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Monday, December 28, 2015

Snakes and Crocodiles - Oh My!

Greetings again from Yelapa.   Remember that list of reasons why I love Yelapa I mentioned in my last post?  Well we can add two more items to it: snakes and crocodiles. 

"Tick Tock the Yelapa Croc"
The buzz here last week was about a crocodile (see pic) that had been spotted swimming off the tourist beach near the hotel.  Evidently crocodiles are a rare occurrence.  The current theory it was brought down by the high water in the river Tuito (pronounced Tweet-oh – named after the yellow canary Sylvester the cat was always chasing).

Crocodile sightings are rare here but not unheard of.  The locals tend to downplay the sightings as nothing serious.  After all, the last time a kid got snatched off the beach was eight years ago.  You have a better chance of being bitten by a shark in Hawaii then get chomped on by a crocodile here in Yelapa.  Still it’s better to take precautions: I tend to use the Wildebeest method – stick to the middle of the herd.  When crossing the lagoon I try to keep at least one person in front of me and one behind – not that I’m worried.

Game Wardens being outsmarted by Tick Tock
Today the "game wardens" from Puerto Vallarta showed up for the big Sunday Showdown.  Score after the first round - "Tick Tock" 1 - Game Wardens - 0.  I"ll let you know if they're serving croc tacos at "Tacos Y Mas"  - "Tastes like Pollo"

Bobby the Boa
The same day that “Tick Tock” the crocodile showed up, not to be outdone,  Bobby the Boa made an appearance on the path to our casa.  Bobby is technically a Rosy Tailed Boa, supposedly a very docile type of snake – but don’t tell that to him.  He slithered across the path and up into the trees where he’s waiting to drop down on me one night on my way back from Pollo Bollo (the restaurant).

About the same time the last reported “attack” by a crocodile occurred I was in Costa Rica attempting to learn Spanish by “immersing” myself in the culture.  The result was I sort of had to leave the country in a hurry with death threats made if I should ever return.

So without further ado, here’s the emails of the fateful trip…

May 1, 2009
 Greetings from San Jose in Costa Rica.  I have decided to give Scuba diving a break.   Now that I have pretty well mastered the skill of diving and good relax a bit and take my mind  and eyes off  my gauges and look around a bit I found I was getting bored – I mean how much coral and how many fishes can you look at??

I thought I’d like to explore Central and South America, and to do so it made sense to try and learn Spanish – otherwise I’d be forever relegated to the tourist areas.  This makes great sense except for one thing – the learning thing.

I have never been great in the learning a language.  In fact I suck it at it big time.  My parents sent me to Hebrew School after school three times a week for eight years. After the second or third day the teachers and I came to an understanding:  I wouldn’t bug them, if they wouldn’t bug me. My parents would drop me off. I would go in. Five later  I would go to the washroom and simply not return – until it was time to be picked up.  This worked well for all concerned for about six years when it became time for me to prepare for my bar mitzvah. At that time everyone (including me) came to the sudden realization that I couldn’t read or speak a word of Hebrew despite six years of education.
I did have a prestigious memory then and was able to verbally memorize all the passages I had to learn and repeat them by rote.

In high school I had a choice of French or Latin.  For some reason that escapes me today I chose Latin.  Latin had a lot of “sight translations” which I could memorize and feedback verbatim.   I scraped through with  a big 52%

In graduate school I decided to try and learn French.  The head of the French department was a friend, and despite my protestations that I couldn’t learn he insisted I take his introductory French course.   After three weeks he called me into his office and said,
“Jeff, I know we’re friends, but maybe you might want to think about taking Italian instead.”

I have travelled a great part of the world and manage to get by speaking a little of the language of each place I go.  I speak it, but I don’t understand it!  I’m like a large unfeathered parrot:  I have a working vocabulary of about 100 words in each language:   one hundred words I immediately forget the second the plane home lifts off the runway.  Also since I only parrot words I find in dictionaries my pronunciation gaffs are legendary.  My mispronunciation of  “Zebra” in Swahili nearly caused the driver to swerve off the road.  Only later did I learn I what I was calling a Zebra was the very intimate part of female anatomy!   At dinner the guides and waiters would call their friends into the restauarnat and ask me to identify animals in Swahili then collapse in gales of laughter.
IPEE language school & Prostate Centre
I searched the internet for a compatible Spanish School.  After looking at many I chose the one I’m currently enrolled in.  I used the Richmond Chinese Driving School method to pick the best one:  Pick one with a meaningful name.  Like the “The Lucky Lotus take out restaurant and Driving school” where they combine take out and driving instruction.  The Spanish School I chose was IPEE. It seemed to fit in nicely with my  current prostate condition.

I arrived in Costa Rica last night.  The “getting here” part was not pretty.   It took two hours plus just to check in at the Vancouver Airport and clear US immigrations  where  I qualified for the super deluxe strip search.   Conversely it took about five minutes to clear Costa Rica Customs and Immigration and claim my luggage. 

My San Jose neighbourhood
I was met at the San Jose airport by a nice middle age couple holding a sign with my name sort of written on it.  (Evidently in Spanish countries, Jeff has only has one “f” in it – who knew?   It was at this moment the totality of what I had done suddenly hit me:  These folks don’t speak a word of English!   They babble away at me in Spanish and I smile  at them.  They babble some more and I smile  some more.  As the ride wore on I began to improvise - I would nod when it seemed appropriate.   Smile and Nod.   Nod and Smile.  

I arrive  around 11pm at my new family’s home and make another alarming discovery.  They don’t use street names here!   There are NO street signs of any sort!!!!!  I manage to ask someone who spoke a little English how they find places.  They use “It’s near….”   

“It’s near the Taco Bell near the big plaza with three banks!  “It’s down the street from so and so Pharmacy!” I’m told to tell the taxi driver some landmark and he will magically deliver me to my home.   I’m near the corner of “walk” and “don’t walk”.

My host is a charming widow named Nuri.  She lives alone in a nice house (by Costa Rica standards) in the suburb about five minutes’ walk from the IPEE School.  Nuri is very nice, but also doesn’t speak a word of English.  Somehow we are managing to communicate.  I have a small bedroom complete with TV and my own bathroom. The house also has wireless internet, so I’m connected through my laptop.   Nuri made me a large breakfast and has been catering after me with drinks and sacks all morning. 

After breakfast I decide to go for a “little walk” by myself. Nuri gives me explicit instructions, and I immediately got lost.  After 15 minutes she takes pity on me and snags me the third time I pass by her front door. Tomorrow she is going to walk me to school - just like a kid in grade one! 

More mania!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Yelapa: THe land that forgot Time

Our casa in Yelapa
My apologies for not having written earlier, it’s a combination of indolence, boredom and trying to get into some sort of writing routine here in Yelapa.  Yes, we’re back in Yelapa again.  God, I love it here – if it weren’t for the oppressive heat, the humidity, the bugs, the hurricanes, rolling brownouts, and irrefutable signs of Global Warming.  Speaking of which, they should plan to have the next world conference on Global warming here in Yelapa instead of Paris.  Half of the delegates wouldn’t survive the walk to the Yoga retreat without being swept off the path by a huge wave and carried out to sea.  Other than those few trifling matters we love it here. 

We arrived here about three weeks ago.  The temperature in Puerto Vallarta was a balmy 35 degrees and the humidity somewhere over 100%.    The good news is that it won’t last long: it should cool off right after the hurricane passes.  

Hurricanes don’t bother me much – unless of course I’m in a small boat on the ocean which is about as safe as wearing  a “Jews for Jesus” t-shirt in downtown Mecca during the Hajj .  Michele and I’ve survived few rough transits from Puerto Vallarta over the years.  The most notable being last year when the 45 minute trip took over 2 hours plowing through 15 foot seas. This time, however, the water had that oily slick calm look that precedes a storm.

The "mud" bloom from the river
Perfect, because five hours after our arrival the storm arrives preceded by a spectacular lightning storm.   The hurricane passes well south of us which means we are spared the wind. But the rain?  I haven’t see rain like that since…..    the storm that hit us a few days ago.  Now that storm was a doozy!  It pounded down for two days and I figure we had a foot of rain – and that’s a conservative estimate.  The little river that separates the town from the tourist area resembles the Mississippi – sending a mud bloom miles out into the blue ocean.  There are rivers where there were no rivers.

Before we arrive I write our landlord asking him to make sure everything was shipshape when we arrived, and he did – for the most part.  Other than no internet (essential to communicate to the outside world), a broken ceiling fan (essential for the heat), faulty wiring in the bathroom, no hot water  and no water pressure in the kitchen, the place was in tip top shape.  But on the plus side our landlords provided us with a new pair of deck lounges which means we no longer have an  excuse to visit the beach.

To be fair, most of the problems were fixed quickly by Mexican standards, and other than a few daily disasters, such as a midnight invasion of the army ants who mistakenly took a left instead of a right and ended up in our living room, things are going along quite well.  I took a page out of  Bashar Al-Assad’s book and gassed the ant army with copious sprayings of Raid.  Unfortunately I also gassed myself in the process and had to spend several hours out in the dark on the patio on the new deck lounges until the air was breathable again.  It seems to have done the trick – we haven’t seen any sign of them in a couple of weeks.
Free range horses on my walk

My day usually begins at the crack of eight or nine with a walk east to the tourist beach, or west -through town and up the mountain to the fancy hotel that won’t let me inside.  The walks generally take about an hour and I’ve been doing them for the past four or five years.  However this year the walks have become more “challenging.” 

The walk to the expensive hotel is now no longer possible – since I nearly got swept of the path - that runs along the ocean.  Normally the waves come up to the path but rarely wash across it – and if they do, the water is only an inch or two deep.  Not so this year.  The huge surf crashes right over the path and up against the retaining walls on the uphill side.  In past years I’ve avoided getting my feet wet by timing the waves then hopping quickly across the low spots before the next roller comes in.  Either the waves are coming quicker this year or my timing is out – or both  - because this year I got caught several times by huge rollers that first slammed me into the retaining wall then tried to suck me out to sea.  I think two of my fingernails are still embedded in the wall.   I survived, somewhat banged up, and wet. The locals tell me they’ve never seen the surf as high as it is this year.
a new  waterfall after the rain

The walk in the other direction is more tranquil but now requires several “portages” over large ponds of muddy water that are a result of the massive rains or the high tides – or both.   The good news is that the sunny weather should dry them up in a few days – just after the mosquito larvae hatch.

Our lives here have now settled in a routine that very much resembles what life must be in a seniors home – it gives me a chance to contemplate on my future.  We get up, get dressed, eat, nap, play a board game in the afternoon, nap, have dinner, watch an hour of TV then go to bed.  A couple of times a week we go out for dinner.  The only thing missing is the Filipino caregiver poking us with a stick to see if we’re still alive.

One of my catches for a morning's fishing
I will say one thing:  the fishing here is spectacular!  You can go out here for a morning’s fishing for less than the tip would cost you for fishing in Canada or the US.  I’ve been going for years and I’ve never had a bad day’s fishing.   This year I went out with Luis, my usual  fishing guide.  There was supposed to be another guy - but he didn’t show - so Luis took me out for three hours at the cost of two.  At fifty bucks an hour….  You do the math.  I caught, three chorra (small tuna like fish), one fifty pound swordfish (which I tried unsuccessfully to release) and two thirty pound mahi mahi’s.  I kept the smaller mahi mahi and donated the rest to the village.
Susan at the Bahia Restauarant

I’ve been complaining to my friends that the older I get the faster time seems to go by.  I’ve finally found a cure for that – Yelapa.  Time stands still here.  I pointed this out  to my wife Michele.  She told me that the battery in the wall clock had died.  I replaced the battery with a brand new one and nothing’s changed, so I think she’s wrong: time does stand still here.  So if you want to live forever, come to Yelapa.  You won’t actually live forever, it will just seem that way.

Another irrefutable sign that time moves slower here is the internet:  At home I can download an episode of NCIS in a little over three minutes.  Here the best estimate I’ve gotten is 12 hours!

I’ll be posting any exciting news from here from time to time, and I’m going to continue my practice of re-posting some of my earlier adventures around the world which I have shared with many of you.

If you’re heading down Puerto Vallarta way, drop in for a visit.  We’re here till the end of February – which is like…   forever.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Jeopardy answer: "Things that almost float." what is the question?

Important Note:  This is NOT a current trip.  I'm in between trips so I'm "revisiting " some of my favourite trips from the past.  This trip was about 7 years ago to the Philippines.  I don't think things have changes much since them if you're planning on going.

December 1, 2007
“I'll take things that almost float, Alex, for 100 pesos.
“Okay, Jeff, the answer is 'What is a Philippine ferry?”

Sometimes disaster strikes when you least expect it. Of all my travels, and all the crazy things I do, one would hardly expect a twenty minute 5 mile crossing of water as calm as a bath tub could almost turn into a major disaster.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Survived the run - Money back guarantee off the table.

The White Rock Great Pumpkin 5K run/walk
 Well I survived the Great Pumpkin 5K Run/Walk so the money back guarantee is off the table.  The walk wasn’t as difficult as many of my Gambier hikes.  The first half was a gentle up hill, then a bit of level walking and finally downhill.  My initial thought was that it might take me 90 minutes to walk the 5K but I did it in just under an hour.
Crossing the finish line

I would have been faster except all the kids in strollers and weiner dogs kept passing me.

No problems until I went home.  I got lost trying to get out of White Rock and ended up nearly at the Peace Arch border crossing.   

Amy - my fitness instructor
Thanks to your generosity I raised just over $500.00 – double my estimate!   My cardiac group raised over $13,000.00 of the $60,000.00 raised for the hospital ER.  

Thanks again everyone for your support.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pirates and Sharks in the Philippines

Our transportation
The next morning we were met by Willie, who informed us that he had been hired to drive us to the ferry terminal where we would catch a small banka over to Malapascua island.  Once we arrived, Willie dumped us and our luggage and took off in a hurry.  The reason for his hasty departure became apparent when I went to buy the 50 pesos ($1.00) ticket for the ferry.   From that point the adventure became more like pirates of the Caribbean. We were immediately surrounded by unsavory characters who kept telling us that the 11:00am ferry would not be going for a long time, as there were only two of us waiting.

 “What about all those people over there?” I asked the guy with the eye patch and a parrot perched on his shoulder.
“They're waiting for people coming the other way.” He replied. He threw in an “Arggghhhh!” for good measure.
We finally agreed to pay a boat man $10.00 each for the trip over. Before we could load our suitcases they were snatched out of our hands by five (count 'em, five) more bandits who insisted on loading our 4 suitcases on board, then demanding payment.
The only good think is the boat (run by a gas engine ripped off a lawnmower) didn't sink.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

You're support might save MY life!!!

I have been coerced into participating in a run.  I do not do runs as they generally don’t work out well for me.  The last (and only) time I participated in one was the Vancouver winter 2010 Olympics and that turned out to be a televised national disaster.  All I had to do was run a few hundred meters and hand off the torch to the next runner.  You can click on the YouTube video link below to see how that worked out:

The cardiac rehab group I belong to is participating in the Great Pumpkin Run Walk to raise additional funds for our local hospital’s ER.  Since that was where I was taken when I had my heart attack it was suggested it might be nice if I supported it.  There was no pressure applied to me.  Just a threat to put up pictures of those who DON”T run in the hospital’s ER admitting room with a diagonal line through it and a caption below that reads “Do not resuscitate under any circumstances.”

I suppose if I HAVE to walk for a cause, the cardiac group is a good one for me to support.  I’m not suffering from too many other diseases.  As those of you who follow my blog know, I had a prostate operation a few months ago, but since it wasn’t prostate cancer, it doesn’t count.  It was for a TURP which is a fancy name for a “ream job” so I can pee better, farther and longer (in between).  I suppose I could start a run for the TURP.  But it wouldn’t be very far as we’d need porta-pottys every hundred feet and it would probably take three days to complete the 1K walk.

Then there’s hemorrhoids – but who’s going to get behind that?

So I’m going to bite the bullet and do the 5K walk for the hospital.  But it’s not enough just to walk….  I have to get people to “support” me.  It’s not just the fact that I have to hit up family, friends and readers for cash, it’s what if nobody gives anything?   What does that say about me?  It means I have to make up names – and how demeaning is that?

So I’ve decided to take a page out of those Vegamatic commercials and market myself better.  So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to make you an offer no one else has ever made to you when appealing for support on one of these run/walks:  If I fail to complete the walk because I have a have a heart attack doing it, I’ve instructed my wife to make sure that each and every one of you get a full refund! How’s that for a money back lifetime guarantee?  

But wait...  There’s MORE!!!

If I actually die doing this (and there’s always that chance – look again at the torch drop.  See how close I came to setting myself on fire).  I’ve instructed her to give you double your money back!   Pledge just  ten bucks, and if I croak you get twenty back!   Further, if you bid a hundred dollars or more, I’ll take you off all my mailing lists!

So, I’m appealing to you to support a great cause – me…     and the Peace Arch Hospital  & Community Health Foundation  on the Great Pumpkin Run Walk on Sunday October 18th.    You can pledge your support to me by going HERE and clicking on my name and pledging a few bucks for a good cause.  Five bucks?  Ten bucks?  Whatever.  I’m a low achiever so I’ve set my goal low.  So forget the cause just click on the link and make me look good. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Manicure 20,000 leagues under the sea (sort of)

Ruins of Mile long Barracks on Corregidor
Our trip began with a brief stopover in Manila, a crowded bustling city  of 1.6 million people.   Manila was bombed flat by the Japanese in WWII; then again by the Americans when they liberated it, so almost anything of historical significance is gone. You can easily cover what is there in one day.  If you are going to stay a bit longer the day trip to Corregidor is definitely worth the effort.  Corregidor, an island guarding the approaches to Manila, is where the Americans, against all odds, held out for five months, before surrendering.  It’s where Douglas MacArthur issued his  famous “I shall return.”  The ruins are quite spectacular, including the tunnels where the Americans held out for months, the mile long barracks, and the sophisticated artillery that was made instantly irrelevant  when the airplane was invented. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

THE PHILIPPINES “I shall return.”

About five years ago I went to the Philippines with my Gambier buddy Bruce for some diving and R&R.  I never did a proper blog of that trip, so here it is – better late than never! I found it a great place to visit – even if you aren’t a diver.  Great beaches, wonderful people and very very economical.  As General Douglas McArthur said, “I shall return.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Blow the (Grober)man down!

Normally I don’t write about our stay at our summer place on Gambier Island, but this past week we survived one of the biggest wind storms the Vancouver area has seen in decades. Gambier Island is only a few hours from our home, but to get there you have to catch the cat, pack up the car, drive an hour to the marina (while listening to the cat complain about my driving), then unpack the car, pack the boat, launch the boat and drive the twenty minutes or so to Gambier Island (there is no road access) and listen to the cat complain about my boating skills.

 Once there it’s unpack the boat, carry the stuff up the dock, load up the ATV wagon and drive up to the cabin. Then it’s time to rest and recover for the rest of the day. The cat generally heads for the high country and is not seen again for some time - once it was seven months.

As I mentioned earlier there was an enormous wind storm last week (August 29, 2015) and we managed to survive it despite doing some pretty stupid things that might have qualified us for a Darwin Award. I put together a four minute video you might find interesting. “Kids – don’t try this at home. Leave it to professionals who all have University degrees.

NEXT:  The Philippines Revisited 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A lesson on how to save on your Travel Insurance

It was time last week to renew my annual Travel insurance policy and I was staggered at the difference between the quotes for essentially the same coverage.   The total package difference (the basic coverage with a “shorter” vacation stay (between 3 weeks and 30 days) and a sixty day one time extension. (My wife and I are planning to stay in Mexico for about three months.  Quotes varied from about $1000.00 to nearly $4,000.00 – a difference of $3,000.00.  I should mention that I just turned 70 and had a stent put in three years ago. 

The companies I looked at were Travel Underwriters, the Automobile Association, and SecureGlobe.
SecureGlobe was the least expensive by far!  Again all reputable companies and for essentially the same coverage.The reason is that SecureGlobe is a broker – not an agent.  They take your information and “bid” it out to several companies to see who will give the best quote based on your health and age information.  In my case it was Co-operators  (now called Cumis) that gave the best quote for the third straight year.

In case you’re wondering I did have a couple of small problems when travelling and there help line was fantastic and repayment (if the hospital or clinic would not bill them directly) was very fast.

So before you automatically lock in your next travel insurance policy check them out.  One important tip I learned is that your rates jump when you turn 66, 71, 81.   NOT 65, 70, or 80!  You can lock in another year before your birthday.

The lady I used was Mellissa.  You can reach her at 1-888-211-4444 local 5203 – and no, I don’t get any commission or any benefit at all for passing this on.  If you're not in Canada you'll have to look around for a broker  who can offer you the best company to fit your profile, rather than an agent who has a "one size fits all" solution.

Hopes this helps.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Prostrated by my Prostate!

I’m not travelling at present, but I’ll be still posting some of my greatest “hits” for a while.  Right now I’m sitting at home recovering from a prostate operation: not for prostate cancer – but the other one – the one that guys don’t want to talk about, BPH – or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia.

Basically BPH is caused by an enlarged prostate that cuts off the flow of urine from the bladder.  According to the Hopkins Medicine Organization, the condition is called BPH, or Benign prostatic hyperplasia.
“Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): An age-related enlargement of the prostate that isn't malignant. BPH is the most common noncancerous prostate problem, occurring in most men by the time they reach their 60s. Symptoms are slow, interrupted, or weak urinary stream; urgency with leaking or dribbling; and frequent urination, especially at night. Although it isn't cancer, BPH symptoms are often similar to those of prostate cancer.”

There are several treatments for it:  it can be able to be treated with drugs or several surgical treatments.  The most common treatment is called TURP or Transurethral resection of the Prostate – or as my late uncle Alfie used to call it, “The Ream Job.”

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pirates of the Adaman Sea

My Happy Sailing Crew
Well after two weeks of dealing with Tigers, Elephants and an assortment of standing, sitting, lying, laughing, crying and squatting Buddhas  I decide I need a break and a four day three night sailing tour seems like the perfect choice.  I nickname this part of my itinerary as Forget the Buddhas – I’d rather Be Sailing.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Okay, I understand the chanting - but does it have to be so loud!

Monks on a "Chant Break"

From Bangkok we travel by sleeper train to Chiang Mai, an overnight adventure in itself which due to a rampageous group of young Aussies in the next car featured very little in the way of sleep. The problem with many trains in South East Asia is the bathrooms.  They aren’t pleasant.  They begin out okay, but after a couple hours  they begin to reek like a ten day old cat litter box that has been left in the sun.  By four hours your eyes are watering – even if you’re half way down the car. This doesn’t seem to deter the Australians who seem immune to the smell and happily will stagger to the washroom open up the door and puke on the floor.

Friday, June 19, 2015

I have a tiger by the tail - really!

When one thinks about Thailand one usually visualizes Phuket’s crowded warm tropical beaches, the Phi Phi Islands, or which just happens to be  on my Bucket List (item 142),the bridge over the river Kwaii.  If you aren’t familiar with it, you’re under 60.  It’s from the 1957 Academy award winning film of the same name – I saw it about a dozen times at the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver when I was twelve.   I would have seen it more, but I was banned from the theatre due to the infamous “candy throwing incident” which I would like to forget – unfortunately the theatre owner didn’t forget about it for nearly ten years.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Secret of the Asian Squat Toilet

I was warned the Asian bathroom is different from the North American version - particularly the so called “squat toilet.”  I’m not sure I can squat, read a magazine, play with the radio and do the necessary "paper work" without my legs going to sleep and ultimately falling into the hole.  So far my fears are unfounded since I have yet to encounter one.  All my accommodations have North American toilets, but there are some subtle differences.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Boom Boom For Jeff


Ha Long Bay

“So how do you feel about a massage tonight?  The Vietnamese are supposed to give the best massages in world,” pontificates  Stan as our boat pulls into a little harbor in near Cat Ba island.  Stan is our little tour’s expert on everything – I try to avoid him as much as possible but a massage sounds like a good idea. The boat tour of Ha long Bay and overnight stay at Cat Ba Island are “must do’s” for anyone visiting Vietnam.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam!

About eight years ago I paid a visit to Vietnam.  I was there for nearly a month and travelled from Sapa on the northern border with China to to the remote Con Dao Islands in the South China Seas.  Here are the high (and low) points of that trip.

May 26 , 2007
If this is Vietnam, why doesn’t anyone here speak Vietnamese??   My plane arrived on time, getting through customs was a breeze, and sure enough there was a Vietnamese guy holding a sign with my name on it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is Kenya Safe? Maybe not.

Is Kenya safe?  When I started this blog chapter a few weeks ago I thought so.  Not so much now since Al Shabaab's recent attack on the University and promising more. 
If you're wanting to experience East Africa and travel on safari I'd recommend thinking about Tanzania which seems a lot safer now.

Later this week I move on to Vietnam.  Who would have thought if you could go back in time 50 years that you'd be telling someone that Vietnam's a safe place to visit!

More in a few days

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Monkey Business in Kenya - Why You Should Never Feed the Monkeys!

Masai with cell phone

After the four days in Masai Mara Park I was looking forward to Mombasa.  The flight was uneventful.  The only strange thing is that Kenyans don’t seem to care about the silly ban on using your cell phone on the plane.  Fully half of them were gabbing on their cell phones and text messaging the whole trip back.  Almost ALL of Kenya is covered by cell phone coverage.  In fact Kenya, has for the most part, skipped the hard wire telephone and gone directly wireless phones.  Now if they could only do the same for the Internet where the words “broadband” and “wireless” don’t exist - even in the capitol city of Nairobi. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Out of Africa - My encounter with the deadly "White Leech of Death"

February 2015 - Yelapa, Mexico

As our three month winter vacation in Yelapa draws to a close it’s time to start thinking where next to send my blog follower while I consider my options for my next adventure. 
I've been following events in West Africa with the same trepidation as the rest of you.  I am heartened to see they are turning the corner to get EBOLA under control.  Coupled with the new testing of several promising vaccines, we may see an end to this scourge once and for all.

A less reported side effect of the outbreak is the effect it’s had on the tourism industry in the other counties of East Africa.  Tourism has drastically declined as people tend to look at Africa as one “place.”   The same rational greatly effected tourism in western Canada more than a decade ago during the SARS outbreak in Toronto.  It didn’t matter that Vancouver was 4000 km away from Toronto; people’s perception was that nowhere in Canada was safe.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today's News - Cyclone Devastates Vanuatu - Where the Heck is Vanuatu?

The lead news today is that the South Pacific Island of was utterly devastated by a super Cyclone.  So where the heck is Vanuatu?

Vanuatu is a small island republic in the South Pacific - sort of in the neighbourhood of Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

I visited  Vanuatu seven years ago,  I thought you might be interested.

Monday, March 2, 2015

If you're going to a knife fight bring a Machete

Our new casa

One thing apparent when you're traveling in a third world country like Mexico is they don’t do things the same way as we do in North America or Europe.  Take building for instance:  anyone who travels extensively will notice construction techniques in these countries are very different from ours.  Buildings  are not built quickly. We recently rented a brand new two bedroom home in the little Mexican town of Yelapa .  Our neighbours informed us the construction of this modest dwelling took ten years.  That’s for several reasons:  first of all everything is done by hand.  Every brick and bag of cement is hauled by hand (or burro) from the beach, up the road, up sixty stairs to the building site. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Back in Yelapa Again!

Where is Yelapa?
Right now I’m sitting in Yelapa, Mexico.  I’m here with my wife, Michele, for three months. It’s a unique experience to be writing about the actual location I’m actually situated in.  Usually I take notes during my travels and compose my blog entries after I come home.   Most of my excursions I’m constantly traveling – never in the same place for more than a night and that doesn’t allow time to compose well thought out illustrated blog entries.

My love affair with this little town goes back seven years when I first came here for three weeks to study Spanish. When I disembarked from the 45 minute water taxi trip from Puerto Vallarta my first instinct was to get back on board and head back to Puerto Vallarta.  As I made my way up the cobble stone roadway to my rented accommodation I wondered what I had got myself into.  The town appeared so…. primitive.  
There were no cars – just burros and horses.  The narrow roadway had aromatic deposits from the aforementioned animals. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Maritimes Wrap-up: Thumbs up & Thumbs down

Rather than go through all the sites and attractions in boring detail, I’ll simply list them and our opinion of each. 

  1. Halifax:
  2. Halifax's Citadel
    1. You can easily this small city in two days.   The key sites are:
    2. The Citadel - – this is any easy walk from anywhere in  downtown.  We debated staying out Halifax and commute in;, but in the end opted to stay downtown at  the Cambridge Suites Hotel and save the time and money of commuting in.  The Citadel was right across the street and is an impressive  site even though it was operating with a reduced staff.  Allow yourself at least two or three hours and definitely take the tours.
    3. Take the little ferry over to Dartmouth and back.  You get a nice feel for the harbour and city.  Allow about an hour – depending on how often it runs.
    4.  Alexander Keith’s Brewery – definite thumbs down     on this one for us.  Expensive and
      super tacky.  Save your    money (more importantly your time) and buy beer with it.
    5. The Maritime Museum. Thumbs up on this one.   I  found it very interesting and really well done. Allow at least   a couple of hours for this attraction.
  3.  Peggy’s Cove
  4. Light House at Peggy's Cove
    1.  This iconic site is a half hour out of Halifax on the way to Lunenburg .   It’s probably the most photographed lighthouse in Canada.  You definitely need to stop and hour and get the “must have” picture of you with the lighthouse.  We were prepared to be underwhelmed but really enjoyed the lighthouse and the surrounding village.
  5.    Lunenburg:
  6. Lunenburg
    1.  This World Heritage Site is a definite must see on your trip.  The town with its iconic brightly painted houses is a pleasure to stroll through and enjoy the centuries old  beautifully restored century old structures.  It is also the site of the Bluenose.  Unfortunately the ship was still under repair.  If you have your heart set on a Bluenose cruise check to make sure it’s operating
      1.   If you’re looking for a great place to eat check out the Lunenburg Pub & Bar.  It’s a pub that caters to locals and tourists.  Normally Michele hates pubs, but we liked this one so much we went back a second night.
  7.   Annapolis Royal and The Habitation  at Port Royal
  8. The Habitation at Port Roysl
    1.    Michele had her heart set on seeing this 17th century recreation of a French fort.  We drove over  an hour to get there – and guess what?  It was closed.      We learned to our dismay that many attractions move on to winter hours right after Labour Day – so if you’re not travelling in peak season CHECK to make sure  they’re open.  Some of them are even closed on weekdays. We still managed to walk around Fort Anne and the surrounding area.
  9. Digby
  10. digby ferry
    1. Digby is famous for scallops and where you catch the ferry over to St. John.  The ferry is an old smelly tub, and ten minutes after you leave Digby there’s nothing to see but sea – for  a couple of hours.  It’s definitely not an enjoyable cruise like taking the BC Ferry to Victoria.  If we had to do it again, we’d drive and take the scenic route.
  11. Bay of Fundy
    1.   What’s the point of going to the Maritimes if you’re
      Low tide at Alma
      not going to experience the Bay of Fundy and its amazing tides?( See preceding post for details).   We opted to see the tides from the New Brunswick side and chose the little town of Alma.  We lucked into the Cliffside Suites on the outskirt of town.  This was by far the nicest place we stayed in on the entire trip  Besides having a luxurious suite complete with Jacuzzi bathtub and comfortable living room, each unit came equipped with its own deluxe BBQ.  But by far the most impressive thing about the place was the magnificent view it had of the seaside town of Alma and the Bay of Fundy.  We could watch the tide rise and fall right from our  living room.  If you’re going to New Brunswick try and stay there.  I’m told it’s usually booked months in advance.  We called anyways and found they just had a cancellation.   So you never know.
    2. Cape Enrage
      1. Cape Enrage
        From Alma it’s a twenty minute car ride to Cape Enrage – another interesting lighthouse and a great view of the impressive ocean current raging by.  It also has a zip line and rock climbing face – but those attractions only run during peak season.
    3. Hopewell Rocks
    4. Hopewell Rocks
      1.    Hopewell Rocks is another well documented attraction.  Plan to spend a couple of hours there.  But be warned: there are lots of stairs down to the beach.  You can easily do Cape Enrage and the Hopewell Rocks in a morning or afternoon.  Just check the tides before you go.  You might want to try and catch them at both low and high tide.
  12. The Confederation Bridge.
  13. The Confederation Bridge
    1.    Originally we were going to take the Confederation Bridge to PEI and the ferry back, but  after our experience with the Nova Scotia Ferry we opted to take the bridge both ways.  The best place to get a picture of the bridge is on the PEI side just before the bridge.  You’ll  see the bridge as you approach.  Just pull over to take your picture.
  14. Malpeque Bay
  15. Malpeque Oysgters
    1.  Is covered above.  If you’re an oyster lover you’ll definitely want to go there.  If               you’re   going after Labour Day and want your oysters I recommend Carr’s Oyster           Bar in Stanley Bridge.  If you’re not an oyster fan, you can probably miss the side trip     to Malpeque but don’t miss the…
  16.   Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Cape Breton
  17. Alexander Graham Bell Museum
    1. This was an absolutely fantastic museum.  A definite must.  Who knew that he had invented so many things besides the telephone.    You can easily spend two or three hours poking around the exhibits.  It’s definitely worth the side trip to Baddeck.

  18. Louisberg
    1. Louisberg was another highlight of the trip.  This is a
      reconstruction of part of the original town that was one of the biggest cities on the east coast in the 1700’s.   Because of meticulous record keeping they were able to faithfully reconstruct the houses and stores.   Again we were in off season so the amount of exhibits open were drastically reduced.  The guides are dressed in period costumes and are extremely knowledgeable about the era and the characters they play.  There there is nothing amateurish about their presentation (see Alexander Keith’s Brewery).  Big thumbs up for this place.
  19. Sydney
  20. Sydney
    1. Sydney is billed as the largest “city” in Cape Breton.  But that’s relative.  With a population of only 30,000 it’s actually smaller than Campbell River in BC.  We spent a Sunday there and the town was absolutely dead.  Evidently they still don’t have shopping on Sunday in most places (Some of the malls are open).  The downtown was so dead that Sunday morning that kids were playing street hockey on the main drag.    Nothing much happens in town unless a cruise ship is in port.  We’d just missed one and the next one due in was re-routed due to almost hurricane force winds and rains that hit the town the second day we were there.  
    2.   The Cambridge Suites organization had another hotel in Sydney. We were so impressed with the one in Halifax we booked to stay there for two nights.  While it was nice and the staff tried hard to make our stay pleasant the hotel is desperate need of a face lift.  It’s getting a bit threadbare.
From Sydney it’s about a five hour drive back to Halifax.   We return our car to the Budget people, have yet another confrontation with them over repayment for fixing a flat we experienced on the first day.  Their roadside assistance told us to take it to a garage, have it fixed, and present the bill for repayment when I return the car.  When I present the bill they absolutely refuse to pay for it even though I’d been told they would.  It’s only fifteen dollars, not worth making a big fuss over, but it is the final straw when dealing with Budget.  So be warned.  The lesson learned is that I should have gone with my automobile association club instead of calling their roadside assistance which provided neither. No sympathy from me if you use them.

In conclusion while we enjoyed many of the sights in the Maritimes we found it an awful lot of driving.  In hindsight we might have looked for a tour that included the sights we wanted to see and left the driving to someone else. 


Off to Yelapa Mexico for….    Three months!

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