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 🙂

“I can smell it. We must be close.”

So I was excited and stressed.

I desperately wanted to see a tannery in Fez, Morocco but I did not want the sales pitch that is attached. To get the best glimpse of the men working in the tannery, you have to be high enough to overlook them. This is where the sales pitch comes in. Leather shops enclose the tannery like armed security guards and so like a sitting duck or a smelly one, you have to walk through the shops in order to get a look at the tannery. Kind of a necessary evil to get what you want.

So we go up the long narrow winding stairs to the leather shop, try to quickly walk through to get to the terrace that overlooks the tannery. It doesn’t disappoint. Despite the harshness, the toxicity, the stench of the job, the sight of the stone vessels filled with an array of coloured dyes was breathtaking. I might be alone in this opinion as I look around for my family, who has vanished into the store, to escape the smells pervading from this gorgeous watercolour scene. I stayed, mesmerized at the sights, and breathing in my sprig of mint. The mint makes this a “doable” activity for the observer but clearly the workers go without. They have much hardier noses than us.

These stone vessels are filled with cow urine, salt, quicklime and water (just to make it a bit healthier). The hides from cows, goats, camels, you name it, are soaked in these vessels to remove all the crud like hair and fat. Makes you want to run out and buy a leather purse eh?

Then the hides are placed in vats that contain the oh so delectable smell of pigeon poop. Yes, there is a reason for pigeons I guess. This softens the hides so they can later absorb the coloured dyes. This process is helped along by the workers who stand inside the vessels, knee-deep (it might be a huge benefit to be taller in this occupation) and stamp and knead these hides with their feet until they are ready to go to the next step. More soaking, more stomping and finally the vegetable coloured dyes made from henna, pomegranate, mint, saffron and poppy flower transform the hides from hideous objects into bright and spectacular colours. Then the hides are set out along the roof tops of the surrounding buildings to dry.

If in Morocco, you need to see this. It is one of those Moroccan experiences that borders on an “India” moment; smelly, spectacular, stinky and sensational all wrapped up into one piece of leather; ready for my family to buy at said shop.

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The Carpet Quest or Otherwise Known as “Thank Goodness for Chris”

Soon after we learned that Erin would be joining us on our trip to Morocco, she started to talk about a carpet.

I thought  “Oh no, there are a million horror stories of people buying carpets in Morocco. How do you know we won’t get taken?” 

When I bargain/negotiate for some stuff like taxis or fruit, I am okay, I can almost enjoy it. But when I have to negotiate for something that is important or costs more money, I completely shut down! I feel sweaty, nervous and totally out of my comfort zone. This kind of thing makes me homesick for Walmart. I will do almost everything to avoid it.

Thankfully, Chris is in sales and is good at it. Thankfully for Erin too. So the carpet quest begins somewhere in southern Morocco. Erin mentions to our guide that she is interested and of course, naturally, not surprisingly, he knows just the right person. And then I begin to worry.

“Will we be able to afford the carpet? How long will this take (like forever)? Will we feel pressured into having to buy a carpet, even if she doesn’t really like one?… and so on and so on…

Well we are taken to a shop that is a shop, but also pretends to be a restaurant. This is how the “suck up” or “sales pitch” or “becoming friendly thing” begins. It is now officially part of our tour. We are there under the guise of trying Moroccan pizza but in reality, that carpet store is looming mere feet away.

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The Moroccan Pizza Before the Sales Pitch

I can feel the sweat beginning… or is that because we are still in the Sahara Desert in the summer time? I try to enjoy my pizza but my mind wanders to what next? What will happen? Will Chris be able to control the situation?

The pizza is taken away and the alarm clock has gone off. Time for the real deal to begin. We enter the store and, man, is it beautiful; like museum beautiful. I can feel my blood pressure rising. Surely these carpets must cost a fortune? Isn’t that what Virtual Tourist and Trip Advisor warn?

But those carpets are SO beautiful that I can’t help myself. I take that first step and I am hooked. There I am with Erin examining, differentiating, discussing the pros and cons of each wondrous carpet. I look to Chris for backup. We are getting closer to negotiating, the papers, the pens and the calculators come out.

“Oh look, Jade there are some pretty tiny (read: cheaper) things to look at. Let’s go over there. Quickly please!”

I leave Chris to his idea of a fun zone; negotiating big ticket items that are totally up his Moroccan alley. I vanish and wait for the verdict.

Escaping to the car, I finally see Erin and Chris coming out with a carpet all bundled up.

Yay! It is all over. I can breathe again. 

From Flea Bag Dives to This… Flashpacking Rules (Sometimes)

When I backpacked for 9 months from Mexico by bus to Costa Rica and then from Colombia to Bolivia, I travelled on broken down buses, chicken buses, flat-bed trucks, anything that didn’t cost very much. Every now and then, I would spend more than 5 dollars on a room and upgrade to a luxurious 20 dollar room. Food was off the street, local places, bakeries and grocery stores. Sometimes a splurge on a pizza place but overall the food was the easiest to handle. The flea bag dives and crappy buses got old but then 9 months of travel was the reward.

Fast forward to a family with 2 teens and a senior who is more than 70 travelling in Morocco in extreme heat for about 3 weeks. This is where flashpacking comes in. A new-ish term for me but yes, it defines us. We do travel for a shorter period of time and therefore certain luxuries are a bit more affordable. Every now and then we upgrade to a room that might cost more than 50 dollars (and yes this is an ouch!) but the perks are there. You might actually want to put your feet on the floor now and even take a shower without flip-flops!

I loved the places we stayed and where we ate in Morocco but… given the choice of this vs. the sorta flea bag but getting to travel longer… well…tough call. Backpacking rules too sometimes.

Don’t Visit This When Travelling

Jade and I just went to our new dentist’s office in Cobourg. It comes complete with a fireplace, friendly staff who speak English well, a very well-trained dentist, and even a Volkswagen Bug inside (like the real deal). Yes, this is a unique and interesting dental office.

But unique and interesting in Canada means one thing; in other places it might be even MORE unique and interesting and not in the ways you were seeking. Having experienced a multitude of doctors around the world, I am quite content to leave my medical experiences in that category and not venture off into the dental one. You may get lucky and find the right one; but like in Canada even; there is no guarantee. Get those teeth to the dentist before you go.

And if you are off to a place like India, this is what you might see. Knock on wood that this path is the one less taken.

Camels Are Not For Wusses

Trust me, the thrill of riding a camel lasts mere seconds… then it quickly turns to mere pain.

I should have learned my lesson the first time around. Dad and I were in Rajasthan, India and when you are there, apparently you must ride a camel in the desert. Or at least I was led to believe. Well dad and I did not last more than 10 minutes. Get on that darn camel, get a photo op and get off &*#! camel.

So why would I ever think that we should drag our bodies all the way to Merzouga, Morocco so that the rest of the family could celebrate the camel ride all over again?

And this was no 10 minute ride. Chris just confirmed that it was an hour and half both ways out into the Sahara Desert and then back again. He also stated that no one was happier than my camel when I decided to bail and get off said camel on the return home. My butt and thighs were forever grateful but my feet, trudging through the thick Sahara sand, were screaming another story.

Overall, not a pretty picture and one I WILL NOT REPEAT in front of those cool pyramids in Egypt (if and when) even if the photo op is to die for (in more ways than one).

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.

Love Shopping (Overseas) Hate Shopping (Canada)

I have to drag my body to go shopping in Canada… like I have no clothes left to wear, no food left to eat, the house is about to fall apart. However, when we travel, shopping is fun, it is a game, it usually involves some excitement and every now and then a bit of frustration. Have you ever walked away from a negotiation and later wished you had gone back and bought it? I have.

Shopping in certain countries like Morocco, Guatemala, and India involves a sensory overload. There is always something to look at, someone to look at and it rarely gets boring. This is my idea of shopping.