Category: Travel Stories

10 Things My Kids Loved About Spain

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It is amazing the impact that family vacations have on our children. My daughter, two and half years old during our recent adventure in Andalucia, Spain has not ceased talking about it, even 3 months later. The most interesting part is finding out what she liked about it and what has made a lasting impression. In random order, here are the top 10 things she talks about regularly:

1. 1.  The Bidet- Also known as ‘the bum washer’. She was amazed when she saw the extra porcelain bowl in our vacation house. After we explained how and when to use it, she needed to use the facilities a lot more frequently than usual.

2. 2.  Architecture – We did spend some time pointing out to her the differences between homes in Spain and homes in Canada but didn’t realize it was sinking in until one day she saw a picture on a magnet and told us it was Spain. It was actually Italy, but she was recognizing the cobblestone streets, flowers in window boxes, narrow alleys etc.

3. 3.  Fascination with Donkeys- While we were waiting for check-in time at our vacation house, we wandered around the quiet streets in the village of Gaucin. We came across a donkey tethered to a stoop in front of somebody’s house. We could hear the ‘hee-haw’ before we could see it. It must have been the excitement of hearing him and trying to find him that started this fascination. Once we found him, she didn’t want to leave and for the rest of the trip kept asking if we could go find the donkey. She still talks about him today.  (incidentally it also started an obsession with talking about donkey poop).

The Donkey, Gaucin, Spain

The Donkey, Gaucin, Spain

4. 4.  The airplane-This was a no-brainer. We knew she’d love it and all that was associated with the airport, security, luggage etc.

5. 5.  The moon- She has always loved the moon but actually seems to understand the concept of the world turning. In the daytime, she will say ‘Now the moon has gone to Spain’.

6. 6.  Mango flavoured ice cream- We were spoiled with daily gelato (Mom’s favorite) and she caught on quick to this daily ritual. She says she doesn’t like mangos, only mango ice cream? One gelateria, also gave her a chocolate cookie with her icecream and a clown on a stick.

7. 7.  Her special toy. Also a gift from a gelato stand. We bought various souvenirs throughout the trip, but this was her favorite. It was a free, red foam and plastic toy that you can pump. I believe it is to be filled with water and used for water fights but she doesn’t know that . She just imagines that it is something different each time she plays with it.

8. 8.  Patterns in the stone tiled streets and alleyways- It wasn’t too long before I noticed that she was examining the stone tiled streets very closely and would often decide to only walk on one particular shape or colour in the pattern. It was a game that could amuse her for ever. img_2415

9. 9.  Getting Lost- Ok, so this happened a couple of times. She picked up on it and is now forever wondering if we are lost again.

10. 10. ‘The Cottage’– This is the name she came up with for our vacation house in Gaucin. It was a beautiful whitewashed house in the country side complete with pool, pool house, many nooks and crannies to play, her own pint sized bed, toys galore and lots of farm animals in surrounding properties. She was in love. We could hardly tear her away. Whenever we went somewhere, she just kept asking to go back to ‘ The cottage’.

Many of the things she learned and loved were not those that I expected. I was excited that she was being exposed to a new language and culture. I thought she’d love the castles, swimming in the pools or maybe the horse and carriage rides.  She did, but they were not her favorites. When I asked her on the plane ride home what she liked the most about our trip, she said “ I liked that Daddy was with us the whole time”. What more could a parent ask for!

Hit by a Motorcycle, Kicked by a Horse, Attacked by a Monkey

Have you ever watched, ‘Christmas Vacation’ with Chevy Chase? There’s a great line by cousin Ed, that goes something like ” Kicked by a mule, eyes go crossed. Fall down a well, eyes go un-crossed.” There was a day in November 2002, Siem Reap, Cambodia, where my husband and I repeated this over and over, laughing hysterically because that was basically how the day had gone!

Early in the day, we were in a taxi in the city of Siem Reap, when a motorcycle came out of nowhere and ran into the car we were in. The driver of the motorcycle went flew off the bike which skidded across the street. Shocked we started to jump out to see if he was ok, but he just got up, ran to the bike and off he went again. The driver of our taxi seemed indifferent to the event and muttered something like ‘idiot’ and off we went again, on our way to spend the day at the ancient ruins of Angkor.

The entrance to Angkor Wat

The entrance to Angkor Wat

The day before, we had a guided tour, so this day was going to be to ourselves to wander around and explore. My husband, Sean, loves animals. I like animals, but have an underlying mistrust for animals, I don’t know. As we walked the path towards Angkor Wat, we admired a horse tied to a stone, in the middle of a grassy field. There didn’t seem to be anybody around with the horse. Sean wandered over and gave the horse a pat. He kept trying to coax me over, to say hello to the horse as well. I said, ‘No thanks-I’ll just watch from here’. He kept insisting that I come, so finally I gave in and headed towards the horse. As soon as I was within 6 feet of the horse, he started to turn around so that his back was to me. Before we knew it, he was winding up for a kick. Sean, was between me and the horse, and our camera bag, was slung across his shoulder and sitting at his waist. The horse connected with the camera and therefore his hip which then slammed him into me and I went flying. We quickly retreated and luckily he was tied. The horse must have sensed that I was uncomfortable. In the end, we were a bit sore but no worse for wear and we continued to explore. Our camera, however did not survive and we had to take the rest of our photos with a disposable camera. (The camera was insured, and I’m sure ‘kicked by a horse’ must have been pretty funny to an insurance adjuster somewhere!).

The horse!

The horse!

Later in the day, we came across a tribe of monkeys, hanging out on the side of the road. The looked friendly enough and interacted with people at a distance. There was a roadside foodstand not too far away, and my husband spotted some bananas. Jackpot! We bought some bananas to give to the monkeys. Again, I was a bit nervous so I kept my distance. Sean was about 20 feet away, and he squatted down and pulled out the bananas to give to them. I wish I could have captured this on videotape. Probably the most terrified I’ve ever seen him look. One of the friendly monkeys, suddenly beared his fangs (who knew they had fangs?!) and started running at him full speed. Sean jumped up, tossed the bananas and ran for his life! Once a safe distance away the monkey gave up and went back for the bananas.

What a day! Lots of drama, many lessons learned, but not a scratch to show for it. It’s one we won’t forget.

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? A Book by Thomas Kohnstamm

This title caught my eye when I was perusing the travel section at our local Chapters store.  It is the story of Thomas Kohnstamm, a fellow travel addict that struggles with trying to settle down to a stable job, while the lure of the open road keeps pulling him back out.  He decides that he can’t fight this addiction any longer and makes the transfor51f13u1dt4l_sl500_aa240_1mation to professional travel writer, in order to try and sustain his bohemian lifestyle.  Thomas lands a job as a Lonely Planet Guidebook writer in Brazil and takes the reader on the hilarious journey that results in the kind of Guidebook that you read each time you head off to a new destination.

The cover of the book describes it as ‘A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics & Professional Hedonism’.  If that doesn’t make you want to read on, what would?  If you have ever wondered what it would be like to work for a major travel guidebook company or thought that  it would be a dream come true to have a job that required you to travel and research exotic destinations, then you have to read this book.  As long as you are not offended by the frequent f-bombs, tales of promiscuity and drunken debauchery, it is a really interesting read.  You learn a bit about Brazil while reading about the process of writing a guidebook.  I’ve always been curious about what that would really be like.  Whenever I travel, I always wish that I would meet a guidebook writer so that I could ask some questions.  How much do you get paid?  If the restaurants, bars and hotels don’t know you are a writer, how do you get such detailed information?  Wouldn’t that tip them off?  Do you travel alone all that time?  Is this the best job in the world?  The author answers all of these questions and more.  I would be interested to read a similar tale from a female perspective.  I wonder if all travel writers have the same experience?

I’m not giving the ending away by telling you that he claims that the writers don’t really visit all of the sites listed in the book, nor do they really follow the policy that says they cannot accept anything for free.  Lonely Planet doesn’t actually claim that they don’t take anything for free, they claim the writers don’t accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.  So…. really they can accept freebies.  I don’t really see anything wrong with this, as long as they really are objective.  I think it would be better to identify yourself as a LP writer because more doors would open up for you and therefore, more doors are opened for its readers.  I would still continue to buy the books, because, even if all the details aren’t exactly right, it gives you a place to start.  I read guidebooks just to decide if the place is the destination I’m looking for and what things I want to try to see and do once I’m there.  I rarely use the restaurant sections because there are always so many to choose from, that there is no need to go searching out the one that millions of other readers have also been to.  Having said that, there will always be a place for a guidebook in my backpack despite the claims of questionable ethics, I’ve always found them to be invaluable.

Small town Mom hits Fashion Week

If somebody else were writing a story about the fact that I attended an event at Fashion Week in New York City, I suspect that is the headline they would use. I have never been anything even close to a fashionista. I could barely stand reading ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ because I thought the main character was absolutely ridiculous and it would infuriate me every time she bought another outrageously priced scarf despite the fact that she was broke. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fine clothing and accessories, it’s just that I am by nature much too cheap to indulge in any piece of clothing more than $100. ( disclaimer: I would however be willing to pay airfare to Asia, to then shop for inexpensive clothing)
Despite, my unwillingness to purchase high end clothing, I was still really excited to attend the Ports 1961 show at Fashion Week in NYC last week.  It was a totally unexpected bonus to our last minute trip to the city.  We stayed with my sister and her boyfriend, Dion Roy to celebrate his 30th birthday.   My sister managed to get tickets to the Ports show from Bob Bland, designer of Brooklyn Royalty clothing.  Thanks Bob!

The first thing we had to do was figure out what to wear to the show.  I hadn’t brought anything dressy with me, so I opted for a pair of black Mexx dress pants, a silky black and white top and a pair of $60 high heels that I bought the night before.  My sister loaned me a vintage purse that belonged to my grandmother and off we went.  When we arrived there was a crowd gathered outside the tents at Bryant Park.  We walked up the steps past the on-lookers and told security we were headed for the Ports show.  Inside there were cameras flashing left, right and center.  People were even coming up and taking pictures of my cheap shoes.  There were people dressed in everything from jeans to purple feather boas.  When it was time to go in, we again were ushered past crowds of people and found our seats.  We watched the photographers granted access snap photos of Olivia Palermo, from ‘The City’ seated a few rows away and facing us from the other side of the runway.  Anna Wintour, the alleged inspiration for the Devil Wears Prada, was also present, wearing large dark sunglasses.  Her expression didn’t change throughout the show and you could not see her eyes, so it was difficult to tell what she thought.

The show itself was short, as models walked the runway to a live band.  The clothes were of course beautiful.  Afterwards we went backstage and watched people talking with the designer, however we really didn’t have much to say so we just wandered around.  All and all, it was an experience, I wouldn’t miss!

Inexpensive Family Vacations

The website www.1001-vacation-ideas.com, recently published my story about our family vacation to Portugal.  I spend a lot of time planning vacations, and always try to get the most value for the least amount of money without compromising too much comfort or missing out on experiences.  This article shows how we went to Europe for $2500 Canadian (approximately $2000 U.S) and had a fabulous time.  Check it out!

Border Crossing in Bolivia Requires a Little Faith

It had been a long and bumpy ride. We were squeezed into an old bus, which we affectionately referred  to as “ the chicken bus”. Not that there were chickens on the bus with us, but we felt that there could have been had we hit the right day. We pulled into a dusty little town on the Peru-Bolivia border. The rest of the locals on the bus filed off and dispersed into the various shacks that lined the street. As our packs were being thrown down from where they had been strapped to the roof of the bus, we looked around for a clue to tell us where to go next. We put our backpacks on and started to wander off as if we knew where we were going. A few buildings away we see a sign that says “Cambio de Change”. Okay, that’s a start. We had to change our money over to Bolivianos. As we headed towards it, a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old points in the opposite direction. We continue to walk casually toward the Cambio de change, when he follows us and continues to point in the opposite direction, saying something in Spanish.

Photo courtesy of Toastforbrekkie's on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Toastforbrekkie's on Flickr

We pause, and look in the direction he’s pointing. There is a sign on a building that looks like it might be a government sign so we shift our path as if we were always planning to head that way. When we arrive and peer into the building. We realize he is right. This is immigration. We shuffle along passing several immigration officers who look at our passports. I answer “ La Paz” and “ seven days “ with seven fingers in the air, hoping I am answering the right questions. Our passports are stamped and we are back out on the dirt road.

We start to walk towards the Cambio de change again, anxious to get some cash before too many locals notice that we have money to change. The young boy steps out again and motions diagonally across the street, this time walking us directly where we need to go. Customs. This time the forms we need to fill out are available in English so we get this done pretty quickly. We say “Ola” to the officer, hear a stamp, then “ gracias” and we are off again. The boy is right by our side now, taking us across the street to a different “ Cambio de change” than the first one we were headed for.

Now I’m starting to understand. This boy is trying to take us to one of those money changing spots where they rip you off with a ridiculous exchange rate and he gets a cut. “Just change a little bit, and we’ll get more in La Paz.” I whisper to Sean. Watch your pockets”. The boy takes us in and Sean changes only the money in his pockets but none in his money belt. Hmm, the exchange rate seems to be about what we expected, perhaps even a bit less. We’re done here. Money is all safe and sound where nobody can get at it and we’re back out on the street again. The boy is motioning for us to follow him again. We can’t keep following, because we’re supposed to be boarding a bus again for La Paz. We look around, and realize there are no buses. The bus we got off has turned around and is headed back for Puno, Peru. The boy is smiling now and waving for us to follow him. “ Bus?” Sean asks. “ La Paz?” I say. Nodding the boy starts walking, looking back to see if we are following. We are of course, because we don’t know what else to do. The sun is getting low in the sky now and we appear to be walking out of town. It seems like we are walking for a really long time on this main dirt road lined with dirt colored buildings. I am starting to get really nervous now. My mind is racing. He turns down a side road and we pause to look at each other. Should we keep going? We’ve got to find this bus. He’s taking us deeper into town.

“Where is the bus?” He points in the direction we are heading. “ The bus is in here?” “ Si, si” he replies. It looks like we are starting to walk amongst people’s homes and the streets are becoming narrower, almost like alleys. Visions of being mugged are starting to flash through my head. It’s all very clear now, he’s taking us to his older brothers who are going to smile and welcome us into their home right before they pull a knife, hold it to my throat and threaten Sean for everything he’s got. “ He’s got all the money” the boy will tell his brothers in Spanish as they route through our bags and start to make a small cut in my throat when they don’t find much. Sean and I will start to pray, I will cry, Sean will make some quick move in an attempt to get them off us and yell run! Terrified, I will start to run and look back to find he’s not with me. I’ll back and find them fighting. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I will pray that somebody will come and find us.

“ Lisa” Sean says “ do you know which bus we’re getting on?” I look up and we’re at the bus stop. He was taking us there after all. I look at the boy and I’m actually seeing him for the first time. He is dark haired with beautiful dark eyes that are smiling back at me. He is proud that he has brought us here. He adjusts his baseball cap that is too big for his head and speaks to the bus driver to arrange our seats. We board the bus and look out the window at this snotty nosed kid who helped us find our way. We decide we should give him some money and Sean digs through his pockets to find something to give him. I am so impressed that I want to take a picture of him. Back off the bus, Sean gives him some money and I snap a photo of the two of them. I am ashamed that I didn’t trust this young boy and glad that he couldn’t read my mind when my imagination had started to run away with itself.

Feeling good about ourselves and finally able to relax we settle into our seats. Just before the bus departs, the boy climbs onto the bus. “ No good” he tells Sean and hands him back one of the coins he gave him. “ No good” he pauses and waits for us to answer. “No good?” Sean asks, confused by this statement. He is still waiting for a response. Somebody behind us speaks English and explains that the money is not real. Apparently we had given him counterfeit money. We’re not sure how we got it or how he knew, but agreed to exchange the coin for another one. He smiles, nods and hops off the bus. He waits for the bus to leave and waves to us as we go, sending us off safely on our next adventure.

© Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Travel to Addis Ababa showed me the shocking reality of HIV

In 2004, my husband and I as well as another couple found ourselves with 12 hours in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We were flying Ethiopian Airlines from Dar es Salaam to Frankfurt with this long stopover in between.  The airline provided a hotel room for us at the Hilton in downtown Addis, as well as 2 meals included at the hotel for the day which we thought was incredibly generous!  We were shuttled from the airport to the hotel on a large bus and there were two elderly gentlemen sitting behind us.  They were very distinguished looking men, of African descent speaking English with what sounded to me like British accents.  One reminded me of the actor, Sidney Poitier.  During the 15 minute ride to our hotel, I admit that I eavesdropped  on their conversation.  It went something like this (names of course are not the actual names used):

Gentleman #1: ” I saw poor Mrs. Smith last week.  She just lost her son last month.  He was going to school and planning to be a doctor. ”

Gentleman #2: ” Oh I’m sorry to hear that.  I was talking to Mr. Johnson.  He’s lost his daughter, a niece and two nephews in the last 6 months and his grandson is not doing to well.  He was getting along pretty well though. ( pause )  There’s a new community hall being built I hear. ”

Gentleman #1: ” Well isn’t that wonderful.  They’ll be able to use that.  How’s Mr. Wood doing, I haven’t heard from him in ages?”

Gentleman #2:  ” Not too bad.  They have 5 grandchildren that they are taking care of now.  Both of his daughters are gone but his son is still around to help out.”

The conversation continued like this for the rest of the ride to the hotel.  The cause of death of so many young people was never mentioned, nor did they seem shocked to hear the news of each of these families.  I don’t know what country they were traveling from, but I can only assume that it was one in Sub-Saharan Africa and that the loss of so many young lives was due to HIV/AIDS.  It was sobering to hear the number of people that these men knew that were impacted by the disease.  I’ve heard many horrifying statistics* about the prevalence of HIV in countries around the world however, this real life example put in perspective the impact this would have on individuals, families, societies, the workforce and the future.  There are countries that as of 2007  had more than 20% of their population between the ages of 15 and 49 infected with HIV.  Imagine the people you know in your life, and think about what would happen if 1 out of every 5 of those people was HIV positive with very little hope or money for treatment.  This is the reality that many are facing around the world.

Many on our flight, stayed at the Hilton for the day, but we were not going to miss out on this incredible opportunity to see a part of Ethiopia.  We set out on foot to visit the National Museum where we would visit with Lucy, our ancestor of 3.2 million years ago.  When we arrived we also found that the museum was featuring an exhibit called “Positive Lives”  which showed the life, strength, hope and courage of people living with HIV/AIDS.   The life size photograph exhibition depicted stories of lives of people living with HIV/AIDS around the world and was probably one of the most moving museum exhibits I’ve ever experienced.   Twice in one day, I was given a glimpse into the lives of the millions affected by this epidemic.

*The horrifying statistics I referred to above as taken from www.avert.org :

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 22 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007 and approximately 1.9 million additional people were infected with HIV during that year. In just the past year, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people in this region. More than eleven million children have been orphaned by AIDS.1

© Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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