Wednesday, July 8, 2009

viva la gran vida

Ever since we started toying with the idea of travelling to South America I had been dreaming of experiencing the Andean highlands. I'm not sure why I wanted to experience them so much - since it's really quite barren, but there's a certain mystique to it, plus the sheer ruggedness of being up in the mountains.
A fellow named Brian had just arrived in Quito (he's the best friend of Julie's cousin Ryan) and we were looking for something to do before we all went to the coast on the weekend. A couple hours on the internet and phone in the morning found us a hacienda up in the hills and another trip with our friendly driver George.
the first cotopaxi hacienda we found. Nice, but nothing exciting to do
Heading out of Quito - I'm not quite certain of the direction, but I'll say south - we looked for the mile marker that the fellow at the Hacienda told us to turn at. We never saw it. We found another hacienda at the side of the road, and it looked very nice but there wasn't much for activities - everything had to be booked in advance and that did not suit our last-minute planning. So we turned the little car around and went back down the rolling, rut-filled road that I'm amazed the car navigated. (that was just the drive into this hacienda - the highway was fine)
George started calling our target hacienda for directions and even he could not quite understand where we should go. We ended up on another rut-filled road that only trucks could drive down so we stopped and waited. And waited until someone's brother's friend with a truck came down
from the hills to pick us up.
El Porvenir Hacienda
When we finally arrived at El Porvenir it was marvelous, and surprisingly busy considering how hard it was for us to get there! A fire and a hot cup of cedron tea warmed us up as we realized we may not have brought enough warm clothes to survive up here!
our sleeping quarters
Our sleeping quarters were pretty basic and suitably rustic but quite comfortable and most
importantly - warm.
The serenity of the location was only broken by the yelps from the large group of teenagers who were running around the place. Fortunately Brian, being a high school teacher, handled a pair of attention-seeking girls with the skill that only comes from handling these mind-field personalities on a daily basis.
We went out for a bit of a hike around the place and as the sun fell behind the mountains it made for a spectacular view.

An early start today cuz we've got all these activities to do!
Brian got geared up in a hockey bag's worth of wool, fur and high-tech polyester to spend the day on a horse with a guide. Julie and I took off on a pair of mountain bikes to spend the day even higher up in the mountains riding around the famed Cotopaxi mountain. I suppose something got lost in translation when they were describing the day's tour to us... For when we started driving up the side of the mountain in the Land Cruiser, going higher and higher and snow started blowing around us we were wondering what we were
doing here! And then even more so when we got out of the truck into the blizzard and started CLIMBING the mountain! I apologised to Julie - insisting that I had no idea that we were going to climb another mountain. We were obviously more acclimatised to the higher altitudes on this day than we were last Novemeber when we climbed Kinabalu. The gravel scree filled our shoes with stones as we trudged our way up the slope, trying to stay on the leeward side of the hill to reduce our exposure to the whipping wind.
We made it to the "refugio" and were grateful to be out of the wind and a chance to warm up. A cup of hot chocolate for $1 and a pot-belly stove did the trick nicely. I explored the building and there are loads of bunk beds upstairs in what I think would be an uncomfortable place to spend the night. But I suppose if one is a mountain climber and properly prepared then this would be great. And as we left the refuge for our trip back down, what looked like experienced climbers were making their way up and past the refuge towards the glaciers above. We felt that 4800m was high enough.
Just below 4000m the weather drastically improved and the bikes were unloaded off of the truck. It's downright fantastic cycling up here: there are myriad colours of little flowers eking out survival in the sprawling valley, peaks rising all around, glacier-fed streams splashing over rocks, and the best thing is that our ride was almost ALL downhill.
If anyone's seen the Discovery Channel commercials "the world is just awesome", it is. The line kept repeating in my head as we zoomed down the gravel trail, bunny-hopping over boulders sticking out of the ground and the occasional horse "pie".
Great day!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cruzin’ the Napo - River Cruise in the Amazon Basin

After our trip to the jungle in Borneo, we were pretty keen to get back to it here in Ecuador. Especially after learning that the east side of the Andes forms the headwaters of the mighty Amazon river.

And when we found an option to cruise the Amazon on the Manatee river boat, Julie was sold. Andrew also thought it sounded pretty neat so before we knew it we were jetting off into the jungle and then transported by mini-bus to the river’s edge, where our canoe awaited.

The boat itself and the entire concept was great. However while the weather was on our side (amazing lack of rain for a rainforest!), time was not. The boat moves along at a pleasant and leisurely pace it is relaxing but doesn’t get us deep enough into the jungle to see the best spots. So we spent a lot of time in the motorized canoe zipping further upstream to the protected park areas.

The tours kept us busy exploring the plants and wildlife of the area, led by our friendly and knowledgeable guides. Notably was the visit to Lago Limoncocha Natural Reserve where Lago Limoncocha sunset wildlife cruisewe traveled around the lake to see black caimans (mini crocodiles), observe several species of birds and try our hand at piranha fishing. 

The trip was memorable for the people we met - our dining partners were a couple from Sacramento who shared their stories of living in the South Pacific as rafting guides, the wildlife and scenery that surrounded us and unfortunately the stomach flus we caught!

All and all it was a pretty good tour – we’re glad we did it. The boat was nice, our quarters were comfortable, the food was tasty and the relaxing while cruisingexcursions were satisfactory. We probably would have rather spent more time cruising on the boat than off of it. For this reason perhaps the 5d/4n cruise is a better option than the 4d/3n we did.

Andrew’s most interesting part of the cruise (apart from the food of course!): seeing the clay licks that the parrots and parakeets use to aid their digestion. He’d never imagined that he’d be deafened by the chirping of parakeets as thousands of them descended from the trees to the patch of mud. Julie found the birds to be noisy and irritating, much preferring the cruising time aboard the grand boat.

This story’s photo gallery: 

The Manatee Riverboat

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

these stories need to be more engaging

Close friends knew that we were either coming back from this trip engaged, or flying back on separate flights. Fortunately for us (and everyone else!) the former has happened.

On a memorable Canada Day in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, Andrew popped the question to Julie.


we’re engaged!

We were on a harbour front dock patio at the Red Mangrove restaurant sharing the evening with a single Heron, who was fishing for his dinner as we finished ours. Andrew pulled out the box but didn’t want to take the ring out as the dock had slots to the water.  He asked me if I would marry him timidly. With the ring on my finger and the appearance of our waiter we had this picture taken. Happy and excited to celebrate our engagement and Canada Day together, we headed off to a local bar to dance the night away :) -Julie

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Galapagos the good

Aside from the disaster that was our lodging, we had a pretty good time here. On our first foray into town we ran into a couple of off-duty tour guides who gave us a few hints on what to do and where to go in town. We'd run into them numerous times over the 3 days.
Puerto Ayora is the biggest town in the Galapagos Islands and has everything you need. All along Avenida Charles Darwin (the main drag along the harbour) are loads of tour operators, restaurants, dive shops and souvenir stores. Avenida Charles Darwin, near the pier
At one end of town is the Charles Darwin research center. We wandered through and weren't all that impressed at the sight of a Julie and a giant tortoisefew pitiful examples of tortoises and lizards but we're sure that we missed the major attraction of the place in the tortoise breeding centre. 
At the opposite end of town is the pier where you can easily get a last minute spot on a boat tour of the harbour if you hang around either at 8-9am or 1-2pm. We booked our tour ahead of time, but while waiting for our allotted time slot I got asked a few times to "come on my boat - nice boat!".  The tour of the harbour was alright. We went out to an island off-shore to snorkel around a bit. The water's pretty cold - definitely refreshing!  It was a little scary jumping off the little boat into the ocean's waves near where they crashed onto the jagged lava rocks, but we went in anyway.  Saw some fish, maybe a ray down below somewhere but not the marine iguanas we hoped to see feeding on the algae below.
On our way back to harbour Andrew spotted a bigger boat with a man standing on the top level waving a white t-shirt. I pointed at it but our boatman said it's probably just the signal for divers to come Towing a stranded dive boat back. I said no...that's usually an orange flag or something. The guy waved his white t-shirt again and this time our boatman saw it and realized that something's up. We zipped over to learn that their boat had run out of gas. Our guy handed over a big jug (good to see we had lots to spare!)  but then they realized that they needed an oil-mix so we ended up towing the bigger boat back to harbour. Needless to say we were getting a bit wary of the dive operators here in Galapagos.
Anyhow, we let the boat go and continued our tour. At the next snorkel spot the captain sent us into this channel that narrowed up as it ended in a small lagoon. The water was fine when we got in, but it got murkier and murkier until it was a solid yellowish green. We couldn't see much until I suddenly saw a flash of a fin in front of me. Startled I put my head above the surface at which point Julie's done the same ahead of me.  "Was that a shark?!" she exclaims.  While we're above water, the captain and the other couple on our tour are yelling at us to come forward to them across the lagoon. We're obviously a bit hesitant since we just ran into a shark! But the captain says don't worry, just go slow and quiet and you can see 4 MORE!  We put our heads down underwater and can't see a thing. Back above water -"where?".  "Over there in the middle, there's three of 'em." Back underwater - nothing. "10 feet that way." Ah forget it I think to myself; they're getting a better view from up top than we are here in the water, so I make my way to the rocks on the shore to get out.
The tour finished off with some good sightings of marine iguanas (both resting on land and swimming), which was pretty cool.

Marine Iguana

We tempted fate and ignored the stranded dive boat that we saw and booked a dive tour after being recommended to a dive shop by our trusty tour guides that we ran into on the street.

The dives themselves were quite strenuous: rough seas near a rocky outcrop in the ocean, back flip off of the boat on the captain’s command and dive straight down and grab onto a rock near the guide in order to get out of the wave action currents. Julie had a tough time on the first one: the boat surged over top of her after she went in and she bumped up against it. No harm done though!  The point of diving out here at Gordon Rock is to see the schools of hammerhead sharks swimming above you.  Unfortunately we dove during a period of poor visibility and saw nothing. The sharks could’ve been only a few metres away but we would not have known. It was a bit of waste of effort to travel all the way out here in rough seas, perform a hard dive and then see nothing.  On our way back home we passed Albatros Divinganother dive boat who waved us over.  Guess what – they didn’t have enough air tanks on board!!  Yowza. Julie salsas with our dive guide

We were pretty happy with our boat and the dive masters. Later that day we ran into them at a bar downtown and tried some salsa dancing.

Photo album of Galapagos:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Galapagos the bad

I'm not sure what to say about our little trip to the Galapagos. We got partially scammed upon arrival so that put us down. Had a bit of trouble finding a place to stay but happened to find an apartment for the same price as a hotel room. Then we saw a bunch of wildlife Puerto Ayora fish marketdown at the fish market which was super neat and had a great, dinner at FreeSoul Cafe cheap




dinner at a small restaurant [FreeSoul Cafe] raising our spirits. We picked up some groceries and headed into the 'burbs to our apartment, following the "X" on the map that the lady had given us.
At this time it was dark, and as everybody knows, things look a lot different in the dark! On our first try we couldn't find the place. We retraced our steps and tried again. still no luck. So we went all the way back to the beginning and followed the map once again. Nothing. We started questioning the map (it was one of those tourist ones that usually don't show all of the streets) thinking that maybe the place was on a road that wasn't on it. We got a taxi and asked the fellow to take us to a road called "something Maria". Puzzled at us tourists, he drove us around in a circle a couple of times before we let him go. It's about 11'o'clock now and one of my grocery bags just sprung a leak: one of the big bottles of beer broke through and smashed on the pavement, prompting lights to come on in the apartments around us, sending us scurrying away into the darkness.  Stress levels are rising and we're getting frustrated - how did we manage to go around the world and never get lost and now here we completely lost track of where we are staying!? All of our bags are in that room. Julie's contacts are bugging her and she's not keen on the idea of getting a different place to stay for one night. We've tried to call the lady's phone to get directions but she's not answering.  Then around midnight a motorcycle pulls up alongside us and the big fellow says "hey you guys!! why you wandering around late at night?".  Aww, for crying out loud - it's the tour operator who we ditched earlier in the day after he wouldn't let us go for less than $90. Coyly we said that we were just looking for our hotel after having a late dinner in town. He asked which one and we said it actually an apartment. Then he offered us a ride but we declined saying that it's just close by - no worries, so he zipped away on his motorbike.  We kept on wandering around, every so often coming across our broken beer bottle and using it as a landmark. A while later we heard a motorcycle approaching and sure enough it was fat man again. We had to fess up that we couldn't find the apartment. He offered to speed up our searching process by giving Andrew a ride on the back of the motorbike and search the streets while Julie made small talk with his son at their house. It was awkward for both of us as nobody likes to ride on a motorbike sitting behind a fat man. Either way we didn't find it. We thanked him for his help and walked back into town. Julie was dedicated to finding the place, but I'd given up. At this time of the night we're not going to wander around forever so we might as well just go get another hotel room for the night and at least get some rest. So we woke up some old fellow at a hostel and slept a few winks.
In the morning Andrew got up early and went to find either the lady who rented us the place or the place itself. On my first attempt I found the place - no problem at all, mostly because in the daylight I could see the building standing out amongst the others.  Triumphantly I returned the hostel with Julie's toothbrush  and a clear sense of where the place was. While I was gone a text msg showed up from the lady saying that her phone died last night and didn't get the message - here's the address. 
So, does the story of this apartment end here?  No. When something goes awry in Ecuador it stays that way. After getting settled in the apartment we try to use the stove, but it doesn't work. No gas it seems. Then Julie wants to have a hot shower. No hot water, because there's no gas. We call the lady again and tell her that there's no gas. She says she'll call the gas company but it might take until tomorrow to deliver. Julie insists that it arrive today.  So we get a call later on saying that the gas has arrived but we have to hook it up - the connections are in the back of the building. What??!!  Why do we have to hook it up - the gas company should do that! She says no, they just deliver. Well, it's her house, she should come hook it up. No, she says it's not her problem. Oh my word. 
We happen to run into a neighbour in the apartment building and ask him about whether the gas company hooks up the gas. He says yes, the gas company hooks it up - he never touches his connections because it's gas and he doesn't want to blow something up.  No kidding, neither do we!  So we call the lady back and say she's gotta come over here and take care of this. We paid for an apartment that has a stove and hot water so make it happen. She came over, tinkered with the connections and declared that it works. But it didn't. She tinkered some more and then declared that she must call the company tomorrow. one and only photo of our cursed apartment Well, that's our last day and we won't need it - could we please have a discount on the room?  No. Why not? Because we used the place. Yes, but only 2 nights of the 3. Not her fault we got lost. But you drew the map! Not her problem. OK, but there's no hot water and that was her selling point! Again, not her problem. This lady made us so intently upset that we were on the verge of purposely wrecking the place. And if she didn't come in to clean up so early on the morning we were to leave, I'm sure that we would have left a dead fish in one of the closets or at least given away her DVD player.  So we learned our lesson: once an Ecuadorian has your money, you're screwed.  It's a lesson that we'd learn again, and again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

rollin, rollin, down white water…

Julie’s cousin hosted a poker night the first weekend we were here in Ecuador and Andrew met some of Ryan’s buddies – all expats who are now trying to live in Ecuador.  One of them, Jeff, is a big, stern American fellow who’s big into rafting (he’s got a rafting gear store in the hostel he runs in Quito).  So in between shots of Ecuadorian moonshine Jeff invited us out to go rafting in the mountain rivers by a town called Tena.  He talked it up pretty good, saying how beautiful the scenery is and how the rivers are so remote that there’s nobody else out there.  So we modified our schedule slightly so that we’d meet up with the group in Tena.

We hauled butt from Banos to Puyo and then on to Tena in order to get out on the river. But after a pancake breakfast, rounding up the gear, getting everybody sorted and arranging a ride, we didn’t get out to the river early at all. And then while en route to the river, it started raining, getting us fellas in the back of the truck prematurely wet, and cold.

As we turned off the highway, local villagers rushed up to the loaded truck clamouring for the chance to be a porter and earn a few dollars. “Solo tres! Solo tres!” Jeff yelled out trying to limit the amount of people climbing onto the truck.  We could barely get ourselves together before an old guy took off with the raft on his back and two women carried the rest.  As we gingerly picked our path down the muddy, slippery clay horse trail we wondered how that old guy managed to nimbly navigate it with a couple hundred pounds on his back.Safety lesson

The canyon did not disappoint: it was gorgeous. Thick green foliage surrounded us as the turquoise waters tumbled around and over boulders between the vertical canyon walls.

Two of our crew had never rafted before, and Andrew was the only male other than our guide Jeff so it’s probably not surprising that weCLICK ME to visit the photo gallery had some navigation issues early on as people were learning the commands. We got jackknifed onto a big rock and admittedly Andrew was a little slow getting over in the boat thereby causing the boat to be breached. The water rushed into it, submerging it and sending everyone to one side of the boat to try and stay above the water. Oddly enough Andrew was the only one who got swept out of the boat, holding onto a rope as Jeff helped him back in. The force of the rushing water was so great that the gear was getting ripped out and the boat was getting bent around the rock. Finally Jeff managed to get the boat to cantilever around the rock, and even more fortunately held onto it as it suddenly regained buoyancy and took off down the river. So, we learned our lesson! But barely 10 minutes later we mishandled another tricky spot and got spun into a corner with no way out. This time our spotter had to throw us a rope to pull us out.

Shortly after the Jondachi River joins with the Hollin River we stopped for lunch. Oh wow was that ever a hard-earned lunch break!  With the two rivers combining, the water volume doubled which meant we had to paddle even harder to maintain our course. It was freakin’ tiring.

The last stretch of the river was actually quite relaxed – more gently burbling rapids instead of wild roaring stuff. although there were some spots with some big click to enlarge photodips that were pretty fun, especially when a wall of water crashed over the bow of the boat thoroughly soaking Julie & Andrew sitting in front. Julie got quite a few waves in the face – haha, funny even now…

So we started paddling around 1pm and didn’t get off the river until 5:30pm – it was a long day but super fun!

We capped off the evening by meeting up with some other friends who took us to their favourite restaurant in Ecuador – the Marquis Grille in Tena, famous for uber-cheap superb steaks, and an in-house sloth who just roams the rafters above you. Only in the jungle! :^)

Andrew says hello to the sloth (click for larger image)

Link to accompanying photo gallery

Ecuador kayaking:

Review of rafting:

Baños; a city in hot water

For a moment there we were feeling pretty brave, reserving a car to do a self-drive tour around the highlands and down to the jungle (The Baños-Tena-Quito Loop). But then the exorbitant cost of a rental car, coupled with the lack of a map and the experience of the stress of driving in a foreign country caused us to change our minds. And for the price of one day’s rental Click for larger viewwe hired a driver to take us all the way from Quito to Baños (about 3hrs away) in relative comfort and peace of mind. And Jorge knows  the area, stopping at the side of the road in Latacunga to buy some cheese wrapped in a banana leaf (queso de hoja).

On the way in to Baños we were offered  brilliant sourced from Flikr (ironmanixs)views of the Tungurahua Volcano spewing ash and smoke. I later regretted not stopping to take a photo as the conditions were never as good again.

Baños felt like a tourist trap, with tour operators on the corner of every block. We stayed at a musky old hostel in Baños called La Petite Auberge which is all creaky wooden floors and woollen blankets. It’s alright, nothing special, but the price is good and the host fellow really tries hard. The included breakfast of toasted baguettes, butter, jam and coffee left a little to be desired – so says Julie. I thought the homemade jam was sweet-as! [aaww…she didn’t like that comment]

We had three goals in Baños: Julie wanted to go horseback riding, Andrew wanted to soak in the hot baths, and Julie wanted a massage since Nuala had highly recommended a place here.  Through a little bit of clever scheduling we managed to get all of them done in one day!  The horse ride was unspectacular although it did provide a Julie looks the part of a cowgirlglimpse of the volcano puffing smoke through the clouds, but it was ruined with an unannounced additional charge for a visit to the guide’s buddy’s landslide-destroyed resort. 

After 2 hours on an uncomfortable saddle I was beat and was afraid that a soak in the hot baths would just put me right to sleep.  But the water is so hot in these CLICK ME! to see larger imagebaths (48degC!) that it totally reinvigorates you and I felt fantastic afterwards. Best $2 spent all day!  Unfortunately the massage found all of the knots that have been accumulating over the past few months and it was super painful. Probably should’ve stayed put with the $2 soak, or spent another $25 the next day for a follow-up massage to further massage my sore muscles.

Back at the hostel, we decided to make use of the fireplace in our room. The hotelier brought us some wood but while Julie was in the lobby waiting for some matches she ran into another couple staying at the hostel. As luck would have it, they were about to head out on a volcano tour.  Pablo was a photo-journalist based in Quito and had covered many of the eruptions of Tungurahua volcano. His enthusiasm for the volcano was fanatical: he dialled up the seismographs on the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute ( using his cellular modem to see what sort of activity was going on up on the mountain at the moment, and then showed us his old pictures of past eruptions. The live (6min delay) data stream from the institute was pretty neat to see. After a couple of hours of driving around the hillsides to see if the cloud cover was dissipating we made one last stop.  Staring off into the blackness, we suddenly saw two glowing chunks come popping out of the volcano, softly glowing through the clouds.  “Did you see that!!??” Pablo excitedly shouted as all of us felt a shiver of excitement at seeing the molten lava shoot through the air.  Admittedly it probably wasn’t all that much of an explosion. A distant rumble could be heard shortly after but then the beast went back to sleep.  A few minutes later we checked the computer to see the jolt on the graph that we just witnessed.  Having seen something, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.

In the morning Andrew went out to the bus station to check the schedules to see when we could get to Puyo or Tena, and was assured by a New Yorker fellow that travelling on the buses was safe, given that you don’t leave yourself open. (Nuala and Ryan have done a marvellous job at telling us all of the horror stories that they hear at the embassy, so both of us are not too wary to ride the buses.)  Even though the buses seemed fine, Julie called up a another driver who’s ad we saw at the hotel and arranged for another ride.  Mr. Freddie was another pleasant fellow who showed us all of the waterfalls along the Pastaza River that flows down from the Andes to the jungles in the east.  It’s a great drive; very scenic, offering up dramatic views of the mountain escarpment dropping off into lush green jungle made all the more better with a large rainbow arching across the sky.

Oh, almost forgot. At the largest waterfall of the them all you can climbing up behind the waterfall crawl through a narrow tunnel to get to a platform that’s behind the roaring water. You get wet but it’s pretty neat!  The little cafe offers lovely views of the valley and here Andrew discovered another new fruit – babaco, which makes a tasty fruitshake.

The pictures of this edition are here:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Exclusive frog concert in Mindo

Another good day trip out of Quito, well, more of a weekend trip, is to go to Mindo.  It’s lower down the Andean slopes so it’s back into the jungle and the cloud forests.

It’s a big of a long drive through a winding valley but the views are nice and at the right time of day the sunsets through the misty mountain tops are spectacular.

We stayed at Mindo Lago as recommended by Ryan and Nuala. It’s a pretty nice place, built up around a little pond with a few cabins on one side and the main dining hall opposite.mindo lago

As we wandered around during the day we could hear lots of frogs singing but nothing like what we would hear that evening during our “frog concert” tour. The owner is a bit of a frog fan and with his little tape recorder he coaxed specific frogs into singing by playing back the relevant croak. Then he’d point them out on the lily pads when they responded. It was pretty neat! Fortunately the owner’s daughter was back home so she could translate for us too. He took us on a short walk in the woods around back and showed us these uber-bright fireflies. They look like glowing embers from a fire floating in the air. Another interesting sight was a phosphorescent bacteria decomposing a piece of wood. Shining a light on the wood reveals nothing, but in the dark the interior of the wood is glowing blue with these bacteria.  After that he spotted a massive cockroach up on the tree above us. We quickly moved on…

Butterfly in Mindo Lago's butterfly house

There’s also a butterfly house at the place that houses a bunch of colourful butterflies and various local flora.

The food here is pretty good too. I recommend their “meat on volcanic stone” which is a nice piece of steak sizzling on a hot slab of rock. We were also introduced to a new variety of potato – the yuca. It’s a bit more fibrous but tastes pretty good fried up as wedges.

Mindo’s claim to fame is the handful of zip-lining outfits set up in the valleys around town.  We went to Mindo Ropes & Canopy (Mindo Lago gave us a discount there) and had fun zipping across the cables. One trick they do here is where a guide goes with you and holds you in a “superman” position thereby allowing you the sensation of flying over the valley. It’s pretty neat.

Ziplining in Mindo

We sort of got stranded in town when our cell phone ran out of credit and we couldn’t call our driver to come pick us up.  The stores in town didn’t have any more recharge cards until 4pm (beats me why – I guess the bus bringing more arrived then?) and we were also stuck with only 20-dollar bills and couldn’t buy anything since nobody had change.  We found lunch at one of the Lonely Planet-recommended spots in town and waited until our ride arrived.

Pictures of Mindo: 
– Look for the “slideshow” button at top=right of the page. Hit F11 for glorious full-screen viewing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Haciendas and Andean Markets (Otavalo day 2)

Otavalo features a massive market that spills out of Plaza de Ponchos into the surrounding streets. (Market’s on nearly everyday, but the busiest is Saturday.) I haven't seen this much the colours of the marketcolourful woven items in one place in a long time, if ever.  It's super tight negotiating around/between the stalls and tables of hats, baby sweaters, adult sweaters, ponchos, table cloths, scarves, various grains and maize, jewellery and carvings.  The best thing is that the  sellers are not intrusive at all, allowing you to browse fairly freely. Except that when you leave their table then you get the sales pitch and rapidly falling prices.
We bought, with excellent translating services by Ryan: a "Panama" hat for myself for $11 (decent quality given that you can pay up to $600 for them in their hometown of Montecristi on the coast), 3 alpaca scarves for $10, two little figurine paintings ($10, too much), and Julie bought a nice little pullover poncho/sweater, oh and a bunch of baby sweaters for all those newborns back home.
After running out of money, and depending on Ryan to fund some of the shopping, we left for Cotacachi. Wait, one more stop! We luckily parked near the ice cream place that Ryan had been shown previously but had forgotten where it was. The extremely jolly fat man inside creamtook much pleasure in showing off his homemade ice creams - actually not ice cream, but rather more like gelato as there is no  cream, just frozen fruit puree. They taste fantastic. I had a "copa frisky" that's a large cup, half filled with diced fresh fruit (watermelon, papaya, pineapple, banana) topped with strawberry and vanilla helado, then smothered in thick cream. Perfecto! and it's a $1.35!
Unfortunately due to our tight schedule, we couldn't stick around for the fellow to show us how he makes the stuff using a copper bowl placed into a larger bowl filled with straw and ice. Apparently it's pretty neat to see.
Cotacachi is just north of Otavalo and is known for it's leather goods. The main road through town is lined with shops and shops selling all sorts of leather stuff.
Julie went on a shopping spree, buying two pairs of boots and 2 hand bags. Unfortunately I couldn't find any decent men's shoes since the place seems to cater to women. 

Lunch @ Cafe D'Anita on calle Gonzalez Suarez: nice little restaurant, tasty food, good prices. Recommended by other shoppers and now by us!

We had arrived in Ecuador with US$600 and now we have virtually none left after 4 days. For being in a third-world (supposedly cheap) country, we're sure going through money pretty quick! I'm a bit annoyed at how expensive things are looking. Especially for tours out to the Amazonian jungle or to Galapagos (pushing $1000pp each!). But we just need to do a bit more research, as cheaper options are slowly presenting themselves. The sticker shock of Bermuda isn’t nearly what it is here, mostly due to the psychology of it since we’re expecting low prices here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bienvenidos a Ecuador!

The passengers on the plane applaud as the tires make contact with the tarmac after we skim the rooftops of central Quito during our approach to this Andean city. Leaving the customs area we’re excitedly greeted by Julie’s cousin Ryan and his girlfriend Nuala – our hosts for the next few weeks here in Ecuador. A short cab ride and we were at their apartment, naturally decorated in style for them to entertain foreign dignitaries as part of Ryan’s role with the Canadian Embassy here in Quito.

Julie & I spent a couple days getting used to the altitude (~2900m above sea level) helped along by a couple Diamox pills, but either way it feels like you cannot get a full breath of air.  We did manage to get outside the second day and walk around the large Parque de Carolina and play some frisbee without getting too winded.

Both of us were surprised to see the number of American chains here: Papa Johns pizza, Tony Roma’s, TGI Fridays, Chili’s, and all of the clothing store brands in the big [expensive] mall near their place.

First thing we learned about Ecuador is its wacky monetary policy. They dollarized a while back and now use the US$. Nothing weird there until you try to buy a Coke with a $10 bill and the store clerk looks at you blankly and asks if you have anything smaller, or just plain refuses to sell to you because they can’t produce change. They seriously have a lack of physical money in this country. And had we known in advance [Ryan!] we probably wouldn’t have brought in a stack of hundreds, instead cashing them in for rolls of quarters in Miami.

The second thing we learned is they like cheese. Cheese on everything and in everything. Ecuador the home of chocolate, potatoes and bananas, and cheese will go in all three of these. Blocks of chocolate are melted and then blended with small pieces of cheese for a chocolate con queso. Potatoes are mashed and mixed with cheese and fried as pancakes to form llapingachos. Finally, green plantains are sliced down the center, filled with cheese and then grilled to become platanos con queso.  The cheese that most locals seek out is unpasteurized cheese packaged in its own brine. It tastes fine, sort of like dry cottage cheese, but I cannot tell the difference between the flavours of it.

The third thing we learned is that there’s way too much to see and do here. We failed miserably at doing any research before landing here, but fortunately Ryan & Nuala (Nuala mostly) have put together a sightseeing binder after having so many visitors since they’ve been here.  After hashing and rehashing a timetable, Julie & I’ve decided to extend our stay by one week. It cost us the amount of one of our flights down here to make the change, but it will permit us to see most everything and do a little bit of travelling with Ryan & Nuala.

Julie’s Spanish language skills are coming back nicely, so she’s handling the dialogue although I think I’m better on knowing the numbers, just like Ryan can conduct full-on business conversations but Nuala’s better at simple words like “fork” (it’s a tenador).

Anyhow, Ryan & Nuala have set us up very comfortably in their apartment here in Quito. It’s going to prove to be quite handy to be able to leave behind some of our big bags while we go off on small trips around the country. The best perk is their little (quite little, literally) cleaning lady Carmen who tidies our room and does [some of] our laundry in between escapades. We’re so spoiled!

Haciendas and Andean markets

The cultural concert that was scheduled for tonight was cancelled (and then re-instated – that’s Ecuador!), thus Ryan & Nuala became free to take off for the weekend. The embassy office shuts down early on Fridays so we managed to get out of town a [little] bit earlier. Although it took us a while to get going after stopping for a snack at KFC and plodding through traffic. Driving in Ecuador seems quite similar to Malaysian Borneo: two-way traffic on windy roads through the mountains with large slow trucks belching exhaust and crazy people passing wildly on corners. Eventually you join the crazies because you get sick of breathing diesel smoke and also get impatient at going so slow. Otavalo is relatively close to Quito, but the drive takes so long due to traffic.
hacienda pinsaquiHosteria Hacienda Pinsaqui is a historic (tres siglos de historia - 3 centuries of history) hacienda located 5km north of Otavalo on the Panamerican highway. When it was built in 1790 it was originally a textile factory, but then an earthquake levelled most of the place and new owners turned it into a hotel. Revolutionary Simon Bolivar stayed at the place while en route from Quito to Bogota and an  important treaty between Ecuador and Columbia was signed in the room that's now the bar.  It's all pretty neat, and the rooms that were shown to us all smelled really old (that museum smell) but were very nicely decorated and equipped. We chose #6 with two double beds, a fireplace plus the added option of a loft bed above the bathroom.  Since the place is owned by a grandson of a former ambassador, they try to maintain diplomatic relations and as such Ryan’s presence ensured our comfort.
A "surprise" concert was put on for us by a local band of brothers who played traditional Andean music (pan flutes and guitars/mandolins and drum) while we enjoyed cinnamon tea with sugarcane alcohol in it (tasty - a perfect winter drink!) and then were encouraged to dance around while being poured shots of liquorice liquor by Hector. Pretty fun with the small crowd of guests.

We had dinner in the dinner at pinsaquirestaurant with an adorable little Otavaleno lady (standing up she was as tall as Ryan & I sitting down!) as our server. The food (I had Carne Colorada - locally spiced beef) was good and we're getting used to enjoying freshly made juices once again! 
We had some drinks in the room and played cards for hours (Julie never lost “president”) while the fire warmed up the room.

Reservations: Ph: (593-6)294-6116, manager Hector

Photos of this weekend –>

Monday, June 15, 2009

Living the island lifestyle in Bermuda

Click here for pictures of BermudaTo sum up Bermuda: it’s nice here!  Flying in over the turquoise  waters, seeing an odd tall ship sailing in, and then the rainbow of pastel-coloured houses with their white roofs gleaming in the sun, we were pretty excited to be heading towards sun & sand after the cold weather in New Zealand.

Julie’s sister Chantal had been bugging Julie about not visiting her during our around-the-world voyage, however it was Chantal who almost missed the visit due to an off-island volleyball tournament.

Chantal and Rob had a bunch of events lined up for us over the weekend, which turned out to be a long weekend for the Queen’s birthday.  Julie & I had one day to recuperate from the jet lag and relax on the beach before the parties began.

Bermuda was playing host to the Tall Ships this weekend and it put the whole place in a festive mood, along with jamming the place up with tourists. I was pretty happy to see the big boats in the harbour, but since nobody else was all that interested we didn’t go aboard to take more in-depth looks. But they were impressive, sitting in Hamilton harbour with their flags waving.

Tall ships

To visit Bermuda is a good time. Lots to see and do and the people are nice.  To live in Bermuda is a good time too, as from what we found a lot of peoples’ (expats) jobs are pretty slack, after work is golf or drinks, weekends are out on a boat with drinks, or floating in the water with drinks, or out on the beach, with drinks. We came from NZ where pub-culture is alive and well, but these folks give them a run for their money!  Needless to say, that’s what our weekend entailed for the most part.

The ritzy Princess Hotel plays host to an after-work garden party on Fridays where we got to sample the Bermudian drinks of “swizzle” (rum punch) and a “dark’n’stormy” (dark rum with ginger beer).  As the night progressed Julie started ordering swizzles with an extra shot of rum for good measure. By the time we met up with Rob and his mates at the Pickled Onion, we’d swizzled enough.Bobbing along, beer in hand

Saturday saw us sailing on the Sally Bum Bum for another typical Bermudian scene.  The rains spared us in our little bay and it was pretty fun hanging out on the boat, or in the water floating on noodles. It’s weird how drained you feel after an afternoon of floating around drinking beer, but we were knackered when we got home. Which is a good thing becuase we needed to rest up for tomorrow’s volleyball tournament.

Now Chantal plays volleyball seriously as a member of Bermuda’s national team. So she’s good. The rest of us (myself, Julie and Rob) don’t count volleyball among our skill sets. So as the DesBrownskis took to the sands for the beach volleyball tournament we weren’t expecting to do well, at all.  But we managed to pull off a couple wins and occasionally showed good form, coordinating with each other to complete the 3 hits per volley.  Regardless it was a great day on a great beach (Horseshoe Bay) and sweet as to jump into the azul waters to cool off betweens sets. And to wash the sand off.


We capped off our Bermudian vacation with a BBQ at Chantal & Rob’s place. Andrew caught up with an old roommate (Nicole) from university who’s now an islander and learned that there are a bunch of Winnipeggers who’ve decided accounting in Bermuda is better than at home.

As the Tall Ships sailed on, so did we – starting our journey back south of the equator to Ecuador.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Best. Layover. Ever.

When planning our flights from Auckland, NZ to Bermuda via Los Angeles, one may have thought we were insane to schedule two consecutive red-eye flights. But in the effort to get to the island as soon as possible while leaving significant time in LA to actually leave the airport and do something, this is how it worked. And the flights were pretty cheap. (C$338 each to fly from LAX-BDA-MIA on Delta. C$604 each MIA-UIO-LAX on AA.)

9 June 2009

In our final few hours in New Zealand we hurriedly packed up our room in Dylan’s flat. It took us a while to muster the courage to tackle that room – it had become filled with clothes, books, tourist pamphlets, CD’s, receipts, bags, notes, etc.  We filled a big blue box and found that we had a pile of stuff that would need to be shipped home (that wasn’t surprising).  After considering the costs of click to see larger imageshipping a large, heavy box home, we elected to buy another cheap piece of luggage and ferry it home ourselves. Why pay for shipping when our flights already included two pieces of luggage (@23kg) each?  Then came the fun part of trying to spend every last Kiwi cent at the airport.  (Jenn: you’re requested chocolate bar is in my bag. You may get it sometime, unless it gets smushed or confiscated by customs somewhere.)  The Air New Zealand trans-Pacific flight was pretty good. Food was fine (Moroccan lamb was tasty) but I gotta remember that eggs are never good on an airplane!  We were both surprised at how little we slept on the 12hr flight – me especially since I think I slept more than Julie (!) listening to Kiwi reggae-dub music while she watched a couple of movies.

9 June 2009 - PST

Andrew had researched various activities for us to do during the layover: myriad beaches are within a short drive of LAX – Manhattan, Hermosa, famous Venice beach; television show taping – Tonight Show was sold out due to transition between Leno & Conan, and Jimmy Kimmel promptly sold-out when he booked Paris Hilton before I claimed tickets.  It wasn’t until I had received an email saying that the Tragically Hip (one of Canada’s premier rock bands, affectionately referred to as “God’s Band” by a former Winnipeg DJ Brian Cook) were adding a fourth show in Winnipeg. I went to their website to check the dates, and while scrolling down to find Winnipeg I noticed that they had some gigs in LA – and on the day we’d be there!  A quick scan on Ticketmaster told me that for the price of one good ticket in Winnipeg I could get us both into the show in LA – that and I couldn’t even find 2 tickets for any of the Winnipeg shows.  So we booked ourselves in.  Making it even more of a tantalizing option was that the LA show would be in a landmark rock’n’roll venue in West Hollywood – an intimate venue where many famous rock legends of yore made their debuts. Check it out on

Arriving in LA we were greeted with the same overcast skies that we left in Auckland, which didn’t lend itself to going to the beach.  That didn’t matter anyway because after finally getting ourselves sorted out in the airport (changing terminals & checking in for next flight) we used up a third of our layover time.  We learned a few things here: hawkers set themselves up outside of the international doors trying to sell you stuff; there are no longer any storage lockers in the airport after 9/11; air travel within/to/from the USA is not as enjoyable as elsewhere in the world (holy security-paranoia batman!).

We had rented a car to get around and we had a laugh as we got in the car and the steering wheel was on the “wrong” side. And then we had another laugh as Andrew turned on the wipers instead of signalling. And Julie screamed a couple of times as the car turned into the right lane instead of the left. But we managed. And the GPS helped a bit too.

We had lunch at a “Westfield’s” mall in Beverly Hills. It caught our eye because Westfield’s operates all the big malls in Auckland. We took advantage of the Fuddruckers to fill our stomachs with a big burger and Julie got randomly complimented on her purse - “oh! I like your purse – who’s it by?” – by a bloke, which was the weird part. But I guess this is Beverly Hills…

We desperately needed coffee before heading back to the Troubadour. And luckily Andrew studied the map a bit more and realized that there’s a much faster way of getting back to West Hollywood – take the freeway!  With that, we made it to the show just in time.

A long line-up greeted us at the venue, along with a hand-scribbled note saying “show sold out!” so we were pretty happy we already had tickets. Passersby would see the line and ask who was playing, only to respond with a blank look and a shrug.

The interior of the place was so small! Smaller than the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg for sure.  I’m not sure what capacity was.  Doors opened at 8, and the band got on just after 9 to loud cheers and chants of “Hip, Hip, Hip”.

While ordering a drink at the bar, I noticed one fellow ask for “CC” and the bartender went off in search of the bottle. She found it, came back, poured the drink and place the bottle back on the shelf. The next customer asked for the same, sending her back across the bar to retrieve the bottle. By the time she got to me, and i also ordered a “CC & dry”, I suggested to her that she keep the bottle handy. She exclaimed “yeah, if only we’d known that we’d be getting a bunch of Canadians in here tonight!”

Gord Downie rocks out at The TroubadourThe concert was awesome. It was such a treat to see these guys up close, and perhaps the band also felt it was a treat to be so close to their fans again. Gord had guys in the front strum his guitar and he rubbed some bald dude’s head. The place was packed solid, and it got super hot in there. I can’t say much more about the show other than it was great! They mostly played songs from the new album “we are the same” during the first set, interspersed with some oldies like “new Orleans is sinking”.  They took a break after an hour, and I started to fret that we’d have to leave as soon as they got back on stage. Fortunately they come back and started the second set with an acoustic set, which was pretty neat.  After the third song I tugged Julie to the door, until they started into one of my favourites “Nautical disaster” at which point Julie had to tug me out the door.  dammit.

So off we go! 80mph down the freeway to the airport, return the car (we drove so little we didn’t even have to add gas!), jump on the shuttle bus, run in through security, and then wait… We got there with loads of free time, teasing us with the possibility that we could’ve seen more of the concert. Ah well.  Time to settle in for our second iteration of our “groundhog day” red-eye flights.

Link to Pictures

Monday, June 8, 2009

The best of Nueva Zelanda

Here’s the stuff that I’ll miss from this place.

  1. amazing scenery.  It’s everywhere. north island, south island. everywhere.
    • but there’s a catch – a lot of it’s starting to look the same. Same quaint little seaside towns. Same quirky little small towns in the interior.
  2. Wine. I thought Australia had wine regions! This country’s got them all over! And they do them quite well – sauvignon blanc pretty much put this place on the global wine map. But then there’s all the other varieties that each little climatic zone has targeted: Marlborough Sav Blanc, Otago Pinot Noir,
    Our favourites are:
    1. Rockburn [central Otago] Pinot Noir 2008, ~$50 (full-on good stuff)
    2. Mission Estate Gewurztraminer, $30 (a sweet, light gewurzt but with a bit of spice that makes it good)
    3. Montana Sav Blanc, ~$15 (we drank loads of this during summer mostly because it was always on sale at Foodtown)
    4. Omaha Bay Vineyard OBV “the Impostor” Flora, ~$25 (semi-sweet wine with citrus flavours)
    5. Heron’s Flight Sangeovese
    6. Matua Estate [Marlborough] Pinot Noir
  3. Mac’s Sundance beer – I think this beer wins the “best of the trip” award. Surprisingly it’s a wheat beer (I usually don’t like ‘em) but it’s bloody tasty! 
      Quoth the bottle: “every season plays host to some sort of unhinged behaviour, and this year the sun has bake our brains long enough to give birth to SUN DANCE, Mac’s own summer ale. It’s not so much the wheat malts we’ve used to quench your post-swingball, pre-backgammon thirst, or indeed the Riwaka hops we added late in the boil for a suggestion of citrus and exotic fruits. It’s more the lemongrass.  Only in summer could anyone come up with an idea as crazy as pacific-rim fusion beer.”
      1. Close seconds: Monteith’s Radler (quite similar to above), Mac’s Gold or Speight's (just a good straight-up beer), Steinlager Pure (if you want a premium brew). For such a small country they brew an incredible amount of beer here! And for the most part, it’s all pretty good.
    1. Cheese – New Zealand does dairy. New Zealand produces about 3% of the world’s dairy products, but Fonterra markets about 60%+ of the world’s export dairy products. Anyhow, yeah, the cheese here is good. My favourite is “colby”
      • I’m going to expand this to just say that they’ve got dairy freakin’ covered here. Cheese is one thing, but the milk is super – they’ve got this one brand that’s marketed as “milk for blokes”! Basically it’s low fat, skim milk but it’s creamy tasting instead of watery. Choice!
      • Cheese of choice is Mainland brand Colby (
      • And then there’s the yoghurt.
      • And the ice cream…
    2. Lisa’s Hummus: this stuff’s goooood. Look it up. somebody import it. please. The Jalapeno & Lime is probably our favourite one.
    3. Seafood: NZ’s an island, surrounded by ocean so naturally they’re going to have some good seafood here. Our favourites are:
      • New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Preferably in the pineapple/coconut-milk mixture @ Sahara. Else, they’re good in either a cream or tomato-based sauce.
      • Snapper: lightly breaded and fried at home, or deep-fried at a fish’n’chips shop.
      • Kingfish: we bought it on a whim from a fishmonger, grilled it up at home and it was deelish!
      • Orange roughy: same as the king fish, well no. Kingfish is like a steak, the roughy is light, fluffy and tasty.
    4. Mackenzie Station Seed & Grain Bread. Thick cut, heavy on the grains, great taste. At nearly five bucks a pop it’s expensive stuff, but compared to the rest of the dismal-looking super-thinly-sliced stuff, it’s well worth it!
    5. Fashion. Julie was right – they do like to dress nicely here. Although, it’s all black for the most part.  I’m just impressed with the number of ‘home-grown’ clothing stores for such a small country. Barkers, Meccano, all sorts of woollens, IceBreaker (huge fan!), and others I can’t think of, but they’re probably all owned by some Auzzie outfit.
    6. L&P. No, not Lee & Perrins Worchestershire sauce. Lemon and Paeroa. World famous in New Zealand, this soda is a cross between ginger ale and 7up. Tasty-as, it’s a perfect mix for New Zealand’s 42Below feijoa vodka.  Otherwise it’s just refreshing!
    7. Flight of the Conchords; a comedy duo a la “Bob & Doug”. We’d heard about this show from Julie’s friend Candice, and we happened to catch an FOTC marathon on New Year’s Eve day and were immediately hooked. The two guys have a very dry humour, and you could say it’s similar to Canadian humour in that sense. Check it out:



    Best Day trip from Auckland
    • Waitakere Ranges (Piha & Bethels beaches, forest walks)
    • Matakana (wineries and scenic coastline)
    Best Boat Cruise
    • Haparanda Sailing (boat charter for Andrew’s birthday)
    • Perfect Day Cruise (Tutukaka)
    Favourite Winery
    • Trinity Hill (Hawke’s Bay)
    • Omaha Bay Vineyard [OBV] (Matakana; great views from the hilltop over the bay)
    Fave Restaurant (AKL)
    • Mai Thai (CBD)
    • Sake Bar Rikka (Victoria Park)
    Fave Restaurant (elsewhere) Sahara Mediterranean, Orewa (
    Best Farmer’s Market Parnell
    Or Matakana is good too.
    Favourite bar The chain of Mac’s Brewpubs: Steamship Lines down on Quay street close to our place, Nuffield up in Newmarket and the new one in Kingsland. All have great interior design, and of course loads of Mac’s Beer on tap.
    Favourite Drive
    • Lake Tekapo to Milford Sound if you’re up for a solid 8hr drive through some majestic scenery.
    • For a nice Sunday arvo drive, head east from Auckland around the coastal highway.
    • Andrew thinks that the incredibly twisty road up through the Mangamuka Gorge was pretty fun.
    Favourite mates


    you know who you are

    • Dylan the Villain and our other flatmate Becs
    • Joel, from Vancouver
    • Niall & Nadine
    • Ty & Lauren, the other Canadians
    • Doug & Amy, the “bohemian” Brits
    • JP & Clare, the skydive specialists

    We’ll miss ya! and hope to one day play host for you in the tourist hot-spot of Winnipeg!

    Farewell New Zealand, it’s been a blast!



    Friday, May 29, 2009

    Andrew & Julie’s Top 10

    Okay, this isn't a top ten list. It’s just a list of the highlights of our RTW trip so far.

    We wrote this while having dinner in a waterside restaurant (35° South) in the little town of Paihia on the Bay of Islands, NZ. The dinner itself wasn’t anything to write home about but we did enjoy reminiscing while thinking of our favourite experiences.  We haven’t blogged about too many of them, so perhaps this is the first time we are sharing them with the world.

    Biggest personal growth or learning experience J: valuing relationships, there’s 
    “no place like home”
      A: becoming less risk averse,
    recognising the good relationship with Julie
    Most interesting learning: J: Buddhism, plight of Thai lady-boys IMG_4146
      A: Forbidden City IMG_3595
    Scariest moment: J: fear of being locked inside the Summer Palace gates in the pouring rain (Beijing) IMG_3416
      A: hot, overcrowded boat departing Haiphong to Halong Bay. (and see above) train ride to the boat
    Greatest drama J: taxi crash in Istanbul  
      A: Julie’s friends!, or personally learning that a friend who I thought was married is now not, and is now gay. oops.  
    Favourite drink J: Otago Pinot Noir IMG_0806
      A: watermelon shake

    I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of us drinking one!

    Favourite cheer J:
    “Whoop, whoop!”
    – Tara, kayak guide in Milford Sound
    “More of everything!”
    –Dylan, AKL flatmate
    Favourite saying J: “mmmmm” = “yes” in Kiwi-speak, also “sweet as” and “choice”  
      A: “can-not” said with a Swedish accent –David at Seedaeng guesthouse, KohSamui  
    Biggest over-hype J: Great Ocean Road, Australia IMG_8742
      A: Patong town, Phuket Patong Beach Road
    Worst tour J: Chiang Mai mountain trip what kind of raft doesn't float??
      A: Koh Samui boat trip to marine reserve with bad snorkelling IMG_3485
    Favourite meal J: Lao She Teahouse Chinese food, Beijing click to view larger photo
      A: home-made Vietnamese lunch during CatBa trek story
    Worst meal J: Bambi kebaps, Istanbul (sick for the next day+) IMG_3133
      A: ABC meal-replacement drink at KK market IMG_6660
    Best new food J: Thai pomello fruit IMG_6093
      A: Feijoa fruit (NZ), or Nashi pears (NZ)  
    Worst new food J: Durian fruit read the story
      A: DURIAN! gawd! those were awful tasting!
    Best market J: Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, AUS  
      A: KK Night Market, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo IMG_6654
    Favourite night out J: Lan Kwai district, Hong Kong (cheap martinis, people watching) IMG_3702
      A: meeting Bruce Nesbit in Melbourne (pub, restaurant, wine bar) IMG_9124
    Best hike J: Rob Roy Track, South Island, NZ IMG_0704
      A: Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo IMG_6746
    Best hotel/lodging J: Great Ocean Road Cottages, Lorne, AUS IMG_9176
      A: Museum Hotel, Wellington, NZ.
    …although Seedaeng guesthouse in Samui was a great place to hang out.
    Best day trip J: Halong Bay hike/lunch/boat IMG_4035
      A: Similan Islands, Phuket, Thailand IMG_6184
    Favourite City J: Hong Kong IMG_3578
      A: Istanbul IMG_3347
    Most sketchy circumstance J: boat ride to full moon party,
      A: Hostel in Kowloon, HK    
    Scooter transport in Halong Bay