Turkish Delight

Every coin has two sides. So does the city of Istanbul. On one side there are gorgeous, historic mosques, palaces, city walls and towers. IMG_0052

The Grand Bazaar is one of my favorite places to saunter around, sip tea, sniff spices. Here you can buy a fez, a hookah or the freshest Turkish Delight in the world.

IMG_0065But Istanbul also is endless traffic jams, modern skyscrapers and overcrowded Metros. I enjoyed buying an Istanbul card what allows you to travel on subways, trams and busses by simply scanning the card. It’s always a fun challenge to figure out how to buy such a card in a foreign city, how to upload money on it and then use it. The other challenge, of course, is figuring out where you’re going…. But with a subway map and a good sense of direction, I got exactly where I wanted to be. Besides, people were very kind and helpful. One young man wanted to speak English and asked how he could help. Other times people pointed and smiled and were always helpful.

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I’m here to work at a Turkish school where children learn English. I do book talks and writing workshops all day, but have the weekends and evenings to explore. What makes this trip even more fun is that my friend and colleague, author David Greenberg, is here too. On Sunday we took the Metro, a funicular and a tram into the old city. There, we walked around the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Haga Sofia and charming old cobblestone streets of an ancient city that once was called Constantinople. To read more about these fabulous sites, including a Turkish Bath, see the blog from our previous visit:

https://globetrottinggrandparents.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/turkey-from-bazars-to-the-bizarre/

IMG_0032IMG_0034We enjoyed Turkish coffee along a tiny alley, seated on cushions where kissing was not allowed! Then we found the old train station and feasted on warm bread with melted cheese. We goggled at so many breads, dripping honey combs, warmly coloured fruit juices. And everywhere are cats. Istanbul is a city where cats reign.

The language is fascinating. While I don’t understand a word, I can figure out some of the signs. Taksi. Banki. Müsezi. It almost seems Finnish to me some times…

IMG_0040Each evening I eat at a different, local place: shish kababs, döner (shaved roasted meat), warm thin bread, soft cheese, juicy tomatoes. One night we took another Metro and ventured out to crowded Taksim, a square in a very busy neighbourhood. An endless stream of people walked down the narrow street. Not many beggars to be seen, but some made money by playing music or selling trinkets. Stores included western clothing shops like H&M but also fantastic butcher shops, shops with long strands of something that looked like a skinny sausage but was actually a skin of fruit leather filled with walnuts… And flowers, beautiful flower stalls.

IMG_0045The highlight was going out for dinner with an old friend and several new ones from the school. The restaurant was called Gazebo. I would have never found it since the entrance was a green pathway, like a little alley next to a house, leading to a most wonderful covered terrace along the banks of the Bosphorus. Not only did we enjoy the great food but the view over the water of bridges and barges, fishes and twinkling lights was amazing. From the European side, we watched the Asian side of this bustling city that straddles two continents. Especially once a full moon cast its path across these fabled waters that connect the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.

http://www.gazebo-ist.com/en-index.html

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Walking into a Harrison Painting – Day Trip from Whitehorse, YT

Here is a nice day trip from Whitehorse, Yukon.

On a clear day, it is fun to do this 200 KM round trip. We took the trip in early September when the hill sides were just turning brilliant yellow. But even on a sunny winter day, this is a nice drive. carcross map

We drove to Carcross first because of the views if you drive it counter clockwise. Carcross may be a speck on the map but it is steeped in history. Short for ‘caribou crossing’ this is where prospectors came of the famed Chilkoot Trail, and many hikers still do. The Caribou Hotel was built in 1898 and still remains, although I hope it will soon be restored and protected. The hotel and other buildings were painted by famous Yukon artist Ted Harrison. Walking into this tiny town is like walking into one of his paintings. I chuckled to think that people who see his paintings might comment that “buildings don’t lean that way,” or ‘the sky isn’t really like that.” In Yukon, and in Carcross, they are!

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Carcross has a bakery and coffee shop. It also has a new area with First Nations crafts, artists, coffeeshop and tourist information centre. Tagish is pretty but doesn’t have many services. We brought a picnic along to eat at the Marsh Lake Campground. Jake’s Corner has a gas station and restaurant.

Northern Exposure – Whitehorse, Yukon

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Yukon River in Whitehorse

A long, long time ago we had two little boys, aged 1 and 3, when Kees was offered the position of director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Whitehorse, Yukon. We packed up our belongings and left the Kananaskis region of the Rocky Mountains where he had been a park ranger, and where we had lived in the wilderness at the foot of the Continental Divide.

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Log ‘skyscraper’

Many people must have thought we were crazy to go to the Yukon. We drove north in our blue camper van along the Alaska Highway. We drove and drove… the trees got more and more spindly, the terrain turned to rolling hills, the mosquitoes got bigger and the bears and moose more frequent.

When we finally reached Whitehorse we could have easily missed the city of, then, 15,000 people. It lay tucked into the Yukon River valley, well below the highway escarpment. But we did take the Two Mile Hill turn-off and started a whole new life. People in Whitehorse were friendly and outgoing. Most had come from far away and it was easy to make friends. We chopped firewood, went tobagganing and fishing. We watched native dances and ate bannock. Yukoners celebrate everything! They have to because without celebrations, life is dark and cold and dull. So we celebrated the ice break up, the midnight sun and especially the winter carnival that heralded the end of winter. We celebrated the Gold Rush, the poems of Robert Service, we watched tubing races down the Yukon River and outhouse races down Mainstreet. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In all the years since we moved south again, I went back three times but Kees never did. We decided that this was our year to go north and visit Whitehorse. Fast forward 27 years!

Whitehorse now is a city of 30,000 people. It has a McDonalds and a Walmart. It has 3 (three!) Starbucks. I’m not sure that this is progress but it certainly is change. We fondly remembered the little supermarket from way back when, as we shopped at the Great Canadian Superstore that made me shake my head in disbelief. Groceries here now are cheaper than on Salt Spring Island. This did not feel like Whitehorse!

There are many restaurants, sushi places and trendy shops now. But some things haven’t changed. There are still shacks with stovepipes sticking out of the roof, leaning helter/skelter against each other. There are still husky pups waiting for snow. And there are still unique, friendly people walking the sidewalks near the Yukon and White Pass railway station. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whitehorse chosen subtitle is ‘The Wilderness City’ and that is an apt description. We hiked the beautiful Millennium Trail along the fast flowing Yukon River. Watching the water rush by it is amazing to realize that this force will soon be overtaken by the even stronger force of the cold. All the rushing water will be frozen and immobile in winter. Once you have seen the Yukon River freeze, been here during the winter months and watched it thaw and flow again in Spring, you are declared a Sourdough. If you’ve never spend a winter here, you remain a Cheechako.

We watched in fascination the many dozens of trees along the river bank felled by beavers. Leaves and wood chips were everywhere. We followed the drag marks where entire trees had been hauled to the water and saw how these amazing engineers had maneuvered the trees, using the river’s force, to their dam that blocked off a good part of the river. So glad the city does not blast these dams apart of trap those busy beavers! Upriver of the bridge is the Yukon River fish ladder where you can watch salmon jumping up the ladders, in Fall.

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Canada Games Centre

Yukon is a federal territory and receives federal funding for many projects, ensuring quality programs and facilities for the residents of this remote corner of Canada. The Canada Games Centre, for instance, has an aquatic centre with a leisure pool, lane pool, NHL rink, leisure skating rink, hot tubs, running track and many other facilities and services. All for $7.80 per day.

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The SS Klondike

If you spend time in Whitehorse be sure to visit landmarks like The S.S. Klondike, one of the last remaining paddlewheelers of a bygone era. You can tour the old wooden boat to get a sense of what it was like to travel up the river. Reading Pierre Berton’s book Drifting Home, and his mother Laura Berton’s book I Married The Klondike is also a wonderful way to learn more about this unique history. The McBride Museum preserves many artifacts important to Yukon’s history. We stopped into The Chocolate Claim, a great local coffee shop, because of many memories tied to this place and also because I was Miss Chocolate Claim! There are strange things done in the midnight sun, which is why many moons ago I was involved in running for Miss Yukon and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous and was crowned Miss Congeniality! Being here brought back many fond memories. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The house we designed ourselves and built here, some 30 years ago – yikes – is still gorgeous. It overlooks the Yukon River and is now a B & B! I found the website and it was fun to see this gorgeous photo of “our” house and the Northern Lights!Gallery_Exterior006-300x200

Another must if you visit Whitehorse, is the Takhini Hot Springs. Not cheap ($11.- for seniors) but a fabulous soak in hot, natural water. One side is large enough for slow swimming in comfy, warm water. The other side is HOT. It was weird to visit it now, without snow and ice. In winter your hair freezes with the steam coming off the water and you can have wild, white hairdo’s! They also have a fantastic créperie now where we enjoyed gigantic fresh fruit and chocolate crepes!10945814_314972205362986_2535773757389503556_o

Special thanks to our Whitehorse friends who lend us their condo during our time up north.

Sights to visit:

http://takhinihotpools.com

http://www.macbridemuseum.com

https://www.yukoninfo.com/whitehorse-yukon/ss-klondike/

http://www.yukonwildlife.ca

http://www.whitehorse.ca/departments/canada-games-centre

 

Alaska Adventure: driving 700 miles

The Drive from Anchorage to Whitehorse, Yukon (700 miles/
1,100 KM)

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Once you get off a cruise ship in Seward, Alaska, you need to shake off the remnants of relaxation and being pampered… It is a rude awakening to having to make your own decisions again. The first one: how to get anywhere from here?

Hopefully, you’ve planned ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we planned this trip, the cruise itinerary listed Anchorage as the last port of call. But it doesn’t get anywhere near this city. Seward is a good 2 hours on a bus from Anchorage. It can also be reached by train. Being the thrifty, budget travellers that we are, I spent time searching for the most economical way to get from the port of Seward to the Anchorage airport where we would pick up a rental car. It turned out to be Alaska Cruise Transfer (https://alaskacruisetransfer.com) The one way ride was $50 per person, considerably cheaper than the transport offered by the cruise line or other companies. The bus was very comfortable, we had a good driver and the best part was the informative, and humorous, commentary audio track. It gave us stories of the area’s history, colourful characters, politics, events, wildlife and more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kenai Peninsula is absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend a whole holiday here, exploring, hiking, fishing and seeing beautiful scenery. The highlight for me was learning about Turnagain Arm – a wide arm of the Gulf of Alaska reaching inland from Cook Inlet. The arm got its name from British explorer James Cook, who was forced to “turn again” when the waterway didn’t hold the fabled Northwest Passage during his 1778 voyage.

The bore tide here, a wave of water that rushes down the arm, can top six feet tall and is an unusual, awe-inspiring sight. Formed by the area’s huge tidal range and focused in the narrow channel of Turnagain Arm, the bore tide tops speeds of 20 mph. We heard stories of near drownings because the bottom here is quick sand and when the water comes in at that speed, it is very dangerous.

You can see the tidal bore coming in here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY-qekro1dI

The best thing was seeing many Beluga whales who hang out in this Arm. Beluga Point, a rocky outpost jutting into the waters of Turnagain Arm, is just south of Anchorage along the Seward Highway. Belugas are often seen from mid-July through August when salmon are running in Cook Inlet where their numbers have hovered between 300 to 375 whales since 2000. Belugas use sonar to find their way and catch fish in the silty waters of the inlet. Beluga whales are relatively small, often measuring less than 16 feet. Younger whales look blue-gray in color and then turn white by age five or six. Belugas are the only all-white whale and have no dorsal fin.

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We reached the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and were dropped off at the airport where we picked up a rental car. What can you expect when driving across the vast expanse of Alaska? The highway was flanked with many, many signs warning us of moose and cariboo. But for all of the 700 miles (1,100 KM) from Anchorage to Whitehorse, the only wildlife we saw was a handful of chipmunks and a few ravens.

There is still very much a ‘last frontier’ feeling here. Towns have few services and buildings still have the gold rush type fronts. There are about as many saloons as there are churches. The main streets are often paved but side streets are full of potholes. Our rental car was not allowed on dirt roads so we had to change our plan of driving the Top of the World highway to Dawson City, Yukon. Gas prices are the same as down south but gas stations are far and few between.

The most beautiful view was overlooking the Matanuska Glacier, lower than the highway, as it creeps out of a southern valley on blue icy toes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent the night in Tok, Alaska. There are several motels and RV Parks with cabins along both the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway (it is interesting to note that highways in Alaska are referred to by name in addition to the number). It costs at least 100.- for a room. The place most recommended for meals is Fast Eddy’s. We had fun sitting in this bustling truck-stop atmosphere and watching big burly hunters, truck drivers with long bears and pony tails, and an odd mix of tourists from all over the world. The great food was reasonably priced: https://www.fasteddysrestaurant.com

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe highway got noticeably worse once we crossed the border into Canada. But we were very lucky with blue skies and sunshine that set the golden trees ablaze. Early September is definitely one of the most gorgeous times to see this area as aspen and other deciduous trees turn bright yellow, orange and red, dotting the evergreen hills like a fluffy quilt, framed here and there with the first white powder on mountain tops. Especially the drive along Kluane Lake is gorgeous. It inspired me to write a poem:

Fall’s soldiers
In their golden uniforms
Stand guard
Between summer and winter,
Marching south
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the return trip from Yukon back to Anchorage, we were lucky enough to see a large flock of snow white Dall sheep in the Kluane Range. Then two curious coyotes walked across the road and peeked at us from the brown grass. The sun was out part of the time, turning the hillside brilliantly yellow for most of the way. In fact, it was so gorgeous that we kept on driving. Instead of spending the night half way, in Tok again, we drove all 12 hours back to Palmer. We saw a large moose up close and even saw our very first caribou.

Hunting season is now in full swing. I’d hate to hike or camp in the bush. We see huge numbers to trucks parked along the road where hunters have taken off into the bush. At a remote outpost, we stopped at the log cabin country store to buy native crafts, when a truck drove with the large rack of a moose in the back. I could see an enormous cooler and bulging garbage bags of meat. So I walked over and had an interesting conversation:

Me: “Hi! How are you? Nice moose! Can I take a picture?”

Guy: “sure.”

Me: “Wow. It’s huge. Bet that will be all your meat for the winter, eh?”

Guy: “yup. you canadian?”

Me: “Yeah! How’d you guess?”

Guy: ‘eh.

Me: “Ah. I said eh! I guess so. So how much did it weigh, like how much meat did you get? Like 500 pounds?”

Guy: “more.”

I guess by then he had really warmed up to me because he added “maybe double. gonna use it all, bones, sinew, organs”.

Me: “Wow, that’s great. Well thanks a lot. Have a good winter.”

Guy: ” ‘kay.”

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We were still just in time but wouldn’t to go a week later: the US/Canadian Border closes on September 15 on the Top of the World Highway; many hotels and lodges shut down as of September 15 and the first snow was sprinkled on the surrounding mountain tops.

A tool that helps with planning is the downloadable app: http://www.thealaskaapp.com

In our next blog we will take you around Whitehorse, Yukon.

Just Cruising’ Along – to Alaska

P8300253.JPGWe wanted a short get-away at the end of a busy summer. We run Between The Covers, Booklovers’ B & B and knew that we would not have much time off all summer, so we planned a short trip, relatively close to home.

Having left Whitehorse, Yukon where our children went through elementary school, 27 years ago, we decided that this was the year to go back and see the Yukon again. I have made two short trips back there, but Kees has not been back since we moved south.

Initially we thought we’d just drive the Alaska Highway. We both love driving. But driving it both ways is too boring. Besides, it is not incredibly scenic. I used to love traveling on the Alaska State Ferry. But I nearly had a heart attack when I checked fares on the Alaska State Ferry website and saw that is would cost over US $2000.-. That is one way. On the ferry. Without a cabin.

P8300248.JPGThen I remembered the many tantalizing emails about Alaska cruises and checked these. Orbitz, my favourite travel bookings website, offered a one way cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage. Price per person was about 650.- When all was said and done, including extra fees, taxes, gratuities, etc. we paid on the dot the exact amount as the ferry would have been. But a cruise, of course, includes all you can eat for 7 days….

We got out a map and ended up booking the cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines, via Orbitz. Then we booked a rental car in Anchorage and a flight back using our Alaska Airlines points.

When we boarded the ship in Vancouver, we weren’t sure what to expect. I’m not terribly crazy about cruises since I do not need a casino, I don’t like crowds and I don’t need to be entertained. But I did really want a few days of NOTHING. I couldn’t wait to sleep in and get my meals served. P9020292.JPG

The boarding process was fast and efficient. The paperwork we had received was confusing. I checked in online, printed off luggage tags and selected dinner times. The papers told us, over and over, in bold underlined print that we had to check-in between 2 and 2:30, a time slot we selected from half hour slots offered all day. At some point I realized that the papers also stated that the ship departed at 2 PM. I finally phoned and was told to be on board well before 2 PM. So was the check-in time on board then? When we got onboard, no one knew what that not to be missed check-in was… And none of the dinner times I had selected online, were recorded. But we found our cabin which was just fine. A large, clean bed, a place to sit, a desk, plenty of storage space and a small fridge. Next time I’ll check the price difference with an outside cabin which has a window or small balcony. It would be nice to see daylight and what the weather is doing…

The service on the ship was impeccable. Everyone was friendly, courteous and helpful. The food quality in the main dining room was superb. The ship can hold just over 2,000 guests. It has its own bakeries, one for bread and one for pastries. We rarely got the same little dinner rolls. And the cinnamon buns were out of this world.

Here’s a glimpse at the ship’s weekly shopping list:

  • 15,000 pounds of beef
  • 1000 gallons of juice
  • 15,000 pounds of flour
  • 30,000 pounds of fresh fruit
  • 5,000 dozen eggs!

They said Costco loves it when they stop by!P8280237.JPG

I found it fascinating how our daily schedule and priorities changed overnight. On the first night, we sat in the gorgeous dining room and watched two whales spouting against an orange sky. The quiet wake of the ship seemed to drain my aches, my tiredness and my worries about deadlines, about which B&B room to clean, about how much more weeding I should be doing… From then on our main concern was what to order for breakfast… A waiter draped a white starched napkin across my lap and handed me a menu. A menu for breakfast! Choices included 5 different kinds of juice, many options of fresh fruit, yogurts, pastries, breads, eggs, smoked salmon or bacon, porridge or french toast, pancakes, waffles… Enough already! Just bring me one of each 🙂

After breakfast there was nothing to do but wait for lunch and repeat steps 1 – 3 (sit, order, eat). Same at dinner…

Good thing the ship had a pool (for me) and a walking track (for Kees).

The ship also offered bars, two theatres, a library, an observation lounge and many more facilities. It took us three full days before we stumbled upon a casino. How do you hide an entire casino on a ship? You put it between the shop and the art gallery, one deck up from the bars and theatres. We had a ball sitting in a quiet corner and watching people. My favourite times were sipping a drink while listening to a good string trio playing Vivaldi.Of course these cruises are ideal for those who are less mobile. But they obviously also attract people who like to eat. I’ve seldom seen so many overweight people in one place. Good thing the ship doesn’t sink easily. But the guests on this ship were as varied as the books on a library shelf. Young, old, active, obese, classy and not so classy. They came from countries all over the world: Germany, France, Australia, Japan, China, USA and everything in between. The crew alone represented 62 countries.

P9010273.JPGBesides on board entertainment like concerts and shows, we also stopped in beautiful locations:

  • Ketchikan, Alaska is a quaint village clinging to the hillside. It rained – which it often does here. But we found a nice coffeeshop with wifi (even if it was 5.- per hour);
  • Throught gorgeous scenery we sailed to Juneau, the capital city of Alaska. Juneau is more than the gold rush image ofcolorful wooden houses near the dock. It is also a large city with a Costco, schools, university, libraries, and more. We visited the  Mendenhall Glacier and a fun bear viewing boardwalk just above a creek full of spawning salmon. It rained. I think ‘Alaska’ is the First Nations’ word for ‘rain’.
  • Skagway used to be a tiny gold rush village near the beginning of the famous Chilkoot trail. Instead of aging into a ghost town of cracked wooden sidewalks and sagging houses, the town choose opted for a facelift. The saloon type store fronts now host a Starbucks, many jewelry stores and confortable eateries offering wifi. Yet it maintains its last frontier image and offers can-can girls and Soapy Smith shows to its thousands of visitors. Skagway has discovered a whole new kind of gold mine.P9010283.JPG
  • Next we departed for Glacier Bay. Rough grey waves of the Pacific made way for a pristine, blue reflective bay of immense proportions. At the very end, our ship glided toward a crumbling glacier. The mirroring water was dotted with small, white icebergs. The view was breathtaking. The temperaturesdropped drastically since we left Vancouver. Capris and sandals made way for fur coats and woolen hats while we watched the icy beauty of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a United Nations World Heritage Site. Comprised of 3.3 million acres of natural wonders, it is home to magnificent glaciers and snow-capped mountains.P9020349.JPG
  • Next was Hubbard Glacier (I didn’t know that Alaska is home to an estimated100,000 glaciers!). Tall, wide and generally massive, Hubbard Glacier is a mesmerizing natural wonder framed in striking glacial blue. The largest tidewater glacier in North America is a whopping 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep. Its foot is some 7 miles wide and the exposed ice is said to be over 450 years old. Impressive facts but not nearly as impressive as the sight of being right next to it. Hubbard is nicknamed the “galloping glacier” because of how quickly it’s advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska through Disenchantment Bay. This results in major calving — the dramatic breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier. As we stood on deck, we heard sonic booms, followed by long deep rumbles. Large chunks of glacial ice broke off and tumbled into the sea, leaving spray and mist. The sounds and the feel of icy air, made the sights even more impressive. A sight I won’t soon forget!P9020384.JPG

After this natural wonder, we sailed to our final destination of Seward, Alaska – some 12 hours on very rough open water. We had winds of 45 knots and 14’ waves. Even though this was a huge ship, it creaked and groaned as we bobbed on the waves. As if by magic, little barf bags appears on all the stair handrails…

In the next blog, we will continue our Alaska Adventure by road.

Impressions of Honduras

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) asked me to go to Honduras for three weeks to assist looking at trail development and for eco-tourism opportunities in the San Pedro de Sula valley I was very skeptical. Every government travel website I checked (Canadian, US, British, Dutch) warned against travel in Honduras. As a matter of fact one of the sites stated that the city of San Pedro de Sula was the murder capital of the world. Who would want to go there? After checking with people who had been on a CESO assignment in Honduras and had had no problems at all, I decided to take the chance and go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as I landed in San Pedro Sula (SPS) after an 8-hour flight via Mexico City from Vancouver (only a 1 hr. time difference with PST) and was driven to my hotel I noticed how similar the city of one million looks like cities in SE Asia (Vientiane) and Africa (Lusaka). Lots of garbage everywhere, lots of old buildings, but also several brand new hotels and businesses.  After arriving at the hotel I was warned not to go outside after dark, too dangerous. During the day it was OK to be walking around in this neighbourhood, but beware. So on several occasions I walked to a large shopping center 15 minutes from the hotel. By the time you had walked those 15 minutes you were sweating pretty good. The temperature is well into the 30’s during the day and air conditioning is a must to be comfortable. Many days in the late afternoon or evening tremendous thunderstorms would occur with heavy thunder and lighting strikes. In no time the streets are inundated with water and cars drive through 2” to 6” of water. But soon after the rain stops the elaborate drainage system takes care of the water and within a few hours the streets are dry again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs part of the work I was asked to do here I have been driven to some 10 of the outlying communities around SPS in the valley, including one of the national parks. Several of the other outlying communities are too dangerous to go to, just like one particular road up to the National Park had to be avoided. I found the surrounding area quite beautiful, lots of green forests, banana plantations and coffee plantations. The roads are mostly in good shape, however some road sections to smaller villages are atrocious and it  takes hours to drive around potholes at 10 km per hour. There is a lot of poverty in the country, some websites identify it as one of the most impoverished countries in Central America. Unemployment is roughly at 27-28% and several of the outlying communities appeared to be half empty. When I asked about that I was told that many people try to move to North America and end up as illegals, much of the time being deported back again. When I had lunch in a restaurant (Pizza Hut, but there is also McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway among others)  one of the servers spoke reasonably good English. When I asked him where he had learned that he said ”New York”, he had spent 6 years there before he got deported. Unfortunately many Central American gangs are made up of deported LA gang members. Especially El Salvador is notorious for having drug gangs. The Honduras government has worked hard the last few years to change that and is making progress. The last few years the GDP also has gone up (7% growth) and a lot of new construction on roads and buildings is evident.

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The security is still a major problem. At night a security guard is stationed in front of the hotel. In the shopping Center dozens of armed guards walk around. Every bank has an armed guard at the door. I was warned against using public transportation since it is not safe for foreigners.

The people are very friendly and helpful, few people speak English. At times my work was quite challenging because I don’t speak much Spanish and as a result missed much of the discussion that took place around me (without me). One thing that I noticed was that very few people smoke. In the few weeks I have been here I have seen exactly 2 people smoke a cigarette. However I also noticed that many people are overweight. That may be not difficult to explain because going for a jog or even an extended walk is close to impossible in this humid / hot environment. And not many people can afford the membership of the few indoor fitness centers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe primary purpose of my assignment was to look for opportunities for trail development. So after seeing some of the poor trails I developed a manual for trail planning and development. The secondary purpose of my trip was to look for eco-tourism opportunities. I found quite a few. I think it would be interesting for a north American tourist to be able to visit a banana plantation and packing facility, or a coffee plantation or have you ever seen a cacao plantation? I never knew how cacao grew, interesting to discover how it grows and is turned into chocolate bars.

In summary: I would not (yet) go to this country as a tourist because of the security situation. However as far as its natural beauty is concerned, I am impressed. If the government manages to get the drug trade and subsequent murder rate under control, improves the road system this country can become a major tourist attraction.

 

Vancouver with Children

IMG_5750.jpgHappiness is getting to spend time in Vancouver BC with a 7 year old grandson. For a long time now, I had promised Nico a trip to the big city to explore and have fun. I cut up tourist brochures and glued images and words on 5 blank pages. These would act as his guide to activities and attractions. He was in charge of deciding which page we would do first. These five pages plus a city map became his most treasured possessions for our five days in Vancouver.

IMG_5835On the first day, Nico decided, we would explore Granville Island. We left our car parked in the quiet street where we stayed, bought a Compass card for public transportation in a nearby drug store, and boarded our first bus. It took us within a block of Granville Island. This small island, attached by bridges, used to be an industrial island. It still houses a cement factory and other businesses but is also home to an Art College, a hotel, and many businesses. We toured the Kids Market first. The building is painted bright yellow and houses lots of toy shops. There are fancy clothing stores for kids, a magic shop, a bookstore and more. An arcade on the top floor lures kids in to spend more money. Ultimately there is not much more to do but to shop and spend money. We rode the glass elevator and discovered the huge water playground behind the building. Now this is fun! And, best of all, it is free. Nico spent hours running in water spouts and screaming in delight as water poured from different places. IMG_5756

We also visited the Market, a huge covered market hall where you can buy foods of all kinds, including moon grapes. We had our morning coffee (and milk) with a Nutella croissant outside overlooking False Creek while buskers played music, aqua busses and pirate ships floated by and pigeons tried to steal our crumbs.

IMG_5763Instead of taking a bus to Vanier Park where the Space Centre and Planetarium are located, we opted for a water taxi. It took us under Granville Street Bridge and through a whirr of boats, large and small, to the park. We strolled to the Space Center and dished out the admission price. We watched a show in the Planetarium on the domed ceiling, about the MilkyWay and other galaxies. Nico loved every second of it and remembered much of the information about black holes and newly discovered planets. He also climbed inside an “astronaut’s suit” and touched a moon rock ad a meteorite.IMG_5795

The telescope was supposed to open at 8 PM and we passed some time after the closing of the Centre and the opening of the telescope by hanging around in the park. But when we arrived at 8 PM we were told that it might happen at 9 PM. At 9 PM they said maybe by 10 PM it would be dark enough but Jupiter would not make an appearance and it was getting cloudy… By 9:30 a disappointed little boy agreed that we would try to come back in winter when it would be dark around 6 PM….

IMG_5847Science World was high on our list and we reached it by taking an Aqua Bus from Granville Island, an ideal way to travel – cheap, fun and no parking! We cruised all of False Creek until we reached the famous landmark: the shiny multifaceted globe that is Science World. And it lived up to all expectations. We spent the entire day playing with light flashes and optical illusions. There was so much to try and explore, and Nico never slowed down or got tired of any of it. From sabertooth tiger and T-Rex skeletons to balls bouncing on air, Science World was a big hit.

IMG_5912We had originally planned to explore Stanley Park when we visited the Aquarium, since it is located in the park. But parking proved so difficult that we had to forego the totem poles, sea wall and playgrounds. The seawall is a great place for hiking or biking, but in our case of limited time, we opted for just the Aquarium. And it, too, was better than expected. We touched stingrays, admired real sea horses, watched sea otters and, the highlight of the day, saw a penguin poop.

One of the most memorable things we did was have a bento box in a tiny neighbourhood sushi place: Moon Sushi. For under 10 dollars we had a great dinner, including tempura and teriyaki. Nico was thrilled when the waitress recognized him on our second visit.

IMG_5974.jpgWhile the entrance fees to places like the Aquarium and Science World are very high, we also found some wonderful free entertainment in the city. The Pacific Museum of Earth on the UBC campus offered fun, hands-on exhibits including a meteor and a dinosaur skeleton. Nico’s favourite was a huge omni-globe where he could turn the moon into earth, into Mars, and much more. While at UBC, you can see an entire blue whale skeleton at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, beautiful totem poles at the central mall and find a nice water playground at the Westbrook Mall.

One attraction that I would not have known about without my Vancouver friends, is the Kitsilano Showboat. This permanent stage on the beach offers free entertainment all summer long. Music, fireworks, concerts… Be sure to check the schedule if you are visiting the Kitsilano area of Vancouver.

And, of course, no visit to Vancouver is complete without a stop at KidsBooks. Their two locations offer to most fabulous selection of (Canadian) children’s books for all ages as well as anything book related. The best place to find a gift for your favourite child!

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• Vancouver public transit pass: https://www.compasscard.ca

• To plan your public transit in the lower mainland (the entire region around Vancouver): https://www.translink.ca

• Vancouver Aquarium: http://www.vanaqua.org

• Planetarium/Space Centre: http://www.spacecentre.ca

• Granville Island: http://granvilleisland.com

• Museum of Earth: http://pme.ubc.ca/exhibits/

• Beaty Biodiversity Museum: http://beatymuseum.ubc.ca

• Kitsilano Showboat: http://www.kitsilanoshowboat.com

• Moon Sushi: http://moonsushivancouver.com