A Travellerspoint blog

France

Perigord, Loire Valley, Normandy, Paris.

sunny 18 °C

Day. 24 continued.

Airports seem to bring out the worst in people. Courtesy and kindness are left outside the building. Everyone is in a hurry to get through security. No one smiles or engages in any kind of acknowledgment of each other.
Then it is a mad rush to get onto the plane with three oversized carry ons that are then forced into the overhead compartments, only to then sit and wait for the plane to leave.

Upon landing as soon as the plane hits the Tarmac people stand up and jam the aisles with all their carry on to stand and wait a half hour for the doors to open and then push and shove to get to baggage claim to wait another half hour for the rest of their luggage to arrive.

Otherwise nice people turn into nasty, take no prisoners, travellers. Ironically probably more than half these people are going on vacation or visiting loved ones and should be happy.

Sadly I can be part of the above at times as well, so need to be conscious of that.

Toulouse is another big airport but we managed to collect our luggage and pick up our rental car with out any problems.

A little tiny Peugeot will be our transportation in France. Everyone thinks they are Mario Andretti here, and drive like maniacs. The speed limit on the freeway is 130 but most are going faster than that.
I was able to buy a good map of France in the airport so combined with the GPS we should be ok.
Once we got out of the city we programmed the GPS to take some of the smaller roads. Our flight was delayed in Paris so it is already 5PM and a two hour drive to our destination, but it appeared the alternate route only added a half hour.

I re read the email from the manager of the apartment we are renting in Sarlat and see that they close at 6:30PM, no way we will make that. I tried calling and skyping but nothing seemed to work, and finally at 6pm he called me. An arrangement was made to leave a key and he emailed directions how to get into the apartment.

We went through the town of Cahors which was beautiful but a number of roads were under construction. Our GPS kept us going in circles for a half hour until finally we just decided to wing it until she caught up.

We call our GPS she as we have a female voice programmed. Sometimes we imagine a tiny woman inside the GPS typing away on the computer 'map questing' everything. Sometimes she sounds a bit angry when we go off track. " turn around when possible".
After three of four times we expect her to yell :
"what's the a matter with you? turn the f*#% around"!!!!

It was getting late now, so we stopped at a grocery store to pick up something for dinner and breakfast tomorrow as we figured everything would be closed when we got to Sarlat.

On the road again we drive down tiny twisting secondary roads through the county. Around every corner we exclaim OMG OMG. The scenery is amazing. Tiny little towns that are so picturesque.

It's getting dark now though, and these roads don't have lights and include a lot of corners. The speed limit is 90 on these roads, we find 50 fast with all the corners, but locals don't.

We finally got back on a two lane road and arrived in Sarlat at 8PM. We are staying in an apartment inside a walled medieval city so need to park outside the walls, which we do. I have a map that he emailed me, but we are so tired and find it very confusing.

A local man and his wife helped us, we were wandering around in the dark in these narrow alleys with three story stone buildings around us. Street names are on the walls of the buildings, but turns out our street did not have a name plate where we were which is why it took so long, and it was so dam dark.

We finally found it and went into the entrance and up the circular staircase. The building is from around the 17th century. I am told we are on the second floor, but in Europe I forgot that really means the third floor. There is only one apartment per floor, no numbers, and so I kept trying my key in the one on second floor until a man came out and pointed to the floor above.

Oops. Guess that has happened before.

We are so happy to be here, we are so happy to be anywhere we are so bagged. A lovely little one bedroom apartment with kitchen. Slept like a baby.

The view from our apartment:

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Day 25

Looked out our windows and we're thrilled with where we were. Things look so different in the daylight. I see little street sweepers that look like they are made just for these narrow streets, followed by a street cleaner. These tiny cobblestone roads are spotless. It looks like a lot of the buildings are made of limestone and the roofs are some sort of clay or slate.

We had a very leisurely morning, laundry and unpacking and having long cups of coffee, and then went out to walk around and explore. Every corner was a photo op and so amazing. Sarlat is so fantastic, we just love it here.

We came upon the tail end of a morning market and bought some olives and four different kinds of tapenade which are so good. We just wandered the streets taking pictures and drinking in this beautiful little medieval city. We are going to look at hiring a guide for a couple of hours to give us a walking tour and history.

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A trip to our travel agent to pay the balance, it ends up costing just under $100 CAD per night which is great. We don't have wifi in our apartment but we can use it at the tourist info or the travel agency. We arranged yesterday to call Taylor on Skype today at 4PM (7AM his time).
We were outside in an alley talking on headphones into my iPad and got strange looks from folks as they passed by. I always feel like a weirdo talking into an IPad, but so good to connect with him.

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We could smell a coffee roaster nearby so went in and bought some coffee and then to a bakery for bread and a grocery store for eggs and produce. I love picking up groceries at tiny little shops that specialize in one or two things.
Doug is doing really well with speaking French, and I am fumbling along, speaking Spanish French and English all at once. Most people are very kind however.

Dinner was in a lovely little restaurant and Doug had the special, foie gras ( goose liver pate which is made in this region) duck confit and a bunch of other things, a three course meal. I had a small green salad with goat cheese and walnuts for almost the same price.
Doesn't seem fair somehow.

Day 26, October 8.

Twenty minutes driving from Sarlat we find the hilltop town of Domme, another medieval town. In the area of Dordogne, above the Dordogne river this walled city is from the 13 th century, from the times of the Templars.

We parked the car at the top and wandered around for a few hours. It is the last day for the open market in the town square, tourist season is over and not many of us there today. The weather is very warm and the sun feels great. We bought some beautiful strawberries in the market and Doug found some spiced sausage and I came upon a some fresh goat cheese which complimented our bread and tapenade that we brought with us. We found a picnic table in a park and enjoyed our feast in the warm sun overlooking the valley and river below.

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Ten minutes away is the town of Roque Gageac, another town from the time of the Templars. The dwellings look as though they were all once in the cliffs, but now, since the 17 th century, the charming homes and businesses are on the hillside and between the edge of the river and the cliffs behind. It is known as one of the most beautiful towns in France and I have to agree.

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The scenery in this area just gets better all the time.

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Day 27

Driving 20 minutes north west this morning we arrived at the small town of Tursac, where we find some UNESCO heritage sites to explore. Here we find cave dwellings that have had inhabitants 20,000 years ago. Over the years they built into the caves according to the time period, seeking refuge from invaders. It is quite fascinating.

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I am managing to get my work outs in

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There are a number of these in the area, and one has original paintings by some of the first cave dwellers. Unfortunately however that one is closed to the public and a replica is open next to it, which we chose not to visit.
We had been to similar caves in both India and Turkey, but these dated back further than them.
There are a number of buildings built into the rocks on the hillside.

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We drove down some small roads exploring the area which we both enjoy doing. I would love to spend a month here and just paint and read, which was actually the original plan but as usual it got out of hand and we added more destinations. Next time.

I am thrilled with where we are staying, but would not choose a walled city for an extended period. It can be quite dark in the apartment with the narrow roads and high walls around you. I would want a garden to sit in for my morning coffee or to do some art. And I would want to be able to ride a bike. I will look into that.

Day 28, Saturday.

Market day in Sarlat meant there were more tourists than usual in the streets. Vendors set up stalls for blocks selling everything from foi gras to tea towels to produce. Doug and I wandered for a couple hours and picked up some groceries from different stalls and then headed back for lunch and a rest.

The young man at the information centre suggested that we rent a smart phone with headsets to have a private audio tour of Sarlat, instead of a live guide. I wish I would have insisted on a real person, as it was quite frustrating for us this way. There was only one smart phone with both headsets plugged into it which meant we had to go at the same pace, something that we are not good at doing.

We did learn a lot about the colourful history of the area however and ended up in nooks and crannies that we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

A coffee in the town square to people watch for an hour seemed like the right thing to do, being our last night here. The weather again is just the right temperature.

Back to our room we made some dinner and packed up for our drive north tomorrow to the Loire Valley.

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Day 29.

The drive started out on the smaller secondary roads through some small towns and beautiful scenery. At 1:00 we decided to go into the next town and what a stroke of luck that it happend to be Betrome. A lovely little town on the water which is known as the Venice of the Perigord ( this region of France). We wandered around for about an hour to stretch our legs and explore. There is a huge abbey that rings the bells at 1:30pm and they ring and ring for around half an hour. It sounds beautiful.

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A small cafe with a tiny courtyard provided a wonderful lunch and coffee to help us get back onto the road for the next part of our journey.
We decided to take a larger road to make better time and ended up arriving in Amboise at exactly 6PM, the agreed upon time.

Mirellle was waiting for us at or home for the next four nights, a cave apartment built into the rocks. It is very charming, she has a great sense of style, and right in the centre of everything we want to do.

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Day 30
A bike ride in the Loire valley was something that was on my list so,we walked to a small bike shop down the road and were outfitted with two 18 speed bikes with baskets. Helmets are optional in France so Doug got one and I didn't. I should have I realized.
The owner did not speak English so we tried to understand his instructions to the bike trail, but spent the next hour asking people and going in circles.
A fellow from the other bike shop came and gave us instructions that we could finally make sense of.
A short ride through the suburbs of Amboise and then we are one bike trail for most of the journey. There are a number of trails here going from town to town and different chateaus. A lot of people do bike tours over a week or more from place to place and you can arrange to have your luggage sent ahead for you.

There are a number of hills at the beginning and the end but we managed them okay and for,the most part no traffic. Vineyards, forests, sunflower fields and small towns are on the route. The weather ranges from warm to cool but overall very pleasant for riding.

We were heading for Chateau chambreaux and ended up going on the road for the last hour to the chateau, which you couldn't see unless you paid to get in. We were tired, hungry and a bit grumpy at this point. We stopped and grabbed a sandwich and headed back. Doug looked at the map and figured we could go,down this riverside path to see the chateau on the other side, so we did. It was a very rough path but voila. There it was in all its splendour. I was so happy.

We marvelled at the site for a bit and then headed back. I thought he said it was around 20K but that was each way. We were so tired, but had to keep going.
About 10K away from Ambrosie, not sure what happens, but my spoke broke, chain came off and it all just broke. I could not move my bike. A lovely young local couple walking their dog and one year old son called the bike shop for us and he came and picked us up. I felt bad for breaking his bike, and he felt bad that his bike broke on me.
So bagged we slept very well tonight.
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Day 31

Our little 'gite' or apartment, is half way between the two main attractions in Amboise, the Chateau Amboise and the Chateau Clos Luce. Today was spent visiting both of these, the first being Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo Da Vinci. King Francis the first invited Leonardo to live here when he was (Leonardo) 64 and he lived here until he died at age 67. The king was a patron of of the arts and there was a tunnel from the chateau to where Leonardo lived so that Francis could come and visit him and have discussions.
It was nice to see an artist who did not die in poverty and was recognized for his genius, as so many of the great artists of the past died penniless.
This was his bedroom

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The chateau had many models, small and life size, of the inventions and artwork of DaVinci. The gardens and grounds were beautiful as well
We had lunch at the chateau, trying a French dish of buckwheat crepes, or pancakes. They were quite good.

A rest at home then off to visit the Chateau Amboise. We rented the headsets and learned more about the history and monarchy of France.

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Day 32

We had planned to go biking again today but there was a cold front and the route we wanted to do was in the forest, so we decided against it.

A drive to the town of Blois, about half an hour away and a bit of a walk around for a while, we took in the Church of Saint Nicholas.

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On to Chateau Chambord where I said I didn't need to go inside another chateau, but I lied and we did go inside. There was a double staircase which was quite impressive, the pictures don't capture it unfortunately. One goes up and one goes down on the other side. It was designed my DaVinci as well. There were so many spires on this chateau. We enjoyed the drive there and back through the countryside.

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Day 33

Our time in our little cave room in Amboise comes to and end and we spent the first half of our drive north on the main highways. Everyone drives so fast, 130K. They do observe the , only go into the left lane to pass, rule however. I was nervous being around all these trucks going so fast, and then seeing that some of the drivers are texting while doing 130KPH !
We are in our little Peugeot the size of a shopping cart.

I was happy to be on the secondary roads for the second half. We pulled into a picnic area for our premade sandwiches. France has picnic tables and little park like areas quite often on the roadsides.

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A turnoff to buy bread and we found ourselves in a beautiful medieval town on the hill. They had a very usual church and the buildings were lovely. This is the town of Domfront and another lucky unplanned find for us.
It is very cold today and a bit windy. I dug out my winter clothes again.

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When you buy food it is rarely labelled organic or non GMO. It is just assumed that you know it is pretty much all organic non GMO. The food prices, even with our dollar being so low, are quite good. We prefer cooking ourselves to going to restaurants much as we both find French food quite rich.
I am back on dairy again while travelling, having an egg in the morning and eating yogurt and some cheese. The milk products here are amazing, goat and cows cheese fantastic, fresh and tasty. Some of the cheese is so raw it tastes like a cow smells, if that makes any sense. And the yogurt......think Greek yogurt only better.

The smaller roads are so lovely with the rolling hills, fields of patchwork colours of the freshly plowed brown earth of the fields, bright yellow crops of mustard, corn waiting to be harvested, and various shades of green winter plantings.

Our stop for the next couple of nights is Port en Bessin, on the northwest coast of France. We are on Omaha Beach and very close to Juno Beach. This is Dougs part of the trip as his father and uncle were in WW2
For something different we booked into a camping resort where they rent out mobile homes. It is a lovely resort, very well maintained and quite big. There only seem to be a couple of people here however, being off season. The restaurant was quite good and we enjoyed our meal before heading to bed.

Day. 34

Well I guess this was not the place I thought it was going to be. In Norway we stayed in " camping places" and could rent towels and sheets upon arrival. I put in a request with the booking here but it ended up that we only got sheets. Turns out they don't have towels or dish cloths or dish soap . You are expected to bring everything. They gave us a paper towel type bath mat and we will adapt and use one of those each for towels.
It all adds to the adventure.

As I mentioned, this was Doug's part of the Journey in France and last night he looked at the map and realized that we were no where near Vimy Ridge. Well I have a lot to say about that but will keep my mouth shut for now.
Last minute scrambling to change things, Doug said he would pay the difference in costs but it turned out that it saved us money in the end. Hmmmm. That's a good thing. Right?

Most of the day was spent at the Juno Beach Memorial Centre, located a half hour from where we are staying. We are on Omaha Beach, but of course wanted to see the Canadian site.
It was one of the best memorial sites relating to Canada's involvement in the Second World War that we have seen. A lot of emphasis was also on the effect the war had on the people living here in Normandy as well. It was not a big museum but packed full of first class information and exhibits. There were two short movies as well which were very moving.

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We walked the beach and today was a cold windy blustery day which made the experience even more real. All of those boys as young as 17 and 18 landing on this beach, most of whom were killed right away.

A very touching and thought provoking day
There were a number of young university students working there, from all over Canada. They sign up for a 7 month posting and say that it is a fabulous experience and opportunity for them.

On the way back we stopped at the Tapestry museum in Bayeux. I did not know what to expect but was quite amazed by this exhibit. It is a hand embroidered tapestry, about two feet high and 270 feet long. It was made to tell the story of the battle of Hastings, or war of 1066, and as most were illiterate at the time they told it in pictures. Admission included a headset which explained each set of pictures which were numbered. Bayeux looks like an interesting town, but we must move on tomorrow.

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Day 35

A day driving north to Vimy today. We stayed on the main roads to make better time, but France has a lot of toll booths on the main roads. We paid around $50 in tolls today. If you just want to get from point a to point b it is a lot faster, but will cost you. I agree with this system however, a user pay instead of just on taxes. We prefer the back roads but time was an issue today.
We arrived just before the guided tour at 3PM which was great timing. A lovely young university student from Alberta gave Doug a copy of his grandfathers enlistment papers from the first world war.
She then took us on a tour in the tunnels, 9 meters under the ground. There were around 20 of us on the English tour, Canadians and English tourists. It was so interesting. I learned so much about the First World War.

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The Canadian trenches are only 50 meters from the German ones. The German look outs are far more protected the Canadian ones. Unlike what they portray in the movies the trenches are not straight but curved, which was better for their security

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The land around is all hilly with big craters that were from all the shell blasting . There are still unexploded mines and tunnels that may be dangerous so the grassy area is all roped off from people. Only sheep graze there now.

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We then drove to the the Vimy memorial which is very impressive. It is huge and the sculptures are amazing. All the names of the Canadian soldiers who died or went missing at Vimy are etched in the stone work

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Day 36

Travel day again today. We left at 830Am and made our way to the airport in Paris to drop off our rental car, which went with out a hitch. We then took the train downtown and then to our rented apartment. We have a two bedroom apartment in the Bastille area that we found on Airbnb and it is great.
Lana and Cheryl's arrived from Iceland a few hours later, we spent time catching up and then went out for dinner at a pub close by and bought groceries for tomorrow's breakfast.

Day 37

Paris. The hop on hop off bus was a great way to spend the morning. We went on the top deck, managed to snag the front seats and do the entire route without getting off, just getting a great overview of the city.

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At 1:30PM we went to the Louve with our pre bought tickets. This was the only time we could get as everything else was already sold out.
After a quick bite to eat we started to explore, but ended up going on our own as we travel at different speeds.
I was in heaven at the Dutch masters painting exhibits. Some the paintings are so huge.
I made my way over to the Mona Lisa, and it was a so crazy crowded. People were pushing and shoving it was insane. I thought watching the people almost more interesting than the Mona Lisa.

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We had agreed to meet at 5:30PM in the cafe, but I was done by 4:15PM, and Lana was there too. We were both overwhelmed by the crowds and ready to head out.
We took a a cab home and had planned to go out tonight but ended up just eating dinner at home.

There is a big police presence here, but there always has been if I remember correctly. Young men and women in full padded gear, a few guns and holding machine guns patrol the streets. They are friendly, I have said Bonjour and. asked directions etc and always met with a pleasant response.

Day 38.

Advance tickets were bought for the d'orsay museum to avoid the lines, but we still had to wait 45 minutes in line anyhow. A very busy museum once again but some amazing paintings and scuptures. The lighting was much better than the Louve and some of the pictures just popped off the canvas. It always amazes me to go to some of these museums and see original Cezanne, Degas, Monets just to name a few.

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The top floor had displays of modern furniture which was interesting.
We only allowed ourselves 2 hours here as we had other things to do, and then hopped back on the hop on hop off for another go around.

Trocodero was our first stop to have a photo op in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was a zoo again, I can't imagine what it must be like in the summer.
There are many young black men from Senegal selling trinkets of the Eiffel Tower and such at all the tourist spots. It was the same in Venice where they sold knock off purses. I feel so sad for these guys, I have read that they are brought over with a promise of a better life, only to be practically a slave to sell these items to pay off thier debt. Like what happens to young girls but for other purposes.

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I bought a selfie stick from one just so I could talk to him and help him out. He has been in Paris for eight years. Doug asked how he liked it and he looked sad and said " it's hard here"
We got back on the bus and got off at Notre Dame just to take a look and snap a few pictures. We were all pretty much done by now so grabbed a cab home.

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Dinner, packing, finishing this blog and then ready to fly to Israel, Tel Aviv, tomorrow.

My impressions of France. Loved it!!! I can see why people spend time here and buy second homes. Not Paris so much for me, I prefer the small villages. The southern part was my favourite area. I can see myself coming back to spend more time if the universe allows. We shall see. But for now, another adventure awaits!!

Posted by debbep 12:24 Archived in France Comments (1)

Sweden

Back to my roots

sunny 16 °C

Day 18. Continued

Stockholm. We took the airport bus to the bus station. The 40ish male driver was listening to the radio quite loudly and singing, just as loud, to songs like Eleanor Rigby and Satisfaction. It was quite entertaining and nice to see someone enjoy his job so much.

A cab ride from the bus station to our hotel, and again the cab driver was very happy friendly and helpful.

I booked Hotel Esplanade on Expedia and got a terrific deal so wasn't sure how it would out. We are thrilled with the choice. It is located across the street from the water and it is an old building that has been recently renovated to its original charm. The two women on staff greeted us with open arms and because we prepaid it was the fastest checkin ever. Our room has rounded walls, high ceilings and crown mouldings. Beautiful.

We had a sleep for a couple hours and then went out to explore. The buildings are gorgeous, I love the architecture. Close to our hotel we explored an area like Robson St. Gucci, Prada and all the high end expensive stores. For dinner we popped into a little Mexican restaurant and it was very good.

Everyone once again is so dam good looking! Tall blond and thin. Well dressed too, great clothes and quite often white running shoes for walking around outside.

Bike lanes are wide and prevalent. Lots of people riding bikes, all well dressed and most talking on phones through their earbuds. People walking the street all seem to be talking on the phone into earbuds as well.

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The weather is a lot warmer, I actually didn't need much more than a light sweater.
Displays in store windows are fabulous, so artistic. The designs are wonderful and quite unique, very clean lines.

This is our hotel:

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DAY 19

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A fabulous breakfast included with our room was enjoyed before heading out to walk to the Royal Opera House. I had read about a good overview tour that was at 10AM and we finally found it just in time. There was another couple about our age from Germany looking for the same tour so we worked together.
A one and a half our bus tour with earbud comments on a double decker bus. This was different from the hop on hop off, ( which had bad reviews here). I snagged the front seats on the top level for the best view and picture taking. It was an interesting tour and gave us a good idea of where things were. This was followed by a one hour boat trip with commentary, to see Stockholm from the water side.

One of the places we went through was Gamla Stan, an old medieval area of Stockholm, one of the best preserved in Europe. This is where Stockholm was founded in 1252. We decided to head back there after the tour.

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The streets are narrow cobblestones, most are pedestrian only, and lined with many shops and restaurants. A lot of other tourists and locals are here, it is very popular and busy.
I looked at some clothes and was surprised how reasonably priced they are. Everyone is so well dressed because they can afford these amazing fashions. We find that Stockholm is not that expensive, certainly less than Norway and Iceland.

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The architecture is fantastic. I just love these old buildings. We went in for lunch at one of them for a great Indian meal.

On the walk back we passed the royal palace, city hall and many other grand buildings.
Stockholm is made up of a bunch of little islands that are connected by many bridges. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have been in, right up there with Prague.

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We walked and walked for hours. For dinner we just picked up a couple of things at a grocery market and brought them back to the room to eat.

Such a long busy day meant we had an early night.

Day 20

Our day started off once again with an amazing breakfast. The staff, and everyone we meet in Stockholm, are so happy and friendly.

The day was a little windy but sunny and around 15 degrees, just needed a light sweater. We walked over a bridge not far from our hotel and visited the Vassa museum, the number one museum in Stockholm. We weren't really sure how a museum that is just all about a ship that sank could be so incredible but decided to check it out.
The story goes that Sweden really didn't have much experience in ship building, so brought in two guys from Holland to build it.. It was a 64 gun warship and looked magnificent, but it ended up that it sank on its maiden voyage right in the harbour and 50 people died.

It was salvaged on 1961 and is the most in tack ship of its kind. The museum was not just about the ship, but the politics and life of the times in Sweden and Europe.

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The last picture is a copy of a painting of the original ship
Further down the road was an outdoor open museum, the first of its kind in Europe, Scansa. Buildings were moved from various parts of Sweden to show how life was in earlier times. They also have a zoo and petting zoo area but we did notgo to that part. It was quite interesting.

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Back to the room for a while then off again for dinner, Thai food, and walking over a bridge to another island to visit the modern art museum. We were bagged at the end so took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night

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Day 21

After breakfast we gathered our bags and took a cab to the train station where we collected our rent a car. What kind of car company doesn't have a map? Seriously? We have our GPS but we also like to have an overview. I went around the train station to all the shops and around the area. No maps.
Sheesh
We set off using the GPS and did fine anyhow. We were getting a bit hungry so took a detour and ended up in the town of Orebo. It is a university town of around 140,000 and such a pleasant surprise. A beautiful little town that seemed to have more bicycles than cars and they seemed to have the right of way. Very few cars on the street in the downtown area, mostly people walking and on bikes. We parked the car and walked around for a bit and the first resteraunt we checked out has a great salad bar that we enjoyed.

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Our destination tonight is Filipstad, another 45 minutes away and we checked into our hotel in this small town. We are the only guests here and have a large room on the second floor. We drove off to Nordmark, the next town, before it got dark to quickly check it out.
The reason we are here is because I have been doing some ancestry research and found that my dads grandmother was born and worked here before emigrating to Canada in 1896 . I am hoping to find graves, or better yet, living relatives or more information.

A trip to the grocery store on the way back to have a light dinner in the room.

We like to travel around a lot, as you notice, and the way I find I can manage that, checking in and out of hotels every night, is to have two bags. If we have a car I leave my big bag in the car overnight, and just put a couple days worth of clothes and essentials into my day pack and bring that in with me. It seems to work well for me.

Day 22.

Our hotel manager came and talked to us at breakfast, he is from Oslo, and been here around seven years. He finds the town very small and quite economically depressed, so the locals don't go out to restersunts for dinner much. The town is shrinking, people need to move to the city for work, and one of three family's need help from the community to raise their children. It is that way in a lot of the smaller communities in Sweden, and a lot of other countries as well really.
This used to be a huge mining area, hundreds of years ago. Nordmark, where my family is from, had a population of over 2,000 back in the 1800 s and now around 200 people.

There are two manufacturing plants nearby, one is Wasa, the crisp bread cracker, which has just been bought by an Italian company but still in production here. The other is shipbuilding, which was also sold, this one to Norway.

We passed a few Volvo plants, and we see many Volvos on the road.
Sweden is so beautiful, the fall colours are coming in, lots of farmland, lakes and meadows. It is quite flat, with rolling hills ( quite different from Norway), I can see why a lot of Swedes would feel comfortable moving to the prariesin Canada.
The weather here in winter gets down to minus 20 or so, but a dry cold with blue skies. No northern lights here however, maybe further north.

A few hours were spent walking around Filipstad, a beautiful little town on a river with parks and walking trails alongside. Sunday morning and the streets are almost deserted. I wonder if my great grandmother, who worked here as a maid, was employed at any of these large homes along the road.

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Doug went into one of the only open resteraunts in town to get a kebab and was having difficulty ordering, as they did not speak English. A fellow came over to help and they soon started talking, he said he was in Victoria a few years ago visiting his cousin and he was from Nordmark. Doug came out to get me and we sat and talked to he, Ronald and his wife Alice for well over an hour.
I showed him my notes of dates and anmes of ancestors and he made a few phone calls for me. Dead end, but he will continue to look for me. We may even be related as one of his ancestors had the same last name as one of mine, Sjogren.
As soon as I saw him he reminded both of us of my Dad, Doug thought more so my uncle. He had this wonderful twinkle in his eyes when he told a joke, which my Dad did as well.

We said we had to head off to Nordmark, and he said to follow him, he would show us some things. He spent most of the afternoon with us and told us a lot of history and showed us buildings and sites from back in the 1700s. We never would have found these on our own.

Our first stop was a couple of old mine sites, in fantastic shape, obviously the towns people spend a lot of time and money keeping them in good repair.

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Iron ore was mined in this area and employed a lot of people. Ronald told us to pick up this medium size rock and we found that it was much heavier than it looked, it was iron.

There were two young men at the mine site, packing up their car with backpacks with oxygen and water so as they could hike the mine shafts.

There was a little jail here too, which Ronald said his relatives and many others spent a night or two in for being drunk in years gone by.

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A huge water wheel was the next stop, which would pump water out of the mine shafts, as they would constantly fill with water otherwise.

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Nordmark's church and cemetery was our last stop. This is a Christian church now, as there are not many churchgoers they need to appeal to many. It is not open every Sunday, and it didn't look like there was a service today. Ronald and I walked the graveyard looking for the names of my fathers grandparents, but a lot of the older headstones were so worn you could not make out the names. There is also a chance that they were even buried in the backyard, as commonly done in the 1800s . There is a master list of the graves that a woman in Stockholm has and Ronald will try to get that for me.

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We say our goodbyes, I am so very grateful for his information and company today, and hope to stay in touch.

Doug and I head east towards my Great Grandfathers area, which we will explore tomorrow. The landscape is breathtaking, reminding us of northern Ontario or Quebec in the Fall. So many lakes reflecting the yellows reds and orange trees. Most of the homes in this area are painted the gorgeous brick red colour.

We arrived at our hotel for the night, again the only guests, and we fall in love with this beautiful old home that has been converted into a hotel.
The second picture is of a Swedish fireplace, very efficient for heating the homes. A couple of hours of burning wood and then it would continue to hear for hours after. We saw similar ones in Russia, but I think that the Swedes invented it .

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Day 23

Our last day in Sweden. I could easily spend another week or two here, certainly a few more days in Stockholm.
During breakfast we talked to the manager and told him how much we loved his place. He has only been here for a couple of years but it is very busy most of the time. There are a lot of weddings in the Summer, and I can see why. The dining room and lounge are so charming and there is a path down to the lake with an arbour for vows. I could easily spend a while here, it is so peaceful with natural beauty. In the summer the lake is popular for swimming and boating.
We spent some time here this morning walking around and then headed out in the car again going east.

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On the drive we came across this old iron ore plant. This original smelting location dates back to the 16th century, but these buildings are from the 1920s and production stopped here in the 1960's.

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My great grandfather lived in the town of Stora Tuna for a number of years, and this is where his first two wife's ( sisters I think) died and may be in the Stora Tuna church cemetery. We were surprised to see how big it was. It looks like a lot of money in this church and everything was manicured perfectly by the caretakers. We saw a half a dozen workers just while we were there.

The grave yard is massive. The church dates back to the early 1700's and so do the graves. Finding one would take weeks, but there is a master map. Unfortunately the secretary was not in, and great grandpa ( Olof's) first two wife's are not my direct relatives anyhow, so it was okay. Again, most of the really old markers are almost impossible to read anyhow.

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I much preferred the smaller one yesterday, it also had a much nicer feel to it. Ronald has emailed me a few times and still trying to find information for me. He may know which house they lived in...what a sweet man. I may have to come back when I am more prepared with family history data.

The afternoon was spent making our way back to Stockholm, stopping in a couple of little towns here and there to walk about a bit.
We are now in an area of many large farms again.

Our luggage was dropped off at the airport hotel and then we dropped off our rental car and took the airport shuttle back to the hotel for the night.
One of the smallest rooms I have ever seen, but the price and location was right for one night.

I am sad to leave Sweden, I really felt a strong connection here, but believe that I could be back one day.

Day. 24

The alarm went off at 4AM and shortly after we stumbled bleary eyed to the lobby for breakfast. The shuttle whisked us off to the airport at 5AM and we found the self check in for SAS. Bag drop involves putting your bag on the conveyor and scanning the airport bag tag, that you put on, and off they go. No agents are involved anymore.

We were at our gate at 530AM for our 715AM flight. Doug was not amused that I got us up so early, but you never know.

Self serve hotels and airlines. No wonder our young people are finding it hard to get work with all the jobs being taken over by automation. But with airfares being rock bottom and oil prices high, something has to give. It was the same in Paris at Air France.

I allowed us a 3 hour connection in Paris and it was barely enough time. What a huge airport!

Now onto our next adventure. France.

Posted by debbep 03:40 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

Iceland

Indescribable Iceland.

rain 6 °C

Day 9
A travel day today. After our amazing full buffet breakfast at our hotel in Bergen we returned the car to the airport and then caught our Icelandic flight to Reykjavik. We are now two hours behind Norway, so arrived at a decent hour. After getting our luggage we see two doors. ' goods to declare' and ' nothing to declare'. We chose the latter and just ended up in the main airport area. No passport or customs check at all.

The rain was pelting down and the cold wind punishing us as we drag all our luggage across the parking lot and down a road to find our car rental company. That's what happens wen you go for the cheap company, they don't have a pickup service.

We were given a Nissan micro that has seen better days, over 100,000K already, but it works for us. After spending a great deal of time getting directions to our hotel, one of the fellows handed me a GPS, " here, it's free ".
We must have sounded pretty pathetic, but grateful for it for sure. (Our GPS does not include Iceland)
It was programmed in spanish and I could not figure out how to change the language. Good thing I know a bit of Spanish, I got us to the apartment without too many u turns.

Reykjavik is so much bigger than we imagined, over 100,000 people but confusing ( to us) street names and lots of one ways. The GPS was very valuable for the city.

We have rented a one bedroom apartment with full kitchen and a block off the main tourist area. We are happy with it and after settling in for a few minutes we head to the local grocery store two blocks away just before closing. The prices in this particular store are quite reasonable but reading the labels is a bit of a challenge. We asked various other Icelandic shoppers for help, which they all gladly did.

The rain has eased off so we walk for a few blocks to check things out. Even this late in the season there are a lot of tourists. We hear quite a bit of English spoken, Americans and UK. All are bundled up in parkas and hiking boots etc. It is a bit cold, but not as bad as I imagined and there is not a lot of the wind at the moment that Iceland is famous for. I think however, the downtown area is quite sheltered.

We had an early night and dinner in our apartment.

Day 10

An explore Reykjavik day. The shops have amazing knit and gift wear. There are a lot of original designs as many designers live in the city. I tried on a few Icelandic wool sweaters, but found them very itchy. At $300 or so a sweater I don't want to have it sit in my closet because it it too scratchy to wear.

Lunch was at a raw vegan resteraunt. Some of the menus in other resteraunts have smoked Puffin or whale and reindeer on them. Iceland is so far ahead of other countries in many ways, but still hunt the the endangered fin whale for meat. Green peace is trying to convince them otherwise. We saw one of their ships in the harbour
Well we will not be dining on any of those delicacies
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We walked and walked for hours. It was a cloudy and at times a bit of drizzle, but overall not bad day. We stopped at an information area to get a map and recommendations of what to do. He pointed out a museum of Vikings, which we walked forever to get there. It was a good overview of the history of Iceland, but left us underwhelmed. Turns out it was the wrong museum. Dam

Walking along the waterfront to see the Harpa concert hall. It is very impressive architecture and a controversy locally because it cost so much to build.

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Dragging ourself back to the apartment after so much walking, we have a rest and then head out again at 9:30PM ( my bedtime!) to catch a tour to see the northern lights.

Two large busses head north to an area without lights and settle into a parking lot that was provided by Ben Stiller when he made his movie " the secret life of Walter Mitty". It was after watching this movie a couple of years ago that was one of the reasons for us to decide to come to Iceland.

Damn it was cold. I look like the Michalin man, I have five layers on. The stars and moon are beautiful in an almost cloudless sky.
A hundred people and trying to find a spot to set up tripods or get their "spot" for the best shots. It is so dark. Even with the moon. I use my little flashlight for a minute or so, but we are told not to use any light at all. Climbing over lava rock covered in this slippery moss like covering in pitch black with camera gear is challenging. Apparently there are 2,000 different kinds of moss in Iceland.

After an hour and a half they reveal themselves and dance in the sky for a few minutes, disappear, and then return again in half an hour.
By this point I can't find my flashlight and my tripod has come away from my camera. I did my best but my photos have a lot of ' noise' not having the tripod, but it was exciting all the same. They were not as impressive as the ones I saw when I lived in Fort Mcmurray, but tonight I saw the northern lights in Iceland.

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We never got home until close to 2AM, way past our bed time. We slept well.

Day 11

Back in the car today for a tour of the Golden Circle Route. I figured out how to change the language on the GPS to English which made it much easier. The route takes us North of the city and we took in three of the favourite stops, and a few of our own as well.

I am so frustrated with the fact that you can't pull over to take pictures very easily. There are pull outs and view points now and then, but so many amazing sights that you can't stop and take pictures of. The roads are narrow and there is not a shoulder, only a one foot drop onto loose lava rock.

Our stops today included this church at the side of the road that we thought was very unique

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Iceland has a number of active volcanoes. A great deal of Iceland is heated by geothermal plants situated around the island. This provides heat for homes, hot water and hydro. They heat the roads in the winter as well which is brilliant. There are many hot pools around and you can see steam vents coming out of mountains and hills everywhere. We stopped at this plant just outside of Reyjkavik.
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Some vents on a hillside
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The national park, Thingvellir. ( sometimes spelled with a P )

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Even the bathroom had a great view.
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Geiser, similar to Yellowstone.

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Gullfoss waterfall.

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The scenery keeps changing all the time. Today there was barely a cloud in the sky and it was almost warm out.

What a fantastic day.

Day 12

We checked out of our apartment and drove East. On the way we took secondary roads past many huge farms and saw lots of sheep and the gorgeous Icelandic horses. Sorry for all the horse pictures but I can't help myself.
These guys came running up to me from the back of the field when I approached the fence. They were so curious about me and we had a great long conversation. The highlight of my day. Icelandic horses are smaller than others and the only horse you will see here, as they don't want or allow cross breeding. Some have eyes are dark with a blue horseshoe at the bottom.

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Kerio crater was our first planned stop. This crater was formed about 6,000 years ago. We walked around the rim of the crater which took just over half an hour. Iceland is similar in some ways to Hawaii, being that they were formed by volcanoes and relatively young in age. The major difference of course is the weather which is the reason the vegetation is so different.

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Our last planned stop of the day was Seljalandsfoss. A waterfall that you can walk behind. Another stunningly beautiful setting. We should have done the walk first however. Duh... Walking behind a waterfall you just may get wet! Most of the other folks were wearing full rain or snow gear. I am in my three layers of fleece. My raincoat was left the car.

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The noise from the waterfall overhead when you were behind it was thunderous. My photos are a bit hazy however, it was hard to keep water off the lens.

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Cold and wet we walked a ways down to another waterfall that was in a cave which was very cool.
The tour busses arrived just as we were finished which was great timing.

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Our hotel tonight is on a gravel road up the hill overlooking the black sand beach in Dyrholaey. There are a number of small adventure groups staying here. It is just perfect and we are here for two nights. Dinner in our room of the rest of our grocery store purchases.

Day 13
I woke to hear the Icelandic wind and rain howling outside. I opened the curtains and it did look cold and miserable.

I went back to bed.

At 8AM we went to the main area for our wonderful included breakfast. The weather is getting worse. Visibility is about NIL.
10AM we decided to go it and brave the weather. We are west coasters after all. We had hoped to go horseback riding, but that won't be today.

We headed further East towards the glaciers and past what was probably incredible scenery. Maybe tomorrow.
At one point I decided to take a picture anyhow so doug stopped the car but I could not open my door. The wind was well over 50km an hour and blowing towards my side. I opened the window and my SLR camera just went " nope. Not going to take a take a picture in this".
It would do nothing. I took out my underwater camera and took two pictures, then rolled up the window. My hair and face was soaked. And I haven't even gone outside.
We are getting the real Iceland experience today.
We kept driving and saying " I think it is brightening up" it reminded me of camping in Tofino in the rain and being optimistic. It just kept getting worse.

One of the stops I wanted to do was a farm from the 1700 s, with small homes made into the hills and covered in turf. There is also a little church there. I found this on tripadvisor and they said even though the gate is locked and it says private property, you can park the car and go in. I double checked with our hotel manager and he said we can go ahead. The name is Nuppsstadur farm and church.
We parked the car and braved the gale force wind and rain up the road. I tried to put a poncho on, but it just flew around I thought I might get airborne. I felt kind of strange going in a place that said private but glad we continued on.

We had the place to ourselves and when we arrived the rain stopped for a bit.

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The church and a key in the door, with instructions, so we went in and saw a very tiny plain wooden church. We had a glimpse into what it must have been like to live as a farmer in Iceland with the cold wind raging. I can imagine when it is snowing and the dead of winter what it must be like.

The waterfalls are going sideways because the wind is so strong, we have never seen anything like that before.

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Back in the car, drenched and cold, we continue on for another hour to see the glaciers and icebergs at Jokulsarlon.
The landscape changes every half hour or so. Sometimes it is glowing green with the spongy moss on the lava rock. Then it looks like you are on the face of the moon. Black volcanic lava rock of various sizes for as far as the eye can see,
Then a few bright yellow tufts of grass will appear.

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We pass a couple of the glaciers and then a half hour away from our destination the weather is getting worse and visibility is diminishing. We decide to turn around as we won't see anything anyhow. We make the drive back to the hotel and put dry clothes on before enjoying dinner in our hotel.

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Day 14

What a difference a day makes. I woke to a beautiful almost cloudless morning so we rushed to have breakfast and check out. We are very close to Dryrholaey, a popular attraction. The weather changed every ten minutes from sun to rain, but our time on the beach we lucked out to beautiful sunny skies and not much wind.
It was so beautiful, the waves were wild and crashing on the long black sand beach. This is a nesting place for the Puffins, but we did not spot any today. We spent quite a bit of time here, having great conversations with other travellers from New Zealand, Turkey and Argentina.

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We drove to the other end of the beach, ( 40 minutes drive) and had a nice lunch in the resteraunt and then walked that beach as well. This one had sea stacks and very interesting rock formations and a cave.

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As soon as we left it started to rain again, on and off all afternoon as we drove back to Reykjavik. The landscape changes constantly and at timesyou would think you were on the prairies, with miles and miles of farmland.

We have never seen so many horses and sheep as in Iceland.

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We arrived back into our same apartment in Reykjavic, dropped off our things and then walked around town for a bit. Laundry and working on this blog tonight and then heading east tomorrow.

Day 15
Not a great start to our day. I had some oats soaking overnight and went to heat them up in the morning by putting boiling water into a larger bowl and then the smaller bowl inside. The outside bowl exploded into a million tiny pieces all over the kitchen. I am so lucky it didn't hit my face or eyes. It was unreal. The nex t couple of hours we were picking up all the tiny pieces.

I went down to the laundry room to get the vacuum cleaner I saw there. I plugged it in and the circuit blew, all the kitchen and bathroom lights were now out. I went out to find the 24 hour store to buy some paper towels . The cleaning lady finally came to the building at 930AM. I went down to explain, she didn't speak any English. I used charades to explain, she gave me a hug and said..." It's okay"

I used my iPad and translated the details into Icelandic and went down to make sure she understood. She did not speak Icelandic. Polish.
I redid the iPad and she said...yes yes... It is fine
We packed up and went to a coffee shop for breakfast.

Our drive West took us, once again, though some different sceanery. It was, unfortunately, a rainy miserable cold day again.

We picked up a hitch hiker who was a young man from the Czech republic. He was working in Iceland as a chef and was telling us that he and a friend went to Nepal after the earthquake to help rebuild schools and then had a fundraiser on Prague selling their photos to raise money for Nepal. He was heading for a vacation to Canada in a couple days so asked us a few questions. He told us that there really isn't any crime in Iceland, but that could change because more and more people are moving here from other countries. Iceland is expensive but they pay workers a good wage. Tipping is not done here.

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We arrived in Grudafjour, and find that again I have booked us into a youth hostel. It is quite nice however, overlooking the harbour and a well laid out communal kitchen to use. We need to leave our shoes downstairs in the entry as it is Icelandic custom not to wear shoes in the house,

After making some lunch we went for a drive to a nearby Stykksholmer and looked around. It is another small fishing village and I am sure it is quite beautiful on a clear day.

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Next to our hostel is a little resteraunt that is in a restored home overlooking the water and quite lovely. We popped in before we went for our drive to check out the menu and I said , sorry but I am a vegetarian and there is nothing on the menu. He said the chef would make me something, so we said great, see you at 7:30P

Doug ordered the blue cod and he said it was wonderful. The presentation of both dishes was very beautiful. I was given quite an assortment of different vegetable dishes and it was delicious. One of the best meals we have had for quite a while, and quite reasonable too. For Iceland.

Day 15

I was woken by the full moon shining into the room at 4 AM. The wind was howling but it seemed to clear off the clouds so that was great. We quickly had breakfast and packed up to explore the area. By the time we got outside the dark clouds had rolled in and the wind and cold rain was back. It was that way all day....just wait for 15 minutes.

We were on the west fjord side of Iceland and decided to do a circle route of the area. This is our last day in Iceland and we are so glad that the weather is cooperating. ( nice most of the time). Our first stop is to climb up a hill to get a picture of these two waterfalls with the mountain in the background. They are called Kirkjufell.
No rain, but dam it is cold and windy! I have on my Moreno wool long sleeve shirt, a fleece vest, a Moreno wool sweater, my windbreaker rain coat and another fleece over top. I also have ear muffs, gloves and a scarf. I am still cold. But not freezing.

The hike is worth it, a great view and we were the only ones there. We saw lots pull into the parking lot, but not venture further.

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A dirt road across the peninsula has some more interesting scenery and we reach the other side to look for Lysuholl ranch for our 11AM horseback trail ride. There must be 50 or more horses in the nearby corral but ours were in the stable ready to go. I picked out mine on the Internet when I made the booking , she has a long Icelandic name, but I call her Maystar for short. She is so beautiful, a Carmel colour with long blonde hair. Icelandic horses are so gentle and easy going.
Doug agreed to come with me which was great. There were two German girls, 20 something's, working there for six months and seemed more interested in chatting to each other than taking care of the riders.
We waited about a half hour for four others to arrive, two couples from New York around our age and ability which was nice.

Off we go, across the fields towards the beach. Rain, sun, strong winds and freezing hail. At one point the horses stopped and said...nope. Just gonna wait right here.
But weather usually doesn't last long and the worst was the hail and that was only around 10 minutes at most.

It was a great ride, about an hour and a half, and on the way back I asked if I could trot or canter, which I did and that was wonderful.

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Back in the car to continue our circuit. There were a number of viewpoints on the route that we stopped at, did some hiking and walking about at places. One was a great set of trails near a black church.. It was a perfect way to spend out last day here.

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Instead of spending the night back in Reykjavik, I changed to a hotel near the airport to make it easier for our early morning departure. It is a self serve hotel. You pay in advance, $99 CAD which is a great price for here. They send you a code to get into the door, an envelope is inside with your name on it and keys, and that's it. Nice big clean room. Perfect

Day 16

4AM was early to wake up, but we left shortly after and dropped off the car and then checked in for our flight to Stockholm. The airport was insanely busy at 5AM, but we managed to find our way around and I am now writing this on our 2 1/2 hour flight to Sweden.

Iceland was so diverse, unique and just plain awesome. We are so glad we went.

Posted by debbep 11:12 Archived in Iceland Comments (1)

"Norway

Norway!!! You take my breath away.

rain 8 °C

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September 13, 2015
Day 1
Our flight from Vancouver to London was the best we have ever had. We used all of of "points" and flew business class on British airways. The design was a little odd, two seats facing each other and when the bed was made up the person on the inside was almost trapped inside. But laying down flat and actually sleeping on a flight was indescribable. I don't think I could do another overnight flight in economy again, but certainly not prepared to pay the cost of upgrading with cash either.

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We connected to Bergen and then took the airport shuttle downtown andmade our way on foot to find our hotel, the Basic Bergen. It was very basic, looked like it was aimed to young people, but the price and location were good and the room was clean and beds firm. It was now 10PM so we went straight to sleep and happy to wake at 6 AM

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Day 2.
We walked a lot of the downtown area today and along the picturesque waterfront where wooden buildings are 200 years old. I knew it would be expensive in Norway but still had a bit of sticker shock today. A small coffee was $7 and 1/2 of a wrap was $8. You need to pay $2 every time you want to use the public bathroom, so I won't be drinking too much coffee anyhow. ( the bathroom cost ended up just being in Bergen).
We went to a grocery store to pick up a few items for lunch and that will make a big difference.
I had an early afternoon back in the room and then the rain started to come down quite heavily so Doug was not too much after me.

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Observations: everyone is incredibly good looking. We have found that almost everyone speaks English and is very friendly and helpful. There are a lot of young people here. Young fathers pushing baby carriages on their own. Most people are wearing shades of black and greys with an occasional orange jacket once in a while. All are very well dressed, even those who are casual have the high end activewear on. The city is very clean and modern with a mix of cobblestone streets and old wooden buildings too. The homes are mostly painted bright cranberry, golden yellow or white. Occasionally you will see a blue or black house. Most designs are the same, two or three story wood siding homes, many with tile roofs.

Day 3
We took the bus back out to the airport to pick up our rental car and the lovely helpful young man had us on our way in a little Toyota Yaris in no time.
We bought a 'Tom Tom' GPS at home that included Europe maps and it worked like a charm ( once I got used to it).
As we left the city we pass by many pastoral scenes and the fjords along the way. The day turned out to be beautiful and mostly sunny which was a bonus. As we got further north we could see the trees were starting to turn the fall colours. Most of the trees are deciduous, not many coniferous around other than the occasional pine.

After a trip to the grocery store we found a spot near the water to have our picnic lunch which was just perfect.

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Many of the roads are connected by ferries to get across the fjords, and today we took our first one. It is a bit smaller than the Denman island ferry, and makes the 15 minute trip back and forth constantly into the night. The cost for us and the car was around $20 one way. We are in the area of Sognefjorden.

There are so many tunnels through the mountains and we did one that was the longest in the world, 25 kilometres. I slept through most of it thankfully as I don't particularly like tunnels.

We arrived in the small picturesque town of Hafslo and found our little cabin overlooking the water and town below. It is so beautiful here I really had no idea what to expect and we are pleasantly surprised.

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Day 4.

Our day started with a drive to Solvern, a beautiful little town on the water. The road was so narrow the car barely fit between the houses. Another ferry took us across to Ornes. There is only one other car with two young people and two others on bicycle. It is off season now, and it is also raining again which perhaps deterred some from making the trip. This small village has a Unesco heritage church perched high on the hill. This church has been rebuilt four times since 1129, a hundred years between each rebuilding. This is the oldest of the stave churches in Norway. The woodwork is incredible, and most of the inside of the church still dates back to the 1100s. Scaffolding covers the exterior of the church, which was a shame for us as we could not get a clear sense of its beauty, but good that they have the money to keep it restored.

As we left I saw a herd of reindeer in the nearby farm being herded away somewhere. We also found a shelf with fresh raspberries for sale so we bought two containers. Yum.

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Instead of taking the ferry back we took the coastal secondary road on this side of the fjord. Even with our small car it felt at times the road was narrower than we were. Thankfully there was not much traffic and the scenery on this route was amazing. The rain seemed to make everything even more brilliant green and yellow. The water is a beautiful blue green and at times reflected the landscape like a mirror.

There a roadside stands here and there and we found one where we bought rhubarb strawberry jam and bag of salad greens.
I love some of the older wooden buildings and the way they were constructed. We left the pastoral water side road and, unbeknownst to us, headed up into the mountains. This road made the road to Tofino look like a straight a way. Hairpin corners on narrow roads heading up the mountains with the fjords and valleys below. Thankfully, once again, it is not too busy so we really enjoyed the drive.

The landscape changed dramatically to low brush and rock and eventually snow and glaciers. There were no trees, just low lying shrubs and ground cover is bright shades of gold yellows and reds. This area is popular for cross country skiing a bit later in the season. We were thrilled to have taken this road instead of the main one.

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We make our way back down to where the scenery is once again the beautiful colours of fall and farmland on the sloping hills. There are huge mountains everywhere and more waterfalls than I have ever seen. Huge ones, some miles high and others also very wide.

Another stop in the town of Lom to do more grocery shopping and on to find our cabin in the town of Skjak. It is great to have full kitchens instead of eating in restaurants all the time.

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Day 5

Another rainy day unfortunately. Some parts of the day had just a bit of drizzle which wasn't too bad. We took the old road to Stryn, another narrow winding mountain route past some incredible colours. The glacial lakes are ice blue and the trees and ground cover are brilliant shades of golds and reds again, but much further along in the bright fall colours. Mountain peaks and glaciers are surrounding us. Thankfully once again there are not too many cars on this road, as one has to find a wide spot and either back up or wait for the other to pass.

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An hour into the trip and the fog settled around us, we could barely see a foot in front of the car. It was quite eerie. Years ago you would be advised never to travel this route alone, only in groups as there were 'vagrants' in the mountains who would ambush you as you travelled through. I could see cars parked on the side of the road once in a while but no one in them. They had been murdered and then eaten I am sure of it. Every horror movie I could think of was entering my mind.

I am sure that the scenery was spectacular, we could hear and sort or see magnificent waterfalls and rivers, but we could not see any of it unfortunately.

After our white knuckle drive down the mountain we got back onto a larger road and into the town of Stryn where we went to our first Norwegian restaurant for lunch. It really wasn't picnic weather. This beautiful small town was gearing up for a huge Octoberfest celebration on the weekend and most workers were dressed in German lederhosen and dress. We spoke to a few of the local people and got some information about sights to see in the area. Everyone is so friendly and they all seem so happy and relaxed all the time.

Fifteen minutes down the road we came to another small town Loen, and headed to the fjord there to do a bit of walking and sightseeing. Even with the rain and clouds you can see how beautiful it is here. Many of the out buildings and the older camping cabins all have the grass/sod roofs which are so picturesque.

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Another hair raising drive though the thick fog on hairpin corner mountain roads to find our home for the night in Geiranger. We have a gorgeous little cabin with a breathtaking view of the fjord and mountains. I could stay here for a few days, but we are off again tomorrow. There is so much to see!

We are so impressed how neat and tidy and orderly everything is. The rest stops, parks and towns are all so well maintained. The homes cars and people are all immaculate. Alot of oil money here, but the country spreads the wealth around so that everyone benefits.
Even now with prices being down the government had the good sense to put a lot away when times were good, so that everyone is still doing well.

Day 6

A wonderful lazy morning with checkout not being until noon. We just relaxed and enjoyed our view for the morning .
A trip into the small town of Gieranger where we decided to grab an Americano and waffle. It was actually a pancake and Doug has his with fresh cream and strawberry jam and I had mine with a brown sweet Norwegian cheese. Across the alley was a chocolatier whom our hotel receptionist said we had to buy a brownie from. I always do as I am told, so we bought a small one and asked him to cut it in half to take with us. We had it later on the ferry and it was hands down the best brownie I have ever had.
He was very informative and told us of some areas we should visit and then said we should start soon as the cruise ship has just come in. We looked out and saw that a huge ship was tendering the passengers into this tiny town so off we went.

Climbing once again up the many narrow switchbacks to the panoramic viewpoint at the top we were not disappointed. We hiked to the higher viewpoint and a man came over and asked if we were norwiegen when he found we were Canadian he told us a lot about the area and that a movie was just released called "the wave" and it was filmed here. It is about a huge tsunami that comes down the channel and devistates the town. We told him about our tsunami in Port Alberni in 1964 and he said they know it will happen here, hopefully not today.

He and his brother and sister and family were off to a cousins 50th birthday party nearby. His brother had been in Kelowna a couple years ago and drove to Vancouver from there he was so surprised how straight and wide the roads were in BC. I can see that after diving here, as a matter of fact he was surprised we were comfortable driving here at all. The maximum speed is 80, everyone seems to be good respectful drivers and very patient. I have not seen any indication at any road rage.
He gave us a typical birthday cake piece that was thin layers of cake with cinnamon butter filing. It was good but I am now on a sugar high.

Off to Aselund stopping at various points along the way and another ferry enroute.

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When we checked into our hotel I discover I have booked a room in a youth hostel. That is why it was inexpensive. Well they didn't seem to mind and we didn't either, we had a private room. After a rest we walked into town for a delicious Indian meal at a Resteraunt in the centre. On the way we passed a movie theatre with a big line up, " the wave" was playing. I would have gone but it would have all been in norwiegen without subtitles. We will rent it on Netflix at home.
The movie theatre and the movie poster:

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Day 7

Breakfast was included with our room and was wonderful . Doug even had salmon and caviar. After checking out and putting our luggage in the car we walked the town for a few hours. Today we actually saw blue sky and I took my fleece jacket off. Bonus. Doug had walked a lot of the waterfront yesterday while I was resting, so he went into the modern art museum while I wandered around and took pictures. It is Sunday today and looks like a ghost town most stores are closed today.

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We met up at the museum which was very small, but had a 'time machine' exibit. It transported us back to 1904 when the town of Allesand was completely burned to the ground. 10,000 people were homeless overnight. The country of Norway as well as Sweden and Germany helped out with aid and fundraising to help rebuild, and fortunately there was a huge work shortage for all building tradespeople so they came in droves to rebuild the city. A lot of family's got much nicer homes in the end. It was decided that city centres would no longer have wooden houses and instead they were all made of brick. A few well known architects helped with the rebuilding and so it became known as the prettiest town in Norway, with art nouveau buildings.

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A stop for a light lunch and we were on our way in the early afternoon driving south now, heading back towards Bergen. The route took us on three ferries and past many small towns and villages. A lot of farms are at the base of the mountain and have steep slopes that are dotted with sheep and cows.
Tonight we sleep in the town of Forde.

Day 8

Breakfast was included in the room again. Doug had salmon and pickled herring for breakfast. Norwegian breakfasts are quite large, especially is you eat meat and seafood.

Our last day in Norway involved a lot of driving. We needed to get to Bergen but wanted to detour to a few places on the way. Only one ferry involved however.

After picking up a few things at a grocery store we lucked out and found this beautiful rest stop by the ocean. Norway has a lot of picnic areas along the roads, but this one was exactly what we were looking for today.

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Two churches were located in the town of Vik, almost across the road from each other. One, a Stave church, similar to the one under construction we saw a few days ago. Tourist season is pretty much done as of mid September, so this was closed and we could not see the inside. We didn't really mind as the last one we could see inside and the outside was under construction, so this balanced it out. It looks like it is covered in creosote, to preserve it I suppose.
This church would date back to around the 10 th century. It reminded me of something from China, but also I could see a resemblance to a ship.

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The next church was a Hove, or brick church for the 12 th century. There are not too many like this one in Norway. Both were very interesting and we were glad we made the detour.

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The sun was shining and it was quite warm, around 14 degrees. We could see all the mountain tops today and the scenery, once again, was spectacular.

Now in Bergen we will return our rental car and fly to Iceland tomorrow. Norway was so much more than we imagined and we are so glad we came.

Now to Reykjavik

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Posted by debbep 12:32 Archived in Norway Comments (2)

European Vacation 2015

Norway, Iceland, Sweden, France, Israel, Jordan, and then from Barcelona a cruise to Florida through the Caribbean

We are off again on another adventure. September 13th, tomorrow, we fly to Bergen Norway and will rent a car to see some of the fjords. I will post with pictures around once a week if you would like to follow along.

Posted by debbep 20:50 Archived in Norway Comments (2)

Cruise to Easter Island and Tahiti

Here is a short summary of our trip to Easter Island in January.
Ocean Princess Cruise Itinerary

Jan 02, 2015. Embark in Fort Lauderdale

Jan 03 At Sea
Jan 04 At Sea
Jan 05 At Sea

Jan 06 Panama Canal -Scenic Cruising 5:00AM 4:30PM

Jan 07 At Sea
Jan 08 At Sea

Jan 09 Guayaquil 9:00AM 7:00PM

Jan 10 At Sea
Jan 11 At Sea

Jan 12 Lima (Callao) 7:00AM 6:00PM
Jan 13 Pisco 7:00AM 4:00PM

Jan 14 At Sea
Jan 15 At Sea
Jan 16 At Sea
Jan 17 At Sea

Jan 18 Easter Island Tender Required 12:00PM 9:00PM

Jan 19 At Sea
Jan 20 At Sea
Jan 21 At Sea
Jan 22 At Sea
Jan 23 At Sea
Jan 24 At Sea

Jan 25 Bora Bora Tender Required 7:00AM 6:00PM
Jan 26 Moorea Tender Required 8:00AM 5:00PM
Jan 26 Tahiti (Papeete)
Overnight

We spent a couple of nights in FortLauderdale before our 25 night cruise. I was a little apprehensive because it was a very small ship, just over 600 people, but in the end I preferred it to the larger ships. We made some great friends on the journey and really enjoyed this cruise. We did not have a lot of stops, and the highlights for me were the Panama Canal transit, Easter Island (the reason for the cruise) and the South Pacific. We spent 5 nights in Moorea at the end and then flew to Maui for another five nights before coming home.

Our trip to Easter Island, although the highlight of the trip, almost didn't happen. Day one of the cruise the captain informed us that we have around a 20% chance of being able to tender, because the ocean is so rough and there are so many rocks.
Here is my message from my Facebook post:

Today was the best day!!! We were so blessed to arrive at Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Only one of four ships that attempt are usually able to anchor close enough to tender passengers ashore, due to high waves, but although touch and go, we eventually got ashore, yesterday we would not have been able to go. For the past two weeks all 600 passengers have been very anxious after the captain informed us that there was a good chance it may not happen. As we got closer we were all so excited, as for most this was the main reason for the cruise. It was very slow going, and when our group finally got on the tender we all cheered and clapped.
Easter island was certainly a highlight of the travels in my life and one that I never really thought I would see. But I did, and it was all I had hoped it would be and so much more. The landscape was beautiful, much like Hawaii in many areas with gorgeous flowers and plants.
The main reason that I love to travel is to learn about the country and its history and this was certainly no exception. A truly fascinating experience and one we will never forget.

On Bora Bora we did a helmet dive and island tour as a shore excursion. I am glad that we choose Moorea to stay on as we liked it the best of the three places we stopped.

Maui was a great way to end our trip. The Humpback whales were in huge numbers, calving and teaching the young how to jump and feed. It was an awesome sight. We did go snorkelling out to Molokini crater, but it was very disappointing . I has changed a lot since we were here last.

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Posted by debbep 10:45 Archived in Chile Tagged island tahiti easter bora Comments (0)

Dancing around the world

Who knew I was such a good dancer???

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4Mm7hWK8Kc
Your text to link here...

Here is a video I did for your amusement. I had a lot of fun making them.

Posted by debbep 16:35 Comments (0)

Cuenca and Quito

overcast 17 °C

Day 85 - 91

Cuenca

We spent seven nights here in a two bedroom house that we rented on flip key from John and Barbie from the USA. It was a great week, our last week of the trip. We only went out to eat in restaurants for lunch and really enjoyed cooking our own breakfast and dinner as well as having the space to spread out.

The weather is Cuenca is always spring, although this time of year we did experience some rain as well. They always have flowers and veggies and fruit growing.

We didn't do too much as this was a week to relax and wind down from some hectic weeks prior.

There are many expats living here, and almost the first question you get is, "are you looking to move here?"

I can see why it is attractive however. Costs are low, weather is pleasant and health care is good and very affordable.

We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out with our hosts and another couple Joanne and Kevin from White Rock. Both couples are just four of many who have decided to live here full time. Most, like them, rent rather than buy. They were around our age and had many funny and interesting stories to share.

We did visit the Main museum and found it one of the best we have been in as well as a smaller one, which had handicrafts from all over South America.

A tourist bus tour one day and walked around the main square a few times and found a hammock to bring home.

I spent a day at a spa getting myself cleaned up to come home. What would have cost over $200 at home was only $60 here.

A visit to two 'Panama Hat' factories where we bought a few hats for ourselves and the kids. It is so interesting how they make them. They take palm leaves and cook them and weave them and shape them into hats. All Panama hats are from Ecuador but when they were building the Panama canal they were all outfitted with these hats, so they got to be known as 'Panama Hats'. The fellow we bought ours from has sent hats to Madonna, Prince Charles, Denzel Washington and Johnny Depp. And now the Pattersons.

We also walked along the river a few times which was very pleasant. We really liked Cuenca and can see why so many move here, although it would not be what we would choose for ourselves.
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Day 92 and 93

Quito

Our flight from Cuenca to Quito had us arrive at 2pm and this was the first time we saw the mountains and the sun. Quito is a beautiful city and we finally got to see it without the rain and clouds.

We visited another amazing small museum, Mindalae with displays from the Oriente region of Ecuador, the Huorani tribes. We recognized so many of the items in the museum from our trip to the jungle.

A visit to the San Francisco monastery and church and another amazing museum, Casa de Abalado which housed pottery and artifacts that were beautifully displayed. I think that Ecuador has some of the best displayed museums of any we have seen in the world.

On our way home from dinner, close to our hotel, we see many police dressed in fancy uniforms and musical instruments ready to perform. There is a road blocked off and many other police with machine guns lined up.

We asked someone what was going on and was told that the president of Ecuador, Correa, is in the building. We walked down the street, past the building and all the police and even walked between the two SUVs, one for the President and the other his security. Doug had a back pack on and no one said anything to us. Can you imagine if that was Mulroney or Obama? We would not have gotten anywhere near the place.

All too soon it seems it is time to head home. We are on the plane now, Quito to Miami, then to LAX and finally arrive Vancouver at midnight where we have to overnight and take the sea plane the next day.

We were so blessed to have all of these amazing adventures over the past year. We loved every country that we visited, but I think that if I had to choose a favourite in South America it would be Ecuador with Bolivia coming in second. But they were all fantastic and each one had its own charm.

Thanks for following along with us. We are both looking forward to being home for a while and enjoying our beautiful island this summer.

Posted by debbep 20:24 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Galapagos Islands

sunny 35 °C

Day 77

3:45AM just seemed too early to to go to the airport but off we went. We had to first line up to purchase a $10 Galapagos ticket and then have our luggage scanned and tagged. They want to be sure that no outside fruit or vegetables get to the islands .

There are a few school groups heading to the Galapagos, one we met from Calgary on Spring Break. Lucky kids. Our flight left on time and we found out that there is an hour time change on the islands. We are now only one hour difference from home. All visitors must pay $100 US cash park fee upon arrival to visit the Galapagos.

A five minute cab ride, (in a Toyota pick up) and we are at our hotel at 930AM. Thankfully our room was ready for us and the owner asked if we would like a city tour. Sure, why not. His brother and wife picked us up in their pick up truck and in ten minutes we had seen where most of the major sites within walking distance were. It was a great way to get our bearings.

The Main Street is the tourist area and on the waterfront with many shops and restaurants. Sea-lions are everywhere. They are smaller than our sea lions, almost seal looking, but there are hundreds of them in various shades of black, brown and blonde. They are laying not only on the beach but on the boardwalk as well, quite used to humans and very tame. We also see large iguanas walking down the Main Street. Welcome to the Galapagos.

We are now on the island of St. Cristobal which is one of many in this chain but there are only a couple inhabited by people. We will spend two nights here before meeting up with a five day cruise that we booked.

After walking around the town and having lunch we went back to the room for a rest. It is so hot here. Incredibly humid and hot which I was not expecting.

The evening however is very pleasant and we walked around the edge of the ocean and then had dinner. The sun sets at 6:30P here as we are on the equator.

Day 78.

The man from the hotel drove us to a beach called The Loberia at 830AM. We walked down a path and then along the shoreline looking at various birds, iguanas and crabs on the beach. There was a small bay that we were told to snorkel in and it was lovely. Huge turtles in groups, some the size of me, just lazing on the bottom of the ocean and coming up for a gulp of air every now and then. I had to move out of their way they were so close. We saw a number of tropical fish as well and it was a great morning and only a couple of other snorkelers in the water with us and the turtles.

Victor picked us up from the beach at 11:30AM as arranged and after we changed our clothes we walked to town to get some lunch and then out to the Interpretative centre. It was a lot longer than we thought it would be, and only felt so tiring because it was so incredibly hot. We quickly went through the centre reading the various boards and then started on the board walk towards the hills to see some birds. The problem is that there is not any shade. All the plants are very low bushes so we are in the blazing sun all the time. We came to a crossroads. To the right was the 200 stairs up to the lookout to see the birds. To the left was the beach.
We chose the beach.
The first beach had large waves and quite an undertow, and a few surfers. Tempting as it was we continued on to Playa Man which was a lot more swimmer friendly. Sea lions are suntanning next to the sunbathers on the beach.

Cooled off from our swim we flagged a cab, but because we were wet he made us sit in the back of the truck which was fine with us.

The town of Puerto Moreno is really charming, laid back, lots of tourists but I can see spending a lot of time here. There are many beaches and attractions (animals) that you can see just on this island.
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Day 79

Luckily our hotel let us hang out for the morning until it was time to meet our group at 1PM. We were driven to the airport and met up with Harry, our guide from the ship. We were waiting for three more to arrive from Quito by plane.
I found out that there are already 7 passengers who have done the northern 5 day trip, and now will stay on board to do the southern five days with us. Harry is German so I ask, are the other passengers English speaking? No, they are all German. This was my fear and one of the first questions that I asked the travel agent before booking. I was assured they were all English speaking.

The first passenger arrives, Christine, late 20s from Switzerland. She speaks German.
The next two arrive, Anthony and his new wife D, mid 20s from Australia. Yeah! Someone to talk to. The other two are a young couple from Japan who speak some English.

We are taken to the boat by zodiac and amazed at the elegance of our home for the next four nights. The Treasure of Galapagos is a first class yacht and very luxurious. I booked this a few weeks ago, there was one room left so I got it for around half price. Our cabin is bigger than some of the hotel rooms we have had and we not only have our own bathroom but a balcony too. It is way more than we every expected or thought we could afford and feeling quite decadent.

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The German thing didn't turn out too badly. Most of them were nice and spoke some english. One single woman kept hanging with us when she could. They are in their late 60s, mid 70s I think. Christine ended up being a great person to hang out with, we have so many of the same interests and she spoke mostly English. We seemed to form an Alliance right away, the Germans and all the new ones, whom Harry spoke English to. Our table their table, Our zodiac, their zodiac.

After being served lunch in the gorgeous dining room Harry gave us an overview about the ship and the itinerary for the next few days.

The Galapagos Islands are a series of islands in the National Park and protected. You can only visit most of them with a certified guide. There is an airport on San Cristobal and also on Baltra, off Santa Cruz. One of the other islands has a couple of hundred people on it as well. A lot of people just visit the islands by land, taking a boat from one to the other doing day trips. We decided to do the five day cruise because they travel at night while you are sleeping.

Our first outing was at 3PM and we took the zodiacs back into town and then a 45 minute bus ride to the other side of the island where they breed the giant tortoises.

We did see a number of them on the walk and also the area where the smaller newborns, (these are two years old) are kept until big enough to be put in the acreage that is the breeding centre. It was all quite interesting.

We, the English, got to know each other after dinner and then off to our rooms at 9 PM for the night. This is not a party ship that is for sure.

The captain started the engines at 2:30AM to move to the next island. We were really rocking and rolling all the way, I had to take a few ginger pills and a sleeping pill to get though the night.

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Day 80

We wake to see a gorgeous white sand beach with aqua blue water, we are at Espana Island and it looks like a postcard for the Caribbean. After breakfast at 7:30A we pick out some snorkel gear and head to the island by zodiac. This is a wet landing, where we jump into the water and make our way to the beach.

We walked the beach for an hour first with Harry telling us about the many colourful iguanas, birds and crabs that we are seeing. Sea lions are all along the beach and none of the animals are the least bit concerned about us.
There are many baby sea lions that are still suckling. I watched as a young one went from female to female smelling for his mom, to have the adults bark and growl at him to 'get lost', They are so amusing. Related to the California sea lion but much smaller.

The snorkelling was disappointing as the visibility was not great.
It appears that none of the Germans swim or snorkel. We seven 'English' take every opportunity to be in the water as long as possible.

Our afternoon outing was a dry landing to the other side of the island for a walk on lava stones to the bluffs. We saw many more sea lions and iguanas, blue footed boobies and Nasca boobies as well as other birds.

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Day 81

We moved during the night again but it was much calmer this time. At 8:30 AM we did a wet landing onto Florencia Island. A very short walk on the sand and we are at Post Office Bay. There are two barrels here and in years long ago the ships would pass through and leave mail for back home. They would then go through all the letters in the barrel to see if there were any for where they were going. The letters were delivered by anyone who was passing through your area.

So we did the same. We left a postcard, (no stamp needed) and will see when and who will deliver it to us. We took one for Abbotsford and will deliver it when we go to Mission next month.

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We walked the beach for a while and then snorkelled again. Once again we were disappointed. We have all done some amazing snorkelling in different parts of the world so the bar is set high. Two other ships came in and so there were many people in the water and again the visibility was not great.

After lunch and a rest the seven of us went back into the zodiacs for a deep water snorkel. Now that's what I am talking about! This time the snorkelling was amazing. So many colourful fish, thousands of them and the sea lions were swimming all around us and playing with us. I had one come right up to my mask to check me out. We saw a large ray and the others saw two white tip sharks, but I missed them.

Doug had a blue footed booby dive into the water in front of him and go down about 12 feet and catch a fish. He said it was amazing. We snorkelled for over an hour until it was time to go back. Finally some great snorkelling, but it was worth the wait.

Once when I raised my head to see where our zodiac was I see that a sea lion has jumped into the boat with our driver. It is very common but so comical.

Shortly after we showered and changed we were back in the boats and this time all of us went to another part of the island for a walk across to the other side. We saw birds, more lava lizards, pink flamingos in the distance and different vegetation.

When we reached the beach on the other side we find a large sea turtle coming out of the water. He turned and went back in when he saw us coming, but we had a great chance to watch him coming in and then swimming off again.

As we walked down the beach we saw more turtles in the water and then we were lucky enough to see some spotted rays close to the shore as well as the sting rays.

We walked across the island again and back to the ship as the sun was going down and painting the sky a brilliant orange and red.

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Day 82

A terrible night of rolling as we travelled to the island of Santa Fe in the night. We were all bleary eyed at breakfast this morning.
We left by zodiac and had a wet landing on the island at 8:30AM. It is already scorching hot out, we are all sweating profusely. Only three of the seven Germans came with us on the walk around the island.

We see many cactus trees in bloom as well as huge Galapagos land iguanas. They are endemic to this island. Being vegetarians and green plant eaters it is slim pickins here now as all the bushes are just coming into leaf. We did see one eating a prickly pear that had fallen from the tree.

Back on the beach to return to the ship the sea lions are spread across the sand between us and the water. We almost have to step over them to pass. So much for the two meter distance rule. Lots of babies again, and they are so funny to watch. One was very curious about D's hat.

I was the last to get into the boat, stepping over the little seals to get there. The waves are active and a little voice told me to place my camera into the zodiac before climbing in. I am glad I listened because I ended up going over backwards knapsack first into the water. Not my finest moment but so happy my camera was okay.

Ten minutes after arriving at the ship the six of us, (The English) put on our suits and set off again in the zodiacs for another snorkel from the zodiac. It was another great day seeing spotted rays, huge tropical fish and again swimming with the playful sea lions.

After a couple of hours we headed back to the boat and set off for our final destination of Santa Cruz island.

Upon arrival everyone went ashore except Doug and I, we had the ship to ourselves. We are spending two more days here so decided to just relax on board and read and listen to music which was great.

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Day 83

We had to get up at 6AM and leave our luggage outside the room before breakfast. We said our goodbyes to the staff and headed into puerto ayora to our waiting bus at 7:30AM and drive across the island. The vegetation is much more lush here, bouganvillia, hibiscus and lots of other tropical flowers and palms line the road. They must get a lot more rain here, it looks more like Hawaii.

A large acerage is at the top of the island and is a private reserve for giant land tortoise. We walk around the property for a while and see many huge tortoise in the grass and also the many ponds. It is very lovely and a great way to see the tourtise.

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The rest of the group got back on the bus to head to the airport to other parts of Ecuador. We said our goodbyes and then waited for an arranged cab to pick us up. Christina was staying a couple of days as well so the thre of us headed back into town,

Our hotel is a lovley oasis with a swimming pool which looks so inviting. It is only 9 am but already sweltering.

We were able to get into our room early and after a siesta we headed to town to explore. It is. Such bigger than San Cristobal and very touristy, with tons of tourists from all over, but I like it. The buildings are all very well made and have some great designs. The tourist strip runs along the water and there is a nice breeze.

We met Christina for dinner and her and I arranged another snorkle trip for the morning.

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Day 84

Christina and I joined 12 others in a very small boat for what we thought was a snorkle tour for three hours. We stoped to look at sea lions first, then there was a walk to look at iguanas on the shore. I did'the go and instead asked if I could snorkle while we waited, which he said yes.
There were not many fish but I did swim with a huge turtle for a while.

Back in the boat to pick up the others and then to a snorkle spot that was quite good. I swam with white tipped and black tipped sharks for a while, tried to follow them but they are fast. They were around four or five feet long. More sea lions and lots of colorful fish,

We got called back to the boat and then stopped to do,this long walk that I was not prepared for. We were supposed to bring good shoes, which I did not know, so after climbing over loose lava rock, in my bathingsuit and sandles, for fifteen minutes I decided to turn back. I waited at the dock for about an hour and a half but got to see lots of rays and sharks in the water .

We headed back to town, I had a siesta and then walked for a few hours. Doug and I went into a number of fantastic art shops and just enjoyed the town. We had a great dinner and now it is time to pack again for our flight tomorrow.

We really enjoyed the Galapagos. It was different from what I expected, in that I had no idea we would be snorkelling for one thing. It was great to see iguanas and birds that are found no where else in the world and protected here. Most of the beaches were gorgeous and the water beautiful shades of blues and greens. To be able to walk amongst these animals and have them not take any notice of you, and feel perfectly safe was amazing.

The landscape is very harsh for the most part, and a lot hotter and humid than I thought possible. It is cooler in the summer months apparently.

There were a lot of other boats ranging from budget to luxury. Apparently this is a place where you really get what you pay for, so not advisable to go budget. If you have a flexible schedule like we did you can get the first class boat for the budget price anyhow.

There were a number of young families, and a lot of people in their mid 20s. The eldest were in their 70s, but not many of them. Everyone for the most part seemed quite fit, as you need to be to do this tour.

I am really glad that we decided to come here, it was a great experience. We are now off to Cuenca for a week.

Posted by debbep 20:55 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

The Amazing Amazon

semi-overcast 28 °C

Day 70
Quito. We just went to the main square, had lunch and bought a few supplies. We were bagged from yesterday and needed to prepare for tomorrow, so Quito will wait until we get back to explore.

There are lots of pictures in this one.

Day 71

Roberto picked us up at our hotel at precisely 6AM to start our journey to the jungle. We drove to another hotel to pick up four others from Texas. Marc and his wife Laurie, their 16 year old daughter Anna, and family friend 29 year old Monica.

Our seven hour drive took us north east through some rolling green hills and beautiful scenery. This part of Ecuador is the adventure area with bungee jumping, rappelling, zip lining, and biking. We stopped in a lovely small town of Banos for breakfast and could see why it was very popular with tourists.

At 2PM we arrived at the small airport called 'Shell', named after the oil company. All of our luggage was weighed and then we each had to get on the scales too as we were flying on small six seater cessnas.

Waiting there for us was a Hourani man called Moi and his family. Moi is the president of the Hourani tribe and spends a lot of time on the main land talking to politicians and oil people, not to mention President Obama as well as others. He is working hard to make things work between the oil companies and the tribe. The Ecuadorian government is on the side of the oil companies because it brings a lot of revenue to the country, but the Hourani tribe are losing a lot of their hunting grounds, not to mention that they are cutting down the rain forest and polluting the land. The incidence of cancer has risen substantially in the last few decades since the oil companies came.
The Ecuadorian Government said that there were not many Hourani left, so selling the land to the oil companies would not impact them. Moi spent eight months walking from village to village to do a census to prove to the Government that there were in fact many left.

The history of the Hourani is a violent one. They killed so many people over the years, oil men, loggers, other tribes people, missionaries and many of their own. The spear would solve many problems for them, protecting their land and culture, revenge issues as well as some anger issues. The last killing was March of last year. A revenge killing of 30 people of another tribe the Taromenane, who still remain deep in the jungle and want no contact with the outside world. They killed an elder Hourani couple, which promoted the revenge.

I would think of this sometimes as we were hiking through the jungle, or floating happily down the river, that perhaps they were hiding in the bushes with spears.

Moi had some groceries that he wanted us to take back for him and he also showed us some of his handicrafts that were for sale. He needed to make some money to get to the the hospital to have an injury checked out. We each bought a necklace or two from him. I bought two with large teeth of wild pigs that are rather unique.

The group was divided into two with myself, Doug, our guide Roberto and Monica who got to be the co pilot. The flight over the Jungle was breathtaking. We can see the river snaking its way through the dense forest.

In forty minutes we see a patch of grass and realize that we are going to land there. As we are flying lower to land many groups of Huorani are coming out of the jungle to greet us. By the time the planes landed there must have been fifty people in total running towards us, young and old. We felt like quite the celebrities.

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After meeting a few people and sharing a glass of lemonade we are given rubber boots which will be our footwear for the next five days.

Our bags are taken for us as we hike through the mud into the jungle and towards the river. A very long wooden dug out canoe is waiting for us. There is an engine at the back for travelling upstream or if in a hurry. Most times one man at the front and one at the back push a long pole into the river to help us manoeuvre down.

We are now going by canoe for an hour to our village camp. The river is not that deep right now and there are so many sticks and logs proving a challenge to navigate. Our driver, who looks to be less than 18, is very skilled however and arrive in one piece and still dry.

The humidity is very high, sweat is pouring off us. The temperature here never varies much, being on the equator. It is usually around 29, but it gets more humid this time of year.

Pulling off to the side of the river we climb the bank to our homes for the next few nights. You can not see them from the river as they blend in. You can not find them on Google maps because the canopy is so dense.

The main meeting area is a raised building on stilts that is screened in on all four sides and has a wooden roof. Inside is a table with 8 chairs and our lunch is waiting.

I did not expect much for food here, but was happily surprised at the quality and quantity of food. Anna was also a vegetarian and the cook was very accommodating.

We have two cooks, one cleaner and couple of boat drivers and workers. The camp is run by the Huorani with the guidance of a manager. The staff rotate every time new guests arrive, then return to their village and give others a chance. The marketing and payments are done by an American company because there is not any internet or communication in the jungle, which would make it impossible to manage.

There is a manager, Mowgli, a young man from Quito, but everyone else is from the community and most of the money stays here.

For every meal we would have an appetizer, main course and dessert, all fantastic and tasty. We were not going to go hungry here.

Full, but tired, we were taken to our cabins. There is not any internet, telephones, tv or electricity here. Solar panels keep the fridge and a few lights going.
Our cabin is four screened walls. No privacy but we are in the jungle and set back from the paths. We have two comfortable twin beds, one light bulb, a bathroom with flush toilet, sink and shower with cool water. Our porch has a wonderful hammock and area to leave our muddy boots.

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In the evening we met our local guide, 'Bay', who is a Huorani hunter aged 54. He took us on a night walk after dinner through the jungle looking for nocturnal animals and insects. Before we went however we were told to be careful where we stepped and put our hands as there were many deadly snakes, scorpions, and spiders lurking under leaves and branches. We also had to be aware of these huge Conga ants, about an inch long, that sting like crazy and leave you in pain for a long time.

The jungle is very loud. Frogs that sound like large animals, cicadas, birds and crickets fill the air with their singing.

Every tree, insect and flower has a use and a purpose. We have learned a lot from Bay already on our first day.

Sleeping in the jungle with all the sounds around us was a great lullaby.

Day 72

After a large breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit and granola we set off in the canoe for 40 minutes upstream towards the airstrip. The next four hours were spent walking through the jungle learning about the medicinal plants, edible and hunting plants and looking at the different tracks in the mud. And speaking of the mud, it was a boot eater. Sinking and slipping through lots of mud.

We came to a huge tree that had a 'Tarzan' vine hanging from it, so we each took a turn swinging through the jungle which was fun. I did not get too far before falling off however. I am made painfully aware that I have not been to the gym in three months.

We came to the river, so hot dirty and tired, to find that we can swim in this part of the Amazon. After finding a tree to change behind we all welcomed the cold refreshing water for an hour. The rain came while we were swimming which made it even more invigorating.

Lunch was waiting for us on the side of the river. Our cook, with two of her four children, were there to serve us another great meal.

A walk back across the airstrip and we are at the community centre. There are many small family areas within a large area, but they all meet here in the community area to play sports such as soccer, go to the two schools here, high school and elementary as well as a gathering place.

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A couple of dozen people are in building in the middle which has a palm roof and open sides. Six or more small areas hold necklaces, bracelets and bags that are the local handicraft and for sale. Nothing is said, they patiently sit there talking amongst themselves. Small children are playing in the grass and a couple of the teens are playing soccer.

Our group of six tried to buy from each of the vendors. A couple of necklaces from one and then I bought a blow gun from another. We will learn to shoot using a blow gun tomorrow.

Two of the young girls in our group are single, so the men held arms and ran in a circle chanting and singing before circling Anna, the youngest, and pushing a young single male towards here. This is a mock wedding. and they have just married her off to an eligible bachelor. They did the same with Monica and it was great fun.

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We were given a tour of the school which has been closed since January. It is very hard to get teachers to commit to living here for a year, and now the government has decided not to fund education here any more. Very sad. The education is very basic in the reading writing arithmetic department, focussing more on learning the history of their elders and ways of the hourani tribes. Like most places the kids are not as interested in the old ways anymore, so there is a big focus on preserving it.

Our last stop was a visit to an elder woman and her husband who have so many stories to tell. She showed us a scar of a spear that she was shot with as a young girl that went right through her.

The company that we have booked this trip with with focuses on creating an awareness about these communities and what the logging and oil companies are doing to damage the lifestyles and habits of these people.

It was a very long day and after another canoe ride home, we collapsed into bed for a rest before dinner.

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Day 73

Today we learn how to hunt, the Hourani way. Down the river by canoe a ways and then a walk through a different part of the forest. We were shown tracks in the mud of anacondas, caiman, large wild pigs and rodents, and many birds.

Once we were deep in the jungle our first mission was to kill a squirrel with a blowgun.
Well not really, or course I could never do that. Bay hung a up a large flower pod as a target and we each took a turn.

Bay was dressed ( or undressed) in his traditional hunting garb. A small undergarment and a few adornments was all that he wore. He was barefoot and carried his heavy blowgun and a spear. Roberto decided to go barefoot today too, which proved to be a challenge for him as there are so many biting ants.

The blowgun is around 8 feet long and very heavy. Trying to hold it up to aim proves difficult, but with a bit of help I was able to shoot quite close to the target.

We then had to aim at a monkey (the favourite food of the Hourani) which was a target at the top of a palm tree. Shooting up was actually easier. Of course we were not shooting a real monkey either. We were laughing and making so much noise there were no animals within 10 miles or more.

A walk further into the jungle and we try our hand at spear throwing. Targets are set up to resemble wild pigs and we learn how to sneak up and throw our spear in for the kill.

Our last lesson was tree climbing. They weave a circle of vines to put around their feet and shimmy up, blowgun in hand, and shoot the monkeys from the top.

After watching the two young women having great difficulty trying to do it, we decided not to humiliate our selves and politely declined.

A lot of the women have deformed feet from doing so much climbing at an early age, they resemble hands from wrapping them around the tree.
This is still the way of life for the Huroni. It was not a show for the tourists, but the way that they really live today. It was fascinating.

We returned back to camp and after a rest we sat in the hammock cabin overlooking the river learning how to make some of the baskets from palms as other crafts. Bay told us some stories of the jungle, translated by Roberto.

The girls came into the dinner room all excited because they saw a snake outside their cabin. Roberto ran off to find it, in the dark, and he and a couple of other guys had to kill it as it was a very poisonous snake. Thankfully no one got bit.

After dinner everyone went out in the canoe for a night hunt for caimans. I stayed back at the cabin. They didn't see any but did see other birds and tracks in the sand.

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Day 74

Thunder like I have never heard last night. The storm was right over head and shook the cabin at times. Rain pelting down accompanied by lightning and more thunder. The real rainforest experience. Roberto said that he was scared......it does not happen here too much like that.

In the morning the rain stopped and it was another warm but muggy day. We packed up our belongings after breakfast and tried to fit everything back in to our small backpacks.
All of our clothes are filthy and smelly and seem to take up a lot more room.

We said our goodbyes to the staff who were staying behind and split into two groups. Doug and I were with Monica and a few of the boatman as they poled the canoe downstream. So peaceful and beautiful floating down the river.

After an hour or so we pulled onto a beach and switched with the other three who were kayaking.

Kayaking on the amazon. What an experience. The canoe followed behind us a distance as we went with the current, dodging the many sticks and logs coming out of the water. I was the lead kayak with Roberto navigating the river, while Doug and Monica followed behind us.

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An hour or so later we arrived at Bay's house. We were greeted by four small children, his grandkids, and were led up the hill through the many fruit trees on his land. The Hourani people can decide where they want their homes, if they want it over here, then that is fine. No one questions it, you build you house where you want to.

His land is beautiful and he has a few structures on it. Sleeping, cooking and communal buildings. Beba his wife greets us at the house as well has his two daughters and a few other relatives . They are in the traditional dress, Beba (bebantoque) topless and the daughters have bathing suit tops on and skirts made of tree bark.

Our greeting involves having the red colour of a fruit painted around our eyes. We are all given Hourani names and welcomed with the local drink of chicha.

The local girls then took a few of the fruit and smashed them into Roberto's and the other boys faces, which was then returned by the boys. It became a war of red paint for a while, and a young boy around seven decided to smash a fruit in my face which he and everyone else found quite amusing.

A few handicrafts were sitting on a bench which we looked at and each bought one or two things. Doug and I bought a couple of necklaces and two small spears.

Then we danced the traditional dance done at parties and the women sang a few chants. It was great fun and everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves. A small baby capuchin monkey was there as a pet. They rescued him from the forest and he was quite happy sitting on our heads and being part of the action.

In the kitchen were other pets which included two baby red tanagers and two blue ones as well as a parakeet. The Hourani like to have parakeets as they let them know when visitors, or enemies, are coming.

When ever we approach a Hourani home the lead person hoots, or makes a noise to let them know we are coming.

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It was now 2PM and we were hungry so set off up the hill to Bay's old house, a building with no walls and a palm roof that is very sparse at this point. Chino had our lunch ready for us, once again a wonderful three course meal which included poached pears for dessert.

Thunder in the distance and then the rain poured down. The roof did not seem to keep much off of us, Roberto produced some ponchos which were welcomed. We waited for the rain to pass but after half and hour decided to go. Our path down to the canoe was now a small muddy river.

It rained for most of the hour and a half ride but we all found it a fun part of the Amazon experience. There seemed to be more obstacles in this part of the river which necessitated us ducking in the canoe to get under large fallen branches and manoeuvring around fallen trees.
To get over a large log that is laying across the river submerged just under the surface our driver would go very fast to glide over it and lift the engine at the last minute. It made for a bumpy ride at times, but exciting.

We arrived at our home for the night which consists of four platforms with tents for each party. We have foam mattresses, sheets and pillows. It seems quite comfortable.

The rest of the crew went for a hike up to this huge tree we passed on the way, but I stayed behind to rest.

Tonight is our last night in the jungle.

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Day 75.

I have been fighting off a cold since we have arrived, but last night it came with a-vengeance and settled in my chest. The hike to the waterfall did not sound like the best plan for me so unfortunately I missed the hike. Doug decided to hang back with me.

The rest of the group left at 6:30AM and returned around 8. They said it was a very muddy, slippery and steep climb up and down to the waterfall so I felt I made the right decision.

I sat in the open air dining room and took funny pictures with my ipad of the kids and women. We were all having a great time and laughing a lot.

After breakfast we packed up the canoe, said our goodbyes to the staff and made our way down river in the canoe for a few more hours.
A stop in another local community with more dancing, learning how to make fire, and handicraft purchases. Each place we have stopped have had different items which is great.

Another couple of hours in the canoe heading to the town of Coca. As we head downstream we can see the canopy getting lighter. The forest is thinning out and the sun feels hotter now.

We reached the town and tried to clean up a bit, change into the least dirty and smelly of our clothes for the trip back to Quito. This is an oil town, many people are employed on the rigs and everything else that goes along with oil drilling. Unfortunately what also comes with it is that the locals also get involved with more alchol ,prostitution and other vices that are not common in the jungle normally. There are a lot of plantations where the land is cleared for cattle and farming. Pollution is of course another big problem.
We have many of these problems with our own oil tar sands as well of course, but the Amazon rainforest is considered the lungs of the world and no one wants it to be cut down and to die from oil and logging.

On the way to the airport we stopped at an animal rescue centre to view some of the animals that we only saw the tracks of, as many are nocturnal.

Our flight to Quito was pleasant, our bags (and spears and blowguns) all arrived with us and we say our goodbyes to our jungle 'family' of the last five days.

We found out that some teachers have arrived and that school will be back in. The government was also coming to look at building another elementary school in another village which is great news.

The staff at each of the places we stayed were wonderful. We have not complaints or criticism what so ever.

We were very happy to have Roberto as our guide. He was so enthusiastic about everything, like it was the first time he saw it too. He was incredibly kind, patient and had boundless energy. His passion for the Amazon jungle and the Hourani people added to our enjoyment and desire to understand the area even more.

Our four fellow travellers from Texas were great companions and we all seemed to get along very well. We felt very blessed to have just a small group with people who were ready for adventure and what ever came our way.

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Day 76.

Quito. Well another day in Quito where we won't be seeing much. Doug has picked up a bug of some kind so we are laying low in the hotel room, which is actually fine by me too. We sent out our laundry (those poor souls who have that awful job) and will re pack and re group for our flight south early tomorrow morning. The cab is coming for us at 3:45 AM !!

It is now on to the Galapagos Islands for a week. The fun never stops.

Posted by debbep 18:44 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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