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? 

Don’t Try This At Home – Dying For Fresh Air on the Chicken Bus

There is a good reason why a chicken bus is called a chicken bus in Guatemala.

Because said buses carry chickens and any other live or dead animals people can carry with them onto the bus. Chicken buses originally come from the United States… they are old school buses that have worn out their welcome in the States only to find a new life in Guatemala. So when you get onto a chicken bus, think old school bus, lots of animals, lots of produce, lots of people.. you know those rules like 2 to 3 to a seat… NOPE… not on a newly reincarnated chicken bus… anything goes.

This is where Guatemala has a lot in common with India.

So after spending all day on a chicken bus to climb up a mountain and then another on the way to Todos Santos, you are not a pretty picture at the end of the trip. What to do when you have to get on that bus all over again to go back?

Well you decide that it is a brilliant idea (you know those ideas when you are in the 20s and nothing will ever happen to you) to avoid the inside of the beyond crowded smelly chicken bus and sit on top of the bus with all the bags instead. And no.. the road is not smooth, flat, properly paved… it is a road (loosely used term again) that winds through the mountains on some pretty intense curves. So at 4 am when the chicken bus arrives in Todos Santos, I hop onto the top with my backpack, sit on who knows what, try to find a spot to hold on and wait for the ride.

How did it go?

It was dark, freezing cold, scary, exhilarating and at the end, I probably thought (with the eyes of a 20 something) that I deserved some kind of Brave Backpacker Badge instead of the (with the eyes of a now 40 something) Brainless Backpacker Badge. You have to remember, these were the days before zip lining, drunken tubing in Laos, full moon parties in Thailand and who knows what else is hot nowadays… but back in the day… way back… this was all we had.

The Super Model of Swimming Pools Goes to South Africa

Seriously, would you ever return to a country for a swimming pool? Especially when swimming is not really your thing?

Well… some swimming pools are so beautifully situated such as the one shown above in Graskop, South Africa (Panorama Chalets) that yes.. I would consider dragging my family to South Africa to experience this pool, situated on the edge of a cliff over looking the Graskop gorge. I have been twice and this pool, stands out as one of my top memories of South Africa and that is competing with charging elephants in Kruger Park, Table Mountain in Cape Town and the oh so cute penguins on Boulder’s Beach outside Simon’s Town. That says a lot for a simple swimming pool.

When we were on our honeymoon, it was a pool at IL Poggio dei Pettirossi, on a hill overlooking the valley of Bevagna in Italy that made us miss our kids the most. We couldn’t even enjoy it knowing that they would have died and gone to heaven if they were swimming in it overlooking the Umbrian valley and all its sparkling lights at night. Chris honestly said we had to go back to Italy so they could swim in it… and yes, see Rome and Venice and a million other sights but that pool… again stands out.

We didn’t have Abby with us in Guatemala and we missed her the most at the Jungle Lodge in Tikal National Park when we floated in the pool watching and listening to the spider monkeys above in the trees.

So seriously… a pool can definitely play a part in a family’s travel experience when backpacking. I know of some “beyond brilliant ones” in Bali too… another reason to return there as well 🙂

Why Imperfect Trumps When Travelling

It started a long time ago for me and has continued now that I travel with my family. I am a “buck the traditional” kind of woman (“maiden name” – ridiculous words… but I still have mine; quit “traditional” law the minute I became a lawyer; had one daughter and ended up with four daughters (happily); changed careers many times and probably will once more. So needless to say, it is not a huge surprise that my favourite cities are NOT Paris and London as I much prefer grittier Amsterdam. When choosing Spanish language schools in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango beat out perfect Antigua so it was not too shocking that as a family we preferred Lake Atitlan villages again over Antigua, the “jewel” of Guatemala. After visiting Mexico, Chris declared Patzcuaro over San Miguel de Allende, another “expat haven” which is “perfectly aesthetic” but less us, I guess. Hands down we loved Essaouria over Marrakech and Fez in Morocco, strangely for some but again that is how we roll. I do have to admit that I love Bangkok but not for its touristy temples or other “must see” items. I prefer to wander, explore, people watch and get lost. Phnom Penh is my idea of perfectly “imperfect” but that was years ago, and I fear that it might have changed; as most places do. And I know I am very odd… but Cape Town was not a favourite for me; it was beautiful but not me. I much preferred the wild scenery of Lesotho, Swaziland and parts of Kwazulu Natal. When I look at my pictures, I gravitate to the regular, to the gritty side of life. Maybe that is why I am so obsessed with India because it has both; perfect and imperfect; all at the same time. Soon two of our blended family may be headed to a new city (one that when we tell people, the response is usually… umm) so granted to say, it is no Paris, no Vienna, no Florence, no Singapore. But because it will most likely be “perfectly imperfect” , we are not worried, we will be content and of course, find things to love.

According to Jade, Guatemala Was Better Than Disney World

Are you thinking about a first trip (or a second) to a very special place that is close to North America that is family friendly, wallet friendly, and provides major bang for your buck?

We strongly think Guatemala is that place. This is our trip report from ThornTree (Lonely Planet on-line resource).

We went on an amazing three-week trip to Guatemala with our 12-year-old daughter. It was her first time outside of Canada/US and she has now fallen in love with Guatemala, as we have as well. Although it was my second time there (last time was 18 years ago) it felt just as wonderful as many years ago.

We arrived late in Guatemala City and had made earlier arrangements with our hotel (Dos Lunas) to have their driver pick us up at the airport (included in hotel price). Victor was a wonderful sight to see as we tiredly left the airport feeling very secure and safe with him. We arrived at a gated community 5 min from the airport to meet the amazing couple, Lorena and Henk. They made us feel at home right away. I can’t recommend this hotel enough as a great start and end to a trip. The next morning Lorena made arrangements for a shuttle to take us to Panajachel.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

My daughter’s eyes were wide open as we drove on the road to Lake Atitlan (her sitting in the middle front seat of the shuttle). We arrived in time to eat at the Sunset Cafe ( beautiful location at the end of Santander Calle) and despite no sunset, it was still ideal and worthwhile. Jade really enjoyed Panajachel as she found it an easy place to shop without a lot of the hustle/bustle of a busy market.

We then took the public boat to Santiago Atitlan where we stayed at Posada Santiago. Our decision to stay at the posada was a difficult one (I had been thinking of many including Casa del Mundo) but it turned out to be the best choice for our family. I loved having the convenience of staying at the Posada which was a short walk down the road from a community where we could walk around and enjoy everyday life. The food/lodgings at the Posada are amazing but what was most amazing was its pool/jacuzzi set right by the lake. I spent a lot of time in the pool/jacuzzi watching the lake activities and men fishing in their cayucos. We would wake up early in the morning and walk down the road (2 min) to watch the women washing their clothes in the lake and gather water. While sitting in the restaurant in the Posada, we could observe men carrying large bundles of wood walking between the villages. Women and men in typical clothing for their area were everywhere and my daughter’s eyes were wide open all the time.

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While at the Posada, we visited Solola market and had been warned that many pickpockets (women and children mostly) would be around. Both my daughter and my husband had their pockets searched which did worry my daughter a bit. It is a very busy and at times, tight market which can become a bit claustrophobic. My daughter needed to take a few breaks from all the activity which was easy to do a block or so away from the market. Overall it was a positive experience and I enjoyed it much more than I had Chichi 18 years ago – just don’t take a day bag and wear a money belt under clothes. The chicken bus up the twisty and winding road to Solola was an adventure in itself but both my daughter and husband enjoyed it.

Solola Market

Solola Market

We also spent one day in San Pedro where my husband got his hair cut. Our daughter enjoyed watching it as this has become a bit of a tradition when we travel. Each haircut experience is always different. We enjoyed San Pedro and liked the feel of the village up the hill. On the way down the hill, we saw a white church (not Catholic) and we were given permission to climb up to the top of it where we got amazing photos of the surrounding area.

We then went to Antigua where we stayed at Posada Juma Ocag. Although it says in the LP that you can’t book ahead, we did through its website. It was a friendly, cheap and secure place to stay right across from the market. We loved it there! My only note to mention about Antigua is not to use El Barco Travel Agency. I always follow posters’ advice and my guidebook but this time did not and we paid for it. We were tired and hungry and just stepped foot into the first agency (thinking that all Volcana Pacaya trips must be the same). They scammed us twice (yes… not good) and we ended up going a day later than we wanted in a 12 person van filled with 20 adults. On the way back, a tire blew going down a large hill and so we were happy to finally return to Antigua. So a word of warning… avoid El Barco at all costs.

Antigua

Antigua

One of the best things we did on our trip for our daughter was to do a tour with the NGO, Safe Passage (Camino Seguro). We arrived at their office in Antigua and they drove us to their work in Guatemala City. I had found out about the NGO on a family blog site and this NGO has strongly impacted my daughter’s life and her vision for her future. They took us to the Guatemala City garbage dump where we learned about the families who live around the dump and try to make a living off of it. We learned what the NGO does for the families encouraging kids to stay in schools and participate in before/after school activities. Watching the vultures fly over the dump and witness the women and men running along side the garbage trucks vying for a great position to sort through the garbage is something we won’t forget.

We then flew to Flores ( in the evening) and stayed one night at Hotel Santana which is beautifully located on the lake. We took a shuttle to Tikal the next morning where we stayed at the Jungle Lodge. I would recommend the Jungle Lodge for one main reason… each day at 4 or 5pm. the spider monkeys come out and you can swim in the pool and watch them as they play in the trees hanging over the pool. My daughter was in heaven. Our favourite thing on our trip was the sunrise tour (an absolute not to miss event) of Tikal which I remembered clearly from 18 years ago. We went with our guide Carlos (thru Jungle Lodge) and he was amazing. He is a very educated man who made Tikal come to life for our family. As Carlos can’t walk well (moto accident) we took a truck into the jungle at 4:30 am. Standing in the back of the truck holding on for dear life, listening to the howler monkeys wake up… was “better than Disney World” said my daughter.

Even the trees are spectacular at Tikal

Even the trees are spectacular at Tikal

After we went to Finca Ixobel in Poptun. This is the only time that it rained during the day in our 3 weeks which put a damper on the Finca for us a bit. There is not a lot to do there when it is raining. Despite the rain, my daughter and husband decided to trek to the Ixobel cave... a major up and down hike in the jungle for an hour. I am happy they did not do the longer trek to the river cave as this would have been too long to go in the high humid and wet jungle. Although they enjoyed the cave experience (seeing bats, spiders while holding flashlights and candles – with no holders!) my daughter said she wouldn’t have done it again. They were beyond wet and muddy when they returned. Initially my husband wanted to wear his sneakers but luckily they convinced him to wear rubber boots as his sneakers or hiking boots would have been totally wrecked if they had been worn in mud up to their knees. Finca Ixobel does have amazing food but we felt a bit out of place there (staff was so so friendly and not many other tourists around except American “military” maybe). What I dislike the most was their mosquito nets which were covered in large patches of blood!

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We then went onto Rio Dulce where we had arranged through Hotelito Perdido to pick us up and take us to their jungle bungalows. They were very well-organized and met us at the exact time/place they said they would be there. Aska the owner ( whom we had made the arrangements with) no longer lives at the Hotelito but she does have hosts who manage it for her. Daniel and Margid were excellent hosts. We were the only ones staying there… it is the rainforest and it is isolated. My husband found it a bit claustrophobic so our 3 nite stay changed to a 2 nite stay. It was extremely humid and hot in July (like nothing I have experienced before and I have lived in the jungle in Cambodia and Suriname before). There were a lot of creepy crawlers around including a spider much larger than my husband’s hand in the shower. Our daughter staked out her place in a hammock while she read (it was safe from the creepy crawlers there ) and loved the Hotelito… while my husband went around removing insects that would worry her 🙂 An army of red fire ants moved us out of one bungalow to another. The bungalows are beautiful but are very much open concept. They are not completely screened in at all so many insects do find their way in. Overall, we enjoyed our time there despite the high humidity. The food was amazing… Candy the cook can cook many fantastic vegan options! Dining together at nite by candlelight with the sounds of the rainforest is truly memorable.

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We spent one night at Posada Delphin in Livingston which surprisingly was a real highlight. The pool was situated right on the water and it was very refreshing to have the breeze while swimming and watching boats coming and going. The best thing about the hotel were the hammocks at the end of the pier where we hung out at night watching the lightning show. (every night in Peten and in Rio Dulce area we had rain, thunder and lightning).

Jade hanging out like she always loves to do when we travel.

Jade hanging out like she always loves to do when we travel.

We took the first boat out of Livingston to catch the early Litegua bus from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City.. was a double decker deluxe bus and therefore a relaxing 6 hr trip back.

We had a wonderful memorable trip to Guatemala – a perfect choice for a family with a tween/teen looking to experience a different culture and way of life.

The C Family and Caves/Mines – Why We Don’t Mix Well

My first blended family experience was really at the Cape Breton coal mines. We were all sitting there waiting dutifully for our tour guide. I am not much of a tour guide kind of person and this was probably pretty obvious that day. I was with Chris, Abby and Allyson (formerly known as Ally and now really known only as Al to me but I will be formal this once.)

So Mr. Tour Guide needs to break the ice with our group and starts doing the go around and asking us where we are all from. Now, you need to know, we look like a family, we are a family but we are no ordinary family. It is too late to get our story straight and I am freaking out about this as he already knows that we are from PEI sort of and NB sort of so it is really hard to change our story on the fly. When he comes around, we give it a go and say we are from NS instead only to have him quiz us about our particulars. In fact at that time Chris was from NS, I was from PEI and the girls were from NB.

To an outsider, we looked completely dysfunctional and it appeared that the girls were parenting themselves since the “parents” didn’t even live in the same province either.

To make matters worse, we entered the coal mine only to have one of our mining helmets fall off and roll down the ramp, making a lot of noise as Mr. Tour Guide was giving his spiel. Well… I was toast… once I started laughing… I couldn’t even stop which of course made us look even more dysfunctional.

Barely surviving this experience, we of course felt bad that Jade hadn’t been able to come, so later on Chris and I took her back.

This is what you do as a blended family… you keep on doing stuff until everyone has had the chance to do it!

Of course this also reminds me of my lovely planning of our cave visit in Guatemala, which Jade just reminded me was her least favourite place on our trip. Oops, I recall her mentioning this… this had been majorly hyped up as a huge deal on Trip Advisor so of course, we had to do it – the royal “we” of course.

Did these other people on Trip Advisor go to the same cave as Jade and Chris did???

Did they actually walk through the sludge, the mud, the wet, the jungle, the ” I am sure there are snakes in this grass” stuff as Jade and Chris did?

Because if they did, kudos to them for ranking it high on their lists because I was most definitely informed that this was NOT high on the Jade/Chris list.

Apparently the guide spoke no English, walked incredibly fast and Jade and Chris thought they might either lose their boots in the mud, die of thirst, or kill me when they got back.

Luckily none of those happened.

In fact inside the cave, Chris held a candle (complete with wax dripping onto his hands) while Jade horrified, noticed a huge spider almost going across her rubber boot. I guess there were some pretty stalagmites and other cave like stuff… but this is not what they remember today.

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Jurassic Park – Guatemala Style

Again the best moments are often not planned.

We had arrived at Tikal National Park and we were staying at the Jungle Lodge. If you are wavering about which place is best to stay at in the park, it must be the Jungle Lodge for one reason only. Go directly to the pool in the afternoon and watch the trees above. They are full of monkeys jumping from tree to tree and you get the added bonus of lounging in a pool while you watch them. Sheer Heaven!!!! Trust me, you will never want to get out of the pool once the entertainment begins.

So we thought we would arrange a guide to take us into Tikal for the next morning but the woman I was looking for was nowhere to be found. We left a note for another guide who got back to us late that night so we went for it… knowing nothing about him. It turns out that he had had an accident at some point and wasn’t a strong walker… so walking into Tikal early in the morning to watch the sun rise and listen to the animals was kind of out the window. Instead… and yes this is a big instead… he had a pickup truck and we were directed to stand in the back of said pick up truck.

So holding our gear, we tried to hold on to the roof of the cab as we drove on a rocky path into the park. It was very dark outside and sort of eery. All of a sudden, as we entered the park, we heard a roar… not a little roar… but a ROOOOOOAAAAAAAARRRRRR! We jumped a foot and fortunately still landed in the back of our pick up truck.These were not lions… this is Guatemala after all…. but one step better in my world.. howler monkeys! We were beyond amazed at our luck of experiencing the sound of the howlers as we off roaded in the back of our pick up truck. And this was just the appetizer to an amazing day.

The entree (as far as I am concerned) is walking up the stairs to wait on the top of the ruins in the dark for the sun to rise. You know other people are up there but you can’t even see them. As the sun gradually rises, you hear the animals waking up and soon see the other ruins. It was misty for us but I think that just added to the appeal of the place personally.

And now it was 8am or so and our day had just begun!

Cheryl’s Travel Games – Read On to Follow the Rules

Ok, everyone in my family knows my favourite game to play… and it goes like this. If you had all the time and the money in the world where would you go? Another favourite Cheryl’s game is to ask for her children’s top 5 travel moments however, no one seems to appreciate Cheryl’s games as much as Cheryl does. In fact, Cheryl often (surprisingly) has counter answers such as – oh yeah, but what about this place? or oh no, how could you forget this moment? As you can see Cheryl’s games create a bit of a “oh no here we go again ” drone and she usually ends up playing them by herself or with Abby who will still play with her 🙂

So if you had all the time and money in the world where would you go?

Cheryl’s top answers at the moment are Cambodia (always the correct answer 🙂 India (usually number 2) and the rest is up for grabs…but usually it is a blend of Turkey, Zambia/Uganda/Namibia or any African country where we could self-drive and see animals as we should see them, sometimes Jordan for Petra, all of Europe but primarily lately it would be Romania, Montenegro, The Netherlands, Greece maybe, Italy always, Hungary  and maybe the rest of Europe because I simply can’t decide, Nicaragua and always, Guatemala. Oh and there are the Galapagos islands as well, but that will be much later when we are rich! Ha Ha

Top 5 travel family moments (random order as I change my mind all the time)

1. Tikal, Guatemala (soon to be blogged about as Jurassic Park)

2. Sahara camel trek in Morocco (otherwise known as eat sand for supper moment)

3. Huacachina, Peru (sitting with my nephew at the bottom of the sand dune at night listening to Abby and Jade talk and giggle up in the dunes because they were having so much fun in the sand that they refused to come down)

4. Amsterdam (because Amsterdam should be a part of all good lists) – walking along the canals with Jade and eating some major quantities of fries late at night at a cafe and later walking with Jade and Erin and drinking at a pub outside (Jade was not drinking however)

5. All those first moments when your children see things outside of their world for the first time – Jade in Guatemala city and Noah and Abby in Lima and Erin soaking up the heat in the back of our rusty broken down cab on the way to Essaouira. And of course, I appreciated that she ventured out in Essaouira when we first arrived (no major culture shock for her) and got us much-needed water and the most delicious potato chips ever… all trips require good potato chips!

And of course… the above 5 probably changes every day… almost as frequently as Cheryl checks Kayak Explore options to see where she can fly to from Toronto at any given moment for the cheapest amount. If you don’t know Kayak Explore, get your butt off that chair and run immediately to your computer to check it out. It is an addiction that all wanna be travellers should know about!

You Can’t Plan These Memorable Moments

We were returning from San Pedro to Santiago Atitlan by boat on Lake Atitlan. Jade had her camera (or was it an Ipod… who knows?) and the girl beside her was checking it out. Before you know it, they were communicating via technology, pictures and hand gestures. Neither spoke each other’s language but it was one of those moments that for Jade stood out.

A similar experience just happened this summer in Peru when Noah, Jade and Abby went to the local soccer field with a ball and ended up playing with and against some local kids. This again stands out from the rest of the planned activities… learning a little about others as you travel makes meaningful moments.