10.06.2012 - 14.07.2012
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?