“There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't sit still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.”
- Robert Service

Friday, 10 November 2017

Flashback Friday

Let me tell you the story about the time I was in Rio and I was not robbed.

I have blogged already about our trip to Brazil in July, but this little tid-bit deserved its own side-note. The good news is that it ends well, but I'll start at the beginning.

I lose things a lot. Despite my best efforts, I get distracted and let things fall out of my pockets. I once dropped my wallet on a beach and someone found me an hour later (before I realized it was missing) to tell me it was found in the sand. Once, I got off a subway car in Sydney, Australia and realized I'd left my wallet on the seat of the car. Somehow I was able to run back on to to the train, get my wallet and get back off the train again before it left. So for this trip, where I'd heard that not only would it be a bad place to lose things, but there'd be an increased risk that things would get stolen, I decided that rather than bringing my usual cellphone, I'd bring instead my older phone for less risk of personal loss and identity theft.

I was especially vigilant throughout the whole trip, and by the last day I was feeling fairly confident. I even made the decision to bring my phone to Ipanema beach on the last day. Almost every tourism resource says that you should not bring anything to the beach except your towel and a few bucks for food, drinks and an umbrella rental. But I wanted to get some sweet picks of the beach on our last day.

I did not lose my phone at the beach.

Several hours later, we take an Uber to the airport to come home.

Moments after entering the airport, I realize that I have left my phone in the Uber car.  I have managed to lose my phone in Brazil of my own accord at the last possible moment. This is the moment where I would expect you to give me the Slow Clap.

Here's the good news:
1. I've got all of my photos - except for those from the last day - backed up onto my google cloud. So thankfully I haven't lost 3 weeks of memories.
2. I'd put a lock code on the phone so it couldn't be accessed
3. and this was the most important bit: I always include my email address as part of my phone's lock screen in case of loss.

Initially, I get an email (in Portugese) from the next fare in the Uber. He tells me he found the phone and has given it to the driver. At this point, it's too late for it to be returned to me because I have to get on a plane, and I don't know who the Uber driver actually is. (Our hostel had booked the ride for us). Some time the next day, I get an email from the Uber driver's son, who speaks English, and we work out a plan to get the phone back to me!

Of course, Gustavo wanted me to send payment to him for the cost of shipping before he mailed it back, because the cost of international shipping was pricey. This was no easy task. Apparently, this guy doesn't have PayPal, my bank can't do e-transfers to Brazil, and the first time I went to the post office with my leftover Brazilian Reis, Canada Post told me that it was illegal to send currency in the mail. I asked her if her grandmother had ever sent her a twenty in a birthday card before and she looked at me like I was from Mars. She told me my cashola could get confiscated.

So after a few weeks I decided to take the risk and sent my cash to Brazil and wait.

A month later, Gustavo gives me the good news that he's put my phone in the mail!

35 days after that, my trusty old phone returns to Vancouver!

So now it's November - four months after I lost the phone -  and I get to see the gems I'm about to share with you now.

Look! It's giant Jesus!
High fives to Giant Jesus!
All this effort was totally worth getting these photos back.
Oooooo! Mysical, sun-shiney Giant Jesus!
Ipanema Beach! This sand was actually like brown sugar, rental of two chairs and an umbrella cost us $10, and the view was amazing.

So that's the story of how I had something of value returned to me at great effort from Rio de Janeiro.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Grand Circle Road Trip

I can't say that in the last year Michael and I have traveled with the same frequency as we had been doing before, but by hell or high water, we're going to try!

Last Autumn was a challenge for us. We finally moved into our new apartment, Michael started school, and I did the 'ole "work wanted" trudge. I wasn't able to plan for much - never wanting to set aside time to do things "just in case" I would have a work schedule to manage. December was different, though. Michael's semester finished in the first week, and I had a job with an ultra-flexible schedule at the time, so we decided to skip town and head to the desert!

Now, several years ago, I'd been to various parts of the American West but not in particular detail. Michael had not been there at all (save for a visit to Disney as a kid). Flights to Las Vegas from Vancouver are fairly inexpensive, so it seemed like a great opportunity! This was our itinerary:

Hoover Dam, Nevada
Grand Canyon (South Rim), Arizona
Sedona, Arizona
Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, Utah
Death Valley, California
Las Vegas, Nevada 

You're right! That is 5 states in 12 days! Thankfully, they're pretty squished together. Next, I'll fill you in on what we saw. It was a really easy-to-accomplish road-trip, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Yes, it was still fairly chilly, though for the most part we didn't need much except a toque and a fleece sweater. Just for this, because we rarely met with any crowds whatsoever, I would recommend you doing this trip in the off-season!

For the most part, we drove what is known as The Grand Circle Tour. It looks a bit like this:

We bypassed the New Mexico and Colorado stops, but we also added in an extra stop in Death Valley, California, before returning to Las Vegas.

So our landing point was Las Vegas, though we hightailed it for the Hoover Dam early on our first day. It's a pretty amazing feat of engineering, but I'll admit that one of the more exciting aspects of the dam are the public restrooms, located in small towers above the dam's road. There are windows with views! My favourite detour, however, was the hike to the Arizona Hot Springs. The trailhead is only 4 miles from the hoover dam, and right off of the I-93. If you're going to do this hike, prep for at least a half day so you can linger and the springs and enjoy the desert-scape. Also, maybe don't do this hike in the summer.

We spent day two at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Here's a hot tip: If you travel to the GC during high season, the rim roads are so busy that visitors are required to park their cars and take a park shuttle to the viewpoint stops within the park. If you're there in the winter, however, you're free to check out the canyon in your own caravan. I would highly reccommend this timing: you can visit at your own pace and not have to worry about packing your things with you all day. I won't go on and describe what the canyon is like except that it's wider and deeper than you think. It also looks amazing with a little dusting of snow!
An appropriately named vista.
Next up was a trip through Sonoma valley, where there are valleys and snake-like switch-backs and buttes worth taking the time to hike up onto!
Morning hike around Bell Rock in Sedona
One of the areas I was really eager to get back to was Monument Valley. The first time I was here, I was travelling with a pilot and we were fantastically lucky to get to fly up an around some of these massive rock towers. But this time, I'd get to see them towering above me! A little side adventure here was our booking at an airBnB near the valley park entrance. We booked a tent! There's a small campground within sight of the monuments and we were set up with everything needed to keep us warm on a chilly December night - though we were asked to bring our own propane for the space heater. Another memorable addition to this campground was the latrine - a doorless outhouse with a view of the desert! I have to say, a moonlit midnight pee excursion has never been so beautiful.
Friendly wake-up call from the locals!

The Mittens
I don't have room for pictures of everything, so I'll give you the cliff notes here. After visiting the location where Forrest Gump decided he didn't want to run anymore, our road trip meandered through Page, Utah to Antelope Canyon - the stuff of your Microsoft Wallpaper dreams. This is another place I was happy to see during the off-season, even if the lighting isn't as good.

Antelope Canyon
We stopped at Bryce Canyon in the afternoon a day later and were lucky to see it with fresh snow! It really emphasized just how many hoodoos are scattered in the valley. This is yet another example of the US National Parks Service  really worked to make the parks accessible to all. Most of the vistas are within a short walk of the roads, and the roads are built parallel to the valleys, so you can easily get out of the car for all sorts of great views!
A skiff of snow on Bryce Canyon!
The next National Park on our list was Zion. This place was so extra. The night before we arrived, there was a sudden downpour and many of the hanging valleys had gushing spontaneous waterfalls! In this case, the road within the park is at the very bottom of the steep valley, and it's a no-exit route - so you must drive out the way you came in. There are several fantastic trails here, including the infamous Angels Landing, so named for the trail so narrow and high up that really, only people with wings should do it. Someone fell off and died here as recently as last March. So, with the fresh rain and slippery, icy conditions at the top, we decided to take the path to Observation Point - a 13km round trip trek with 655m elevation gain and a view from above Angels Landing. So, all in all a beautiful, sweaty day.

"6508 feet above sea level" (1983m)
After deciding that 8 days of constant road-tripping wasn't quite enough, we decided to add a detour to Death Valley. We may have driven slightly faster than we should have, but it meant that we arrived in the valley with about 2 hours of daylight remaining - just enough time to visit some honest-to-goodness sand dunes and this fantastic, salty moonscape!

Our last couple of nights were spent in total opposite to our first week (hiking, camping, and general outdoorsing) in Las Vegas. Michael acquiesced to attendance at a Cirque du Soleil show, we logged a few km's checking out the excesses of The Strip, and we made a visit to the Neon Boneyard - a museum dedicated to Vegas' neon signs.
The Neon Boneyard
As a last note, after having been to several US National Parks on this trip I've really come to appreciate how well they've made the parks accessible and interesting for visitors of all styles. In fairness, their National Parks are geographically much closer and so can be strung together in a tidy little road trip, whereas Canadian National Parks tend to be massive and unfathomably spread out, seemingly inaccessible except for a few points. At any rate, I really like the "Passport to Your National Parks" program they run. Each National Park is commissioned a "passport stamp" which can be used in whichever booklet you choose, though they have issued an "official" passport booklet. For someone like me who likes bringing home souvenirs but doesn't have room anymore, I wished that our Canadian parks had a stamp program like this!

Also, I don't regret taking 10 months to write about this adventure. It's been in my drafts for some time and I think I was just waiting for the right time to finish it up when I was feeling a little "in between trips."

Thursday, 3 August 2017

That Spider is Huge!: Our Trip to Brazil

We hummed an hawed about this trip for a while. When your vacation time suddenly becomes much less frequent, there's an incredible amount of pressure to choose the "right" adventure. Is it similar to someplace we've been to before? How long does it take to get there? Does it satisfy a desire to see something uniquely different from home? What's the dollar exchange like these days? Just exactly  how hot is it there in July? We very nearly chose a different continent altogether, and I think Michael was still a little unsure it was the "right" choice up until the moment he booked our tickets.

At any rate, after a full day's travel we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the start of July. As it turns out, Argentina in July is cold and rainy. It's a lot like Vancouver, except for it's title as "Paris of the South" which appropriately describes the architecture and café culture. In between drying out our sneakers, we did a lot of walking around B.A; doing the usual walking tours and independent ventures. We visited the Catedreal Metropolitana, Pope Francis' Alma Mater and location of the most exclusive Pope gift shop. I should have bought that Pope-puzzle...

Interior of the theatre-turned-bookshop (El Ateneo Grand Splendid)
Of course no visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without a little Eva Peron tourism! We took a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery, which is a sight to be seen in itself! Aside the shock of all of the massive, ornate crypts, you quickly realize that the crypts have doors. They have doors with windows. Basically, you can walk amongst all of these grave sites and see all the old, musty coffins your dreams have asked for... One of my favourites had doors with knockers. I mean, if you're knocking onto the door of a crypt, who is going to answer from the inside?

Anyway, Evita is interred here, too. But that crypt is sealed up pretty tight. 

Nope. No nightmares here!
 But soon we waved buh-bye to B.A, and headed for Niagara Falls' massive older brother, Iguazu Falls.

Initially, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I mean, it's yet another waterfall. I was assuming it'd be big enough, but I really didn't grasp the true scope of this place until I was standing above it on a little platform and the mists were fogging up my glasses.

The falls have two access points, like Niagara - one from Argentina and one from Brazil. If you ever decide to visit this place, there is no "bad side." It's everywhere. For a little bit of context, on the Argentinian side, you can enter the falls at one end to see it, and then get on a little train which takes you to the other end of the falls. This train ride takes 15minutes. So, it would be appropriate to say that the falls are quite long. Michael also adds that Iguazu is like Niagara if you put several Niagara's end-to-end and then stacked a couple of Niagaras up on top, so there were extra tiers. Here's someone else's visual comparison.

Here's some hot tips:
1. That shit is misty. Bring a raincoat or poncho.
2. Wear good walking shoes. You're gonna log, like 18,000 steps
3. Do take the free shuttle across the water to the island. It's a bit of a hike up to the top, but the views are great (and also free)
4. Don't bother with doing the extra speed boat trips. They look expensive and mostly just wet.
5. Absolutely make an effort to visit the falls outside of busy times. We visited the Argentinian side almost as soon as it opened and the Brazilian side 2 hours before closing and in both cases we had blissfully crowd-minimal visits without having to elbow our way in to see the views.
This is exactly how I felt while looking at that rainbow in person.

Falls from Argentina. Views not so "face on" because most of the water flows from the Argentinian side towards Brazil. It's just SO LONG though!
While we waited for the end-of-day lull on the Brazil side, we indulged a little and visited a bird park. Toucans are surprisingly into selfies
 The next leg of our trip was a long flight up to the northern end of Brazil, to the Amazon! We kicked off from Manaus, where we had booked a stay in a rustic Amazonian lodge. After a 3 hour car ride, we were transferred into a boat (for another 45 mins) and arrived at Amazon Antonio's. I won't go too much into what it's like there except that it's a comfortable lodge where they feed you three times a day and offer several kinds of lodging including in hammocks. Mostly it's the place where you relax and recharge before you go out into the forests for adventures.

We arrived alongside 2 French medical students on leave from Guyana, and the four of use were paired with Christoff, a guide who's been doing this for the better part of a decade at a couple of lodges (one of them being a nudist colony. I cannot fathom being naked in the Amazonian jungle. Just, nope) Throughout our trip, I will learn just how badass this guy is, from trekking in the jungle for 10 days with only a hammock, a rifle, a machete, and salt, to simple things like casually making 5 spoons out of a block of wood and a machete while I made an attempt at stringing up my hammock. Below are some things we did over our 4 days:

Piranha fishing! That's Chris. We ate these fish for lunch. Also, this is the same river I swam in that morning. Chris was pretty confident it was safe. I'm not sure what his baseline for "safe" is, but I still went swimming every day anyway.
This tarantula lives 10 feet from where we eat meals in the lodge. Chris made sure to point her out just after I told him how afraid of spiders I am. I reconsider how much we tip him at the end of the trip.*
A Walking Stick! It was probably 7 inches long!
Ignore my finger in this picture in order to appreciate just how massive this grasshopper is!
Sunrise canoe out on the water. At this time of year all the forests are flooded and "floating" which makes for some fantastic photos!
One night, Christoff guided us into the forest to camp out. It wasn't a tricky hike - only an hour and mostly flat. It was incredibly humid, though, and Chris kept joking about the jaguars that prefer to attack from behind...but I'm not sure he was joking. So here were our little jaguar burritos, aka "hammocks" for the night.
Chris did most of the camp setup, including carving our utensils using a machete. He allowed Michael to try, though we noticed he made sure to "smooth out the edges" after Mike was done.

Not long after we made camp, we legit all heard the growl of a big cat not far off. Chris assured us that it was a Jaguar, but that they "tend not to" wander into camp. We started the prep for supper, and I quickly realized that Chris had put skewers of raw meat into the soft, pink hands of some very green tourists. I made a second note about how much we should tip him**
Campfire setup. I was legit amazed at Chris' stick-balancing skills.
After dark, I had Chris tell us some of his most memorable stories as a guide. I won't write them all here (but I can add them into the comments section), but they include a jaguar coming into camp to investigate an overly zealous snorer, a viper in a pair of pants, a scorpion in a hammock, and a giant tarantula crawling over someones face while they slept. Thankfully, none of those things happened to us and here's a shot of us the next day, completely alive!
We visited a local sustenance-farming family. Not the gourmet kitchen most of us would imagine, but the view was pretty damn good.

I always bring knitting. What's a little canopy-down-time without a few knits and purls?
Aside from Pink Dolphin spotting, nighttime Cayman seeking, and more piranha fishing, we managed to get in a few sunsets. This last one was so amazing even Chris got out his camera for a few shots.
 And that's the bulk of out adventure into the Amazon! We spent one more night in Manaus before heading south again to Rio, but even a few hours in this port city was awesome!
All of these boats are used for passenger travel. The primary "berths" are the hammocks you bring yourself and string from the beams! There were dozens of these boats, all bustling with people getting on or supplies exchanging hands.
We don't speak any Portuguese, but that didn't make this football match near the port any less exciting!\
 Our last destination was to Rio de Janeiro, where winter felt almost exactly like Canadian summer. Due to  a bookkeeping error, our hostel "upgraded" us to their other location, exactly one block from Ipanema beach. It's probably one of the most recognizeable beaches in the world and there were just about as many skimpy men's swimsuits as you would expect.

We did out usual "free walking tour" opening number, which brought us downtown. We spent another day exploring the Beach areas, including Copacabana beach (which is more touristy) and spotted locals walking their sweater-wearing dogs. We took in a football match at the massive stadium and sat amongst the home team fans chanting constantly while they flew massive flags and attempted not to have heart attacks from the nail-biting ending to the match. We took the cablecar up to Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset. We toured one of the favelas - slum districts - to see their mountainside views back towards the ocean and the city, and we made sure to tick off that last "wonder" from the 7-item list.

Ipanema beach. hawt
"Heaven's Gate" from atop a favela
colourful, stacked up homes in a favela.
More of the favela, stacked up. They were build by the people, most of whom were tradespeople who learnt home-building while working below in the city.

The Selaron Steps. Created entirely by one Chilean artist over many years. They go up several flights. Over time, people started bringing him tiles from all over the world

The artist himself, on a tile of his own work. He died rather mysteriously on these steps in 2013
On our very last day, we made the trip up-up-up to see this giant Jesus. He's got the best view of the city.

So that's what happened in Brazil! I still keep a pretty detailed travel journal, so if you want more information or anecdotes I can get you all the dirt. Things I didn't include: How expensive it is, how long it takes to get there (forever), manging your cash flow (my card was flagged a couple of times), why we're convinced that Christ the Redeemer is a soft addition to the "7-Wonders" list and how safe I felt, generally (very, even after a bird poop scam attempt). I also didn't have any issues with theft, though I did manage to leave my phone (it's my old one, and it was backed up) in the Uber car that took us to the airport on the way home.

Latino America Vive!

*yes, we still tipped him
**Are you crazy? of course we still tipped him. I'm alive, aren't I?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Murals of Sudbury

 Before I left Sudbury, there was one project I needed to complete. While I have probably groaned on more than once about how "very blue collar" Sudbury is, I did like that the city was trying to liven things up. To help things along, Sudbury created the "Up Here" festival a couple of years ago. During this art-and-music-loving party, muralists were invited! This year, there was even a duo of artists participating from France, though their piece can only be seen by air balloon. So, as a final ode to the Big Nickel, I took a walk about town to photograph as many of the murals as I could find...

Seen from Larch and Elgin street
Larch and Elgin Street, above the Speakeasy
Medina Lane and Durham St.
Elgin Street
Elgin Street Mixed-Media Mural
140 Durham Street at the YMCA
Above the Medina Lane Elk Woman
131 Durham Street
131 Durham Street
Medina Lane
Medina Lane
Medina Lane is quickly filling up!
Old City Hall Lane at Durham
Old City Hall Lane at Durham
Old City Hall Lane at Elgin
54 Elgin Street
Old City Hall Lane and Young Street
The Kingsway at Fabro Street retaining wall
187 Shaughnessy Street (Wacky Wings)
212 Minto Street
212 Minto Street
Elgin Street Railway underpass
Elgin Street Railway underpass
Elgin Street Railway underpass (south side)
Elgin Street Railway underpass
Elgin Street Rainway Underpass
154 Durham Street
Baker Street at Mackenzie Street
Mackenzie Street at Kathleen Street
Mackenzie Street at Kathleen
If ever you want to go searching for these murals, I was able to walk to most of them. By bicycle, you could definitely make an outing of it. The best bit is that more murals go up with each Up Here festival, so there will always be more to look for! And a google search revealed that there were still a few more already up that I hadn't found on my own. I suggest you check them out and send me a photo...