Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Off to Colombia I go!

It is catch up time, what with Google locking me out of my account and all…

Let’s see, the flight was uneventful save the decades old movie offerings and what was hands down the worst in flight meal that I have ever been served.  Absolutely inedible.

Thanks Air Canada Rouge, you get the coveted Golden Barf Award.

Air Canada also neglected to announce to the passengers on board when they were handing out the Colombian immigration form that Canadian Citizens need to go through a special immigration line.  Which was totally understandable, because of course a flight from Toronto would not be full of, you know, Canadians!

Seems that a couple of years ago the Canadian Government imposed an $80 visa application fee on Colombian citizens wanting to come to Canada, so the Government of Colombia retaliated by imposing their own $80 fee just for Canadians arriving to Colombia.
The signage at immigration was not clear, which had everyone lining up in the main maze like line, not aware that there is a “special” line set aside for Canadian Citizens.  It was pure chance that I noticed a couple changing course and overheard them talking about the need to line up separately, which had me scooting under the ropes to join my fellow Canucks.  

Lonely Planet did not warn me of the tax.  Trip Adviser did not warn me about the tax.  Air Canada had multiple opportunities to pass on this tidbit... reservation, confirmation,  web check in, bag drop off and of course, the mid air announcements about filling the immigration form, but didn't.  They totally dropped the ball on this one… super big thanks.  

For the next 30 minutes, one after another, Canadians that had waited in the general line were “escorted” to their proper place and told to go to the back of the line.  I felt bad for them, but after the especially pokey pace of our line up (as compared to the brisk pace of the main line) I was simply not in the mood to let them in front of me. 

Sorry and all that.

Cash, debit or charge card? was the question I was asked.  I wonder how much money it cost them to put in special terminals to be able to collect the tax. I am smart enough to know that those words need be spoken only to myself, silently.  No need to antagonize the nice lady deciding whether or not I should be allowed to enter her country.

I flew Toronto to Bogota, and had a four hour layover to collect my bags and head to departures to check in for a flight to Cartegena.  Was not keen on staying in Bogota and thought some Caribbean Beach time would do me some good.  My second flight of the day was a short hour and a half and then I was disembarking into the soothing tropical evening heat.  

Ahhh… perfect.  

I headed into the airport through an absolutely lovely walkway lined by open wooden slats laden with interesting tropical plants, many adorned with "to-die-for" flowers. And despite all the warnings about the frequency of luggage going missing, my bags arrived safe and sound.

Once again there was a cheerful cab driver waiting for me with a sign in hand with my name on it.  Yay! easy transport to the Hostal.  A pleasant check in process, and it was time to don short sleeves and head out into the streets of Cartegenas’ Beautiful Historic City Centre.  

Absolutely Perfect.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Friends and Babies

Slipping easily into my Toronto identity I am roaming from home to home, and as usual I wonder why I don’t live here close friends, family and my Abbey Rose. 

Friday night was a big, loud and raucous Israeli Shabbat Dinner.  I love the traditions: the lighting of candles ushering in the Sabbath, the blessings over the wine, and the blessing of thanks for Challah, which is a sweet bread baked specifically for Shabbat.  Chattering or bickering friends and kids, both grown and young, with frequent co-conversations going on at the same time. It is so wonderful, the sharing of memories, the feeling of closeness and the joy of just sitting back watching the interactions.  A nice surprise was seeing my friends Eldest, who now lives in Israel but was in town for a visit. 

And the food.  Wonderful Middle Eastern cooking, spicy and plentiful.  I do miss this weekly gathering. 

I am sure you need not be regaled with tales of Grandbaby craziness.  Suffice it to say that my Rosebud is just about the cutest, happiest baby on the planet and I am getting lots Grandma time in.

So far the weather has been mild enough to produce heavy evening fog, but the roads are ice and snow free.  An unseasonably warm pause in a usually severe winter climate,  I thought I would be hesitating to leave the house, but the pleasant weather has me visiting here and there.

Did my last minute shopping, picking up the various items I could not throw together before I departed Comox.  Tomorrow I will face the task of trying to get everything in my small duffle.  I am trying to keep it light because I am planning to move around, and weak old lady that I am I can’t lift a large duffle or backpack anymore. 

Tonight and tomorrow I will be visiting with friends, with a Wednesday morning departure to Bogota. 

Let the fun begin!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Day one. "That Passenger"

My first travel day started with an email message from Air Canada that my flight from Vancouver to Toronto had been cancelled.  Not the end of the world, they kindly put me on a later flight giving me more time to peruse the delights of the domestic terminal.

The boarding pass issued by friendly Comox Valley Air Canada staff gave me flight number and time, with the Gate Number a mystery.  I have flown in and out of YVR countless times and have almost exclusively been directed to one of two gates for boarding and departure.
Checked the monitor and saw that the flight was delayed, no gate designated.

I then passed a leisurely three hours wandering from store to store, checking my phone, people watching, texting... you know, killing time kind of stuff. 

An hour before my expected flight departure I checked  the flight directory monitor.  Flight boarding.  Gate 51?  No Gate 51 in sight.  I start reading signs and realize it is located nowhere near the area that I expected.   I managed to Bugs Bunny it for the very long walk to the very out of the way, mostly boarded plane.  Miraculously there was an overhead bin open that still had room for my carryon and jacket.

I then became “that” passenger. 
The one that arrives late, rushed and disorganized to the (hated) middle seat of a fully booked flight.   I wedge my way into the seat and then proceed to try and find phone, earbuds, water and my Kobo in my jam packed “personal item” (read large purse replacement bag).  Out came the sandwich I bought for the flight, the notebook I am using to organize my trip, a set of headphones, three cables (knowing one must surely be right)and the items previously listed. 
Search to make sure I had my passport and wallet.  Do I need anything else?  Back into the bag go most of my extracted items, in the wrong order of course so they don’t fit.  Out comes everything again while I repack.  Need to make sure my sandwich is on top...

The passengers on either side were doing their best to maintain a calm, patient and unbothered appearance.  I apologize.  I manage to cram my bag under the seat without taking one of them out with my elbow.  I search for my seatbelt.  Finally I settle and it seems that all is well...

Cue the hot flash.  Off comes the seatbelt. Up I get to open the overhead air cooling and remove my sweater.  I wiggle around to try put my sweater over my shoulders, knowing it will be needed shortly.  Back into my seat I wedge myself, around I rummage for my seatbelt, more apologies, and then a deep breath as I try and calm the nerves I have frazzled. 
Not counting the overhead bin opening on takeoff and the possibility that my bag was going to take out the poor passenger seated in its projected path, it was a smooth flight.
Toronto, what do you have in store for me this time?

Friday, 6 March 2015

enough with the bus already!

My Muse wanes, but I will try to get it back.

As I continue the bus marathon to Chachapoyas I am glad that this part of our trip is in daylight.  I have travelled this route before but only during the night and so have not experienced the beauty of this slice of Peru.   

Winding through the western portion of the mountains I can see traces of habitation, mostly tidy squares of crops in a multitude of green laying in eyebrow shaped bits of farmed land eked out along the river bends at the base of the western mountains.  Oranges, mangos and fields of rice are a stark contrast to the dry mounds of mountainous rock.

Up, down and all around we go, as the road snakes and switchbacks, a very long eventual east.     

We pull over and stop briefly at a small pueblo for  "passenger comfort".  This is basically a poop stop, usually by request.  The on board toilet is for "solo urinacion", something we are reminded of every few hours lest the hold fill up with less desired secretions. 
The mountains are still quite dry and barren, with grasses and underbrush dotting their surface.  Then we reach that "sweet transformation" spot, when tropical starts seeping into the air and vegetation.  

This has been a bad year for rain, and the rockslides that seem to come hand in hand with the weather.  My choice of seating puts me near to the upside of the mountain, which is all good until large chunks of rock start falling in my direction.  We have apparently arrived at a trouble spot, and the bus slows to a crawl while making its' way through the shower of rocks on the road.
I am not sure if the driver stops because he is unsure about proceeding, (can't see how going back is even an option here) but I know I feel uncomfortably like a sitting duck at this point.  When the doors open and a group of young men spring off to start picking up the rocks from the road I realize the driver is also in a hurry to be away from the area. 

Sure is beautiful though, the way the rocks glisten in the rain.  Whatever the geological term for the formation, but the rocks sit like large irregular bricks piled in layers for a long way up.  Makes for tidy squared rocks of all sizes falling easily. 

Obviously we make it through the mountains because I sit here writing about it.  

The road continues to wind on through vegetation that is now distinctly tropical.  Broad leaves, giant ferns and bamboo.  Fields of farms so waterlogged that workers pull their pant legs up as they walk, their lower bodies soaked in mud. 

At last we reach Bagua Grande for a quick stop to drop off passengers.  If possible the road between Bagua and Pedro Ruiz is in even worse shape.  The bus stops again, and this time it looks like we are going to be a while.  There is no traffic coming towards us which is usually a bad sign no matter where in the world you are.  One of the drivers gets out and walks ahead to investigate.
Now's the time to scratch your head and wonder just what the criteria is that is used when deciding to try a crossing.  It is a given that these drivers have a world of experience sizing up the safety of a road.  The way that they have negotiated their way through the rock falls, streams flowing over the road, and cracked asphalt are a testament to their judgment. 

When the driver returns and we inch forward I figure no problem, here we go.  Well it turns out that their has been a wash out , with most of the road missing.  What is left is a mass of mud that has been more or less "levelled"  with a small slice of navigable mud.  The driver opts to use this temporary passage to get this double decker, fully loaded bus to the other side. 



The bus sinks into the mud despite having sped up to make "a run for it".  We continue our forward motion even as the rear of the bus swings towards the river, tilting the bus in the process.  It was a meet your maker kind of moment.  Just when I thought we were goners the front tires gained traction on the pavement on the other side of the washout.  

Like I said, a bad year for the roads.

We are hours behind schedule by the time we turn right and head over the "Red Bridge" that signals the final leg of the journey to Chachapoyas.  The river is raging as often happens during the rainy season.  It takes about an hour of curvey roads and then a long switchback climb to get us to the City. 
I made it.  Twenty-four hours turned into twenty-eight. 
But who is counting anymore... I am just relieved to have made it at all.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Lima to Chacha, a la Moviltours.

My 24 hour bus extravaganza gets off to a rough start when a) my proof of payment won't print off my memory stick and b)  I realize that my taxi driver has absolutely no idea where the bus terminal is.  Ah the joys...

The Moviltours depot in South Lima is small, very orange and very hot, and I am here way too early.  The taxi driver takes my hefty duffle bag to the baggage counter and bids me safe travels.  There is a harassed Gent behind the counter and I show him my (finally) printed proof of payment. A strange look passes over his face, and he bids me   "uno momento", flashes a smile, waves my paper at me and then exits the building.  Shortly thereafter He arrives back with my ticket, and I thank him profusely, recognizing the huge kindness he has just done me.  Carrying my bags up and waiting in a huge line is something that I could have done a few years ago, but not something I can do now.  I watch my bag be tagged to Chachapoyas and then weave my way through a sea of taxis to get to the main waiting area.

I head upstairs to the snack bar area, breeze past a crowd of people waiting for tickets and send a thank you up to my guardian angel.  I buy water and plunk myself down  on an empty chair across from a man reading a newspaper, after asking "permiso" first of course.  The next hour is spent reading and writing until my bus is ready to board.  I get pulled aside at the security checkpoint for a quick peek into my backpack, only cursory really, the officer probably wouldn't have noticed if did have contraband.  

I settle into my seat, a fabulously cushy, reclining "cama" (bed) class luxury treat, first class for $60.  About half the seats are full, but with the stops along the way I guess (correctly) that we will stop to pick up / drop off passengers along the route.  With some alarm I note there are several families with small children and infants.  Great.  Before long the bus pulls out of the terminal, and as expected the former are bored and fussy  within the first half hour, although gratefully the babies are sleeping. 
I am indeed an old, grumpy, frumpy, entitled Gringa.  Sigh.

Lima is a huge city, something I have known theoretically for years.  Experientially is a whole different ball game.  It takes more than 2 hours to get through the city to the North Lima bus depot  for our first stop / pick up.  And almost another hour to clear the outskirts on our way north.  The northern end of the city is a flow of poor, then poorer neighbourhoods, decline to shantytown, and slowly peter out to worse than that.  Looking at the poverty it is hard to imagine a life lived such.  The How's and Why's are hard questions indeed.

The Peruvian coast is one long sand dune filled desert, blooming only in areas where mountain rainwater has been channelled from inland, or where underground aquifers flow.   

The Dunes we pass north of Lima are the largest I have ever seen. I am dumbstruck.  The bus winds north on the Pan American Highway and whole sections of road are carved from the side of these behemoths, leaving behind fantastical formations and geological layers.  To my untrained eye it seems the coastline was shoved up from the sea floor long before the dunes were formed, and the evidence uncovered when the road was put through.   I try in vain to capture their scope, pointing my camera upwards.  I realise that from this close my photos will all appear as if I am taking a picture of a desert horizon. 

Guess National Geographic or Google Images will have to suffice if you are interested.

These dunes are dusted with small shanties, individual and clustered.  What on earth do these people do for food, transport, work? 

We pass the first of many "checkpoints".  Most of the busses headed north are being pulled over and the drivers documents being checked.  Side fact:  Peru is considered one of the worlds most dangerous places to drive.  For every 100 cars on the road there are 2.7 fatalities.  Any'ol how, we get tagged to have the cargo holds inspected, but to my relief it causes us no more than a 10 minute detour. 
There is a beautiful equatorial sunset off the coast, and I relax into it's beauty.  Lovely. 
These long distance bus rides come with meals and attendants.  A tray is dropped into my lap and I am not at all surprised to find potatoe salad, rice, beef, more potatoes and a tablespoon of peas.  A perfect example of how people eat here, carbs, carbs, protein, more carbs, and a nod to vegetables.  I decline the pop offered with the meal, and the jello for desert.  Trays are promptly picked up, lights go off and the first of many movies pops on the tv screen at the front of the bus.
All the movies are dubbed in spanish, but the subtitles aren't english.  I recognize most of them but can't place their names.  Except for the latest Taken film, which I expected because I have never had a bus ride in Peru without one of the Taken series being shown.  Cue the "can you figure out what they are saying?" game. 
Discomfort sets in.  My ankles and feet still are swollen from the plane ride, and now several hours sitting are making my legs ache deeply.  Damned experience has taught me this is not something that is just going to go away on it's own as I continue to sit, so I down some painkillers and a gravol, seeing as the pain killers always make me nauseated.   Relief comes eventually, and so does my wish to nap now that night has taken away any view.

It is at this point that the baby across from me decides it was time to cry.  No wait, scream. 
Patience Linda, for you too have been in this situation.  Many years ago when my Amy was a babe we went to the Dominican Republic for a vacation.  All was well until our decent and then my quiet angel started screaming and I could not get her to stop.  She wouldn't nurse, and refused her pacifier.  I could feel all eyes on me as I walked with her and tried to quiet her, and then a lovely flight attendant rescued me.  She said that the crying would clear her ears and she would quiet, and to my great relief that is what happened a few excruciatingly long minutes later.

So I glance over to the young mom and give what I hope is a reassuring look, and tamp my irritation down.  Thankfully I can usually sleep anywhere, anytime, so snooze I did.  I hear the continued fussing now and again as background noise, but mostly sleep until our next stop in Chiclayo.  Cue the rapid fire Spanish over the intercom.  All around me people slowly rise to exit the bus and I realize we are all to get off, so I rout  around until I find my Hikers from underneath all my paraphernalia and put them on.  I get up to leave the bus but obviously have taken too long because just as I reach the doors they close with a definitive swoosh and the bus begins to move.  I bang on the glass and call out to the driver.  Nope Nada.  

The bus backs up and stops at what I conclude is a sanitary station, doors open, I pop my head out, and find about a dozen people staring.  So with my drug and sleep influenced Spanish I try to explain that the doors closed while I was trying to exit.  The crowd stares at me, uncomprehending.   A give it a couple of tries and then throw my hands up and say "oh never mind", and everyone starts laughing. At me or for me I don't know.  Love to entertain.

Not too long later the bus is back at the terminal to allow us to re board.  While I take my boots off the attendant comes through handing out barfy bags.  Oh the memories. On a  bus trip to Yurimaguas a few years ago I left my breakfast in a garbage bin next to the road in a similar bag.  Hmm.  Not that I really feel I am in any particular danger, but I pop a gravol anyways and drifted back to snoozeland.  

Before long dawn is breaking and I can feel that the bus had changed course and was now headed up into the mountains.  I take a peep through the drapes and yep, sure enough, mountains. I settle back down in my comfy bed  Far too soon I hear the announcement asking us to raise our seat backs so attendants can come through with breakfast, a plain chicken sandwich and a fruit bun stuffed with date paste.  I opt to eat only the fruit bun and it was sticky and delicious. 

I think Mrs. Doubtfire was playing on the tv at this point.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Lima, again...

My muse seems to be back, albeit for how long your guess is as good as mine.

So after a very unusual trip to Toronto, I departed tired and stressed to Lima at 6pm on Wednesday the 28th of January.  This is late in the month for me, and not the greatest time to be headed into the Amazonian Cloud Forest as it is mid rainy season.  The plane was not full, so I managed to spread out and be comfortable as I caught up on my movies.  There were a couple of fairly bumpy periods, but all in all Air Canada managed to deliver us safely to our arrival gate in Lima.

The lady at immigration missed her prunes that morning or something, and gave me a hard time about the number of days for which I could have my visa.  Seems that I couldn't understand her rapid fire Spanish inquisition (not that anyone could be tired and/or cognitively impaired at 2am after an eight hour flight) quickly enough for her to find any reason why I should warrant my normal 180 day visa.  She wanted to give me a visa for 60 days, but finally settled on 90 to be nice.  sigh.  Bienvenidos a Peru.

As requested there was an airport pickup waiting as I cleared customs, and an uneventful transfer to the hostal ensued.  I know I have probably said it ad  nausiem, but this is a gem of a place to stay in Lima.  El Patio greeted me like an old friend, and without delay I was snoozing comfortably in my room.  

Slept through most of the next day.  Sometime around 3 I got a phone call asking if I wanted my room serviced, however I think this was just their way of ensuring  I was alive.  Guess they missed me crawling across the courtyard to have breakfast.  I resurfaced about 4pm, showered, ignored my mind screaming for more sleep and stepped out into the masses. 

Traffic was surprisingly light on this beautiful, balmy night, and I sauntered towards Parc Kennedy, also known as Gringo Central.  On the way I spent some time watching a new batch of cats hanging out on the lawns of the cathedral.  And lying lazily on the walkways. And checking out the small food containers left for them here and there.  Obviously people are still ignoring the "please don't drop your kittens off here" sign.  My cat perusal continued through the park.  It really is quite a sight to see the multitude, all ownership and attitude.  I enjoyed the sense of familiarity.  

 A pit stop at the department store to get my annual feeling of frump, and this errand successfully completed I headed out to get some dinner.
One very overpriced "cooked vegetable salad" later I paid my bill and then ducked into the casino, where I won enough to cover dinner and one nights hostel stay.  Not too shabby. 

Morning saw me repacking my bags and preparing for the 24hour bus ride to come.