Sunday, January 25, 2015

Building Castles from Sandstone

I walked through the maze of sandstone walls. The sun brought out the red, orange and yellow lines of the smooth stone walls that surrounded me. I walked on letting the walls lead the way. The remnants of Nabathian street signs and welcome statues lined the maze walls. I felt like Indiana Jones as horse pulled carriages zoomed past me. I turned the corner and as if a curtain had been pulled open the walls gave way to a spectacular castle carved into the orange stone before me. 

The treasury is the first carved building that visitors of Petra will see as they navigate the old streets of the once bustling Nabathian city. It's spectacular detail and size makes you wonder how they carved it by hand. This magnificent building is only one of the thousands of rock carved homes and buildings. 

Petra's history starts as early as 312BC with the Nabataean culture who carved the city of Petra and created the trading hub of the Middle East. With thousands of inhabitants and hundred of thousand traders visiting, Petra had to be designed to sustain them all. Built in the middle of the dessert, water was one of the big challenges.  Nabataean people created systems of aqueducts and cisterns to collect the water, it's convenient location near Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses- where it was said that Moses used his staff to bring water from the ground), gave Petra a natural source of water. 

Exploring Petra takes time, although they sell a one day ticket, one day is not enough to see most of Petra's most famous sites. It's a good idea to have at least two days, if your a fast hiker you can see most of Petra in two days. As you walk Bedouin people will be offering you their wares. Some will offer you rides on their horses, donkeys and camels, they might even say it's "free" or "comes with your ticket". Do not believe them, as soon as you get on they will not let you off without paying a hefty fee. If you need to ride, negotiate a price before hand, and stick to it. Some of the animals don't seem to healthy, so be sure to choose carefully. But if you are able to hike you won't need to ride. 

The first thing we did was hike to Urn/Silk/Corinthian Tombs on the right side of Petra valley. You can enter these temples and the views from their entrances is spectacular. From here we took the long hike up to the monastery. This is the furthest building on the map. It's good to start early, especially if you don't like stairs. Just like the Treasury, the revealing of the Monastary is breath taking. The grueling hundreds of stairs will be forgotten when you turn the corner and the Monastary appears out of nowhere. Even more impressive than the treasury, the Monastary towers 50 meters high. At the top you can enjoy a outrageously priced tea and snacks with a view of the Monastary. 

From there you can hike to the various view points. Each trail has a sign claiming "best view", to settle the competition my friend and I hiked to each of them. They all offer different vantage points and it's hard to say which is best. The view is composed of what the bedouins call the "Jordanian Grand Canyon" and the Monastary. 

On the way back we visited the free standing Roman temples, walked along the Roman road and visited the amphitheater. All of this along with picture stops took the whole day it was about 15km of walking. 

 When we were good and tired, we hitched a ride on camel back to our bedouin homestay with Mariam (find her on airbnb) in Umm Sayhun. Although they offered it to us "free" since they were going back too we negotiated to pay 15JD for two, half of what they usually charge. We had tea upon a rock before setting off on camel through the desert back roads of Petra. 

I realized that the half priced ride also came with a wedding proposal. Not the first time I have been proposed to while traveling, I decided to show indifference. The young Bedouin suitor dropped me off at home and left his number. With no intention to call him I thanked him and headed inside. After 17 missed calls to my host mother, we finally told one of the Bedouin leaders to tell him to stop calling. 

At the home we enjoyed a dinner of chicken, hummus, salad and pita. The next morning we woke up early and headed back to Petra. The second day we hiked up to the high place of sacrifice, it wa really interesting and the views were amazing. We took the back road down from the high place of sacrifice to the Roman Soldiers Tomb and the Garden Tomb. From here we set off through the desert toward the Columbarium. Instead of going back to meet the roman roads we looped around a mountain towards the Monastary, we took a trail carved into the cliff which lead back down toward the museum. We took a quick peak at the artifacts in the museum and then headed back down the Roman road to the trail that would lead us to the viewpoint overlooking the treasury. 

To find this trail, head toward Sextius Floentinus Tomb and continue past it heading away from the main road, here you wil find a set of staircases to your right. Hike up until you reach the top, the trail seems to end, head to the left to find a less well marked trail that leads you in the direction of the Treasury. You will see a small flag and the treasury to your right. Continue walking to the viewpoint. Here you will find a small tent with cushions and rugs and a nice Bedouin man that will offer you tea. Sit down and enjoy the view of the treasury and hear the yelling, laughter and camel screams from below as people stumble upon this gem. 

We returned down the stairs and headed home through the secret back entrance, this time by foot to prevent any more marriage proposals. It's a long hard journey through soft sand back up the the Bedouin village of Umm Sayoun. Here we were picked up by a cave dwelling Bedouin man for a once-in-a-lifetime stay in a true Bedouin cave. 

Below see a map of my two day guide to petra. Red is day one and blue is day two. 


Monday, January 5, 2015

Cave Man Behavior

After exploring Petra for two days it was time to live like the Bedouin did for the past 200 years in Petra, before it became a UNESCO site. We were picked up by a Bedouin man and taken into the desert on dirt road to his cave. Currently some bedouins still live in caves, these humbe abodes are passed down into the family. Our host was born in a cave in Petra and had hosted visitors often. For $60 we were given transportation, dinner and breakfast, drinks, hooka and a place to sleep.

My friend Francios and I headed to the cave and were immediately sent up a mountain to watch the sunset. We climbed onto a large rock which offered us perfect seats to a spectacular desert sunset. 

After sunset we walked back to the cave for dinner. Our host made a fire and began cooking our dinner on the open flame. The meal consisted of chicken, eggplant, peppers, onions, potatoes and tomatoes cooked together in broth. We ate on the floor of the balcony of the cave with pita bread and our hands. Once we were stuffed we gathered around the fire as our host played the drum and sang Arabic ballads. His voice echoing against the desert rock. 

We turned in early, but as any solo female knows avoiding unwanted attention is often part of traveling. It was unfortunate to have to end my night trying to defend myself and resisting unwanted advances by our drunk host. These difficulties are not new to me, nor to most women around the world, travelers and non-travelers alike. Sometime a simple "no" will do, other times it takes much more to protect yourself. I was fortunate that Francios was there, but too often female travelers must fight for dignity. Women travelers should be able to travel without having to rely on male counterparts to protect them. I could not sleep much that night, the hard floors, lack of pillow and cold air were the least of my problems. 

In the morning I confronted him and I decided to pay less for my stay. I also reported him to my host in Umm Sayhoun, who had recommended him. She also confronted him and decided not to use him anymore as a  host for travelers. It's very hard, but incredibly important to report anyone who threatens your dignity, it's important that that sort of behavior stops with you. It can be very hard talking about what happened but I encourage everyone to try. Traveler complaints are taken very seriously with police, hotel management and travel agencies. It's important to warn others about bad experiences and prevent any similar situations. 

All women should remember that any attention that makes you uncomfortable is not ok. In most of the Middle East and Muslim countries, touching a woman is not allowed (even hand shakes). It's too often that men take advantage of women who are nieive to their culture. Someone along my journey told me to challenge unwanted attention with the phrase "think of me as your sister". It was evident early on in the evening that his idea of women travellers coming to Jordan for a "fun night in a cave" was tainted by western media, a few rougue females or made up stories of Bedouin one night stands. I defended women by telling him this was not the case in majority of female travellers, but he kept say "a lot of women" came to Jordan to try out a Bedouin man. This idea runs deep in many cultures of the world thanks to western media portraying women as hypersexual objects. Nonetheless this behavior is unwarranted, any woman who suffers similar attention should not tolerate it and should seek that the perpetrators be stopped. 

I ignored our hungover host the rest of the morning. I was dropped off at the bus station with Francious and we headed up to the capital of Jordan, Amman. 


The walls surrounding Old Jerusalem tell the stories of the past inhabitants, stuggles for power and monumentous event said to take place here. Old Jerusalem takes years to explore and study. Three religions have designated the land within these four walls as holy sites. The bustling narrow streets depict a land where three major religions can live in harmony, but the tension between cultures seeps through the touristic forsade. Muslims, Jews and Christians alike travel to experience some of the most holy sites.

As I walked through Demascus gate into the Muslim Quarter with my backpack in search for my hostel it was aperrent Jerusalem would take much more than one day to experience. I found Citadel Hostel up St Marks street down a small alley. I chose the hostel due to its incredible architecture. It's stone sloping walls make the hostel look more like a cave than a building. 

After setting my backpack down I headed off for a quick falafel and the 11am walking tour. As soon as I got the tour I realized a 2 hour free tour with a 50 shekel suggested donation was not going to cut it for me. The four walls of Old Jerusalem contained so many years of history. I decided to do the 4 hour Holy Tour for the student price of 85 shekels. 

My tour guide was Ryan. He was absolutely amazing. Our four hour tour ended up being eight hours due to his patience. He promoted questions and allowed for extra time at each site.

We visited many sites including Temple of the Mount, the Western Wall, King David's tomb, the last supper room, Church of the Holy Seplicure, among other holy site. The guide explained in detail the history and religious representation of each stop. I will not go into detail about everything that was explained, but I will talk about three of the most important locations in Old Jerusalem. 

The Temple of the Mount. This holy Islamic site is said to be the place where Muhammad rose up on the rock to speak to God and bring to earth the Islamic faith. Security here is strict, you must enter through a metal detector and a bag check. Any religious items are not allowed in, this included crosses, bibles, Torah's, stars of David or Hamsas. It's important to give these items to the guide who will keep them until the end. Once inside the complex you only have one hour before you are shoed out by the guards. Once inside you are not able to enter the mosque or temple unless you are Muslim. 

When inside the animosities between Jews and Muslims became apparent. When a group of Jews came in the Muslims praying inside began to scream at them. They ran out quickly. This site is holy not to just Islam but also to Jews and Christians alike. 

Next we visited the western wall, here our guide gave us time to write a note and take it to the wall. Women and men are seperated, men are proveded a kipa for their head. The significance of the walls symbolism in Judaism became apparent as I stood quietly my hand against standing next to a sobbing girl to oneside and someone praying on the other. 

The most significant place on the tour for me was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Raised a Christian, I was very familiar with the story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. Here we visited the last 4 of the Via Dolorosa. Here one can visit where Jesus cloths were removed and gambled over, next where he was hammered to the cross, you can touch the stone where his body was anointed. Lastly you can see where he was laid down in the cave and then resurrected. The church is beautiful, its significance in Christianity is apperent as you see pilgrim come from all over the world to crouch down by the rock where Jesus was layer down to die and light candles at the alter. The sound of organ resonating through the stone church brough on goosebumps. 

As I walked back to my hostel, overwhelmed by the history and emotions surrounding me I listened to the Muslim call to prayer, the Jews singing as they lit the menorah and the ringing bells of the churches mixing together in such sweet harmony. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Travel Woes

Traveling in general is an exciting, exploring new places, meeting new people, learning new languages, but traveling can also be stressful and scary, especially if things don't go your way. Flight delays and canceled flights can be a stressful way to start off a trip. Sickness, bad weather and canceled tours are unfortunate but often inevitable circumstances that come with traveling. Lost baggage and identification can be terrifying. Making the most out of your trip even if it doesn't go as planned is sometimes the best you can do. Accepting that things might not goes as planned, can help you come to terms with a flat tires on the way to Cuzco or a canceled flight due to weather changes. 

The best way to deal with unexpected changes is flexibility, but often that is not an option on short trips. Sometimes when all seems lost you get lucky, maybe the airline will be nice and comp you a ticket. Maybe the tour will give you free money to use for another tour while your waiting. Maybe you will have a new experience that you might not have had, had your train not broken down. 

When I first began to travel I booked a cheap flight to Lima, Peru through Spirit airlines. If you don't know Spirit Airlines yet, keep it that way. They are fairly inflexible and charge you for almost everything. After waiting almost 8 hours for a delayed flight they finally cancelled it stating that the next departure was not for a week. It was a great way to start off my first solo international trip. Fortunately a couple hours on the phone got me a refund and a new ticket through a different airline for almost the same price. With enough talking airline companies usually give in to your request.

On the way home from India my bag with all my gifts was lost, I was devastated that I had lost hours of bazaar shopping finds and souvenirs. Within days my luggage was returned to me. I was so happy to see my luggage that I had forgotten how sad I was. 

Today I jumped on a flight to Tel Aviv with a short layover in Moscow. When my flight was delayed it was hard not to be nervous about missing my connecting flight. When I arrived in Moscow only 15 minutes before my flight was to leave I high tailed it toward my gate, inevitably having to wait in a security line and then have a scary Russian lady yell at me in a language I did not understand after I lost the stub of my ticket. As she turned the light off in her little glass cube and shut the metal gate I was resolved that I would miss my flight, and I might be stuck in Russia forever. Luckily all her yelling probably consisted of "don't worry we will go look for it" she took me back down and we found my stub laying on the floor near security. I am currently writing this from the plane ... So that means although it's going to be late, I am on it. 

In the end stress and fear is a part of traveling, it makes traveling interesting and exciting. It takes courage to travel, especially alone and relaxation techniques to dissolve stress from bad luck experiences. The most important thing to remember is your still alive and things will always work out as long as your patient and kind to the people trying to help you. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Skinny Jeans, Tennis Shoes and a Machine Gun

Today I traveled from Amman to Tel Aviv. The 69 mile journey took a total of 5.5 hours, and that was probably record time. I woke up today in Amman at 5:30. I took a taxi from downtown for 1JD to Abdali Jett station, which is more of an office. Here I bought a ticket for King Huessaen Bridge for 7.5JD. King Huessaen Bridge (Jordan side) or Allepy Bridge (palastinian) side is the most difficult boarder between Jordan and Israel, due to it being the only boarder that Palastinian Citizens can cross to Jordan. 

The one hour bus ride from Amman went smoothly, the bus was almost empty as it pulled into the Departing side of Jordan border. Here you fill out a basic paper with name, nationality, and passport number. You then stand in line for a stamp and to pay the exit fee of 10JD. They then take your passport and direct you to the bus that will cross the boarder to the West Bank. The bus is 7JD for yourself and 1.5JD for any big bags. 

You load onto the bus and receive your passport. You then start across no-mans land where photography is not allowed. After a few check points you reach the israel side. This where things start to slow down. First you check your bag, this you don't get back until the end. Next is passport control where you are asked a couple questions and then ushered into a security check. 

If you have been to Israel before then you know how common it is to see people walking around with machine guns, as if it were a purse. Some undercover soldiers even wear civilian clothes, which can be a bit odd at first, since it's aperrent from the huge gun around their shoulder that they are not civilian. My Israeli friend said while in the army, weapon handling is a very important topic, so don't worry too much. The boarder is teaming with these undercover soldiers. 

Since I look like trouble my passport was taken and I was asked to wait for a couple minutes. They asked for my phone and wallet, which they wiped to check for chemicals. I was cleared after a couple minutes and headed to the interrogation line. As the couple in front of me was grilled about their itinerary, purpose of travel, jobs, number of kids, type of dogs they have and their favorite colors I began to dred my own interrogation. I stepped up to the counter, where the very serious Israeli officer began asking me similar questions. I handed over my friends contact info from Haifa and he seemed happy with my answers. He handed over a new Israeli visa and sent me on my way. 

I found my backpack lying among a pile of other luggage. I picked it up and left the building. Outside buses, taxis and shuttles awaited travelers. I heard a guy yelling "Jerusalem" and headed toward the noise. I bought a 42NIS ticket for me and a 5NIS for my bag for a shared van to Jerusalem, Demascus Gate. I waited 30 minutes for the van to fill up. 

The ride was 1 hour and dropped me a block from Demascus gate. I walked toward the Arab bus station hoping I could find something to Tel Aviv. A guy was yelling Tel Aviv, I asked how much, he said 30 Shekles but i negotiated it down to 25. I picked up a shawarma from a local Palastinian shop and waited for the shuttle to fill up with people. It took 1 hour to get to Tel Aviv. I met two British guys on the bus who were nice enough to let me put my backpack in the hostel room. We then took off for a long walk along the beach. I am now sitting drinking a cup of coffee and waiting for my friend Shimrit to celebrate the new year Tel Aviv style. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Long Walks on the Beach

Christmas Day I took a five hour bus from Jerusalem toward Elait, for 82INS, I jumped off on the side of the road one km from the boarder and walked int the burning desert toward the Yitzhak Rabin boarder that divides the southern most parts of israel and Jordan. It was an easy crossing. We first exited Israel paying 107INS exit fee. After passport control, that unfortunately stamped an Israeli exit stamp in my passport, I headed through the Dutyfree shop to no-mans land. We walked the 100 meters between countries before we reached the Jordan boarder. Here it was easy, no fee, no visa, just some stamps and a really nice police officer in a tourist information booth who gave is some information about Jordan. We then headed outside where the taxi mafia was waiting to scoop us up. 

I have heard about many horror stories about these taxi drivers. I had no problems. On the board it shows the prices for each destination (Aqaba, petra, Wadi Rum) with the price. Don't let them charge you more and try to find people to share with. I shared with a girl I met at the boarder. Then from the center of Aqaba I took the same taxi to South Beach for 5JD to International Arab Dive Center where I would spend the next two days diving. It's easy to get ripped off if your a push over, demand the written price and you will have no issues. 

For Christmas dinner I headed out with my new friend Francois for some baba Ghanoush, hummus and falafel. Dinner for two costed 7JD (about $10) and we could not finish it all. After we went to a local shop for baklava which was only .5JD for two pieces. We headed to a pub with a view for some local beer and wine and then headed back to the hotel for some sleep. 

The day after Christmas I headed out to the beach for my first dive for my Advanced Diver Certificate. First I did the Fish ID dive and saw some awesome fish including scorpion fish, slugs, sea potatoes, nemo fish and much more. After I did the Peak Boyancy Dive. I was wiped out after my dive, I took a quick nap and met up with Francois. We walked to the beach with noodle soup and snacks and watched the sunset over the Eygptian mountains. 

After a good nights sleep I work up to finish my last three dives, deep dive, wreck dive and navigation dive. It was a great day. On the wreck dive we swam under and around a huge container ship that had sunk on its side. I remember swimming around the crows nest, which now was teeming with life. By 1:30pm I was done with my dives and had finished my course. I headed out to celebrate with Francois at Syrian Palace for some thabole, hummus, meat/potatoes/tomatoe plate and grilled local fish. We then headed to Kempinski Bar to enjoy the view of the Red Sea, Egypt, Israel and Jordan. 

Tomorrow Francois and I are heading to Petra by taxi (45JD) wish us luck. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Swimming with Sharks

Since I learned that I could live my dream of being the Little Mermaid and breath underwater, I have always been looking forward to getting my PADI certificate for diving. I finally had the chance in Costa Rica. 

After three buses from Moteverde to Playas del Coco I walked into the Summersalt dive shop located only feet from the beach. I had no hostel reservation and had no idea what Playa del Coco was like. I had emailed back and fourth with Summersalt and they were nice enough to give me a discount. For $395 I completed the 4 day course, they helped me find a cheap hostel and even gave me free filtered water and Internet. 

I made a reservation for Villa Flores which use to be Pure Vibes Hostel. They are about two long blocks from the Main Street. I highly recommend them. Although you can still make reservation on Hostelworld for Pure Vibes or $15 it is much cheaper to make reservations when you arrive. I got a deal for 3 days for $35. I met many people who had reserved it online under Pure Vibes, although its still valid when you arrive it much cheaper to negotiate a price when you arrive.

The hostel is very nice, it has a huge pool, with a non-functioning bar (although if you are a woman and friendly with the workers they will give you free drinks anyway). They do not have a restaurant they do have a kitchen at your disposal to make cheap food. 

Playas del Coco is a very touristic small beach town. With many restaurants to choose from it not hard to find some good Costa Rican food, but be sure that prices are not backpacker friendly. I would recommend trying the small shack claiming to be the "Best Playas del Coco Ceviche" on the main road where you can get a cup of fresh ceviche for a 2000 colones ($4). Along the beach you can buy pork and chicken skewers for 1000 colones ($2). Near the beach are two Soda's, which is the name for fast local food. Breakfast before 8am is limited but Resturante Casa del Coco offered a varied menu with meals for under 3500 ($7) including coffee and orange juice. 

On my arrival day I completed the 4 hours of videos. My second day I studied on the beach and took my exam. The third day we spent in the pool training until 1pm. This was the most exhausting day, but the first time you breath underwater you will never forget. The following two days we did four ocean dives. 

On the first day of ocean diving we dove to 12 meters (40ft) we again did some training that we had practiced in the pool, including using your buddies secondary oxygen source and clearing a filled mask. After practicing we swam around with our instructor looking for interesting underwater creatures. Here we had our first encounter with the White Tip Reef Shark. On the second day we again did practice drills including emergency out of air surfacing and taking off our mask underwater. 

After our drills we then explored. It was only ten minutes into our exploration when two huge leopard manta Rey swam past us. It was such an amazing experience, they looked like birds flying by us.

Overall scuba diving is an amazing experience. I am planning to dive again in the Red Sea this December. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wondering if you have Wanderlust?

Wanderlust is a common medical issue, up to 85% of the population will experience Wanderlust in their lifetime. Wanderlust can last for months and often for a persons lifetime. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor today about the treatments available to you. 

Do you ever feel unsatisfied with your current location and/or day dream of unknown lands and far off places? 

Do you check flight or hotel booking websites multiple times a week? Including but not limited to KAYAK, Skyscanner, Expedia, Hostelworld, and Airbnb. 

Are at least a quarter of your facebook friends from other countries? 

Have you registered unnecessarily to travel websites such as lonely planet, couch surfers, and travelbuddy? 

Do you spend most extended breaks traveling to a place where you have never been and might never go again? 

Do you know how to say "hello", "thank you," and "how much?" in at least five different languages? 

When meeting new people is it hard to talk about yourself without referring to another country? 

Are there items procured in other countries littering your room? 

Do you flick through pictures of past vacations at least once a week? 

Do immigration officers have to flick through multiple pages of your passport to find a blank space for a new stamp? 

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, don't delay talking to your doctor. Don't suffer alone, treat your Wanderlust today. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

5 passes - Leh to Manali

After renting motorcycles and riding around Leh and the surrounding area and after renting a jeep to take us up to the highest motorable road in the world Khardung La, which claims to be over 18,300 ft, we rented a jeep and headed across the famous Leh to Manali route.

We started by renting a jeep in Leh from one of the various agencies. There are many different kinds of jeep ranging in quality, we ended up renting a jeep for about $25/ person. This included the entire two day trip with driver. Since we were five we did not have to wait for other travelers to add on, although this is an issue you must face if you decide to travel alone or in pairs. The drivers will not leave until the jeep is totally full, or you paid for the jeep outright.

The Leh to Manali route takes you over various high passes, along dangerously narrow roads skirted by steep deadly cliffs. This adventure is not for the light stomached, even my friends had a rough time with the altitude and the nauseating windy roads and never ending precipices.

The first day you traverse across the highest passes, but for me it was no problem due to my acclimation in Nepal only a week before. If you can make it up to Khardung La from Leh then you will be fine from Leh to Manali. Many people travel the opposite way from Manali to Leh. This is much better than just outright flying to Leh. It gives you 2 days to acclimate to the altitude.

The first night we stopped to eat at  collection of parachute tents on the side of the road. They offered hot maggis, egg curry and rice. The accommodations for sleeping are various and depend on your group and budget. Just down the road they had nice plots of well organized tents with showers and bathrooms, which were pretty expensive. Grouped in with the parachute diners there were individual small basic tents, with only a mat and piles of blankets, these can be rented for 250-300INR ($5-6) which meant only 50 INR for each of us. There were no bathrooms only the great outdoors, and no showers, but really who is going to take a shower in below freezing temperatures? The last accommodation is actually inside the parachute diners. This is about 50 INR per person, this is the cheapest for solo and couple travelers.

One recommendation for the tents is to check all the zippers, the main one for the door and the ones for the windows. It gets really cold at night, and since its in a valley it also gets quite windy.

The next morning we woke up early all snuggling together under heaps of random questionable blankets. We had some breakfast and jumped back into the jeep.

The route is very beautiful, you are constantly surrounded by huge mountains, ice fields, yaks and toward the end lots of green fields. We passed few cars, mainly we passed huge wooden trucks, and if you have seen IRT: Deadliest Roads in the World, you know what I mean by pass. I you have not seen IRT then I will explain. We slowly inched our way past these trucks teetering on the edge of deadly cliffs.

After many stops, tons of pictures, and lots of breath holding we finally arrived to Manali. Manali is beautiful. Its in the foothills of the himalayas, when I say foothills its more like footmountains. The bustling town is surrounded by pine forest and is bisected by a rushing river. Everything is walkable and absolutely beautiful. I stayed in the wonderful guesthouse off the road, to get to it you had to walk up a hill and through an orchard. It was an amazing, unfortunately I had to go and get food poisoning, I suggest this is the best place to get food poisoning, it was quiet where I stayed and the views alone was a reason to get up and sit on the deck. The guest house owner was absolutely fantastic and made me toast and delivered it to my room. I also made friends with an Australian guy who was super nice and took care of me.

After a speedy recovery thanks to hydration salts and toast, I decided to explore a little. Manali is travel adventure capital in India. It has everything from white water rafting to zorbin (which i rolling down a hill in a clear ball). There are tons of cafes and restaurants catered to travelers, just don't eat the fruit. There are many shops lining the narrow steep dirt roads. In the center of town you can see the magic show or get a bus back to Delhi.

If you hike up into the hills through the pine forest you can find Hidimba Devi Temple, a wood temple with beautifully carved doors. Just outside the temple you can sit on a yak and hold a really fluffy bunny that they use in the area to make cloths  (they don't kill the rabbits, they just shave them).

After a couple days I headed back to Delhi to meet up with my friend. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Parlez-vous français?

In Costa Rica I met a very interesting woman from Montreal, Quebec. I decided to get in my car one long weekend and visit her. I woke up at 5am packed my car with my bike and cloths and drove off. On the way to Canada I stopped at Lake George and took a quick bike ride and lunch break by the lake. I decided since I was running a little early, I would take the scenic route. I hopped on highway 19 and drove through the windy roads, green meadows, and by sparkling lakes. When I hit the boarder I was almost out of gas. I filled up in the USA, because it's much cheaper, and then waited for an hour in a parking lot at the Canadian boarder. It was so slow trying to go through customs and when I finally got their they didn't even give me a stamp.

Highway 19 

I arrived at my friends home at 6:30pm in Kirkland, QC. We had a quick tea with maple syrup. I then drove us to her friends home in Montreal, where we would be spending our first night. After settling in we walked down the street to a very cute tea lounge called orienthé. Here we sat back and talked over Canadian tea and baklava. 

The next morning we woke up early and rented bicycles from Bixi. It was $7 for the whole day. Bixi has stations throughout the town where you can rent and return the bikes. They were very well maintained and a cheap way to explore the city. 

For brunch we had Poutine at La Banquise, on Rue Rachel. Poutine is a Canadian tradition. It's french fries covered in gravy, cheese curd and topped with whatever you like. I had mine with mushrooms, bell peppers and onions. It was so good, and very filling. 

We hiked up Mount Royal in the center of the city for a panoramic view. We hiked back down another side to meet some friends in China town. Here we are dumplings, sweet breads filled with pudding and Chinese fried donuts. We ordered some bubble tea and sat down to talk and people watch. 

After China town we headed to Old Port Montreal. Here we enjoyed a local dessert called beavers tail, which is a sweet bread topped with anything you can imagine, fruit, chocolate, whip cream, ice cream, cookies and of course maple syrup. After our filling treat we walked around the old city enjoying shops and trying free samples of wine and jam. 

After old city we road our bikes back to our head quarters and changed for a night out. We first crashed a bachelorette dinner at the Globe, a really fancy resturant, where the servers look like models. After dinner we decided to go out dancing, and since it was pride in Montreal, what not better than a gay club with three dance floors, a rooftop terrace and body Jell-O shots? We paid a $5 cover for Unity Night Club, in the heart of the gay district. 

After hours of dancing we headed home to wake up only a couple hours later to drive to Quebec City. The drive is through scenic farmland. We drive through Quebec City to see Montmorency falls. Right off the road it's easy to get to. It's a breathtaking waterfall over rocky cliffs. Here you can climb up a wooden staircase (good exercise) through a small meadow and forest to reach a bridge that crosses right over the falls. After exploring the falls we headed to Old Quebec City. 

Old Quebec City is so cute. The highlight is the huge castle Château Frontenac, a hotel, perched at the top of the mountain looking over the river. To get there you wind through very eauopean-esque couble stone streets, lined with resturants and boutiques. Don't forget to try the maple syrup taffy. It's frozen maple syrup that you wrap around a stick. It can be pricy, but when in canada you must try everything Canadian, especially if it has maple syrup on it. 

We ate lunch at Le Casse Crepes. Their prices were very good and they gave you more than you could eat. We enjoyed Canadian ham, cheese and asparagus Crepes and finished lunch off with a sweet strawberry, chocolate and ice cream filled crepe. 

After lunch we walked the Citadelle walls, it's free to walk around it, and the views are amazing. We walked along the promondade des gouverneurs which is a beautiful walk along the cliffs overlooking the river. We ended back at the castle. We drove back to Montreal and I headed off for an overnight drive back home to Philadelphia.