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De cet auteur: Abud Nantel

Ce n'est qu'un aurevoir...


Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Well, we’ve been home just over one month now, and from the rainforest of Costa Rica, we plunged head first into our suburban Ottawa life, under a relentless sun that has scorched everyone’s patch of grass yellow. The contrast is striking: the houses feel huge, the stores even more so. The roads are wide, straight, smooth… and so long! Trees and flowers have been planted by man in neat rows and patterns, pretty and civilized, to offset the drab dullness of cement and pavement. And immediately, we fall into the demands of domesticity: buy a car, clean the house, plant the garden, mow the lawn, get groceries, buy clothes for the girls who have outgrown most of their wardrobe, run to appointments, get the boat in the water, manage your stuff. Stuff is everywhere. Despite having thrown out bags of stuff before leaving, we begin unpacking and there is still too much stuff. The garbage bins along our neighborhood streets, on garbage night, are overflowing with stuff, much of it wasted or too easily disposed of. Planned obsolescence is such a money-making, marketing coup, but it seems such an affront to those who have to scrape together a living out of nothing.

My god, was it only a month ago that we were living wild and free, with nothing but what we could carry on our backs? It all seems so far away…

We are happy to be home, but not all to the same degree for the first few weeks… Chloée couldn’t wait to return and slips right back into her life. Her best friends organize a surprise welcome-home party for her and present her with a “treasure box” filled to the brim with mementos of what she missed during the year: birthday parties, Halloween, Christmas. She is delighted to be home. Arianne’s classmates organize a “special day” in class to celebrate her return, complete with welcome home banners and a picnic. However, she struggles for the first few weeks: it’s like she has forgotten how to hang out with kids her own age and it takes a while before she starts feeling comfortable and confident again. She says she misses being “just us”, with nothing else to do than be together, no distractions, no competing obligations. Alain and I are so overwhelmed by all the things that need to get done that we are on auto-pilot…

But then the dust begins to settle, slowly. We reconnect with family and friends, who embrace us with gentle, unconditional love. The house echoes with the laughter of busy play dates and the chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”, as the girls let loose playing Rock Band on the Wii. We head for the woods, on a weekend camping trip and after-dinner bike rides, and rediscover the magical aroma of sunbaked pine needles and the invigorating beauty of a swim in the lake. We fill our eyes and hearts with the colours, smells and textures of our Canadian wilderness. The light dances on maple and birch leaves, dappling the forest floor with liquid gold. As a homecoming gift to the girls, we repaint their bedrooms in bright, happy colours. They roll up their sleeves and pick up a paintbrush with us, and suddenly, it is just the four of us again, wrapped in the intimacy of a shared project.

And this is where we remind ourselves that it all really happened. We have learned to BE together on this journey. We have been inspired by the values, culture and ways of life of others. We have broadened our horizons, opened our minds, challenged our assumptions. We have seen and experienced beautiful things.

We hold dear what was and hope that it will shape what will be. We appreciate more fully the bounties of life in this beautiful country: clean air and water, arable land where we can grow enough food to feed the country, equal opportunities, universal health care, justice, peace, an economy that has weathered the crisis better than most… May we as Canadians recognize what we have and protect it before the tides change. Everything we enjoy here is a fragile privilege, and equilibrium that could easily be toppled by political or corporate greed. This has been the story of countless countries who have as much potential – in their resources, in their people, in their cultures and identities – as we do! It is our individual and collective responsibility to care for Canada, to nurture it, to protect it. And we must do this one random act of kindness, one judicious decision, one sacrifice, one vote at a time.

We will miss our nomadic life, but yes, we are happy to be home… until next time!

This may be our last blog entry for a while, and before signing off, I’d also like to note that we wrote this blog first, as a personal record of our adventures (hence the inordinate amount of details at times!), and second, to keep our loved ones abreast of what we were up to. I alternated writing my entries in English and French, in the hopes that this would allow us to reach out to more of you, but beyond that, we never gave much thought to the extent of our readership, nor was that ever really an issue of concern. However, we were quite surprised by the number of people who ultimately did take the time to follow us!

To our families and friends; to the friends, siblings and parents of our friends; to all of you who have joined us on this journey, who have shared our discoveries, and who have offered us your love and support in so many ways: MERCI. THANK YOU.

Nous vous aimons tous beaucoup et comme le dit si bien Saint Exupéry:
FAITES QUE LE RÊVE DÉVORE VOTRE VIE AFIN QUE LA VIE NE DÉVORE PAS VOTRE RÊVE!

Posté par Abud Nantel 12:25 Archivé dans Canada Commentaires (2)

Home for a month and looking back: our "Top Picks"


Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Now that we have had some time to digest our experience through personal reflection and recounting it to others, here are a few of our “Top Picks” in various categories and no particular order... knowing that we have surely forgotten something!

COOLEST THINGS WE’VE DONE

1. Snorkeling with sharks, sea lions, penguins, turtles and giant manta rays (Galapagos, Ecuador)
2. Raising funds to help an Ecuadorian family’s cocoa farm (Puerto Quito, Peru)
3. Sandboarding in the desert oasis of Huacachina (Peru)
4. Flying over the Nasca lines (Peru)
5. Visiting 1,000 year old Nasca mummies in Chauchilla cemetery (Nasca, Peru)
6. Ziplining in the cloud forest canopy (Mindo, Ecuador; Nosara, Costa Rica)
7. Bathing in volcanic hot springs (Ecuador, Peru)
8. Riding the world’s “most difficult train” – the Nariz del Diablo track (Alausi, Ecuador).
9. Crossing Ecuador’s gorges and rivers on Tarabitas (all over Ecuador!)
10. Spending a night on the Uros floating islands of Lake Titicaca (Peru)
11. Learning how to surf (Montezuma and Samara, Costa Rica)
12. Spending a few nights in the jungle on the Tambopata River, in Peru’s Amazon basin (Puerto Maldonado, Peru)
13. Living in an Ecuadorian indigenous village and partaking in their traditions… like symbolic face painting and eating worms (Santa Ana, Ecuador)
14. Walking Machu Picchu and visiting the holy sites and fortresses of Peru’s Sacred Valley (Cusco, Peru)
15. Spending a day at the Parc Astérix (France)
16. Climbing to the top of and taking in the views from Europe’s tallest cathedral spires (the tallest was in Ulm, Germany)
17. Visiting Rome’s coliseum and seeing where Julius Caesar allegedly died (Rome, Italy)
18. Going on a gondola ride and feeding the pigeons of Piazza San Marco in Venice (Italy)
19. Having a (huge!) beer and riding the (huge!) Ferris wheel at Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)
20. Visiting Europe’s largest zoo (Wilhelma Zoo)… and many smaller ones as well (Suttgart, Germany)
21. Visiting the Sagrada Familia and various Gaudi houses in Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)
22. Riding a camel in Tanger, Morocco
23. Visiting “real” castles, like Versailles, Newschwanstein and Ghent (France, Germany, Belgium)
24. Playing the iPad version of Carcassone (the board game) in Carcasonne (the medieval fortified city) (France)
25. Geocaching in Europe, including caches in a dimly lit passageway in the old quarter of Tours, one near an old medieval castle in the French countryside, and on Alicante’s beaches (France, Spain).
26. Visiting an artisanal brewery – and savouring their Gueuse – in Belgium (Beersel, Belgium)
27. Going “Arab” in Granada: hanging out in the old Arab quarter, the Albaicin, for Arab tea and a fantastic view of the Al-Hambra, and taking the girls for their first Arab baths and massage (Granada, Spain)
28. Going for a dip in the Adriatic sea (Villa Novi, Croatia)
29. Getting a free hug in Venice from one of the co-founders of the Free Hugs movement (Venice, Italy)
30. Visiting Vimy Ridge and showing the girls the trenches in which their great-grand-father fought (Vimy, France)
31. Meeting the Monkeys of Gibraltar (Gibraltar)
32. Seeing a flamenco show in Seville (Sevilla, Spain)
33. Visiting the site of Expo ’92, where Manon worked a long, long time ago! (Sevilla, Spain)
34. Being immersed in the sights and sounds of the tropical forest (howler monkeys, parrots, crickets…) in our house in Montezuma, Costa Rica
35. Going for a Bagel-Cream Cheese, at 11:30pm, at the Toronto Airport Tim Horton’s – our re-entry in Canadian society.

MOST BEAUTIFUL NATURE EXPERIENCES

1. The Andes in general, and the Lares Trek in particular (Peru)
2. Amazon macaws and parrots feeding at the Tambopata River clay lick, at sunrise (Peru)
3. View of the Chimborazo, Ecuador’s tallest peak (6300m), from the 2nd base camp at 5000m (Ecuador)
4. Sunrise on Lake Titicaca and the Uros floating Islands (Peru)
5. View from the top – and the bottom – of the Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon (3400m), and the flight of the condors at the Cruz del Condor (Peru)
6. The Galapagos Islands in general, and especially Tortuga Bay (Santa Cruz Island ) and
Los Tuneles (Isabela Island) (Ecuador)
7. Playa Pelada (Nosara, Costa Rica)
8. Plitvice National Park (Croatia)
9. The French countryside in the Vosges and Poitou region
10. The train ride from Munich to Venice, along the Alps
11. The view on Gibraltar and Africa, from the middle of the Straights of Gibraltar
12. The view of the Mediterranean and the mountains of Morocco from the beach in Ceuta
13. The wildlife of Costa Rica, where we saw and identified 63 species of animals in the wild, including monkeys, birds, butterflies, insects… and South America’s largest crocodiles (Montezuma, Parque Nacional Carrara, La Paz Waterfall Garden). Lots of wildlife in Ecuador as well (Galapagos, birdwatching in Mindo)
14. The waterfalls of Banos (Ecuador) and Montezuma (Costa Rica)
15. Cajas National Park (Ecuador)

MOST BEAUTIFUL CITYSCAPES

1. Barcelona: Park Guell, the Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi Houses and La Rambla, with its “human statues” (Barcelona, Spain)
2. The giant Ferris Wheel at Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)
3. The Paris skyline as viewed from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower
4. The walls of the fortified city of Carcassonne (France)
5. The ruins of the Abbaye of Villers-la-Ville (Belgium)
6. Granada’s albaicin and Al-Hambra (Spain)
7. The harbor and towers of La Rochelle (France)
8. Venice (including the island of Murano)… all of it (Italy)
9. The motorless ferries that cross the Rhine in Basel (Switzerland)
10. The view on the Grande Place and Belfry of Lille from the Café Meo – while savouring one of their sinfully delicious “merveilleux” (Lille, France)
11. Seville’s Plaza de Espana and its Giralda by night (Sevilla, Spain)
12. The colonial cities of Cuenca, Ecuador (the old colonial quarters around the Cathedral) and Arequipa, Peru (the Plaza de Armas, the Monasterio Santa Catalina, and the imposing, white stone colonial buildings) (Ecuador, Peru)
13. Renting bicycles for the girls on Sunday mornings, in Quito’s central park (Ecuador)
14. The hustle and bustle of Riobamba’s Sunday Market, with its signature roast pork (“chancho light”, a supposedly low-fat, low-cholesterol version of the pig) and large indigenous population in traditional clothing.
15. The laidback, sandy streets of Puerto Villamil (Isla Isabella, Galapagos, Ecuador)

A FEW ERRORS AND OMISSIONS ALONG THE WAY…

1. “Taking a chance” on a cheap airline… Please be advised: stay away from Santa Barbara Airlines (based in Caracas, Venezuela) – it’s NOT worth it!
2. The unofficial Lake Titicaca taxi boat that ended up costing us half a day of visiting and gave us three hours of rolling waves and diesel fumes instead!
3. Driving a Skoda on the autobahn… and a BWM on backcountry roads in France (while the kids yelled for daddy to slow down because they were car sick!).
4. Both houses we rented in Costa Rica where great, but a bit further from the local village than we had expected… a bit more taxiing than planned.
5. Chloée’s unfortunate fall down some stairs and resulting cast for two days in Zagreb… but the health care services there were excellent, and practically free!
6. Forgetting our bankcard in the bank machine… twice! And twice saved by a local good Samaritan.
7. We could have done with a bit less clothing to lighten our packs, but on the other hand, this did save us in instances were we had to go from hot to cold to hot climes, and when we couldn’t wash (or dry!) our clothing.
8. We thought we were buying too many travel souvenirs, but now that we are home, we realize that we actually quite reasonable… and perhaps could have indulged in a few more mementos!
9. We didn’t quite get through the official French and Math curriculum, but we’re hoping to wrap that up before September.
10. Almost forgetting one suitcase on the baggage carousel… in Toronto, on our flight home!

THE “CRITTER COMFORTS” OF HOME WE WERE HAPPY TO REDISCOVER (AFTER SIX MONTHS IN SOUTH AMERICA)

1. Hot and potable water straight from the tap
2. A fully equipped, North American kitchen: sharp knives, potato peeler, dishwasher, a full complement of spices and condiments…
3. A comfy bed and big, fluffy pillows
4. Having a full wardrobe of clothes to select from
5. Toilets that flush by themselves, and in which you can put the toilet paper
6. Separate rooms (and beds) for the girls…. And some privacy for mom and dad!
7. Books and toys for the girls
8. Fully-stocked grocery stores, with a wide variety of fresh produce and healthy, whole-grain breads
9. Central heating (when its cold outside) and air conditioning (when its hot outside)
10. Canada’s diversity: people of all sizes, shapes, colours, traditions and cultures and the richness we derive from that as a nation

WHAT WE WILL MISS THE MOST FROM BEING ON THE ROAD

1. The freedom and spontaneity of a life on the road
2. Having no other obligations but to each other
3. A slower pace of life, with plenty of time to smell the roses
4. The quality and quantity of time we had together
5. Being immersed in other cultures and sceneries
6. Speaking Spanish
7. Fresh tropical fruits
8. The combination of being able to walk to most places, very cheap taxis and efficient public transportation
9. Meeting new people on a quasi-daily basis
10. The constant process of learning and discovery that kept us awed and on our toes

THE “REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK” – WHAT STRIKES US MOST ABOUT COMING HOME AFTER SIX MONTHS IN SOUTH AMERICA

1. Everything seems expensive
2. The big marketing machines make it difficult to avoid buying junk and eating junk
3. Everything is big – Price Club and Home Depot made our heads spin! – and even the smallest houses seem enormous
4. There are a lot of cars on our roads, for a relatively small population – because of distances and lack of population density, ours is a very car-centric was of life
5. It takes 20 minutes to travel 30km… instead of 2 hours (and there are no cows or rivers to deal with on the road)
6. Everything is disposable and made of plastic: as a society, we generate a lot of waste and seem little inclined to “reduce, reuse and recycle” despite our blue bin programs
7. The values of the Harper government… when you compare to the Ecuadorian government, for example, who rewrote its Constitution to include the Rights of Nature and the Right of Indigenous Peoples, or the Government of Costa Rica, where 25% of the national territory is protected
8. Machines do more than people (because of the cost of labour). For example: “human payphones” were the norm in Cusco: people with bright neon vests, paid by the local cell provider, to stand around all day with cell phones for hire. And people fix and re-fix things until they can't be fixed anymore, instead of throwing them out.
9. We had forgotten how noisy air conditioning units could be, when you are sitting in your backyard…
10. Business is somewhat self-imposed… so why do we make our lives so busy?

Posté par Abud Nantel 12:15 Archivé dans Canada Commentaires (1)

Quelques statistiques de voyage...


Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

42 324 Km parcourus (ou 1,1 fois le tour de la Terre)
20 245 Visiteurs à notre Blog
14 183 Photos
5 000 Mètres... l'altitude la plus élevée que nous ayons atteinte (El Chimborazo, Équateur)
3 850 Dollars amassés pour notre campagne de levée de fonds
768 Le nombre de marches gravies pour arriver au sommet du pignon de la Basilique d'Ulm, la plus haute d'Europe (161,5m)
283 Jours sur la route
134 Kg de valises au retour (12 valises et sacs)
104 Entrées sur notre Blog de voyage
70 Villes visitées
65 Espèces d’animaux vus au Costa Rica (sans compter ceux que nous n'avons pas pu identifier)
26 Câbles de 'zipline' traversés, dont le plus long était de 850m, dans deux pays
22 Sites du patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco visités
18 Envolées
13 Pays visités
13 Généreuses familles d’accueil
11 Coupes de cheveux dans 4 pays différents
9 Semaines de bénévolat en Amérique du Sud
6 Différents modes de transport
6 Cartes SIMS achetées (iPad et téléphone cellulaire)
5 Différent requins marteaux vue dans les eaux des Galápagos
4 Continents visités
4 Caméras achetées
4 Visites chez le médecin
4 Cœurs bien remplis de bonheur et d’amour
3 Jours - notre plus long trek (Lares, Pérou)
1 Plâtre (que pendant deux jours - heureusement)
1 Membre de la famille qui a goûté un gros vers blanc cru dans la forêt tropicale de l'Équateur (devinez qui?)
1 Visite de la fée des dents Costa Ricaine
1 Famille unie et heureuse
1 Grand rêve de réalisé... Oui, tout est possible quand on y croit!
1 GROS MERCI à tous ceux et celles qui nous ont suivis et appuyés
0 Maladies ou malchances sérieuses

Un nombre incalculable de rencontres chaleureuses et inoubliables

= 1 voyage incroyable et inoubliable

Posté par Abud Nantel 10:04 Commentaires (3)

Homeward-Bound…


Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

Well there you have it: on September 27, 2011 we left Ottawa via train to Toronto on the way to Munich. It is only fitting that we will be leaving San Jose today, heading to Ottawa via Toronto, for the final leg of our 283-day journey.
Before leaving, we took note of a few interesting facts and figures… Some of which have evolved over the course of this adventure. Let’s see how we made out:

40 000 KM OF TRAVEL
The total distance we traveled amounted to 42 324 km, which is the equivalent of circumventing the world 1.1 times. This distance only includes the distance between each of our stopping points, and excludes all of the visiting we did within a region.

570 LBS OF GROSS WEIGHT AT DEPARTURE (LUGGAGE = 190LBS, PERSONS = 380LBS)
660lbs of gross weight upon arrival in Ottawa. Luggage = 295lbs… not counting the many boxes of souvenirs we shipped home. Persons = 365 lbs… Not sure how the family weight came down, since we had yummy typical cuisines and few opportunities to exercise – and the girls both grew at least 2 inches!

277 DAYS ON THE ROAD
We actually spent 283 days on the road. This equates to roughly 2% of Manon’s or my time on Earth or 5% of the kids’ lives.

24 PAIRS OF CLEAN UNDERWEAR
Well, some are not so clean but in total, we are returning home with 21 pairs! Who knows where the missing pairs are? Maybe one pair in Rome, one in Cusco, or even on some Costa Rican beach!

21 SCHOOLBOOKS
Schooling was a challenge since there were many competing priorities and its not always obvious to be a teacher and a parent at the same time. Often, we would say to the kids “ If I was your teacher, would you speak to me that way??” (the answer was always no).
Our main concern was to keep up with French and Math and a bit of English (their spoken English has improved a lot, especially after spending one month with the Australian volunteers in Cusco). For the rest of the subjects, I am sure they took in way more on the road. To wit: despite the fact that I started studying Spanish first, they have both picked up enough Spanish by osmosis to correct my mistakes and engage in simple conversations with the locals.
We completed roughly 95% of the required schoolwork and we will catch-up during the summer months.
We are returning with 14 schoolbooks… that’s mostly because we allowed the kids the pleasure of tearing up their math workbooks as they completed them (and sent some home)!

17 SCRIPTS OF PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
This is the best statistic of all since we have hardly needed any of our prescription drugs. Four times we needed antibiotics, but for very mundane reasons and these were easily purchased or given for free locally – and twice (during our last week!!), we used our own stock.
The only other prescription drug we needed was the altitude sickness pills that we used a few times as a precautionary measure, particularly when going from sea-level in the Galapagos straight to 3200m in Cusco.
But even better than that is the fact that during our entire voyage, no one vomited, nor suffered from Montezuma’s revenge (guess the local Gods like us!)! No illness due to water of food, no kissing the china bowl and no picking up messes... Yahoo!
We also used very little of the non-prescription drugs we brought along, but made up for this in our Kids’ Gravol consumption. This was certainly the most useful drug to navigate the winding roads of South America: twice, we had a shipment sent to us from Canada.

7 ELECTRONIC DEVICES (5 OF WHICH ARE APPLE)
We currently have in our luggage 6 electronic devices. Our handheld GPS, cell phone and 4 USB keys were stolen while we spent the night stranded in the Guayaquil airport (the luggage was on the plain so it appears the luggage handlers went shopping). We easily replaced the cell phone in Quito, and discovered the GPS in the iPad (with an active SIM card) was better than the GPS, so it all worked out…
However, on the topic of electronic devices – damn those cameras! We purchased 4 of them over the course of this trip: that’s 4 X $400.00, 3 of which were NOT included in our budget… not to mention the time (at least 7 days!) required running around to get the broken ones fixed and to purchase new ones.
The saga goes as follow:
Camera #1: Nikon, bought in Ottawa, lasted 2 months (we expect a refund from the Ottawa store). We mailed this one back to Ottawa from Ecuador, where it ultimately died.

Camera #2: identical to the first Nikon (we had spare batteries, etc. so thought it would be smart to buy the same model again), bought in Madrid, lasted 2 weeks. We needed to go through the Nikon warranty program in Spain to get it fixed, so we left it in Seville and it made its way home to Ottawa, via the friend of a friend who works at the Canadian Embassy in Madrid.

Camera # 3: a Sony Cybershot, bought in Quito on Sunday (it died on a Sunday morning, and we were leaving for Santa Ana on Monday morning. Sony store was the only place that sold decent cameras and that was open). Lasted 6 weeks and broke down in Peru. The Sony warranty is valid in 10 South-American countries – excluding Peru, but including Costa Rica. We therefore dropped it off in a friendly Sony repair center in San Jose, and believe it or not they validated the warranty via e-mail, ordered parts before we arrived in San Jose and fixed the camera in 24h. Now that's service.

Camera # 4: a Panasonic Lumix, purchased in Cusco, – in a camera store that sits within roughly 2 square kilometers of small huts that sell brand name goods… The camera to date works beautifully and takes great pictures.
All that being said, we were able to take over 14 000 beautiful photos and hours of video footage and the only location we have no good photos from is Madrid.

We will now have 4 cameras in Ottawa... and 3 for sale, any takers?

As fare as the Apple products go, we had 1 MacBook (and completely used up ALL its memory capacity), 1 IPad, 1 IPhone and 2 IPods… all of which, we have had absolutely no problems with. Two thumbs up for Apple! Wish they made cameras…

11 COUNTRIES (GERMANY, ITALY, CROATIA, FRANCE, SPAIN, MOROCCO, SWITZERLAND, ECUADOR, PERU, COSTA RICA, CANADA)
We actually saw 13 countries, because we added Gibraltar and Belgium along the way – and both were definitely worth the detour!

6 CAPITAL CITIES (ROME, PARIS, QUITO, LIMA, MADRID, SAN JOSE)
Yep, saw them all and added Zagreb and Brussels for a total of 8. In total we visited over 70 villages and cities... and countless historical sites.

4 CONTINENTS
4 (North America, South America, Europe and Africa), but 5 if you count Central America.

1 HAPPY FAMILY
Still one very happy family and despite all the ups and downs of the voyage, we are more united than ever. Something has to be said for spending 8.5 months together, without being separated for no more than +-12 hrs (that’s in total!).

Before leaving, we had also created our “bucket list” for the voyage. We are proud to say we accomplished mostly everything on this list, plus many more wonderful things we couldn’t even have dreamed off! There is much to be said for spontaneity when on a trip like this…
• Play at the Village Astérix
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• Visit the Eiffel Tower
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• Dive in the Galapagos and visit Lonesome George (the tortoise)
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• See Julius Caesar’s Coliseum in Rome
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• Trek in Peru’s Sacred Valley and visit Machu Picchu
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• Go to Middle Earth – “la Mitad del Mundo” – on the line of the Equator
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• Paddle on the Amazon and experience night time in the jungle
The River was the Tambopata but it was in the Amazon and we did sleep there for 4 nights
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• Sleep in a tree house in the cloud forest (we certainly spend many weeks in the cloud forest but did not actually sleep in a tree house)

• Visit Christopher Columbus’s tomb in Seville’s cathedral
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• Travel on the world’s most difficult train in Equator – the “Nariz del Diablo”, from Riobamba to Sibambe
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• Give back to the poorest in Equator and Peru
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• Do absolutely nothing for 10 days, preferably by a beach (we actually got to do this for almost two months, if you count Galapagos and Costa Rica)
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• See a professional soccer game, say games in Alicante (Spain), Cusco (Peru) and a Fifa world qualifier in San Jose (Costa Rica). El Salvador vs Costa Rica
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• Guided tour of the Vatican (we saw the Vatican but did not have a guided tour, and sadly, missed the Sistine Chapel by a few minutes… there’s a reason to return!)
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• Visit the Pompidou Modern Art Museum
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• Visit the Al-Hambra in Granada
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• Drink Arab Tea in the Calle de las teterias in Granada (who would’ve thought we would also do this in Tanger, Morroco)
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• Snorkel in company of tropical fish (who would have thought this would have included sharks, turtles, sea lions and giant manta rays?)
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• Ride the metro in Paris

• Visit the Versailles and Neuschwanstein castles
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• Take the cable car in Quito. Not sure where we got that idea, but Quito does not actually have cable cars… Oops! But we took the metro bus, which was quite an experience – let’s just say that OC Transpo does not pack its busses as tightly than they do in Quito… In Ottawa, you can actually see out the window and breath. In Quito, you sort of hover 3 inches above the ground and make friends with the neighbours, hoping you can make it to the door when your stop comes. We also rode the Teleferico, a cable car that takes you to the top of a mountain to enjoy a splendid view of the city… on clear days, which was not the case when we were there!

• Visit the comic book museum in Poitier – this is the only bucket list item we completely missed… Instead, we used our time in Poitiers to visit Tours and La Rochelle, which were both wonderful.

• Take a boat taxi in Venice - not only did we take the boat taxi on many occasions but we also took a Gondola ride
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AND A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS…
Many have asked how we financed this adventure: through my work, I put aside 20% of my salary for 5 years via a corporate “self-funded sabbatical” program (Manon was on a similar system). This provided us with a regular income for the duration of our trip, as well as for the two summer months we will spend at home. Therefore, we could say that the real cost of our trip was for us to have used/less fancy cars, limit our outings to the restaurant, and live with the hand-me-down furniture we’ve had since we bought our house… for 5 years.

Budget-wise, we are coming home with empty pockets but no debts. Break-even. Most budget-line items ended up costing us a bit more than we had planned (lodging, food, and activities), and we had not thought to include over $1000 of postal feels to send home souvenirs! However, our airfare budget came in surprisingly low… Aside from the Santa Barabara Airline disaster between Caracas and Guyaquil, our flights were all comfortable, on-time and with reputable airlines. The trick was to book “multi-city” flights, rather than book one leg at a time. The savings were significant enough to allow us to balance our budget.

It is also incredible to think that it was cheaper for us to live abroad than to live in Ottawa, in our own home (this is in large measure because our house was rented and we sold our cars, so we had very few expenses in Ottawa). Since the trip ended up lasting 8.5 months and we both had 12 months off, the most expensive portion of the sabbatical will be our summer in Ottawa. Thus the reason we decided that I would go back to work after 10.5 months.
It was very refreshing to spend many months (and Christmas) away from the North American marketing machines and big box stores, which were virtually absent in Ecuador in Peru (but much more present in San Jose, Costa Rica) – although the brand we saw the most during our entire trip (including Europe and South America) was… Coca Cola. They were absolutely everywhere, including the most remove villages we visited.

Visiting our friends in Europe was amazing and we left with many magical memories. However, from a purely touristic point of view, the experience of seeing the most renowned buildings and sites of Europe (Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, Venice’s canals, the city of Carcassonne and many more) pales in comparison to the jaw-dropping beauty of the cultures and nature we experienced in South America. We were absolutely mesmerized by the Andes, the Amazon, the Cloud forests and the oceans we had the privilege of exploring. The top destination for the whole family was, hands down, the Galapagos…
We (mostly Manon) wrote in total over 100 blog entries, posted over 3,000 photos, and count some 20 000 visits to our blog. The next step for us is to see if we can make a more permanent version of our blog and have it printed.

The family is divide over going home, 1 person is REALLY looking forward to being back home and seeing friend and family and familiar places, 1 is on the fence, and the other 2 could stay on the road for a while longer… But I won’t tell who’s who.

The hardest part of this whole project was leaving Ottawa. It is surprising the extent to which, once on the road, it was easy to travel together. The Internet was accessible everywhere and our Lonely planet guides gave us sound and fair advice. I also suspect starting to work again will be relatively hard – going back to work also means preparing lunches for the kids, communing to work… the daily grind.

With regards to personal security, we never, ever felt in any danger or threatened in any way. The only negative experience we had were the two thefts at the Guayaquil airport, where our bags were opened on two separate occasions by baggage handlers (lesson learned). Surely, traveling with children gave us a form of “security blanket”, as we avoided obscure places and were tucked in bed early in the evenings (instead of being out and partying). To all the people who warned us about the dangers of South America: everybody we met, everywhere we went, were kind, generous and helpful. From strangers on the street, to store owners, to policemen – everybody went out of their way to help us… and the smaller and more remote the town or village, the friendlier people were.

During our first volunteer program in Puerto Quito (Ecuador), we participated in the family’s cocoa bean harvest. In total, 40 hours of labour allowed to harvest and sun dry 106 lbs of cacao beans – which netted the family a total of $65 when sold to a local bean broker. We decided to ask our friends and family to contribute $50 towards a fundraising effort aiming to purchase equipment that would allow the family to transform these beans into cacao paste, a product whose profit margin is significantly greater. In total, we collected $3 850.00 and this was enough for a 60% down payment on industrial-grade machines that will serve to process the cacao beans collected on our host families’ property (as well as on neighboring farms), thus allowing an entire community to obtain a fairer return on their land and labour. Many, many thanks to all of you who have contributed to this project. Please see below what your contribution has purchased! And remember: you have an open invitation to visit Pedro and his family whenever you please.
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Our three volunteering programs gave us the opportunity to live, learn, love and laugh with amazing people from amazing places – this was the glue that stitched together all of our South American adventures and certainly, what will have had the biggest impact on our lives and left us with some of our most wonderful memories. Many thanks to our host families.
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This was an amazing journey, many thanks to my three amazing women for the great company. Hoping we can keep some of the magic to ease back into our routine and facilitate the daily grind of ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ (commute, work and sleep). Also, many, many thanks to our families’ support and especially to my brother Jérôme for his administrative support back home.

As they say in Costa Rica: Pura vida… when do I get to go surf again? Damn that was fun!

Alain

Posté par Abud Nantel 07:23 Commentaires (5)

Pura Vida in San Jose (by: Manon)

sunny 18 °C
Voir Aventure 2011 2012 sur la carte de Abud Nantel.

While in the Nicoya Peninsula, we had the chance to experience a bit of Costa Rica’s rural life: a mix of coastal villages (populated by Tico fishermen, lots of surfer dudes and Ticos that cater to the needs of the surfer dudes) and inland farming villages, where cowboys (sporting cowboy boots and cowboy hats) on beautiful horses herd large trains of white brahma cows… We were eager to see what the big city had to offer! Although by Latin American standards, San Jose is a small capital: population 350,000 and 1.5 million in the larger metro area.

It should also be noted that Costa Rica’s story is a bit different than that of other central American countries: the indigenous population was very sparse when the Spanish came here. While they did manage to practically exterminate the few that were here, the area (initially part of the Kingdom of Guatemala) was relatively inhabited and primarily colonized by small, independent farmers over time. As such, the country does not have as marked a history of slavery and conquistas, so typical of its Central American neighbours. This also lies behind the country’s very progressive socio-political history: a culture built on solidarity, which led to the introduction of universal education and healthcare in the early 1940’s and, following the end of its last civil war in 1948, the decision that this tiny country would be without an army.

We only had four days in San Jose, and had our rental car for the first two. We therefore took advantage of our wheels to visit the lush green valleys that surround Chepe, as San Jose is affectionately nicknamed by the Ticos (Costa Ricans).

Day 1 took us to the summit of the Poas volcano, 2500m – a deep pit of grey ashes, at the bottom of which lies a turquoise lake… A very impressive site! And from there, we were off to the La Paz Waterfall Garden, a private botanical garden and zoo built around a stunning series of waterfalls (the highest dropping 37m) along the La Paz river. Because this park likes on the slopes of the Poas volcano, it actually combines two different types of ecosystems: cloud forest vegetation on top, and rain forest vegetation on the bottom. It was absolutely beautiful, worthy of a Jurassic Park film set. And their collection of animals – all of which were obtained legally or through animal rescue initiatives – was wonderful: we fed toucans, saw a real tree frog (you know: the cool green ones with the big red eyes!), and stared a mighty jaguar in the eyes.

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On Day 2, we headed in the opposite direction and drove to the top of Volcan Irazu, the country’s highest active volcano at 3500m. The summit was shrouded in thick clouds, and the temperature was 10oC cooler than at the bottom (12oC!)… we were afraid that the 1 hour drive to get here was all for naught, but Mother Nature was on our side: we walked through the clouds to get to the edge of the main caldera and lo! The clouds parted and a ray of sun shone through, illuminating the jade green lake that lies at the bottom of the volcano… Stunning! The kind of view that makes you go "wow!" when you first look upon it! We also spent a few hours in Cartago, Costa Rica’s second largest city, and home of the country’s most venerated relic: La Negrita. This is a small, black, stone statue of a woman holding a small child which was allegedly found in the forest by a young indigenous girl hundreds of years ago and miraculously kept disappearing, only to reappear on the spot where she had been found… Over time, she was named the country’s patron saint, and the Basilica de Los Angeles was built to honour her. This, I must say, is perhaps the most strikingly beautiful church we’ve seen in South America… While the outside is rather dull – grey granite and white cherubs – the inside is a symphony of precious Costa Rican wood and natural light. It was built in 1912 (previous incarnations of the temple here having fallen victim to earthquakes and other natural disasters), and its architects avoided the rococo style so prevalent in former Spanish colonies… Truly, it was worth the visit. Faithfuls come here from across the country and beyond to worship and pray to La Negrita, often going from the church's front door to the main alter on their knees - on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm, we saw at least 10 people going down the aisle on their knees (they also leave small medallions representing the object of their prayers - there was full window full of body parts left by cancer patients, for example)!

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With two days remaining in the capital (and no more rental car), we made friends with Roger, the taxista, and had him drive us around a bit to get a feel for the city… The centre is rather small, and not much of the colonial heritage has survived, so we focused on a few attractions:

- The beautiful Teatro Nacional, which is the city’s architectural crown jewel. In 1890, the city’s rich coffee growers felt their capital (which was the third city in the world to have electric lighting, after New York and Paris!) should have an Opera House where the elite could enjoy a bit of culture. They approached the government of the time with the idea, and offered to pay a voluntary tax to fund the project. It was agreed that they would thus provide a budget of 200,000 gold pesos… However, as with most construction project, they quickly ran out of money and the final price tag came to 3,000,000 gold pesos! The balance was funded by an importation tax, which mostly affected the country’s poor and middle classes – a group who could only have access to the theatre’s third balcony, and only via an outside door that ensured they couldn’t mingle with the rich and famous!

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- The Plaza de la Cultura, a small, non-descript plaza which is the central gathering point in the city… and where the girls found as many pigeons to feed as they found in Venice’s Piazza San Marco!

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- The Museo de los Ninos, a combo of science museum for children and art gallery, housed in a former prison that looks like a medieval castle – and the largest and best children’s museum I’ve seen! We spent two hours and only got through half of it… and every exhibit was excellent. The girls loved it.

A friend of a friend who work at the Canadian Embassy here also did us the kindness of bringing us to her neighbourhood in Ezcasu, where we visited the workshop of Mr Biesanz, Costa Rica’s most eminent woodworking artist. His specialty is woodturning – Alain’s favourite hobby… Mr Biesanz came by the workshop to autograph the pieces we purchased, and gave Alain a tour of his workshop, sharing wood samples and trade secrets. Needless to say, Alain was absolutely delighted! And our luggage suddenly got a few kilos heavier… but it was impossible to resist: his craftsmanship his truly superior, and the exotic woods he uses (all from naturally fallen trees on his personal property) are breathtakingly beautiful.

Oh, and very important: our Sony Camera was promptly repaired, under warranty, by the very nice people at the Romano Sony Service Centre in La Uruca, 2km away from our hotel – or as they explained it tom me: 175m east of the sport field, right in front of the waterhose central. Of course! The cab driver found it in no time…

We also treated our Super Papa Alain to an early father’s day gift: a night out at San Jose’s brand new football stadium, for the first World Cup qualifying game in the Concacaf: Costa Rica vs El Salvador. The excitement in the city mounted through the day, with street vendors hawking Costa Rica’s red jerseys and busloads of el Salvadorians painted and dressed in blue and white pouring into the city. The evening did not disappoint: the match was excellent, fast and fluid; the stadium was packed; the crowd cheered and booed as one as the game unfolded and spontaneously broke into chants and the wave all night… and the power went out for 30 minutes at the 31st minute of the game! Thankfully, Ticos are laidback, friendly people… no one got overly upset, and they just worked on their chants as they waited for things to get back on track. Final score: 2-2.

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Which reminds me that I should perhaps explain the reference to “Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”) in the title of this entry… Ask just about any question to a Tico, and if the answer is positive, he or she will give you a “Pura Vida” response: How are you today? Pura vida. How was the football game? Pura vida. How was the weather at the beach? Pura vida. You see and hear this phrase everywhere, and the government has adopted it as its official marketing slogan – although I was not able to find out whether the line emanated from the people first, or whether they adopted it following a governmental marketing campaign (my vote would go to the former).

And that’s Costa Rica for you in a nutshell: bountiful and beautiful nature; laidback, friendly people; Pura Vida.

Posté par Abud Nantel 18:22 Archivé dans Costa Rica Tagué costa_rica san_jose irazu poas Commentaires (0)

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