skype- charinascruz. Despite wherever I am, I still want to feel connected and hear from everyone!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Galapagos Islands - The Origin of Species

How do I even begin to start choosing highlights from a trip to the Galapagos? It's hard to describe the feeling of being on the islands - I'll admit, I wasn't completely blown away in the beginning of the trip. I dunno, maybe I've been extremely blessed and have seen some amazing things around the world but as spectacular as it is, it wasn't earth shattering...I know, it's awful to admit that. But as the days continued, there were just so many things to appreciate. How can you not fall in love with nature when turtles swim around you, the sea lions laze around and frolic in the waves and you see ancient giant tortoises in their natural habit. I went on a cruise and spent 8 days on a 16 passenger boat named the Golondrina. I was fortunate enough to be with a great bunch of people and have a friendly and knowledgeable guide. I must say, there were some fantastic moments of complete bliss sitting on the deck soaking in the sun and smelling the fresh sea.

  • Animal watching - The best thing about the islands is that it's the humans that have to move around animals and not the other way around. Seriously, what a concept...but it really adds to the experience when you have to look at where you're walking so you don't trample the iguanas in their little kindergarten sanctuary.
  • Sea Lions - OMG, they are the cutest things in the world. I've learned that it's impossible to take too many pictures of them (as seen on FB). We even got really lucky and saw a newborn baby being cleaned by its mother on its first day on earth! Though I did find that it's a little freaky to swim with them cause they are huge and fast but it's crazy cool how close to you they get.
  • Random sightings - We saw 2 whales on our way to snorkeling and penguins while we were sitting on the deck sunbathing.
  • Snorkeling - The water was freezing! I have never had to wear a full body wetsuit (you feel like a sausage it's awful. lol) but there were a few things that I'd never seen before such as the Galapagos Octopus & a Yellow Puffer and schools of mantle rays.
  • Swimming with the tortoises - It's mesmerizing watching them eat and swim surprisingly fast...I don't know why they have such an unfortunate rap, I mean their hundreds of kilos heavy, it's amazing they can move in the first place.
  • Scuba diving and seeing 2 sharks sleeping and a hammerhead shark. I'm surprised that I didn't guzzle my tank faster than I did!
  • I love Boobies!!! Blue footed boobies (the famous Galapagos bird) look kinda cross-eyed and dopey and I think they're sooooo cute. Red footed boobies are pretty cool too. Seeing little kids with the "I love Boobies" shirt around town makes me laugh every single time.
  • I had a fantastic cabin mate - Thanks Monika!

  • Being sea sick...T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E...the rocking of the boat did not feel like a lullaby despite how much I willed it to! Pills don't really help much...and neither does drinking...I still kinda feel like the earth is constantly shaking like it's on a gigantic wave. I'm kinda over boats for now...
  • The waves. There are some strong currents here!
  • My brand spanking new waterproof camera is NOT waterproof - The downside is that I had to get pics from other people but I'm happy to say that there is a better ending to this story now.... The amazing Romana got me a refund...I can't even begin to tell you how impressive watching her negotiate in Spanish was!

I've had some pretty cool chilled days walking around Puerto Ayora. I went for a monstrous 40km uphill bike ride that took me to a beautiful turquoise beach - let's just say I'm just trying to lose weight I gained during the 8 day cruise (and other places). It's amazing how you can do absolutely nothing on the boat and all you want to do is to eat and sleep.

After the Galapagos, we ended up in a really cool little beach town in Ecuador called Montanita. We hung out with Jess and the Israeli boys enjoying the laid back atmosphere and soaked in more sun and the wicked hippie atmosphere (you'll see the cute trenza that I got as a souvenir).

Hard to believe that 7 months in South America has come and gone. In many ways it's gone by ridiculously fast. I can't believe this is the last blog in this continent. There are some amazing things to see and experience and it's truly been great. I wish we had more time since there are so many other places I'd love to see, ah well there's always next time...We're in Lima enjoying our last few nights in the continent with our fave Londoners who we bumped into on our 30 hr bus trip (our longest ever). Great way to end this part of the journey. It's hard not to get a little sad and introspective when things come to an end since traveling is filled with beautiful moments but it's always wonderful to think about the new adventures yet to come...

We'll be arriving back home to Vancouver soon. Yuko will be there but I'll only be in town from Sept 3-20th and would love to see everyone!! I'll be heading to the Philippines and will continue my travels in Asia. I'm secretly hoping that there'll be a "Welcome back/Tell our stories once/Show our pictures/I'm leaving again for a long time" Party. I'll keep everyone - the number everyone can reach me is at my parents' (604) 519 1873 or their cell at (778) 836 7096 which I will probably have on me! See you all soon!

Who knew iguanas could have the most interesting expression!?

Those are white tipped sharks taking an afternoon nap.

Mr turtle just popped up beside our dinghy :)

Tortoises make me feel young, light and wrinkle free ;)


How adorable is this sea lion?

The famed Boobies. Notice the little boobie?

Ya, this pose was fun.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And into Peru we go...

* It's late as always but I'm in the Galapagos and since that blog is next, I had to get this up...*

Puno, Peru - We finally crossed into country number 6. I've noticed that South America has this weird obsession with getting you off a bus to walk over to immigration and into the other side. Gosh knows, it would be easier to go on a bus but apparently, walking is literally a right of passage. We stopped off in Puno long enough to see the Floating Islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Although extremely touristy, there is something really cool to be said about the man-made floating islands made out of the local reed that is found in the lake. It started hundreds of years ago as a way to escape the mainland (and the Spaniards). Nowadays, it's a bit kitchy since the locals pretty much live off of the tourist that visit. The experience comes complete with them singing "Row Row Row Your Boat" as you enter (wrong words and all). However, it's still pretty much amazing to see how an entire village on floating man-made reed islands can sustain itself. The next island we visited proofed exactly how small the world is when I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen since university. Imagine my surprise when I heard my name called after huffing and puffing up a huge hill...

We then headed straight to Cusco, since our main priority was really to see Machu Pichu. The only part of Cusco we really saw was the cute main plaza where all the tourist agencies are set up. We went horseback riding in the Sacred Valley, which in reality sounds far cooler than it actually was. Don't get me wrong, the views were great but I think that's the slowest horse I've ever been on. The most interesting part was the witch we met in one of the ruins who read our futures from a cigarette. I'm supposedly going to marry a blond man with honey coloured eyes have 3 children, a dog I don't really like but my oldest son does and a house with 2 floors and large windows - I'll keep that in mind....that narrows things down. Yuko didn't like her reading too much but I'm cool with apparently not being too rich but very very happy.

Machu Pichu
- I chose a the 4 day Inca Jungle trail since I wanted variety in my trek. Since Yuko's stomach hated her throughout Bolivia she opted to take the train there and back. As for me, well let me tell you, that was the best/most exhilarating, challenging and physically demanding thing I have ever done!
Day 1 - It started with a very early morning downhill bike ride for 50+ kms. Very much like Death Road (expect without the constant fear of dying) - you start from a much higher altitude amidst the clouds and cold wind. This time, I rode like a pro, feeling very much at ease with the speed, fog and mist that surrounds you. We ended up biking much longer than expected since there have been local strikes going on. Something about gas prices being unfair for the locals. We were fairly lucky since it wasn't really violent and they pretty much let us pass every single checkpoint. After about 4-5 hours of adrenaline pumping biking we ended up in Santa Teresa and rushed to do some river rafting. Despite being "dry" season, we rafted and body surfed on level 3+ rapids on the Rio Urubamba.
Day 2 - There was lots of walking, I means lots and lots of up and downhill treking that took you past rivers, hills and mountains. We walked on part of the 40,000+km of the Inca Trails which connected the better part of the region. We were painted like warriors with the native plants, saw fields of coca leaves (the legal kind), swam in natural thermal baths and crossed the river with a pulley cable. As fun as that was, the 7+ hours of walking that day meant that I developed blisters on both sides of both feet - yeah, not so fun.
Day 3 - Thankfully not as arduous as the day before but there was definitely more trekking. You know you're tired when you look at your watch and it's only 9:30am knowing full well that you still have over 20km of walking to do. The views are amazing though and it's hard not to enjoy yourself when you have great company. We hugged the river and walked by the railroad on the way to Agua Caliente.
Day 4 - The group woke up at an unGodly hour of 2:45 am to make sure that we were amongst the first 400 so we can sign up to climb Wayna Pichu. I was one of the few that decided to safe my energy for the 2 mountains and paid the $7 to get up to the gate. As soon as you walk in, it's hard not to be in awe of the magnificence of the ruins. We watched the sunrise from between the mountains and light up the terraced vistas of Machu Pichu. We walked around and marveled at the history. We tackled Wayna Pichu, which is roughly about 45 minutes uphill until we could see that ruins were actually designed to be shaped as a condor. We hung out on top, soaked in the rays and enjoyed the views. And as if that didn't get us tired enough, we decided to go up another mountain that was even higher and harder! The views were pretty darn great already, I couldn't imagine it getting better. Oh and yes it did. The Machu Pichu mountain, itself is an 1.5 hour hike up the opposite side of the ruins that enables you to see 360 views of the whole region. It was worth the 20 hr day we had just to see it. Definitely an awesome highlight!

After Cusco, we started to make our way north towards Lima and had a little pitstop in Huacachina, a little town known for lagoon and it's legendary sand dunes. Ken and I went sandboarding and riding on a buggie in Huacachina with Jesus, the crazy awesome driver! I grew up in the Middle East with tons of sand dunes but I have never flown through or jumped dunes quite like that!! At those speeds, roller coasters just won't cut it anymore. I won the medal for "fastest and longest" ride down the biggest and steepest dune ever. I realize that I feel most alive when I'm doing something exhilarating and beautiful. It's not that I'm an adrenaline junkie by any means, but there is something to be said for feeling nature's elements at it's ultimate peak - Feeling sand on your body, the wind through your hair, the tingle in your belly when you fly through the air. We ended the day watching a beautiful pink sunset and took silly pictures.

Mancora, is one of Peru's premier beach destination, and while I liked it, I think Yuko was more disappointed in the lack of surf-able waves. Maybe on my way back, I'll take advantage of the kiteboarding that goes on there. The best part of this town was meeting up with old friends, hanging out in with guitars & harmonicas, trying to find the hot springs in the national park and getting lost with our moto-taxis (kinda like tricycles in the Phil or tuk-tuks in Thailand) and eating churros on the beach.
Extreme Buggie: My medal - Fastest Canadian down a dune.

3+ rapids, you ain't got nothing on us!

The coolest trek and ruins ever!

I've never been so happy to make it up a mountain!

Somos Pumas - Best 4 day excursion to Machu Pichu!

Yes, it was beautiful.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bolivian adventures never cease to amaze!

From Sucre to La Paz, we took what was apparently the nicest bus that Bolivia probably has to offer. Sadly, the first 1.5 hours was probably the most painful bus ride I've ever taken. Thanks to the wonderful sea sickness pills that my parents had given me, I passed out for the next 10 hours! We woke up to a lovely view of La Paz, which is the highest capital in the world. It makes for a picturesque site since the city is built in a valley with homes all round the surrounding mountains and cliffs. We haven't really gotten use to the altitude...we were hoping that 3 weeks in over 3500m would do it, but it's still hard to make it up a flight of steps without puffing and wheezing!

Bolivia's history - I went on a really informative city tour around La Paz. No wonder there is so much poverty here. They have had over 200 military coups in the last 155 years. They even had a president that only lasted for 6 hours. At one point in the last 20 years, inflation would rise nearly 500% every month. There is so many things to enjoy about Bolivia. There is much more culture here and you see indigenous people everywhere dressed in traditional garb. Aside from Catholicism, the Spanish influence is not as evident. There is an interesting balance between religion and superstition and the mixture of different beliefs intertwined. When you visit Witches' Market, the tourist shopping area - you can find mummified baby llamas in every stage. The very small/fetus size ones are for offerings to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and the slightly bigger ones are buried under a construction site before they build a house for luck, safety and prosperity. Unfortunately, the hardship of the locals are also seen in everyday life. The wrinkles that line the faces of people are evidence of the lack of opportunities that exist. I never thought I would be heartbroken about how the crackdown on cocaine could make a whole country suffer even more. Because of the limits of coca leave production, Bolivia loses over $500 million dollars every year. In a country where you can easily survive in relative luxury at $10 a day, the impact on the locals is staggering.

We've met many people who have absolutely loved the insanity of Bolivia. And truly, there is a never endless amount of adventure that occurs here. Everything is a challenge here - breathing, getting a bus, crossing the street, arriving anywhere. The only thing that seems easy is getting sick. Every traveler we've met is sporting a cough of some sort, either because of the freezing weather or some sort of food poisoning. Interesting enough, I've had one of the best meals of my life here! It was Mixto Shawarma (chicken, shish kebab, beef, tabouleh, eggplant) and the most delicious chocolate cake (with layers of dulce de leche and almonds in between). I know, I had to talk about it since it was fantastic. Of course when I tried to go for a repeat the next day, the place was closed down (with a sign that didn't explain whether it was the sketchy kitchen or the illicit activities that I'm sure goes on there...)

Death Road - Known as the "Most Dangerous Road in the World", it's famous for tourists biking (and unfortunately dying). Don't worry Mom and Dad, I've already done it and survived!! Oh my gosh, this was one of the best and most exhilarating things I've ever done. Yuko skipped it cause there was no way she was going to go down from 4700m into 65km of downhill goodness. The trip starts with a drive from La Paz for an hour until you are high up in the Bolivian Andes. I wasn't expecting to see snow and ice everywhere. But all of a sudden we stopped a lagoon, where the guide proceeded to give us a full face helmet, hardcore pants and vest, knee and elbow pads and one of the best full suspension bikes I've ever tried (and trust me, it was worth paying extra). You start at a freezing icy highway, where you zoom past trucks and cars at some crazy speed. The views are spectacular of the mountains and valley. You feel the cold brisk air invigorate you as you bike through clouds at a breezy 80km/hr. There's plenty of stops along the way to admire the views. One of the guys in my tour bailed within the first 10 minutes. Thankfully, he is alive and well, it served as a great reminder to the rest of us to be extremely careful. Trust me, between all the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I was holding on to the brakes for dear life for the whole 4 hours! You continue to a gravely road, which is technically the start of Death Road. It's insane and it's clearly not for the weak of heart with extreme drop-offs, no guardrails and its muddy road with loose rocks. It's width is the size of a one lane road with 150m cliffs on one side and the mountain on the other. It's exhilarating and you feel so alive biking through mini waterfalls. You see amazing views of varied topography, from hawk-like birds flying over you until you end up in a really hot subtropical area. The whole experience was simply amazing...

After La Paz, we decided it was a shame not to do anything Amazonian in South America. So we took a 3 day tour of The Pampas and we're soooo happy that we did because the Amazon Basin was fantastic! After a quick panic in the airport where we thought we missed our plane, we ended up making friends with our Dutch boy and took a small 20 seater with twin propellers to Rurrenabaque. The next day our tour began and luckily we had the best group and guide ever! Although the Brits had a weird and hilarious obsession with llamas - hence our group name "Sexy Llama Bitches". It started with a 3 hour jeep journey, where we caught a glimpse of some of the wildlife we were going to see. Hard to believe it was going to get even better after seeing all those birds and these gigantic guinea pig looking mammals (whose name I can not remember for the life of me). After, you're treated to a 2 hour ride on a motorized canoe that takes you down a winding river. It was exciting seeing caymans (kinda like an ugly crocodile/alligator) and turtles and so many different types of birds (only ones I can name - the herons and storks). I didn't know that turtles where so affectionate. They look like they are perpetually spooning sitting on logs on top of each other like they're doing a conga line.

Our "ecolodge" was basically wooden cabins with beds and mosquito nets. It as very rustic and kinda cool with all the hammocks you can laze about in. The next day we went searching for Anaconda in the muddy marsh. Let's just say that I now have a sock that will perpetually be brown cause my boots had holes in it. Thankfully, we saw one on dry land - did you know that a 3 foot anaconda is like 50-60kg?! We all felt really thin ;) After the trek, we went down the river, saw a toucan and a sloth and went fishing for piranhas. Although Yuko didn't catch one she was a trooper for trying since you have use meat as bait. As for me you ask, I caught the first one! We had it for dinner later on that night. Tastes like fish ;) ...and it's not that meaty but there's something satisfying about eating a meal you caught. On our last day we swam with the dolphins, caymans and piranhas...apparently the dolphins keep you safe by warding away the carnivorous animals, call me a skeptic but I wasn't sure how I felt about that specially since they were all in the water that day. So, I jumped out of the boat and got Yuko to take a picture...I lived to tell the tale!

Isla Del Sol - Our next adventure took us to Copacabana in Lake Titicaca. At over 3800 m and over 160 sq km, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. According to Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created. The god, Viracocha, came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people. We took a boat out on its turquoise waters and took some lovely pictures of the views. The ruins were disappointing (what bloody ruins? It's just a rock seriously) but the 3 hour hike was beautiful. It was majestic feeling the hot sun bear down on you and watch the rays sparkle on the water. The next day, Ben had the great idea of taking a rowboat, having a picnic and a swim. That was one of the most relaxing and funniest experiences ever...let's just say that the water was freeeeezing!

We've headed into Peru already...I know these updates are getting long but it's really hard not to try and share the cool adventures we've been having. I think it'll get even better!

Row row row your boat...

Isla del Sol - Birthplace of the Sun

I'm a piranha fishing pro!

Best Tour Ever! The Pampas Rocks!

A cayman right before he lunged for the water!

La Paz by night at the Mirador (viewpoint)

The Witches' Market. Llama fetus anyone?

My hardcore mountain biker chic look.

The cliffs we biked on Death Road!