A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: debbep

New York City

A girls get away

sunny 18 °C

May 4th, 2018

Jane and I are off on another adventure, this time to New York! I have been to New York before with Doug around 8 years ago but this is Jane's first time

We booked Air Canada from Vancouver non stop to Newark and it was on time and a pleasant flight. We arranged Dial 7 to pick us up and so when we arrived we texted them we were here, they sent a text back with the drivers name, type of car and number and he would be there in a few minutes. He arrived shortly after and negotiated the very busy Friday night rush hour traffic to time square in just over an hour .

We realized we would have time to get to a play tonight so booked theatre tickets on the drive with ticketmaster on line

We checked into hotel Edison which was seamless and dropped our bags off in the room. We have a basic room with two queen beds, it is plain but clean and spacious. They have great pillows and towels and the location is 1/2 block off time square which is what we wanted. The only compliant was the internet which was terrible in the room but fine in the lobby.

We grabbed a quick bite next door at Pret a manger and made our way to see Kinky Boots, a 3 minute walk. This was the highlight of our trip so we were so glad our flight arrived on time and we could see this. I got tickets in row 6 for $129 with a ticketmaster discount code but I think almost any seat would have been fine. The music costumes and story was fantastic and it was hysterical. It ran from 8pm to around 1030.

We stopped on the way back at Juniors for some amazing New York cheesecake

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Day 2.

We decided to do the hop on hop off bus and Top View was outside our hotel so we used them There was so much construction in new York and a lot of buildings under scaffolding and netting it really took away from the tour. I have done this before and found it was not as good this time. We hopped off at little Italy and wandered around for a while and then spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get back to hop on again. We found some great little delis for pecorino cheese, fruit etc to eat for lunch as we moved about. We really didn't stop to have a sit down meal at all this entire trip which I know is sacrilegious to many but we really just didn't want to spend the time

After a rest in the room we went to see Lion King, which we bought tickets for months ago. We had first row balcony which gave a great view of the stage. The costumes and sets were amazing and we enjoyed it. ( But enjoyed Kinky Boots more)

On the way back I saw a bunch of people lined up outside a doorway, so stopped to ask why and they were waiting for Denzel Washington to come out to his waiting car after his show. Eventually he came out smiling but didn't stop, he had just done two shows that day so I am sure he was tired. It was exciting all the same and I got a decent picture

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Another cheesecake at juniors but this time we split it and then to an Irish pub for a drink and met some great young people

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Day 3

Our second day of the hop on hop off bus ( we bought a two day ticket) so we decided to take it to Central Park but couldn’t get on the first one as it was too full and the next one looked doubtful so we decided on plan b.

Tried to figure out the subway system which to us seemed very confusing and not very tourist friendly. We asked many people who were all willing to help but everyone gave different directions. I read somewhere that if a train pulls up and all the cars are crowded except one, don't get in that one. Well I forgot and quickly found out why. There were s couple of men down on their luck and in desperate need of a shower. We changed cars at the next stop

We went to Central Park to try to get onto a bike tour but there wasn't one until 1PM and it was now just after 10. There was also a big bike rally or something in the park so made arrangement for another tour tomorrow at 10AM. We went to the stop for the bus tour and had to wait for two busses but eventually got on and did the uptown route. I can't say i was very impressed. If I were to do it again I would rather hire a car, convertible preferably, and driver to take us around and go down some of the side streets as that seemed to be the most interesting places.

At the “Frick museum” we got off and spent a couple hours there . It is a beautiful donated home, mansion, that has a large private collection of art including Rembrandt Vermeer and Matisse to name a few. The decor and architecture was beautiful and it was nice and small, perfect for a short museum stop. I have been to the MOMO, Natural history and metropolitan before , all of which are amazing, so this was just perfect as a short visit.

We decided to forget the hop on bus and took the subway and made our way to the world trade centre memorial. When I was here last time it was still a big hole in the ground, it now it is a beautiful waterfall sculpture in the ground. We met a young woman who was employed by the memorial and she was a wealth of information. It is really well worth a visit for sure, very moving and so well done in my opinion.

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We headed to the mall across the street to a food fair, but with great food stalls, and had some lunch

Back on the subway to East Village and the Orpheum theatre to see “Stomp”. We sat in the balcony, front row which offered a great view but not for the faint of heart. A very steep climb up and steep pitch . Front row is not the best choice in the balcony as your knees are right up against a railing and I am not that tall. Second row would be better as the pitch is so steep you will see right over whom ever is in front of you

This was a very enjoyable show and unlike the other two we saw. It was like watching street performers inside, a very clever high energy show.

We didn't realize that there are no plays on broadway on Sunday or Monday evenings, theatres are dark on those days so we were happy to hear of this one.

Grabbed the subway back to time square where we walked about and people watched for a while which is always interesting

Day 4. Our last day in New York

This is going to be a busy day so we took the subway to the bike rental and were there an hour early. In hind sight we should have just rented bikes on our own for a couple of hours, but we waited for the tour. We used the bike rental associated with top view bus tours. The bikes were great, staff was good, but our guide was terrible.

He showed up late, was unorganized, took us to the park and told us to be sure to stay on the bike lane and not the walker/runner lane and yet he rode in the middle of that lane the entire time, there were only five women on the tour which was great, but he took a liking to this young single woman and rode beside her and pointed out all the sights as we rode, which the rest of us didn't hear.

The ride though the park itself was beautiful with all the spring flowers in bloom and not too crowded being a Monday. As I said, in hind sight I wish we had done our own thing. At the end he asked for a tip. Not likely. I will report on trip advisor as the company seems great, just a bad employee.

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Back to the subway , getting the hang of it now, and straight to Battery park for Ellis island. I stood in this very long line up while my friend went to buy tickets. We tried to buy on line but couldn't seem to get any after 1PM departure so decided to take our chances.

It was about an hours wait, it was quite warm out but not the 39 degrees of the previous week, it was quite pleasant.

The Statue of Liberty is still as breathtaking as the first time I saw it. We did not get off but continued on to Ellis Island as they closed at 4. We used the included headphones and I enjoyed it just as much as I did on my first visit. It is quite a moving place and very well done.

Making our way back to our hotel by subway, ( wow we are pros now!) we stopped to see grand central station on the way which is impressive There was a great street performer in the subway which was nice, I was surprised this was the only one I saw the time we were here

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A quick rest at the hotel, my feet are killing me, and then we grabbed a cab to Macy's on 34 th. for last minute shopping

We are from small towns so felt like kids in a candy store, three floors of women’s clothing. OH MY!!! My energy level seemed to come back up again ha ha

I found a few great items, all at 30./. Off which would compensate for the exchange rate from Cdn to Usd.

We shopped until the 10 pm closing time, and could have stayed longer but my Visa card was burning up already.

Last day.

Home to Vancouver via Toronto, a few hiccups with our flights but it all worked out and we had to overnight in Vancouver anyhow as the ferries to the island don't run late. We live on Vancouver Island.

Overall New York was a great little get away. Our highlight was Kinky Boots, which we were afraid wouldn't happen but grateful it did. Loved Central Park, the Frick, 911 memorial.

I was agonizing what to pack, we just brought small carry on luggage, but it seems anything goes here. There were people in the theatre in gowns next to people in t shirts and shorts. What ever you are comfortable in is just fine. Most folks in the street seemed to go for comfort.

Our costs from Vancouver to New York including air and four nights at the Hotel Edison with two beds was $1100 CDN each all in, booked on Expedia together which saved us money.

Posted by debbep 20:55 Archived in USA Tagged new york Comments (0)

Baja Mexico and Arizona

Family and friends

sunny 26 °C

January 24, 2018.
Originally we were going to drive down south from Vancouver but a couple of weeks prior decided to fly to Palm Springs instead. We picked up a car at the airport and spent a couple of nights with friends who were renting a home there.

We drove north to Twenty Nine Palms to spend the night and explore Joshua tree park . That evening we went into the park to see the sunset but ended up at the wrong place, but it was still beautiful.

The following day we made a stop to the museum and walked around the little trails there and then made our way through the park, stopping now and then for hikes and eventually ending up in Blythe California

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The following day we made our way to Phoenix where we drooped the car and overnighted near the airport to catch our flight in the morning to San Jose Mexico.

BAJA MEXICO.

Our flight arrived shortly before our friends and then we all went to the rental car area to pick up our small sedan for the next 6 days. We chose MexCar upon recommendations form trip advisor forums and the total was $228 USD including insurance.

Our hotel for the one night in San Jose was Marisol Boutique hotel which we really liked and would have loved to stay longer. 1924 MEX per night double private bath. There was a great restaurant next door for dinner and then we went to La Comer to do some grocery shopping.

Driving north the next day to Los Cerritos, the following 4 nights were spent at Olas De Cerritos in Los Cerritos near Todos Santos. A really cute small place, block to the beach, communal kitchen and great pool. Four nights was $288USD per couple. There were a number a good cafes close by, spent lots of time at the beach. The beach was known as safe swimming but I was uncomfortable with the undertow. Jacki went in and had a blast. There were lots of surfing lessons on this beach

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One night we went up to the big beautiful hotel on the hill and had dinner on the terrace. The food and service was great and prices were no more than anywhere else.

Todos Santos for a day and then exploring the area around it as well. Of course a leamonaid in the Hotel California was in order.

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On Feb 1st we made our way back to the airport to switch the car for a seven seater van with the same company. A big grocery shop at La Comer again and we checked into our home for the next eight nights, a five bedroom condo at Marina Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas. $3071USD for the eight nights. We have a large pool and a short walk to a swimming beach while being close to the nightlife and shopping as well.
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The guys went to pick up our grown kids at the airport while Jacki and I unpacked and did food prep for dinner. My two boys Taylor and Reese were joining us as well as Jacki's daughter Alexa and we were very excited.

The week was spent on the beach, basking under umbrellas and having a dip now and then, going into town for dancing a few times, karaoke, shopping and just hanging out.

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One night we went into San Jose for an art walk which was fun.

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A whale watching tour had been prearranged for us so we drove to La Paz one morning and spent the day snorkelling with sea lions and then we each had two swims, two or three of us at a time, with a young whale shark. She was around seventeen feet long. It was very exciting.

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All too soon our kids have to fly back, we switch the van back to a sedan, and head to the east coast to El Pescadero. A studio each for four nights at Olas De Cerritos for $288USD per couple. It was a great place, good food, nice small pool. We explored the area, went on a crazy road to find this amazing snorkel beach, had some great meals and did a bit of shopping.

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Feb 15th we drove back to the airport to drop off the car and wait for our flights, our friends returning to Vancouver and we were heading back to Phoenix.

Our flight was late, we were tired, but picked up our rental car to drive north to Flagstaff. The fellow at Budget rent a car said it was snowing in Flagstaff and the roads were terrible we had to have an SUV. I had looked at the roads, weather etc and said, no we will be fine. He convinced my husband to upgrade and I was too tired to argue. For a large sum of money we were off in a vehicle that we did not know how to drive. We had to ask someone how to turn it on even! These new vehicles are so easy now that they make they complicated for us older folk ha ha.

We arrived in Flagstaff late at night, (no snow or ice in sight) and checked into the Americas Best Value motel for only $42. I wasn't expecting much but it was clean and nice and included a typical American continental breakfast.

We drove north to Page the next morning but veered off to see Monument Valley which was spectacular.

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Arriving late in Page we checked into La Quinta suites and got a great deal on booking.com for two nights at $188USD . A massive breakfast was included too. The staff was wonderful.

Upper Antelope Canyon was pre booked, which is necessary , so the next morning we met at the office and were transported with about 10 others by truck to the site just out of the centre of town.

This was a very easy walk though the canyon, and very crowded. The upper one is narrow at the top and wider at the bottom which is the opposite of the lower one. It was stunning!

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A picnic lunch was grabbed at the grocery store and we headed off to Horseshoe Bend. It was hot out and the park was packed. It is a long weekend in the USA, Presidents Day, plus Chinese new year so a lot of large Chinese groups here.

This park is scary. Steep drop offs, kids running around, women in heels near the edge and no guard rails. You have to get to the edge to see the river. If a big wind came up over you would go. I belly crawled along the rocks to the edge to get this picture. It was a bit of a slog up the hill to get back to the parking lot. It had been a long but very satisfying day.

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Lower Canyon was seen the next day. For this one you drive yourself there, it is across the highway from the Upper Canyon. There are two company offices here, brother and sister, we chose Dixie Ellis. We had booked this well in advance as well and glad we did and they were turning people away.

Different from the Upper you climbed down stairs to get to the bottom and slowly climb stairs over different areas to make your way to the top. It was not very physically challenging. More so that it was a narrow walkway than the stairs really. It was different from the upper but just , if not more, beautiful. We are glad we did both.
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A quick lunch and then we headed south, veering off to see the Grand Canyon for a short time. We are glad we did, it was a great view point

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After sunset we made our way to Sedona and stayed at the Green Tree Inn for $95USD per night. It was a fine room with included American Continental breakfast.

After checking out the next morning we explored Sedona and went for a couple of short hikes in the area before making our way south to see friends in Tuscon. We spent three nights visiting them before heading to Mesa to spend time with friends there for a few days.

SEDONA
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Around Mesa we explored a fair amount taking in the local sights.

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Another great trip

Posted by debbep 19:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach baja Comments (0)

Ireland

And a couple of days in Scotland

rain 12 °C

Day 1 (in Ireland). Monday Sept 18, 2017

Doug arrived the day prior but I figured he would be jet lagged so I stayed in Italy and extra day. I arrived at the hotel in Dublin and waited in the room for him to return from exploring. I was so surprised how expensive Dublin was when looking at rooms to book. Holy cow. We ended up with The Ripley Court hotel, double private bath, for 240E two nights. It was just fine. It also included a large English breakfast.
We went out for Thai food at a restaurant close by after Doug returned. He was disappointed as he wanted to go to the Museum but it was closed on Mondays.

Day 2 we made our way back to the airport by bus to pick up our rental car. We chose Budget booked on Expedia, for $114 CDN for the week and used our insurance from our ICBC at home and also the VISA card insurance. Quite a bargain really.

Heading East on the highway was not very exciting, but we wanted to get to Spiddal for our first night. The weather was rainy and not great, but we arrived at the coastal town around 5PM. Our little BandB, An Caladh Gearr Thatch cottage was so cute. The owner was a very charming friendly and helpful woman. We were greeted with some delicious scones and tea before being shown to our room She wanted to know what we wanted to do and would help with advice as much as she could. Doug and I had not booked any more rooms for this week, we are just going to see where we end up, but she gave us some great ideas. 78 Euros a night and a massive breakfast included. Irish breakfast are huge. We saw this outdoor laundromat which we thought was unique.

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Day 3. We decided to head south now. Still a rainy windy day. We stopped at Dunguaire castle and also Poulnaborne Dolmen and the Cliffs of Moher.

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We made our way down to Kilkee where we found a cute little BnB for the night in the countryside

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Day 4

The cliffs around Kilkee rivalled Moher and we loved exploring this area. We took the ferry across to the Dingle Peninsula and found a BnB on the main drag for two nights. We really liked Dingle as well. There are more pubs than people here. The weather was great the first day so we explored the Dingle peninsula which was beautiful. At night we ate at the pubs, met some nice young people and listened to local Irish music.
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Day 5. A very wet and rainy day. We did a bit of exploring but glad we did our drive yesterday. A small museum was close by and we spent some time there

Day 6.
Today we headed to Killarney as Doug wanted to see Ross Castle, wondering if it might be part of his heritage, but turned out not to be. Muckross is just outside Killarney and I was lucky to secure a BnB for two nights at the Friar Glens by far our favourite place on this trip. It was right outside the park and the red deer were so big with massive antlers I was sure they must have been elk. The hosts were fantastic, an outstanding breakfast (baileys irish cream on our oatmeal) and the grounds were superb. I felt like I was in the Queens country get away.

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Day 8 and 9 were spent exploring Muckross. Across the road was the old abby which was amazing and then we walked along a country road to get to the park and explore the castle and grounds.

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I was so tired after a day of walking about that we hired this horse and carriage to take us back to the car. Money well spent.

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We did two drives out to Ladies View. We decided not to do the full Ring of Kerry as the Dingle peninsula was so gorgeous . They had a great little restaurant at the viewpoint where we had soup twice. We find that Ireland has wonderful soups, and all are vegetarian too.

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A BnB from the 1800s was our home tonight, Abby House, across the road from the Jerpoint Abby. For dinner we went into town of Jerpoint to a new Indian Restaurant which had amazing food. Our room was very old, quaint and charming.

Day 11

Doug had fresh caught trout for breakfast. The included breakfasts in Ireland are amazing. We explored the old mill on site and then walked across the street to the Abby. It was amazing. We are so glad we stumbled on this quite by accident. The best kind of travels.
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Our last stop in Ireland was in Aughrim, county Wicklow. A very old BNB called Clone House from the 1600s. The new owners are from the US and they are spending a lot of time and money renovating this gorgeous home.
We had been to Wicklow in the early 80s as a newly married couple and so it was exciting to see if how we remembered it was the same or not. The main attraction here is the ruins at Glendalough . We explore upon arrival which I am so glad we did as it was not raining and the weather was actually quite pleasant.

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Day 12. Miserable windy rainy day. The worst one yet. We just hung around in the living room reading for most of the morning and then ventured into town to find some lunch. A very low key day on our last one in Ireland.

SCOTLAND

Thursday September 28, 2017. Up early to drive to Dublin to drop off the car and fly to Edinburg. We arrived at 1:45PM and took the bus into the main part of Princess Street to our rented apartment Inner City Lets. We chose a two bedroom apartment right in the centre of everything. Edinburgh is incredibly expensive for us, 337 GBP for two nights seemed like a lot for what we got, and that was a good deal. Doug and I explored the streets and found a middle eastern restaurant for dinner. We realized it was the same one we ate at ten years earlier when we were there.

Reese flew in from Krakow Poland and arrived at midnight.

Day 14. Breakfast in the apartment and then out to join a walking tour of Edinburgh which was enjoyable. We had some wonderful vegetarian meals and did a lot of walking and sight seeing.

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Day 15, We spent the day walking around until our 6PM flight to Gatwick. Overnight at an airport hotel
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Day 16, Sunday October 1, 2017. Flew home on Air Transat after a wonderful holiday and great family memories.

Posted by debbep 18:57 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Italy

Travelling with my son.

sunny 25 °C

Day 1. London. September 10, 2017.

My son Reese and I decided to spend a week in Italy travelling from Vancouver to Gatwick on Air Transat . The flight was good and we spent time at the Yotel in the Gatwick airport for a few hours before our onward flight to Pisa. The Yotel was great, bunk room, tiny but dark and quiet and a great place for 40 winks to catch up on some missed sleep.

PISA
Arriving in Pisa we took the train into town and then lined up for a taxi which took quite a while. We had a map but found it quite confusing so decided to take the cab. Neither of us were in the mood to get lost, especially with suitcases.

Our little hotel is a block away from the Leaning tower and suits our needs. Casa San Tomasso was 69 Euros a nite for two beds and private bath. After dropping off our bags we walked around looking for somewhere to eat , getting lost in the twisting alleyways, but eventually finding a small family run pizza cafe crammed full of locals out for their Sunday evening meal. The Pizza was not bad but the atmosphere was great. We were the only tourists.

Day 2. A mediocre breakfast was included but before that we walked down to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to beat the crowds and get some of the iconic tourist photos.

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After breakfast we checked out and made our way to the bus stop and then the train back to the airport for our rental car pick up. A cute little Fiat will be perfect for these narrow roads.
We had a great system where I drove in the morning and Reese in the afternoon so that we both got a chance to see the scenery. Not long after leaving the airport we were pulled over by the police at a large round a bout
They asked for our ID and thankfully we both bought international drivers licences, as I am sure that is what they were looking for. A quick glance and they waved us on. Otherwise we would have been faced with a hefty fine.
Trying to get back into the fast paced traffic at this traffic circle was a real challenge but eventually we were on our way again.

First stop San Gimignano. Doug and I were here a few years ago and loved it. After parking the car outside the walls, (parking is always an exercise in patience in these walled cities) we walked the streets looking in shops and eventually sitting at an outdoor cafe for a great lunch.

This was followed by the best gelato either of us had ever had! None compared for the rest of the trip, and we tried many others.

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TUSCANY

Our destination was San Quirico d"Orcia, south of Siena, a small walled medieval town that Doug and I stayed at a couple of years ago and loved it. We rented a two bedroom apartment on the main drag ( walking road) above a restaurant. We agreed to meet the owners there at 5PM. We booked Casa Del Bernini on booking.com and the rate was 150 Euros for two nights.

It was a very old building that had been remodelled. But they tried to make it very modern and in my opinion it really lost a lot of its charm in doing so. A lot of the decor looked like it was from the 80s with brass fixtures and retro furnishings and you could tell they did a lot of the work themselves. They were very proud of it however and showed it off with pride. It was huge! Way more than we needed. A large living room kitchen and dining room as well as bathroom with laundry downstairs and bedrooms and another bathroom up stairs.

He showed me the bedroom with large queen bed and then looked like he was ready to go. I said " the other bedroom?" He looked confused. I said, we booked two bedrooms. He said, " there are only two people"
Yes, but this is my son and he's not going to sleep with me.
I guess there was some confusion with the booking. But in the end he graciously opened up the second bedroom for us. We loved the location and having the large space for the two days.

A great restaurant that we went to before was across the street and we enjoyed a delicious meal. I think Reese is a little shocked by the prices in Italy.

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Days 3 and 4 were spent exploring the area by car and some of the little towns nearby. We both loved Tuscany. One of my favourite memories is when we were driving past this building on the hill and Reese stopped to take a photo. A car drove up the driveway and we realized it was a winery so we went up to look around.
I bought a bottle of red wine, we stopped at a little cheese store beside our apartment and got some Pecorino ( sheep cheese), fresh bread from the bakery and olives from the deli both beside our apartment.

We sat in the kitchen, on our devices, not talking but enjoying the amazing feast before us. We both agree it is one of the best days.

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Day 5. We checked out and headed to Siena, stopping there for a pizza to go (yuck) and then sat to have a coffee beside the Duomo. It was very crowded and Siena is not my favourite. I prefer the smaller towns, but wanted Reese to see it.

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We took the scenic route to Florence and passed by some amazing wineries and wonderful scenery. Our GPS took us through a back way to get to the airport in Florence. I remember now. The signage for the car rental drop off in Florence is horrible. We drove around and around, the GPS taking us back to the airport terminal all the time. I knew it was off site, and there were tiny signs but they just kept disappearing. Reese was getting very frustrated, as he was driving.

Finally we saw a transfer van for the rental companies and we followed it. Yeah. We waited for a bus to take us into Florence and got dropped off near the Duomo.

I had booked a stay in a monastery, the Borgo Pinto which was a couple of blocks from the Duomo and so a short walk everywhere. Our rooms were on the same floor but opposite sides , (boys one side, girls the other) We could have shared a room but it was the same price for our own singles. Doug and I had a double in a monastery in Venice. This is a great way to save a lot of money and stay close to the centre. It is also a really unique experience. The rooms are very basic but just fine for us.

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FLORENCE

Days 6 and 7 were spent exploring Florence and seeing the Uffuzi museum as well as the inside of the Duomo and museum next door. Some great meals were had, shopping done, and a lot of walking. Florence is a great city

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VENICE

Day 8 we grabbed a cab to the train station for our 930AM train to Venice. We arrived at 11:30 and took the vaperato into the centre getting off at the Rialto bridge. Our hotel is Hotel Ala Fava who sent great instructions how to get there and we arrived without getting lost!!! A major accomplishment .

Our room is small but twin beds and private bath in a great location for 308 Euros for two nights. A great breakfast was included. We wandered about Venice visiting all the major sights but there was around four cruise ships in and it was so crowded. We decided to get off the beaten track and explore outside the main area and come back in the evening when most of the cruisers had left.

One night we went to a concert of Vivaldi by people dressed in period clothes which was fun. Music Veneziani . The weather was very warm and dry and we enjoyed some great meals in Venice.

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Day 10, September 18.

Reese flew to Budapest and I flew to Ireland to meet up with Doug.

Posted by debbep 20:42 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Dancing around the world part two

My second video of dancing with some amazing people and having so much fun

A video of me dancing in various countries.

click here for video

Posted by debbep 11:01 Comments (0)

Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh and Mai Chau

Getting better all the time

sunny 28 °C

Bai tu Long Bay

Day 16

At 7:45 a luxury van picked us up from our hotel and we joined four others for a three and a half hour journey to Halong Bay.
Our ship mates are a young couple from Colorado and a couple perhaps early 50s from Lyon France. The French couple do not speak a great deal of English but as the journey progressed they got more confident.

We wonder, is this our ship?
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Our junk is the Indochina Prince 2 and has four cabins, but one will be vacant. Duc, who is known as "handsome duc" is around 30 something and is a fantastic host with a wonderful sense of humour.
Our cabins are very tight quarters but we have a lovely sun deck and outdoor as well as indoor dining room to spend most of our time aboard.
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We see a lot of big ships go by with 50 or more passengers and are glad we choose this small one. We all seem to get along very well and are laid back and enjoying the outdoors.

The view is spectacular with karst mountains jutting out of the water as we cruise slowly from the harbour.

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The sceanery is getting more and more beautiful
A five course lunch is served, incredible what can be prepared in a tiny kitchen. Full and happy we lounged on the sun deck for an hour until we reached our point of anchor in a sheltered bay. Double kayaks were brought out and we set off to paddle around a couple of islands. No instruction to speak of. The French couple had never been in a kayak I don't think but no one seemed concerned.

We are the only group in kayaks here and it is great. A few other larger boats are coming in to anchor for the night as well and perhaps they will kayak later but for now we have the waters to ourselves

There was a ban on kayaking last month. One day the government said " no more kayaking in Halong bay" and that was that. Too many boats, too many kayaks and no instruction or safety measures in place. It seems anyone can put a boat in the water and take passengers

The ban was just lifted a couple of days ago so we are lucky. There are supposed to be stricter rules now.
Ha long bay is apparently very busy with hundreds of boats. We chose the longer trip to Bali Tu Long because it was quieter, cleaner and less traffic and pollution.

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Duck took us into a little bay where we sat and drifted while he told us about the monkeys and pythons on this little island and how they swim from place to place. Poachers come to grab them when they are swimming to sell to china for meat. The government is trying to stop it and there are rangers in the area to keep an eye on things. Duc says that it is because the tourists don't like to see that kind of thing, not that the Vietnamese think here is anything wrong with it. Vietnamese don't have a big animal rights concern. The last of the rhino was killed a few years ago, just for the horn, and elephants are still killed for the ivory.

We see large birds in tiny cages everywhere, watching as other birds get to fly free while they are a prisoner their entire lives behind bars in the small space. It is good luck for the Vietnamese. Not for the bird. .

Dogs are chained up as well, and most look cute but are nasty. In the city dogs are loved as pets more than the country. We hear thy eat them as well.

But I digress
Back to kayaking. Paddling back to the boat the young American couple went to pass their camera to Duc and leaned a bit too far out and over they went.
There are no hatch covers so the kayak filled with water quickly and it was difficult for them to get back in.

We see the kayaking is sinking so Jane Andy paddle quickly back to the boat to get help. Somehow the ranger found out and sent over a small junk to pick up the swimmers and tow the kayak back to our boat.

After a rest we are treated to a seven course dinner on deck, white tablecloths sprinkled with little red flowers and candlelight. Far too much food! They are catering to my vegetarian needs and I find out that Duc is a vegan which is very unusual for Vietnam. Because the people were starving for years under communist rule and rarely had meat to eat, it is now considered that you are poor if you don't eat meat.

He talked to us about communist rule and what life was like not that long ago and how far they have come in a short time. But is is every many woman and child for themselves. There is no government pension or healthcare here.

All the cars are new new use it has only been the past seven years that they have really been introduced here. A car is the same price as a lot of houses.

The homes here are all very tall and narrow because land is expensive so they build up. Duc lives with his wife and two children, his parents and grandparents all in the same house and that is normal

Bed was at 9PM and we slept like logs.

Day 17

Cruising

The boat was so still last night. At one point ( well maybe a few times actually) I woke to use the bathroom and looked out the porthole to see the water was like a mirror.

Jane and I were first up on on the deck at 7AM to have our coffee and enjoy the morning.

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At 8AM the boat sets off and we are served our breakfast on deck . The itinerary will be changed slightly and we will kayak first to avoid the crowds

I hear a commotion in the kitchen and see a very large white duck quacking and fluffing. Hmmmm

Is this dinner? I ask Duc and he assures me no.

Kayaking was again very peaceful and we were the only ones in the water. At one point we went into a small cave and were told how the fishermen get rainwater from the hanging rock formations

Duc gave us a lot of information about how the " boat people" live here in this part of Vietnam. They fish and trade and basically have no need for money. If one family is lucky with fishing one day they will share with everyone else, there is no jealousy. Some will catch fresh fish or seafood and trade the big freighters for fuel, or the cruise ships for water rice and vegetables. If they do make any money they put it away for their children for when they need to have their own boat to live on and raise a family. The children do not go to school and live their entire lives on the boats , only seeking shelter in caves when there is a storm or typhoon.

It is a a simple life, no tv, newspapers or internet. They are happy
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We kayaked to a sandy beach and went for a swim. The water is a great temperature and very salty. The crew has come ashore in the tender and set up our table and chairs complete with white tablecloths and we are served an 8 course lunch. Most of the food was prepared on a barbecue
I enjoyed many courses or different types of vegetables, far too much food.

The others had skewers of grilled prawns. Then chicken, pork, fish, rice, salad, squid and finally watermelon.

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Duc tells us how as a child the government would not allow any foreign ,especially American, tv in Vietnam. They could have Animal planet however and they thought that North Americans, anyone with white skin especially, were incredibly stupid. For example,they would watch as a woman would find a snake or alligator in her back yard and scream and run away. He was taught as a child that if he found any animal to scream and everyone would come running to kill it for dinner. And then the lady would,even pay someone to take it away and set it free! How stupid is that ?
They would have bets as kids if people would eat the animals or not.

Back on the boat for a rest while we travel slowly for a few hours to a small island that indochina junk owns and has set up a beach area with kayaks. This is used by those on the one night cruise. It is very busy with lots of big boats and so many people. We are at the end of the day and see most leaving as we arrive.

I heard the duck quacking loudly and see him leaving on a small boat? My friend, where are you going? I ask if he is being given to fishermen in exchange for seafood. I am assured he is go to stay with the men on this island as he will have more room than on the boat. I will never know.

We are here to walk up some stairs into a cave and that goes across the little island. This is where the fishermen come to escape storms

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When Indochina junk bought the island the fisherman were very upset ,(naturally) , but after s bit they all worked it out and now they are allowed to go there in a storm and the company also gives them water and rice every week as a trade off.

Dinner tonight was another 7 courses and this time the chef, who looks about 12, came out do do a cooking demonstration of drunken prawns and presented amazing vegetable carvings from pumpkins and radish.
The last one was of our ship, sails made of thin carrots. Duc came back with tiny little carrot kayaks to put beside it. Then he put one on its side and said " this one tip over " which brought great laughter

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I can hardly keep my eyes open again at 9PM so it's off the bed early

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Day18

Fishing village and Ninh Binh

After breakfast we arrived at a small floating fishing village and went "ashore" . These people used to live on the small fishing boats but now have this little village of floating houses. When the parents go out fishing the children can stay behind and go to school. They only go for three years and with great objection from the parents. They never went to school and are doing just fine.

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But the kids learn basic English, math and writing here. For them however is is mostly about socializing and it is hard for the volunteer teachers to keep any order.

The company we are with have started a initiative to help cleanup the garbage in the bay. They pay the people to pick up floating plastic etc and then every couple a weeks a barge comes and pays them by the kilo for garbage. What a great system. The tour company also helps with the school and some income from the tourists help.

These women were ready to take us around the bay for s little tour. At the end we tip her 50,000 dong per couple ($2.50)

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We learned more about life on the water and fishing. For shopping the supermarket comes to you, twice a day in case you need anything

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Our last stop was a pearl factory where they showed us how they make cultured pearls. Some from Vietnam , some from Tahiti, south seas which were huge. Of course they had a gift store attached to buy pearl earrings and necklaces, but none of us were interested.

As we made our way back to the boat the skies opened and it rained hard. Torrential for the rest of the morning. After a light lunch we arrived back at the harbour and made our way to a waiting room. The other four were heading backwards to Hanoi and Jane and I arranged for our tour to collect us here at the harbour.

We said our goodbyes and got into a small Toyota with our driver and tour guide, a young woman from Sapa named Ngoc.

The rain was relentless for out boring five hour drive to ninh binh. There are many large modern cities on the way and they seem very prosperous . Some of the roads are under a great deal of water already. I feel badly for the motorcyclists.
We slept part way and were glad to finally arrive at 5PM.

We are in a home stay in Yen Mo village and it is very modern and nice. We are hoping the rain lets up for tomorrow

Ethnic travel is who we booked with and they have their name monogrammed on everything possible. A bit of overkill.

There are nine young people here from France Germany and Austria. We are all helping to prepare dinner making spring rolls, some veggie and some pork.
Our dinner once again is many courses and far too much food. We shared some stories and had great conversation.
Another early night

Day 19

This morning I watch as a small toddler runs to his dad carrying a huge sharp cleaver. When we reaches his dad he runs his finger across the sharp end to make sure its sharp enough before handing it to his dad. Such a difference in how children here are raised from home

The rain has stopped and we had a dry day. Yeah! The young French couple joined us on a hike around rice paddies which was very beautiful. Finally I saw rice almost ready for harvest and can see how it is done. It looks like wheat. In two weeks the fields will be bright yellow and then brown when it is ready. Most family's cut by hand but some have some machinery.

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I have a waterfall pouring off my forehead again. It is so hot and humid and I just can't seem to take the heat anymore for some reason. It was wonderful when a breeze came up and the clouds came in.

At the end of the hike we arrive at a river and women row us for about an hour and a half at a leisurely pace ( for us, we are not doing anything) they row with thier feet. We go through two caves and at the end the big guns come out. They have a bag of goods to sell. Talk about a captive audience. They didn't look they were going to move until we bought. It was crappy Chinese stuff too, not even hand made Vietnamese goods. I finally bought one little purse she wanted a fortune for, but I had paid 50,000 for it before so,that is all I gave her. Then she is after Jane, who stood firm with her no. I need to be more like Jane. I am so weak

The French couple were in thier boat getting harassed as well. It was really uncomfortable and kind of ruined it for us a bit. Finally I just said very firmly " we go now!!!" And we did
I think she was trying to put the boat through the cave to bump Jane's head on the rocks hanging down cos she didn't buy

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Now it is lunch time at another home stay and we are joined by two more French young people. They are doing a day trip from Hanoi

Now it is time to bike and eight mountain bikes are brought out. They are all men's bikes and somehow I ended up with a huge one that was not great. Jane switched with me for the last half hour which was great. She said it was a crappybike so I was happy that it was not just my imagination.

The biking was on a variety of paths and roads, some good, some not so good but the sceanery was wonderful through rice paddies farms and small towns. We went much longer than planned and then she asked if anyone wanted to climb 600 stairs up a mountain to see the view. It was already 3:30pm so there was no way I had the energy. Jane and I stayed back with the guide and walked around the park a bit and waited for 45 minutes while the French couple did it.

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Riding through the small towns and farms we find that everyone says hi, waves and smiles at us. They are all so friendly and welcoming here.

The ride back was on the highway for the most part but very little car traffic which was nice.

The car ride back to,the home stay we see a motorbike and the fellow has a big blue plastic bag. It fell off into the road and huge red fish fell out and was still alive and flopping all over the highway. I hope the fellow was able to catch it again.

It was 6 PM by the time we got back and only time for a shower before dinner.

I am sitting in our room now at 9:30pm but can't go to sleep even though I am bagged. Across the ally is a wedding. Kareoke on stop , full blast, and really really bad. We were told it would finish at 10PM so we are hopeful as we have another full day tomorrow.

Day 20

Mai Chau

A four hour drive though the country side from Ninh binh to Mai Chau was so picturesque with the rice paddies turning yellow and ready for harvest. The further we went the more the rice turned yellow. We saw women in the fields chopping it down and harvesting the rice. We stopped to take pictures and waved, they smiled and waved back. Everyone we met had a big smile and said hello to us today, they are so friendly and happy.

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On the side of the road we see people selling goats for sale. Cooked ones. They are complete in every way except the fur and are kneeling down and looking quite peaceful. The things vegetarians are made from

The rice is harvested and then dried on the pavement as it is hot and makes it a faster process. Cars and trucks just drive around it. In some areas there was miles of rice drying on the side of the road. Each family has their own plot or plots and harvests for their own family use, not to sell. They are also growing corn, peanuts and pumpkins.

We stopped to look at this sugar cane and Ngoc bought some for us to try. I had tried before but this was a little different. You chew it and get the sweet juice out, like gum, and then spit out the sugar cane.

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This guy is bringing home the bacon

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It was starting to sprinkle as we arrived in Mai Chau and the sky was getting darker. We stopped at a homestay for lunch and the rain started pouring down. Within 10 minutes the road was under a foot of water and flooding. We were eating in the garage , covered outdoor area of the home and the water was running through the room onto the road. Very loud thunder overhead as well.

We had planned on hiking up the mountain to get to our home stay, but I guess that is out. Wow.

We had to move so hunkered down in the living room until the rain subsided . We decided just to head to the home stay as it will be too muddy and slippery to climb the mountain.

Before long the roads are almost dry, you would hardly know it rained. We passed a farm area and Ngoc asked if we want to walk for an hour and a half which we did. We walked down small paths past little farms and rice paddies. The water buffalo would stop and stare at us, and sniff. We smell differently because we wear lotions and deodorant. Then they would run away afraid. Maybe my deodorant ran out, I was pretty sweaty.

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Every turn the scenery was better and better. It is so beautiful out here and the green fields are glowing because of all the rain. Women are cutting the rice and putting them in baskets on their backs.

I watched as one woman was picking huge English cucumbers from her garden. She saw me and came up and gave me one, and tried to give jane one as well, but one was enough. So nice.
Ngoc picked some berries and asked us to taste them. Then she stuck out her tongue and started to laugh, we all had bright blue tongues. She is quite the joker. It was blue only temporarily of course

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This bridge was very scary for me. It was about 30 feet up and no handrails and parts of the bottom was missing. But I did it.

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What a wonderful walk. Our driver picked us up and we had a 10 minute drive to the home stay.
It is a stilted house of a family of the white Thai minority. It looks quite new, Jane and I have our own room and we share two bathrooms with the guide and driver. We are facing a beautiful rice paddie field and there are lots of young children playing in the yard because it is the only one that has a big flat area to play.

Later we sat on the floor and had dinner with the husband and wife who own the home. Our last few meals have been non fried food at our request which is very much appreciated. They had some of their own peanuts which were delicious.

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After dinner I showed Ngoc a couple of pictures on my iPad which the wife found very interesting. She does not speak any English so Ngoc
had to translate for us.

She brought out her embroidery to show us which is lovely and a pair of prescription sunglasses that someone gave her to see better for her embroidering. We all looked at them and they were terrible. She reached over and took my readers and her face lit up

" I can see!"

She was now embroidering like a maniac. Unfortunately they are my good glasses and I have already broken two other pair on this trip so can't part with them.

Jane ran upstairs and found her second pair, we are going home in a day anyhow, but unfortunately they have a crack in the frame. She explained to glue that part. She was so happy and appreciative

I found another pair that I brought I can give her tomorrow too,
What a great day.

Day 21. Our last day in Vietnam

At 7AM I went down to relax in the hammock and just absorb the beautiful scenery. I watch men and women drive the cattle up the hill through the jungle. It is so peaceful here.

The day was spent doing another hike though the countryside and then a bike ride for a couple of hours.

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After lunch in a family home we make our way back to Hanoi. The driving is slow so it takes four hours to go 200 K

At 4:30 PM we arrived back to the Hanoi Guest House and say our goodbyes to our driver and Ngoc.

The shower was very welcome and after an amazing East Indian dinner we are packing up and gettin ready for our 5AM transfer to the airport to come home

Vietnam was beautiful and very interesting but the people here really made this trip, they are so genuinely friendly and happy to see you.

Posted by debbep 03:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Hanoi and Sapa

sunny 31 °C

Hanoi

Day. 9

Vietnam airlines was on time and we arrived in Hanoi at 2pm. We were met by our pre arranged transfer to our hotel.

It was quite a long drive to the Hanoi guesthouse on MaMay street in old town. We are on a narrow tree lined street and it is quite lovely. Our room is very large and clean. The first room we were shown did not have a window so we were moved to one that did have a small one. Not sure why we needed one really, we aren't going to open it or anything, it just seems weird not to have one.
The women were still cleaning our room and had some roses, one of which goes into a bowl in the room as decoration. Jane made a comment about leaving the roses for us as a joke, and they came back with 4 long stem roses in a jar of water for us. We find that the staff at all the hotels and restaurants are all so great.

Later on Jane went out for a street food tour which she said was okay but incredibly hot. I wandered around old town and made my way to the lake negotiating the traffic. We found that waiting for someone else to cross the road and then just walking beside them works best. At one time I hooked up with a mom and stroller. Just don't stop. It screws everyone up if you get all nervous and cautious

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I needed to replace my camera battery charger and luckily found a camera shop and mission was accomplished for $10

I am so hot and thirsty I stopped at a small coffee shop for a cold drink and also ordered a salad which was delicious. A young couple beside me was heading for HoiAn so I told them about our hotel and gave them some tips. They had just come from nin binh so gave me some information and showed pictures of their trip which was great.

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On the way back I stopped to buy another small suitcase for all my purchases. At the hotel I packed it up and the side of the suitcase ripped open. This morning when I packed up one of the new north face back packs the zippers broke off. So note to self. Don't buy knock offs, they are just cheap crap.

I went back to the luggage shop to exchange the suitcase and could not remember where I bought it. Of course I never got a receipt so could not check the address

Finally I found it. It was the opposite direction from the hotel. I changed to a different kind of bag , for more money of course, and fit everything inside. It just needs to survive the plane trip home.
I will leave it here at the hotel in Hanoi as we are back a forth between trips and I don't need dress shoes and silk jackets anytime soon

Day 10, Thursday , May 4 th

Our breakfast was lovely with fresh fruit and you could order something hot. Jane chose bacon and eggs and I decided upon French toast. I got eight pieces of white bread lightly egged and fried. Eight pieces! I didn't eat it all

A couple from Sydney Australia was sitting beside us and they come to Vietnam a lot so had great advice to share with us. He suggested we visit the woman's museum in Hanoi.

Jane wanted to find some prescription glasses so we set off walking in the direction of the street that had many optometrists on it. It seems streets specialize in goods for sale. One has all luggage, another food and this one glasses.

A cyclo driver saw us looking at our map and asked us where we were going and suggested he take us. We said we wanted to walk for a bit but perhaps later. We stopped a while later to check the map again and find that he is slowly following behind us. He came up again and said he would take us for free to the glasses stores so we hopped in. We knew we were going to hire him at some point anyhow as he spoke English.

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We each found a pair of frames and then had Tran, our driver, take us to the woman's museum. It could not have been easy for him to cycle the two of us all the way there. We stopped at the lake for some pictures, he offered to take some shots of us, and then at another high end optometrist shop in the French quarter and I found a very nice pair of frames. It seems every time Jane wants to buy something I am the one who ends up spending the money!!!

Tran offered to come back for us in two hours after visiting the woman's museum which we agreed on. The museum was fantastic. Five floors, all small areas but packed with information.
Clothing and fashion from various tribes, marriage rituals and farming technique. But my favourite floor was how women were involved it the resistance army at various times through out history. Brave heroic woman had a huge part in the various wars. The American war was really interesting which surprised me. I now want to read up more on the war from the Vietnamese point of view.

Tran was there as arranged and we travelled back on the opposite side of the lake stopping at the red bridge for photos. You can rent costumes to have your picture taken on the bridge in them. We did not do that.

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Am amazing lunch was enjoyed at Blue butterfly which was a couple of doors down from our hotel. Fine dining that seemed so decadent. Jane enjoyed spring rolls and two beer while I had an eggplant ginger dish and coconut water drink all for $14 USD for both. They also have a cooking school there as well. The food so far has been great

Day 11

Sapa

Our bus collected us from the hotel just before 7AM. It was too early for breakfast so the hotel packed us some food. Two pieces of white bread, jam and a banana

The bus negotiated these narrow little streets with no problem. We transferred to a bigger 28 seat luxury bus, the sapa express, and started our 5 1/2 hour journey north.
It was a very comfortable ride and the scenery got more and more pastoral with various shades of greens and yellow terracing on the large hills. The road to Sapa is new and in great condiction, but as we got closer it became more narrow and winding. Many switchbacks with large trucks busses and motorcycles coming towards us. Our driver would pass on blind corners and we decided to just not look. There are no guardrails and the drop off is miles to the bottom.

But we made it. As we pulled into the main square area we see women dressed in the ethnic dress and selling some of their handiwork. One spies Jane from out side the bus and does not take her eyes off her. She has found her lady! When we disembarked they she was waiting for Jane.
Hello, where are you from?
What is your name?
You are my friend? You buy from me.
"Not now, thank you"
How long you Stay in Sapa? Maybe later?
" maybe"
They never forget you. She finds us every time we come into the main square area over the next few days

Our bus driver said that our hotel, Sapa House Hotel, is just up the stairs. 3 minutes walking
We have our main rolling suitcases and really don't feel like dragging them up the stairs, which by the way are lined with women selling goods on both sides.

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A taxi was parked near the bus and we asked him to drive us.
" it's just up the stairs"
Our ladies told him that we have these suitcases and need a cab, so he said okay. 30,000 dong ( 1.60). Oh yea.
It was not just up the stairs but up a big hill and around the corner too. Sapa is on the mountain, so everything is up or down a major hill. It was $1.60 well spent!

Our rooms is quite big and very nice. We have swans and hearts made from our towels on our bed

After a rest we walked into town and had a bite to eat and tried to figure out what we are going to do for the next couple of days

Sapa is not a pretty town, to me, there is a great deal of construction going on, lots of huge hotels coming in which wil change everything I am sure.

Day 12

We had arranged , we thought, a trek to a couple of villages through the hills but apparently it wasn't going to happen. A discussion back and forth and all of a sudden we do have a trek and the car is here. Ok
The trek was led by a young Black H'mong woman of 29 years old. She had never been to school but taught herself English from the tourists which was amazing. Girls marry at around 14 or 15 in the villages and start having children at around 17. They don't have as many as they did before because there is not as much land to pass on anymore. Girls will live with the boys family's who are given land from the family. Girls don't get any land on their own
Women are grandmas before the age of 40

We were joined by a man of perhaps mid 50 years from Stuttgart Germany, a young woman from Frankfurt and another from Switzerland. We had a great time together and all got along very well.
The trek involved getting into a van and driving for maybe20 minutes, getting dropped off at the side of the road and then hiking through the mountains through small villages and rice paddies.

A half dozen black H'mong women were sitting at the side of the road and we realize that they are going to accompany us to their village in the hope we will buy from them when we get there.
Well naturally they stuck closely to Jane and I as we looked like women who will buy.
I threw my back out yesterday, doing nothing, and today it is really bad. But two of the women took me by the hand and helped me up and down the hills. I had my entourage. One of the woman was my age and had a baby, her grand daughter on her back, and she is helping me. Demoralizing

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The hike is described as flat with a few small up and down.

Right

Steep hills. Going down was harder with my back the way it was, but I did it.

The scenery is breathtaking. All of the farming is done by hand, no machinery . The rows are perfect. There is lots of corn growing but it is not in neat rows, just covering hills etc. Most of the corn is animal food.

There are a number of other groups trekking with other guides, all young people, we were definitely the oldest. Yeah us!

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We stopped for lunch and the women , my entourage, were leaving us here, did we want to buy something? Well we bought lots of little purses that we don't need but had to buy from them. They were all so very sweet.

Some more trekking and we were shown how they make the indigo dye, do batik fabrics a lot of which are made from hemp, and grind rice into flour. This water trough fills with water and then when it is full it dumps out and the post smashes int the rice to make flour.

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The tour took 6 hours and was not what we thought we booked, we did something different but that was okay, we still really enjoyed it.
This ladybug was the size of a quarter and brilliant red.

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We said our goodbyes to everyone and had a rest in the room before venturing out to the main square for dinner. I found a cab driver who spoke English and arranged for him to pick us up at 7AM tomorrow to go to a market out of town.

Dinner was great and on the way home we came upon a performance on the main stage with traditional dancing and singing.
These little girls were dressed up and dancing in the audience and we so precious and attracting quite an audience

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A woman came and took her picture with Jane. A man came and sat very closely to me and had his wife and six year old daughter on his phone on FaceTime. He asked if I would talk to his daughter and wave etc.
It seems funny that we are taking pictures of them and they are taking pictures of us

Day 13, Sunday

Bac ha market

Ouch my thighs are yelling at me. good morning Vietnam!!!!

Our driver was here right on time and we started off on our two and a half hour journey to the mountain area where the Sunday market takes place. Very narrow winding roads with lots of busses trucks and motorcycles all taking over each other on blind hairpin corners. A few close calls were seen today.

All the vechicles are newer, great shape with no dents or scrapes. I am not sure where the old cars go, and you must have to fix any fender benders right away. It's nice That there are no trucks spewing black diesel smoke

We finally arrived in the small town and he let us off at a hotel on the Main Street and said we would meet again around two hours from now.

After a short walk we find ourselves in a busy market area with goods of every description. Locals come to barter and trade thier various produce, livestock, cooking utensils, and fabrics. The women of the Flower Hmong group are in very colourful and ornate dress and are both buying and selling goods. We arranged a cab at a fair expense in order to miss the throngs of tourists who come by tour bus. It seems it was a slow day because even when we were prepared to leave there were very few tourists and we would have been fine taking the tour after all.

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We wandered about taking pictures, bought some fresh pineapple, some street food, sticky rice coloured purple by cooking it with a leaf, and then rolled into a ball and deep fried then covered with sesame seeds. We tried another purple rice dish too but the deep,fried food is quite greasy, you can't eat too much of it.

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I bought a wall hanging and a bag. There we so many beautiful and colourful things, but I am already way over my limit.
It was time to meet our driver so we walked to where we thought we should go. We were all turned around and got lost. Arggg
It is getting hot out and we were not happy about having to turn around and retrace our steps. Where the heck did we start off?

We were completely stumped so asked a fellow if he could phone our cab driver for us. He did and spoke to him for a bit, then hung up and says " he says just go back to where he dropped you off"

Well yes captain obvious. We don't know where that is!!!

He pointed us in the right direction, we hope, and took off. We realize that we are in the area of the livestock market so took a few minutes to see all the chickens and water buffalo for sale.

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After walking a bit we came to a crossroads! Which way!? We asked a fellow if we could borrow his phone to call our driver as we are lost again. We show him his card and he says " I know him, he is my brother from differnt family"
Yeah sure
He says, "no he is right over there"
No, he told us to meet him at the hotel.
Sure enough there he is. This guy was in fact his uncle. What are the chances?

We made our way back to Sapa, dozing off on the way but the crazy roads made it a bit s a challange. The sceanery is beautiful with the bright green hills of terraced farm land.

The market was not quite what we expected but nice to see some other ethnic tribes.

Day 14, Monday may 8

Treking

Our trek was to Ma Tra and Ta Phin, two villages outside of Sapa. We were supposed to start at the hotel and upon closer reading figured we would be walking through the town of Sapa for the first 40 minutes. Not my idea of fun, dusty dirty busy streets walking on broken pavement and dodging motorbikes,
No. We will pay extra for a cab to take us to the trail head. Our guide is a 25 year old young woman , black H'mong and very sweet but does not have a great command of English. It was quite painful at times getting our questions answered and trying to start a conversation with her.

We had a completely different idea of what we were going to be doing. We started off on a concrete road that was " only used by motorbikes". (but did have cars and trucks as well )

Never ask someone who lives on a mountain side if the trail is flat or hilly. It is all subject to your own reference point. The other day was " small up and down hills "
Straight up a mountain side and then back down again

Today was flat. No hills. Ha!

It was pretty hilly walk for a flat hike. But to them this is flat. It was hot, 30 degrees but 97./. Humidity. There was a great breeze most of the time however, sometimes blowing our umbrellas inside out

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A couple of other trekkers were in small groups. One Australian couple in their fifties passed us going the other way and he said
" what were we thinking?"

It did get better however. Our attitude changed, this is what it is, and the scenery got better We saw many people out working the land. Rice is only planted once s year and they stock pile it to last until the following year. They are planting a different kind of artichoke, not to eat, but to boil the leaves for heart medication.

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Potatoes, corn, beans, and cabbage are all being tended. Some families are working with hand pushed rototillers and others are using water buffalo. Most are tilling by hand, baby's on backs

The first rest stop we were supposed to have lunch but we weren't hungry yet so kept going. Every time we stop we seize up so want to keep moving

When we reached the main area of Ta Phin the local Red Dau women were there to greet us, handicrafts in hand. We sat down to eat and were surrounded by grandmas with babies on their backs and mostly older women. The younger ones were probably working the fields

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A decision was made this morning not to bring our wallets only a couple of Dong. We tried to explain this but they weren't buying it.
I said I would look after lunch, so they hung out with us for an hour or more. One of the woman spoke great English, which she learned from the tourists. She was a hoot.

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I only had 70,000 dong but bought a very small zippered bag that is quite different from the others. Jane bought a small bag too.

I then asked her to dance with me, which was lost in translation, apparently this tribe does not dance. I gave a demonstration and two of them joined me and we had a hoot.

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Our car came to bring us back to the hotel where the manager graciously gave us a room to shower in, brought us coffee and water while we waited for our bus to the train station. Hospitality here is exceptional. They just can't do enough for you.

Our transfer came at 5 to take us to the train station one hour away. We had to wait for four tardy people but were on our way at 530PM Our driver is a psycho maniac. The worse driver ever and sadistic as well. He would try to run motorbikes or pedestrians off the road and then laugh. He passed anyone in his path, hairpin corners were not an issue to consider. We had a few close calls with large trucks and busses almost hitting us, and we were on the cliff side of the road.

We are glad to be Alive! Longest one hour drive of our lives. It pays to sit in the back where you can't see anything,

Dinner before the train and then we board the ' Orient Express' which has seen better days but still very comfortable. Our private cabin had two twin beds and despite the dramatic rocking and rolling of the train all night we were able to,get some sleep. Arriving into Hanoi at 4:30AM the city is already alive and has been awake for quite a while by the looks of things.
Food sellers and markets are in full swing already.

A taxi deposited us to our Hanoi Guest House and we entered a dark quite lobby at 5AM. Two young men were sleeping on a mat on the floor in front of the reception desk. Waking from a very deep sleep one gives me our key and we head upstairs to grab s couple more hours of welcome sleep.

Day 15

We had arranged at free walking tour with a student through the website. Ten emails later !!! And our guide Thanh met us in the lobby at 10AM. She was a very sweet 21 year old Econmics student in her third year of university. We discussed what to do and decided to hop into a van and go to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Her English was great and walking around she gave us so much history and information about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh. He was so revered by his people.
Unfortotunatly however, when he died in his late seventies, his wish was to be cremated and his ashes divided so as to be spread over the south, the north and the middle of Vietnam.

The government instead decided to instead embalm him and have his body on display in a glass case for his people to see him forever. I dont think he would be happy.

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The park and grounds where his house was closed at 11AM so the guards were rushing us to get in there. His palace was built by the Chinese and was very grand, however he decided to live simlply, as his people where struggling, and had a very small and modest home built close by that he lived in.

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There was a museum as well but we decided not to go there. Instead we walked to the Temple Of Literature Which was a school built in the year 1070

It is a temple of Confucius and built when Vietnam was under Chinese rule. It was quite beautiful.
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A kindergarten class was having a graduation ceremony to first grade and outside a girls school was also having pictures taken for thier graduation ceremony.
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A cab was called and we went to a resteruant by the lake that we had seen, and ordered 3 iced Cafe mochas which cost 300,000 or $16 which was outrageous but nice to have a relaxing moment by the lake. From there we walked back to our hotel and said goodbye to Thang. We were going to take her to lunch but she needed to go. Jane and I went back to Blue Butterfly for another delicious eggplant dish and some coconut water.

Later in the evening we wandered down the street to Red Bean resteraunt which was highly rated on trip advisor. We walked into what looked like a very fancy high end establishment, and were met by some young well dressed waiters. There were a few other people eating, dressed very well, but otherwise the place was not very busy.
They showed us to a booth at the back with high backs,
"You will be comfortable here "

Hiding us away at the back because we are not dressed well. The waiter came and talked to us for a bit and we thought he said
"And this is very expensive here "
But we realize he actually said " It is a great experience here"

Jane ordered a lycée martini and I a Triopical Breeze drink before dinner. Another young couple from California were seated in the booth next to us, and made comments about feeling like the mafia, being hidden away at the back out of sight.

We spent the next couple of hours having great conversation and laughing all night. I love meeting people when we travel, it makes it so interesting.

Well tomorrow morning we will be picked up at 7:45AM and start our two night cruise aboard a junk on Halong Bay.
I will post again in a week.

Posted by debbep 07:53 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, Vietnam

sunny 34 °C

Day 4. Saigon to Hoi An

Our flight to Da Nang on Vietnam airlines was on time and only took an hour and a half. We arranged a pick up from our hotel for only $15 USD and ina half hour we were at our home for the next five nights, Nova Villa Hotel on the River. Our room is pleasant clean and the staff are wonderful.

After a rest in the room we wandered off down the road to visit the night market which had hundreds of stalls with a variety of goods for sale. It is all so tempting.
We saw this young couple getting some wedding pictures taken.

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There are many lights and lanterns everywhere, it is so beautiful. We love Hoi An. It is a unesco heritage site with many old buildings and bridges. The ancient city, which is where we are staying, is very small and easily walkable. The skies opened so we ducked into a resteraunt for some dinner and by the time we were finished it stopped raining. The temperature is quite comfortable but it is very muggy
One shop was selling NorthFace items so jane bought a gortex jacket and i bought a day pack. The prices are insanley cheap.

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Banana pancakes were enjoyed from this street seller

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Day 5. Our hotel provided a wonderful breakfast with many choices. We chose fruit with yogurt and a pineapple pancake. The coffee was not that grest but then he brought us some condensed milk to put in it. It was like the macciatos I had in Ethiopia. Yummy

The day was spent walking around the old town popping into temples and stores. I wanted to get a jacket made so we went to BEBEs which is highly recommeded on trip advisor. I chose an electric blue silk blend and also a silk and cotten blend for a dress. I go back for my fitting tomorrow.

I also found a place to make me some custom made shoes which i will retun tomorrow for as well

The shopping is amazing. There are lots of young people here, university students on summer break. We met three young men from Toronto who are just starting thier careers and getting a few suits shirts and shoes made here The prices are so much better for the good quality fit and fabrics.

It was so crowded tonight, there were hundreds of tour busses and thousands of people here. It is not only the weekend but also a holiday, labor day, so the next couple of days will be insane apparently.

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Day 6

April 30, Saturday

Crispy critters

Today was sunny and the best day in the forcast. We woke early and after breakfast rented a couple of bikes to go to the beach. The woman at the reception desk sugested we go to a different beach and gave us the instructions

Traffic here is much lighter than Saigon, but still kinda crazy. Its a dance. You just move with the traffic, dont stop just weave on and out.
Motorbikes, bicycles, trucks, busses, cars and people with wheelbarrows all going every which direction. We ended up on the highway in the heat and it was a litle scary.

The beach was much further away than we thought it was but we made it in one piece which was a miracle

After we parked the bikes we rented two loung chairs and a palapa for 100,000 dong, or $5.30. It is around 9AM and really hot out. The. vendors on the beach are covered head to toe and even have sweatshirts on. We enjoyed some fresh mango from this vendor

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Jane and i walked up and down the beach to get some sun and exercise at the same time.
We didnt go swimming as there was quite a rip tide. I meant to get a picture of the lifeguard sitting in his chair right beside the "no swimming" sign.

There are a lot of these round fishing boats on the beach, the men are done for the day bit we did see one still out puling in his nets.

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At noon we decided we had better start to head back. The road is much busier now and it is stinking hot out. We are not looking forward to this ride !

I see a van taxi pull up and suggest to Jane that we see if he can take us and the bikes back. He can ( of course). We are so relieved

He did not speak english and we tried to tell him where our hotel was but we didnt have a card with us and he did not know where it was. We drove around a while. He was not happy.
Finally we suggest we google it on his phone, he called the hotel and got directions. Then jane remembered she had a map and showed it to him
He did not hide the fact that he was more thn annoyed with us

We had to have him drop us at the hotel because we didnt have any money with us.

We stashed the bikes and headed straight for the pool which was pure heaven . The people at reception thought it was quite funny that we left on the bikes and came back in a cab

Jane is a bit red but i am burnt quite badly. I look like a canadian flag, all red and white.
We only walked down the beach for less than an hour first thing when we got there and then sat under the palapas.

We rode into the old town but ended up locking our bikes up after a bit as it was just too busy. So many busses full of day trippers, big vietnamese groups here for the holiday. I had an appointment for a fitting of my clothes so we walked to BeBes to be there by 3

My jacket is great but needs a few adjustments. Not wild about the dress but they will adjust a few things and hopefuly tomorrow i will be happier.

We stopped for a great late lunch or early dinner and the off to see about my shoes. Unfortunately they are not able to do them as my feet are too wide and the forms are already set or something. Very disapointing and she felt really bad for me.

The walk back had us popping into stores and buying a few articles of clothing. Tops for $13 made of a silk cotten blend in bright colors.
Now we are running really low on cash so the shop keeper told us to go to the ATM inside a tailor shop. Dangerous
I noticed that they also made shoes so i ordered a pair of custom made shoes again and hopefully i have better luck here. I come back tomorrow for my fitting.

We stoped at another beautiful temple on the way home. A lot of young children say "hello" to us. One young 10 year old bravely came up and started a conversation. He was practising his english and he parents were proudly standing behind with big smiles. We find that a few parents bring thier young , shy, children up to try to get them to tslk to us. They are all dressed in thier Sunday best clothes too.

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Another dip in the pool to cool off before turning in for an early night

Its seem to always be happy hour on Vietnam. Beer is cheaper than water.

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Day 7

Hot hot hot

At 8AM it was already sweltering. We walked into old town with our umbrellas up which helped.
Jane wanted to have a jumpsuit made so we went back to Yalys. She did not find any material that she liked but I did. I ordered two blouses, one in a beautiful blue silk and another white one. Yikes!

Selfies. Everyone is a wana be model. All these young girls posing and getting pictures taken in front of nothing interesting. And selfie sticks everywhere. They must have thousands of pictures of themselves

Lots of people selling things on the streets. Women come up to us with thread and want to pluck our facial hair right here in the street.
We see lots of women carrying goods on poles and this one let us try it out. It weighed a ton. We bought some fruit from her.

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Down the road we popped into another tailor, ( there are tailor shops every few feet) and she found the fabric she liked and will have a fitting tomorrow.
I went off to Bebes and had my second fitting. Jacket. is good , dress still needs some work but getting there.

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We walked back and went straight for the pool to cool down. I slept for a bit and then back into town for my shoe fitting.

I love them! Finally a pair of cute shoes that are comfy. Blue swede ones. I ordered another pair of black leather. I am so happy.

After a late lunch or early dinner we went to a cultural show that had singing music and dancing. It was only 45 minutes and a bit hokey.
After we decided to take a boat trip around the town and it was okay

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People sell paper boats with candles to bring you good luck and you put them in the water to float around. They look beautiful when there are quite a number in the water

We are just melting. The sun has set bet the humidity is very high. Jane wanted to pick something up at the night market so we walked through there but the crowds of people where overwhelming. She got what she wanted and we went home to cool off in our room.

Day 8.
I am not sure how it can be hotter but it is. My sunburn is subsiding which is great. We walked into town around 9AM and poked around some shops and alleyways. When you arrive in hoi an you need to buy a ticket to visit ancient town but it is good for the entire time you are here and only costs $5.00

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This gives you entrance to 5 places to visit and we had two left so we chose an old Japanese house.
This woman was selling fans and let me take her photo. I just love her.

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I went for my fitting at BeBes and am happy. They will send to the hotel for me.

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I went for my fitting at the other place, Yally, and my second pair of shoes are ready. They are both a bit too long so they will fix them. My two blouses need a bit of a adjustment and i will come back again for final fitting at 4PM

We went back to the room and had an ice cold beer and some amazing spanish peanuts that are sold on the street. Perfect lunch for a sweltering hot day. Had a wonderful rest in the air-conditioned room until 3.

Another fitting for me, all is good, A few adjustments on my shoes and blouses and they will deliver to my hotel for me to night. In the fitting room the woman looked at me and i had a waterfall of sweat coming off my forehead. She loooked horified, thinking it would ruin the blouse, but then i guess she remembered it was my blouse after all .

A old house was on the way to dinner and we went in and looked around. It showed the water levels of the flooding that happens here on a semi regular basis. In 1964 the water was over 10feet inside the house. December 2016 it was 5 feet. It is amazing these wooden buildings are still standing.

Janes's jumpsuit was not ready yet so we walked to dinner at a place recommeded called Morning Glory. Amazing! Street food in a resteraunt. It was super crowded and hot but the best food so far.

We had to get to a water puppet show that was recommened and it looked far on the map,but we were assured it was close by,
"10 minute walking"
We asked a pedi cab driver how much to take us and he said 200,000 each (11$). We walked away thinking it was too much. 15minutes into our walk we are dying and dont seem to be getting any closer. Everyone says it is a differnt direction. That 200,000 seems like a good deal right about now.
After 10 more minutes we hail a cab and arrive late for the performance which is already in progress.

We watched for around 1/2 hour until it was over. It was cute. Not worth all that effort to get there Though.

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Trying to hail a cab back was a challange but finally one stopped. It was our guy who took us with our bikes from the beach. He looked at us and laughed and kind of went " oh no, not you two broads again!" At least we had a card with the address this time.

He took us close to where we had to be , the streets are pedestrian and bikes only, and Jane had her fitting. It needed a few more tweeks and will be sent to the hotel in an hour.

On our walk back to our hotel we see so many bride and grooms getting photos done, as we did all day. This is a very popular place for photos.

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A swim int the pool was welcomed but we needed to put some ice in it, it wasnt cold enough. The air conditioned room was fantastic.

We did some packing for our flight to Hanoi in the early morning. It was hard to get my suitcase closed but i did it.

Posted by debbep 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Vietnam

Off to a rocky start

semi-overcast 28 °C

Vietnam. April 24, 2018

Originally this trip was going to be Doug and I and Jane and Jimmy but both of the guys decided they didn't want to come for various reasons. For Doug it was mostly the heat which he doesn't like.

Jane and I met in Vancouver and took sky train to the airport arriving in plenty of time for our 1 PM flight to Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) with a stop in China. I found a great fare for $688 CDN return on China Southern airlines and we were very impressed with the airline. They left a few minutes early and the plane was very clean and modern with friendly flight attendants. It was a full flight and we spent the first 12 hours watching non stop movies with a little snooze now and then. The second flight I barely remember as I slept through most of it.

Upon arrival in Saigon we deplane and board a bus then drove for ages to get to the airport.
I think this is the longest drive yet, even more than Frankfurt . We had already pre purchased our Visa on Arrival, but the line up to buy one was very short so it would not have been a issue to get one here. Customs and immigration was fast and soon it was off to get our bags.

Janes suitcase did not arrive unfortunately.

We tracked down some airport staff

"Don't worry. It happens all the time."

Comforting.

It took a while to fill out all the paperwork as there were a number of other people with lost luggage there too. The woman assured Jane it would be on the next flight and at the hotel by 10AM tomorrow morning.

"Yeah right."

We had a driver waiting for us to take us to the hotel, so we were concerned he would give up and leave,

Finally done we head to the ATM to get some Vietnamese Dong and find a fellow with my name on a board which is always a great sight to see.

Saigon is huge, it took about 1/2 hour to get to our hotel, Bich Duyen

He had to park on the side of the road and we walked a block and a half to the hotel, down an alley which had many other small hotels and hostels. Our shoes need to be removed before entering, the place is spotless. A very nice young man checked us in and Jane told him about the luggage.

He says " don't worry it happens all the time"

He took the paperwork from her and we went up to our room. Spotless and lovely.
The price is $25 a night including breakfast. It is now midnight Vietnam time so we head straight to bed and thankfully sleep through the night.

Day 2

After breakfast we walked the neighbour hood for a while and popped into.a couple of shops to look at the very tempting textiles and laquerwear.

I bought a fabric purse and Jane bought some little purses and some postcards. The airline had already called the hotel and said the suitcase would be there in an hour.

A woman on the street was selling cut up papaya and pineapple which we bought and then went into a bakery to get two croissants. The prices are so cheap.

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Janes suitcase is at the hotel. YEAH. A quick packing up and our hotel arranges a cab to take us to the bus station. Our diver, HI, gives us a price of $50USD to take us in his car. We decline and then when we get to a bus depot they tell us the price and we realize it is a good deal after all so take him up on the offer.

Hi does not speak much English and figures that the louder he yells as us the more we will understand him.

The money here is all paper, no coins which is great, but inflation must have really hit at some point because the bills are huge. One million Dong is $59 CDN.

When we found out the price for the bus ticket it was quoted in dong and we converted wrong. The bus was actually MUCH cheaper. We thought it was $45 CDN for both but it was actually only $4.50
Oh well . Rookie mistake

Our fruit and croissants were enjoyed en route. The skies opened and the rain was torrential accompanied by thunder and lightning. Most people on the road are one scooters or motorbikes and they are getting soaked even through the rain jackets.

In and hour and a half we reach the town of Ben Tre, our destination, Hi pulls off the road and calls our hotel, and then a very lengthy and what sounded heated argument ensued . He was yelling very loudly. It seemed to go on for ever and then finally Hi passed me the phone.

The hotel owner was on the other end and explained that his hotel is another 20K and he wants more money to drive us. We told him Ben Tre but this is much further than that. He needs another $15US. Well of course we had to pay it, what else can we do? The owner is away for a couple of days but will keep in touch with us by phone.

We are driven to a ferry where we walk on and his uncle will pick us up on the other side
I told Tan, the hotel owner on the phone that I was wearing a red top and Jane a white one,
He goes " ya ya, it's okay"
Well we were the only tourists on the boat so stuck out like a sore thumb. I guess he figured that they would figure out which ones we were.
There are two men with motorcycles waiting. The one man passes me the phone, and the owner explains that they will drive us on the bikes
"With our suitcases."?
Yes no problem

And it wasn't. We went down a few large streets, much quieter than streets in Saigon, and then down smaller roads until we were on what looked like a sidewalk.

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Our hotel does not look at all like the webpage. We are a little lost for words. It is a home stay on the river, far from anything and it is not clean

We are shown our room which was supposed to be a room with two beds, private bathroom and air conditioning.
None of the above.

We each had our own room with a double bed that had a mosquito netting over top. A small desk and chair were in the room, a dirty fan, a window without a screen and many big holes and gaps in the walls from the floor so that Mosquitos and bugs had the run of the place. The tile floor has not been washed for , well maybe never

The bathroom was down the walk and around the corner.

The bedding was clean which was good but there was no top sheet and only a big heavy fleece blanket which would not be used here at all because of the heat.

Hummm........well this is a surprise.

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Jane went to use the bathroom and found a spider the size of her fist on the back of the toilet, she came back later and found him under the rim , toilet set. Thankfully there are two bathrooms

After a sleep we are called for dinner. I really didn't eat much of anything, Jane ate lots and said it was good. There was lots of food but most had meat in it. I just did not have an appetite.

Oh I forgot to mention that none of the family speaks any English what so ever. Only the one that is away for a few days so it makes it rather difficult to communicate. Even the kids don't speak any, which normally would not be an issue because we have google translate, but there is not any internet. Communication is pretty much impossible

Jane and I made the decision that we are not staying. We know we still have to pay for it, but we need to go.
We were able to communicate that we need to talk to him on the phone and said we needed to arrange a transfer in the morning to catch the bus to Saigon.

Next adventure please

Day 3, Thursday April 27

I woke at 5 AM to a loud blood curdling screech from Jane in the next room. I thought she was being murdered.
" Jane, what's going on?"
That spider in the bathroom has moved into the bedroom and is beside her suitcase.

Jane really doesn't like spiders

At breakfast Jane shows me a very large snake hanging and writhing from a tree to die. I asked the young girl in sign language if the snake was going to be dinner, which she confirmed with a big smile and nod of her head.

After our breakfast we were taken to the end of the road by the father and 16 year old daughter
to catch our bus. The daughter put Jane's suitcase on her electric bike and Jane jumped on the motorcycle. I was told to wait.

The girl waited with Jane while Dad came back for me and my suitcase. In half an hour the bus came and for the next three hours we were on the road back to Saigon. The family really was quite lovely but we could not communicate and it just was not clean and too far from anywhere. It was also very misrepresented on the internet which I will send an email to the owner and put on trip advisor

What are we going to do now? A hotel lobby near the bus depot in Saigon let us use their wifi while we searched for nearby beach towns, but they all involved another four hour or more bus ride.

So, plan B. We went back to our hotel the Bich Duyen because we loved it so much and will try to change our plane ticket to tomorrow instead of two days from now.

Success. And they did not charge us a fee either. Our hotel in Hoi Ann will let us stay an extra night, for $24 US. It looks great so I hope it is true to the website this time. He will pick us up at the airport too.

We are famished and in search of food, which we found and enjoyed immensely. A bit of a walk about town and then back to the room to rest up for our flight tomorrow . Saigon is really very busy, thousands of motorbikes and people and noise. It is all quite exciting but we both prefer the smaller towns.

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Electricians nightmare

Off to Hoi An

Posted by debbep 17:24 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Kenya

Lions and more lions. And some close encounters

sunny 27 °C

Day 19. February 23, Thursday

Our departure from the hotel at 10AM was a welcomed change and we were grateful to sleep Ina bit. We drove south towards the capital city of Kigali on very winding roads through the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking, even better than Uganda I think. The terracing of the fields is amazing and the weather like our spring days at home. There are lots of school children walking to and from school, they go in morning and afternoon shifts. The children always smile and wave when they see a land cruiser with tourists.

We reached Kigali and Brighton took us to a hotel near all the embassy's, a very nice area with manicured landscaping and huge buildings. He left us for an hour and a half while we enjoyed a delicious salad bar and two cappachinos each.

Our flight to Nairobi wasn't until 7PM but we went early because of some problems with the reservation. At the entrance to the airport you have to get out of the car and take out all the luggage while they search the vehicle. Our bags were sniffed by a German Shepard and the car has the mirror check underneath .

Cleared to proceed we go to the parking lot and say our good byes to Brighton. We find that we can not enter the airport until 2 hours prior to our flight. There is a guard and a young man there checking to see what flight you are on and a screen telling you if that flight is being called yet. No one gets inside unless they are flying in the next couple of hours.

Arg. I need to speak to rwandair about my ticket. I booked Lana and I 9 months ago through expedia.ca. On Kenya air from Ethiopia to Uganda and then rwandair from Rwanda to Nairobi. Twice they have canceled my flight for no reason. Last night when I went to check in on line I found it had been cancelled yet again!!! I spent an hour on the phone with two different agents and the second one gave me a ticket number and said I was fine, but I want to be sure.

I was directed to a sales office close by and explained the situation to the woman and she stared at the computer screen for about 15 minutes, mumbling to the fellow beside her. Finally I hear the old fashioned printer and she hands me a new ticket number and confirmation and says I am fine.

I asked if I could send my friend over to check her ticket and she begrudgingly said yes
Lana also got a print out with a new ticket number

Finally it is time to go in to the terminal. We go through another complete x ray and screening before heading to the rwandair counter to check in.
The young man takes our tickets and stares at the screen for a long time. He keeps apologizing for taking so long.
Finally our bags are checked and we get our boarding passes. Now we go through passport control, then a holding room until our flight is called. We had a light meal and finally went through another control point. This time they took all Lanas loose camera batteries away from her.

We are in a big room with seats and doors numbered 1 to 6. There are two flights to Nairobi 10 minutes apart, one non stop ( the one I booked) and one that stops in Uganda

We are told to line up, we get on a bus which takes us to a small plane and after I ascend the stairs I ask the flight attendant if this is the non stop flight
No. we stop in Entebbe for half an hour

"Oh. I am on the wrong plane! Lana, we need to get off we are on the wrong plane"

He checks my boarding pass. No you are on the right plane.

" which flight is my luggage on ?"

This one

I argue for about 10 minutes with him that I need to be on the other plane.

Sheepishly we finally take our seats, the entire plane has witness this drama. I figure out that the agent changed our flight and did not tell us. Worst airline ever!!!!!

The fellow sitting beside Lana let us borrow his cell phone to call the hotel to tell them we are an hour and a half later and so not to send the car for 9PM to pick us up.

Finally we arrive in Kenya at 1030pm

Nairobi airport agents checked everyone for yellow fever cards and also had a tv screen showing everyone in line and what their temperature was. If you were over 39degrees I guess an alarm went off.

The woman at immigration took my fingerprint scan on both hands and asked me lots of questions which I had a hard time answering because I was so tired by now. She never fingerprinted Lana or asked her any questions.

Our ride was waiting, we got some Kenya shillings at the ATM and headed to the Troy hotel. The room was so small you had to walk sideways past the bed to get to the bathroom and then stand in the shower to close the door.
But we were so tired we were just grateful to have a bed to lie down on

We are now in Kenya.

Day 20

Moses from game watchers safaris picked us up at our hotel at 9 am and transfers us to the Nairobi game park entrance where we are met by Gordon our safari driver. As soon as we enter the park we see giraffes and lots of impala. This park is the only one of its kind, a massive wildlife park in the middle of the city. Lots of zebra and different kinds of gazelle but we are on the hunt for Rhinos, the reason we came to this camp. There are over 70 Rhino here, more white than black but a very good chance of spotting one or the other. White Rhinos are grazers and black eat the leaves of trees.

We did spot a lion sleeping at the side of the road and a couple of lioness not too far feeding on what was left of a zebra . They were taking turns guarding it from hyenas and other scavengers. Right now they are full but want to save the rest for later. Lions kill around every 3 or 4 days, but are also opportunists.

Ostrich are mingling with the zebra, the males being the darker ones and females a light grey.

Our camp is in the only one in the park, Nairobi Tented Camp and our hosts are waiting for us with a cold towel and glass of cold juice. We are shown to our tent and then settle down to have a wonderful lunch. It seems we are the only guests at the moment.

Gordon is our driver and he takes us for an afternoon game drive after a welcome rest in our tent.

We found the Rhinos! Two white ones who were eating non stop. They are funny looking animals, ears high on their heads to hear because their eyes are so small they don't see well.
We watched them for quite some time and then they passed right in front of the truck so we were able to get a really good look at them.

It is close to sundown and on the way back to camp we spotted a couple of lioness sitting across the way from a watering hole. Waiting for some unsuspecting animal to come for an evening drink.

Once again we must be escorted to and from our tent , Tonight we sat by the campfire for a half hour before dinner, which again was magnificent.

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Day 21

Gordon drove us to the park entrance after breakfast where we were met by another driver from gamewatchers who drove us to the small airport.

We are flying on a small 8 seater twin engine to a camp close to the Masai Mara. This is a conservatory called Olare Orok. The flight stopped twice on the way and provided great views of animals and landscape of the Maasai Mara.

We are met by James and Joseph from Porini Lion Camp in an open land rover. On the way to our camp we did a game drive and found a lioness with three little cubs, around 3 months old. We watched them play for quite some time.

There are lots of zebra and wildebeest and many with babies. This is calving season. Even baby wildebeest are cute. Wildebeest are one of the ugly 5. There is the big 5 and the ugly . The ugly are wildebeest , hyenas, vultures, warthogs and another really ugly big bird .

James says that God made the wildebeest last and just put together all the spare parts.

Porini Lion camp has 8 tented cabins. We are in number 3 "Simba'. It is quite large and faces the river. The hill on the other side has many animals roaming and we can sit on the chairs out front and watch them.

Lunch was served in the mess tent, there are 14 guests in total. The food is buffet style and very good . The staff is all Maasai. The conservatory paid the Maasai people (initiated by Sir Richard Branson ) and helped them to build fences and segregate their cattle and homes from the animals, as the lions were killing the cows. There's only a few camps in the conservatory and they all hire men from the local Maasai tribes to work in them as drivers, guides, hosts, cooks mechanics and cleaners. Only the guests staying at one of the camps in the conservatory can be there. The camps are so far from each other and so low impact that you rarely see any others.

Ours is run with solar power and compost toilets and is as environmentally friendly as possible
Resting in the tent I heard some banging and movement from the tent next door. A large troop of huge baboons were up in the tree and throwing down fruit to the others who would throw them on the ground to break them open. When they saw me they fell out of the tree on to the tent and used it like a trampoline bouncing a few times and then onto the ground. They are very comical.

At 4PM they call us for an afternoon game drive. While waiting in the 'living room' we see a few cameras on the chairs with two foot lenses that are massive. One woman from the group of 8 comes in wearing complete camouflage clothing with a matching humongous camera and another slung on her belt. These people are on a tour with a fellow from Canada, Jeffrey Wu who works for national geographic and comes here often. Everyone in the group has a camera lens worth more than my house! They are doing photography and a documentary for China.

A young couple on their honeymoon from New Delhi India is joining us in the truck. Driving across the great plain we see so many buffalo, giraffes and lots of animals from the deer family. Dik diks are the tiniest and the eland is the largest.

We are in a land rover now instead of a land cruiser. The land rover can go anywhere, it is like a tank going over huge rocks, through rivers and tackling the deepest mud.

Dark clouds are forming above us, we start to hear thunder and see lightening. In a matter of minutes the skies open up and the rain is pelting down. Joseph and James jump out to put the roof back up and put up the plastic windows . The rain is sideways now but they have fleece lined ponchos for us to put on.

We are sitting near a bush with a pride of lions we have been watching, but even they are finding the rain a bit much and move deeper into the brush. We just stay put until it subsides. They have had a draught until a few weeks ago, and now the rains have come with a vengeance at times . There were many buffalo and hippos that died during this period but now the grass is green again and they have lots to eat.

After some time the rain stopped and we continued our drive. On the other side of the river we spot our lions, they have come out of the bush.

Six cubs around 3 months old, four that are around 6 months and three lioness. They are running and playing, tumbling with each other. They jump on the moms who play as well. The older cubs are quite rough with the little ones but they all seem to be having such a great play time. They are so much fun to watch.

Dad walks out of the bush. He walks with such an air of confidence and superiority. He really is the king. He approaches and acknowledges each lioness. The cubs play around him but he lets them know that he has no time for their nonsense.

He lays down for a while while all the other play around him, running and jumping, and then he stands up and starts to roar. The lioness roar as well, they are marking their territory and letting everyone know they are there.

What an amazing show. We head back at dusk and have a few minutes to clean up before our 8 pm dinner. Our table mates are the young couple we went on safari with and another couple about our age from Norway. We had some great conversation and lots of laughing.

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Day 22
Saturday feb 26

During the night we heard lions roaring and hippos grunting. We still managed to get some sleep and at 530AM we hear
"Good morning"
Our tray of hot lemon ginger and honey drinks and some shortbread cookies are being delivered with our wake up call

615AM and we are in the truck with our newlywed friends and head out in the dark to find some excitement. My wish list includes a cheetah with cubs

Joseph our driver is a budding photographer and has had lots of instruction about light and position because he drives professional photographers and national geographic people as well. As the sun is rising he takes us to this tree to catch the glowing sky.

Baby zebras start off with brown stripes and then turn to black. We find a herd of elephant on the hill and watch them for a while. We are looking for a place to have our bush breakfast when the radio crackles and Joseph asks if we want to see a cheetah kill or go for breakfast.

Cheetahs of course.

He races off across the plains and we find a couple of other trucks there as well. There are two cheetahs on their own and one across the road with a fresh kill. It is very hard to see her so we ask to go back to see the two on their own. They are six month old twins and are still fluffy and crying for their mom.
Finally she answers and they race off across the road. We follow
She shares the meal with them and we watch for quite some time until they all seem full.

Now it is our turn to eat and we find a spot on the plains where Joseph and James pull out a table, tablecloth and breakfast foods. It was a great spot and we took our time and talked a lot

Heading to the river after breakfast , a tributary to the Mara, we sat at the edge to see a herd of wildebeest and zebra approach from the other side. The zebra started down but stopped. They spot the large crocodile on the bank.

A few minutes later they decide to cross anyhow, zebras first followed by the wildebeest and many baby's.
The crocodiles are moving towards the herd. One is on the bank and gets trampled by a bunch of wildebeest.

A crossing this time of year is rare so we are very lucky. At the end of the group are a few zebra. Almost to the other side one falters and looks like it is struggling. The croc has him by the leg.

The zebra puts up a really good fight, the croc keeps trying to drown him, but the zebra keeps his head up. He is being pulled down stream now, every once in a while looking like he will break free, but the crock has a good hold on him

We see hippos watching the drama unfold and saying " why aren't the hippos helping him?"
Gaurav ( our Indian friend) says " that only happens in marvel comics "

Well. The hippo charges at the croc and the zebra breaks free. The hippo saved the zebra!!! We were all cheering and so exited in the car, we could not believe it!

Well that was our version

James has a different one. The hippo and crocodile are mortal enemy's and the hippo was defending her baby.

We like our version better

The zebra came up the hill and onto the grass, looking around for her group who is long gone by now. She is in very bad shape unfortunately, a big gash on her leg and her stomach has been torn open
She won't survive and will be easy prey for the hyenas or lions, having to go though all of that again.

It would have been better if she had been drowned by the crocodile, and James says he feels bad for the croc who worked so hard for nothing.

Feeling sad and exhilarated at the same time we make our way back to camp. We stop on the way to watch two topi fighting.

After lunch we had a siesta for a couple hours then back on the road again. Lions and more lions. They are so interesting to watch.

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Day 23

Once again we are woken to our ginger lemon honey drink at 530AM and set off in the dark in the landrover to see what we can find.

A few minutes from camp the radio crackles and Joseph starts racing the jeep across the plains.
" did someone spot something.?"
Hyenas are trying to take a lions kill

Dozens of hyenas are on the plain and also lining the ridge overlooking the lions with their cubs and the fresh kill. A baby wildebeest and a mom ( probably trying to protect her calf so she died as well)

The male is there too so the hyenas are staying their distance somewhat but inching forward. It is pretty hard to watch the lions eating, especially the baby, but this is survival of the fittest.

We hear roaring from up on the hill, then the male beside us starts roaring as well. He gets up and calmly but majestically walks to the top of the hill. We follow him

His brother is at the top with the remains of another kill and is surrounded by hyenas trying to steal his food.
The other lion just lies down close by and goes to sleep. That is all he needs to do to keep the hyenas away. His brother was calling him for backup.

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We went back down the hill and watched the cubs and lioness for a while, the sun is rising and casting a beautiful glow over the coats of the lions and the grasses.

On our way back towards the camp Joseph spots the missing lioness from this pride. She has two month old cubs and will keep them away from the pride for a while longer before introducing them . The young ones are very rambunctious and these little ones are not big enough yet to play that hard.

She comes out of the bush with her three little cubs. We are so excited as we have been looking for them for a couple days.

Ash and Gaurav have to catch a flight this morning so we start driving back to camp when we see lions on the side of the hill. They are stalking buffalo. There is a small family with a newborn and the lion has her eye on it.

It was fascinating to watch. The lioness would stalk and then run towards the group but one of the biggest buffalo would charge at her and chase her away. All the buffalo were surrounding the baby. The lion tried a few times then headed back to the hill and signalled another lioness who came down. The two of them stalked and rushed the group, each time being charged by the biggest buffalo.

Then the lions let the buffalo chase them, towards the hill where the other two lions were.

Very cunning

The buffalo were now on their own in a small group and the four lions surround them. They try to get the baby but the adults are not letting them near him

Finally the buffalo ran to the safety of all the other zebras and buffalo and the lions gave up. It was incredible to watch. All the other animals were just standing there watching too.

What an exhilarating morning

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After lunch we had a rest until our 2:30 PM Masai village visit. I am not sure how these guys find anything, I would be lost for weeks out here. They seem to know the way, a built in GPS in their brains I guess. We drive through rivers mud and over lots of open plains as well as acacia brush forests

We soon see the small village of rectangular shaped homes inside a compound surrounded by a fence made of branches and prickly acacia tree branches. This is to keep the wild animals out. There are as many openings (gates) as families inside. This village has 5.

We are met by a. Masai man of around 30 years or so who calls himself Stanley, and then his helper who was also called Stanley. They told us their Maasai names but I don't remember them

We paid our 2,000 Kenya shillings ( about $20 usd) and he told us some information about the tribe and this village

The houses are made of sticks mud and cow dung, and built by the women as they are in Tanzania.

Inside there is an area for animals and another area for sleeping and cooking. It was very smokey so I did not go inside.

The men came and entertained us with a traditional dance of rocking forward and back accompanied by low humming. Each young man does a jump, to see who can jump the highest. They are all very good but our guide James was the highest jumper. There are sometimes competitions and the winner can get a bride for free without having to provide a dowry

Lana and I were invited to join them and we had some fun.

I made fish faces to the kids who thought it was fun and tried to do the same. I then played a counting game with them and hi fives which they enjoyed.
Lana was learning how to make fire.

The women came dressed in traditional clothing and performed with some singing and swaying forwards and back
Lana filmed me while I joined them, I tried to figure out the words, the lady beside me was trying to help but she kept laughing so I don't think I got the words right.

Then a woman came beside me and encouraged me to dance, and I complied with a great deal of enthusiasm which had everyone in stitches. They hi fived me at the end. It was great fun.

Now comes the market. All the women spread out blankets arranged in a semi circle with goods for sale , lots of beaded jewelry and crafts. We did not bring much money so i only bought some ear rings and a keychain. Lana bought one of the Maasai necklaces. The prices were fairly high.

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Driving back to the camp we were lucky enough to find a 'tower' of giraffes which were great to watch for about an hour. I love to watch them walk and run. They are so graceful
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Ten minutes later we came upon a big herd of elephant that included a one week old baby. He was so cute following so close to mom. He was getting really tired and tried to climb up her leg, lying down when ever he could. We stayed and watched them for about an hour as well.

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(this hippo was walking past our tent when we came back)

Of course we saw more lions . The male was 'courting' one of the females, following her around and letting her know he was ready, but she was playing hard to get

A juvenile was hanging with the couple but the male let him know he needed to get lost.
It was taking a very long time so we headed back to camp
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Day 24
Tuesday February 28

At 5:00AM a bush baby ( monkey) starts squealing outside our tent and wakes us a half hour before our wake up call

Today we are on the hunt for a leopard. There are a few here but they have been elusive and no one has seen them for quite a while. It appears everyone has the same agenda this morning and we see a few trucks scouring the bushes along the river bed.

A truck from our camp passes us and said they just came from seeing the leopard so we race off towards another area of bush and river. Two other trucks are already there

The two year old leopard came out of the bushes and walked in front of our truck towards some other brush. He is in the hunt position

Behind us we hear a big noise and it is coming from the tiny little Dik Diks warning the other animals that the leopard is near, look out
Soon all the animals are making loud noises letting every know to be careful

The leopard gives up. All the animals have scattered now

Behind us is a large troop of baboon. Quite often you will find a leopard near baboons, they are mortal enemies. Baboon is the favoured meat by these cats and they usually go after the young ones.
We have a large troop of baboon at our camp so I ask the question. Yes there is another leopard who lives very close to the camp

The cat moves on through the bushes and it takes us some time to find him again, he is camouflaged so well.

The baboons are still hanging around and finally one of them spots the leopard and calls to the others.
Six or seven baboons surround the leopard and a couple of them are huge. They are taunting him.
The cat does not move a whisker and lays perfectly still, playing dead almost but ignoring the baboons and not rising to the challenge
He would lose
Baboons are ruthless and will rip apart another animal quite easily, the leopard is quite outnumbered.
Eventually the baboons leave, the cat stays still for a while but then gingerly makes his way to bushes on the other side of the field, keeping an eye out for the baboons. We see that he has a nasty gash on his stomach, most likely from his last kill putting up a fight.
James said it could most likely have been a wart hog.

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Breakfast time.

A table and stools are set up at the side of a river and we enjoy fruit, little pancakes and toast while watching the hippos

More game viewing and back at 1pm for lunch. There are a number of nurses and doctors from the USA who come every year to volunteer at hospitals and are taking some r and r before returning home

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The wait staff are wonderful and very attentive to my no meat fish or egg requests. They also joke around a lot and we have great fun.

This afternoon we did not want to do another game drive but just relax at the tent and catch up on my writing etc. The boys insisted however so we compromised on a short one, 5:30 departure instead of 4. We wonder if maybe they get paid by the game drive so we don't want them to lose out.

It seems to rain every day around 6pm and today was no exception. It didn't last long however and there are fleece lined rain ponchos in the truck to bundle up in

Hyenas are a very ugly animal, but even baby hyenas are cute. We found two little ones on the way

'Fig' is a female leopard and quite famous in this area. She is six years old and the mother of the one we saw this morning. Right now she is moving a lot to keep distance from her son who has just been sent off on his own. Leopards are solitary animals and leave their young when they reach two years.

We find Fig in a tree just hanging out. She is keeping out of the rain. We watched her for quite some time and she eventually came down and walked for about 10 minutes to another tree where she had the remains of a kill from the morning.

Leopards are quite small, smaller than cheetahs. We hung out with her until it got dark, had some snacks of cashews and home made potato chips and then headed back to camp.

Even baby heyenas are cute

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The sky is a light show with the lightening brightening up the black horizon.

Dinner was great at usual and the conversation interesting with the many guests from all over the world.

After dinner we had a dance performance by all the camp staff, 12 of them, dancing singing and doing the jumping. It was a wonderful last night

Day 25
2: 30AM I woke from a deep sleep to hear something big walking across our plastic patio on front of the tent. Then a loud roar.

"Holy shit"

Lana is awake too and says. "Those are lions"
They are right outside our tent, there are at least two of them. One has a loud roar and the other a softer one. A male and female I think

This goes on for about an hour. We can hear others roaring in the distance,. These ones are calling them

Then it is quiet. We know from watching the lions over the past four days this means one of two things. They have left or they are lying down in front of our tent

I realize now that I did not ask about night security. We are one of three tents that are far from camp. Is there a guard nearby?

I was just dozing off when I heard a loud trumpet from an elephant, followed by a lions roar (yes they are still here)
Lions roar in the distance and then the ones out front answer. More elephants trumpeting.

Holy cow

This went on and off all night till 5:30AM. I dozed in between.
This was our morning to sleep in ! We decided against a game drive in favour of more rest, but it was not to be. The game drive came to us

Then came the hippos, very noisy and hyenas squealing

At first light we looked out of the tent. The elephants are standing on the edge across the river. No sign of lions, but that does not mean that they aren't still there

Out hot drinks came at 7 which we enjoyed outside on our patio. We could see the huge paw prints on our patio.

Patrick the manager of the camp came by with one of the VIP guests to show him where all the action was last night. The entire camp could hear it. He told us that an elephant gave birth and the lions were after the newborn. The hyenas were after the placenta.
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What an adventure!

Breakfast was all a buzz with the excitement of last night

On the drive to the airstrip we detoured to see the newborn. So tiny ( for an elephant) three of the adults would surround the baby and travel in a tight circle with him in the middle at all times. They are nowin an open field and there are 10 or more elephants in the herd as well. The baby can hardly walk, wants to lie down and rest all the time, tries to nurse once on a while

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What an amazing last day send off. This is the most exciting trip I have ever had that is for sure.

In the Nairobi airport now waiting for our flight to Europe. Doing this quickly as we didn't have internet for a week so probably lots of typos and maybe some pictures are out of order.

Loved Africa!

click here for video

here is a video of my safari

Posted by debbep 06:42 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

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