Friday, July 25, 2008

The Rest of South America!

Okay - wow it has been a long time since we updated last but when you live in the jungle for a month it is tough to find the internet let alone the time! Get comfy cause this is going to take awhile!

So we left off in Copacabana, Bolivia. After the Sun Island we took the bus across the border to Peru, I almost got us in serious trouble with the border police over $7, I know its not much but it was the principle. Lesson: in South America, ALWAYS make sure you have a piece of paper when you enter a country and the same piece of paper when you exit, even if the official doesn't give you one on entry ASK FOR IT - LEARN HOW TO SAY THAT IN SPANISH or it will cost you! Needless to say after some begging and pleading we got them to reopen the counter, got our exit stamp and stomped out of Bolivia and into Peru. Hopped back onto the bus and drove to the other side of Lake Titicaca in Puno. We decided to walk to find our hostel instead of spending $1 to taxi a moto taxi (yes, we are cheap, but we also didn't change any money yet and so we had nothing to pay for the taxi with.) We found a great place that was way cheaper than anything in the guide book, Los Abuelos, right off the main pedestrian street and really good breakfast, great service, great place. We had FANTASTIC pizza, and found a tour for more of Lake Titicaca's islands. We went to Uros, the reed islands, the entire island and EVERYTHING (house, boat, kitchen, bed, food, everything) is made of reeds, learned how they make it, sampled the reeds (not so tasty we both got stomach aches) and I got to ride on the reed boat. Then we went to Taquile, a beautiful island that is still very traditional. We had lunch at the house of a family, they did a demonstration of their traditional weaving and explanations of the clothing (they have different hats for married and single men) showed us how they dance and sing, how only men knit (men must learn how to knit because the women judge them on it when considering marriage) - it was a respectful look into their traditions and way of life.

Then we went to Cuzco, found our travel company SAS Travel and paid for our 4 day Lares Valley trek and found a hostel, another great find just around the corner from all the expensive places (I don't remember the name but it was on Siete Cuartones just up the block from the Santa Teresa Church). We found somewhere to eat, found some school supplies for the kids along the trek, packed our bags with only the things we would need for the next four days since we were carrying them (no porters for us) and went to bed since we had to meet our group at 5 am to start the drive and the trek to Machu Picchu. Let me say this SAS provided us with an AWESOME group leader, Jose, who in his spare time has started a group with some other tour guides who provide clothing, presents and food during the Christmas holiday to over 500 people living in the areas where they trek - an amazing way to give back to the communities that they interact with all year. Our chef and cook were magicians, the food they made from a portable stove and food they carried all the way from Cuzco was some of the best food I have ever eaten! The scenery was breath taking - as was the altitude, we climbed three passes 4200 M, 4600 M and 4400 M, but it was people and especially the children we met along the way that made it unforgettable. They had so little, lived in really harsh conditions (at that altitude, little grows, most kids walk at least 2 HOURS to get to school one way! and it is cold and windy) but they are so HAPPY and so GRATEFUL for everything we gave them, from the snacks that SAS provided to the school supplies and toys our group had brought to hand out in exchange for photos. Well, we made it, up and down, up and down and up and down again and finally to Machu Picchu which was also mind boggling - not only because of its location, not only because it is really amazing, but because it was so thoughtful, everything meant something and was so well planned. Jose explained everything and made the place even more magical, and as if the 3 days of hiking to get to Machu Picchu wasn't enough we decided to hike to Huayna Picchu to get a different view of Machu Picchu - TOTALLY WORTH IT! And then we opted to WALK down back to Agua Calientes! We hit the not so hot hot springs and went to bed. The next day we made our way back to Cuzco and said goodbye to our group who were really great! But we met up with the crazy dutch partiers and Jose for a night on the town and had a blast drinking and dancing in Cuzco! We spent a couple more days in Cuzco wondering around, going to the markets, checking out the churches and the architecture and relaxing - we got 1 hour massages for $7!

Next was Nazca, not a lot to do here except see the lines, which was really interesting - the little plane was not for weak stomachs the views were magnificent and the lines very interesting, but this place does not deserve a night, you can get off he bus, find a tour company, do the tour and continue on in less than 2 hours! So from here we headed along the coast to Ica and more specifically the oasis town of Huacachina known for its 40 kms of huge sand dunes and the companies who do buggy sand boarding tours!!! Of course we hit that up, and it was awesome - you travel out to the sand dunes in a giant buggies for 8 people, then slide down dunes up to 250 meters almost straight down and some did it on their stomachs to go fast and then crash or not at the bottom or you can snow board down the dune, which was a lot more work, a lot slower but a lot safer! We tried both, no big wipe-outs, caught air a few times and had too much fun!

We took the bus to Lima, hung out in the bus station for a few hours, ate KFC because it was the only thing close to the station and were finally off to Trujillo where we caught the local bus to Huanchaco to do some surfing! We took surf lessons, Denis was way better than I was although we both got up and surfed in at least a couple waves - learned from one of the best in the sport and had a great time. We also watched the fishermen go out to fish on their reed boats that are very similar to surf boards and some say they were the origianl surfers although Hawaii disputes that.

And then our really long bus journey begins - we took the bus from Trujillo to Piura (7 hours), from Piura to Loja, Ecuador (with the 3 hour wait for the border crossing 11 hours) and from Loja to we thought Guayaquil but got on the wrong bus and went to Cuenca (5 hours) and then finally to Guayquil (4 hours)- 27 hours later we arrived in Guayquil, found a hotel with TV, comfy beds, HOT water! and a fan cause it was HOT! The next day we searched out and found our boat for the Galapagos - after almost booking with GALASAM we found out that the guy we talked to MARIO - LIED about the boat, rushing us into purchasing the tour and being generally slimy we booked with MOONRISE TRAVEL - got a great deal, and had no problems. The tour didn't leave for a few days so we decided to do some travelling along the coast. We took a crazy bus to Montanita - a very touristy surfer town, a little pricey but great beach and great waves. Denis went surfing again and got thrashed about, but found some waves to ride and learned a little. After a couple nights there we went to Canoa and spent a couple nights (and my birthday) in this very relaxed town with the most beautiful beach the the warmest ocean water we ever felt - almost like bath water...AWESOME! A great hostel (Bambu) on the water for $10 a night and great breakfasts at Cafe Flor! Then we made our way to Montecristi - the home of the Panama Hat and found Denis a great hat for the Galapagos!

And back to Guayaquil we went to fly to the Galapagos! Okay - the pictures (we posted on facebook - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=58579&l=41da3&id=570536549 )say it all. We were on the Merak, a small 8 passenger sailboat (a little too small - but we had fun) with the oldest tour guide, Ceasar who was in his late seventies. We saw Marine and Land Iguanas, Sea Lions - EVERYWHERE, Blue footed Boobies, Albatross, Frigate Birds, Masked Boobies, Flamingos, and a whole lot of other birds, swam with giant turtles, Sharks, all kinds of fish, and saw giant land Tortoises including Lonesome George! The scenery was amazing, every kind of beach you can think of, the volcanoes were incredible and the water was amazing. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I hope that this place can continue to be the haven for animals that made it so special.

From the Galapagos we went back to the mainland and headed to Riobamba, we were going to check out the train, Nariz del Diablo but you had to get up very early and we were enjoying our hotel room too much. We ate dinner at street markets and found the AMAZING market which had every kind of fruit, vegetable and animal you could think of! We bought a delicious pineapple, and a whole watermelon for $1 each and went back to hide in our hotel and eat them in front of the TV before we headed into the jungle where we would volunteer for a month! So off we went from Riobamba to Chinimp Tuna in the village of Chico Copataza.

We spent a month with an amazing family, Nelva and Manuel and their family who included 9 children (although they ranged from 10 years old to around 40 - only three lived at home, but almost all the rest lived within walking distance) and their grandchildren. It was a gorgeous place in the jungle, they farmed yucca (a jungle root sort of like potato but not) and bananas, which are much heavier than I ever imagined, and mainly a fibre tree used for broom fibres. We worked SO hard, it was so hot and humid, the jungle is steep and muddy, and they work hard in their every day lives. Everyday collecting food to feed the family, every Saturday collecting bananas and papayas to sell at the market on Sundays, clearing the jungle so that the crops would have enough light to grow and not be consumed by the jungle. We collected clay (from the river) and carried it in baskets by our heads back to the artisan house to make clay bowls and cups and whatever we could make cause it is HARD but by the end I really got the hang of it and Nelva and I were kicking out chica bowls like crazy! Oh and the chica a alcohol made by boiling a LOT of yucca, mashing it up with another potato like root to speed up fermentation and then a whole lot of collective chewing and spitting until it is all chewed up and goopy. We also got to hike up to the waterfall Chinimp is named after - a gorgeous waterfall you can jump from if you have the guts - Denis did - I did not! We went fishing and they went hunting, we cleaned fibres to sell in the market, dug a toilet for the new volunteer house, helped build the new volunteer house which involved a lot of carrying of wood planks - wet, biting ant covered, really really heavy wood planks. We helped to cook and clean and learned a lot about the family, their history and their way of life, we learned about the area, the threat of oil companies the need for projects like this to bring income so they don't need to cut and sell the primary forest. It was inter sting to be in a community with no running water, that only had a road to the nearest community 35 kms away for 7 years and only had electricity for almost 2 years now. Garbage and its issues are new to them, until 7 years ago almost everything used was bio-degradable, the community is growing rapidly as large families are common, alcohol and cigarettes are new problems also since social drinking is a large part of their culture but chica is very weak form of alcohol unlike whisky or rum, and commercial tobacco is much more harmful than the tobacco they use for medical purposes. Needless to say we learned a lot, saw many things from a different point of view and met some amazing people who are strong, hard working, generous and extremely kind. We were very sad to leave.

For our last week we headed north to Otavalo for the big artisan market, found a few souvenirs, saw two festivals in the streets - one was a silent march for Mother Mary, the other a loud, musical street dance for I'm not sure what but it looked like a lot of fun. We went farther north to Ibarra and found a 'bullfight' but it was very amateur and no bulls were killed just the sport of having the bull run through the cloth was fun enough and was followed by a singer who everyone enjoyed. We walked around and enjoyed the colonial architecture and the ice cream (Ibarra is famous for ice cream). Then we went to Quito. We found the Museo de San Diego - AN AWESOME place, a great tour, though all in spanish but I think we got most of it, and great views of the Virgen de Quito from the roof. We checked out a few Churches, a lot of plazas, walked on the cobblestones on Morales (really beautiful) and did some shopping in the big malls. We also took the bus out to Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) and went to both parks - although the second smaller park a little farther along the road was much more interesting. We saw demonstrations of how water reacts on the equator, it goes straight down right on the equator and a few meters north or south it does swirl! You weigh less on the equator! Sun dials are vertical rather than horizontal on the equator. We stood on opposite hemispheres at the same time.

And then we came home! WOW!!

Thats it, most of it anyways! We are back in Canada so drop us a line some time!
We have posted a bunch of photos on facebook - here is the link:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=58579&l=41da3&id=570536549

Friday, May 02, 2008

BOLIVIA

So we arrived in Bolivia and immediately experienced the infamous Bolivian bus rides! We crossed rivers and bounced across gravel roads until we were literally praying for pavement - funny the things you take for granted at home! We were on our way from Villazon (the border between Bolivia and Argentina) and Cochabamba and just before we were suppose to get there, 25 kms to be exact, we ran into to our first blockade - not even in Bolivia for a full day and already we experienced what Bolivia is famous for! We had to walk about 5kms past the blockade then take a taxi to the bus terminal 25kms away, which only cost 40 Bolivianos (about 5 dollars). We finally got to the bus station and found out that we need to find a corner where minibusses stopped to pick up and drop off people. We asked to have a taxi take us the seven blocks but he told us to walk, and so we walked. Finally finding the mini bus corner we bought tickets and got on, thinking that we would be in Villa Tunari (the next volunteer spot) in a few hours, but there was a blockade on the other side that took a couple of hours to get around, and then a landslide on the way and then it was pouring sheets of rain, literally, but we got there! The next day we spent helping to construct a new cage while we waited for our tour and job assignments in Parque Machia. Denis was assigned to the monkey park and I was assigned to the albifrons. Denis was responsible for a short walk along the tourist trail where he fed and cleaned up after the monkeys that had been released in the park, but mostly cuddling, snuggling and protecting the monkeys from the tourists. I had to climb over a landslide, across multiple rivers, climb up and down which often meant slipping anf falling a lot to get to a group of nine monkeys that were being prepared for release - no touching, no talking - and I had to get them up into one part so I could clean the other and then back down so I could clean the first - EASIER SAID THAN DONE! These monkeys were smart - they have the intelligence of a four year old child and so they knew all my tricks and often outsmarted me, but it was fun. Denis got to know the monkeys by name and had his favourites, mostly the ones that did not pee on him but still fun to clean with a monkey on your shoulders. The rest of the park consisted of 10 pumas, a baby puma, an andean bear, 2 ocelots, about 30 - 40 spider monkeys, over 100 capuchin monkeys, countless wild squirrel monkeys and birds and small animals of all sorts. And I only got bit three times! The two weeks we spent there we met a ton of people from all over the world, it was a great experience and we are already planning when we can go back!

Back to Cochabamba (the blockades had finished) and off to La Paz. Such a beautiful city, perched high, very very high and spreads for ever but amazingly beautiful minus the car exhaust - which almost all comes from taxis I think we could count the private cars on one hand. We found the office for Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking (www.gravitybolivia.com) and booked our trip down the Worlds Most Dangerous Road! We nailed it! It was pretty scary but the scenery was beautiful and the biking got your adrenaline pumping especially when you come 6 inches from a passing jeep and a straight down cliff! I was the only person to totally wipe out - in water while crossing a river but was fine and they caught it on video, Denis stayed on his bike the whole timw. It was a great experience! Then to Rurrenbaque and the Pampas tour, we were with a great group of four guys from Isreal and two British girls, met some great guys from England and others from America. Saw a ridiculous amount of aligators, pink dolphins, fished for pirahnas, found and held an anaconda, saw birds, birds and more birds, a sloth, howler and squirrel monkeys and then went swimming in the same water with the dolphins, aligators and pirahnas. The food was horrible but the trip was great!

So now we are in Copacabana (not the one from the song) and went to walk the 9kms across Sun Island - beautiful! The scenery and the altitude take your breath away - seriously! We got our landry done! YEAH! (not exciting for you I know but very exciting for us!) And now off to Peru, we hike amoung the ancient Incas in 3 days! We will try to update sooner!

Friday, April 04, 2008

South America So Far!

So we have been gone a month! Hard to believe it has been that long already it feels like a week or maybe two! Here is the recap - I do not know how to use all the puncuation marks so I am trying not to use them, and if I miss some please forgive me!

Buenos Aires was GREAT! We saw La Boca Juniors play Mexico Independecia, and La Boca won, the crowd was crazy the entire game, singing and dancing and jumping for the full 90 minutes if not longer. We ate more steak than I thought was possible in one sitting and it was SOO good! The whole city, almost all of Argentina smells of grilling meat and it is wonderful. We have also rediscovered house wine and it too was a blessing - easy to drink and easy on the bank account! We saw tango in the streets, saw Evitas grave, hung out in the street markets and walked and walked around the city just taking it all in.

Then we made our way to Uruguay, our first stop was Colonia del Sacamento and it was a really cute small town with a very well preserved old town, many of the houses are exactly as there were hundreds of years ago and I would still like to live there if not for all the tourists walking through all the time. We found a great little restaurant off the main street and went there both nights, so they were pleased with us and our attempts at Spanish. The next day we found the beach and hung out for far longer than we thought and got FAR redder than we thought, bought some aloe and some cream on the way back to hostel and applied and re-apllied. Next up was Montevideo and while we were excited to visit this city, Denis got sick and so we stayed in the hotel, which was really nice, it was nice to just relax, and watch TV and order in pizza (which I actually had to go get but close enough). I ventured out one day and went to the market, the port area where the old train station has been turned into a GIANT parrilla (grilled meat restaurant), found great empanadas where locals were lined up so I bought some and took them back to Denis. Then we were off to the beach bum town of La Paloma farther east along the coast - although I seemed to have caught whatever Denis had and I stayed in bed while Denis ventured out to hang on the beach and eat empanadas and tortas. It was a really nice place, very casual since most of the tourists had gone for the season - our hotel had THE best cafe con leche (cafe au lait or coffee and milk) with a jar of coffee and a jar of steamed milk to mix as you liked - DELICIOUS!

Then, we found La Coronilla (the ll is pronouced j - the guy on the bus thought it was extremely funny the way I pronouced and really pointed and laughed everytime he walked past us) and found Karumbe which was to be our home for the next 15 days and where we would volunteer with sea turtles. To sum it up it was awesome, even the 23 km walk completely hung over (thanks Deborah and Michelle) was great, well maybe not great but it was amazing to see gorgeous beach for 23 kms, nothing but gorgeous beach and a few dead, bloated sea lions, which we had to take pictures of, did I mention I was really hungover? The majority of our time was spent capturing turtles - so much fun and Denis is a natural. After we catured them we would peel off all the epibiones, measure them, weigh them, tag them and set them free! If Gus was really mean he would make us carry a 8kg turtle the 5kms back to the centre, usually in the dark. But it was great, everyone was really nice, we met a ton of great people and got to eat vegetarian style for almost two weeks straight and we survived! But there were cornflakes and bananas for breakfast! Its amazing how much we got to learn about turtles in two weeks and are very greatful to everyone at Karumbe for the oportunity!

Then we were off to Iguazu - to get there we had to take a 5 hour bus back to Montevideo, a 7 hour overnight bus to Salto (we spent a few hours at the hot springs here) before our 12 hour overnight (again) bus to Iguazu! But so worth it - the falls are amazing! We have spent two days wondering around the huge park and marvelling at the falls from every angle they are spectacular.

Tomorrow we are off to Salta (another 26 hour bus ride) and then off to Bolivia!

If you are not on facebook - here is a link to the pictures from Iguazu (it takes awhile to upload so we had to pick a few only):
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=45881&l=15c3f&id=570536549

Monday, December 03, 2007

At Last the Rest of Our Trip


So we left off when we were in Meknes, Meknes was beautiful, we went on a carriage ride around the city in a horse and buggy we had the opportunity to learn a little about the city where Denis's grandparents lived. We stayed in a hotel that was near the train station and while this is usually great, the town center and all the interesting bits were far away, but thankfully taxis are cheap and we made good use of them! The market was full of honey soaked delights and of course the spices, animals and fruit and veggies. After Meknes we moved on to Fes with the intentions of staying a few days, we finally found a cab, finally found our hostel and after the lady running the hostel had to chase some street kids demanding money from us off with her shoe we settled in. We found a licensed guide and went for a tour. THE thing to see in Fes is the tanneries and while they STANK, they were incredible. Although its free to visit - you are somewhat expected to buy after you look and while we had no intention since everything in those shops is WAY overpriced the man was not very happy and somewhat intimidating, we managed to leave without anything and went on to a textile co-operative which was much more inviting and less much less scary. It is amazing how they weave such beautiful pieces so quickly and so accurately, after trying traditional weaving in Japan I know how difficult it is and they were fast. We then took a walk up this hill that gave a beautiful view of the city, and it took us awhile to figure out what the plumes of black smoke were that dotted the whole city, we finally figured they were the pottery fires. But Fes was a little pushy, a little too in your face for us so we boarded a bus and left for Chefchaouen where we found a great hostel that was cheap and clean and nice and it was just what we were looking for. A serene place in the middle of nowhere, everyone is really relaxed except the guys trying to sell you hashish, weed, marijuana, 'smokes' - whatever they called it we weren't interested since I had read that some of the drug sellers were also police informants. Marijuana is under a Kings pardon and is legally grown in Chefchaouen, it is also legal for Moroccans to enjoy it but it is VERY illegal for foreigners although that is what they had been going there for for years! We did indulge in a hike through the fields, got very lost, wound up running down a very steep hillside covered in bushes and no paths and had to walk back to the city...it was a much longer walk than we expected and we ran out of water...but you might think that getting lost in marijuana fields would be dangerous but everyone was very friendly and not the least bit concerned with us wondering through their fields of mary jane. The city is just beautiful, very clean and very white. They don't speak much french in this part of Morocco, more spanish but we met a very interesting business man who explained the natural medicinal plants good for all kinds of things from colds, to diarrhea, to "jiggy-jiggy" and showed us many rugs that are made by the berber women in the hills, we bought two rugs, they were just beautiful and he was hilarious. He told us all about his family and his wife and son, he loved to tell us how perfect we were - "not too fat, not too skinny, just right" and then kiss us on the head! He was so happy and so interesting, he had us dress in the traditional clothing and took pictures of us with our camera, offered us cup after cup of mint tea and we took a picture with him. It was a very memorable experience. We left Chefchaouen and went to Tangier so that we could board a bus for the 26 hour trip to France. We had heard all the stories of Tangier and upon arriving there and taking a taxi which screwed us, we found a hostel that wasn't disgusting, some places were charging more than we had paid anywhere for a bed but these places had shared bathrooms and and well I wouldn't have taken my shoes off there let alone my clothes...so after some looking we found a place that was acceptable. We found a great local place and ate dinner there and bargained for a pair of sunglasses to replace my broken ones, ate some figs, and went to bed early since we had to be at the port at 4am...BAD IDEA. Tangier is scary at night. Luck was with us and some guy offered to take us to the port, more like he told us he was taking us cause it was dangerous and what were we going to do but trust him...so we went down a shady alley, down some stairs past some gangs of men and to the port, although I'm sure my heart was about to burst we made it, gave him all the Moroccan money we had left which was around 2 euros and everyone was happy! We got in the most ridiculous line to get through customs and to make a long story short Moroccans are not good at waiting in line, they like to push and shove and cut in anywhere they can. But we finally made it onto the boat, after having to wait in line again to get off with the same results as the line in customs we got to the buses and the bus ride was not so bad.

We got off the bus in Bayonne, where a festival similar to the running of the bulls was happening so it was a little crazy there, we had some breakfast, and got on the next train to Orthez where Denis's aunt Biellou picked us up! We had a great time with Biellou, Francois, Vincent, and Robin. We also got to see to Raphael for a little bit which was really neat cause I had met Raphael when he came to Canada 9 years ago. We visited Lourdes for a day, drank the Holy Water that heals all that ails you and drove around rural southern France stopping at little towns to explore their treasures and stop for cafe or wine. We played boulle, ate great food, drank aperitifs and lots of wine and really enjoyed the company of family. Then we were off to Bordeaux to couchsurf with Sebastion. He was great with a great apartment in this old building, four flights up and with two adorable little kittens. He invited us out for drinks with his friends who all spoke english very well. The next day we walked around the old city streets and along the water, took a rest in the huge park in the middle of the city. We had plans to go to one of his friends house for a birthday party and had a great time, learned a new game of Werewolf, but had a not so good surprise when we got home. Sebastion had been robbed and along with some of his things our camera had been stolen. The next day we spent at the police station but everyone was okay, and Sebastion was so helpful. We lost some great pictures of Morocco, the tanneries, our friend the business man in Chefchaouen, the pictures of our family in Bayonne and we were very sorry to have lost them but at least no one was hurt. Things can be replaced and we'll always have the memories. We then took the train to Northern France and met with Helen and Michel in Quimper. And again we had great food, great wine and it was made even better because we got to spend it with great family. We went to the edge of Europe, the closest to Canada we had been in a long time. We saw the beautiful shores of northern France, although they are very different from the southern ones, not so many sandy beaches but equally beautiful. Denis went for a night swim with Michel and Deanne like he had when he visited France the first time 14 years ago. We made crepes that were delicious and a lot of fun to make. We went to a little medieval town that makes the best butter apple tart EVER, we went to watch the fishermen bring in their catch and cooked up a seafood feast. We returned to Paris and back to stay where we started with Bernard and Berengere and we finished our trip in the French style with a great fondue.

So that was our trip. Thank you to everyone we met and to our couchsurfing hosts and to our family who made us feel at home and were so generous and so inviting. Thank you very very much! Till next time!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Spain and Morocco so far!

We arrived in Barcelona and after taking the bus to Bacelona and then the metro to our hostel and not really having any problems Spain started out very good! Barcelona is by far my favourite city...I LOVED it there, it has this crazy energy and the whole city feels so alive and it combines all the best bits of life, a beautiful beach, amazing architecture, friendly people, good food, great bars, street music, great weather and SANGRIA! We had a great time wandering the streets looking at all of Gaudi's creations, people watching on Las Ramblas and boy did we see a lot - street performers, old, naked, completely tattooed men, markets full of every fruit, vegetable and animal you can think of, and many people sipping giant glasses of Sangria at the sidewalk cafes. We also we in town for the Jazz festival and got to see a great show in a cool little jazz bar, ate our first tapas and wandered aimlessly. After we left Barcelona we headed to Valencia a little farther south along the coast, where the 32 America's Cup sailing race was taking place, so after one day of seeing the sights, which actually turned into sleeping in the park cause it was 42 degrees outside and too hot to do anything - our first SIESTA - we spent the next day watching the race, which we didn't think could be that exciting but it actually was, we had great seats in front of a giant screen and it was a very close race that New Zealand pulled out! After Valencia we took an overnight train to Granada where Denis's cousin Annabelle was waiting with breakfast for us! Annabelle was awesome, she is a great cook and showed us around Granada which has Moorish roots as it was once ruled by the Arabs. There is a beautiful palace there, the Alhambra it has beautiful architecture, amazing views and even more pretty gardens. We also took a day trip with Annabelle to a small town a couple of hours outside of Granada with cave houses and a gorgeous chapel. We then went to a small city called Ronda, which was full of tourist by day but very peaceful at night. There is an amazing bridge which connects the two parts of Ronda separated by the gorge that runs through the city. It also has one of the oldest bull rings in Spain and though we missed the bull fight festival here we toured the ring and the museum. It was a great place to relax and watch the sunset for a couple of days. We met up with a friend of Annabelle's, Rashida and Chris, who let us stay with them for a few days in Seville. Rashida and Chris took us to lots of cool local places for food and drinks and even showed us a bar where you have your own beer tap on your table so you get to refill your own glass as you eat tapas! We also went to see a bull fight which was an experience although perhaps not one that you need to see more than once. We also toured the sights in Seville but everyday it was over 40 degrees so it was more about the night life! Next we were off to Salamanca expecting to hang out in a cool, quirky university town but it was really touristy, maybe because university was just finishing, we did however stumble upon many weddings and got to witness a traditional wedding dance and found a jazz show in a square that was really good! We then travelled to San Sebastion, the famous beach town, for what we planned as a beach day before our Running with the Bulls, but the weather had different plans and it was rainy and cold all morning and just plain cold during the rest of the day. So we packed up and headed to Pamplona for the craziness that is the San Fermin festival. We put on our white clothes, bought our required belt and bandanna and were ready. We were there in time to catch the parade that happens after the bull fight where all the spectators come into the ring and then parade out singing their songs and dancing away. But it really is an utter drunk festival, the whole city was full of garbage and smelt of alcohol while everyone partied all night before they attempted to run with the bulls. Although Denis and I drank a bottle of wine, watched the craziness and then walked around trying to find a spot warm enough to sleep fr a few hours before we had to take our positions, mine as a spectator and Denis's as a runner. He ran, and didn't get injured, except for a few scrapes and bruises from colliding with people and walls. The best part is in the bull ring after all the bulls have made it in, they let one bull out at a time, in what seems like bull-revenge time, because mostly the bull just tosses people that are too slow or too stupid to get out of its way. We headed to Barcelona that night to catch our plane to Marrekesh!

From the moment we landed in Morocco you could tell it was different from anywhere we had been so far. It was hot, though we were thankful for this after being cold for the last three days in northern Spain. The bus from the airport to the central square, Djemaa-el-Fna, was full of sights I'd never seen before and more mobilettes (bicycles/scooters) than anywhere! Everyone was carrying something on their bike, fruit, piles of things, stacked flats of eggs, anything and everything - it was crazy! We got to the square, found our hotel which was a little pricey but was very quiet and on a very interesting street and was a splurge well worth it. We went to explore the markets which are a huge maze, saw many crazy things like the dentist on the street who has piles of teeth on a little desk in front of him, and that night we experienced all the magic of the square, storytellers, musicians, monkeys and snake charmers although we quickly learnt that Marrekesh is for the entertainment of the Moroccan tourists and not so much for the foreign ones. We ate at the food stalls that magical appear around dinner time and disappear before morning, had our laundry done (very exciting) and watch the magic from roof top terraces while sipping mint tea. We spent the next day walking around the city only to discover that it was 50 degrees and promptly went back to the hotel to have a cold shower and siesta. We then went on a tour to the desert. We spent a day in a van, stopping to take pictures of the berber villages that look like they are just carved out of the sand, and finally arrived in Zagora to board our camels for a two hour ride to our desert camp. The ride was not so comfortable but it was an experience, the camp was great, the food was great and the guides we had played some traditional music and sang for us under the stars. The next day we had breakfast of mint tea, fresh cream, jam and bread and then boarded our camels and bus back to Marrekesh. We left the next day to Essaoura. We spent two nights here exploring the port and the beach which is very nice but EXTREMELY windy. There are cool sand dunes at the far end of the beach and we walked out to them but then the wind picked up and the walk back was a little less pleasant. The city is very interesting, lots of little alleyways full of shops and the Portuguese harbour. Next we went to the city where Denis's mom was born, El-Jadida. It was our favourite place so far in Morocco. We really just felt like everyone else. There weren't many foreigners but there was a great street vibe and we tried all sorts of food for 1 dirham (about 10 cents). I also got my hands hennaed and it was very interesting watching the lady paint so quickly and intricately. We spent the next day on the beach and then headed to Casablanca. There is a beautiful mosque here, but not much else, it is just a big city, so we left the next day for Rabat. In Rabat, we stayed at the youth hostel which was very nice and friendly. We walked through the markets, went to the Tour de Hassan II which was suppose to be the largest minaret in the world but he died before it was completed so it is just unfinished, we also saw the Royal Palace and an ancient Roman ruins site. We are now in Meknes, then we will visit Fes, Chefchaouen, Tangier and then go back to France for our last week and a half before we go back home!

Hope everyone is well...let us know what is new!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

TURKEY!

We left Kos and took the boat to Bodrum - TURKEY! After payıng 45 euros EACH for our vısa we found the bus statıon and bought tıckets to Koycegız before we left we found a fruıt and vegetable market and bought delıcıous cherrıes and some of the best peaches I have eaten so far! We arrıved ın Koycegız after the best bus rıde so far, we got snacks and drınks and were gıven lemon alcohol to clean and refresh ourselves wıth - very nıce and very comfortable. Found our hostel, Tango Pensıon, nıce place and ate Turkısh food for the fırst tıme! It ıs very good - we had a meze lpate, lots of dıfferent sauces and a gozeleme (turkısh pancake) wıth cheese and meat and potatoes and EFES - Turkısh beer! We went on a day trıp across the lake, we stopped at the mud bath\hot sprıng...very fun! We had lunch on the boat, saw some Lycıan tombs dug ınto the mountaın sıde, and stopped at Turtle beach to lay on top of the baby turtle eggs under the sand. On our way back we navıgated through the reeds that created a maze between the sea and the lake wıth lıttle wooden arrows to poınt you ın the rıght dırectıon.

We left Koycegız and went to Fethıye where we would start our four day and three nıght blue cruıse aboard a saılboat! In Fethıye we hung out by the swımmıng pool at the hotel and got our laundry done - very excıtıng cause we had only been washıng our laundry ın the sınk so to actually have ıt cleaned was a very bıg deal! We wondered up to the see the castle ruıns on the top of a hıll and on our way some lıttle kıds came and ıntroduced themselves and wıth ınterestıng hand sıgnals trıed to explaın the ımportance of the area and communıcate as much as possıble wıth us...then asked us for 10 lıra, about 8 dollars, for the tour, we fınally gave them 1 and they were not very happy about ıt. We had kabobs and koefte (turkısh meatballs) and bought a gıant watermelon for less than 2 lıra. The next day we met the people we wuld be on the boat for the next four days wıth. The boat was very nıce, the people were also very nıce, of the 19 people on board 10 of us were Canadıan and all of us were young and we all had a great tıme! The fırst day we cruısed to Butterfly Valley whıch ıs beautıful although there are not many butterflıes, stopped for swımmıng and rock skıppıng and back on the boat to escape the comıng storm. We stopped for the nıght ın a quıet bay, more swımmıng and great food - that the chef cooked ın a lıtle kıtchen on board the boat. The next day we went to Kas and saw found an amphıtheatre that was almost perfecty ın tact stıll and walked aruond the lıttle town, we got back on the boat and then trıed to saıl although the saıl rıpped after about 20 mınutes and I thınk the captaın was more of a cruıser than a saılor anyways. That nıght we stayed ın Pırates bay and went to thıs lıttle bar called the Smugglers Inn that you have to take a boat to for some good tunes and expensıve beer but lots of dancıng. On day three we back tracked to the lıttle town, we clımbed up the staırs to the castle at the top and had some awesome vıews of the area. We drove past the sunken cıty on the boat and headed back to Pırates Bay for the rest of the day to relax and swım and lay around. Our last day we went to the Pırates Cave and swam ınsıde, one crazy Canadıan jumped off the top of the clıff and we headed to Demre to offload and get on a bus. We stopped ın a cıty where there ıs a church of St. Nıcholas - yes folks you thought that Santa was from the North Pole but he ıs from Turkey - surprıse! We then went to Olympus to stay ın the treehouses and exlpore the ancıent cıty.

Olympus was so cool, there are ruıns everywhere and they are all overgrown. We just walked through, over and around thıngs that had been there for thousands of years - all for only 2 lıra a day (you have to walk through the ruıns to get to the beach)! The beach was great, the water was so warm and clean and ıt was so hot the whole tıme we were there. We took the shuttle to see the chımera (the flames that come uot of the mountaın) - very cool! The food was great and we were pretty much beach bums the three days we were there.

From Olympus we headed to Antalya - a much larger cıty than we expected and after fındıng the hostel from the LP we walked around the old town for the nıght whıch was very cool and then found the busses to take us to Asperdos the next day. Asperdos was awesome! Ruıns that are all over the place, we were almost the only people there and a huge theatre that rıvals the Collıseum for coolness. Navıgatıng the busses took the whole day and we arrıved back ın town to eat dınner and catch our overnıght bus to Goreme. Goreme was as beautıful as the pıctures, crazy rock formatıons and most of the houses and hotels are carved ınto the rocks. We stayed at Shoestrıng whıch was very nıce and breakfast was very good! We booked a hot aır balloon to fly over the amazıng landscape of Kapadokya. That same day we went on a tour that took us to the underground cıty where the people would lıve for upto two weeks when they were beıng ınvaded. It was really ınterestıng and they were very organızed. Then we walked through part of the Ilhara Gorge and went to a monestary and church carved ınto the rocks. We also explored the open aır museum, full of old cave churches. The next day we rented a scooter and crused around. We stopped to try spınnıng potery whıch resulted ın a loppy vase bowl thıng. Then we went to see the faıry chımınes and another cave monestary. Then preceded to get lost ın the country sıde where the locals were very frıendly always wavıng. Then ıt was another overnıght bus to Istambul.

Istanbul ıs a beautıful place, a huge cıty but ıt does not feel that bıg. The food ıs good and the people are frıendly and there ıs lots to see and do. We spent our fırst day vısıtıng Aya Sophıa and the Basılıca Cıstern and the Blue Mosque. They were all awesome, very dıfferent from the churches we had seen ın the rest of Europe. The call to prayer ıs even more beautıful here because there are so many mosques so close together that you can hear them all sıngıng together. We also got our fırst Turkısh bath! Very ınterestıng experıence, you are scrubbed wıth a loofah mıt and then a huge mound of bubbles are poured on you and then a massage but ıt ıs more lıke a short torture sessıon and then lots of buckets of water are dumped on you and then you get your haır washed and head scrubbed - very ınterestıng! The next day we spent the whole day at Topakı Palace and vısıted the Harem where all the concubınes lıved waıtıng to be called on. Its a very ınterestıng place and was ın use untıl 1923 when Turkey was unıfıed as a Republıc. The best part was all the turban shaped holes cut out of the walls for the Sultans head pıeces. Then we wandered throught the Egyptıan spıce market and trıed Turkısh delıght - I lıked ıt, Denıs not so much. The next day we walked forever...we went to the Fısh market walked up to the Aquaduct and then on to the Suleymanıye mosque whıch ıs more beautıful than the Blue Mosque I thınk and we walked back to the other seasıde and took the traın across to Taksım. Thıs ıs a very trendy, very busy shoppıng, cafe, pub area and stopped for a beer durıng happy hour to watch the world walk by. Yesterday we went to the Grand Bazzar - ıt ıs huge but pretty repetıtıve but very ınterestıng although I lıke the Spıce market the best I thınk. We wondered and wondered and wondered and eventually wlked through a few dıfferent markets that are mostly for Istanbulıans cause there were no other tourıst there. After beıng very lost for a long tıme we made our way back to the park besıde the palace and had a nap on the park bench before goıng for dınner and spendıng the res of the nıght playıng backgammon on our rooftop terrace. Today we went back to the Spıce market and haggled for a pashmına scarf, a shırt for Denıs to wear when he runs wıth the bulls and four peaches! We are just enjoyıng the tıme we have left ın Istanbul before we leave for Barcelona tomorrow.

Well, you are all caught up now. Turkey has been awesome and we are already plannıng our next trıp here! But we are very excıted to be headıng to Spaın and Morocco. Hope you are all doıng well - we would love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A little more of Italy and then GREECE

Well...it has been a long time since we updated this so settle in for a recap of the last 20 days!

So Rome was...well, Rome in all its scaffolded, spray painted glory, we left Rome and headed to Sorrento after deciding that we needed a break and a slower pace after the craziness that is Rome so we skipped Naples and headed for the Amalfi coast straight away. Very beautiful, very small towns, we found a restaurant with very cheap but very good food and spent the day on rented beach chairs on what were suppose to be on a beach but was actually on a cement pier but it was perfect none the less. We went to Pompeii and while it was fascinating that such a large, developed city (including brothels, with picture menus) existed over 2000 years ago it was very big and tiring, after walking around Pompeii for four hours we were exhausted and headed back for relaxing beach time. After the most expensive train ride, even though we have a rail pass we had to pay for a reservation fee, was over an hour late we took a taxi that most contestants on the Amazing Race would be glad to have but we were a bit scared by, to the ferry just in time to catch the overnight ferry to Greece. We landed in Igoumensita and after forgetting or never realising that there is a time change between Italy and Greece missed our bus that we waited for three hours for and had to wait another three hours for, changed buses and then finally got to Kalambaka, found a funny old man to let us a room (Totty) and settled in for a couple of days to explore the monasteries in the skies. Meteora is beautiful, we took the bus up in the morning to the largest monastery and luckily they had skirts and pants on loan for the foreigners who didn't know the no shorts and only skirts for girls rules. There are six monasteries we went too, although only the first provided the necessary clothing we were missing so we just gazed at them from afar which is fine as they are very beautiful from farther away and a lot less stairs to climb this way. Had lunch after a hike on one of the rocks that touch the sky - the rocks are so cool, you are driving through the Greece country side thinking there is no way that this is the place from the photos and then you turn the corner and see these large rocks jutting up from the earth just like God put them there, which is why they think they are so special, although the technical reason is that the area used to be a river basin and eventually drained and left these rocks there. A monk came here to escape some persecution and out of devotion, or more likely, boredom hauled rocks up onto the rocks and built a monastery, the others followed.

After Meteora we had a travel day literally - we spent the WHOLE day on the train trying to get to Monemvasia but finally got off in Olympia after we realized the ridiculous way that the people at the train station had sent us and at the pace of Greek trains we never would have made it to Monemvasia that day. Olympia was nice, found a really cheap and very uncomfortable hostel, it rained the next day when we went to see the Museum and Ancient Olympia where the first Olympics were held. But it was International Museum day so we got in free! And managed to see everything before the rain really started to come down. Then we caught another bus and continued our quest to find Monemvasia. We finally arrived there after three bus changes and in the rain at 10pm, but luck was with us and as per Denis's de ja vue we found a nice place without getting wet right next to where the bus dropped us! The next day the rain finally stopped and the little town of Monemvasia is amazingly beautiful and has a charming old feeling. You have to walk through a little tunnel to get in, no cars, no scooters, no buses, just tourists and souvenir shops but the ruins were spectacular and the view was even better. After storming the castle for a few hours we ate a well over priced lunch and headed off for Nafplio. Unfortunately the Greece bus system does not plan farther ahead than one stop so we got from Monemvasia to Tripolia thinking that there would be a connecting bus to Nafplio but there wasn't so we found another bus station and went to Athens, reluctantly deciding to skip Nafplio.

We arrived in Athens and again it was raining, we found the subway and sought out the hotels in the LP, as we had not known we were coming we hadn't made any reservation, and as every hotel we went to explained to us the Champions soccer final was in Athens in a couple of days and the city was filled with Brits and Italians who came to see the soccer game...asa result all the hotels were full too, after two hours we had a bit of luck and stole someones room and at an outrageous price had a well deserved rest. The next day we had to find a new hotel, and went to see the Acropolis and all associated sites, Roman Forum, Ancient Agora (very cool, and very old, looked very authentic), and walked and walked and walked. The next day was MY BIRTHDAY (yes almost all of you missed it!) and Denis took me for a shopping day and we bought a new bathing suit for me, a sarong for the beach and a new pair of sunglasses for the pair Denis had left on some Greek public transportation, and again we were off on the overnight ferry to the island of Santorini.

Santorini was nice, but after sleeping in a chair on the ferry and missing the only bus to the city and sleeping a little more in the departures lounge before finally breaking down and taking a taxi to the town so we could take the bus to our hostel. We found a very cheap hostel that a guy Denis bunked with in the dorm in Olympia told us about, Youth Hostel Anna, 6 euros for a dorm bed or 8 for a bed in a smaller room away from the action of the partiers...still very cheap by European standards. We rented a quad and cruised around the island stopping at all the beaches and stopping to watch the sunset with a bottle of wine! We also took a tour which took us to the volcano, apparently Santorini is the rim of a large underwater volcano which had erupted three times and created an island in the middle which we hiked to the top of for good views, we then stopped at a bay where there are suppose to be hot springs in the ocean, I suppose as a result of the volcano, but as we jumped off the boat and swam to the hot spring it never got hot, barely warm, like a bunch of people all peed in the water cause they were all freezing in water they expected to be "quite shockingly hot" as our guide explained it would be. THEN we rode DONKEYS up a hill...highlight of the trip to a sleepy little town before going to Oia to watch the sunset that never actualized behind a veil of clouds. After a 22 hour ferry ride we arrived in Rhodes which is breath taking on arrival, very medieval, as the old town starts right from the port and you walk off the boat into a walled castle. We stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool, but spent all the time at the beach. Rented a car and went to see the castle in Rhodes town and all the other castles around the island and then went back to the beach and we got eaten by mosquitoes. We have arrived in Symi for two nights and after our first successful hotel bargaining found a hotel and boat taxied to the beach for a whole day in a little bay. Tomorrow we are off to Kos to catch the ferry to Turkey!

Well that's everything in a nutshell, hope you are all doing well, send us a note to tell us whats new with you! Can't wait to hear from you!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

ITALY

Okay! Italy has been very busy, we have done A LOT of walking and have had a great time. We are in Rome now but I will recap the last 9, 10, 11, or twelve days...
we arrived in Italy and couch surfed with Matteo in La Spezia for two nights, we had a great bed in a beautiful old apartment in the center of La Spezia and after relaxing for a week in Monaco we decided to just relax for the day in La Spezia before heading off to Cinque Terra...but Italy closes on Sundays, so we walked around looking for something to do and then resigned to eating gelato on a park bench and soaking up the sun until we met Matteo and the other couch surfers at Matteo's for dinner which he cooked for us and was AMAZING! We had pasta with ricotta cheese and his home-made pesto and olive oil (it was the best thing I've eaten in Italy so far) and curry chicken with beans and home made ice cream...we got to meet one of Matteo's friends and he was very funny and very friendly. The next day we headed to Riomaggiore to start our exploration of Cinque Terra which was beautiful, we stayed in this hostel which had one double bed that we snagged, and five bunks all in one room although there was one less bed than people booked for the room and there was some confusion in the middle of the night! The hike through the five villages was awesome, the weather was great for most of it before we got to the fourth village and it started to rain, so we took the train to the last village and sat on the beach until it really started to rain and we took the train back to Riomaggiore. We took some great pictures but all the pictures are going to have to wait until we get home...after we left Cinque Terra we went to Pisa for a couple of hours and saw everything that leans, Pisa is more than just a tower apparently they let some guy build a three buildings that all lean! I guess architecture was not really what he should have been doing. We headed to Bologna after being stuck in Florence trying to get a train on the night of a long weekend and finally met up with Emily who hosted us on her couch and took us to a great little bar for beers and even scored some free beers, she was full of info about the town and took us around the next day, showing us all the secrets like the sculptor who wanted to put a larger penis on the statue but the Catholics wouldn't let him so when you look at the statue from a certain angle his hand is positioned so that he has a large erection! And the dome where you can whisper in one corner and another person can hear you PERFECTLY in another! We had great panini and gelato for lunch and went to a market and bought some fruit and headed off to Venice. Just our luck the city on water was under water with terrible rain all day when we arrived. when the rain finally broke we went on boat rides and saw the sights. The highlight was going to the OPERA! we saw a comedy about love in this little museum with gorgeous paintings and tons of history! The next day with clear skies we got to see the St. Marks's basilica and a lot of pigeons! We took the elevator to the top of the bell tower and saw Venice from the sky - an great view, even the pigeons looked good from there. We went to Murano, the glass island where all of Venice's glass makers were moved to avoid the fires that frequently happened. Sarah stopped in every shop and finally bought a pair of earrings. The last day it rained again and we left the floating city the way we came in...soaking wet. Heading to Florence, we hadn't booked a hotel and weren't sure how long we would stay but we got a great deal on a hotel from a guy who came up to us in the train station and decided to stay two nights...Florence is beautiful. The train station not so much but the area around the old bridge, the only one not blown up in WWII, is so amazing! We were super lucky and went to see the David sculpture expecting a huge line and only waited for 15 minutes with no reservation! It was pretty good, maybe the best piece of art we've seen so far. We went for lunch at this crazy little restaurant called Marios and it was really good, just a bunch of tables where everyone sits next to each other and the food comes out really fast but it is all cooked slow-food style and its only open for lunch so there are big lines but totally worth it! And the wine was only 3 euros for 1/2 litre! Then we cruised to Sienna for a night and Sienna is magical, it really feels and looks like you stepped back through time. We were even lucky enough to see the parade of all the town's people marching, drumming, waiving flags and singing the town song for the beginning of Palio where they race horses through the streets of the city at the beginning of June and in September. We went to the famous basilica in Sienna and went up the tower and into the crypt and the baptistery before leaving for San Gimignano in the heart of Tuscany. It was a beautiful little town with 13 of 72 medieval towers still standing. We rented a SCOOTER and went touring the hillsides for wineries. We found many but stopped at three, tasted some excellent wine and picked up a few bottles for our cellar back home, and soaked every minute out of the most beautiful area I've ever seen. And NOW we are in Rome, where we have walked and walked and walked in search of things that would take our breath away but EVERYTHING is covered in scaffolding for cleaning or repairs or perhaps just to piss off all the tourists who came here to see all the stuff Rome is know for only to find a large picture of it wrapped around the scaffolding. But Trevi fountain was sans scaffolding and very beautiful, number 1 fountain so far!

Wheeefff...so thats it for now we are in Rome for another couple days and then off to Naples and the Amalfi coast and then off to GREECE! Hope everyone is doing well, send us an email we'd love to know whats happening in your lives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Living in Paradise

So we left off in Dijon...while in Dijon we had great company with our couch surfing host Stephanie (thanks A LOT) found a great market and had a nice picnic and hung out French style in a cafe for the evening. We made a side trip to Beaune where we went to three caves, where they store the wine under the city - there are hectares of wine (thousands of bottles) stored under the city as it has been for HUNDREDS of years! There are bottles that are over a hundred years old! We went on three wine tastings, the first we tasted 13 wines, although some guy follwed us around he didn't speak much and we referred to him as the "mole" since he lived underground and scuttled around very mole-like, the next a girl read everything to us that was posted on the wall while we "experienced" wine through our five sences...we listened to a popping tape of wine being made, saw the different colours of wine, smelled many different things, touch different materials and finally tasted 5 wines, our last tour was hilarious - it was with a big group of old people from Whales plus a couple of couples from Canada and America and our guide was awesome and the tour was great, the old people were laughing and talking so much by the end we were holding up the tour behind us and they were kissing all us young couples and we ended up going for this amazing dinner with the Canadian couple. Denis had escargot and beef tartare and I had beef bourgonon (the area's speciality) and nuggat ice cream for dessert - and some great wine, the service was great the chef even came to check on us twice!

We left Dijon the next day and headed off to Avignon to stay with Denis's aunt - they were so nice. They took us on some hikes to old ruins and to this area where there is red soil and rock formations similar to hoodoos, they cooked AMAZING food and made their own orange wine and nuggat, and they took us to the best ice cream place so far. We went the city of Avignon for the day and saw the Palais de Papes where the Popes lived and Christianity was centered for a few hundred years, it was pretty big and they were pretty lavish, there was an audioguide but it was pretty boring. We saw the Pont de Avignon (the bridge that only goes half way across the river and then hung out French style in a cafe for the rest of the afternoon. We also went to Fort Andre and an old monastery for amazing views of Avignon. Our last day we went to Aix en Provence and saw a church that has been there since the 5th century and has been added onto almost every century...it is a mis-mosh of every style of architecture...but there is a very important carving there which is very old and we got a tour of it and all the sculptures were explained...very interesting.

We left Avignon on Tuesday and headed for Monaco! We are here now and spent all day on the beach! Yes it is that hot! We are staying with Denis's cousin Christian who has an apartment five minutes from the beach with an amazing view of the sea.

Everything has been going so well so far except I fell on the stairs and scraped my knee today but I guess if thats our biggest problem we are doing okay! We are off to explore Cinque Terra, La Spezia, Bologna, and Venice next.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So Far So Good!

SO we arrived in Paris last week and have been having a great time, enjoying great cheese, great wine and meeting lots of great people...its been great!

In Paris we managed to stumble upon a free walking tour (in English) around downtown Paris, after we had our bearings and better knew where we wanted to go and what to see...including Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triumph, Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides, L'ecole Militaire (where Napoleon went to Military school), St.Michaels Square. The first day we didn't go in anything just walked around and got all the trips and info and lots of history. The next day we went to Chateau Versailles, and it is AMAZING! The gardens are beautiful, we packed some bread and cheese and oranges and had a picnic in front of where the royalty lived! And then we went to see the Sacred Coeur - if you come to Paris - go here! There is a beautiful view of the city and the church is breath-taking and the area around the church is full of small cafes and beautiful houses and cobblestones and the Moulin Rouge, and we saw the Eiffel tower "sparkle" when thousands of little white lights flicker all over and it is really nice! Then we went to the Louvre...well there is a lot in the Louvre and although we saw the Mona Lisa there were many more other interesting things in the Louvre. We stayed with Denis's aunt just outside of Paris and she was very kind and we had dinner with her two daughters and Bernard and their son Baptiste and they were all very kind.

We left Paris on Saturday and went east to Strasbourg, which is also very beautiful although much more relaxing than Paris. The pace of life in Paris is quite fast and the traffic is crazy but in Strasbourg it is much smaller and quieter and perfectly fit the image of France I had in my head, there is a Gothic Cathedral de Notre Dame which was INCREDIBLE and we walked all the stairs to the top for a birds eye view of the city, went on a river boat tour complete with lockes that change the water level so you can continue on different parts of the canals. We had our first couch surfing experience with Pierre and it was GREAT, he was very generous and kind and introduced us to his friends...one of whom offered to let us stay with her in Dijon, where we are now exploring the Cote D'or wine country...the vineyards aren't quite blooming yet but there is lots of wine to drink! We had a fabulous dinner with our host Stephanie last night and ate the region's fare.

Next we are off to Avignon, Marseilles, Nice and Monaco before we head to Italy!

Hope to hear from you all soon

Sarah and Denis

Monday, April 09, 2007

MARCH

Hello everyone!

So March went buy so quickly! We are now in Canada and are leaving for Paris tonight to start our four month tour of France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Morocco.
so our last month in Japan was amazing and very sad, it was very hard to say goodbye to all of our friends and students and we will miss everyone very much and look forward to seeing you all in Canada or some other part of the world! Although we didn't travel anywhere in March, other than a quick trip to Tokyo, there were a lot of karaoke parties and a lot of eating and drinking which makes for good pictures :) and great memories.

Our two weeks in Canada was great, after an excrutiating 30 hour trip from the time we left our apartment in Japan to the time we cleared customs in Canada, we tied up some loose ends in Calgary for a day and then drove to BC to see my mom, sister, Phil and the newest addition to our family my sister's baby Olivia! She is a very happy baby who loves to smile and very aware that she is so cute and almost never cries - my sister is very lucky. And after we were blessed with good weather in BC four 3 days, on the drive home it started to snow and continued to snow in both Edmonton and Calgary for the next week - NON-STOP! We spent some time in Edmonton visting friends and family and Denis was introduced to his brother's Nintendo Wii...he was a little additiced to bowling of all things but that will have to wait. Then we came back to Calgary and ate and ate and ate...I discovered our lives in Calgary revolve around food and since I couldn't drink because I had to take some meds to clear and infection I realized how much I normally drink too, sometimes in the middle of the day or even before then :) So I was the DD by default and Denis fully took advantage of it...but I traded not drinking wine in Canada for drinking in France so I think it will be a good trade. We had our fill of Tim Hortons, well Denis is sick of it but I am still going strong with one or two X-Large steeped tea double-doubles!

So thank you to everyone who hosted us back in Canada and to everyone who spared some time out of there busy schedule to make us feel special! And thank you to everyone who made us feel so at home in Japan - keep in touch!

GARY, RAY, SVEN, LEIGH...you buggers better email us - we miss you terribly! Take care of each other!

So we are off to France and I hope that I can keep up on the blog...I promise to return emails though so tell us what is happening in your lives! Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

FEBRUARY

Hello everyone!

So, our time in Japan is almost over and we are getting very excited to come home and see everyone and are also very busy planning our time in Europe and getting very anxious to explore everything we have been reading about. Thanks to everyone who sent us info about the places you loved or hated - any other information is always greatly appreciated.

February was pretty normal here, we did go on trips although not together. Denis went to an onsen in the snow with Gary, Ray, Masa, and Casey where they saw lots of snow, had naked snowball fights, ate strange but elaborate Japanese meals and stopped for bear and deer on a stick, and saw barbecued sparrow, which we learned is the original yaki-tori (meaning barbecued chicken but literally translates to barbecued bird) but since chickens aren't native to Japan the original bird was a sparrow.















I went on a girls only weekend with Alison and Leigh and although we did find a lot of snow along the mountain road as we were driving to Takayama, there wasn't any on the ground when we got there (which is very strange but it has been unusually warm this year) although we were blessed to have snow fall, but melt when it hit the ground, almost all weekend. We walked through a traditional Japanese street that looked exactly as I had pictured Japan looking, I guess we were only 200 years too late, and saw the traditional houses built 100 - 500 years ago in the Hida Village. We also were blessed to find a great little Italian restaurant with the best spaghetti I may have ever eaten and a nice bottle of wine. We also ate Mexican food which is very hard to find in Japan so we were very lucky! We too stopped at an outdoor onsens and after wondering around for awhile looking for the bathroom to wash as is required before public bathing only to find there was no bathroom and so we had to just jump in which turns out what everyone does so we didn't feel so bad. But we had beautiful mountains and snow and fresh mountain air around us it was great!














The rest of February has been pretty normal. We went to pick strawberries with the preschool class, and that was fun. For 1000 yen (about $10) we got to pick and eat as many strawberries as we could for 30 minutes. Denis and I made the most of it, so did some of the kids but eating until your going to burst and then running around apparently doesn't make your stomach very happy and some of the kids were sick.

We are starting to pack up some things and are planning on making a couple trips to Tokyo to see some things we haven't yet seen and to party all night as everyone who visits Tokyo must do! And then we are off, only 19 more days!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

JANUARY

Well, not much exciting happened in January. The first week we spent in Okinawa but I wrote about that in our last post. The rest of the time we spent hanging out in Ashikaga, playing cards with friends
and going out for lunch or dinner.
We did have one crazy weekend where Leigh turned...well lets just say old ;) and we had to say goodbye to one of our dear friends who decided to go back home to pursue other amazing opportunities. We miss you Wally! We gave our livers and brain cells the rest of the month to recuperate from that.

We did book our ticket home and that was exciting. We are coming back to Canada for two weeks before flying to Paris and travelling France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Spain and maybe Portugal for four months until we fly back to Canada for Denis's little brother's wedding in August. So if you have any suggestions for must sees on our trip please send them along, we are trying to make a rough itinerary although the plan is to be pretty flexible.


So we will be arriving in Calgary March 26, spending a day doing some errands and then driving to Penticton for three days to visit my mother, sister, grandmother, Phil and our niece and soon-to-be God daughter Olivia and will drive back to Edmonton April 1st and stay until Thursday when we will go back to Calgary and visit until we leave for Paris on Monday. Hopefully we will get a chance to visit with everyone, so send us some emails and tell us when is best for you, it is going to be a pretty busy trip but we will make time for everyone! We can't wait to see you all and catch up on the past year!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

DECEMBER

Well, December was a very busy month. Starting off with Denis' birthday, we made dinner for some friends to celebrate at a friends house, because ours is far to small to have more than one guest over, and Denis had a terrible cold and wasn't feeling up to the regular ridiculously drunk birthday parties we have. It was very nice, we had champagne and got to visit with everyone before we all went our separate ways for the holiday season.

Then it was a barrage of Christmas parties, we had our work party for all our adult students, the first party was at the office and was very nice and then after the official party everyone went to a karaoke bar for all you could drink and all you could sing, needless to say the all you could drink helped the singing. The next weekend we had the children's Christmas party complete with Santa although most kids were terrified of Santa but enjoyed the goodie bags and they were all very cute singing the Christmas carols we taught them. We also were invited to a Christmas party at my student, Tsugawa's house. It was very nice with GREAT wine and food that he made himself. We got to meet some very nice people and I got to practice my Japanese which seems to get better when I am drunk cause I carried on a whole conversation in Japanese with these people and Denis was astounded!

The last week before our break started on December 23 was full of Christmas parties, even one where Denis got to play Santa for 3-5 year olds! Although he was the skinniest Santa ever, but that didn't phase the kids, they really thought he was Santa and when they asked him the questions they had been practicing, "how old are you?", "where do you live?", "how do you fly?", and a whispered "kiss me"...Denis answered in his very best Santa voice, "very, very old - I forget how old I am, I've lost track", and "I live at the North Pole" which we would accept as the right answer but people in Japan think Santa lives in Finland, so the translator had to cover up for him, and "magic, and I can only fly with my magic reindeer and my sleigh" and after thinking he had misheard the request for a kiss, he picked the girl up and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Then we were on a 2 week vacation and ventured south to the southern most islands in Japan, Okinawa. We stayed at this GREAT guesthouse in Miyako (about 40 minute flight south of Okinawa's main island), it was a fluke to find the best place to stay in Miyako since the website wasn't in English but the pictures on it were really cool we decided to stay there anyways. Turns out both the guys who run the place speak great english and were super friendly. There was an older man, Amane-san, who was so kind and generous offering Denis many homemade concoctions to cure his everlasting cold, ginger tea, turmeric tea, awamori and hot water (awamori is a special Okinawa alcohol) and offering advice on where to go and what to see and helping to arrange a rental car. The other man, Hiro-san, spent time in the Netherlands and all of Europe and lived in America for a few years in New York and was really into photography and explained lots about Miyako and Japanese culture to us. The guesthouse was so warm and welcoming and relaxing it was the perfect start to our vacation. Although we were hoping for warm enough weather to go snorkeling, we weren't so lucky, but it was nice enough to hang out on the beach and read a book and build sand castles and take lots of pictures. We had a great time and the ocean in Miyako was so clear and blue and absolutely beautiful, and the town was full of many surprises. We found a great ramen shop and ate soba noodles at Koja, which has been around Miyako serving soba for over 50 years and although the lady running Koja was 76 years old she spoke great english and was very, very nice. We had half the people in the restaurant at our table talking to us after she would tell people we were from Canada and living in Japan. We also found A&W in Miyako and were so happy, it was sooo good! If you are heading to Miyako and need a place to stay check out Hiraraya http://www.miyako-net.ne.jp/~hiraraya/index2.html, just email them, they can email you back in English - it really felt like we were just at home and we were really sad to leave!

Then we flew off to the main island of Okinawa, although we were planning on taking the ferry, the ferry schedule didn't cooperate so we flew. The first hostel we stayed at looked great on the internet but sucked in actuality, it was separated men and women dorms which is fine but there was no common area to hang out in so Denis and I had to walk around or go to bed and after a whole day of walking you just want to sit and relax, a common room is very important! and no kitchen to cook in so it was McD's for breakfast everyday after three nights I couldn't take it anymore and we lied to get our money back and went to a different hostel that was way nicer! The second place we stayed was Sora House and was really nice, a little loud but it was fun, the owner's sun put on a magic show one night and we met some really nice people there, there was a great common area and a kitchen and even a roof top patio. We arrived in Okinawa on December 30, and spent the night checking out the main street Kokusai-dori which is the busiest street in Naha and has all the hot spots and a ton of souvenir shops. We found somewhere to eat and did a lot of walking around. The next day we walked to the Tsuboya pottery area of Naha, where there is a huge kiln made in the 1680's and while in this area of the city there used to be 10 kilns of this kind this is the only on left after WWII. We found out that the fighting that occurred between the Americans and the Japanese in Japan occurred in Okinawa and that Okinawa severely suffered, the island was destroyed and 1/3 of the population was killed. After browsing the pottery shops that still operate in the area, and some of Japan's finest pottery happens here, we went to the Makishi market. During WWII the Makishi market was a black market for American goods and other goods that weren't available readily because of the war but now is a crazy market divided into four sections, seafood, pork, tofu, and pickled things. Pork is very popular in Okinawa and in the market you could buy any part of the pig, in the supermarkets we had seen pigs feet (which Denis ate!) and ears and the skin from the face of the pig including the nose and ears, but at the Makishi market we saw the whole hear, whole legs for sale with the feet still attached, anything you could imagine, very interesting. After the excitement of the market we wandered to a Chinese garden and found the city beach and hung out for a while before heading back to the main strip for Indian food and some partying for New Year's Eve. We found this great place, Mike and Paul's Place a little Canadian owned bar right on the main street and decided it would be a good place to hang out for the New Year. It was pretty slow when we first got there but after meeting the bartenders, Brian, Julie and Wayne, who were super cool people poured in and it eventually turned out to be a pretty crazy party and with real beer and vodka and Red-Bull I don't even remember leaving! The next day was really rough, and we had planned to go to Shuri castle to see the traditional New Year's day ceremonies of the Ryukyu kingdom (Okinawa used to be its own country before it was invaded by Japan so it has a very different history, different culture as it had many trading partners within south-east asia including many influences from China). We saw the festivities and after returning to the hostel for a nap we saw the traditional Ryukyu dancing, which appear to be women but after the second performance we realized they were men. The next day we rented a car and drove around to all the castle ruins in Okinawa. There are seven World Heritage sites, one being Shuri castle, the rest are just ruins destroyed during the war but lots of cool stone gates! The next day we cruised the island a little more with the car and went to another pottery village, one that is still operate using the old techniques and went to the sacred rocks where it is believed that were the origin of the Ryukyu kingdom and were very prominent in their religion. We also went to Okinawa Cave World, where there is a huge underground stalactite cave, the largest in Japan. It was very cool. There were many things to see and do there, we watched a couple traditional performances and walked through a recreated old village. On our drive back we found a place that blows glass, which Okinawa is also famous for and watched that for awhile. We spent the rest of our time relaxing, eating tacos (real mexican tacos!) and other Japanese food and returned to our favorite bar for our last night where Denis was invited behind the bar to make his signature shot.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

NOVEMBER

I can't believe how fast November went by, it seems like Halloween was just a couple of weeks ago, and I don't even remember the beginning of November - good thing we have a lot of pictures to remind us :)

The first weekend in November was a long weekend, so we made a couple day trips to the mountains around us, Mt. Akagi and Nasudake (dake means volcano!). Mt. Akagi is famous for onsens, hot springs, and there are a lot of them. We found one that was very interesting, we walked in and paid and then the lady just pointed in the general direction of upstairs so we ventured up but unlike every other onsen we've been to the actual changing and bathing area was not clearly visible, after much slinking about cause we didn't want to be the stupid foreign people, we found the women’s area and I left Denis to find the men’s on his own. He eventually did, and from the pictures in the brochure his was, as always, way cooler than mine, since mine was about regular hot tub size, maybe smaller, and there were three other naked Japanese women in it...but I would rather have a small tub than talk to someone while bathing naked like Denis had to. It was a very pretty drive, although we found what seemed like all the pig farms in Tochigi, translation - it stank! The next day we went to Nasudake, It was a really nice fall day, the leaves were changing colour and the sky was blue, we took the ropeway up to almost the top of the mountain with the intentions of making the 45 minute up to the top to see the steam coming from the active volcano, but it was REALLY cold up there and REALLY windy, so we walked a little farther up, took some pictures, met a crazy Japanese man who insisted we be part of his group photo, and then went back down. Nasu is also famous for onsens, being an active volcano there is a lot of hot water and so in this little tiny town, there are 21 onsens - all of them sulphur onsens, so it was pretty smelly but the onsen we chose was great. Very old fashioned, mine for once was better than Denis' and it was the perfect day.

The next weekend my students threw a party for me, since I had to change classes and someone else was taking over their class, it was really fun. A lot of food and a lot of drinks and of course the night ended in karaoke and in my drunken state I was extra enthusiastic and my throat was so sore I couldn't speak for the next two days.

Finally the long awaited 23rd annual Ashikaga CoCo Wine Festival was here. This winery in Ashikaga provides jobs to mentally and physically handicapped people, but they make a pretty good wine and lots of other products. Grape seed oil, bread, cheese, they grow mushrooms...but every year they have a harvest festival and invite everyone to come drink wine on the hills, there is music and food and lots of alcohol. For 2000 yen you get a corkscrew, a glass, a pin and a bottle of red or white or sparkling grape juice (needless to say no one in our group picked grape juice and when someone gave us a bottle on their way out we traded it in for more wine). It was a ton of fun and it was an absolutely beautiful day. But the party didn't stop there, we came back to our apartments and after Leigh dropped and smashed two bottles of wine we were left with only two. One to drink while we attempted to play a card game but did more spilling and cleaning than playing and Casey, Leigh and Alison drank on the way to the ramen shop by themselves. Needless to say they were far more wasted than they were, falling over and knocking down the screen separating the table space onto an unsuspecting couple eating their ramen...it was ridiculous, Casey passed out on the floor and we, with strong encouragement from K-chan, the ramen shop owner and Casey's friend, drew a mustache and unibrow and started to write profanities on his face but he woke up.

We had one day of work and then we got six days off, so we flew to Hiroshima, and went to see the floating Torii gate in Miyajima about a 30 minute train ride and 10 minute ferry from Hiroshima (declared one of the top three sights in Japan, though we disagree). There are tons of deer on Miyajima and they are very tame, so we hung out with them for a bit and then moved on. The leaves were changing colour and it was absolutely gorgeous, there were a ton of people there after walking through a park loaded with yellow, red, orange, and green trees and we took the ropeway to the top of the mountain to see the sights. When we got to the top we were pleasantly surprised to see monkeys! After a 30 minute hike we reached the top and there were more deer. We watched the sunset and took the ferry back to Hiroshima. We walked around a little, had dinner and then went back to our hotel room, a real bed and a great view. The next day we went to the Peace Memorial museum and it was very sad, very touching and very honest. There were pictures taken on the day that are too gruesome to describe, there were clothes from people who were killed that day and weird things like fingernails, or skin, or hair that had fallen out from people who survived. They were pictures of what Hiroshima looked like before and what it looked like after, there were explanations and pleas for peace. After we walked through the Peace Memorial Park and saw the eternal flame that will stay lit until there are no more nuclear weapons, we saw Sadako's crane memorial, the girl who had cancer from the bomb and tried to fold 1000 cranes to receive a wish but died before she finished. There was a group of children there who had brought more cranes and said a prayer, we rang the peace bell and marveled at the A-bomb Dome.

Then we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto, found our ryokan (pronounced dyo-kan) and went to sleep. The next day we woke up and walked and walked and walked. We went to the Golden Pavilion, a temple covered in GOLD! It was GORGEOUS - definitely a must see for anyone coming to Japan and Denis's favourite sight yet. The leaves were changing colour making it all the more beautiful. Then off to Ryoanji, the famous rock garden, very quiet, very interesting, very...zen. Then we went to another temple in search of more leaf changing photo ops, and another, and another and then we went downtown to eat and search out geisha. We walked and walked and walked and though we found food, we had less luck finding geisha. We returned to our ryokan, grabbed our onsen gear and went off walking in search of the onsen recommended by our Lonely Planet book. After way more walking than we thought we finally found it, we soaked, relaxed and took the bus back to bed. The next day we went to Nara, to see the seated Daibutsu. It was great, and there were a ton of dear, who were believed to be messengers of the gods - yes Marc, those are messengers of the gods you are eating - and you could by deer food for 150 yen, but we cheaped out and showed our affection by petting them rather than feeding them. After more walking and a lunch near a pond in a park full of people painting and sketching and a lovely Japanese lady who gave us some candy we headed off to Osaka to see the city at night since we were only planning on being there for the day before our flight. We went to the top of a really tall building with an outdoor observatory and watched the sun set over the Osaka delta, beautiful. Then we walked around some more interesting areas of Osaka and saw the Osaka tower and a lot of more questionable establishments...and then went back to Kyoto. Our last day in Kyoto was spent in search of geisha and souvenirs and we found them both! But when you see a geisha you had better be ready cause they walk FAST, really, really fast and they disappear quickly...but I caught a couple! Our last day we went to the Osaka castle and walked around the huge park that surrounds it, although it started to rain 4 hours before we had to get to the airport but, it's not much fun to be wet so we went to the airport to see if we could get an earlier flight...no such luck but we enjoyed some Starbucks and the final day of the sumo tournament in the Arrivals area...it was a great way to spend the day.

So that’s it, whew... one week till Denis's birthday and only three more weeks of work till our two week Christmas vacation in Okinawa!! Merry Christmas Everyone.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

OCTOBER

So October has come and gone, we went to the Philippines and that was very interesting experience (see the post below for the details) other than that we stayed around Ashikaga and hung out with friends and of course we showed the Japanese how to do Halloween.

After returning from the Philippines we went for dinner with one of my students, Tsugawa. He took us to a very nice tempura restaurant in Ashikaga and the food was great, but the wine was even better. Tsugawa always chooses great wines, I am so lucky as good wine is hard to find here. We had tempura shrimp, two kinds of mushrooms, squid, crab, onion, Denis and Tsugawa had raw squid and squid liver as an appetizer and fried shrimp legs as a crunchy treat...I ate unagi (eel) and it was not too bad.


And then there was Halloween, I made some sweet costumes. Denis was Mr. Incredible and I was Supergirl since we didn't want to scare the little kids too much we decided to be something fun and everybody loved it, especially our Japanese coworker, I am going to post the pictures on the other website, sarahanddenis.toadfire.com. So we had a Halloween party for all the preschool kids and about 80 people showed up, it was kind of a zoo but it was fun. And then we went to a friends apartment for an adult only Halloween party and that was a lot of fun, some of us had more fun than others (Denis :) It would seem that Japanese men like to dress up as women, there was a slutty one, a pregnant one, and a surfer one...it was great anyways.













That was about it, October was pretty quiet. But check out the pictures and send us an email we miss you all!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Philippines

So we escaped to the Philippines for our extended weekend vacation, we booked a flight to leave Saturday but we got to the airport and it was a HUGE mess, there was a typhoon the Friday night that cancelled a few flights and there was a big backlog, not to mention we were flying with the most incompetent airline, Northwest. We waited in line for 12 hours, then had to sleep in the airport, finally got rebooked on another flight, and then left...the story is much more complicated there was no information, no updates, no one to ask, it was ridiculous and when we tried to volunteer our tickets to other people trying to get to funerals or weddings we were told no...anyways we made it to Manila and it was crazy.

We have never been anywhere like that before, we stepped out of the airport and got into a cab, that was the easy part. We got to the bus place, I can't call it a terminal since it was just a place with a lot of busses but no ticket counter just a lot of people trying to get you into their bus. After a two and a half hour bus ride with people coming on and off trying to sell us things, we got off in Batangas, a port city where we were to take a boat to Puerto Galera but when we got off the bus we were once again swallowed up by people trying to get us to go on their boat but they told us that the last boat had already left and it was going to cost A LOT, 10 times what the regular boat would cost, we were exhausted, a day late because of the airport and just wanted to hit the beach, so we paid the man and got to the boat. We had to pay them first because they needed to buy gas for the boat so we gave them the money and then they left and we were sitting in the boat, in the water, and all these people kept coming up to us asking for tips, pushing off tip, boat carrying tip, it was a little scary and I thought for sure that we were screwed but they came back and we started off for White Beach, near Puerto Galera. They said it would only take one hour, it was late and it was starting to get dark, lucky us, we saw the sunset which was really beautiful but then it was dark and we were on this little boat in the ocean and it was dark, no light and other bigger boats around, we almost got ran over by a ferry and had to go very slow because they were waves and we couldn't see them because it was dark, the ride ended up taking 2.5 hours, but we made it.

Once we were there it was beautiful, we stayed in this overpriced hotel the first night because we were exhausted and just wanted somewhere clean with a door that locked, the next day we asked the front desk what the best way to get to the smaller beach that Lonely Planet had said was much nicer, they told us it would be 1000 pesos for a boat or they could drive us for 800, so we decided to take a walk. We found the beach it was just around the corner! Less than a 10 minute walk, that was the most frustrating thing about our experience in the Philippines, everyone is trying to rip you off. So we got our stuff and went to this other hotel, it was perfect. It was a much quieter beach, no boats, no hustlers, few people, white sand, clear blue water, and we were the only people staying at the hotel so everything was just for us. We went snorkeling and it was beautiful, like looking into an aquarium and there were sooo many fish, it was great until I saw a jellyfish! I had never seen a jellyfish, and didn't know that I was TERRIFIED of them, I saw a jellyfish and started hyperventalating. We saw back to shore and I was perfectly content to stay on the beach. Denis went back out and when he came back he said that it was beautiful, and he didn't see anymore jellyfish. So the next day I decided to go again, everything was beautiful again, until the jellyfish, I again freaked out and we started swimming back to shore. And then I saw a HUGE water snake, I jumped over Denis and took off - it was the scariest thing I have ever seen. I stayed out of the water after that. I decided that was enough for me...the beach was just fine. It was very relaxing, too bad it didn't last longer...the pictures on sarahanddenis.toadfire.com