Canada – Friends! Axes, Downhill Mountain Biking – and more Friends!

Laney and I had long been looking forward to our arrival in Canada. We had planned for a YEAR to see some friends we had met in Paris the previous summer. And also added on another stop to see friends we made in Vietnam.  As you know, there were only a couple times on our trip that we had ‘familiar faces’ so this was definitely going to be a treat. We had no idea. HA.

We flew into Vancouver from Anchorage. A gloriously short direct flight. Love those. HA. We arrived too late in the evening to get a ferry so had arranged to stay overnight at the Red Rock Casino, which was very very nice!

The next day, we slept in, had a nice lunch, then hopped on the connector bus to the ferry. It was a lovely ferry ride, and I met a lovely Polish woman who had been living in Canada for 25+ years. She was planning a trip back to Krakow with her sons to visit her parents. It was fun to talk about how lovely Old Town Krakow is, with its architecture, lovely people and amazing food. HA.

Arriving in Victoria ferry terminal, we didn’t know what to expect – a little nervous would we even recognize them? Would we get along as well as we had that one day in Paris? HA. Yes, we really were going to stay 3 nights with women we had spent only ‘most of’ a day with on a bike tour in Paris. We clicked THAT much.

Well we needn’t had conceded ourselves. Emily ran up to us, and there were smiles and hugs all around as we joined Pat at her car and piled our big bags in. Conversation was easy, and joyful, in the car ride, and really for the next 4 days we spent with them.

Pat was an amazing hostess, making us feel so comfortable, and, as she put it “The rest of your trip was travel, I want these few days to be vacation for you”. Here’s a woman who knows travel, and knows how to make people feel welcome.

Within a short time of our arrival the house was full of family and friends. Pat was hosting a dinner in honor of her visiting granddaughters (from northern Alberta). Her son and his family joined, along with a variety of other friends and family. It was a wonderful group of people, I enjoyed talking with them SO much. It was great to feel the hug of a family gathering. And they made me feel like I was home.

Later in the evening, Pat and I enjoyed some wine together. Talking as women do. About all the really important things in life. People we have loved and lost. The future for ourselves and those we care about most. It was so wonderful to have this connection – so quickly developed but yet so complete.

The next morning I woke to coffee ALREADY MADE – ha. What a treat! Then we headed into the downtown area for an iMax movie and museum exhibit on Egypt, followed by lunch at the street food vendors ‘out back’ of the museum. We were joined by most of the previous night’s crowd.

That afternoon and evening we spent at home with Pat and her granddaughters, Emily and Sarah. Both sets of women (young and old) getting along wonderfully.

The next day, we were so so lucky, Pat’s son was available (and the boat was fixed JUST in time) to go to a nearby lake for the day. Another family friend had a camper at a campground on the lake, and we spent the day swimming, wake boarding, eating, talking and laughing. The weather was Alaska-perfect. I guess Canada perfect is the same! HA. Cool, dry air, hot sun.  Moving from sun to shade was the difference between being a tad chilly, or being nearly too hot. Doesn’t get any better. In her typical ‘you’re on vacation’ fashion, Pat had packed all manner of food and drink for ‘us girls’ which included myself and Laney, Pat, her teen granddaughters Emily and Sarah and her little granddaughters, in the 7 to 9 year range. Oh and her son, the token male. HA.



Saying goodbye was hard. It was so nice visiting with friends. We shared the ferry ride to Vancouver with Emily and Sarah then proceeded to get our rental car and move into our airbnb for a couple nights.

While in Vancouver, we visited Stanley Park and took a bike ride around part of it. I had intended to do it all, but the weather wasn’t great – and THAT PARK IS HUGE! HA! After that we wandered a nearby neighborhood and had some amazing Japanese! YAY! Hot Rock beef, noodles, all the foods!!


Also while wandering Vancouver we came across this gorgeous and unique hotel. I noticed it for it’s look, then the name struck me. There is a song by one of my favorite musicians, Cheryl Wheeler, and it’s called Sylvia Hotel (the album name as well) so we took a photo and I wondered if it was THIS hotel she was singing about. I looked it up later – Guess What? IT IS!! This is THE SYLVIA HOTEL. Love it.



Aside from some relaxing and some good Indian food, that was about it for Vancouver. On to Squamish!

Squamish was just a stop along the way, but I had heard it was THE PLACE to do some rock climbing, so I booked us a guide and we spent a great day climbing the cliffs. According to our guide, these were ‘easy’ and ‘not steep’ – ha. well they looked pretty steep to me! We learned some new skills and broke a sweat, and ate wild blackberries on the walk back down the hill – so WINNING!

Above – that’s ME all the way at the top. This is considered an easy climb, with a gentle slope. HA looks pretty vertical to me! Although there are lots of places for foot and hand gripping.


There’s Laney!


We didn’t spend the night in Squamish, though it looked like an adorable little town and I would have loved to spend more time. But we were booked to be in Whistler, so off we went to finish the drive. It’s only about 2 hours from Vancouver to Whistler, which is really great for an awesome ski and mountain bike location. Plus, there are shuttle buses that run from the Vancouver airport up to Whistler. Once you’re there, many many places are available to stay ‘in the thick of things’ so you don’t even NEED a car. I am definitely coming back for a snow season!

Laney and I checked into our adorable Airbnb near the center of Whistler mountain resort. I had a bit of a hard time understanding how to get around and park, which turned out to be justified – because hardly anyone drives in this area. It’s all bikes and walking. Hence the lack of parking. HA. We found the grocery store and YES, the liquor store pretty easily. Stocked up for a few days and got settled in our new home, which was a lovely little studio with a murphy bed and a convertible couch. Oh, and a patio. I love a patio, as you know by now.

One day in Whistler we slept in, then wandered the town. It’s like a strip of stores and restaurants and bars. We were looking for the best and easiest way to try out downhill mountain biking and we finally found it right at the base of the mountain. Whistler Mountain’s own bike rental with lessons and all. Perfect. Normally, they don’t allow children under 16 to do the lesson we were signing up for. I asked if Laney would be OK, and the girl we were working with called a manager, who instantly appeared and he laughed. He said “she’s no 13 year old – she’s a full grown adult! I think she could take me!!” HA. So, Laney was ‘in’ like Flynn.

Downhill mountain biking was a bit harder than I expected. They make it look so easy on TV (and at the competition which was running while we were there). First, just getting the bike on the lift to the top was a bit nerve-wracking. I mean, the lift chairs don’t stop moving. You need to pop your bike up on the back wheel, roll it into place on the back of the lift chair, then hop into the lift chair behind you. All pretty quickly. And those bikes are HEAVY! I mean, disc brakes people!

At the top of the mountain we were shown some basics of how to ride (neutral foot position, how far to lean on the handlebars, and basically don’t even think about sitting down). Then how to take a turn, how to ride over bumps. Then they took us on a practice track where, you guessed it, 5 and 6 year old kids were wizzing around us. HA. How humiliating.

Then, finally, after about 30 minutes in the heat (gosh I never imagined it would be so hot), we headed down the trail where, thankfully, it was shaded. We were both pretty nervous at first, but we started to get the hang of it pretty quickly and got more comfortable. It took us a good 45 minutes to navigate down the whole course. We stopped occasionally, but mostly we rode down, taking turns and bumps. It was really fun but more exhausting than I thought, keeping control of the bike and trying to hit those curves just right.

We got to the bottom and our lesson was over! WOW. 2 hours went really fast. We considered adding some time, but we were both beat – just as well we wouldn’t have to get the bikes back on the lift again! Yikes.

After that, we had a nice dinner and headed home for some sleep.







The next morning, we rented some trail bikes to ride around the lakes path that is well-known in the area. It was a gorgeous day, and the lakes are beautiful. There weren’t too many people around, which was nice. We saw some nice sights, and I even spotted a snake on the trail in front of me at one point.

After our ride, the bike rental place recommended a japanese place nearby – and wow was it amazing! All this food for something like $20 CAD!

After that, we were headed to the town of Kelowna, where our friends Jim and Jackie live. We had met Jim and Jackie on the tour of Vietnam, and we got along wonderfully. When they heard we were coming to Canada, they hoped we would visit their town, and I’m so glad we did. It was gorgeous!

I spent a bit of time at a ‘lake beach’ near our Airbnb. So peaceful, hardly anyone around and such nice tiny little waves. HA

Baby Waves at the lake


The first day we were in town, I thought we would go zip-lining, but then I read about a place with axe throwing. With the weather being kind of smokey from the forest fires, it was recommended to do something indoors, so Laney opted for the axe throwing. Not surprisingly, we were the only women there- HA. But we enjoyed it thoroughly! So much so that we decided to do it again the next day – and we talked Jim and Jackie into joining us!!!

On the second day, we paid a little extra to throw some specialty axes and some knives as well.  It was really great. Jim and Jackie liked it too.  Before we left the facility, we peeked in on the ‘rage room’. I had no idea what this was or what to expect. Well, it’s an interior room, with all plywood walls, where you can have a fit and break things. When we saw it, there was a pile of computer parts in the corner, fully smashed. HA. What a good way to get out your frustrations!!




My face when I missed. HA.




Jean Axe Throwing in Slow Mo

Laney Axe Throw in Slow Mo

Laney Specialty Axe Slow Mo

We had a couple nice meals with Jim and Jackie – as locals they knew which places were good (always a big help). One day, we were in the area for the Pride March of Kelowna and that was a fun experience as well!

On the final day in Kelowna, we went bowling, where I bowled the absolute worst games of my life. HA. Oh well.

Next, on to Jasper! Our last stop before heading home.

Driving across the western part of Canada was absolutely beautiful. In parts, unfortunately, our view was hindered by the forest fires and the smoke but at times it was quite clear and just stunning!!

On the way from Kelowna to Jasper we encountered two things. An elk on the side of the road, and an Anne, also on the side of the road. HA.

Seeing the elk was amazing. A fair number of cars stopped to watch. One couple was completely obnoxious about getting too close and taking photos. There’s always one right? Laney and I half-hoped it would charge them. HA.


After that, we encountered Anne. A young backpacker girl hitchhiking on our road with a sign for Banff. I said to Laney, “she needs to be with us” – mostly because I just couldn’t bear the idea that she would ride with someone else, possibly someone ‘unsavory’. So, we stopped, moved some things around, and got on our way.

Our encounter with Anne was similar to the (only couple/few) other times we encountered hitchhikers on our trip. For starters, she was young (college age), and so full of life and wonderful adventures. She explained how she had been planting trees in western Canada as her summer job. Hard work she said, but lucrative. Guess how much she made planting trees? They pay her per tree…………… 11 CENTS! CRIKEY! And she says she hustled and makes a lot. WOW. Well, Anne lives and goes to school in the Toronto area, and she has spent a few months in the USA. Her mom is originally from South Africa, and when Anne was young, they spent a year there, before Mom decided to come back to Canada and have another little girl. Mom is a doctor and has always been a single mom – no dads in sight. Brave woman I say (and I’m not even thinking about the social repercussions). HA.

Anne explained how she loves to hike, and how she finished her tree-planting job 10 days ago and just completed an 8 day hike BY HERSELF in the wilderness (national park). She carried everything she needed on her back for a few days at a time, after which she would stop in a town and pick up supplies. How did she manage water??? – this was my biggest question. Well, she uses water purification tablets. Though, she told a story that ONE TIME the tablets were accidentally and unknowingly exposed to air, and therefore useless, but she didn’t know it. And got sick. REALLY sick. And was all by herself away from civilization. WOW. She survived, but clearly could have died. Now, she also carries a ‘life straw’, which is a special straw you can drink from any old nasty puddle of water and it’s OK. This is in addition to  the tablets (which I’m sure she now checks regularly for damage to the container).

What a cool and interesting person!!! LOVE THIS. It is truly one of my favorite experiences in travel is the people and their stories!!!

She took this photo of us. Wish I had taken her photo too but I was a little embarrassed to ask (creepy old lady ha).


After driving through the Jasper National Park, we arrived in the adorable town of  Lake Louise, we checked into the Lake Louise Inn. Laney was tired so I headed out to dinner myself at the adorable Station Restaurant. It was SO lovely, and a couple trains arrived while I was there.

Walk along the stream on the way to the restaurant.

View from my table. That’s a train right there! Yes, it was a little noisy when they came and went, but they all stopped, so not too bad. Not like a train rushing by at 80 mph!!

YUM fresh trout!

AMAZING salad!!

View on the way to the restaurant.

The next day, Laney and I took the shuttle bus to Lake Moraine, which I had heard was as nice (or more) vs. Lake Louise, but less ‘commercial’. Well, it was GORGEOUS. WOW. We climbed the rock structure (small mountain?) nearby then rented a canoe and paddled around the lake. Part way through our paddle we saw a bumble bee struggling in the water and Laney wanted to save it. So we pulled it out and left it on our bailer bucket until it dried out. Laney was really worried it couldn’t fly but once it’s wings were dry, off it went! We were so happy. I was so pleased, since when we left home Laney HATED bees. HA.  She’s still a bit afraid but better, especially with bumble bees.









That night, I headed to Chateau Lake Louise – a very posh and fancy hotel right on the lake (and too rich for our budget, ha). I decided to have dinner there at the bar, at a friends recommendation. Well, it was lovely, and as usual I met some very nice people. A father/daughter who were traveling from the US.

My wonderful salad with crab cakes

It was hard to capture the beauty of the place. Very elegant. Check out the chandeliers!

The view at Lake Louise was stunning! Unfortunately, some smoke dimmed the beauty a bit.

And the gardens at the Chateau Lake Louise were STUNNING!

After that, it was a night near Calgary (in Canmore), one night in Calgary and a flight home!

I took advantage of the small, quiet ambiance of Canmore to hit a spa for a nice massage, pedicure, etc.  So so nice!! Laney took the time to catch up on some ‘homework’ and talk to her friends online.

This is us, getting ready to board the last flight – HOME!

Here we are, arriving home in Philadelphia!

YES, we still like each other! HA


Alaska – Fishing, Pine Trees and Glaciers

After Costa Rica, we were headed to Alaska – and had a layover in LAX. This was our first touch down in US soil in 13 months!! OMG!! 

Travel time from Costa Rica to Denali, our first Airbnb in Alaska, was to be 35 hours altogether. Including a few extra hours to wait for the Verizon store to open so we could get me a new phone.   After arriving at 330 am and waiting a couple hours for the rental car place to open, we spent a few more hours outside McDonald’s soaking up the WiFi. Then shopping at Target. Some food, and a few essentials that we needed. A few non-essentials too. Ha. We missed American shopping. A bit.  We also stopped in a laundromat to get some wash done. I think that might be the first laundromat we used on the whole trip! Huh! 


With all that done, the drive to Denali was beautiful and uneventful.


Our Airbnb was a camper trailer on the property of the owners. It was adorable and perfect for us. It probably could have slept 6 but it was nice for just the two of us. 



View from the trailer.  

Those hosts had a small greenhouse onsite and we ended up getting some Swiss chard and some rhubarb out of the deal. Awesome. Ha. And Lane loved the chard! Win! HA. 


The next morning, we got up early and rode the transportation bus into Denali National Park. We rode to the visitors center hoping to see some wildlife. We saw some caribou and a marmot, my favorite was the ground squirrels which would poke their heads up and stand on their hind legs sometimes when we drove by. They reminded me of gophers. Ha. 







We also saw two grizzly families. Both were a mom and two little ones. One set of Cubs was a year old. The other was this year’s cubs. So so cute.  Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a decent photo with a cell phone. But very cool. 

The next day we visited the Husky Homestead where we got to hold puppies and learn about dogs that race in the Iditarod. It was very cool. Now I want to attend an Iditarod!! Ha. 


That night, partly seeking Wi-Fi, we ended up at a wonderful restaurant where we had dinner as well as a rhubarb dessert, which was glorious! We were seeking Wi-Fi because, although available in the advertisement for the Airbnb, the fact was we needed to sit outside and near the hosts home to receive a signal. It was not available in our camper. ah well. teenage coping skills.

View from our outside dinner.


Inside – we moved in for dessert because it started to get chilly!!

Rhubarb something – was like a bread pudding with rhubarb. so so good!

Amazing trout dinner…


The next day we headed down to Talkeetna. We wandered around this adorable town, enjoyed a lunch at the brewery, and then bought polarized sunglasses in preparation for our fishing trip the next day. 

BBQ pork sandwich and halibut fish n chips. SO SO good.

The next day we were up early for our river fishing trip. The much-recommended trip, the Indian River Tour.

Wow!! What a day of fishing that was!!  First, you’re told to show up at 7 AM for breakfast, but I didn’t expect it to be so lovely! A great breakfast of coffee and juice and eggs Benedict awaited us when we arrived. Next, our fishing guide Josh suited us up with waders and boots and then we embarked on a short car ride with the boat to put the boat in the water. We had a rather long ride up the Susitna River it took about two hours to reach the spot we were looking for, which is where the Indian river merges into the Susitna. 

We hopped out of the boat and fished from the shore. Within the first 20 minutes, we had caught six fish of five different species including pink salmon, tiger salmon, Grayling, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden!! The catch continued to be amazing with nearly every cast yielding a fish or at least getting a bite. We were exhausted (but happy) from pulling in probably 40 or 50 fish that day! What’s not to be happy about? Fish and beautiful weather. It was a glorious sunny beautiful day with the air just cool enough, and the water, of course, was quite cool, keeping us from being hot.

Above, grayling. Josh was nice enough to hold up the dorsal fin. This is actually pretty big for a grayling. They don’t get that big I guess.

Tiger salmon. NICE one Lane!




Saw this boat as we pulled back into the boat ramp. Doris, my mom, is with us always, and sometimes she chooses to remind us.  On this day, of all others, it makes sense.

This photo is a little blurry. Lane likes it because her fish is bigger than mine. HA. In the iPhone ‘live photo’ version, Lane’s fish wiggles and wobbles and eventually jumps out of her hands. She looks at the camera with empty hands and LAUGHS and it’s literally the greatest photo ever. It represents the joy of the day, the carefree attitude, and her love of fishing. It’s a truly epic photo and I tear up just thinking about it.


Is this great or what? If you look near Lane’s reel, you see the ‘seam’ – where the waters come together. The clearer water on the left and in the foreground is the Indian River. In the background/right is the Susitna. The fish like the ‘seam’ where the water from one river has met the other but has not yet mixed together. In this ‘seam’water, we could many times SEE the fish. SO SO SO SO COOL.

The return trip on the boat was just as pleasant as the one up. Even though, at times, Josh advised us to hold on tight. Parts of the river are difficult to navigate and some of them are shallow. There was occasionally a risk of running aground. But we skated through successfully and without any issues. Upon returning to the B&B, not the one we were staying in, the host again greeted us and started to prepare dinner. Laney, of course, had selected steak and I selected salmon. It was a wonderful home-cooked meal including some broccoli and some couscous.  Our host also provided wine and soft drinks. It was a lovely evening just the three of us having dinner. The view was spectacular.

Also while in Talkeetna, we went on an ATV tour. We visited the original homestead house of a family who established themselves here back when the Homestead Act was in place. They drove for 5 days in a van with 5 kids!! (with a camper built onto the pickup – made of plywood!). They quickly put together a makeshift shelter for the winter and managed to survive, though not in comfort for sure.

Now, there is a lovely house by the river that we visited, owned by one of the children of those original pioneers. We panned for gold, shot an elephant rifle, and enjoyed a nice meal there.


Getting there and back was half the fun, though, on small backwoods roads. Going there and getting back we had to cross a bridge, on the ‘pedestrian/ATV’ lane, and I swear there weren’t 6 inches of clearance overall! Yikes.



That’s Lane ahead of me.


Little tight, right?

Getting ready to go!

Approaching the house – what a beautiful home, space, and view.

View from the porch to the gold-panning spot

Panning for gold! Yes, we found some. Tiny pieces and flecks. HA

Me, lining up the shot. HA. BIG gun, called an elephant gun. I don’t recall the name or caliber.

Everyone got ONE shot with the elephant gun (if you wanted more shots, you could have used a smaller gun, but, hey, why?). HA. MINE is the pink one dead center. YAY! WIN! Look out world!


Gorgeous porch on the back of the house, facing the creek.


I was so completely satisfied with the experience and overall really loved Talkeetna. In retrospect, I wish we had spent only one night in Denali and instead spent additional nights in Talkeetna. Oh well, lesson learned. I expect I will go back for some more fishing 🙂 


After Talkeetna, we were headed to the fishing town of Homer Alaska. Homer is the capital of halibut fishing in Alaska – An adorable little town where we stayed in an adorable little cabin. We had not booked a fishing trip there so we merely enjoyed the small-town ambiance, had dinner and explored Lands End which is a lookout point in Homer. I enjoyed a dinner out at a steak and seafood place where I had Alaskan King crab legs. They were enormous, of course, and delicious! Not exactly discounted in price, however. Perhaps I should have gone somewhere else but it was lovely and I met some lovely local and traveling people.









Our next stop was to be Seward Alaska. On the wat there, I spotted a beautiful serene lake through the trees. With an eye-roll from Lane, I pulled over for photos. HA. This happened a lot in our travels (me stopping, her eye-rolling). This time, though, she had to admit it was awesome.






Seward is also a halibut fishing Mecca and here is where I had booked us a trip. Our Airbnb here was to be a room shared with some local people who happened to be guides for the exit glacier tours. I very much wanted to book one of these ice climbing tours (they will drop you into holes/caves in the ice!!) however the weather didn’t cooperate for that – just as it didn’t cooperate for fishing. Net-net, we did not get to go halibut fishing. Instead, we booked a river fishing tour on the Kenai River which is a stunningly beautiful river of ice blue colored glacier water. This was to be a fly fishing trip, which Laney and I have zero experience on. Our fellow fisherpeople on the small boat was a couple – of which the woman also had no experience – perfect –  we were quite comfortable.

Well, our fears were unfounded – turns out, Laney is a natural! Her first try at a fly rod she pulled in an enormous rainbow trout!


The rest of the day wasn’t exactly big on catches as the previous trip was, but nonetheless, it was a wonderful day. This scenery is to die for, and we saw quite a few bald eagles!



I don’t think I will ever get over the blue glacier water – in New Zealand or Alaska. It’s unreal!!

Our last full day in Seward we spent looking around the waterfront and going to a nearby sea life museum which was quite nice. We also drove up to take a quick look at the exit glacier which was gorgeous. We picked up a couple college boys making their way back from the glacier to town. We got to hear how these two, who go to college in PA and live in CA, spent the summer in the commercial salmon industry. I love meeting these young travelers – so eye-opening for Lane to see what creative options there are for summer jobs!! I never would have dreamed, but she will!!

There are some really adorable houses in Alaska. I loved this red with the background of mountains.

Lots of bald eagles in Seward.

How majestic is this? WOW. Wish I had a better camera.

So I found this fascinating. I had no idea the transformation was so dramatic. Above, salmon in the ocean. Below, the same species of salmon, in the river. CRAZY transformation!!

I can’t name them all but the bottom one is the pink salmon, with the hump. The next one up with the red body and black face is sockeye. The striped one is Chum aka Tiger salmon. I am pretty sure the top one is Coho salmon, which leaves the middle one to be chinook.

Love seeing these puffins.

Enormous seal at the sea life center.

Bottom left of this photo, sea stars (aka starfish) entangled.  Starfish orgy. HA

We also walked around the marina, which was beautiful. Occasionally, we spotted an otter napping in the water. SO SO CUTE.





While in the house in Seward I managed to make time to cook rhubarb cobbler which our host and his girlfriend thoroughly enjoyed both after dinner as well as late night! Haha. They were kind enough to take me along in the First Friday downtown celebration where free wine and cheese are served and local artists show their works. I met quite a few other guides of all kinds there, most of them are summer-only residents and they tend to winter somewhere south like San Diego or Montana. Mostly a group of free-spirited young people following work and weather and enjoying the best of both. What a life!!


I loved this sign…. ha

Crazy cool paint on this library!!

Big Foot handmade by the store owners. Very cool.


The house where we stayed in Seward. ADORABLE right? I spent a great couple hours sitting in one of those chairs on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The weather in AK was amazing. Hot sun, cool shade. Crisp, pine air. Just perfect.


 The waterfront near our Airbnb in Seward. I saw an otter here on the first day but didn’t catch a photo. 

The morning we left, Jack, our host, left us a 4-leaf clover that he had found in the yard the previous day. So sweet. I’ve kept it in my journal ever since.

Our travel time was slowly coming to an end – and unfortunately our time in Alaska also nearly over. I had not achieved my goal of seeing a moose in the wild so on the way back to Anchorage we stopped at the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center and saw all the animals! Not the same as in the wild, but it was a wonderful experience. I think my favorite was something unexpected. This gorgeous porcupine –  we watched him/her eat – so adorable. 

View at the AWCC

Bison in the field

Brown bear at the AWCC


Isnt this guy totally adorable???


Bear Movie

Porcupine eating

I love how the porcupine uses his/her hands. SO CUTE

That night we spent the night in a cabin at the Brown Bear saloon just outside of Anchorage. Let’s just say it was a place with a lot of character. Haha. We went to the saloon for dinner and enjoyed some original music by a band from Seattle. They had spent about 12 days, like us, exploring and playing their music in Alaska. Ironically, pretty much in the same towns that we have been in. This seemed to me to be a very Alaskan experience. A rustic bar and saloon and hotel with a live band.


Loved this sign. So very ‘not fussy’ Alaska. Where flannel and boots IS getting dressed up.. HA

Jenni Don’t Band playing at Brown Bear Saloon near Anchorage


The entire place was papered with dollars, so we added some too!

Really cool car out front. Perhaps (likely) belonging to the band.

That was about it for Alaska – next stop Canada! Lane and I were both very excited to meet up with our friends Pat and Emily, who we had met in Paris an entire year before. They were kind enough to host us at Pat’s home in Victoria.

Goodbye again USA! See you soon!

Peru – Sand Dunes, Llamas and Machu Picchu


Our arrival in Lima was mostly uneventful. Our taxi drove us to our hostel. It didn’t look like a hostel at first – it looked like any other house on the dark street, ha. But a young couple approached and opened the outer door and then I was more confident that we were in the right place. Ha.

We arrived late in the evening and so we went right to bed.

The next day was a chill day we just relaxed in our room only venturing out to get food for a bed picnic. Cheese and bread and fruit and wine. Europe in Peru. Ha.

The next morning we were up early for a 530 am pickup by Peru Hop  -the bus service we would use to travel through Peru

I chose this method of travel because it allowed complete freedom of schedule and activities while providing safe and reliable transportation  -plus help with booking accommodations and activities. Plus discounts!!!


The first stop on the bus route was Paracas. The main activity there is a boat ride around Ballestas Island – otherwise known as Poor Mans Galapagos. We stayed in a very nice hostel and enjoyed some local food. We also had a nice walk around and met a cool artist who made a boat and other artwork from bones and also made some beautiful jewelry and cool bookmarks. Most were made from a metal they call alpaca. It is a combination of copper, nickel, and zinc or iron – and looks a bit like silver or aluminum.

Our hostel in Paracas was beautiful – at least outside. In the room, as is typical for us, it was a complete mess. HA. I find that putting things ‘away’ for a night or two stay isn’t worth it – and for a longer stay, it just increases the risk of leaving something behind. I like things out and in plain sight, as you can see.




The next day we hopped back on a Peru Hop bus and arrived in Huacachina. Truly an oasis in the desert. A natural lake among enormous and expansive sand dunes. A population of only about 100 supports about 10,000 tourists per year and this local community city has created some fun ways to experience their town. We enjoyed a dune buggy ride and some sandboarding on the dunes. As well as some lovely meals and drinks around the lake.

Restaurant on the lake


Front, and engine of the dune buggy

The lake

Catching some rays…

The dune buggy, held about 10-12 people. Ours was mostly filled with a group of exchange students who go to a school in St Louis, but are studying for several weeks in Lima during summer break. This was lucky for us, as the instructions for sandboarding were only in Spanish and we didn’t understand hardly any of it. These students, of course, were becoming more and more fluent by the day, so we had free translators. HA. Not that the instructions were all that complicated.

Check out my desert-wear. HA.

We saw a beautiful sunset over the dunes.

The sand and dunes went on for MILES!!



The only downside here was I apparently missed some fine print about the hostel and so we were subject to some very loud club music from about midnight to 5 or 6 am. Ha. Ah well. Not a great night sleep but we survived. Lane actually slept through most of it.

Upon leaving Huacachina, the bus stopped for a Pisco tour and tasting. Well, what a nice surprice!

Tiny tasting cups of wine and pisco. The pisco was pretty rough, straight-up – HA. It is made from grapes and fermented like wine but also distilled like a liquor. It’s 40% alcohol so more ‘vodka’ than ‘wine’. HA.


Traditionally, pisco is fermented in these clay vessels.


Next up in the adventure was Nazca.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel and prepared for a morning flight over the Nazca lines. While waiting for the plane, we enjoyed watching Peru play Australia in the World Cup. It was really great. Yes, Peru won!

The flight was so cool and so wobbly! I’m not normally prone to motion sickness but I had that airsickness bag in my hand a few times. Ha. We made it without anyone getting sick but it was definitely touch-and-go for a while.

You can see below that the flight pattern itself is back and forth. In addition, the pilot tips the plane one way, then the other, so each side of the plane can get a good view. VERY wobbly. On PURPOSE!. HA






The views from the plane were beautiful.


On the side of that mountain is ‘the astronaut’.

The monkey. This monkey is 190′ tall and 330′ long! . The lines are formed by removing dirt and rocks from the area, and have been preserved due to the weather in Nazca.

The tree and hands

The spider.


These are the potholes.

Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700.  Read a quick description by National Geographic here.


The white city. A beautiful historic center with a gorgeous square and perfect weather. We stayed in a lovely hostel with some resident dogs and cats and an adorable bar.




Breakfast area at the hostel.

As usual, on the first day, I  explored on my own. I saw some beautiful buildings, had a lovely beer in a courtyard, and I met this character Javier.








That night I went to a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. I was given the table by the window and enjoyed a great dinner, including lamb, beef, and alpaca. 🙂 When in Rome… or Arequipa in this case.

So many buildings had arched ceilings, and they were all so beautiful.

My lovely dinner

My beautiful view over the park across the street. It’s hard to see in the photo but the purple flowers in the trees were just gorgeous.


The next day at breakfast, we met a lovely woman from  Texas, who had just finished a two week holiday with her daughter in South America. We went on a walking tour together. Saw some beautiful white buildings. Learned a little history. And visited the local market. Always an experience. I enjoyed a fruit smoothie made from 3 fruits, two of which I had never had before.










A birds-eye view of the market.

If you look closely, on that table on the right, in front, is a leg/hoof. Of what, I have no idea.

I had one of these drinks. I can’t recall which one. I just know it had a couple fruits I’d never eaten. Plus orange I think. HA

Lane and I explored one evening – had dinner, where we ran into Javier and I introduced them. Ha. Then saw some of the buildings lit up at night. Even more stunning.


Full moon too! Or nearly.

Drinking alcohol in excess is bad.


But this is religious beer – so it’s OK? HA


Leaving Arequipa we had a long bus ride to Cusco via Puno – most people visit Puno to see Lake Titicaca and to go to the Bolivian towns of La Paz and Copacabana. Yes that’s where it is. HA. Not us. I feared the lakes would be too touristy. I’m not a fan of ‘recreate what used to be’ – it just comes off too false to me. To each his own. And Bolivia, I have heard is lovely, but the visa is annoying and expensive and well, you can’t do it all. HA

The bus ride went through some beautiful rocky landscapes and also some very vast spaces where you would see an 8’x10’ hut made of bamboo or palm leaves where clearly a family lived (kids toys outside etc). About one every half mile. Nothing else around. Who are these people and why do they live here? I think this has stuck with Laney more than any other symbol of poverty we have seen.

Unfortunately, photos weren’t really feasible on the bus, not good ones anyway.


We also met a friend along the way. Laney did, actually, while I was off snapping photos at a scenery/bathroom stop. Ria was of Indian descent and lives in Australia. Lovely girl with whom I spent some time wandering Cusco.

We stayed in a two bedroom Airbnb in Cusco because we planned to be there more than a couple of nights. I was looking forward to some space and a kitchen. Ha.

Here’s me, in the kitchen, scrambling eggs in a – goblet?  because there were no decent sized bowls in the house. HA. never stop improvising. this is travel.

Originally we had planned and booked the Inca Trek to Machu  Picchu. Which was to be the main thing for us in Cusco and in Peru. However, shortly after we started traveling last June, I realized Lane wasn’t much of a fan of hiking. Ha. Yeah, let’s not do a 5-day grueling hike in altitude then. So that was canceled and I planned to book our Machu Picchu as a day trip and once we arrived in Cusco. Last minute booking of a key site is something that makes me nervous. Especially since when I checked online the reasonable tours that I liked looked booked. I kept reading there was no reason to book ahead so I waited and it all worked out OK.

In fact, this was one thing Ria and I accomplished together on our first day exploring the city. After a gluttonous western breakfast, we wandered to the Plaza de Armas and found some booking agents. We educated ourselves a bit then ended up booking with our friends at the Peru Hop office.

Then, Ria and I spent the day wandering the city, checking out markets, doing a bit of shopping. Ria bought this adorable poncho. Wish I had one but space is so tight and shipping home gets annoying in foreign-speaking countries and expensive too!!

Beautiful archways in a church Ria and I toured.

Plaza de Armas square in Cusco

These crazy statues were on display in a nearby square.


I bought this assortment of dried fruit from the local market. My usual, 1 of each. HA


Ria and I shared a decadent western breakfast at Jack’s Cafe in Cusco. HIGHLY recommend. I went back a few days later and enjoyed good conversation with a US/Canadian guy who has been living in Cusco for 3 years. below


Ria and I met at Paddy’s one night for a beer and a quick bite before our trip to Machu Picchu. Supposedly the highest Irish pub.

Speaking of which, YES Cusco is at elevation and YES you definitely feel it. HA. Even regular walking around can get you (me) out of breath. One evening, Ria and I met for a drink at a ‘bar/restaurant with a view’. Well, I should have known, if it was going to have a view, it was going to be VERY HIGH. Climbing those steps nearly killed me. I think the doorman, waiting at the top of the steps, got a good laugh at how many times I had to pause to catch my breath. HA.

Women wander the streets in traditional Peruvian outfits with llamas/alpacas for photos. Taking whatever you want to give in exchange for the opportunity to get the photo and hold the baby. I have seen these women carry the larger-sized animals in makeshift backpacks. Hmm. I guess the animal got tired?


Anyway, it was a lovely day. I just love the weather in Cusco. Although I would love it more with central heating. Ha. It’s sunny and warm in the sun. Cool and chilly in the shade. And downright cold at night!!  Great sleeping weather!! So dry too.

Our Airbnb was on the fringe of the tourist area and had a few ADORABLE little restaurants. At this point in the trip, our ‘going home date’ was looming in the not-too-distant future. My perspective was changing. Although annoying at times, I took a moment to embrace the fact that I was ordering food from a TINY restaurant with a wood-fired stove, and the fact that, once home, this would no longer be available to me.

Not in the place pictured, but when Lane and I stopped for food when returning from our Machu Picchu trip, we found ourselves in a tiny little place where only one woman was working. Her cat peeked from around the corner, presumably her residence. We watched as she rolled the dough, sliced the tomatoes and cheese, and fired up the oven. It was amazing pizza, and an awesome experience.



The three animals that represent the Incas. The puma (strenth), the snake (wisdom and knowledge) and the condor (soul, connection to the heavens).

Unfortunately, Lane didn’t join us on our exploring day, she was feeling crappy. We both believed it to be altitude sickness, which I had a touch of the next day, but later in the week she got really genuinely fever sick so who knows.

A couple of days later we headed off on our trip, to Machu Picchu. We stopped in a few towns in the sacred valley on the way to see some other ruins, have lunch and do some shopping.

Inca corn, served with a slab of cheese –  and fresh squeezed OJ


Sacred Valley ruins

Sacred Valley views



Many houses in this area have bulls on the roof.   The two bulls side by side (male and female) are said to signify various things; they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure wealth, health and unity of the occupants. The bulls may be combined with a ladder and a cross allowing an easy passage to heaven when the time comes. This is a curious mixture of Inca and Catholic symbology, but one that is typical of many things Peruvian.

My photo of the bulls wasn’t very good – too far away, so I borrowed this one 🙂 from my friend google.

beautiful flowers where we stopped for lunch

Adorable bulls can be found everywhere. This small one was in a jewelry shop we stopped (and shopped). HA. The colors of the rainbow are representative of the Incas.

Watching them make jewelry


This large one was outside a shop in Cusco

Soft and fuzzy llamas/alpacas are also EVERYWHERE. They are so so soft, some made from real alpaca fur. I so wanted to take one home. This is a particularly large and dense selection. HA.

Upon completion of our bus journey to the Sacred Valley, we were left in a small town, from which  e took the train to the town closest to Machu Picchu and spent the night (barely 6 hours) in a hostel there. (Am I the only one who wants to get some normal rest while traveling??? These schedules are greulling!) We got up around 4 am to wait in the VERY LONG LINE of people waiting for the bus up. Yes, you can walk but it’s very steep. And well I already mentioned Lane’s aversion to hiking. Ha.

We met up with our day-tour group at the entrance and did a fair climb even after that. We were exhausted and bundled up for the cold weather, which would turn hot (in the sun) by afternoon.

Well, Machu Picchu was amazing. It does not disappoint.












Sacred places were made from stones with no mud or mortar between. They are notched, similar to legos to keep them together. Pretty darn cool.







In all honesty, I’m not sure I understand the sunrise thing. It’s not all that. But maybe it’s more when you’ve hiked it. We saw the sunrise over the adjacent mountains to light up the ruins. Perhaps the real sunrise experience is sunrise at the horizon? (Which you can’t see from MP – you are surrounded by mountains). I also think that might be the best light for certain photos at MP. Namely, that classic shot.

We spent a couple hours with the tour group learning about the Incas and the discovery of Machu Picchu and then spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the peace and beauty around us. We found a shady spot to sit and listen to music, meditating and just soaking it all in. It was a truly glorious afternoon










We headed back on a late-ish train. Where we once again enjoyed seeing our French friends from the ride up. Ha. We barely made it back to our room without falling asleep. And crashed. Well, Lane didn’t really get up, the next day. She was terribly congested and had a fever. Yikes. We need to travel in a day or two!. And it’s not an easy day. 4 flights!

Good decongestant medicine isn’t available OTC in Peru. I got what I could and when we got to Lima (via a rather painful and scary flight for Lane) we got the good stuff.  I was prepared to pay any amount, beg. Whatever. But it was quite easy at the airport pharmacy. I have no idea why. We were still in Peru – but because it was a guy in a white coat? Or because it was an international airport? Either way, we got through the next 3 flights (one big one to Costa Rica then two small hops in a 12 passenger plane) without TOO much trouble. It was still a little rough for Lane. But she pushed through, didn’t want to stop, stay or drive.

That was Peru folks. Overall I really liked what we did there. It was fun and laid back, although busy. Cusco was a lovely city. No water nearby so not a place I could live but I would definitely visit again!!

Off to Costa Rica!

Ecuador – Jungle, Tortoises, Turtles and Sea Lions!

The next adventure. Ecuador!

Lane and I flew into Quito and stayed a few nights before our Local Living Jungle Tour. I had chosen a hotel/hostel in the Old Town knowing our tours would be based out of the New Town.

Well, the place we stayed was fabulous. Right in Old Town right on a square and just around the corner from La Rhonda street, which I considered to be the epitome of the Old Town charm. Plus check out these views and what an amazing (included) breakfast and the view from there!!

Beautiful indoor courtyard of our hostel in Quito.

Gorgeous view from the breakfast room.

Beautiful breakfast – my eggs arrived later.

View from my bed. Santo Domingo square.

Beautiful plant on the outdoor patio.

While I was outside enjoying the view from this hidden smoker’s patio, a woman came and hung up these plastic sheets then hung the meat. I guess she was drying it? This is one time I wish my Spanish was better. Ha. If we tried this at home the seagulls would steal that meat in a minute!

I took some time to explore Quito a bit. I walked to the Plaza Grande which was beautiful and bustling with locals and travelers. I walked (uphill quite a ways) to The Cathedral to see the gargoyles.

Vendors selling hard boiled quail eggs. A pretty healthy street food snack!

There is some gorgeous architecture in Quito, particularly in Old Town

I bought some of these not really sure what they were but it met my criteria for street food. Hot and the locals were buying it. It was good. Like not sweet cornbread with crumbly cheese inside.

This is the Basilica of the National Vow in Quito. It is gorgeous and has gargoyles of the native Ecuadorian animals all around.

There was some construction/repair going on while I was there – not surprisingly. The belief is that when it’s complete, the world will end. HA.

Anyway, I got some help from my friend Google in order to show you some good photos of the gargoyles on this beautiful church.





I think this one is my favorite. Sea birds. Left to right, I’m thinking boobie, red-throated frigat, and pelican.

While exploring around town, I saw this music man. Pretty talented, I say!



So I think I’ve said before how I don’t do as much research as I should when going to a new place. Well, imagine my surprise when American money came out of the ATM! Oh and this is where all the dollar coins are. Ha. Oh and there are American outlets – unfortunately, we didn’t have any American-type plugs left (except my toothbrush). HA. So, I bought some!

Plaza Grande – This is La Catedral. You can climb to the top, and now down a tiny set of corridors that were previously unaccessible. I didn’t do it, but my friend Geraldine (from the Jungle tour) did.

But the big reason for being here was to visit the jungle and the Galapagos

We had a great group of people on the jungle tour. I like this type of tour because it includes some local or indigenous type experiences and tends to draw likeminded travelers. And this was no exception.

For the first time, we had a handful of Americans on the tour!  4 independent travelers, actually.

On this tour, we would be traveling 6 plus hours out of the city. On a public bus. I was a little concerned about Laney’s motion sickness but she made it through.

We stayed at an indigenous homestay which, as I expected, was a modified version of actual indigenous living. We had rooms of 3 or 4 beds with mosquito nets. Bathrooms and showers were downstairs around the corner, detached. There was a dining area in another building. Everything was open air and in the spirit of traditional living but clearly expanded to host groups of travelers like us. Plus, well, plumbing. Ha. I appreciate the accommodation.

Pathway to the homestay. It was a short walk, and uphill. Fortunately, Laney and I had pared down our luggage to only one bag. We left the other at the hotel in Quito – this move is common for us on a tour. Since usually on a tour like this we start and end at the same hotel, it’s convenient to leave things behind. Like the cold weather clothing since this IS the jungle. HA. Anyway, Laney was nice enough to carry the big bag. HA!

in the photo above the building front and center are the hammock and grill house. Lots of hammocks and an outdoor wood grill where the fish was cooked – also where we cooked up the chocolate.

To the left is the building with bedrooms.

Behind and to the right are the dining and hangout areas.

While there we experienced and learned a lot about the local Quichua people and the jungle life both past and present

Upon arrival, we had lunch which the family prepared for us. Typical Ecuadorian food includes plantains and yucca and rice at pretty much every meal. Made in a creative variety of ways. It is the staple of their diet. For the sake of the tourists, a meat or fish was included in each meal. The food was very good – especially the fish which was cooked in a large leaf which is also used for making tea and could be seen strung and drying from the porch nearby.

After lunch, we walked up the road and into the jungle following a stream and proceeded to be mud-masked by our hosts. One was the son, the other the son in law of the shaman host Delphine and his wife Stella.

In the jungle that big knife is called a problem solver Ha.

Our hosts. And guide, Franklin above, went a little beyond the mud mask. HA

One way to bond a group of strangers together is to make them look ridiculous shortly after they meet. Ha. This was truly a great group.

Gorgeous sunset from a high viewpoint in the jungle

This snake crossed the road on our walk back. Awesome.

My favorite meal the fish dinner. I’m pretty sure it was tilapia with lemon

After mud masking, we all washed up at the nearby stream and relaxed until dinner time.

The next day we took a (powered) canoe ride to an animal sanctuary and also spotted some wooly monkeys along the way. It rained the entire time we were at the sanctuary so some animals were hiding but it was still pretty cool

When we got back it was hot and sunny so we decided to take a dip in the stream. It was gloriously cold and great except for the GIANT SPIDER that jumped out when Ruth sat on a big nearby rock. This thing was the size of my hand! Laney was shocked to the point of being speechless. Ha. It hopped right in the middle of the pool we were dipping in and then hopped it’s way over some rocks and downstream away from us. Many screams and a few seconds later it was over – but not everyone wanted to hang out too much longer. Ha.

That wasn’t the only spider experience we had. One night we went up the hill to have a campfire in a nearby building with hammocks and tables. And on the way to the bathroom, Laney and some of the other girls started screaming. They came across a scorpion spider. Again as big as my hand but this one has CLAWS like a crab. Very creepy. I was taking a photo, and they were looking on as one of our hosts tried to scoot the spider under the building (with a broom). Well, it suddenly started scrambling towards us. HA. I definitely moved quickly to the porch. Laney and the other girls ran like 100 feet away, screaming. HA.

And to top off the night, upon entering a bathroom before going to bed, there was a scorpion on the wall. It was quite busy and content munching on a large cockroach. Ha. Needless to say, I chose another bathroom for the night. Ha. And yes, I had to go to the bathroom multiple times each night. (freaking beer) – Involving shoes, a flashlight and a walk in the dark to an outdoor, dark bathroom – and I didn’t have contacts so I couldn’t see much. Even with my phone light. I definitely wouldn’t see any  spiders or scorpions on the walls. I checked where I was stepping but that’s about all I could do. Perhaps it’s just as well. Probably don’t want to see what’s there anyway. Ha!


This photo of the scorpion is a little blurry because it was pitch dark – no lights in the bathrooms – and I had to turn off my phone flashlight to take a photo. Kinda creepy. Ha.

One night we got to witness a mock Quichua marriage ceremony and also saw how traditional chicha is made. Chicha is an alcoholic drink made from yucca. First, the yucca is boiled and peeled (or peeled and boiled) then the woman of the house chews multiple mouthfuls and puts the mouthfuls back in the pot. It’s all mixed together and then set in the kitchen and covered, stirred every day. The saliva starts the fermentation process. Water is added to create the right consistency. Yes, of course, we had some chicha while there. No, I don’t know if it was chewed, I assume so.

Funny thing while we were there-there was a film crew doing a documentary on ethical travel. Some of our tour group is bound to be in that film!

This is the powered canoe we took to the animal sanctuary.


Wooly monkeys we saw on the way. These are now wild, having been previously residents of the sanctuary. They are on a somewhat secluded island in the river. Unfortunately, ‘exotic’ animals are sometimes captured and smuggled to other countries for sale as pets.

Please – if you are considering an exotic pet – don’t. Yes it’s cool and novel, but for every pet adopted, probably MANY had to die in the capture and transport process.


Beautiful toucans at the sanctuary. Most, once pets, can’t be released to the wild, but some are being bred and their offspring will be released to the wild to replenish the population.

This is a walking tree. It can move! As you might imagine, it releases one root (the above-ground part you can see here), and grows the other, allowing it to move and survive as the landscape changes. For example, in the case of erosion near a stream. Pretty COOL!


One afternoon we went to the nearby Laguna Azúl (Blue Lagoon). HA. Like Iceland or that forbidden movie when I was a kid/teen. Anyway, it was gorgeous clear water with a rope swing and some pretty serious currents.

Waterfall upstream of the lagoon.

There were lots of butterflies in the area. In fact, the name of the town of our homestay means butterfly in Quichua language.

We saw these blue butterflies everywhere. They are quite large, about the size of my palm. I wasn’t able to get a good photo, so I’m borrowing this one. HA


During our jungle walk, Delphine showed us many things, including how to pan for gold. There’s a lot of panning for just a little gold, but can be worthwhile for some people.

Delphine also showed us a variety of traps that are used to capture wild animals for food. Including pigs, snakes and even monkeys.


Check out this palm tree – very spikey.


We all tasted this leaf, which tastes like cinnamon, but obviously is not. (Cinnamon is a bark, not a leaf).


.This is George and of course, we called him George of the jungle like ALL the time HA

We all got jungle-ized for our jungle walk. HA. The symbols on each of our faces meant something different like fertility, or warrior strength, etc.

.Delphine had a little fun with his jungle attire.


Delphine climbed this tree with only a circle of rope he made from a nearby plant. A few of us tried it – he made it look so easy. Ha it was not!

One of our favorite activities on this tour was the white water rafting. Supposedly 3 or 3.5 rating and in COLD water.  A couple of us took turns riding on the very tip of the bow of the boat with legs dangling the edge. Hang on cowboy! Ha, it was definitely a rough and wet ride!!






Another favorite activity was the waterfall hike. Basically a hike upstream, and then up a few waterfalls. Ending with a solid dousing in the waterfall. Very fun, a little challenging/dangerous, but at least we wore helmets! Ironically, I was actually quite cold! Once I got wet the jungle wasn’t as hot as you might think!









Next activity, chocolate making. We had seen versions of this elsewhere, but we really got to see the full process (and taste the results!) this time.  First pull the seeds from the fruit (you can eat the fruit that clings to the seed, it’s quite good).


Then roast the whole seeds.


Then grind the roasted seeds (in this case, in a hand grinder that looks a lot like a meat grinder).


.Then cook the grinds with milk/cream and sugar.


Here you have it! Chocolate fondue!!


Next up, blowdarts! Unlike actual hunters in the jungle, we had a stand for the blowgun. It was SERIOUSLY heavy!





The winners of the blowdart contest were given a present. This is it. It’s called Chontacuros by the locals. These Amazonian grubs are the larvae of the palm weevil. They were presented live (and lively). The ladies receiving the gift (Christene and Lauren, if memory serves) nearly dropped them when they opened the leaf. HA


These are still live -I didn’t eat them that way. HA


The preparation was pretty interesting. First, each one is ‘cleaned’ meaning the guts are taken out. One of our hosts managed this while we watched. Interestingly, they were still moving after this process.

Then, they were put in a pan. I’m not sure if there was any butter or oil involved, I have heard they have their own ‘oil’ so it’s not necessary. They squirmed for a while as they cooked. Then they stopped moving and a few minutes later….


I was enjoying them!! Quite tasty actually! Some said they had a bacon flavor. It was definitely buttery and smokey and a bit like seafood. I would say similar to softshell crab or scallops.

On the way back to Quito we stopped and enjoyed a soak in the hot springs. Well, I did. Laney enjoyed soaking up some wifi at the nearby hotel HA!


After the tour, Lane and I were headed to the coast hoping for some surfing and beach time. Our new friend Matt was headed that way so we asked him to join us on our car ride. It was a long day and I was grateful to have another driver with us.

At the coast, we didn’t do much. We were pretty worn on out. It was nice to have a spacious, air-conditioned apartment after those nights in the jungle.

We did enjoy some beautiful sunsets from our porch, though.


Before we knew it, it was time to go back to Quito for the Galapagos tour.


Galapagos is a good example of me booking things with only a high recommendation and very little research. And very little by way of expectations. The days leading up to the tour I was thinking ‘gosh I hope there is more than seeing tortoises’. Ha. Wow. Yeah. There definitely was.

From Quito, we flew to Santa Cruz with a stop at Guayaquil which, ironically, we flew from to get to Quito. Just the day before. Ha.

Landing on Isla Santa Cruz we had a short bus ride to the channel where our bags were loaded on the roof of the boat. All of us were a little nervous about this. I mean the bags weren’t tied down. There was no railing or ridge on the flat roof. Won’t they fall off!? Well, this was the first of many of these experiences and frankly, it was the safest – things got much hairier from here on out, from a luggage perspective. Ha. But it all worked out ok.

We drove across the island and stayed in the town of Puerto Ayora for a night and explored the Charles Darwin Research Center.


These cacti grow a 3 meters in 100 years. That makes this one pretty old! This is a prickly pear cactus.


The tortoises above were hatched at the center and these are about 4 years old. At 5, they will be released into the wild. This is the age when their shells are hardened enough to survive in the wild, from native, and non-native predators (like goats and dogs).

We learned the story of Lonesome George






It wasn’t easy getting into and out of that shell! HA


Puerto Ayora is an adorable town with enough tourist amenities to be comfortable but still pleasantly small and extremely walkable. Our hotel here was quite adorable as well.

Above, that’s a real tortoise shell with wooden legs.


Inside that turtle shell/table.

Above, a map of the Galapagos Islands.

Some of the native animals around Puerto Ayora are pretty comfortable with humans, we saw some even just walking around!


This guy is no doubt worn out from begging for scraps from the people cleaning fish at this fishing-boat harbor.


Begging for scraps.

Also looking for a free meal!

Water Iguanas were everywhere!

The mom is begging for scraps, the baby is nursing!


The next day we had a kayaking and snorkel trip. It was really great. We kayaked first and most of the time we were paddling near the mangroves and the rocky shore. From the beginning, and for nearly the full hour we kayaked, a sea lion followed us. Laney named him Finn. He popped up regularly see what we were doing. SO GREAT! We spotted sharks swimming in the shallows, saw many pelicans resting on the mangroves and saw the famous blue-footed boobies diving in the water and also resting on the rocky cliffs as we paddled past. WOW.

The snorkeling was also really cool. The visibility wasn’t awesome but we saw some big sharks, some fish and lots of sea urchins. I left the water earlier than most because I was freezing but the others saw swarms of small and medium-sized sharks by the mangroves. Laney loved it. Of course.

After that, we dried off and drove a bit. We explored a nearby lava cave which was HUGE in parts (think 1-2 car tunnel) and very small in others (like belly crawl, but only for a few feet). These are caves formed many years ago by flowing lava from a volcano. The best part was the barn owl that we saw at the entrance to the cave. Just sleeping. Not caring at all that we were there. Ha.

Then a nap and dinner at a local street food type place. I had langostino which is pretty much the same as the Morton Bay bugs I had in Australia only these were HUGE so I only had one. Ha. Laney had grilled fish (shocking, she usually eats beef. Ha. )

The next morning we had breakfast and then some time shopping before we boarded a water taxi and then a bigger motorboat to drive to the island of Floreana.

Each of these drives between islands was about 2 hours, and every time it was pretty rough. Just a PSA for anyone looking to do a Galapagos tour. Laney was ok, I think she actually does better on boats than on buses. HA.

As soon as we got to Floreana (transferring from our big motorboat to a water taxi, to the dock) we spotted sea lions and water iguanas at the dock. We went to a local shop for snorkel gear, dropped our bags at our waterfront huts and hit the beach! Snorkel time!  Well apparently the Galapagos is known for wildlife that isn’t afraid of humans (I told you I didn’t do much research – HA) and boy is that true!! In a short time snorkeling from the black sand beach, we saw a few turtles and a few sea lions. WOW. The best part was the sea lions that swam past Laney and I were a mother-daughter pair – just like us!!



It was pretty chilly – we were going to get wetsuits for more snorkeling the next day. So we didn’t snorkel too long and soon headed beak for a miraculously hot shower (I think only ours was hot. Ha. ) and then a group dinner and a couple drinks at the local bar. There is only one bar on Floreana, the population being something like 141.5 – one resident is pregnant. Ha. The bar was great, we enjoyed the campfire until the rain kicked in.


After a good nights rest, we had a lovely breakfast and headed to another snorkel spot. This one was part of a national park and included a sea lion ‘nursery’. Well, I have never seen so many turtles – so close! I hung out near one HUGE one and watched him/her carefully nibble seaweed from the rocks in the shallow water. His/her head was as big as mine! Such an amazing experience. At times I could see as many as three turtles at once. At one point I was watching one turtle when another one joined from the right and a third one came up behind me and swam under me to join the other two!! Scared me for a second. Ha.

Also, the sea lions were coming and going from the nursery beach and would swim up, around and past you. Let me tell you they are FAST!





Even from the beach, you could see turtles and sea lions constantly. Popping up out of the water. Such a great experience. I would have stayed in the water all day except that, even with a shortie wetsuit, it was still cold! I thought we were on the equator! That’s the Pacific for you I guess. Lesson learned. Ha.

I napped after that while Laney went snorkeling again with some people from the tour group. After that, another good local dinner –  no bar for us this night – we were tired!

The next morning a nice breakfast and then off to Isabella island. One of the larger islands with a population of about 2000 if memory serves. This island is the home of our guide Linka, and was formed into the shape of a seahorse by its 7 volcanoes (6 are considered active, and one was expected to ‘erupt’ any day while we were there!)

Upon arrival our rooms weren’t quite ready – so, I went to the store with Kristi and bought some snacks for Laney and a can of Gin and Tonic for later for me. Then we chilled in the hammocks for a while.





Isn’t that a beautiful staircase? IT IS! Until you have to lug your big, heavy bags up 2 flights (eyeroll).

Later we went for a trek to Sierra Negra, one of the 7  volcanoes on Isabella. Because one volcano was currently a little too active we didn’t get to hike as far as usual. Just as well, the hike was at times really muddy and it rained almost the whole time. On the way back we stopped and switched from the van to bikes for a downhill ride. It wasn’t quite as downhill as I hoped but of course, I was too stubborn to quit. Ha. Upon returning to the Hostel, that G and T tasted so good I went to the store for more.  Ha.


That night we went to an international place for dinner and I had some Mexican shrimp fajitas. Yum. And margaritas. Yum. In Ecuador, they have happy hour pricing. It’s not at a particular time of day it’s more like bulk buying. You order 2 or 3 of your drink for a set price and they bring you one after the other as you are ready. I’m not sure how this works out for the restaurant but it works for me. Ha.


The next day we had an early start to snorkel a place they call the tunnels. Another boat ride for about 30 minutes. It was pretty rough going. I stayed dry. Not everyone did. Ha. Getting into the tunnels area was pretty interesting – I have to give these boat captain credit. They have to navigate into shore with lots of rocks, shallow areas oh and BIG BREAKERS. I did not envy their jobs. And once inside, there are some tight spaces they navigate to get to small, protected bays where they moor the boats. Very tricky.

The snorkeling there was pretty cool. Lots of fish, including big schools of tiny fish and small sharks looking for breakfast. Also a big ray. More turtles. And some bigger sharks. Some swim through tunnels, also with sharks. Laney spotted a moray eel. And we saw some puffer fish. Near the mangroves, I spotted some small mullet and some tiny shrimp swimming around. The best part, though was when our guide Gabrielle pointed out some seahorses.  2 separate ones, each clinging to a branch or stick on the bottom not far from the mangroves. Thing is, they were HUGE. I expected them to be small like my finger. They were bigger than my hand. Wow. First time seeing one of those in the wild.

I will say that snorkeling was a bit frustrating at times. Some people in our group seemed to have zero experience snorkeling (our tunnels group included people not on our G Adventures tour) and so they were kicking up sand and silt and standing and generally messing up the visibility. So that was annoying but Laney and I found some opportunities to get away from the group like when we found our own cave full of big sharks. Very cool. Ha.

When we came out of the water we had hot tea and lunch. The hot tea was quite welcome. Once again I was FREEZING in the water.

We had a walk around the tunnels area as well. By the time we walked it was full-on high tide, so we didn’t see as much as the other group. My friend Carol caught these images which are pretty representative of the boobies in the area.




On the boat ride back I spotted something unusual on the surface and sticking out of the water. It was vaguely fin-shaped but with a hook/knob at the end. It was a manta!! Swimming upside down on the surface I guess. Very cool.

Upon returning to the hostel I had a quick nap and then we headed out for a kayak and snorkel trip. I wasn’t sure I could get back in the water – I was cold at the tunnels with a shortie wetsuit and this time we had no wetsuits. Yikes!

Well, we paddled, saw some sharks in the water, red-throated frigates flying around and we saw PENGUINS on the rocks and swimming in the water. So so cute. This is the only place you can see them wild in the Northern Hemisphere, I am told.

It took all my willpower to get into the water -I was cold sitting dry in the kayak! But I did it and I am so glad I did. We saw, of course, lots more turtles. And schools of parrotfish. AND the best part. I swam off a bit away from everyone to some mangroves and a sea lion approached me. He/she swam toward my feet and somehow I sensed it was playing with me. It swam toward my feet and I swam towards its back fins. We circled each other a few times like this. Then it blew bubbles so I took out my snorkel and blew bubbles. Then it swam right up to me and looked me in the face. Titling its head like in curiosity ‘what are you?’  I mean, it’s adorable little face was about 10 inches from my face. It was looking me RIGHT in the eyes. What a crazy cool experience. I will never forget it. Wow.

So glad I got in the water and got cold. Ha.

We paddled back into shore and Laney and I surfed a few waves to the beach where a small sea lion was swimming around in the shallow water only a few feet from me. Very cool.

We certainly slept well that night! Ha. The next day was to be mostly a free day. And of course, given the opportunity, Laney wanted to surf! Fortunately so did several other members of our group.

We started the day with a visit to another tortoise sanctuary where we saw lots more tortoises of varying ages, including one pair of tortoises that were mating. The male was grunting and making all kinds of noise. Linka says it can go on for two or three hours!!  Ha. Laney of course was mortified. Ha.

After that, we walked through a park of sorts and saw pink flamingoes and water iguanas and some other birds. This was a brackish water area where fresh and salt water mix. It was also a major crossing for the water iguanas and they were everywhere, like constantly. Very cool.







Iguana crossing!!!

Patiently (HA) waiting for the surf guy (and boards) to show up.

I was a bit obsessed with these crabs that were always on the rocks. They varied in color. I was told they are brown/black when they are young and develop the red/bright colors as they get older. Wow, talk about killing off the old. I have to imagine these colors make them easy prey for the many birds here!

A well-camoflauged group of small water iguanas resting on a rock.


A bit later the surf rental/instructor came by and drove us all in the pickup to the surf spot. It was a beautiful sandy beach and no one else was there!

The surf was great – though waves were a bit frequent so getting out was a bit of a challenge. There weren’t enough longboards so I waited until someone got tired. That didn’t trek long. Ha. Fortunately the water on the beach was warm so finally, I wasn’t cold in the water. It was really great getting on a board again. I’m not good but I do enjoy riding the waves in. The best part was, every single first-time surfer taking a lesson was able to get up and ride for at least a little bit. Yay!!

After that, a quick pack up and back to Santa Cruz. Another rough 2 hour ride but we saw dolphins. Cool!

One last night in Santa Cruz back to the same hotel and then the flight back to Quito.

Above, tiny tiny little lizard at our hotel.

Below, our tour friend Carol composed this video from her Go Pro footage.


We enjoyed a ‘last group dinner’ with most of our group at a nearby Italian/pizza place, had another night in Quito, then off to Peru!

Lima, here we come!

New Zealand – camping, paragliding and bungee jumping!

Long-awaited! New Zealand! Living the dream! HA

Our arrival was a bit eventful.  Our Airbnb host was supposed to pick us up, but I guess we were through immigration and customs much faster than we thought  -probably because we were in the FRONT of the plane – BUSINESS CLASS BABY!! With LIE-FLAT BEDS!! So awesome. And needed for the 16 hour travel time or whatever crazy amount it was. HA.

Anyway, we waited an hour or so and finally found our host in the parking lot across the street. Meantime, DUNKIN DONUTS. HA. And a nice conversation with some friendly Aussie guys waiting for their flight out.

We crashed in our Airbnb (which was NOT QUITE as pictured, but still nice, and I suggested the false pics be removed). The next day we did some shopping. We had some warmer clothes shipped (to my friend Jeannine’s husband’s friend Murray) but we would need more. It was already CHILLY and would get much colder on the South Island.

We shared a wonderful evening with Murray and his friends, where I tried to repay his kindness with copious amounts of alcohol. HA. Murray made an awesome meal and accommodated Laney’s desire for beef as well as my desire for something different -in this case duck. So good. And an amazing spread of apps as well!!! The man can cook!!!

The next day, unfortunately, I must have picked up a bug, so it was a rough morning. Still feeling pretty rough in the belly, our Airbnb host was kind enough to let us stay until the afternoon when we finally ventured out to get our campervan, as planned. From there, we headed north of Auckland. I tried to make it to Russell but ran out of steam, so we ‘free camped’ at the nearest spot once the exhaustion hit me.

The next day, we made it to Russell, which was suggested by our friends in Auckland (from the Borneo tour). It was beautiful. I had planned to go fishing, but, unfortunately, I was still feeling a little too weak, so we just chilled at the campground, which was quite nice.  I was sad to not fish, but so it goes.


Photo of us picking up the campervan – this will be our home for the next 20-some days. It’s KINDA SMALL INSIDE!! HA. I intentionally got the smallest van that is ‘free camp certified’ (meaning it has a toilet). I was a little concerned about driving a big vehicle on what I had heard were challenging roads, plus, left side driving.

Above, view of the water from our campground in Russell.  Or maybe a nearby lookout point, I don’t remember. HA

The next day we headed back south to Auckland, picked up the late-arriving package from Murray and spent a great evening with Helen, Steve, Phoebe and Dillan at their home. We parked in the driveway and slept in the van, but they provided a WONDERFUL dinner and a shower in the morning. HA. Of course, I provided lots of wine.  HA. We had a great time, all relaxed on ‘home turf’ – it was homey for Laney and me too, because, well, English. HA.

It is worth mentioning here, although I think we actually learned about it while in Borneo. Phoebe plays Water Hockey. Basically a weighted ball on the floor of a swimming pool with relatively short sticks requiring the players to dive underwater to hit the ball. Players wear snorkel and mask (not sure about fins?) to keep an eye on the ball from the surface of the water. Very interesting!! Seems challenging right?

The next day, Laney wanted to see the movie “Love, Simon” – and hey, we are in an English speaking country, so why not?!

After that, we headed south (still on the North Island) to Rotarua. And checked into a Top 10 campground, and became ‘members’, providing us some valuable discounts.

The receptionist pointed us to the restaurant section of this adorable town. The first night we ate at an Irish pub (there truly is one everywhere). The next night I had a flight then we went for Mexican which was amazing!!!

Eat Street – lit up by changing colors at night.

Yum Guinness.



In Rotorua, we visited a ‘touristic farm’ and saw 19 different breeds of sheep! And witnessed sheep sheering. Pretty cool. Also a show of the skills of the working dogs. Very cool. And I GOT TO MILK A COW!! On stage, no less. Ha. Bucket list – check! Laney particularly liked the working dogs. One would put his paw on her when she made to walk away – he didn’t want her to leave!! So cute!

Baby sheep so cute!


Different types of sheep – very cool.

The cow I milked – a Jersey cow! Perfect for the New Jersey-an.


This is the dog that didn’t want Laney to go!

How cute is this guy?


Then, we were rolled down a hill in a big plastic ball. HA. YUP. Fun.

After that, I had a nice long soak in the hot spring pools at our campsite. I had no idea they would have them! Bonus!

The next day we left Rotorua but not before exploring the Waiotapu thermal pools and the Lady Knox Geyser.


Laney was not so excited about this particular excursion. HA.






Can’t believe the color of this water!!

Here, she’s cheered up because we are about to leave. HA



Then we headed down to Waitomo where we intended to explore the glow worm caves.  I didn’t want to do the standard tour and – due to an illness of the guides – the Black Abyss tour with abseiling and zip lines were not available. Ah well. No caves for us.

Side note, when we left Auckland, our friends gave us a pile of feijoa’s  (pronounced fuh-JOW-ah – it took me forever to remember how to say it – Laney laughed and rolled her eyes every time for weeks).  This is a local fruit they grow in their garden. Somewhat similar to a kiwi inside, but looks like a small oblong apple on the outside. Cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. SO freaking good. Really sweet and a bit of a bubblegum flavor, in my opinion.

Next stop Lake Taupo. This is also an Amazing town. Beautiful views of the lake. Cool shops and restaurants. And the McDonalds is an airplane!  We intended to go but didn’t. Just as well for our health. Ha.



We did, however, have a nice long hike thanks to Laney. Laney is not usually one for long hikes. So, I had planned a relatively short hike of about 2.5 km round trip to see the Huka falls. However, as we started the hike, Laney noticed a “more interesting“ route to get there. This “interesting“ route ended up being a 6 km round trip rather than the (less than) 2.5km I had planned. Not to mention, it was quite challenging and hardly populated by anyone at all. It was, in fact, a mountain biking route. Needless to say, it took us quite a while longer than we had planned. Laney was pretty miserable in spots. Particularly when I stopped at a small PVC pipe draining water and told her THAT was the falls. She was delirious from walking and took me seriously – for a minute. Then we had a good laugh….OK, I did. HA.

Huka Falls itself was pretty amazing. The water coming over the fall could fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. That is a massive amount of water. And the water was blue and clear practically perfect!






The walk back was on the original route, which was quite flat, easy and fast. Ha! Thank goodness, because it was getting dark. Yikes.

We had some challenges finding our van at the end of the path because we hadn’t gone that way, to begin with – and my directions weren’t very specific. But, we found her (we named the van Bessie) and also saw the local teenage hangout at the Hot Springs.  Young people were all arriving and settling in for a nice evening of soaking and drinking. HA. Pretty cool spot.

We slept well that night (HA) and the next day we headed down to Wellington

I should say that my itinerary in NZ was one of the toughest. So many great places and simply not enough time to do them all. Plus I hadn’t planned anything before we left  – and we had some weather challenges.  I didn’t realize fall is a rainy season in NZ. Oh well, live and learn!

On the drive to Wellington, we had a ‘cafe day’, which is when we stop at any cafe along the way that suits us. At one point, we stopped at this one. It was full of pens. HA. Laney and I are both a bit obsessed with school/office supplies so this was perfect for us.

Anyway, our campground in Wellington was a bit outside of town as you might imagine for a city. The first evening I made the mistake of driving in for dinner. Ha. It was a weekend night – Friday I think- and kinda crazy driving and parking the big van in the busy bar/restaurant area. Ha. We managed, though, and had a great dinner at an adorable place called The Hummingbird.

Another afternoon/ evening we took an Uber into the town center, to the Te Papa museum and then took a walk to Cuba Street. Where we eventually stopped at a great little Mexican place for dinner. We were a bit disappointed that the giant squid was not on display at Te Papa. That was my main reason for going. Oh well.

The next day we drove onto the ferry and enjoyed a long scenic drive to the South Island. We arrived in the dark and headed right to the Top 10 in Blenheim which is in the Marlborough region.  You know what they are famous for? White wine!!! Yay!!

We had dinner in a nearby pub specializing in – yup – beer. HA

The next day Laney and I rented a tandem bike for exploring some wineries. The campground staff tried to tell us our plans were pretty ambitious and that things were not as close as they appeared on the wine map…but did we listen?? Noooooo. Ha. We chose the 16km route – which isn’t too much unless you are stopping a lot for wine and lunch!  We had a great day despite some struggles with the tandem-ING. Ha. And only had one fall, toward the end of the day, when I tried to let Laney ‘drive’ from the front. It was a very slow, gentle, fall. Ha.

That day we visited the Allan Scott and Cloudy Bay. We also stopped at Saint Claire where we had lunch. So beautiful and amazing – all of it.

Is this the most wonderful, beautiful map you have ever seen or what? Oh the possibilities!!


Lunch – starter of amazing sourdough bread and amazing olive oil!!




Such a beautiful setting for lunch



Upon returning to our campground we discovered and thoroughly enjoyed the human-sized hamster wheel!! Yet another thing that would never BE in the US –  this thing was more dangerous than you might think. Once it got going there was LOTS of momentum. So much fun.


We loved exploring the wineries so much – I made the command decision to do it again the next day! Gluttons we are! This time, we rented the ELECTRIC BIKES!!! Wow, what a great idea – I need one of these at home! All the fresh air, simplicity and freedom of a bike without all the effort!!






Dessert – with a custard and pickled rhubarb. MY FAVORITE!

Typical of us. I got fish, Laney got beef, SO SO GOOD.





We often saw sheep grazing between the grape vines. Probably good weed control? Guess they don’t eat the grapevines?




We visited the Villa Maria winery and then Hunters. On our way to the next winery, Laney took a spill on her bike. Yikes. A pile of gravel was her undoing. She fell like a champ though.  I saw her roll a few times like a stunt double from McGyver. HA (funny not funny). Sadly, she bruised her wrist pretty good and got a gash on her hand. We managed to make it back to Hunters for some first aide. They were so nice. A woman there drove Laney home when they closed up about an hour later. And took her to the chocolate shop on the way there too!! And bought her chocolate! Meanwhile, I biked home, and my ‘electric’ bike became a ‘manual’ bike not even half way there…. and with the electric, apparently, its MUCH harder to pedal manually. UGGG! Ha. Guess I worked off some of that wine and food!

The next day we headed out of Blenheim. We stopped at the Spy Valley winery but, sadly, it was closed for the holiday – Anzac Day. This is similar to Memorial Day in the US. Ah well – guess I will have to come back!!

We were on our way to Fox and Fraz Josef Glaciers!  We stopped for an evening picnic at the beautiful Nelson Lake on the way. So beautiful.


Our goal was a helicopter tour of the glaciers but sadly the weather did not cooperate.

Off to Wanaka!! We had a few interesting stops and views along the way:




Above – the road had worn away, probably avalanche style. So, there was only one lane. This happened one more time in NZ. I guess that’s the risk of building roads on a cliff side.

At one point, I stopped for a short walk to Thunder Falls (I think that’s what it was called). A short 5-minute walk from the main road and what an impressive and beautiful waterfall!

The glacier water? SO BLUE.




We also stopped at a cool pub along the way, for lunch. I had the whitebait – like an omelet with tiny fish in it. Fresh water sardines, is how they were described to me. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. And it had to be done at least once (I had it twice). HA

I was totally in love with the tables in this place. Gorgeous slabs of wood with intricate trunk slices holding them up,

UMM that’s a LOT of antlers!! HA

One of many one-way bridges in NZ. More common on the South Island. This was a particularly impressive-looking one. Also quite long. A traffic light on each end indicates to stop, then the light determines which side should get the green based on if anyone is on the other side. A lot of trust here, since you can’t see the other end. Oh, and I drove many of these in the darkness. – kinda creepy.

This is probably a good time to mention that driving on the south island was the most interesting and fun and challenging I have ever done. SO many hard twists and turns – some required that vehicles go 15km/h. That’s like 7mph. That, my friends, is a VERY SHARP CURVE. Now imagine doing it in the dark. If you miss one of those signs indicating to slow down, and you’re driving a camper van, well, let’s say it’s a little hairy at times.  BUT we survived. HA

My advice is, do all your driving during daylight hours. #lessonslearned.


OK so I snapped this gorgeous sunset out my window while driving. NOT smart, but it is SO GORGEOUS!!

Also on the topic of driving – I experienced some of the most amazing scenery while driving through NZ. Many times, it was difficult or impossible to capture it in a photo, this one comes close, but the beautiful ‘road ahead’ was constant!


Wanaka Lake! so pretty!!

What a completely adorable town! Our first goal coming into town was actually to see a movie. We planned to see it at a special theater in town, but when we stopped they had no tickets available for that day. We headed to our campground to regroup. We ended up finding another movie theater that would have seats for that movie that day so we booked them over the phone. I was so glad for this “unfortunate“ event because we found the most amazing movie theater!!  The one we planning to go to, I think, was quirky and interesting and awesome and a kid-like way.  The one we ended up at, called Ruby’s, was very cool in a more adult way. There were red velour bench seats surrounding the room. A bit of a speakeasy vibe. A bar, yay! The theater itself had only 12 seats and they were all big leather recliners. Plus, Service! Yes, you could order and they would bring food and drinks to your seat. Being as the weather was kind of chilly, I enjoyed two different special hot drinks. One was apple pie I can’t recall the other. What an experience!






In the same area, I had stopped to book us for a rock-climbing adventure. Unfortunately, once again, the weather did not cooperate and it rained the entire next day as well as the day after. Spoiling my plans both for rock climbing and for fishing. Bummer, but we love the town anyway. We had some great meals at a diner in town. I had something called the Buddha which is a vegetarian version of eggs Benedict. Someone in Ocean City needs to start making that! So good.

I took a few photos by the lake of the Wanaka Lonely tree and the foliage in the area. Of course, the photos don’t do it justice, and some sunshine would have been nice too. HA.




Above, view from our campsite in Wanaka.

We hated to leave the beautiful quaint town of Wanaka but we had things we were looking forward to. So off we went!!

As we approached Queenstown, we observed some wineries – so STOP we did! Tasting and lunch. Laney said the beef she had at this winery – Gibbston –  was ‘life changing’. HA.


Upon arriving in Queenstown our first goal was the fear factory. They supposedly extremely scary haunted house experience which is different than most in that there are actual people, actors, scaring you in a pitch black environment similar to a maze. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Laney started off leading, in front of me, but she soon switched places and wanted to be behind me. I can tell you she never let go of me. And I think if she could she would have crawled inside my skin. It was very scary. Following a red dot around different corners in the pitch black. People jumping out flashing their ugly faces making noises and at times even touching you as you walk through the maze. Very scary, very cool, very fun!!


Our campground absolutely adorable.   Little structures and what I would call industrial art were all around. Here are some photos.


Above is a photo of an adorable outdoor kitchen and BBQ – we made steaks here one night and they were AMAZING! One thing I love about this campground is the great grocery store and cafe right across the street with some great food and wine and morning coffee and bagels! Everything you need!



The staff there, as well, was extremely friendly and helpful. They helped us back our bungee jumping. As well as paragliding.

Gorgeous combination of fall colors and snow-topped mountains in the town of Queenstown.


View from the top – we took a gondola to the top to see the views and do the Ledge AJ Hackett bungee jump. We wanted to do the ledge, even though it’s NOT the biggest drop, because you are harnessed around your body/middle, versus your feet. And because of that, you can jump any way you like. We did something like the Superman – with a running start you jump off the ledge. My heart thumps just thinking about the fear that must be overcome to do this!!

View from the top.


Post-bungee grin! PRICELESS!!

Pre-paragliding photo! 

We wanted to hang-glide but the conditions weren’t right. Paragliding was awesome and the view was amazing, we had a very clear day. I have video but it’s too high-res to post here.

Also while in Queenstown we each got a second piercing in our ears. Done by a very interesting character named David. Whose entire mouth was full of silver teeth. His ears had huge holes in the lobes (no earrings at the time we saw him) – and we found out later, from the staff at the campground, that David has piercings on his back and occasionally is hung by rings through these piercings. An interesting past time. Despite his (not-so-traditional) appearance, David was extremely sweet and spoke very highly of his sons as well as a new home that he is very proud of. What he did NOT like, however, was his absolute baby face. In his early 50s, I swear he could pass for 20!!

One last stop in New Zealand. Milford Sound. We made our way to Milford sound and spent the night so we could take the early morning boat. We arrived in time to do some ‘exploring’ – but little did I know there is NOTHING THERE. Literally. The only place to stay, pretty much, was the campground we were in, and they had a restaurant where we had dinner. Otherwise, nothing there!!

An interesting note about driving in New Zealand. Especially on the South Island, there are many many one-way bridges. Traffic on one end must yield to the traffic on the other end. At times you cannot see the traffic on the other end either because the bridge is too long or structure is in the way in which case you must rely on traffic lights to tell you when you can and cannot go. On the way to Milford, a somewhat unique example of this is a tunnel that only supports one-way traffic, at least during the day. During the day, large tour buses travel through the tunnel and there is not enough room for two of them. In the evenings and overnight, however, there is no tour bus traffic allowed and then the tunnel is two-way. Again, in this scenario, there was a traffic light to control which way should be going vs. waiting. It is a bit unnerving…


Above – large curious parrot-type bird.



Milford sound was beautiful but I think Laney and I more enjoyed the underwater observations center. Similar to an aquarium, only you were looking at the lake in its natural state – vs an aquarium with captured species for your amusement. While we were there, we saw a cormorant diving down looking for fish. I wasn’t able to capture any good pictures but it was very fun to watch!

Either on the way to Milford Sound or the way back, we stopped at this place called the Mirror Lakes (if memory serves).



A Few Side notes on NZ:

These were among my favorite foods of New Zealand: Store-bought soup, especially Thai, and Laney loved the pumpkin soup EVERYWHERE, and these golden kiwis, which I ate with the cool spoon/knife combo that came with them! (I still have it – HA).

In America, our traditional salt says “When it rains, it pours” which took me until adulthood to understand (HA). Here is salt in NZ:

Also not sure if I mentioned it already in this post, but the fantail birds, which we saw everywhere, were SO adorable! They have very wide-spread feathers for their tail, and change direction so quickly you almost think they are clumsy! Adorable to watch and rather cheeky, getting close enough to see but not close enough for a good photo.

A few fun places to TRX….

Above, that’s our camper in the background. The bright green and purple one. Funny, Jucy campers in NZ wave to each other when they see each other. I’m not thinking this is ‘official’, but many people do it with GREAT ENTHUSIASM, which of course we had to try to imitate at all times. HA.


I saw a few interesting mailboxes, but couldn’t get photos. This one is my Favorites, though.

At an airport – maybe KL? Very cool ‘larger than life’ Yoda made from Legos.

A good motto I think 🙂

After Milford, we were off to Christchurch to spend one quick night and then a flight to Tahiti! Sad to leave NZ, but excited for the next destination!!

The Adventure Continues!!!

Borneo – primates, bugs and baby turtles!!

OK – so some of you might be asking, where the heck is Borneo? Well, Borneo, a giant, rugged island in Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago, is shared by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny nation of Brunei.

Arriving in Borneo, we knew we had a week of R&R in Kota Kinabalu before our tour started. Thank goodness! We were tired from the Vietnam tour! That was about 15 days of GOING every day and included 2 overnight trains and a flight. And countless bus rides. HA.

First, though, a layover in Kuala Lumpur. We wandered for dinner and found ALL THE BEERS and good pizza too. Hard to find good pizza in the world I have found. It is one thing I miss about home, good reliable pizza. Ha.

YAY Beer flight!

ALL the beers!!

I love arugula (aka rocket) on my pizza!

Our arrival in KK (as the locals also call it) was pretty uneventful. Plane. Customs. Immigration. Uber to our apartment. As I knew when I booked it, this apartment was in a tower above and attached to a mall. Malls are big in KK. Seems like they are everywhere. And, similar to other places we have been, the mall also contains a grocery store. Good stuff. I don’t even have to leave the building to get food to cook. All good.

So, lots of screen time (blogging and planning for me – lots of South America research and planning, as well as some Alaska planning that week), lots of home cooking, and relaxation. We went out to dinner once or twice. I did some shopping, new T shirts, etc.

One thing I did was visit with Willi and Pam, who were on our Vietnam tour with us. We caught up for lunch one day, just before they left. They had come to KK to visit with the biological family of their adopted son. Fun to see friends again in a new place!

After a week of – well,  basically hibernation, we got to the hotel where we would meet our tour group. I ventured out for food and came across an open-air seafood restaurant, where all the fish and shellfish were in tanks around the room. An ENORMOUS room – like a warehouse. I had a lot of fun looking at all the crazy offerings. Like crayfish in water bottles (yup). GIANT horseshoe crabs. Clams that were spitting. And other crazy things, like the bugs we ate in Australia. Weird creatures. Hard shells like a crab, longish like a crayfish, but with a very flat head. Here is a photo I borrowed from the web.

Weird right?

I also saw some ‘more traditional crayfish’ in a tank, each one in a plastic (water) bottle. I was told later that they are ‘baited’ into the bottle in the ocean, then they eat and grow too big to leave, and the locals can come get them and then eat them/sell them. Pretty clever but weird looking!

AND some enormous Horseshoe Crabs! I had no idea that people eat those! Plus, don’t they have blue blood! I could never eat one, I have admired them – as a prehistoric-looking creature sometimes found on MY beach – since I was a kid.  They were big and beautiful in the tank, though.

Above and below – these are stonefish. VERY hard to spot in the water, but we have seen a few diving. Thing is, these are poisonous. To touch, I think, but apparently edible. In the photo above, they just look like rocks. In the one below, if you look closely, you can see its frowning mouth and an eye.



Crazy looking crabs.

ENORMOUS lobsters. no claws, though.

Anyway, we met our group and had a briefing by Jerry (our guide) then we headed out to dinner. The good news is, there is a nice mix of people of different ages on our tour. A family of 4 with 14yo girl and 12 yo boy (or was it 13?). Some college-age girls, with a 17 yo sister, and some others in their 30s. Many from our group are from Australia. The family of 4 is from New Zealand (Score! that’s where we are headed next!). Plus one girl from Brussels, one from Poland (but lives in London).

After dinner, we all stop for cash because there may not be any ATM’s for the entire tour (until we get back to KK). Wow, OK.

The next morning we head out for a long drive (7-8 hours) to our first place, a homestay in Kota Belud. This is a farm area, and we are given a tour of the small village and shown all the fruit trees, as well as some rice fields.  We see some beautiful flowers and friendly locals. In the afternoon, we watch a cooking demonstration, where we learn the traditional vegetarian dishes, which are made with fermented fruit that is picked before it is ripe. If eaten fresh (before ripe) it can make you sick. Hence, the fermentation process. Our host also makes a traditional dessert, which vaguely reminds me of a macaroon, but not as sweet.

Above, blocks of Latex, drained from the rubber trees in the area.

Beautiful view of the mountains.

Gorgeous flora.

Crazy beautiful red dragonfly!

KITTY in the window!

This enormous bolder – I was told – rolled down from the mountain many years ago.

Gorgeous stream. Some folks went for a swim. To cool off. 

More beautiful flora.

Local kids. They enjoy the attention of the tourists. Like to have their photo taken. But we were told not to ‘ask’ to take their photo because they are shy and will say no. But clearly, they are happy about it. HA


Delicious cake of coconut. Not too sweet but very addicting!

There is a beautiful stream running through the town, and a really nice bridge to cross it. On the other side – rice fields.


Jerry brings us some fruit, and it looks quite different to me. When you squeeze it, it cracks open into 3 pieces, shell and inside, and is SO DELICIOUS! Laney says its a combination of flavors, peach, orange and kiwi she says. DELISH.


We split up into our dorm rooms (girls and boys). Helen (the other mom) and I end up in our own room while all the young women are in one room (college and teenagers). Glad we dodged that bullet. HA kidding, they are all lovely.

The next day we are OFF to Sandakan, to cruise the Kinabatangan River in search of various monkeys and the elusive orangutan.

Upon arriving, we are warned about the macaw monkeys, that they are pests and will steal your (small) belongings if you leave them unattended. Like phones (YIKES). And, my small travel purse, with money, credit cards, passports – might be small enough to be carried away. So, I kept it on me at all times. Don’t you know, at one point, we all left the table, and a monkey snatched the ‘Reserved’ sign from off the table! What would a monkey want with that? either way, it’s probably gone forever.

In the next 3 days, we are scheduled for 5 boat cruises. I take 4, Laney takes 3. We accidentally overslept for one, and Laney opted out of one (she was tired and hot). It was quite hot a humid there. We did see LOTS of monkeys, different kinds, including the orangutan. They were a bit further away that I had hoped they would be. I took some photos but mostly you see a fuzzy thing that might be a primate. HA. A tour-mate, Valerie, however, has mad skill and good equipment so I downloaded some of her photos. She graciously allowed us to have them for free.

These are mine. Not too bad for an iPhone. But not good either.

Below – these next 7 photos, these are from Valerie:

You can view her full gallery of photos on her website here.










Aside from the boat rides, we also went on a jungle walk. Pretty cool. We didn’t see any monkeys but lots of insect life. Oh, and leeches. Yes. We knew they were a possibility, and, ironically, the person that was MOST concerned about them (Laney) got the most. I pulled 3 off of her skin. I had one or two but on my clothes. I think she had the most because of her body temperature. She has always run a little warmer than most. She’s like a little heater. And that’s what the leeches sense. At one point, we saw a leech on a leaf, and you could see it reaching out. Like a skinny red worm, standing on one end, the other end swinging around, seeking and bending toward any source of heat, like a body. HA. Freaky. But, no one got hurt, partly because we checked every hour or so, so they didn’t get embedded…. . Laney became known as the leech queen. HA

You have to see this 6s video of a leech on a leaf:

Leech video

The pill millipede – we were told they were harmless (thus i was holding it)then heard later they are not! HA! I’m still not sure… Oh well.  I know there is a red centipede in Borneo that IS poisonous…

cute little froggy on a leaf… He was only a couple inches long. And, since not brightly colored, and not black or white, most likely not poisonous…  or so Dylan said. He was quite the wealth of nature knowledge.



Our muddy boots (and legs)



Cooling off after the jungle walk!!


Most of us got stuck in the mud at some point. Nearly knee-deep! a boot was lost at least a couple times.

After that walk, we were BEAT and TIRED. A nap was in order.

That evening a kimono dragon visited our resort. Pretty cool.

Cam was lucky enough to have one visit him in the open air bathroom on the island later in the week. Sadly there are no photos (or videos, ha) of that scene.

The next day, we got a better view of the orangutans at the Sanctuary, where orphaned baby orangutans are brought for care. After a brief quarantine, even very small orangutans are allowed complete freedom. They choose to stay, to return at the end of a day playing in the jungle, to the sanctuary. There is no separation from the ‘jungle’ and the sanctuary. Once grown, they are encouraged to live independently but can come back for twice daily feedings if needed, which, at times, mothers of small babies tend to do. Pretty cool. Like a halfway house for orangutans. HA

This is a picture of the lazy sun bear sleeping. The photo is taken through a telescope of sorts. Who knew you could take a photo that way? It was tricky, though.


This orangutan came to the sunbear area from the orangutan area. Obviously needing a nap. HA

Can you spot the snake in teh middle of the photo? Beautiful. Was right along our walking path near the sun bear area.


beautiful greenery around the walkways through the orangutan sanctuary


Crazy looking bug.

This orangutan decided to play and chill near the walking path, so I got to observe him/her for quite some time.



After the River, and the Orangutan sanctuary (and sun bear center) our next stop was Libaran island. This is a fairly remote island where we were ‘glamping’ for the night. The tents were beautiful, with rugs, and real beds and everything. Only thing is, no AC and no fan. I really thought it would cool down at night, but it really didn’t. HA


Look closely, this building is made of plastic bottles!!

Our glamping tent setup.


Inside our tent. Pretty nice!


The Turtle Hatchery!!

I enjoyed the walk to the other side of the island to visit the village of people who live there. (despite the insane heat!) Mainly they survive by growing food and by fishing and selling their fish to people on the mainland. They have grade school on the island, with a single teacher. For high school, the kids must leave the island and stay with family on the mainland.

beautiful, simple, homes

More creative uses for plastic bottles!

Villiage boys

Villiage girls.

Villiage cat. HA

On this small, remote island, they make boats and use them or sell them.


View of the beach from the island’s small pier, where boys were using cast nets to catch bait fish.

I believe a papaya tree.

Spotted on the walk back to our glamping spot!

Coconut water! YUM! I was bringing mine back for Laney – I put a face on it and we called it WILSON!!

After the village visit – we visited the turtle hatchery. The warden on the island patrols every night to see the turtles lay their eggs (had their been one while we were there, they would have woken us up to see) – and then, the eggs are dug up, and brought to the hatchery where they are reburied in a fenced and protected area. When the turtles hatch, they are held as briefly as possible and set free in the evening when they have the best chance of survival. We were allowed to release the baby turtles!! They were SO SO SO CUTE!!!




Turtle eye view.

Sunset when we released the turtles.



Our dining area at the glamping site. Our hosts provided all our meals.

Leaving the island. Thanks to Lauren for all the good selfies. HA

After a boat, bus and plane, we were back in KK.  I had an interesting snack along the way – a Snickers Oats. Like a Snickers bar but with oatmeal. Quite yummy!

On the way, we stopped at the Sandakan memorial where we learned about the Australian and British soldiers who were brutally treated and killed as prisoners of the Japanese during WWII. 2500 were held here, and only 6 survived. Very educational and very sad.


Above, at the Sandakan memorial, I finaly got a good photo of the lipstick palm, called that for it’s bright red stems.

The flight back to KK was mostly uneventful. Except that when we got off the plane (walking down steps to the outside, as usual – a jetway has been a rare thing since we left the US) – I spotted this on the ground. Everyone thought it was fake but it wasn’t. It was real, and beautiful and perfectly preserved. As I carried it through the airport (yes, I got a few funny looks as I bent to pick it up outside, but no one stopped me even though I carried it in plain sight), we were laughing at the idea that it might ‘wake up’ and how I would probably scream bloody murder. HA. At first no one else would touch it. It was SO beautiful.



That night, we went to the open-air seafood restaurant (a group of restaurants I think) for dinner. It was amazing.  I had prawns. Amazing.



The young ones!!


Why? I have no idea.

Group photo!

The whole group – crazy style – from top left: Helen, Steve, Sandy, Lauren, Valerie, Joanna, Stephanie. Center: Cam. Next Row: Rebecca, Dylan, Olivia, Rocky, Me, Laney. Front: Georgia, Phoebe.

The next day, we said goodbye to our new friends. Some, from Auckland, we would see again soon!

Thailand – take 2 – Diving with MANTAS!!

Upon leaving Australia, Laney and I made our way back to Thailand.  As you may know, we had been in Thailand before and had planned to come the second round for a longer stay. However, because we decided to extend our stay in Australia,  by three weeks, to attend the surf academy, this visit to Thailand would actually be shorter than the last.

One thing I had read about and was excited to do in Thailand was to dive and hopefully see manta rays. I have always been fascinated by this creature and could not imagine the joy I would feel being in the water with one. A creature so huge, so much larger than me, yet harmless and reputedly curious. So, Laney and I hopped a few flights and landed in a town called Khaolak Thailand which is on the west side of southern Thailand. We stayed a few days and relaxed at a mid-level resort which was quite nice. We had some wonderful food, particularly from a tiny shack of a restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. OMG green curry, panang curry! And my favorite – meat with basil and chili. I’m hungry thinking about it!!

Like many places in Thailand, it is completely open – no walls really, no roof less you count the tarp overhead. This takes some getting used to. Yes, of course, there are more western looking establishments around, and we go to those too, sometimes-  but the best food and the best prices are at these little places !!

Above – sharing a smoothie. The ladies who cook and serve got a good laugh when Laney made my ‘sharing straw’ by linking two straws together.  Ha!

Above- you will see one of these Sporit Houses at nearly every home and business. The idea is that there are spirits all around and you make this house for them so they don’t bother you. Each day food or drink or gifts are left. Fanta is a common one. Red I think not orange. And there is speculation about whether a person should drink the Fanta after a day or two or not. Some say it’s very lucky.

Beautiful flowers remind me of birds of paradise

Our patio.

While some building is Thailand are shacks- ok most are, with corrugated metal roofs or just a tarp – other buildings are quite beautiful. And they may be right next to each other.

Above an adorable Coffee house not far from our hotels.

The gardener/grounds/maintenance guy at the resort handed this to me one morning. He had picked it from the garden. He didn’t speak any English and I wasn’t sure at first. But I ate it. Ha. Can’t be insulting the staff you know. It was like a green apple but more tart. Quite good.

Nice small quiet pool.

After those few days we were picked up and driven to the Headquarters of the SCUBA shop where our liveaboard trip would begin. Scuba Adventures. In my opinion a great company. We were booked on a three night cruise leaving one evening and arriving back also in the evening. After the usual rigmarole of registering, storing luggage etc. we picked up some snacks at the grocery next-door and hopped in the truck to drive to the dock. We boarded the boat, were given the usual (somewhat long-winded) instructions and were ready to go. This boat was much more heavily staffed than the one we had done in Australia. There was, I think five or six crew to help with diving gear, driving and cooking – plus six dive instructors – all for about 18 people or guests on board. Pretty good, nearly one on one. And the guys who helped with the diving!! They put your fins on for you!! Ha. Never have I had such service on a dive boat.

That evening we drove out a ways to reach the famous Similan islands. While we were driving we ate dinner and got to know one another. There were some lovely people on the boat from all over the world. Including some from Vermont in the USA some from China, Korea, France, and even Pakistan. I think everyone went to bed early in anticipation of the 4 dives the next day!!

Above, this is nearly all the guests on the boat. Having fun.

Above, Cathy and Perry from Vermont. Loved spending time with these two.

Because Laney has a junior advanced open water certification from PADI we were assigned our own instructor just for the two of us. There are depth limitations with her age and so we were separated from the rest. This suited me just fine, as a smaller group provides more personal attention and, in my opinion, you see more because there aren’t multiple people waiting to look at the same object or creature when the instructor points it out. Plus With fewer people in your group, it’s less likely that anything will go wrong or have issues that hold up the dive time. If you’ve never been diving, it might be interesting to know, that each dive is generally only about 40 minutes long. And that includes time to get down and back up again. In a large group, if someone has trouble with their ears, or some other issue with equipment, the entire group generally has to wait for that person before they can proceed with the dive. As you can imagine this can waste a lot of time. So, I was quite happy it was just the two of us. Especially because we’ve been driving very recently and frequently so the chances of issues were minimal

The next morning, we had an early wake up around 6 AM for our first dive which would happen before breakfast. This day we would do four dives, including the last, which would be a night dive. The second and third days we did three dives each day. We saw many wonderful creatures including  nudibranches, flatworms, blue starfish, crabs, an insane amount of beautiful fish, including puffer fish which were at times very friendly and curious.

During one dive, both laney and I, separately, were bitten by cleaner fish which are very small fish that help other fish in the ocean by cleaning parasites and dirt off of their bodies and from inside their mouth and Gills. Apparently, this fish determined that we were dirty. Ha! It doesn’t hurt, in case you’re wondering.  I guess this fish has no teeth, but it is a bit startling. It’s a bit of a joke, actually, because most times your dive buddies can see the fish following you and checking you out, But they don’t tell you, because they want to see the surprised look on your face when the fish finally decides to take an nibble. Ha. Dive humor. Same policy for sharks. Just kidding.

Here is Laney, Jessie and I in the water at the end of a dive. Photo courtesy of my new friend Cathy from Vermont. Funny, the dive instructors in the boat called her and her. Husband Katy Perry because her name is Cathy and he is Perry. Ha.

Over the 3 nights at sea we saw some amazing scenery. Beautiful islands and rocks rising from a vast blue sea. Some great sunsets and sunrises. Just beautiful.

Our dive instructor Jessie, was amazing. Always energetic, patient, and excited to have us as her dive group. We became somewhat close her and to the couple from the US. I guess birds of a feather, and all that. It was nice to have Americans around, for a change. I was particularly impressed by the dive instructors on this boat. Each of them speaking a minimum of three languages!!! Allowing for this dive operation to accommodate any and all nationalities and countries.

I’m including some pictures that were not taken by us however they are indicative of what we saw in our dive trips on this trip

Above, this is a nudibranch. It’s about 3 inches long

Above a box fish, only about 3 inches long

Above is another kind of box fish

This is a puffer fish  we didn’t see them puff up  I’ve caught a few in NJ though and they puff up when you bring them out of the water.  Puffers can be very small, like the ones I caught in NJ, or rather large like 10 or 14 inches long like some of the ones we saw on this trip. We saw small ones on this trip too. It was the large ones at the last dive site, at the wreck, that were so curious.  One swam right up to my mask and looked at me, then followed me

Overall the diving was really amazing. The visibility was incredible. And so many things to see. And I’ve never been so relaxed in the water. Well, I wasn’t relaxed on one dive but that story is coming.

They were a few specific experiences that I feel are worth mentioning on the dive trip. One was watching an octopus that our instructor spotted. These are particularly hard to see if you do not have a trained eye, as they are heavily camouflaged and look very much like the coral rocks that they live around. Anyway, Jessie spotted the octopus which was not very large, smaller than a volleyball. We watch the octopus crawl around and hide inside his rock. Then we patiently waited, being as still as possible, and he came back out again. The way they move is like magic.

Another interesting find was during the night dive when I spotted an enormous red reef crab hiding in a rock. At first I only spotted his claw. But then moved and saw the entire thing. It was bigger than a dinner plate.

I also managed to spot a few Nudibranches as well as some boxfish. The box fish are so tiny and so cute with their square bodies. And they come and some of the most beautiful colors. Also, of course, we saw lots of clown fish. Some, of the black variety, which I like very much. And eels. Lots of eels. Some of the giant morally eels. Some of the colorful eels.

We also saw some flatworms. One was swimming through the water. They are so adorable! Wiggling their entire tiny body in what seems like a fruitless effort to get anywhere. Such a tiny vulnerable creature trying to swim in an enormous ocean!

Another cool sighting was the black and White Sea snake. We saw him up pretty close and watched him swim away. Very beautiful. Very fast. Very poisonous too although we were told that, while their venom is deadly to humans, you would have to inject it to die because heir teeth aren’t long/strong enough to penetrate our skin. Ha. This one was at least 4 feet long. Very impressive.

Jesse also pointed out some tiny tiny creatures like a spearing shrimp and a sea horse type creature called a pipe horse.

Most importantly, WE SAW MANTA RAYS!! Not one but two!!! It was the most amazing experience possibly of my entire life. Yes even better than child birth. I mean, we all know that’s got some downsides. Ha.

We were swimming out into the blue, as they call it, which means away from the reef and toward the open sea – like the drop off in Finding Nemo. We were hoping to spot some sharks. We had been told that it was not a good season or year for the manta rays and that hardly any had been spotted in the last few months which was peak season for them. I have not been very hopeful about seeing them and had resigned myself to enjoy the diving for what it was. But, we swim out to the blue and all of a sudden, coming from far away out of the blue, I saw something — big swooping wings!! A FREAKING MANTA RAY!!! . I frantically grabbed both Jessie and Laney screaming into my regulator to get their attention. I pointed and they saw. Jessie grabbed both Laney and I forcing us to stay still. I guess, fearing we would swim towards it. We sat there suspended in the water as the manta ray swim towards us. At first it swAm overhead so close, Laney could’ve touched it. But of course, she did not. That would be improper. Then, as we stayed in the same spot, the manta ray met up with another manta ray. About 10 yards away. They came together, belly to belly, facing the sky, and twirled around each other and what looked like a dance, or maybe it was a challenge. Then they swim away one on top of the other beyond where we could see. Of course, we were ecstatic, over the moon excited. But then, one came back!!  He came back, and swam in front of the three of us and very specifically and obviously trained one of his eyes on us within 5 feet of our faces. Examining us, maybe trying to figure out what we were. He hovered there for at least a minute then proceeded to swim around us a few more times. Unfortunately, my excessive excitement caused me to breathe heavily. My crying, not just tears but actual sobbing – underwater, may have had something to do with my air consumption. I was running out of air. Jessie, our instructor, obviously had stayed calmer than me, and she had air to spare, so we were able to stay down a little longer. I never ended up needing her air, but I probably came back to the boat with very little.

I can’t even describe to you what an amazing experience it was. It brings me to tears just writing this. I hope I get to do that again someday. I’m told in the Philippines they see them often. I’m definitely gonna make it there.

Upon completing the dive trip, we return to land and once again to Khaolak. This time, we would stay in a different hotel, which I thought was a little further away. Much to my surprise, it was a mere block away from the original hotel. Ha! And – happy days- near that little shack of a restaurant that we loved. With all the food and banana smoothies to boot!! Laneys fave. Both of these small resorts were somewhat hidden and on small streets at least one kilometer from the main action. Which is kind of how I like it. In both resorts,  I was able to rent a bicycle for 100 baht per day which is about three American dollars.  This proved to be the best way to see the sights. Although, one evening when Laney and I rode to dinner the pedal of my bike kept coming off. Yikes! Ha!! Challenges.

A side note in food and drink in Thailand. There are several places that we have visited that we cannot drink the tap water. We are also told no uncooked food of any kind. Unless we wash and prepare it ourselves. Not only is this extremely limiting, and annoying (try to brush your teeth and remember not to use any water) but it also just give you an icky feeling all around. At least for us it did. And then there is all that gray area. Like, washing dishes and can you use them if they aren’t dry? Wash your vegetables in bottled water? No mixed drinks in the restaurant because they have ice? Or lime?

On our first visit to Thailand we ate at the resort restaurant and mostly avoided uncooked food. However at the lunch lessons with our instructors everyone was ordering drinks with lemon and fruit so we did too. Hence the start of Laneys banana smoothie obsession. Ha. We had found. Good cheap restaurant that we didn’t have to worry about eating at.

Now In Khaolak, same thing. We saw a recommendation in the resort reviews for this restaurant so we tried it. Banana and watermelon smoothies included. We felt fine so we continued to trust that restaurant. And we were fine.

Then in Vietnam, we stuck to restaurants our guide suggested. Or hot food. And at times branched out to other places. Banana smoothies and passion fruit mojito were our best friends. Ha. My conclusion is that as long as it’s a reputable place, either by a personal recommendation or by looking nice and being busy with foreigners – it’s ok. We took some chances. But we used our judgement and it was fine.

But brushing teeth with bottled water is still annoying!! Ha.

Overall, we did spend quite a bit of time relaxing at the hotel before and after the dive trip as spending three days on a boat is tiring enough and doing 10 dives besides – it’s practically exhausting. Ha.

A couple interesting random things

One was this takeaway carrier for drinks, like smoothies. I have not seen these in the US have you?

And these. Crackers? No I did not try them. Ha.

Out of Thailand and off to Vietnam.


Our arrival in Vietnam was probably our most eventful yet.  Not really in a good way. Ha

For starters, the Visa on Arrival process is a little disconcerting. We  had all our paperwork in order, photos printed, paperwork filled out and the approval letter in -hand.  We turn it all in, along with our passports, and wait on some benches nearby to see our name come up on a screen.  We were one of the first people off the plane so there weren’t too many people waiting but it was unnerving to hand over our passports. Laney had questions and concerns. I had no solid answers except that this seems to be the process and we can see others doing it. HA. That is as much assurance as you can get sometimes in travel.

We got called, we paid our money in USD because we had no access yet to an ATM or currency exchange, we got our passports back and THEN went through immigration.

Got our bags and grabbed an Uber to our place

the Uber ride was great  our driver was young and spoke a little English. We passed over the beautiful bridge that was lit up in changing colors. As he pulled off the main road he seemed confused  turned around once or twice. At one point the car hit a bump and I think was stuck judging by the crunching sound. He ordered us to get out. We reluctantly did. Did I mention it’s 10 pm and dark? And things look a little sketchy by US standards.  And our luggage is in the trunk.  He gets the car unstuck then tells us our place is a 100 meter walk down a narrow road that he cannot drive. I confirm that google shows me the way, and we set off. When we get to the spot that google tells us it’s looking kinda rough, but I see women and families walking around so it must not be too bad . I tell this to Laney to try to keep her calm. We are looking for #22 and we see #19 and #25 in front of us. Right next to each other. No 22.  Uh oh

We walk a bit down the road/ alley and I see a family with a little girl and baby unloading their car. I approach them and thank goodness they speak some English.  I ask them by showing them the address and the woman says it’s 1km away and tries to tell us how Tom walk there. I ask her if she can help,us get a taxi I don’t want to try to find our way and we have big bags. I am a bit hesitant to walk in this unknown area in the dark and I’m certain we will get lost. No way we will find the place without the help of a map and google has failed me for the first time.

She walks up the hill/driveway with us and flags down a taxi. A complete miracle this is because we are on a very quiet back street with hardly any cars. The driver is off duty but agrees to come back in 5 minutes. He has food in his hands as he walks away from the car so he is either delivering something or eating his dinner.  I am relieved. Laney is still freaking out. IDO eyeball a guy standing near us in workout clothes, but soon the driver comes, loads up our luggage and takes us to the right place which looks a little better but not much. Ha.inside our place is immaculate, gorgeous and HUGE! And the door man is kind enough to help us turn on the AC. (because it’s not in English of course). HA!

WHEW  Welcome to Vietnam!!

The next day I do my usual exploring and grocery shopping. On my own, Laney isn’t feeling well  – a fever, yikes.

In my wandering I see a few cool spots including Furbrew which I tell myself I’m coming back to later, and i do, and it’s awesome. The staff is a handful of college students, mostly women but one guy. They are friendly and speak good English and we have a great conversation about their lives. One wants to work in travel. The other wants to be a translator. They all want to travel. They ask where I’m going in Vietnam and give me pointers. I ask where to get pho and they suggest a place and I go the next morning (pho is eaten in the morning) and it’s awesome

I also looked up a restaurant nearby for dinner one night -and enjoyed a wonderful experience and meal.  Poor Laney stayed home. I think she would have even if she wasn’t sick. So far, based on our arrival, she was not liking Vietnam. Ha

LOOK at that beer list!! Yay!
Condiments available for adding to your pho. I used soy and the red pepper sauce and some fresh chili’s.
Pho choices. Thank goodness there was an English description.

Being near the flower night market I think there were more of these in this area than others. Women selling beautiful flowers from a bike.
Gorgeous right?

I attended an Airbnb experience which was a dinner in the old quarter. I had some trouble with the Uber getting there but finally made it. The food was vegetarian and good. The company was partly American and partly German. Nice folks but we didn’t hang together long.
The entrance area to the Forest  restaurant.
Inside the restaurant
Beautiful inside the restaurant.
Delicious meal of fresh spring rolls and eggplant
Cool restaurant in our neighborhood in the skirts of Hanoi

Aa few days later, we moved to our tour hotel in the Old Quarter.  I could not Believe how busy it was !! And loud! Constant honking!!

My friend Leslie suggested I stop by this posh hotel to see the pool bat and have a drink.
I asked, and the waitress suggested this fancy drink – the most expensive one there but still only about fifteen American. I had no idea what this would entail.
It’s hard to see in the picture but the liquor is being poured through 3 cups of spices and caught at the bottom. It is also on FIRE! Cool. It is caught at the bottom in a steel pitcher and while still on fire in the pitcher it is poured back through over and over.

The drink was very unique – the flavors were so amazing and different without being sweet. It included chili pepper so it also hd a kick. And it was served with lovely munchies.

Walking around Hanoi,  especially in the old quarter, is quite an experience! There are so many bikes, mixed with some cars, and there are no real laws regarding traffic. What we would consider a law, the Vietnamese consider only a suggestion. For example, which side of the road you should be driving on.  At times, I thought I was crossing a one-way street. But, not so! It is a 2 Way Street! only, if there’s no traffic the other way, people drive on the full width of the street.  Also, traffic lights. It is absolutely not unusual for cars and especially motorbikes to continue driving through a red light.

Crossing the street, especially in the old quarter,  is a little different for Local’s versus tourists. Locals will literally just start walking, completely trusting that the traffic won’t hit them. Tourists, on the other hand, wait for traffic to lighten up, a little bit. However, there is never a time when you can cross without traffic. You are always walking slowly, making eye contact with the drivers, trying to better the chances that they will drive in front or behind you, instead of through you.

Of course, my favorite trick, was to follow the locals across the street. Particularly, the older women in the traditional Vietnamese pointed hat. It seemed like the Red Sea would part for them. So if you align yourself with the right person you are much better off.

As usual, we met with our tour group at 6 PM in the lobby, and then headed out to dinner. It was a mix of people, some older, some about my age, and one young person, Lila, who is 21 and traveling alone. She immediately expressed gratitude at being with the group, versus the first few days on her own in Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.

Lake at the center of Hanoi
Cool statue in front of a building. There were two, and they were about my size!
Narrow hallway to our hotel room
First dinner with the Vietnam tour group
Pumpkin soup was really good and pretty common in Vietnam.
Fish with dill ina banana leaf
Traditional Vietnamese hats – apparently come in many sizes, including tiny ones for tiny people? HA
Laney and Laila at the post it cafe.
Jim, Jackie and I at the post it cafe where we had our first egg coffee! OMG so good I can’t wait to make it at home!!
Beautiful – not even sure what it is! HA!
Perfectly aligned motorbike parking! Vietnam is the self-proclaimed motorbike capital of the world! In Ho Ch Minh City (formerly Saigon) there are about 11 million people, and 8.5 million motorbikes!!!
Gorgeous enormous tree growing in the middle of Hanoi.
Statue at the water puppet theater.
We attended the obligatory water puppet show which was pretty cool.
Crabs for sale on the streets of Hanoi.
My favorite meal here next to lemongrass chili chicken. Pronounced Boon Chow.
Bun Cha and a Hanoi beer. Known as the Obama combo because this is what obama ate when he was here!
Selling chicken on the street. Heads included!
Street food tour!! One of my favorite things of the whole dang trip! Great food, great fun and I learned a lot. The Bun Cha was on this tour too, that’s how I learned about the Obama combo.
Pronounced Bang Me. I laughed when the girl said it. She said it’s important that Me be lower than Bang. Tone of up or down has a lot of meaning in Vietnam.
BIA. In Vietnam, you say beer like a Boston guy. This is the beer lady. This beer is made fresh every day and only lasts 24 hours. And costs about 25 cents per glass. But it’s good!!
Chicken feet for sale!!
This is a snack, kind of like donut holes. We were advised not to eat them from the women selling them in the streets as they could be old.  These are cut up.  They are savory, not sweet. They have pork and I think green beans in them.
Vietnamese Apple. Looks like the thing the garden guy gave me in Thailand. Tastes about the same too.
Ok so weasel coffee is coffee beans eaten by a weasel then pooped out then cleaned and sold for grinding and making coffee. I shit you not. Hahaha.


As per our tour itinerary, we were to leave the next evening to take the overnight train to the north west of Vietnam, close to the borders Of China and Laos. We would be Viking a nearby minority’s village, then spending a night in a SaPa hotel, then trekking to a remote minority village for a homestay, then coming back by van and heading back to Hanoi for another night

Drums that are hand made by the people in the small minority’s village we visited.
Our cabin on the overnight train! A little old but clean. Sleeping was interesting, as the turns of the train Almost rolled you over and would have tossed me out of bed a few times but for the rail holding me in! I thought I slept well but got really tired later so I guess I did not!
Beautiful flowers are supposed to have medicinal powers. I think to help with hangovers. Bean sprouts, by the way, are supposed to help men, like Viagra.
The rooster is outside the cage, seemingly patrolling or guarding the hens inside….hmmm
A group of kids playing Chinese chess
A quick shot of a cave we went into at the top of the hill at the village.
Beautiful views from the bus on the way to SaPa
Outside a small local restaurant in SaPa
White rooster perched outside a hotel entrance.
Grapefruit tree outside the same hotel.
Beautiful shot looking down on SaPa
Hot pot dinner with the group. They bring all the food uncooked and you put it in the broth to cook it. Kinda like fondue. Same same, but different – as they say in Vietnam.
Church at SaPa lit up,at night.
Small children dress up in traditional costum and sell their wares. This was not during school hours but we were warned not to buy from kids because then they don’t go to school
Hot wine!! All of Vietnam was hot and humid butnSaPa was COLD. this hot wine with fresh fruit after dinner hit the spot! Supposedly a specialty of SaPa
Beautiful views on our trek. It was about 10 km
These ledges are built by hand with shovels. The government owns the land but allocates a certain amount per person to farm the rice and eat it or sell it. Families work together to divide the work of farming while others work in tourism or construction.
Beautiful homes on stilts.
At our rest spot on the trek we chewed sugar cane to extract the juice and then you spit out the fiber. Obviously it’s very sweet but quite refreshing!
We see how rice and wheat were ground into flour. I tried it, it’s not easy! Those parts are made from stone and they are HEAVY!!
Pretty flowers on the trek
The trek group with the local women.
End of the trail I meet Laney at the homestay… and she wants to take a walk. HA!!! I’ve been walking all day but I go anyway.
Pretty river near the homestay
Dinner at the homestay, with homemade rice wine. It was SO good tasted strong but smooth and clean.
Food at the homestay dinner. So so good. I don’t have a pic but we had crepes the next morning. PILES of crepes.


Laney and Laila at dinner
The local women pulled leaves and branches from the bamboo on the path to make us figures. I thought it was a chair. Ha. Laney says it’s an animal.
Hard to see in this pic but these are supposed black footed chickens who also have black meat, and they are supposed to have medicinal powers. Imagine a black chicken breast? Doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.
This cat was in a bar in SaPa. He climbed down from the chimney when we arrived. Maybe fearing someone would light a fire? We called him squeaky because he NEVER SHUT UP. HA.
Cats around the world.
Love this photo
Back in Hanoi for one more night, I decided I must try the popular beer snack. Chicken feet with dipping sauce.
Time to try a local specialty, fried chicken feet. They had pickled too but I just couldn’t do that. Best part of this photo is Laney in the background, cringing.
Have to say the fingernails, rather toenails, freaked me out a bit.
Not bad!! Tastes like fried chicken. The colnel should get these going at KFC!! Think they would be a hit? HA.
Only Stan and I tried it. He’s one first guy on the left.
Cooking eating on the sidewalk is normal in Hanoi. In Vietnam in general. Seats are small so they can be moved quickly. Technically you aren’t supposed to sit on the sidewalk. Forces pedestrians to walk in the street and I’ve already explained about the street traffic. Nonetheless, the sidewalks are crowded with people and chairs. If and when the police come, everything must be moved off the sidewalk. Although I think this may depend on the ‘relationship’ you have with the police if you know what I mean.
Another person cooking. Not just for businesses, but how they cook their own meals as far as I can tell.
Next day on the way to Halong Bay we stopped at a place where disabled folks make crafts like needlework and carvings from stone. Some of these folks are born disabled supposedly due to the lingering effects of agent orange. Either environmentally or passed genetically.
I so want this Buddha.
A candy/cake meant to be eaten with unsweetened green tea. This cake is rather sweet and supposedly made from green beans.
Our room on the Halong Bay boat. So much nicer than the dive boats! Private bathroom! Who boo.
Beautiful flowers, prickly stem. Relatable for me.
Beautiful Halong. I have to say it would have been prettier on a sunny day. And it’s rather crowded, boats everywhere. There is a nearby bay that is not as crowded, and I would have gone there if I was on my own but sometimes it’s just so much easier to let someone else be in charge, like Rocky at G Adventures. . Ha.
There. Are 1,969 islands in Halong Bay and the area is over 1000 km!! If you stay overnight for 2 or more nights you go out further and there are fewer people
This is the other bay.
After our stay on the boat, we went to a pearl factory. Where they raise the oysters, and pearls and then make them into jewelry. Did you know a cultured pearl is made by putting a seed made from oyster shell INTO an oyster? Then toss him in the water and wait a few years. Pull him out and harvest the oyster. Who knew? Before this process, only naturally occurring oysters were available and thus were much more expensive.
Harvesting pearls. Imperfect ones are sold and ground up for cosmetics.
Oyster surgery. She is inserting the seed in JUST the right place.
Laila and Laney.
Dinner with the group. Notice Laney is sitting as FAR AWAY from me as possible. Ha. Yes, we spend a lot of time together so when we can, we separate. Ha.

After Halong Bay we made our way back to Hanoi for a few hours, picked up our bigger luggage and hopped on another overnight train to Hue. Pronounced something like We with an H at the beginning  HWE.  In Hue, we had a nice dinner and everyone opted for the motorbike tour the next day.  ‘Professional’ drivers would drive us around Hue to see all the sights  I have to say, this was one of our favorite things in Vietnam.  So much more interesting and interactive than traveling by car or bus. And you get around faster too!  We were mainly out of the city, Thank goodness because the bit where we came back into town to our hotel was a bit crazy! We loved it but I’m not sure we were all that safe.  Ha

First stop on the motorbike tour is this Japanese bridge.
BABY DUCKIES!! For sale in the market.
Fruits and vegetables in the market many I cannot identify with any certainty
Beautiful field of rice. In the north, Sapa, it had not yet been planted. Because of the cooler weather they do one planting per year up north. Two per year in central Vietnam, and three per year in the south.
Green as far as you can see.


Fish at the kings residence, no longer in use. We learned about the mandarins and the concubines. THe king could declare any woman a concubine if she caught his eye, and she was required to live in his compound and be his until he chose to let her go. Usually upon his death. Even if she was married it’s children, she was required to desert them !!


More sights inside the imperial city.
Inside the imperial city.
The motorbike gang. Ha.

hen biking it was suggested we wear masks due to the air quality. Many many people in Vietnam wear these when riding a motorbike. Ours were disposable but quality ones are for sale on the street by the thousands in every conceivable color and pattern imaginable!

Beautiful Buddha at the temple we stopped for lunch.
Beautiful orchids at the temple. I think Vietnam has the perfect weather for orchids. Hot and humid.
Also at the temple.
Buddha at the temple
Laney and her motorbike guide.
Crazy cool looking Jeep.

Above, display of incense for sale.  Each color is a different scent.

Laney took a turn at rolling the incense onto the stick. It’s like a dough-like consistency and you roll it onto the stick. It takes 24 hours to dry after that before you can use it.

I saw this painting and I wanted it so much. I just love it…

Beautiful river

Our motorbike gang, HA.

Beautiful stairway at the king’s burial place.  According to Rocky (our guide), most likely the kings bodies are not really there – they are buried by very few of their closest guards, and likely moved to a secret location.

Can one BE cool, with a face mask? HA I gave it my best shot!

Lunch at the Budhist temple.

Laney makes it look cool. hA

Drinks with the rowdy group after motorbikes and dinner. Some are saying the Vietnamese ‘cheers’, which is Moat, Hi, Bah, ZO (spelled phonetically). For one, two, three, cheers.

This is either the shrine I stepped on, or one that looks a lot like it.  In my defense, it was basically right behind my chair when I was sitting having my drink.  I was SO MORTIFIED when I did it. But the waiter says it happens a lot.  Perhaps they should find a different place to put it.  HA

When in Hoi An, we took bicycles around the countryside. Between the rice fields.

This is a photo of a famous post card in Vietnam. Its supposed to be the oldest couple in Vietnam.

Cool statue. We stopped at a lookout point when traveling from Hue to Hoi An.  The top of the Hai Van Pass.  I bought a Buddha stone necklace (for about $3) and snapped this photo of a cool statue.

A cool bike in Hoi An made of bamboo. Bamboo and coconut are so commont, they are used for many many things.  


Beautiful table setting for our group dinner.

Beautiful lanterns

One of Laney’s favorites – dragon fruit. Everyone in the group knew, if they didn’t want theirs, Laney would eat it. HA

Beautiful wildflowers growing along the rice fields.

AND, here I am with that famous old couple from the postcard. We visited their organic farm and got to try a few things like watering the garden manually.  He’s like 97 and she is like 90 if memory serves. Obviously, that’s a pretty long time to live – for anyone, but more so when you consider the average lifespan in Vietnam is less than 60 years! that’s like someone in the US living to 120..

Beautiful homes that border the farm.

Water buffalo were very common in Vietnam. Grazing in or near the rice fields. We had the opportunity to have a photo taken while ON the buffalo. I chose to take a selfie. HA

Beautiful beaches of Hoi An.

A snack served before our ‘boat’ ride. We were to ride on coracles, which are small round boats powered by paddle


Gorgeous palms (I guess they are some kind of palm) on the edges of the waterways.


A grasshopper ring that my boat ‘captain’ made for me from a leaf!

and a beautiful flower!




HA! This guy nailed it. A fishing pole and fish for me! Again, he made it in 5 minutes from a leaf nearby. So cool. I couldn’t take it with me so I gave it to Stan (friend on the tour) for his grandson



We went to a noodle making class in Hoi An. It is sponsored by the tour company G-Adventures. Its such a cool concept, I could see coming back here. The organization, Streets, takes young people from impoverished conditions and trains them in the food and restaurant industry. They teach them too cook, or serve, and graduates from here are much in demand at the high-end establishments around Vietnam. The course INCLUDES learning English and it’s an 18-month program. This may be a great volunteer opportunity for me in the future.



This is launching the boat – but on the way back to the ‘dock’ / land, we raced, and, of course, my boat won. Well, because I had to. HA. I paddled as hard as I could, with absolutely no mind to steering. The ‘professional’ probably had a hard time keeping us on course. Steering a ROUND boat is pretty tough! HA.

Lanterns around Hoi An. So beautiful day and night.

Laney trying her hand at being a Vietnamese street vendor. It was HEAVY! Good, go to college. HA.

Oh Look, an Irish Pub. How shocking. I swear there is one everywhere. AND, we were in Vietnam on St. Pattys’.

My favorite motorbike I saw in Vietnam. This was in Hoi An.


Pina colada for Laney

Most expensive drink I had in Vietnam. And the cheapest dirty martini I’ve ever had in a bar/restaurant. Maybe $4??

A common sight – restaurants serving on the sidewalk.

While in Hoi An, we floated some lighted lanterns on the river for some special people in our lives. Laney and I each did one for my Mom, and I did one for Mai Hong, a Vietnamese girl in my class in grade school, who was killed in 8th grade. Jackie, a Canadian woman we became close to on the tour, and her husband, Jim, lit one for their moms too. We definitely bonded over missing moms.

Beautiful sights from the river

Another Irish pub. Not a seat in the house on St Patty’s night! Live Irish Music and everything.

This is a dragon fruit tree. FREAKY LOOKING right?? We visited an island in the Mekong Delta where the residents grow fruit. The Mekong experience was SO much fun. Boats, and tuk tuks and sleeping al fresco.

Dorian fruit tree (I think – they look similar to Jack fruit so I’m not 100% sure)

Special tea they served on the fruit island.

These urns, as you can see, collect the rainwater from the roof of the home.


Durian fruit

Small pineapple plant. For decoration.

I think the small fruits above are eaten by the locals and give a booze/cigarette kind of high. If you eat like 50-100 a day. HA

Snacks served with honey tea that remind me of peanut brittle. Same same but different. HA.

Crazy flower growing at the bee farm


Honey tea served at the bee farm. We got to hold the hive ‘drawers’ which were crawling with bees, and get a fingerful of honey right from it! Very cool. Laney, of course, passed on that experience.


This is also a pineapple plant, and also one for decoration. Personally, I think this looks AWFUL! Some kind of abomination of nature. Yuck.


Making chocolate. These are the cocoa seeds. We were each allowed to ‘eat’ one, which is really just sucking the soft/slimy stuff off of the inner hard seed, which is where the cocoa comes from. We saw the process for making chocolate and were able to try some.


Another pineapple abomination. HA

Probably Laney’s favorite part of the Mekong Delta trip – holding this (king?) python. It’s a constrictor, so not poisonous. It was SUPER HEAVY though. She wouldn’t touch the bee hive, but THIS, well, this is OK. HA


OK I liked it too.  HA


Cocao pods


Making coconut candy.

Man fishing on a tributary of the Mekong

Women hand-wrapping the coconut (and other flavor) candies.

Snake Whiskey. Yes, we drank some. It was good!

All of these are made with coconut wood. SO beautiful, wish I could have brought some home!!


Laney and Laila in traditional Vietnamese hats. Laney doing this somewhat under duress. HA

Beautiful flowers growing from this old tree.

Awesome place we stopped for lunch


Pond and decorative stones at the restaurant.


Yup. Butter fried. Frog legs. Tastes like chicken. But smaller. HA

me and my travel buddy.


These beautiful plants were growing on top of the water, when a boat when by, the whole thing moved, like a green plant-wave.


Getting around the Mekong, between the islands, we had a motor boat. But to get to our homestay for the night, we left one of the islands in a canoe type boat. Followed by a walk, a (rather exciting) tuk tuk ride, and a bit of a walk again. Jackie and Jim joined us in our little boat. And yes the hats are helpful for keeping cool! They really keep the sun off your face and shoulders and are much needed! Funny how we were cold in SaPa and then hot most of the rest of Vietnam. It’s a very long country.


A very unique looking coconut that grows on these trees.

Close up of that crazy coconut

Tunnel of palms as we a ride a small boat on a tributary of the Mekong, on our way to our homestay

Tuk Tuk rides with sugar cane juice

The rest of our group in the other tuk tuk

Home for the night! Basic beds under cover, open air, with mosquito nets.

Rocky taking a rare breather. Rocky was our guide on this G Adventures tour.

Chilling in the hammock at the homestay

The tiny rickety bridge we walked over when we left the homestay.

Its not very big. Or very stable. But it’s not a long fall and probably not deep water, so no biggie. HA

Beautiful flowers. Same as our cannas but different flowers.


Thoren, Stephan and Laila.

Cococut milk on the way. back to the mainland.

Map of the Mekong Delta and the islands we visited


Display representing the Cu Chi Tunnels as they were used in the Vietnam War (as it is known in the US). In Vietnam, it’s called the American war (although the French had a lot to do with it, they aren’t mentioned). There are multiple levels. Meeting and eating rooms at the top could be used unless there was bombing, in which case the lower tunnels had to be used. In a worst case scenario, the Viet Cong had to exit via the tunnel far lower right, into water.


One type of entry into the tunnels, the most common, is a very small hole in the ground, covered by a small platform and leaves. Almost impossible to see when closed.

This is the cover still slightly raised. And it’s nearly invisible.

Another type of entry, much more visible. Were used under cover (tarp, etc,) in main areas where the Viet Cong were based.

We saw MANY of these while there. Different types of traps set up by the Viet Cong in the jungles. Our guide ‘admitted’ that they were short on manpower and weapons and so they had to use what they and and emphasis was put on psychological warfare. Not only to eliminate the enemy but to make it ugly and painful to destroy morale. Falling into this, with spinning bars with spikes, which puncture all over your body – would definitely accomplish that. And, like I said, this is only one of many examples that we saw.  Pretty gruesome and scary.


In HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon) there is a great street food market, which was very near our hotel, so we went there a few times.

Laney’s Cheesesteak from the Street Food Market. Served with CHOP STICKS??

Beautiful building in HCMC

Lemongrass mojito on our farewell dinner

Highest cocktails in HCMC, the round platform at the top is a helicopter pad. Pretty cool.

View from the tower

my fancy drink

Random photo, but this is the ceiling of a car I drove in to go to a cooking class. It was not unusual for cars and vans and even buses in Vietnam to have the ceiling covered in plastic.

Cool multi-colored lights on the building next to the tower where we had cocktails.

Unusual vending machine fare. Fruit!

After the tour ended, Laney and I had booked an airbnb for a few nights. It had 2 bedrooms, so we had some extra space, which is nice. What was also great was our friend Laila from the tour joined us for a night.

The airbnb we stayed in HCMC had a locked door AND a gate to be locked every night! we were quite secure. HA.

Our airbnb in HCMC, where we went after the tour was over, was down this small alley lined with local restaurants, which are basically food trucks and seats. Our coffee shop, right outside our door, made amazing coffee, and we had 3 for less than what we paid for 1 coffee near our tour hotel.  I thought SEA was pretty cheap when paying tourist prices. But local prices are crazy cheap! HA

We didnt plan much for our extra nights at the Airbnb. As usual, after a ‘always moving’ tour, we were pretty tired. I went for drinks with Laila and met a few from our group at the tower I mentioned above.

A day or two later I attended a cooking class I had booked a while back. It was a bit of a drive out of town (like an hour), which I could have done without after all the driving and traveling we had done on the tour, but it was SO worth it!! I went in the afternoon and I was the ONLY ONE in the class!

Garden where the cooking class was held. A lizard is at the top of that middle sunflower. As an organic farm, there are no pesticides used, and, as a result, there are lots of frogs and lizards to take care of the bugs!


Above a front view of the mushrooms. My guide explained a complicated mixture of ingredients that go into these bottles, and explained that, once that is done, the amount of mushrooms you see here (the big ones) will grow in 24 hours!! Can you imagine? I bet if you sat for a bit, you could actually SEE them grow

Close up of the mushrooms at the farm where my cooking class was held.

Some of my fresh ingredients from the garden for my cooking. (my mouth is watering thinking about the food).

This is how peanuts grow… underground!


These are the spring rolls I made. So good. Deep fried, which is not normally my thing, but I was told if the temperature is right, hardly any oil is absorbed. Plus, they are served with LOTS of fresh greens. The traditional way to eat them – pile up a bunch of greens, wrap them around the spring rolls – so there is really more greens than anything.  SO SO YUMMY!!

Beautiful garden.

There is a big frog near the edge of the patio here. If you can see it.


The amazing dishes I prepared in the cooking class. SO YUMMY!

Many houses in Vietnam were very tall, and not wide. We were told this was because when the French imposed taxes, they were based on ground floor square footage – so you could go higher without paying more taxes.  HUH. Makes sense  now. HA. Buildings in Vietnam were VERY varied. Like all of South East Asia, I imagine. Beautiful, perfect ones next to run-down ones.



Laney and I went out to dinner and met this nice woman, Sasha, from South Africa. Sasha got certified in Thailand to teach English and the company sent her to work in HCMC. She is provided a salary, plus a place to live and a motorbike. Hmm might be a good early retirement plan! Sasha and I have stayed in touch on Facebook.. I hope to visit her in South Africa or somewhere else in the future. She’s fun! HA

I so wanted to get one of these painted hats. Doesn’t pack or ship well, though. HA.


That was it for Vietnam! Off to Borneo next! More jungle. Laney, not happy. HA!

Australia Part 3 – Melbourne, The GOR and Mojo Take 2

This is the third and final post on Australia!!  Been a long time coming I know. It’s busy out here exploring the world!! Ha!

Arriving in Melbourne, we took an Uber to our apartment, which was in the University section. Our apartment definitely had a ‘university’ feel to it, which is to say it had a single/twin bed in each room and it was very basic. With a bit of an odour. HA. Oh well. It was clean enough and we had our own rooms which was nice. I spent some time with a nice bloke (ha) that we had met in Airlie beach, and I also met up with Andy, who was one of our assistant dive instructors in Thailand. I went to some nice restaurants. Had a walk around downtown, which has a river and some nice bars along the river near the botanical garden. Because of the river and bridges over it, I was reminded a bit of Chicago. Except much much warmer. For January anyway. Laney relaxed for the few days we were in Melbourne. I think she even got some school work done. Maybe.

We headed out to the Great Ocean Road on a Monday morning. Good coincidental timing since it’s busier on the weekends. We drove a few hours, stopped for lunch in Lorne And then continued to Apollo Bay where I had booked us a room at a hostel, per a recommendation from Polly at Mojo Surf. The place was really nice. 2 huge kitchens and nice upper and lower decks and a comfy and clean lounge/living room. The only downside, no en suite. Laney NOT happy. HA.

On the way we saw this cool house (room? Apartment?) on the cliff attached to the main house by an elevated walkway. It was tough to get a photo because we were moving on a two lane road.

Cooking chili! Happy Days as they say in Australia. I’ve got my wine and my music and I’m COOKING Ha. Really enjoyed it. And I felt good knowing that, after I left, they had a few sharp knives in the place. They were SO DULL I was really glad I had my sharpener. Still so glad I brought it.

That evening we went out to the brewery for dinner and the next morning headed out for the drive to the best sites of the GOR. 12 Apostles. The Arch. London Bridge. The Grotto. It was a lot of driving for a couple days. I would suggest one more day, and maybe stay closer to those sites – like maybe in in Port Campbell – one night. But overall, it was really amazing and I’m so glad we did it!

Above – the 12 Apostles. Only 8 or 9 left.

Alternate view – looking the other way from the 12 apostles. The one above is called The Arch

Above -London Bridge. There used to be two arches but one fell.