A Travellerspoint blog

Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh and Mai Chau

Getting better all the time

sunny 28 °C

Bai tu Long Bay

Day 16

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

We wonder, is this our ship?

Our junk is the Indochina Prince 2 and has four cabins, but one will be vacant. Duc, who is known as "handsome duc" is around 30 something and is a fantastic host with a wonderful sense of humour.
Our cabins are very tight quarters but we have a lovely sun deck and outdoor as well as indoor dining room to spend most of our time aboard.

We see a lot of big ships go by with 50 or more passengers and are glad we choose this small one. We all seem to get along very well and are laid back and enjoying the outdoors.

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bed was at 9PM and we slept like logs.

Day 17


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It is a a simple life, no tv, newspapers or internet. They are happy

We kayaked to a sandy beach and went for a swim. The water is a great temperature and very salty. The crew has come ashore in the tender and set up our table and chairs complete with white tablecloths and we are served an 8 course lunch. Most of the food was prepared on a barbecue
I enjoyed many courses or different types of vegetables, far too much food.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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



Fishing village and Ninh Binh

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 19

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Day 20

Mai Chau

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


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

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

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


This guy is bringing home the bacon


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

" I can see!"

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

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

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

Day 21. Our last day in Vietnam

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Hanoi and Sapa

sunny 31 °C


Day. 9

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Day 10, Thursday , May 4 th

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Day 11


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 12

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

Day 13, Sunday

Bac ha market

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

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

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

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

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


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






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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Day 14, Monday may 8


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

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

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

Today was flat. No hills. Ha!

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Day 15

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

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


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


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

It is a temple of Confucius and built when Vietnam was under Chinese rule. It was quite beautiful.

A kindergarten class was having a graduation ceremony to first grade and outside a girls school was also having pictures taken for thier graduation ceremony.

A cab was called and we went to a resteruant by the lake that we had seen, and ordered 3 iced Cafe mochas which cost 300,000 or $16 which was outrageous but nice to have a relaxing moment by the lake. From there we walked back to our hotel and said goodbye to Thang. We were going to take her to lunch but she needed to go. Jane and I went back to Blue Butterfly for another delicious eggplant dish and some coconut water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoi An, Vietnam

sunny 34 °C

Day 4. Saigon to Hoi An

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

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


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


Banana pancakes were enjoyed from this street seller


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

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

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

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

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


Day 6

April 30, Saturday

Crispy critters

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

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

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

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

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

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













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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












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

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


Day 7

Hot hot hot

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

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

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



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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Off to a rocky start

semi-overcast 28 °C

Vietnam. April 24, 2018

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

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

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

Janes suitcase did not arrive unfortunately.

We tracked down some airport staff

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


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

"Yeah right."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

The bathroom was down the walk and around the corner.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Next adventure please

Day 3, Thursday April 27

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

Jane really doesn't like spiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Electricians nightmare

Off to Hoi An

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


Lions and more lions. And some close encounters

sunny 27 °C

Day 19. February 23, Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

" which flight is my luggage on ?"

This one

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

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

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

Finally we arrive in Kenya at 1030pm

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

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

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

We are now in Kenya.

Day 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Day 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 22
Saturday feb 26

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

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

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

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

Cheetahs of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that was our version

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

We like our version better

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

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

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

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




Day 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very cunning

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

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

What an exhilarating morning



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Driving back to the camp we were lucky enough to find a 'tower' of giraffes which were great to watch for about an hour. I love to watch them walk and run. They are so graceful

Ten minutes later we came upon a big herd of elephant that included a one week old baby. He was so cute following so close to mom. He was getting really tired and tried to climb up her leg, lying down when ever he could. We stayed and watched them for about an hour as well.

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

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

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

Day 24
Tuesday February 28

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

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

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

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

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

The leopard gives up. All the animals have scattered now

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

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

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


Breakfast time.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even baby heyenas are cute


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

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

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

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

"Holy shit"

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

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

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

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

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

Holy cow

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

Then came the hippos, very noisy and hyenas squealing

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

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

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

What an adventure!

Breakfast was all a buzz with the excitement of last night

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


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

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

Loved Africa!

click here for video

here is a video of my safari

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

Uganda and Rwanda

Gorillas in the mist

overcast 22 °C

The pearl of Africa

Day 13.

We flew on Kenya airlines from Addis to Nairobi and watched the movie Tarzan which seemed really appropriate. A three hour layover in Nairobi had us looking for lunch and could only find a food fair. Expecting the worst we ordered some salads and samosas from Elvis, our sweet server. The salads were some of the best we have ever had! What a great surprise and followed by two delicious capicchino. The time flew by and before long it was time to board our short flight to Entebbe Uganda.

Flying over a huge body of water I was worried that we had gotten on the wrong plane, it looked like an ocean with small islands . It was lake Victoria. I had no idea it was so huge.

We had to show a valid yellow fever certificate before proceeding to immigration. An east Africa visa was applied for on line and now we had to line up, pay our $100US , hand over our visa application and passport and we are now in Uganda.

Our arranged driver was waiting for us and transported us to our home for the night, African Roots Guesthouse. The two women who greeted us were so happy and friendly, we immediately felt at home Our room is on the second floor and very small but tidy and clean. We have a private bathroom but I don't even think there are any other guests at this time. the twin beds each have mosquito netting and I immediately laid down and stayed there until 6AM the next morning.
Lana went for a walk down to the lake and stopped to chat with everyone at the guesthouse. We never ate dinner as lunch was quite filling.

Day 14

A delightful breakfast of fresh fruit, pancakes and juice were served, but Lana had a rough nite so didn't eat anything. She was pretty low key all day today.

Brighton from Churchill Safaris picked us up at 730 as arranged and off we went . Once again we are in a Toyota land cruiser but this one is much older and not as comfortable ride . The bar has been raised very high from our Ethiopia trip. Brighton is a nice man but does not say much.
I asked him how many children he had and he told me
"In Ethiopia it is custom not to say the number of children or cows that you have". It is considered tempting fate.
"If you have between 1 and 5 children you have a small family, if you have more than 5 you have a big family. I have a small family"

Once out of the rush hour of Entebbe and Kampala we are on a very well maintained two lane highway that is very straight and a nice change from Ethiopia roads. The downside was that every time you passed through a small town there was around 10 speed bumps. And it seemed that we were passing through a small town every 15 minutes. The small towns have lots of little shops with men fixing motorcycles, welding, metal work and lots of industrial work .
The air quality was not great, lots of burning of wood and metals. I did not see too many women, but sometimes would notice one in the traditional Ugandan dress, brightly coloured long dress with big puffy sleeves. They carry goods on their heads here instead of their backs.Most people however are just wearing western style clothing

The Ugandans are shorter, stockier and have rounder faces and darker skin than the Ethiopians. And as many cows that were on the road in Ethiopia it is now replaced with motorcycles. Thousands of them used as not only private transportation but taxis and transport as well.
Bananas . Yes we have bananas. I have never seen so many in one place. Huge stocks of green bananas on trucks being loaded onto motorcycles, bicycles or people carrying them.

Ethiopians walked everywhere and for hours a day. You rarely see people walk here for any distance. They take motor bikes or bicycles. The bicycles are sometimes loaded down so much with bananas, lumber or other goods that they just push them and use them like a wheel barrow.

Security is very high. Every resort or restaurant we go into there is a guy , with a gun, doing a mirror check under the vehicle for bombs. Uganda is very safe because of this apparently. No one but police can carry guns here, unlike Ethiopia

We stopped a few times to take pictures. The landscape is now changing to rolling green hills and is very beautiful. Winston Churchill fell in love with Uganda and called it "the pearl of Africa"
Uganda is a British Colony and has a lot of influence because of this. Most people speak English, the cars drive on the left with a right hand drive car and they have tea.
Tea is planted on the hills and goes on for miles. The plants are over 50 years old and quite striking with the lime green colours.

Uganda is very cool right now, we have to put on a light jacket and it has been raining. Last night there was a lot of rain accompanied by thunderstorms. This is a welcome change from the heat of Ethiopia


The road has now deteriorated again to pot holes and missing pavement. This part will be fixed next year.

Our lodge for the next two nights is inside of Queen Elizabeth park and on the way we were lucky enough to spot some wildlife, and this guy was right at the edge of the road. The elephants here are forest elephants so they are darker in colour than savannah elephants. I have never seen them this dark before, almost black and with the white tusks he is so striking. We stood up and looked out the top of the jeep, (it has a pop up roof) and just watched him for a while. What a gift.

Bush camp is not far from here and we arrive at around 5PM to a welcome juice and cold towel. There are tents for dining, lounging and looking over the water. Tables and chairs are set up around an open campfire, each one with its own kerosene lamp and set for dinner.
Down a manicured path through the forest we find around a dozen permanent tents on stilts named after the animals in the area. Ours is Kob ( similar to our deer).


There is an inside compost toilet but the shower and sink are in a private area out the back. Laying down to rest for an hour we can hear grunting and snorting outside the cabin, it sounds like it is right outside!

There are lots of hippos here and sometimes they wander into the camp at night to feed. During the day they stay submersed in the water to beat the heat.

Did you know that Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal? We think of hippos as being funny looking things, Disney characters wearing pink tutus and dancing about. But they are nasty cranky beasts that can snap a crocodile in half with one bite. We have been informed not to walk to or from our cabins in the dark without a staff member.

Dinner was four courses and delicious. Early to bed again tonight. On the escorted walk home in the dark I was surprised by a soldier with a rifle at the side of the path in the dark. I almost screamed.

Day 15. Saturday Feb 18

6AM our escort was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs for our walk in the dark to breakfast. Last night the jungle noises were great, deafening sounds of frogs and insects and this morning many birds.

After some fruit and bread Brighton picked us up and off we went on our hunt for lions!!!.
It is still dark out as we drive over the dirt roads of the open savannah passing by many kob, and other deer, warthogs, and buffalo.

As the sun is rising a beautiful soft light is embracing the long golden grasses. Brighton's cell phone rings and after chatting for a minute he turns the truck around and races back to where we just were. A friend has called to say they have found lions.

Five minutes later we can see where they must be, there are 10 safari trucks lined up and people standing with cameras and binoculars pointed in the same direction

Two males, which is not that common, walking slowly across the field. Wow. As they move, we move. Some vans moved on after a while, but we stayed and just watched them. All the cobs and animals nearby were watching them too. On high alert with heads and ears high, not moving and keeping an eye on where these two boys are going and what they are up to.

They crossed the road right in front of us, and then walked down the road to two puddles and started to drink. I have never seen this before and was so excited! After having a leisurely drink they wandered off again. Wow. Lions don't often drink water, usually just the blood from their kill. In 30 years this is the second time Brighton has seen this .


We did some more game driving seeking other wildlife, but we were so happy with the lions it was hard to get excited about anything else. We did see a large pride of lioness lazing in the grass but they were quite a distance and my pictures were fuzzy.

Back to camp for lunch and a rest before our after noon game drive. We ordered a shower for 11AM. This means that a guy comes and puts hot water in tank on the platform in our 'back yard' The water was tepid at best, but it was great to have a shower, and outside to boot.

This time the game drive was on a boat on Kazinga channel.

Brighton our guide is very aggressive. He sped to the boat launch, passing lots of other trucks, got our tickets and then rushed us down to the dock.

A two story boat is docked but not ready to board so he directs us to wait in this little hut. When time to board he grabs us and puts in front of all the people lined up so that we are first on. Gotta love it. Its not me being pushy so somehow its okay.

He told us where to sit. Left hand side.
Everyone headed upstairs, just like the hop on hop off busses, everyone wants the top floor. But I thought " why on earth would you want to be on the second floor and not level with the animals?"
So we sat on the bottom right in the front. We were the only ones on the bottom for quite a while but then a mom and daughter came and sat right behind us. They are from Winnipeg and we had a great time together on the two hour journey. The younger one, Stephanie is here on business with a science research team working on genetically modifying mosquitos to erraticate malaria. Mom was thrilled to come long for the ride.

A large group of young people arrived late, holding everyone up, and sat on the other half of the bottom floor.

In no time we we on our way and mere are feet away from large buffalo and hippos in the water and shoreline, sharing the space with crocodiles. The two hours was non stop wildlife and the bird life was so abundant and colourful. It would be a birders paradise here for sure.

In the distance we see four huge elephant which is an amazing sight.







The baby hippo was biting the tails of the grown ups and they were getting very annoyed with him.
What a fantastic day. I really just thought of Uganda for the gorillas, I knew there was wildlife but didn't think it was this good. Not as abundant or varied as other African Countries but still pretty amazing.

Back at the cabin for a rest before dinner. The staff here is wonderful and the food so well presented and tasty. The portions are small but just the right amount for us.

Stayed up until 10 PM tonight!!!! We didn't put the flaps down and I could see the stars while lying in bed .

Day 16

Our escort came at 5:30AM to collect our bags and walk us to breakfast. Not much choice of what to eat because of the early hour, and we were off to go on a chimpanzee trek

I really don't know what I expected. I think I thought it would be like one I did in Costa Rica where you did a stroll through the forest and watched monkeys.
Silly me
We arrived at 7 and were joined by 14 others, all German with their walking sticks ready to go. Divided into two groups we had Deborah as our guide, a 30 ish woman who was short and heavy set but obviously fit. With machete in hand she set off with us behind her.

Within 15 minutes I thought " WTF ". I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a 25 lb pack on my back, camera gear and two water bottles, and was huffing and puffing up this long muddy hill. The rocks were very slippery, as were the roots and leaves. Really the best place to step was in the mud. Going down was worse. She gave Lana and I walking sticks, well tree branches to be used as walking sticks. One younger girl from Berlin didn't have a stick and was walking with her hands in her pockets. She was very fit.

After an hour or so we heard screeching and screaming. The chimps are on both sides of us and very active. We veer off the path and go into the jungle to track them. There are lots of vines wrapping themselves around my ankles trying to pull me down. We see a couple of the chimps jumping on the ground and yelling at each other. They are huge, about four or five feet tall. Then they are off again and we go back to the trail to try and follow them. They probably think this is great fun, " let's take the tourists on a wild goose chase through the forest"

In another 10 minutes we come to a place where there are maybe a dozen, it's hard to tell they are high in the trees. The canopy is very thick so it is quite dark. Picture taking was impossible for the most part because of this. They sat up in the trees eating fruit and and then would throw the leftovers down, we would have to duck.

Finally one guy sat up on a branch that had a bit of light so I could get a decent shot.

We started the trek back and were done in four hours. All in all I could of done without it. I was so worried I would fall and hurt myself before the gorilla hike, but thankfully I didn't.
This gave us a taste of what the gorilla hike will be like. Yikes!

Back int the truck Brighton is driving like a crazy man to get us to our next hotel in time for lunch. Once again we came across a huge elephant on the side of the road and then further on some monkeys with a newborn baby in the moms arms.

A family of elephants passed in front of us, there were so many of all sizes they just kept coming across the road. There was a motorcycle that went ahead and we followed but one of the elephants didn't like this as there were still one or two of her family that were still on the other side. She started trumpeting and getting angry.
There was a lone guy in a small car behind us and he stayed put. I hope he was okay. Not sure how long he would have had to wait.

There were lots of family of baboons on the side of the road too.



We enter Bwindi forest and climb to the top of a mountain to our lodge for the next two nights. I booked Haven lodge, which is new and part of the local community project so helps out with the locals.

It is beautiful, overlooking the mountains and forest, made of wood and very charming. We are served lunch and then shown to our beautiful room.
I immediately fell asleep for a few hours. It felt great to just relax

After dinner we get ourselves ready for the big day tomorrow and our 5am start.



We were so excited this morning, all our stuff was ready the night before , three alarms set for 5AM and ready for breakfast 530AM. We had a hard time choking down our food, although delicious it was a bit too early for us.

The staff gave us a packed lunch, more water and we are off to do the gorilla hike.
It was an hour and a half drive to the check in point in the pitch dark on many switchbacks up to close to the top of the mountain. There are three areas in Uganda to hike from and we are starting in Ruhija and will see the Oruzolo group. After an orientation two other women show up, Nuala and Claire from Ireland. There are normally 32 people allowed who are broken in to 4 groups of 8 as there are 4 separate families here. But apparently it is slow season so only the four of us today. Yahoo.

It is quite chilly. We have four layers on, but I am sure we will peel off as we start hiking.

We are given information about the gorillas and the gorilla project. They are/were endangered from disease and poachers but the government stepped in and decided to encourage tourism, charge a lot of money $750USD for a permit ( which we had to buy almost a year ago) and all the money goes to conservation. The rangers and trackers all used to be poachers so they were given the opportunity to make more money this way. Because of this initiative the numbers of gorillas are increasing. They do the same in Rwanda and the Congo.

I am so nervous. Nervous that I wont be able to do this. Yesterday at dinner a man at our hotel regaled a tale of his hike and how a 'chubby' man needed so much help up the mountain and then had to be taken out by stretcher. I was so afraid that would be me today.

We hired porters to carry or bags and help us with the climb . This also really helps the local community . I convinced Claire to do the same, but Nuala decided to go on her own. The elevation is 6000 feet so my breathing is a little laboured already!

We had two guards with us as well with rifles just in case we got charged by elephants.
And I guess for other animals as well. They would just shoot in the air to scare them.

So four women tourists and five guys accompanying us.

As we are heading down the road I am thinking, oh this is okay. Then we veer off into the bush and head down the side of a mountain. There was an 80 percent grade and there was about two inches of leaves covering soft dirt and lots of vines to grab your ankles. My walking stick was a god send as sometimes it would sink in about 4 feet so you knew not to step there.
This is not a trail, there are no trails, just bush whacking.

My guy was Jackson, around 19 years old, shy and so cute. He was not very big but he was strong. He took my hand and led me down the mountain. Lanas porter Maboth did the same for her. I cant imagine doing it without these guys. They were slipping and sliding a bit too. I had my shoes resoled for mud before I left but they were terrible, no grip at all. But Jackson had me.

It was a slow going 45 minutes to the bottom of the hill and then we started up the other side. Up was actually a bit easier except for my short fat legs could not get up to some of these steep logs and areas .

Yesterday I was joking that I was going to hire a porter to push my fat ass up the hill.
Well today Lana s porter did exactly that a couple of times. Leave your pride and dignity at home.

In an hour we see that the ranger stopped. Low pitched howling was heard nearby.
"They are around the corner"

What? Already? We make our way up the last bit of hill and see some branches swaying violently and then we spot one in a tree.

We keep going and there before is a huge Silverback. Sitting there eating the leaves.

My heart is beating so loudly I am sure they can hear it.

I am not breathing. Breathe.
He is mere feet in front of us. We all stand and just watch him, taking a few pictures but watching him and not quite believing that he is right there in front of us.

Then he makes a loud noise, comes out of the brush, walks right in front of us and sits down to eat different leaves. He is a mere four feet from us. I ask if we should move, after all the rules say 21 feet away, but the ranger says , no we are fine.

If he charges we are not to run, just duck down. I am standing on a steep hill so know I would just fall over if that happened. But luckily it didn't.

The Silverback let out a loud and long fart like you would not believe. At first I thought it was one of the other women, but it happened over and over again. Quite funny

Words and pictures can not describe or capture the feeling of being a few feet away from a Silverback gorilla enjoying his lunch. He would look at us occasionally , but really not that interested. They are used to humans. For one hour a day one group of eight tourists can come and watch them so they are 'habituated'

We whisper to each other, "look there's another one there". Did you see the babies?
We have to be quiet and move slowly

The four of us kept looking at each other as though to say 'pinch me, is this really happening?"
And " holy shit"

A mom and newborn baby comes from out the forest and sits down close by in the bushes. She is rocking him and kissing him, grooming him. Every now and then she would look at us, and then give us a glimpse of her pride and joy. What a gift. He is one month old. We spent quite some time with her.

Another little one climbs to the top of the tree to eat some leaves and then one a little older and bigger climbs up behind him. He gets high enough that the young tree bends over and they both fall off. This is a game that they play.

It seems our hour is up before too long, the silverback and all the others have moved on, only mom and baby there now. This family has a total of 18 gorillas.

We are feeling so incredibly blessed. It could not have been any better. The hike back was up a different hill , just as difficult, and our drivers were called to pick us up at the new spot.

Young children from the local school were standing at the top of the hill singing a song for us as we emerged from the jungle. We then were presented with our gorilla tracking certificate with much fanfare.

We paid our porters double as they were amazing and then tipped the other rangers as well which was appreciated.

Our packed lunch was eaten on the drive back. A toasted peanut butter sandwich that we squished a banana into. Best meal ever!

Back at our hotel around noon we just showered and laid in our incredibly comfortable beds for the rest of the afternoon and recounted the experience.

The two Irish women did not like the hotel they stayed at last night so I suggested they come to ours. They did and we had a great dinner together. They are also vegetarians and have been friends for 40 years and travel a lot together.
We have exchanged emails and will share photos etc.
In bed at 9 again tonight. Fantastic day

Day 18, Feb 21. Tuesday.

My knees and thighs are talking to me this morning after that vertical climb yesterday. Hopefully I am better tomorrow for our next hike. Sitting on my butt for the past couple of weeks is showing itself

Another early breakfast and we head for Rwanda at 7AM. We pass the check in point to where we hiked yesterday and talked to the ranger for a minute ( stopped to use the bathroom). There were 32 people today for 4 groups of 8. Wow we were so lucky yesterday

The road is a red dirt road in great condition and Brighton drives an average of 50k at all times. Even as we are passing school children as young as 5 on their way to school. Kids here have to be street smart as soon as they can walk.

The children are all in school uniform, different colours for different schools. They are all very neat and tidy, as is everyone here it seems, all very well dressed. Most kids are barefoot though. Brighton said that even he did not have his first pair of shoes until he was 10 and he came from a well to do family. It is just not thought about to buy your kids shoes.

The scenery is breathtaking, so green with the many crops planted on the steep sides of the hills. Lots of banana trees, tea and potatoes as well as other crops.


As we drive through the Bwinidi impenetrable forest it is pouring rain, sheets of it. But Brighton kept going the same speed .

A police jeep passes us followed by around 10 or more large busses full of people and then a couple of UN jeeps. Brighton tells us that these are people being relocated from a refugee camp at the border and taken to a small village where they will each be given a piece of land to farm and build a new life. Uganda takes a lot of refugees from The Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. They are a very kind and giving country and are hoping that the refugees will intermarry with the Ugandans and start their new life. A half hour later we pass the refugee camp which is now empty.

Brighton is from a small town near the border of Rwanda and tells us that his family still live there. His mom is 89 and his grandma is 114 and still doing quite well. The weather in Uganda is never hot, always spring like and he attributes that to long life. During the genocide in Rwanda he lost 17 family members, and you can tell by a few things that he says he still does not feel warm about Rwanda.

We reach the border and go to the first check point to hand over our passports.
" what is your occupation. Teacher?"
No. Retired.
"Retired from what ? Teacher?"
No, financial.
He makes a bit of small talk, hand us a tiny little white postage stamp size paper and tells us to go on our way.

Brighton tells us to go to another check point, we need to walk across the border and go into a building. We pass a check point and the guard takes our tiny piece of white paper. Then we proceed to another building
At the first window we are told, " next window". We line up at that window
"Next window". And so it went until we got to the last window.
" what is your occupation? ". Same questions.
"Go to next window"
Same question " what is your occupation?"
By this time I want to say neurosurgeon or something. But I don't. We get our passport stamped and then we have to go though one more check point.
This process took just over half an hour.

We are now in RWANDA
The houses are closer together, smaller pieces of land and the people are not dressed as well. It seems poorer than Uganda. Lots of bicycles. No motorcycles and not many cars. People walk. The bicycles are taxis, we see young men in green and yellow vests on bicycles with a large seat at the back to carry people or goods. Hundreds of them.

The women are dressed in beautiful coloured long dressing with matching head scarves and many have items on their head. If they are heavy items they roll up some cloth to put on the top of their head.

As we get closer to our hotel, in the fairly large town of Musanze, the houses get much nicer and the landscaping is beautiful. Lots of flowers and the area is spotless.

Our hotel is okay, nothing too fancy but will do us just fine. We have a buffet lunch which is okay and then spend the rest of the afternoon lazing in the room until dinner time.

Tonight we prepared for our gorilla trek in the morning.

Day 19

Neither of us slept well last night, but we are up and at em at 5AM. After a small breakfast we head to the park headquarters. School children are heading for school, in their school uniforms and looking very smart. Brighton is driving slower today thankfully as there are so many people , children and bicycles on the winding roads. We pass lots of farmland, potatoes mostly, big plots of them.

We reached the check in point and are the first and only people there. Brighton likes to be early.
Lana and i want to do an easy hike today so hoping for one of the gorilla family's that is close by. Eventually the parking lot fills up, and there are over 100 people there. In Uganda there was three different starting points, but in Rwanda only one. It is very nice, quite fancy really, and we are entertained by some local dancers and drummers who were fantastic.

I notice quite a variety of people waiting for the trek, some in their twenties, some around 80. most have hiking clothes and boots on, but some are in running shoes and yoga pants. Others look like they just stepped out of an LL Bean magazine with their brand new clean and ironed safari clothes and spotless hats.

There are 11 gorilla families and the rangers will divide us into 11 groups of 8 . There are also a couple of groups going to visit the golden monkeys. We said we wanted a family close by.

Soon Brighton comes back and says mission accomplished. I knew he could do it.
He says " the early bird gets the big mouse"
We are put in a group with a couple in their eighties from Australia, one in their 70s from Santa Barbara and a couple in their early 30s from Little Rock Arkansas.

It took another 20 minutes or so to drive to our starting point, the last bit being on a potato field.
The walk took us though many fields of women working with hoes tilling the land. We hired porters again to carry our bags and had some fancy gorilla sticks Eventually we veered off into the bush. There is mostly bamboo and some stinging nettles to look out for. The weather is warm and the rain is holding off. ( this is a rain forest after all). Our ranger has a great sense of humour and stops to talk to us a lot, giving a chance for some to rest. He says we only have four more hours to go.

The hike however is so easy, it is a breeze. Mostly flat, a bit of uphill, but there is quite a bit of mud. Boot sucking mud in some places and a tad slippery. But we are thrilled as this is so much better than the one in Uganda.
After about an hour of trekking he says, "Get your cameras, we are here"
We are visiting the Agashya group.

Around the corner is a huge silverback enjoying some bamboo. We watch him for a while and then he gets up and walks right past us, inches away.

The encounters with the gorillas is amazing. They are so close to us. One juvenile fell out of a tree , almost on top of Lana, and then tapped her knee and went into the bushes.

A ranger was taking some vines away with his machete so we could see better and one female gorilla swatted at him and growled thinking he was taking her food. The rangers were constantly talking to the gorillas in low grunts and groans. They understood their language.

Another ranger was moving bushes away and a gorilla grabbed his leg, so the ranger growled to back off. Again they though he was taking their food away.

They were constantly coming right up to us, brushing past and giving us a terrific thrill.

All too soon our hour is up and we start the walk back through the mud. The rain started just as we left, we are so lucky as the gorillas hide in the bush when it is raining. Blessed.


Our shoes are so muddy, we take them off before getting back in the truck. We had to stop to drop off the ranger and and pick up our gorilla trekking certificates at a little craft shop. So we had to go in and check things out, in our sock feet.

Lana found a lady who would clean our shoes for us, she did an amazing job for only $5usd. I bought a couple of pairs of cheap earrings and a bracelet, and so did Lana.

After lunch we relaxed in the room till dinner and then a bit of work on this blog and to bed.
Tomorrow we fly to Kenya for the last part of our African Holiday.
Here is a link to a video I did of our two gorilla hikes

click here for video
What a phenomenal trip so far.

Posted by debbep 11:26 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)



sunny 40 °C

Day. 4. Feb 8. 2017

Ethiopia had never been on my radar until last year at Dougs family reunion in Calgary when I was talking to his cousin and wife who live here. They have lived in Ethiopia for a number of years and John is the director for Save the Children and his wife the head of another NGO. They suggested we come so I looked into what Ethiopia was like and was immediately intrigued. After a few emails back and forth we had arranged to go to their house for dinner last night, but reconfirming a few days ago found out that they were visiting in Canada. They left suddenly, probably because there was a six month state of emergency declared in the Fall and no one could move about very much. It is all fine now . It was disappointing not to see them however.

Fuad is a driver and guide that we hired to take us south to the Omo Valley for the next week and he was waiting for us at 7:30AM in the lobby. He is married with three young children and a very gentle and kind man with a great sense of humour and a vast knowledge of Ethiopia . We will be travelling around in a very comfortable Toyota Land Cruiser four x four. It took quite some time to get out of town as traffic was very heavy in the morning. Once out of town the landscape changed to rolling hills of farmland with mountains in the background. We stopped to take pictures quite often as it was all so unfamiliar and exciting.


Ethiopia not only has its own time system with the clock but the calendar as well. The year starts Sept 11 and it is now 2009. They started the calendar when Christianity came to Ethiopia, 7 years later.
The average blue collar worker in the city makes around $10 a day. Around 60percent of the population is Christian of various types and the other 40 percent Sunni Muslim. Fuad and his family are Muslim.

The picture below is of a small farm where they put sorghum , a grain, on the ground and then have the cows go around in circles to crush the grain. It is a long and tedious job, and they usually make the young boys direct the cows. The larger cows have to have their mouths tied as they would stop and eat all the time otherwise. The land is all owned by the government and people lease it to farm and build their houses.


I took out my good camera to take a picture and find that my lens is smashed to pieces. I almost threw up. I carefully took off the UV Filter and discover that the actual lens is fine. Thank goodness.

This house was typical of the next area where they paint the outside in beautiful designs. We pulled off the road and all these kids came running up and were happy to show us the inside. It was very neat and tidy, a sleeping mat on the dirt floor for the eight children, a straw mat as a partition from where mom and dad slept. A small fire in the middle where food was cooked and the other half of the home is where the animals slept at night. Seven in total, cows, goats and chickens, If they are left outside they are at risk from wild animals.
The kids were fascinated with Lanas hair and kept feeling it. It is so fine and so light in color.


There are more cows and goats on the road than vehicles, Thousands of them walking down the middle of the road, slowly and taking up most of the road but Fuad was very good at maneuvering around them. People walk everywhere. Miles a day, about seven hours to get water every single day. They travel with big yellow containers for miles to wait in long line ups to have them filled with drinking water from a tap or pump from a well. Then they walk miles back and do it all again tomorrow. Some of the lucky ones have donkeys and can have them carry a few on their back or a wagon is attached. We see many people with huge bundles on the their backs of produce, firewood, hay or food for the animals. Again walking tor miles a day and wearing flip flops or sandals made from recycled tires. They have amazing posture though and look very fit and healthy.


The cattle are being driven in the morning to a place where they can drink and eat grass which quite often is miles away, and then driven back again at night. The same thing will happen again tomorrow. The cattle is usually driven by boys and the heavy loads and water fetching by girls and women. Everyone is incredibly fit and healthy looking

Lining up to get water

Last year was a terrible drought in the area , then the rains came and flooded everything but did not last too long. Now most of the rivers are dried up again and the cattle is dying and getting very sick in some areas. We saw a few on the side of the road. Apparently they just stay there, or even in the middle of the road if that is where they land. No one moves them

We stopped for a coffee at a tourist hotel and had a wonderful Machiato coffee, very strong but delicious. A few hours later we stopped again for lunch, a local Ethiopian dish of very spicy chick peas and injura a local bread that is large flat and spongy with a sour taste. You break off a piece and use it as a way to eat your food, there are no utensils. It was very good.

It was getting late but we pushed on to visit the Dorze people who lived on the top of a mountain accessed by a gravel road of switchbacks. We pass so many women bent over with large bundles on their backs trudging up this big hill with goods to sell at the market tomorrow morning. I felt guilty driving past.

A young boy greeted us in front of his house and showed us how the houses were made and what they looked like inside. It resembles a beehive and is referred to as that.
His sister was spinning cotton and Lana and I tried our hand at it but failed miserably.
The women spin and the men weave the textiles.

A local dish was being made from the stems of the false banana tree and we were shown how it is made into a bread which we sampled with some local honey and moonshine.

Young boys and girls played music and danced for us and before long the sun was setting and it was time to go. The days end early here, around 6 PM

Our home for the night was down the mountain and a few miles away in Arba Minsch called Paradise Lodge. We were so bagged by the time we got there we just had a small dinner and straight to bed.

Day 5

I usually get an average of 10-11 hours of sleep a day and lately it has been 3 or 4 . I am a mess I am so overtired. Another sleepless night last night, Lana too. I have decided to stop taking my Malaria medication because it can cause insomnia, and I never have trouble sleeping.

Our breakfast was in an outdoor resteraunt overlooking the national park and two large lakes. It was a beautiful setting

A local market is enroute to Jinka and was very interesting to see a few of the different tribes in one place buying and selling their goods. There were very few tourists there and we found ourselves surrounded by young children who grabbed our hands and followed us for the day. They would touch our arm s and hair because we look so different. One little girl stayed the whole day and had once crutch and one shoe on her good foot. She had been in a car accident and was doing to best to keep up with everyone. You rarely see anyone with any physical or mental impairments here.

We took lots of pictures. Fuad arranged a local guide to go around the market with us and explain things which was great.
He took us up to this tree away from the market that had a bunch of people sitting around drinking local made beer. They looked at us very suspiciously but eventually we felt a little more welcome when they realized we weren't there to take pictures.
One older woman took a shine to me and offered me some of her home made beer. It was in a filthy dirty plastic bucket and she lifted it up towards me. Our guide said that refusing anything offered is very rude, maybe I could pretend.

I took the bucket, held it to my lips and the smell of yeast was overwhelming I did my best impression of someone taking a big drink.
UMMMMGOOOD. I rub my stomach in gesture that it is good. They all laugh.

The heat is very oppressive here. I had not eaten since breakfast and with lack of sleep all of a sudden it just caught up with me and i felt I was going to pass out so found some shade to hide out for a bit until it was time to leave. Maybe it was the beer. :)

On our way out we stopped and bought the little girl a pair of new shoes, plastic sandals. Even with the guide negotiating for us we still paid way too much, but she was very happy. The six other barefoot kids asking for shoes were a little disappointed however.


Jinka is our home for the next two nights in the 'Orit Hotel'. I knew it would not be four star, but this was a 1 1/2 at best. We were on the second floor, no fan , cant open windows at night, tap is broken, toilet seat not attached to toilet. I needed to sleep but it was so hot I didn't think I could possibly manage it. I asked for a fan, but they didn't have any, so I asked if Fuad would go out and buy one for me.
I covered my head in a cool cloth and even with the construction right outside the room I finally got some sleep. I felt like a new person.

Lana and Fuad and another fellow went on the hunt for a fan for me, found one and spent over an hour trying to put it together and then it didn't work. They took it back and got it fixed, what a god send. It makes all the difference in the world and worth every penny. I will just gift it to Fuad when we fly to Uganda.

Tonight we went out for dinner at a small local cafe.

Day 6. Friday February 10

Up at out by 6AM to beat the heat and the crowds. Fuad arranged for a local guy to make us breakfast to go as our hotel was not up yet and then we picked up a local guide who spoke the language of the Mursi People, the village we are heading to.

There are over 80 groups and as many different languages in the south. When someone gets an invitation to a wedding or celebration and it is say 10 days away, they tie ten knots in a rope and cut one off every day so they know when to be there.

Travelling on switchback dirt roads over the mountain and through the National park was a dusty and bumpy few hours. We stopped at one point and climbed up a hill to stand and have our breakfast. Lana and I had a glass of pure mango juice which was amazing and that was followed by an egg sandwich for Lana and Fuad and toast for me. A dirty thermos came out and coffee was poured into thin dusty juice cups followed by some sugar. No milk.
It was probably the worst coffee i have ever had in my life. But I was standing on a hill in Ethiopia at sunrise overlooking the national park with Sudan and Kenya in the distance.

Lana pretended to drop something and bent over to pick it up and slyly poured her coffee out. I just said I couldn't drink it, So Fuad finished it for me.

This road is bring used right now as access to a newer road being built, so there are many big trucks on it and the occasional land cruiser.
Parts of the road is so soft, the dirt is like silt, these big trucks cant make it up the hills and are stacked up four to five deep waiting for the one who is stuck to get up. a few have even gone over the edge. The land cruiser just flys by with no problem.

Half way there we stop to pick up a park range with his AK47 to escort us to act as our protection. Not really sure what from........

Finally we arrive at the village. We are the first ones there and take our time walking around the village and taking it all in. We did not take any pictures right off the bat, tried to not be the tourist with the camera and not interested in the people. But that didn't last long.

People were coming up and asking us to take their pictures. This group is really quite aggressive and we felt a little overwhelmed after a while. A lot of their livelihood has been lost so they supplement their income by having tourists pay to take their picture. I don't have a problem with that but everyone wanted their picture taken. It is 5 birr per picture which is about 30 cents. It does add up quickly however. Thank god for the guide to keep order.

I would agree on four girls, hold up my camera to take the picture and there would now be six of them there.

I did arrange to dance with some women however and we ended up laughing and relaxing a bit after that. They really do dress like this but mostly for weddings or celebrations,

The lip plates were started during the slave days. The Mursai decided to cut the lips and put in plates to make them ugly so that they would not be wanted by slave traders and there fore not captured .
After a while the tribe considered it a thing of beauty so the tradition continued.
They also body scarring with razor blades which is very interesting. I brought a package of razor blades from home and gave them to the chief which was appreciated. We are also giving out little bars of soap to some of the people who are thrilled.

We left for our long drive back and stopped to buy little sweet bananas and mangos from the side of the road. After we dropped off the ranger and the guide we went back to the hotel. A group from Israel checked out so we arranged to move downstairs to a much nicer room. Now we have a 2 star. (Maybe). We would have loved to take a shower to wash off all the sweat and dust but there was no water.

Lunch was fresh mango and bananas that were so good.

I had a rest for a couple of hours and then we set off to visit the home of OMO CHILD. When I was googling Ethiopia I came across a documentary that had just been filmed in the omo valley about the tradition of Mingi in the local tribes. It was thought that children who are born out of wedlock, or their top teeth come in first, are cursed and will bring disaster to the village. So the elders come in the middle of the night and take the babies and kill them.

A young man from the Kara tribe found out that his two older sisters had been killed and others children in the village and knew he would have to do something.
He finished his education, became a teacher and then started going to the villages to negotiate with the elders to give him the babies. He and his wife now have 2 daughters of their own and raise 50 mingi chilldren. The website is omochild.com.

I contacted him and omo child and said i wanted to bring some shoes clothes ipads toothbrushes and games. (With donations from friends) I am also a monthly supporter it really touched my heart. They suggested Fuad as our guide as he knew Omo child well. He has his own company and takes photographers from national geographic and other famous photographers around so i was thrilled to get him. He has also driven Will Smith and wife Jada for a week up north.

The home is very nice and so organized. They have a few nannies on staff as well as a nurse and teacher. The older kids were playing soccer with a ball on its last legs so they were very happy with the two new soccer balls we brought. The little ones were adorable, al the kids seemed really happy healthy and it as such an amazing experience
I bought a bingo picture game with English words that we played with them and they loved it, we had to play it twice.

I am so glad that we were able to help out in our small way. We had time to meet Lale as well, the man who's started it all.

We came back and were looking forward to a shower to wash off the dust and sweat, but it was off. For good. They brought us three buckets of water to have which gave us a bit of a taste what the local people do every day.

Day 7

Our breakfast was included and porridge was not available so we ordered french toast. I should know better than to order western food in a foreign country. It was deep fried battered bread. Lana tasted hers but I didn't even bother. We just enjoyed our fruit from yesterday.

Fuad took us to a small museum before we headed out of town. It told us information about some of the tribes.

Today we went to a local market with the Hamar People. It was very busy with everyone selling produce and various goods. Women would have their hair coloured with a red clay mixed with butter. They braid their hair and then color it red and wear lots of color full beads and jewellery. Men can have three wife's and depending upon which number you are you have a different necklace on. It was lots of fun but incredibly hot.

Everything is a long drive down a bad road. I had no idea we would be spending so much time in the car. It is all amazing however. We were moving to a new hotel tonight in a town called Turmi where we will call home for the next three nights. We are almost there when a young boy calls to Fuad ( he knows everyone) and they speak in Amari (the main language). Fuad says, there is a bull jumping ceremony about 20K from here, do you want to go? YES!!!

The boy jumped into the car because he could speak the language of the Hamar tribe and it took about an hour to drive down roads that disappeared and at times we drove on dry river beds. The cows are getting thinner and thinner the further south we go. There is a real drought here, no water. Cows are dead or dying on the side of the road. The goats still look good as they can eat anything. They even eat the Hawthorne branches. The people look good too, but the cows are suffering.
The people here use the cows for meat sometimes, but mostly they shoot an arrow in their jugular, catch a bunch of blood and then patch it up again. They drink blood mixed with milk for protein. They do this in many African countries.

We pass some local people who wave and gesture to keep going, you are on the right track. everyone knows there is a bull jumping ceremony.

This ceremony is for a young boy who is ready to marry to prove he is a man. The bull jumping part is at the end where he has to run over the top of 10 bulls, naked , four times. If the bulls keep still enough and he is successful then is able to start looking for a wife.
There were only around 10 other tourists there.

The boys who have passed this test but not yet married are called to 'whip' the female relatives of the boy who is jumping. I thought I would have a hard time with this but it wasn't as bad as i thought. The women dance and sing, blow horns, have bells on their legs and move about this big area and eventually pass one of the boys a switch from a tree. He then whips their backs. Not hard usually, but some of the women would hand the switch back to him and insist he do it harder. Sometimes he would throw it down, and basically say no. But she would hand it to him, put it in his hand and insist he hit her harder. So he did.
The more scars she has proves her love for her son, cousin, brother etc (the boy who is jumping)
One woman was getting very drunk and very insistent on the whipping. When ever he hit her hard enough she would do a little jump, that she was happy.
Her back is bleeding like crazy and it looks so painful. But I had to leave my judgement at home
They have leaves to put over the sores to help them heal.
This went on for a long time. Then we moved up the hill to the area where the family sat and drank some more, more whipping and dancing.
We sat on a little dirt hill to get out of the sun and watch. We were surrounded by mostly girls, women and children. They were watching us intently. Out of curiosity and also to see if we were taking pictures of them. This one girl , a ways away, was really looking at me. So I did a fish face (where you suck in your checks and pucker your lips). Well they started to laugh. So I kept doing it and everyone was laughing like crazy, especially Lana who was crying she was laughing so hard.
A boy behind me asked Lana why she was crying, so I turned around and gave him a fish face. Now everyone was trying to do one. It was a great way to break the ice and pass the time.

Eventually we walked to the top of the hill, it was getting to be sunset, and the men were moving the bulls down from the higher pastures.

The boys were lining the bulls up, while the jumper was standing with the bulls trying to calm them and connect with them to help him do the jump.

Eventually he ran, jumped on the first one and ran across the backs of the others to the other side. He did this three more times with success and the other boys came up and were so happy for him.

The sun was now setting and we headed back to our new hotel, the Buska Lodge.

What a gift that was to be a part of that.

Day 8

Our hotel is wonderful, little round cabins in a beautiful setting. This is an eco lodge so runs on generator. Unfortunately the generator is shut off between 10P and 6AM, which means no fans. We cant open the windows, it is hot as hell but no air flow which really affects me. I get claustrophobic. Not much sleep at all last night.

None the less there are lots of adventures ahead of us today. In the restaurant we talk to the other travellers, a few we have seen at different markets and villages and some at the bull jumping last night. We find that everyone we meet here is extremely well travelled, way more than me. I don't think Ethiopia is a place you go to when you are starting out traveling, more for seasoned and adventurous people. Most are also around our age. It is hard to back pack in this area i think.

There are six women from Edmonton, two separate couples form Australia, some from Poland and a number from Israel that we have met over our travels. Everyone is very friendly and it is great to share experiences with them.

Breakfast is always included with the room, sometimes a buffet and sometimes made to order. We have been able to get oatmeal every morning, some times it is better than others and quite often very milky, but good. Lots of fruit and the mango juice is outstanding. Only mangos with a touch of lime. So good.
The coffee is hit and miss. Unless I can order a Machiato, which is like an expresso coffee with milk, I don't bother. I only have one glass but it is tiny because it is so strong.

Today we will visit the Kara group. Another bumpy dusty dirt road for a few hours to reach this group who live by the river. They are lucky as they have water. This is where Lale is from ( the fellow from Omo CHild) and John Rowe, a professional photographer, arranged with the Kara that if they quite practising Mingi he would build them a water pump. And they have which is wonderful. The government also bui lt them a school so more kids will go and don't have to walk for an entire day to get there. They used to just come home on weekends.

We again had a local guy who showed us around, he speaks the Kara language. We had everyone following us of course. The other couple from Australia was there too, but they stayed in a different area. The decoration is completely different once again. They paint their bodies with white clay which keeps them cooler. Being by the river here is a very comfortable temperature in the shade however.

I had a hard time figuring out which were boys or girls, unless I looked at their chest. It is funny because after a while you don't even notice that they are either half or fully naked. They are all so incredibly beautiful and the face painting and beads only enhance the beauty. Some have a nail through their lips, a piercing, or sticks through their ears.

I asked the guide if they would dance with me, this seemed like a lively and happy group. He picked out a few who he thought would be good and they agreed. There were a group of teenage girls who were just too cool for this however, there was no way they were going to humiliate themselves.

We had such a great time laughing and dancing. We all really enjoyed it and it is a great ice breaker. I gave them each some Birr but also a package of 10 razor blades which they appreciated.

Then came the picture taking, they all want their photos taken for 5 birr (30 cents). We want to please everyone but there are just too many, so we pick who we want. Fuad is great because he has worked with professional photographers so knows where I should shoot them with the light and background . Some would ask me again, change something and I would say "I have already taken your picture"
'No....no you haven't " in their own language but you knew what they were saying. Then we would smile and they knew that I was on to them.

The men get the AK47s from the Sudanese and Kenyan armies. They use them mostly for killing animals but have been known to kill enemy's as well. Some of the tribes feud a lot.


We are picture taken out and duck into a hut to have a cold drink. Only men allowed but they make an exception for tourists. I never drink pop but here it is very welcome for the refreshing cold drink but also the sugar to restore some energy. There are not a lot of choices but usually I can find Sprite or if all else fails a Fanta. Coke is the favourite for the locals.

Back at the hotel Fuad wants to take us for a walk down to a river or something. We say " no thanks, we are done and need some down time"
We were supposed to go to see another tribe tomorrow but after speaking to some of the other travellers find that it is very dusty and windy there. Bad for the camera and not so great for us either.

Over dinner we tell Fuad that we don't want to go. We have seen the best of the best, we don't need to check off a bunch of boxes and go for 12 hours a day non stop. I just cant keep up this pace, I am exhausted. It is all so amazing but we have five more weeks to go.

He said that most of his clients want to see everything and do as much as possible. We hopefully convinced him that he is a great guide and that we are very satisfied with all that we have seen, we are really happy, but need some down time.

For the next couple of days I really just want to be here. Experience being in Ethiopia and see the landscape and the rural village and people and learn about their way of life.

So we changed the itinerary, which is great. I loved our hotel but could not bear another night here with out a fan. Tomorrow we will head back to Arba Minch and then the last night in Awasa by the lake. This means that we have two days of only 4 hours driving instead of one day of 8. Suits us just fine.

Day 9

Fuad wanted us to visit the local market in Turmi. It doesn't start till 11AM, this gives all the people in the outlying areas time to walk here as it takes many of them hours and sometimes overnight to do so. We arrived at 1030 and it was no where near ready to start so we convinced him that nothing could be better than the Hamer market anyhow, we could just push on.
The country side changes so much every few hours. At one point we see a herd of camels cross in front of us. They are raised to meat and sold to Saudi Arabia. Young boys of around 10 spend a couple of weeks tending them, sleeping with them, and only eating bread and drinking camel milk. They are afraid if they eat anything else they may get sick and these camels are so important they cant risk anything going wrong

All the children we are are so happy, playing and smiling all the time. They do have to help out with the work at a very young age however. It is common to see boys as young as 5 with machetes ( We wont even let ours have a table knife!). They also go all day with the goats and cows to graze. School is either morning or afternoon, but a lot of kids only get to grade 3 and then have to drop out to help with the chores.

When we are driving kids run up to the car, when they see a Toyota Land Cruiser they know we are tourists, they hold out their hand and say "highland". This is the name of the bottled water and they want the empties to use to fill with water or home made juice

We stopped for lunch and then picked up another local guide to take us for a walk through a Konzo village which was quite different from the others. A lot of rock was brought in to make walls and divisions of areas.

Back at Paradise Lodge in Arba Minsch we are greeted by the staff like we are old friends. A cold wet towel and juice is very appreciated. At dinner we see once again many of our traveller friends, heading in different directions tomorrow.

Day 10

Wednesday Feb 14.
I woke at 6 to watch the sunrise on our terrace looking over the lake. I could hear the howler monkeys and animals making lots of noise below in the forest. This was a wonderful start to the day.

Our drive today is ONLY 4 hours over many large hills and the scenery changes often again. It is getting much cooler again the further north we go. We stopped for a Macciato and mango juice half way and it was very cool sitting outside on the grass. A welcome change.


On the way we passed lots of farms and kids selling fresh produce on the side of the road. We stopped and Fuad negotiated a price for a bunch of bananas and a huge papaya to enjoy later on.

Lewi resort in Awasha is beautiful. We are on the lake and there are many gardens and monkeys running around. It is valentines day, a relatively new holiday in Ethiopia, and we find that our twin beds have red rose pedals sprinkled on them.

The resteraunt is all decked out with tables of two and pink table cloths and red balloons.

Fuad met us for dinner and we enjoyed our last night together. We had to put on light jackets tonight as it was quite cool. This town is high in the mountains so a popular vacation spot for Ethiopians.

Day 11

It was a real treat to have a relaxing morning sitting by the lake and finally getting a chance to work on this blog . The weather is quite cool but such a wonderful change. The Mango juice this morning was extra delicious.

At 10am we start our drive north and find that we are sharing the road with many big transport trucks. Ethiopia is really doing a great deal of road building and construction everywhere. The roads are terrible, but they are working on them
When we were in the south we found that the big trucks would hang branches of hawthorne trees on the back so that kids wouldn't climb on and go for a ride.

We pass by many farms, huge greenhouses of roses for export, fields for cotton , winery's and and strawberry fields.

THe smaller towns seem to have a lot of plastic garbage on the side of the road but the villages and larger cities are spotless. People take great pride in their homes and the outside and inside is also spotless and tidy.

A break was at a lovely place on a lake and we enjoyed probably our last machiato coffee in Ethiopia.



After a few more hours we stopped again for some fresh strawberries which were delicious.

Back to the Sidra hotel in Addis Abbaba and we say our goodbyes to Fuad. He was such a great driver and guide. He wanted to go out for a traditional dinner tonight but we politely declined.

Tonight is going to be getting organized for the next part of our trip. Uganda.

Ethiopia is an amazing country. It is very large and we only covered a small portion of it but even so we found it quite diverse in not only landscape by the people and culture as well.

The people are very fit and healthy looking and incredibly attractive. Everyone we met is calm and friendly and very welcoming. I am very glad that we came here.

here is a video of my trip.
click here for video

Posted by debbep 20:02 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (5)


Off on another amazing adventure

sunny 29 °C

We have now arrived in Ethiopia after a very long three flights to get here.
Doug decided that this was not on the top of his bucket list, so I am travelling with Lana again this time.

This is our itinerary:
Friday Feb 4, overnight Vancouver
Feb 5. fly to Frankfurt, overnight at airport hotel
Feb 6. Fly to Addis Ababa Ethiopia
Feb 8-15 Private tour to southern Ethiopia to the Omo Valley

Feb 16 Fly to Uganda
Feb 17-23 Private tour of Uganda including a gorilla trek in both Uganda and Rwanda.

Feb 23 fly to Nairobi Kenya, overnight near airport
Feb 24-March 1. Safari in Kenya

March 1 fly to Barcelona arrive March 2

March 3-10 Mediterranean cruise ( France and Italy)
March 10 fly to Brugge in Belguim for three nights
March 13 overnight Frankfurt and fly home March 14 to overnight in Vancouver.

Wednesday March 15th. Home.


Leaving Coombs

It was a good time to leave, in the middle of a snowstorm. I walked on the ferry with my little daypack, carry on suitcase and a massive 50 lb suitcase full of items for the orphanage in Ethiopia. But when I put it on the scale it was over the maximum 50 lbs and the bells rang.
I have to take out some kids clothes to be allowed to check it onto the luggage transfer. Luckily there was a place at customer service that will donate them to Haven Society.

I took the greyhound to the bus station and then took a cab to have dinner with Taylor Reese and my brother Dave which was great
After dinner I met up with Lana at the Travelodge Airport Hotel for our overnight. Lana also has a massive suitcase so we juggled back and forth to make sure they were each under the allowable 50 lbs. We had to leave out a few more clothes .

Saturday Feb 5.
Day 1
American Airlines to Dallas was delayed by an hour due to having to de ice the plane but thankfully we had a good three hour connection so we were okay
We arrived in Frankfurt at 8AM local time and decided to ditch our two extra huge suitcases at a baggage locker in the airport. So many people are travelling with three or four huge suitcases. I don't know how they manage it. We were happy to just have the small ones for now.

Frankfurt airport is massive. Our hotel is in the terminal which is great and after a rest we went back and were able to check in our 2 huge bags and get our boarding passes for tomorrow morning.

Sunday Feb 6.
Day 2
We went straight to our gate as we were all set but had to go through immigration and security first. They said to bring out iPads as well as laptops which was a first for me. I brought out my iPad but knew I had another one at the bottom of my carry on but decided not to take it out. Partly because I was lazy but also a part of me wanted to know if they would see it. The extra iPad is for the orphanage. Lana was carrying an extra one too, but she took hers out.

Well......I got pulled aside. Now keep in mind that my carry on has six weeks of clothes for two climates and two different kinds of holidays and packed very strategically .

This lovely young woman said she was going to swab my suitcase.
Sure go for it
With a big smile she says " it has Tested positive for explosives". And laughs.

So I said " ha, you are kidding right?" She said, " I need to unpack your suitcase. "

She pulls everything out, then asks if I have another iPad. Sheepishly I pretend I forgot, "yes I do."
Okay, we just have to wait for the police. And she laughs again. So I assume she is kidding and I laugh too.
No, we are waiting for the police. Really. After some time he finally comes over, looks bored and not interested at all says it's all good and she says okay, you can put everything back now.
Well that was a challenge to get everything back in, but at least I didn't get arrested. Lesson learned. I am glad they found it though. They passed my secret test.

Our flight to Addis in on Lufthansa airlines with a stop in Jeddah Saudi Arabia first and is full to the rafters. In Frankfurt it seems most planes are not boarded by the jetties but by bus to the plane and it feels like we were driving to Ethiopia because it took ages to get to the plane.

Our stop in Jeddah was around an hour and it seemed that more than half the plane left us here. Lufthansa does not have the rights to pick up passengers so we were able to spread out for the next few hours to Addis enjoying the in flight movies and non stop food . Not great food but there was lots of it. The flight attendants were very friendly and joked a lot with us.

We arrived in Addis on time at just after 9PM and had to proceed to customs. Most on the plane were nationals so there were only a hand full of us who went to 'visa on arrival' area. I thought the young man there was making small talk but in fact he was asking me questions for the visa. He said where are you coming from so I thought he was wondering where I lived so I was explaining where in Canada I was from etc. He was laughing and being very patient with me, but he really wanted to know what flight I came off of.

Lana was also providing a comedy relief for her guy. She kept getting closer to what she thought was a microphone because she thought he couldn't hear her. He kept asking her to back up and finally she realized it was a camera and he needed to take her picture. Lack of sleep is what we are blaming this on. I saw as we walked away the two of them were chatting and laughing alot.

Around the corner we had to pick up our passports and pay the $50 US cash visa fee. This young man would hold up the passport and if you recognized your picture you would step forward. Lana got hers but he kept picking up new passports from the pile and mine was continually on the bottom. He finally held up mine, I was the only one left, and we were on our way to baggage.

It is always a relief to me when I see our bags. Another plane arrived at the same time so we had to form a long line to go through a security X-ray machine to scan our bags before leaving the airport which is different.
The first order of business is to find an ATM. Getting Ethiopian birr before hand is not possible, but unfortunately neither one of the ATMs worked for us. A lovely young man tried to help but no luck.

Our hotel was sending a car to pick us up, I sent two messages, via. booking.com but there was no one in the parking lot to meet us. A nice young man from another hotel phoned ours and they said they would arrive in 10 minutes. We spent that time talking to him and he was telling us a lot about Ethiopia but also asking about Canada as well.

Our ride finally came, a young man with a huge smile loaded our bags into the van. Thankfully we had some US dollars to use for tipping until we can get the Birr.

On the drive I asked " did you forget about us?"

No, we were here earlier. In Ethiopia they use a different measure of time. A twelve hour day starting at 6am. Only daylight hours are counted. I am not really sure how it works but 9 o'clock is 3 pm in Ethiopia. I did send the flight number as well, but it all worked out and so now we know to check if it is Ethiopia time or western time

Our hotel staff welcomed us with huge smiles and open arms. are you hungry? Well yes we are but it is 11pm Ethiopia time.
No worries, we will open the restaurant for you.

Delicious bowls of soup were ordered and enjoyed while learning some Ethiopian phrases from our young server. We wrote them down phonetically however once we head south it will be another language once again.

" do you have crackers?

I will go and check in the kitchen
Around 8 minutes later he returns with two plates which he puts in front of us. I don't have crackers but I have this.
Pound cake with raspberry sauce.
Close enough.

Day 3
Breakfast was included with our room and we wandered downstairs around 930AM. We greeted the staff with Good Morning in the Ethiopian language which caused quite a pleasant response. A man in his mid 40s I imagine was sitting at a table with his laptop, obviously working and asked how long we had been in the country.
We arrived late last night.

Well he was so impressed that we knew how to speak the language already....ha ha. Seriously I think he was quite impressed. We talked over breakfast and then he offered to drive us around the city and take us to an Atm at the Sheraton hotel. We took him up on his kind offer and had a wonderful morning with him. He is AMerican educated, his parents sent him to California when he was 14 because Ethiopia had conscription at that time and sometimes the army would grab you walking home from school.
He went to university in Michigan and now owns many business such as television station in Toronto, communtincation companies and an private airline he was part of in Nigeria.

His wife is currently living with two daughters in Nigeria and she is with the UN. He has a house here in Addis but comes to the hotel to work to get away from the many questions at the office and also the WiFi is better. He was a wealth of information and such a kind and gentle man.
Ethiopia has never been colonized, because Christianity has been here since the beginning of Christianity. It is one of the safest countries in Africa. We notice how all the drivers are calm and polite, no road rage at all, not much honking. Addis has a population of 12 million, not what I would call a very pretty city but it is surrounded by mountains. The weather is very pleasant as it is at a higher elevation, Our breathing is a bit laboured when walking up stairs.

The sheraton hotel is amazing. He greets every worker there and they all seem to really like and respect him. The ATM worked and after a short tour of the hotel grounds, which had beautiful flowers everywhere, we continued with our tour around the city.

Back at the hotel we exchange email addresses and then I went off to get a few hours sleep while Lana went to the hotel Spa. She had a hair cut, wash dry and hair straightening and a short foot massage for $5 but she left a good tip

Skipped lunch and had a fantastic dinner at the hotel, went for a half hour walk up the street and then back to get ready for tomorrow. Everyone is so friendly and we feel so safe here. We stick out like sore thumbs though, especially Lana with being so tall with her white hair and blue eyes.
We are so excited about everything!! I will post on each country , hopefully internet will be okay and I can include some pictures. We would love to hear any comments or emails from you as well.

Posted by debbep 08:34 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged kenya rwanda uganda ethiopia Comments (2)

Yucatan, Mexico

A family vacation to the east coast of Mexico

sunny 27 °C

March 9th to March 27th.

Doug and I flew to Cancun from Vancouver on Westjet and took the bus to an overnight hotel in Playa Del Carmen. They didn't feed us on the plane so we were famished by the time we arrived and went straight out to find a place to eat.
The restaurant we found was adequate, expensive because it was on the main street but we were too hungry to keep looking. Our impression of Playa Del Carmen was that it seemed very busy, touristy and not they place we wanted to spend time in. We were glad we decided to just spend one night.

In the morning we took the ferry to Cozumel, met up with our arranged rented car and drove south to a condo we rented at Residencias Reef on San Francisco beach. It was just perfect and we were sorry we were only spending 5 nights here.


The days here were spent exploring, snorkelling , and just relaxing. We did go into town one night to have dinner and there was a band playing in the main square with many families out to celebrate Sunday, (family day).

The next two weeks were spent in a three bedroom condo in the complex 'Quinta del Sol' located in the gated community of Puerto Adventuras. Our oldest son, his wife and our two grandchildren met us here and we spend a wonderful two weeks together. We swam almost every day, snorkelled a lot, visited a Cenote, Akumel to snorkel with the turtles, the ruins of Tulum and spent a day at Xel-Ha and also Xcarat. The weather was perfect but getting hotter near the end of the two weeks. It was a perfect place to have a family vacation.


Doug and I spent the last four nights in Puerto Morelos. Mica and family spent their last week in Playa Del Carman.
We had planned to rent a car and head north to Merida and Chichenitza but the weather was getting too hot, up over 30C, so we decided to stay close to the water. It was Semana Santa, (Easter week) and one of the busiest mexican holiday times. We were very lucky to find a room.

Our one bedroom apartment was spotless, very well appointed and we just loved it. It was in a building with 9 other apartments and had a very small pool in the centre. Bikes were available for use and we took advantage of that daily exploring the area.

Janice's sister and family were also in Mexico for a week, so they came and joined us in Puerto Morelos with Mica and family for a snorkel excursion to the reef, about a 15 minute boat ride from shore. The current was very strong but the snorkelling was amazing with lots of colourful fish but so much coral. It was a fantastic day.

Puerto Morelos was a perfect place to end our holiday, it was small, lots of Mexicans (not just American and Canadian tourists), and great beaches.


All in all it was a wonderful holiday and one of the most relaxing I have had for years. We came back to beautiful warm weather in B.C., so our timing was perfect.
I would return to Cozumel and Puerto Morelos in a heartbeat. We found all the local people that we met to be very friendly and helpful.

Posted by debbep 20:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach cozumel yucatan snoreklling Comments (0)

Barcelona, transatlantic cruise and Florida

Nice and relaxing travel home

sunny 27 °C

Days 52 and 53
We checked into the same hotel on the Ramblas that we had two years ago, Flor Parks, as we loved the location.
We didn't do too much other than a visit to the Sagrada Familia a church designed by Gaudi, and later a park that he designed.
Replenishing toiletries and needed items before the cruise and then it was time to board the ship.





Days 54 - 69
Cruise from Barcelona to Cape Canaveral on the Norwegian spirit.

The ship held around 2,000 passengers and was an older renovated vessel. We had a balcony room on the ninth floor. There was a mixture of ages, most being 60 and older but a few young families and a couple of 30 something's as well. Most were from the UK, then USA and Canada followed by Europe. We got a great deal of just over $1,000 for the 16 days.

Overall the cruise was fine, but not the best we have been on. 16 days and not much in the way of lectures or daytime activities on sea days. We had music trivia once in a while which was fun. The evening entertainment was fantastic for the most part. Food was okay but very limited in vegetarian options and a lot of dishes were very salty.
Staff was outstanding, friendly, helpful and happy. They were from all over the world but lots from the Philippines, Serbia, Caribbean islands and India.


Our first stop after a couple of sea days was Madeira Portugal. We had pre arranged to have a driver take us around the island which was very hilly, lush and beautiful. A stop was made to take a basket ride down the hill which was an old tradition and lots of fun.


Our sea days were spent trying to find a lounge chair and alternating between sun and shade reading and listening to music on the top deck. The weather was hot and sunny most of the trip. A few days were a little choppy so the tiny pool was closed a number of days, but I only went in once anyhow.

One of the entertainers was a hypnotist, but she also practised hypnotherapy. Nadeen had a few workshops on pain management, weight loss and positive thinking. She met with me privately and helped me with working on healing myself which is fantastic. She also did a session with Lana. Nadeen is a very gifted talented young woman who has a huge heart and wants to help everyone. We bought her self hypnosis program and will continue to work on healing myself.

After six sea days we reach the Caribbean, visiting the island of Antigua first. This island had the most beautiful beach, white sand and turquoise warm water. We did not particularly like the island itself however, it did not have a lot of charm, in my opinion.

Next day we hired a cab and spent it driving around St. Kitts and again visiting a beach.
St. Maarten the following day, same routine and then finally St.Thomas the U.S. Virgin Islands.
They were all nice, great to swim in the ocean and see the islands but none that I would return to.

This is me dancing with the locals again.


Our last two days at sea were a bit rougher the closer we got to Florida, and on day 17 we arrived in Cape Canaveral for our early morning tour to NASA.

Days 70
There were around 30 of us who signed up for the tour to NASA and the Kennedy space station. On the way our guide pointed out many birds and alligators in the waterways at the side of the road. The skies opened when we arrived and walking from the bus to the ticket booth we got drenched. Inside the building is quite cool to keep the space shuttle and other items from falling to disrepair as the humidity is very high here. Being drenched and cold was a bit uncomfortable for the first part of the tour but it was all so fascinating we quickly forgot about it. Our guide was excellent and we learned a great deal about the space program and the previous launches.
We went on the space shuttle simulator, a very jarring experience. I would not want to do that too often as it really shook you up quite a bit, but fun to do once.


The bus dropped us off at the Orlando airport and we picked up a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV for our Florida exploring. A stop at Publix, the local big grocery store and we arrived at Lana and Cheryl's condo which is right across the road from our place. They have a one bedroom which they are happy with. We are staying in Sarasota on Crescent beach for five nights.

We are staying in a studio at the Tropical Resort and we are very happy with it. A short walk down a lighted path and we arrive at a long stretch of powdery white sand beach. It is very beautiful

Day. 71 Lana and Cheryl and I walked the beach for a while. The sand feels like flour and apparently never gets hot, always cool to the touch.
There is an art fair in Sarasota this weekend so we all explored the many stalls for a couple of hours. I bought two pair of unique earrings and an art card. Some very beautiful and interesting photographs, paintings jewelry and metal and glass works


Day. 72 Ana Maria island was explored today. Lana Cheryl and I set up our beach chairs and relaxed on the sand for a few hours while Doug drove around exploring the area. It was a bit windy so not too warm but we persevered. It was much warmer than home that is for sure.


Day 73
Today we drove south exploring one of the long Keyes, Venice and area surrounding. Some of the land is so narrow there is waterfront on both sides of the street. Many very high end exclusive neighbourhoods. It seems all the beaches in this part of Florida are gorgeous.

Lunch in Venice and then a drive back. Doug and I went down to the beach to watch the sunset and enjoy the full moon in the clear night sky.

Day. 74

Lana Doug and I went to the Mote Aquarium to take a boat tour with the hopes of seeing manatees and dolphins. It was too windy to see either unfortunately but we did see many birds, mangroves and interesting sights on our one and a half hour boat ride. The marine biologist on board was extremely knowledgeable.
We enjoyed a wonderful Asian fusion lunch at P.J. Changs and then went back to pack and prepare to leave.
Upon re confirming our flight I find that instead of leaving at 6:30PM we have been changed to 7:15AM!!! No notification!! So we had to change our plans and scramble to get everything in order


Day 75
3AM wake up to leave by 4. Our flight left on time, first stop Phoenix and then a quick connection to Vancouver. We decided to keep the hotel in Vancouver for the night, even though we could have made the ferry. We went for dinner and had a great visit with Reese.

Day 76, Friday, November 27, 2015.

Reese drove our truck to Vancouver for us so we were able to get home without any problems. A quick visit to see Doug's sister after breakfast and we arrived back in Coombs around 4PM. The weather today was cold but clear and beautiful. What a gorgeous place we live in. We were treated to a wonderful dolphin show on the ferry ride home!

What an amazing adventure we had. Every place had its own unique special charm and we loved it all.
It is however great to be home and connect with friends and family again. Thanks for coming along with us. Until next time...........

Posted by debbep 20:50 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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