Cabin fever has set in, our waist lines are continuing to get larger and the itch to travel is getting severely itchy! Fortunately we can finally get in a little scratch.
After about four months of successfully flattening the Covid curve we can finally travel through the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as north western Ontario without the need to self quarantine for 14 days when we reach our final destinations so tomorrow we will head off and take three nights and four days to drive about 2,300 kms to Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a long drive so the days will primarily be sightseeing through our car windows but we know the scenery will be spectacular.
We’ll depart Vancouver and travel through the Coastal Mountain range and then through the Monashee Mountains, the Selkirks and then the Rockies, descending the foothills through Calgary, Alberta and into the plains of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
It’s the middle of summer in Canada so we expect temperatures in the mid to high 20’s C with some 30+ days and probably some really good late afternoon thunder and lightning storms. There is nothing better than a good storm on hot summer afternoon on the prairies or lake regions.
We’ll visit family in Winnipeg for three days and then continue east and north for about 250 kms to Minaki, Ontario where we’ll park our vehicle and then take a boat transfer to our secluded waterfront cabin. There will be a few people in the relative area from four other cabins scattered throughout but it will essentially be us, the mosquitos, the black flies, lots of wildlife, the quiet and the stars. And some very good fresh water fishing!
We have 3 days in Addis before heading home. We arrived in Addis Ababa on the 26th of October and departed home from Addis late at night on November 14th. In between we travelled around the country for 14 days covering approximately 3,300 kms in Toyota Land cruisers on generally bad roads in the south, good paved roads in the north and unpaved 4×4 rough stuff in the Afar region.
I don’t think we stayed at the best hotel in Addis in regards to the location to walkable restaurants and bars in the city. The Bole area a few kms away would have probably been a better choice. The Capital Hotel & Spa was very nice. The main restaurant was okay, breakfast was included and it was good. Their bars were boring however their traditional restaurant was absolutely fantastic!
The hotel advertises itself as a high security hotel and is very proud of their high security status. Was this hotel a likely target for the bad guys?
We are the most outstanding hotel for safety and security of our esteemed guests which is acknowledged by the United Nation Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). Likely, we are certified by the American Safe Hotels Company as a Safest & Secured Five Star Hotel in Addis Ababa- Ethiopia. the most outstanding hotel for safety and security of our esteemed guests which is acknowledged by the United Nation Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). Likely, we are certified by the American Safe Hotels Company as a Safest & Secured Five Star Hotel in Addis Ababa- Ethiopia.
Our hotel was the only place in Ethiopia where we could get decent wifi so we spent the day of the 12th trying to catch up on our blog posts and then had a great evening eating and drinking Tej (an orange coloured honey based wine) and listening to and watching fantastic live music and dancing entertainment at the traditional restaurent located in the basement of our hotel.
When in Addis Ababa a must visit is the National Museum of Ethiopia. We spent several hours wondering through this unfortunately very unkempt museum. The bones of human evolution and the artifacts of an amazing cultural and religious history was sadly displayed with very poor lighting and very little information posted to describe the artifacts on display.
The highlight of the museum is Lucy, the 3.2 million year old collection of bones that once made up the skeleton of a bipedal Hominin discovered in the Afar region in 1974, the oldest ever to be discovered by anthropologists. Several hundred pieces of bone fossils represents about 40% of the original Lucy (aka AL 288-1).
Below is how Lucy may have looked.
The National Museum is interesting and could really be impressive if funds could be raised to do a make-over. The museum admittance fee was a very cheap 20 cents so there is certainly plenty of room to raise this. Maybe this could get the ball rolling to fix up what should be a showcase museum for the country.
There are several other sites in and around Addis that can be seen if you sign up for a tour but as it was our final day in Africa we were now in departure mode so after our visit to the museum we stopped in at a small collection of artisan shops and purchased some beautiful hand woven baskets, returned to our hotel and slowly packed our bags. As mentioned above, tours either 1/2 day or full are readily available to explore in and around Addis Ababa but they are in our opinion a little expensive. Our hotel concierge arranged a taxi that charged an hourly rate which I think was a cheaper way to go and you were in control of your own itinerary. Always the best way.
Our flight home didn’t depart until late in the evening of the 14th so we had to pay for an additional night but it was well worth it to have time to organize out luggage, secure our souvenirs, have a shower and and take some time to contemplate all that we had experienced over the past four months.
The north of Ethiopia and the last leg of our trip was an excellent experience and it gave us an insight into the historic and strong christian orthodox religion that permeates much of the Tigray region and of the nominally Muslim Afar people who thrive in the extremely harsh conditions of the north eastern Afar region.
We had 1 1/2 very interesting days in Lalibela, a 1/2 day drive and visit to Yeha and 2 1/2 days exploring the other-worldly Afar region of Ethiopia sleeping under the stars and pooping (or trying to) in garbage and poop and toilet paper filled lava fields.
The landscape was incredible.
Our driver, Abrham (yes that is the correct spelling) was a very nice man and was the lead driver in our group so we were always the first to arrive at a specific destination. He is from Mekele and has worked as a tour driver for many years so he knew all the ins and outs of the expansive and open terrain we often travelled.
Abrham was also a very generous man.
On our way to Erta Ale Volcano, we stopped without warning at a tiny Afar settlement in the middle of a lava field in the middle of nowhere. There was a young boy standing on the side of the road. Abrham got out of the truck and opened the back and pulled out books, writing paper, pens and some candy and handed it out to the small crowd that seemed to appear out of nowhere. He told us he did this every time he passed this way because they have very little access to education, never mind paper or pens or candy. It was a gesture that should be repeated by all tour drivers/companies that pass through. Life is very harsh in the north eastern Tigray and Afar regions of Ethiopia.
We were dropped off at Mekele airport with several hours to kill before our flight however we lucked out and were able to get on an earlier flight back to Addis. We arrived back at our hotel with plenty of time to relax, shower and have a nice evening and a light dinner of a very average pizza.
We departed Johannesburg on September 5th for a short 3 hour flight to the capital city of Antananarivo. We have a Nissan double cab 4×4 rented for 5 weeks, equipped with camping gear. Although we’ll be staying at lodges through our driving journey we have the camping gear for any “just in case” situations. Below is our driving route with the blue colored portion indicating our flight to the north. After 5 weeks we’ll hop a plane from “Tana” and head to the Northwest for some much anticipated beach time.
So I was sitting at a little bar in old town Vallarta and overheard an older couple (probably our age) talking about how 5 of their friends became violently ill after swimming at the main beach in Sayulita. Apparently the sewage treatment plant for the area is overwhelmed and frequently overflows into the river that cuts through the middle of main beach and flows into the sea. Upon further research and hearing another similar story it seems Sayulita is in essence a bit of a cess pool. The area smells like poop, is overcrowded and apparently there is a lot of garbage left un-picked-up all over the place. We dug further and found a blog post from a month ago and although it tried to paint some lipstick on the town, the writer still could not deny the sad state of sanitary affairs that currently exists. Sadly for now sewage flows freely down the river and into the heart of Sayulita.
Our travel motto has always been to go with the flow however to this kind of flow we say no so decided it was back to Yelapa we go!
We booked another 7 nights at Hotel Lagunita and this time we were able to snag bungalow #6. It’s on the beach right in the corner of the beach and the bay and has a great little patio.
April 5th we bid the gals farewell after a great 12 days and hopped a very bumpy water taxi ride under high winds and cloudy skies to Yelapa, checked into our bungalow and immediately began to regret our choice. Without going into detail the deal breaker was the washroom/ shower area. The size of a coat closet, no place to put even a cup by the sink (the cup holder was either for a cup or for a bar of soap for the shower) and the slatted walls were missing a lot of slats making it less than private.
It never hurts to ask so we went back to the office, explained the situation and asked if bungalow #29 was available, the last one we stayed in a few weeks back. It was and was less money per night. Bonus! But the good luck was soon to wear off.
After a nap and a shower I headed over to the bar and soon learned there could be up 100 people arriving the next day (Saturday) for a two day music fest called “The night of the iguana”. Great, another bonus.
As it turns out, about 48 people trickled in on Saturday and Sunday. The music started several hours behind schedule and the first two acts were essentially karaoke. As Joyce and I sat sipping Pacifico cerveza we were approached by a tall lanky flunky with a clipboard and were told if we wanted to continue to listen to the quality entertainment in store for us for the rest of the weekend we would need to pay 500 pesos each. We said no, we’re not paying anything, we’re guests at the hotel and besides we didn’t even know about this until yesterday. Well, you should have been informed by management that this is a private ticket holder only function and you would need to pay if you want to stay on the hotel grounds for the rest of the weekend. Nope, we’ll make a couple hundred peso donation if we like what we hear, otherwise forget it. Off he huffed.
Apparently the 500 peso ticket also included a fajita dinner which the kitchen prepared during the day. As the large crowd of about 20 people slowly served themselves fajitas we decided we were hungry so decided to order chicken enchiladas from the kitchen because we didn’t want fajitas and we didn’t buy tickets etc. etc. so we ask to order our food to which the reply was, the kitchen is closed. Closed? So what do we eat? It’s pitch black outside the perimeter of the restaurant and nothing else is open. I don’t know but the kitchen can’t make anything.
Tee-up the “time to get upset and demand to see the manager” routine. The manager we dealt with,”Lucas”, was an inebriated idiot and through some mis-communication which was quite rampant at that point, we learned the next evening, which was also full of fun and surprises, he was actually the hotel owner. He proceeded to tell us he had blocked off all of the bungalows for this weekend 1 1/2 months earlier and somehow we got a room and somehow this is all our fault but, for 200 pesos each you can imbibe in this delectable spread of fajitas! We don’t want fajitas, we want to split a chicken enchilada dinner, enough for two and only 120 pesos you blathering SOB! I have nothing else to say to you. Everyone who worked there watched with distant care or amusement until the head waiter snuck over and made things right. Almost. I guess the kitchen has previously prepared enchiladas in the fridge. Pop them on a plate, cover in sauce and cheese, add some black beans and rice also stored in the fridge, put in oven for one minute, just long enough to make the plate hot and presto. Once the plate came the second time, the waiter made a point of showing us how how his fingers were blistering from the holding the plate for 15 seconds so now we know it is hot! Nope. I don’t mind lukewarm, Joyce, not so much.
As mentioned above, as all of this was going on the first two acts were solo “artists” singing along to canned music. It was surreal and we felt badly treated so we headed back to our bungalow with a bucket of Tecate cerveza on ice, sat outside looking out over the darkness, water and village lights and discussed whether or not to blow this popsicle stand tomorrow and go somewhere else.
We stayed and in the late afternoon we sat at the farthest end of the bar away from the action and then headed of to Manquidos, a great restaurant about 1km up the path along the river. It was Sunday and they would normally be open for dinner but not tonight. They were out of most of their menu offerings. Damn but no problem, surely our restaurant will be open to us tonight. Come on! What do you mean not open? Okay, that’s it, where is the Manager, blah, blah, Lucas, blah. We ordered two hamburgers, had two beer each and and to our surprise the bill was on the house. A good first step.
There was no good second step even though we saw the owner creeping around every now and then but Anna, Angel and unfortunately two other forgotten names tended to look after us a little more attentively for the rest of our stay.
We departed Yelapa on April 12th and spent 3 more nights in PV before heading home on the 15th, nicely tanned, relaxed and looking forward to some of our favourite non-Mexican foods. We’re home for exactly 3 months and then head out July 15th for another African adventure. Stay tuned.
We arrived in Bucerias on the 24th after a very quick ride courtesy of a kamikaze taxi driver who ultimately overcharged us. A nice term for ripped us off. We never seem to learn. We could write a book on the “dos and don’ts” when travelling but god forbid we would follow our own advice!
We then met up with Kristina and Lucy at the Royal Decameron Resort which we had booked for 7 nights. The days have really flew by.
The days were like vacation days are supposed to be. Breakfast, lather up the SPF then hit the beach by 10:00 am, lunch at around 1:30, a little R&R and technology time, shower, meet at the beach bar around 5:00 pm, drink, head to the next beach bar at 6:00 (the first one closed at 6:00), drink a little more and then head out for dinner. We did actually walk into town one day and it was stifling hot away from the beach and semi-hurricane force wind at the beach but refreshing save for the intermittent sandblast.
When Joyce and I first arrived we were early and our rooms weren’t ready but we were assigned rooms in the furthest building from the water, There was a nice pool but no sea breeze and it was hot. So asking nicely to change our rooms were treated nicely and rewarded with rooms Steps from the beach on the 2nd floor in Bock #4 with a pool and ocean view and what we thought was probably the best location out of the whole complex.
The food was good, the sun was hot, the beach was nice and the waves kept Lucy (and me) busy.
Next stop was Puerto Vallarta for 5 days where we went back to the San Marino Hotel where Joyce and I stayed a couple of weeks earlier. It’s a 3ish star affordable all inclusive popular with Mexicans right on the beach right at Los Muertos Pier and in the heart of Old Vallarta, Zona Romantica. We snagged two ocean front renovated rooms on the 7th and 8th floors and proceeded to do what you do at the beach. The food was not bad. Less selection than a popular resort but fresh and varied. Kristina said she would definitely go back and we would also but don’t go with a 5 star expectation. It’s relatively small but nice and you mix in with the locals, especially on a Sunday at the beach and it is close to everything.
We looked into booking a snorkelling trip in Bucerias but didn’t trust the huckster trying to sell us time share BS on the side so we waited until PV to organize it and we ended up with a private boat for the four of us and headed out to Las Arcos for some so-so visibility amongst a fairly large group of tortilla fish feeding foreigners floating amongst several boats all jockeying for position around the buoyed-off snorkelling area but this is what you have to expect in a heavily touristed area. It was still great and we saw fish and travelled the shoreline on our way there and were able to get a really good perspective of the beaches and small resort areas lining the coast.
All good things must come to an end and so we bade the ladies farewell April 5th and headed to our next destination…..
We arrived in Yelapa by water taxi on Thursday the 14th and settled into our cool little bungalow by the sea side. The place is called Lagunita and has 32 bungalows spread along a seawall and behind on the mountainside and beachside all with patios looking out to the sea. There’s a great fresh water rock pool, a little beach bar and a good restaurant all located on a large area of beach for the use by guests only. A very cosy place.
The main village is located on the western shore of the bay and is built up along the lush jungle mountain side with small cobble stone streets and dirt paths linking the upper and lower portions of the town. It’s a little bit of a hike from the eastern shore of the bay but if you’re too lazy to walk the beach and then climb some serious concrete stairs (the short cut) to access the village you can take a water taxi from the eastern pier to the western pier and then you only need to climb a few stairs to the roads into town.
In behind the main beach there is a river valley where the Rio de Tuito flows down from the Sierra Madres and forms a small lagoon behind the beach during dry season. There’s some great hiking along both sides of the river with the first kilometre or so lined with quaint homes, chickens, mules and a taste of the true and authentic Mexican existence. It was refreshing to see life relatively unchanged. There are ATV’s, the local Uber who transport goods from the piers and people wanting to to go from A to B. Mules are still widely used for day to day village transport but the ATV’s are winning out.
There are a few waterfalls (cascadas) in the surrounding mountains so after a couple of days of cloudy weather and zero exercise we headed off on a 4 1/2 hour round trip journey to the nearest falls following a stone paved path for about 1km then a meandering sand and clay and rock strewn path leading deep into the jungle. Jungle is a relative term. It was definitely jungly but there weren’t any snakes or giant spiders and we didn’t get covered in leeches thrashing through knee deep mud and quicksand. We did have to take our shoes off to cross not for one but for two river crossings and I did save a giant frog from where I was was sure it was stranded in a deep no exit pit but it was still jungly none the less.
Several parrots screeched their their dismay at our arrival to the falls but two large woodpeckers greeted us. They reminded me of work. Bang your head against the wall long enough and maybe you’ll get a bite.
The falls were nice. We’re spoiled living in British Columbia.
There were no bugs to speak of during our hike and in fact anywhere but Joyce is a magnet for biting little bastards and she of course came home with several distinct bite profiles. We first had to eliminate that the bites weren’t bed bugs. They weren’t and with that being said in all of our travels and my business travels over 35 years we have never experienced bed bugs. How about that. But what are the bites? Her main bites have a small red puncture in the middle surrounded by a red outer circle with a white halo. Not sure what kind of deadly bug this was but if she starts to go crazy in the next few days maybe it’s the feared Loco de la Joko. Or maybe there’re just unique mosquito bites.
We had sunshine finally on our last day and we took full advantage. My eye lids are a little burnt. I promise to start wearing my sunglasses while tanning and yes I know I will not look like a racoon. That only happens when spring skiing.
Tomorrow we head back to Puerto Vallarta and we’re leaving a really nice little village place but we made a contact who has a nice home for rent along the riverbank for a very good price. Maybe we’ll rent it for a couple of months in early 2020?
We started in Puerto Vallarta and stayed in “The Old Town” aka “Zona Romantica”. In our opinion this part in the southern end of PV is the best area to stay if you want a more authentic experience of hanging out at the beach with Mexican families, a clean swimable beach, great music surrounding you and a cornucopia of fresh oysters and skewers of freshly barbecued shrimp and marlin with hot sauce and lime on the side being hawked by the local beach vendors. A short walk takes you to to more restaurants and bars than you could ever vist unless you lived here. There is a fantastic music scene and from what we’ve listened to so far the level of talent has been outstanding.
Next stop is Yelapa where we really lucked out getting a great seaside bungalow booked for 6 nights. Yalapa is a small isolated fishing village accessible only by boat located in a small bay on the southern most coast of the 7th largest bay in the world, Bahia de Banderas, about 1 hour by water taxi from the Playa Muertos pier in Old Vallarta.
We’ll head back to PV on the 20th and spend 4 nights in a little hotel in the heart of old town then head to Bucerius where we’ll meet up with our daughter and granddaughter, Kristina and Lucy for 8 nights in Bucerius and then the 4 of us will head back to PV for 4 nights. After bidding farewell the the gals on April 5th we hope to spend the next 10 nights in Sayulita although we may just fit in a trip to Guadalajara for a few days.