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Travel Tuesday – My 7 Super Shots

Last year, HostelBookers came up with a game called 7 Super Shots, in which they gave 7 travel photo categories.

Well, I missed the boat on the original game, but since this is Travel Photo Tuesday, I thought that I would play, albeit a little bit late!

  • A photo that…takes my breath away. I took this in Peru, in the Colca Valley – it was very early in the morning, and we were on our way to Colca Canyon to see the condors fly. The scenery and the mist (and the altitude!) took my breath away.

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  • A photo that…makes me laugh or smile. This picture was taken on Lake Nicaragua, on the ferry that took us to Ometepe Island. I talked the captain into letting me steer the boat – those are his sunglasses that I’m wearing, and the sign says ‘authorized personnel only’. One of my prouder moments!

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  • A photo that…makes me dream. Me: 21 years old, sand surfing in the peruvian desert, no responsibilities, still two months of travel ahead of me before heading back to real life. My dream right now is to get back to that state – planning a massive round the world trip!

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  • A photo that…makes me think. This is the Inti Raymi festival in Saqsaywaman, Peru. We decided to spend less time in Bolivia, to make sure that we wouldn’t miss it. As far as I know, it’ a re-enactment of an ancient royal event… although it all happened in Quichua, so I don’t actually know what happened. It makes me think about travel priorities – I still wish that I had spent time in Bolivia, but I’m also happy that I got to witness this event!

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  • A photo that…makes my mouth water. Ok, there are two of these, because the first picture is nothing special to look at. But you don’t understand. This is the best cheese sandwich you will ever have. In 2005, the bus ride from Quito to Canoa was 9 hours long, and about halfway into the journey, I would start thinking about this sandwich. Poor Marina had to listen to me go on about it for 5 hours. But she understood.
  • The second picture is from my first ever paid photography job. I took this picture for Taste, an excellent catering company based in Ottawa. This Burmese tomato salad tastes as amazing as it looks.

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  • A photo that…tells a story. Kids will be kids will be kids. I met these boys at an orphanage in Bamako, Mali. They were the ones who were too old to be adopted, and had been living there for most of their lives. Doesn’t matter – they were silly and hilarious and happy, like any other kid I’ve ever met.

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  • A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot). Come on, Nat Geo or Lonely Planet… I’m ready for you!

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Travel Photo Tuesday

I was just on a Gogobot Twitter chat yesterday, talking to Jenny about her upcoming RTW trip. Her first stop is the Inca Trail, which had me looking back through my pictures of Peru. I thought I’d make you smile today with this picture. There are llamas in so many pictures and postcards of Peru, and especially Machu Picchu. However, Marina and I weren’t able to frame a shot of a llama in front of Huayna Picchu, so we took matters into our own hands.

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Mugged in Peru, part 2

Continued from Mugged in Peru, Part 1

Reasons why I’ve attached this Friends clip:

– When I lived in Ecuador, my roommate Marina (the star of this story) and I watched this show religiously. We still get together once a year, and there hasn’t been a single time when we haven’t watched at least one episode together.

– Start watching at 0:39 – Ross’ tone is the one that I use when getting to this part of the story. I know that it sounds scary, but when I retell it, I have everyone laughing. I like to think of my second mugging as a heroic action story.

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At that point, I took my bag off and handed it to the second driver. Marina was still pulling on my hand, so as soon as my bag was free, I just went with her and both moto-taxis drove off. I lost everything: bank card, credit card, passport, camera, iPod, journal.

Upon hearing the commotion, everyone on the street quickly went back into their house and shut their door. Marina ran across the street and kicked down the closest door just as it was shutting. We barged into a family’s kitchen, and she announced that we needed help. Like I said, Marina really is the star of this story – she always knows what’s going on, and what needs to happen next. The family explained that they were worried that helping us would bring them trouble with the boys who had robbed us, but Marina was insistant and it wasn’t long before they agreed to help. They called the police, who came quickly, but were also quick to assume that we were just another set of dumb tourists. We chatted with them for a while and described the situation. We weren’t scared, we were angry. I think that our attitude, and our level of Spanish, convinced them that we weren’t dumb tourists (well…) but just really unlucky. They drove us to the bus station to pick up our bags (which were fine! untouched!), and to a hotel where we could stay for a few days while we sorted things out. It was a Saturday, and we had to wait until Monday to go into the police station so that I could make my report for my insurance claim.

While we were talking about all of this, Marina remembered that the boy had taken us to his house… and she remembered where it was! (Marina, I tell you! I don’t think that I’ll ever meet another travel partner quite like her) We started thinking that maybe the boy knew the drivers who had mugged us, and had gone into his house to call them and tell them that he had two tourists that they could steal from.  The cops decided that we should go to his house to try and identify him – they picked us up from the hotel, just as it was getting dark. Marina found our way back to the boy’s house, and we hid in the back of the police car for an hour (Police stakeout! In Peru! I’m not kidding!), waiting for the boy to come home. He came home, we identified him, and we drove off. They arrested him the next day.

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The rest of our time in Chiclayo was well spent: we spent the Sunday with the two cops, driving around in their car (while they were supposed to be on patrol). They gave us their hats, but mine was later taken from me by customs. We also found out that they’d been demoted, after we left.

Over the weekend, the cops had been back to the boy’s house, which were near some brick ovens. They found a document that was in my journal – we think that they quickly went through my bag, and burned anything that didn’t seem to have any value, and must have sold the rest on the black market. Marina (again!) had originally tried to make a deal with the boy, telling them that we would pay them to give me back my journal, but we had no luck.

On Monday morning, the police picked us up again and took us down to the station to identify him. We did, they thanked us and they told us to wait. We heard them beat him. A few hours later, we all met in a room – me, Marina, the boy, and a lawyer. We were each supposed to tell our side of the story. The boy tried to defend himself, but the lawyer appeared to be on my side and kept contradicting him and telling him that he had robbed us. Between Marina and the lawyer, I was covered. I still feel weird about the whole situation though. We later found out that they had detained him illegally (he was 17), and beating him didn’t help. They had to let him go and weren’t allowed to continue the investigation.

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After this eventful weekend, I got my form, and off we went. We had to cut the rest of our trip around northern Peru short, as I had to go straight to Lima and get a new passport and bank cards. My dad had already organized everything for me from his end, so that as I got to the embassy, all I needed was a picture and a signature, and I was able to process my application for an emergency passport. Still, we had to spend more time in Lima than we had originally planned.

How impressed do I look? I was NOT happy about having to spend time in Lima to get a new passport.

How impressed do I look? I was NOT happy about having to spend time in Lima to get a new passport.

We ended up arranging for all my replacement documents to be sent to Cusco, where we were ultimately headed before going to Bolivia. We were still able to continue our visit of Peru, going to Arequipa, Ica, Huacachina, Nasca and the Colca Canyon, because Marina, yet again a star, was able to cover the costs for both of us until I got my replacement bank card. We finally made it to Cusco around June 10. We fell in love with the city, and ended up staying there for two weeks, only going to Bolivia for a few days before I had to leave to go to Costa Rica.

Funny how things happen! Somehow, this mugging was less scary than the time I was mugged in Cuba, but it has still affected me. When I was in Mali last year, I was always a little uncomfortable when people approached my taxi. Hopefully that feeling goes away. The point is though, that it didn’t ruin my trip. Yes, I’m still sad about losing that journal – I’m only just starting to let it go. But thanks to Marina, the family and the great cops that helped us out, my situation was a lot better than it could have been, and it didn’t affect the rest of my trip (apart from having to spend more time than we planned in Lima!)

Tell me, has anything ever happened to you in your travels? Has it changed the way you travel?

 


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Mugged in Peru, part 1

I lived in Ecuador for a year, from August 2005 until August 2006. (You can read all about that here) I was going to university, and volunteering at The Secret Garden Hostel. When I finished school in May, my roommate Marina and I decided to go backpacking. I was meeting a friend in Costa Rica in mid-July before heading home mid-August, so we had six weeks ahead of us and decided to go to Peru and Bolivia.

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The original plan had been to spend two weeks in Peru, and four weeks in Bolivia. The image below was taken from the journal that I was keeping – it’s written in French, but you can see what our original travel plan was.

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We flew from Quito to Vilcabamba, where we spent a couple of days here – definitely worth it if ever you’re in southern Ecuador! From there, we took a bus to a town in northern Peru called Piura. Seasoned bus pros that we were, we fell asleep right away, and woke up at 3:30am at the border between Ecuador and Peru. The border post didn’t open until 4:30, so we got to stand around in the dark with 50 peruvians, amidst giant grasshoppers flying everywhere, staring at a sleeping border agent through the glass window. At 4:30, we got our passports checked, left Ecuador, walked across a bridge and ended up in Peru. We had our passports stamped on the peruvian side, got back on the bus and fell right back asleep, to wake up in Piura.

In Piura, we switched buses for Chiclayo, where we were going to take another bus to Trujillo to spend a few days there. We got to Chiclayo around noon, and our bus to Trujillo wasn’t until 4pm, so we decided to walk around for a bit and get to know the town. We didn’t want to be the tourists that were dumb enough to walk around town with their backpacks on, so we decided to leave them at the bus station while we visited. However, we also didn’t want to be the dumb tourists who left everything at the bus station and lost everything. It turns out that we were the dumb tourists who didn’t have money belts – we stuffed everything of value in our shoulder bags before hitting the town. Whatever – we were used to being extra careful with our belongings, and were pros at keeping eyes and hands on our things.

We ate some street food, visited the famed witch market, and we had some extra time so we decided to ask one of the motorcycle taxi drivers to give us a tour. He started driving us around town, and it wasn’t long before Marina and I realized that something wasn’t right. We were in a residential area with nothing to see and no one around, but we had no idea where we were so we couldn’t exactly do anything. We told the driver to take us back, and he said that he would in a bit. He pulled up outside a house, and told us that he was cold and was going in to get a jacket, and then he would take us to the bus station. We talked about it, but realized that there was nowhere for us to go, so we decided to stay in his taxi. The boy came back after a few minutes, got back in and said that he was taking us back now. As we were driving through a more populated neighbourhood, he started mumbling something about us getting robbed. Just as we asked him to repeat himself, I felt a jolt: another moto-taxi had bumped into my side of the taxi. Marina, always quicker than me, had already figured that we should run. There was a narrow canal on her side, and she pulled my hand as she jumped onto a small bridge crossing it. To be honest, I was still confused. Marina was pulling on my right arm, just as I felt someone yank my camera out of my left hand and start to pull on my bag. I started pulling back, and then I looked up… straight at a gun.


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Wheresalex… been?

 

 

 

Turnipseed travel has just posted a link about Hilary Clinton, showing a picture of her in every country that she’s visited while in her role as secretary of state. Which got me thinking: if I can’t be travelling right now (Well, I went to Regina recently. But I don’t think that counts.), I can at least think about all the awesome adventures that I’ve had.

The other day, I was at dinner with friends, and there was a sort of name dropping happening, only they weren’t talking about people, they were talking about countries that they’ve been to. I don’t know if I’m the same – sometimes, I feel awkward mentioning that I’ve been places. I don’t want to sound braggy, or annoying. But not today! Today, I’m going to do exactly what Hillz did – I’m going to post a picture of myself in each country that I’ve visited. Because this is my blog, and if I can’t get braggy on here, where can I?!

**Note: to my past self, you, and your potential future children:

1. Smile more in your photos. Until I was about 17, I looked grumpy in most pictures. I want to reach back and slap my 11-year-old self. 

2. Make sure you take pictures of yourself. Selfies, or ask a stranger (make a friend!) I’m usually the one taking pictures, which means that I’m rarely in them.

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To pack or not to pack? Part 1 : A trip down memory lane

Seven years ago (Seven! Where has the time gone!) I spent 3 months backpacking around Peru, Bolivia, Coast Rica, and Nicaragua. Everything I owned, I carried in my 36 litre backpack.

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The goal of this was twofold – obviously, I needed to be able to carry everything around with me from hostel to hostel. But the main thing, which I never would have thought about before being there, was to avoid having to put my backpack under the bus when going from city to city. This way, I didn’t have to worry about getting my bag stolen at any of the stops (scheduled and unscheduled – being stopped by the army, who wants to see all of your belongings, is not uncommon). I also didn’t have to worry about having my bag peed on by animals also kept under the bus (Trust me. This happened to a friend of mine.) Every time we took the bus, my bag came along with me. I would put it on the floor in front of my seat, and curl up with my feet on top of it

So, how was this possible? Here’s what was in my bag :

1. I had no ‘beauty’ supplies. In my backpack, I carried a plastic bag that contained a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of soap which I used on my hair and body, one stick of deodorant, one bottle of sunscreen, a disposable razor, and my contact lens solution and a couple of pairs of contacts. I could replace all of these things (except for the contacts), in any village. I had dreads back then, so I didn’t use any hair products, and I never wore makeup.

2. Clothing wise, I had one pair of jeans, one skirt, three tank tops, three t-shirts, one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of converse, one pair of flip-flops, one zippy sweater, and one long-sleeved t-shirt. I had a bikini and a sarong, which I used both as a beach cover-up, a skirt and a towel.  Accessories? Not really – I had two scarves, which I wore on my head when it got really sunny. The one luxury that I afforded myself was two weeks worth of underwear and socks. I’m no stranger to washing clothes in the sink, but I prefer to avoid it.

3. I also always carried, in the top zippy bit of my backpack, juggling and poi balls. It was always the best way to meet people.

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And that’s it.

As well as my backpack, I carried a large cross-body purse, that I could wear while wearing the backpack. (Which you can see in this photo. This trip happened with my buddy Marina, on my right. See her small backpack, and purse? That’s all she travelled with, for three months.)Image

This bag contained my journal, my point and shoot camera, my wallet, a book and my passport. I think that this was made easier because I feel like this trip happened before technology really did. There was no facebook, no smart phones. Now, when I pack, I have one or two laptops, two cellphones, my kindle, charging cables for all of those, and my DSLR. Ugh.

This post happened because I’m in the middle of packing for a business trip, and blogging is more fun than packing. I’m also trying to figure out if I can fit everything I need for a three week business trip in my carry-on. Obviously, the setting is a bit different – I’m going to be having meetings, and I’m travelling in Canada in the middle of winter. Still, I’m up for the challenge, which I’ll document in the next post. My buddy Vanessa at turnipseedtravel has a great post about this (and so many other great posts!), and I’m going to try and follow her advice. 

This post also reminds me that it was easy, and much less stressful, to travel for so little. I’m hoping to go on holiday in September, and to put that backpack back to work. And to go back to no technology.


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Taxi Bamako

Did I ever tell you guys about the time I was mugged in Peru? Here’s a link to my old blog (in French), if any of you guys want to read what I wrote about it at the time.

For those of you who don’t read French or who don’t want to open a separate browser window, here’s the gist of it :

In 2005, I spent a year abroad, studying at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador. In May 2006, at the end of the school year, Marina (former roommate and travel buddy extraordinaire) and I decided to take off for 6 weeks and tour Peru and Bolivia. Seasoned ecuadorian travellers that we were, we flew South from Quito to Loja, a 75$ flight that saved us 18 or so hours on the bus. We got to spend time in the beautiful city of Loja and the amazing valley of Vilcabamba and from there, we boarded a bus to Peru. I couldn’t tell you how long we spent on the bus, but it was quick and easy. We got dropped off at the border in Piura at around 4am and stood around for 2 hours amidst giant leaping grasshoppers until the guard that we could see behind the window woke up. So, around 6am, we were waved through the border, walked across the kilometer long bridge, and ended up in Peru. From the edge of the country, we boarded another bus to a town called Chiclayo and promptly fell back asleep.

Once we got to Chiclayo, we had a couple of hours to spare before boarding our next bus to the historic (and supposedly very beautiful) city of Chan Chan. We had heard that there was a really great witch market in the town of Chiclayo, but we had our backpacks with us and didn’t want to cart those through the market, so we made the risky decision of leaving our stuff at the bus station. Unheard of, right? We thought about it and decided that the smartest thing would be not to leave any valuables behind, so we took our passports, ipods, cameras and everything else worth anything with us.

In retrospect, I still think that we did the right thing, but we got really unlucky when our taxi was accosted. The first thing I was aware of was a guy pulling my camera out of my hand, while Marina, always a bit quicker than I am, was pulling me from the other direction, trying to get me out of the taxi. I looked to my left, where the guy had started pulling on my bag, and I started pulling back until I saw his gun. Um, hi, potentially dangerous stranger! Please take all my things!

What does this have to do with Bamako?

In Bamako, it’s really common to share taxis. This I didn’t know before getting here. Oftentimes, the taxi pulls up and there’s already someone in it. Generally, I don’t like getting into those taxis unless the other passengers are women. The other night, we were driving through town in a crazy rain storm, and all of a sudden, this man runs up to the taxi and tries to open the door. Well, that definitely freaked me out. Turns out that the mugging in Peru had a bigger impact on me than I thought, and I’m always skittish when taxis stop on the side of the road now. Hopefully that goes away soon!

For your enjoyment, here’s a link to a song called Taxi Bamako. I didn’t make the video, but thought it would give you a fun idea of what Bamako looks like. Enjoy!