My A to Z On Travelling

Age of 1st International Trip

My first international trip was a school trip to West Germany, Switzerland and Austria. I was 15 and stayed awake all night before I flew. I tried to imagine what cobbled stone streets would look like, what people would be wearing, what food I would be eating and these questions kept me wired until I landed. Once I stepped foot outside the airport, I was hooked!

Best Drink

My younger version would say the beer at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany simply for the fact that I was drinking under age! My older version would say the homemade lemonade in Cuzco that I drank by the gallon last summer.

Cuisine (Favourite and Least Favourite)

My favourite cuisine was in India but even then, at the end of the trip, I was eyeballing the pizzas coming out of Domino’s. Yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! My least favourite was in South Korea. There is only so much red pepper paste and kimchi a person can handle and I had a year of it!

Destination (Favourite and Least Favourite)

This is impossible for favourites. I would go out on the travel limb and say Cambodia, Guatemala, India and Morocco. This will probably change but who knows? My least favourite is South Korea.

Event (most exciting/interesting)

I can’t narrow it down to one so it is a toss-up between the sandstorm in the Sahara desert, the ride through the jungle in Guatemala in the early morning on the way to Tikal listening to the howler monkeys, the first time I laid eyes on animals in the wild in South Africa, cycling down a mountain in Peru or hiking the Inca trail in Peru.

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Favourite Mode of Transportation

My absolute favourite mode of transportation is the back of a motorcycle. My mom and I hired motos in Cambodia and saw the country side with the wind whipping through our hair (or what I had left of it from my bout with malaria). My second favourite is the train which I loved in Vietnam and hope to love really soon, once again, in Sri Lanka.

Greatest Travel Feeling

My greatest travel feeling is when I shared with my family their first experience to travel overseas. There is nothing that beats seeing people you love have their eyes opened to what awaits them via travel.

Hottest Place I Have Lived

I have lived in some hot countries but Suriname takes the hot cake on this one! I would wake up very early in the morning and go to work ( a day care for children with physical and mental challenges) and then by noon, return home to fall asleep stuck to the couch. By 5pm, I would wake up and begin the day all over again. Usually I would go out very late in the evening and stay up most of the night with my friends dancing and partying and then begin it all over again the next day.

Incredible Service

I do not feel comfortable staying in fancy hotels where service is expected nor can I afford to do so! So given that, I would say service in restaurants both in Morocco and in India stand out from the rest.

Journey I Won’t Easily Forget

The ride on the camel in the Sahara Desert hurt the most physically (my butt says never again) and a bus ride in Morocco when my daughter needed to desperately use the bathroom and couldn’t might have been one of the most stressful!

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Keepsake

When we got married in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Canada) one of our daughters, aged 11 at the time, bought us an ornament of a bride and a groom getting married. It will always be very special.

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Let-Down Sight

Fish River Canyon in Namibia was this for me! After hours and hours of driving with little to see, we got there and I said, “This is it?”

Moment I Fell In Love With Travelling

When my parents returned from Central and South America and my dad showed me his blow dart gun from the jungles of Peru and my mom showed me packages of junk food that were written in Spanish. I knew I needed to travel.

Nicest Hotel Stayed In

Oh boy there are many.. the one in Ubud in Bali, the many in Morocco, but the one that has the most memories is in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala (Posada de Santiago) where we could swim in the pool or soak in the hot tub and look over Lake Atitlan surrounded by volcanoes. Truly gorgeous and breath taking. At night we could step outside our little bungalow and watch it storm over the lake while eating snacks bought in the local town. Perfection.

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Obsession With This

Markets… I just love them. I love to take pics of markets, I love to wander them, and every now and then I even buy something. I enjoy pretending like I live there, imagining my life as a local or at the least, as an expat. I can never have enough markets!

Passport

I have had a lot of them in my life and some have been heavily stamped. I have never lost one or misplaced one… knock on wood!

Quaintest Place

I can’t choose just one. It might be Patzcuaro, Mexico or Bevagna or any town in Umbria in Italy or Ollantaytambo, Peru or Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala or Ubud (a long long time ago) in Bali or Luang Praband (a long long time ago) or Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton

Recommended Country

I highly recommend Guatemala if you live in North America and want an inexpensive shorter distance to travel to and a world of experiences to follow. I highly recommend Morocco if you live in Europe and want an inexpensive and shorter distance to travel to and a world of experiences to follow. And I highly recommend India to anyone who wants to have an experience each and every moment. You will never forget it and you may just fall in love with it!

Splurge

We splurged when we visited Niagara Falls in Ontario and took a helicopter ride over the falls. Best money spent. We also splurged in Morocco on nicer accommodations as the country is known for its beautiful older residences (riads) and this was money well worth spent. We don’t do it often but when we do, it is meaningful.

Touristy

Touristy places can be ruined if “tacky” prevails but sometimes touristy spots are eye-opening such as Alcatraz in San Francisco, Times Square in NYC, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Colosseum in Rome… just to name a few of my personal favourites.

Unforgettable

I will probably never forget my most miserable experiences (malaria, dengue fever, being robbed, Delhi belly, field hospitals, cockroaches) but it is the most exciting ones that keep me researching where to go next. Travel for me is an addiction…but I choose to see it as a healthy one…I never forget that feeling of a new place and am always looking to replicate it elsewhere.

Visa

Visas are a pain. A royal pain in the backpack! So many countries (particularly in Africa) are requiring visas to be obtained ahead of time. If a visa is needed, those given upon arrival at the airport are my favourites. Unfortunately they are becoming fewer and fewer. 😦

Winning At Travel

I used to think the perfect job was to be a professional travel blogger. Having joined a few FB groups, I have learned that this too has its stresses. Competition can creep into anything… even into travel blogging. I am happy to win at travel by doing what I want to do and not having to research constantly 20 Ways You Too Can Get Off The Beaten Path. Or maybe I am just trying to convince myself….

eXcellent View

I have been blessed to have experienced many views over the years but recently seeing Machu Picchu with my family from Sun Gate stands out as one of the great ones.

Years Of Travel 

Uhhmmm….nope not going to go there but I have had my share of years of travel but more importantly, hopefully, many more to come.

Zillion More Places To See

Well, there is maybe not a zillion more to see but at least a lot! As I get ready to move to Cairo, my travel wish list is becoming more of a reality. Sri Lanka, one destination that has been on the list forever, is soon to be checked off in September! I can’t wait 🙂

Anything you would like to share about my A to Z? I would love to hear from you 🙂

N is for Nettable

Adjective land in alphabet land is getting to be a bit of a stretttttttch.

Nettable means capable of being netted.

Something I highly advise when travelling in insect filled countries (and yes, Canada is included) with creepy crawlers, flying cockroaches, and lurking biting things, just waiting for their chance.

I am a magnet for all things that sting, bite and generally freak travellers out (at least this family of travellers).

I have received a few insect awards along the way.

I am the proud recipient to be one of the very first UN workers in Cambodia (1993 election) to be diagnosed with malaria. And to surpass this award, the Australians diagnosed with me dengue fever at the same time. Imagine…mosquitoes love me 24/7, day and night. The upside – you lose a lot of weight and the downside – you lose a lot of hair!

Travelling in Namibia, I was lucky enough to find a friend in my bed who decided to bite me before we even met. After nabbing him, incarcerating him, he was hand delivered to the nearest doctor. No, I didn’t die but the pain and fear can lead you from A. I am happy and healthy to B. What just happened? to C. What is that? Is it poisonous? D. To a complete melt down – fairly quickly.

The evil thing that bit me in Namibia.

The evil thing that bit me in Namibia.

So I am now nettable, capable and most willing of being netted from Mozambique to Guatemala to Canada to Peru.

I will never forget the night of the flying cockroach invasion in Mozambique, a perfect setting for a horror movie. Read here for gory details. My mosquito net was the only thing keeping me from sprinting from that house of terror.

Again in Guatemala Jade and I huddled under our net amongst spiders the size of my hands and red ants that just wouldn’t let go. Neither of us slept much, stuck together from humidity and fear, laughing at our pathetic selves. Jade became an expert in the net, knowing how to undo it in mere seconds to get in and out. She threatened to boot me out if I messed with her system. A teen of her word, I followed the net rules and together, we remained. for better or for worse, until daylight.

Usually in Canada, I don’t think to pull out my net. However, recently if I could have paid someone to net my entire house from the hostile take over by disgusting rodents, some call mice, I would have gladly.

And sadly, they haven’t invented a fashionable net one can wear. Recently attacked by sand flies in Peru, I wonder why I love this thing called travel?!

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Sand flies don’t make your legs and feet look great or feel great!

Be safe and use a net! Important words from Family C who enjoys travelling from A to Z. 

What is your security blanket when you travel? 

My Sunday Morning – A Little of Wales, Some of India and A Bit of Cambodia

Chris and I had another spicy affair last night in Oshawa, of all places. We just can’t get enough of it.

Every Saturday night we find ourselves drawn to another affair; we are officially addicted.

I don’t know how I will ever give it up.

If you are curious, this is what our affair looks like:

So I woke up a bit groggy from my Indian hangover of pakoras, samosas, onion bhaji, chana masala, aloo gobi, dal makhani and the odd roti thrown in and stumbled in an Indian haze to my computer.

This is where Wales comes in.

I would like to thank Caitlin from the Teen Daydreamer, a blogger in Wales who has nominated me for this following award.

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Oh but the award comes with a challenge. I need to choose a character I would like to be in a book. Of course, me being a non-fiction travel freak, I immediately think of one of my many favourites.

A fantastic read that will make you think of what we can share and learn from others in all kinds of places

A fantastic read that will make you think of what we can share and learn from others in all kinds of places

Gail Gutradt, an author and volunteer, shares her experiences working alongside Wayne Dale Matthysse at Wat Opot, a temple complex that is a place of healing for children with or orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Cambodia. A former Marine Corps medic in Vietnam, Wayne began the Wat Opot Children’s Community with just $50. Gail’s story of how it begun, how it survives and how it continues to this day is one that I would love to experience a little of myself. She has fund raised and volunteered there many times and the stories of the children are ones that you won’t forget.

A book you read that stays with you long after you have finished.

So in a nutshell, I would love to be one of those volunteers like Gail Gutradt working at Wat Opot someday in Cambodia.

Being in Cambodia makes me happy. Why? The People.

And so I will end with my pic of me being happy in Cambodia (in case you needed proof) and special thanks to Caitlin for this Sunday surprise that brought Wales, India and Cambodia together; all in a sweet package.

Me, a while ago :) being happy in Cambodia!

Me, a while ago 🙂 being happy in Cambodia!

Special Gifts Come In All Sizes

It can get lonely being the only foreign female living in a village in the jungle of Cambodia.

I had no phone, I had no mail, I had no computer with email; I was pretty isolated except for the UN soldiers and police officers that lived in my village. And although they could speak English, they were men and yes, I missed that female connection. Oh there were many Khmer women around me, in fact all day long, but without the language skills to communicate with each other, this does limit how much a relationship can truly develop.

So this little girl in my village begins to follow me around. She wants a friend and I need one 🙂 She also wants to learn English and I need to learn Khmer – we make a perfect team. She becomes my sidekick and through words and gestures, we develop a special bond. She is like my Cambodian “daughter” without all the hard stuff that goes along with true parenting.

I often wonder where she is now and how her life has turned out. I think about returning to Cambodia and to my district, photo in hand, looking to see if I can find her. That would be a great ending… or another special beginning.

A Barn Reincarnated into an Office Brings Hope

Yes, this was a barn that then became my office in Prek Presap, Cambodia.

It takes a bit of interior design to transform a barn full of pigs, chickens and who knows what else… into a fine proud UN institution (which we didn’t quite accomplish) worthy of bringing hope for a democratic future.

Being 22 years old and with only the limited summer work experience of most Canadian university grads, it was no shock that I had zero clue what I was getting into. It was most definitely, a tiny one step at a time kind of year.

The photo shows our opening day.

Word had got out that we would be arriving and that maybe interviews for positions might begin. My UN partner and I had 2 interpreters and 2 drivers. We had no idea how to begin to interview the numbers that showed up or what the criteria should even be. This was not a job that came with a guidebook.

Once we got into the flow of things, we learned how to use our interpreters to interview quickly due to the huge numbers of people waiting in line.It is tough to know for sure if decisions made are the right ones when communication is lacking.

It turns out we might have made one big mistake; hiring a former(?) Khmer Rouge to have a key role on one of our electoral teams. Oops. Not good. We brought in the UN security guys to deal with that one.

In the end we hired more than 300 people. But… a big But..we discovered that we had unknowingly hired many teachers leading to the school being shut down (temporarily until we fixed that slight problem). Not exactly the goal we were setting out to achieve.

How to convince people to return to old jobs such as teaching when ours paid so much more? The influx of money into a district that was previously isolated from such a world threw everything out of balance.

One guy who was doing the same job as me in the neighboring province was killed by a disgruntled person who apparently had not been hired. Never had I thought what this kind of responsibility and I guess, power, could lead to. Scary. Given the option to leave and return to Canada, I chose to stay but the knowledge of what could happen was now present and rumbling in my mind.

I don’t regret staying, in fact, it was an incredibly rewarding year, despite the fact that the electoral process did not go according to plan. The Khmer Rouge threw some twists and turns into it but our amazing staff persevered through all the challenges.

Their success shone that day when Cambodians walked miles and miles to get to the nearest voting station and proudly marked their ballots; signifying that their voices would finally be heard.

What I Had Wished I Had Known Before Going to Cambodia

It can be really really scary when you move to the other side of the world (Cambodia specifically) and have just about ZERO idea what to expect.

The UN was pretty specific. Read the following to feel reassured.

” You may live in the jungle. Be prepared. You could live in a tent, and we are not sure for how long. Oh also, we don’t quite know yet what you will be doing.”

Okee dokee – Who signs up for this? Well I do. I was a desperately unemployed lawyer who was balking at the idea of ever practicing law in any traditional sense… hence anything non-traditional was right up my alley. Or so I thought.

What I Had Wished I Had Known Before Going to Cambodia or Otherwise Known as Notes To Self

No, Cheryl, you do not need to take a hockey bag full of clothes that make you look like a nun. You will be surrounded by cool Italian UN personnel hence, nun like clothes are not going to cut it.

No, Cheryl, you do not need to eat a gazillion chocolate bars before heading off to Cambodia as they too will have chocolate (well at least imported but it counts).

No, Cheryl you do not need to read each and every book on the Killing Fields before you go. It is not a good idea to get PTSD BEFORE you go.

No, Cheryl you do not need to follow all the rules of your job. In fact, it is best that you make your own since you know what is going on and the head dudes (the ones who earn the big bucks) do not.

No, Cheryl you do not need to be the polite Canadian. It is okay, really, to throw packages of cigarettes at the soldiers and “cops” at the check points and keep on driving.

No, Cheryl you do not need to worry because you are about to have one of the best years of your life. Relax and enjoy 🙂

“No Cheryl No, You Said You Wouldn’t…”

When I arrived in Prek Presap, Cambodia, I took one look at our house located 30 seconds from the Mekong River.

Is that swimmable I wondered?

But then I saw the water buffalo come down to the river for their daily bath (have you ever seen how muddy and dirty those things are? ) and then I thought, NOPE, NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Then, unfortunately, I saw a body or two float by (yes, this wonderful place can have a bit of the “wild west” element to it) and I thought, MOST DEFINITELY NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

Well then the hot season hit and the good ole shower (think bucket and a holding tank full of water) just wasn’t cutting it and yes, I CAVED! Everyone else was swimming (yes, peer pressure) so I ventured down in my full one piece swimming ensemble with sarong to take a little dip… just a little dip.. and just like any bad habit… that one little dip led to one more and before I knew it, I was swimming in that Mekong River every day. And you know what, it was the best bad habit I ever had!

My Favourite House Ever on the Mekong River

This is my house where I lived in Prek Presap, Kratie. Notice the truck out front; one of four that we owned. Why? I don’t know. How do two people really drive 4 trucks? The most cars I will ever “own” at one time. The house had an open concept living area (it was ahead of its time) where the local people would come at night to watch movies on our VCR/TV as we had a generator; a first for this district. So electricity was a big deal…and we were happy to share it.

This is my front yard which was an amazing sight as each and every morning the monks would walk by and receive alms.

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This is my backyard. A good reminder that my job was probably one of the easiest ones around the neighborhood.

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Sony Walkman, Flak Jacket, Helmet … All Dressed Up and Ready for Work

All ready for an ambush on the Mekong River, as I listen to Roxette on my Walkman and prepare for Cambodia’s first election since the years (1975 – 1979) of the Killing Fields.

Fortunately there was no ambush as I had been told that my flak jacket would only work if I was a certain distance away (oh hold on… I need to get a few more feet ahead of you before you take aim) and my helmet, as you might be able to tell, was way bigger than my head and would tilt from side to side.

Oh well, I had a lot of other good UN stuff like a telephone installed in my jungle office that didn’t work alongside the photocopier that was never used because it used electricity and well.. we didn’t have electricity. Oh well… the photocopier made a good table and the helmet kept the sun off my head!