Posts tagged: travel

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.

Inexpensive Family Vacations

The website, 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 Portugal: Itinerary Series

Portugal is a great option if you are looking for  a vacation that can combine independent travel with some resort and/or beach time.  Throughout the country you will find medieval castles, white-wash countryside villages, vineyards, outdoor adventure opportunities along with cosmopolitan cities that still maintain an old-world flare.  The Algarve region boasts some of the most picturesque beaches in the world set amidst ochre cliffs and myriad of relaxing resorts.  Although it maintains many historic and cultural sights, you will also find modern amusement parks, aquariums, playgrounds and more to give your vacation a balance that your children will be craving.  At a minimum, I would recommend this 15 day itinerary to cover Lisbon and the southern half of the country.  Accomodations are in the moderate price range but have been chosen to get the best experience for your money.

Day 1:  Arrive at Lisbon Airport via international flight.   Take a taxi to your accommodations.  We rented an apartment through  Apartment 85 was great for our family in a good location with a beautiful terrace but there are many options to choose from.

Day 1-5:  Sightseeing in Lisbon.  Take time to wander through the various neighborhoods.  The Alfama district is difficult to navigate with a stroller as there are lots of steps, so I recommend a backpack carrier for your small children.  The Oceanarium at Parque das Nacoes is a highlight for all ages.  Try to be there on a Tuesday or Saturday, so that you can go to the flea market ‘Feira da Ladra’ in Alfama

Day 5:  Take taxi back to airport to pick up Rental car.   Drive 90 minutes to the village of Estremoz.  Stay at Monte dos Pensamentos ( in an apartment that will sleep four.  They also have a baby cot available if needed.  Tel # 011-351-268-333-166.  Relax at the pool, wander the property to see various farm animals and vegetation.  Visit the village or pre-arrange a tour of the local vineyard- J. Portugal Ramos-vinhos.


Day 6: Drive to Vila Vicosa and tour the castle and village.  We stayed overnight at tel # 011-35-266-702-424.  It was a basic hotel at a good price in a great location.  They are able to provide extra beds and baby cots but may not be suitable for large families.

Day 7: Tour the town of Evora.  Take your children to the park.  Visit the standing stones, Almendres Cromlech on your drive south.  Drive to Lagos ( 218 km ) via toll highways for the quickest route.

Day 7-14:  Stay at tel # 011-351-282-790-550 in Lagos in the Algarve region.  Take day trips to Sagres, Lagos Zoo and/or Zoo Marine theme park.  Take a boat trip to see the grottos and sea caves.  Walk the historic part of town ( lots of children’s toy and clothing shops) and kids can take a spin on the carousel.  The beaches are beautiful and there are cliff top hiking trails from the resort all the way to town.  There is also an indoor pool, gym, sauna and jacuzzi and games room for rainy days at this resort.


Day 14:  Drive via toll highway back to Sintra.  Allow approximately 5 hours for the drive.  Stay at tel # 011 (+351) 91 937 1622.  There is a set of 2 adjoining rooms that can be rented for larger families.  They also have a crib available.  Tour castles  (Palacio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros are the 2 most impressive), gardens, walking trails.

Day 15:  More time in Sintra.   Try to arrange flight departing in the late evening or stay another night in Sintra.  Drive to the airport to drop off rental car. (30 minutes)

I hope you enjoy your trip and can find this blog entry useful.  Everybody has different interests, however I think this can give you a starting point.  Please check out the websites for each destination to see if it looks like a fit for your family.  For background information on this series, please see Introduction: Itinerary Series.

Introduction: Itinerary Series

Travel is ninety percent anticipation and ten percent recollection. – Edward Strecter.

This will be my first entry in a series of ‘Itineraries’ that I will share on my blog.  Over the years, I have spent countless hours researching destinations in order to create the perfect trip for my husband, friends or family.  It is always a lot of work, but one of my favorite parts of travel.  In theory, it would sometimes be nice to just hop on a plane and wait to see what treasures we will find and experiences we will have.  If I was planning a year to wander the world, I might actually consider this option.  In reality, we always have a limited supply of time and money, so I want to make sure we make the most out of what we have.  I don’t want to waste time, searching for a place to stay or backtracking because we missed a major landmark or a beautiful piece of scenery.  I also like to avoid tension on the road, when we take a wrong turn ( which will inevitably happen anyway and always still turns out to be a good experience in the long run).  I don’t want to exchange words with my husband when neither of us understand the subway system or how to find a taxi in a foreign land.  So… I plan.  I google, I read forums, I stake out the travel section at our local book store.  I don’t stop until I have maps memorized, found places to stay that will enhance our cultural experience without breaking the bank and figured out the easiest way to get from point A to B.  Now that we are traveling with a child, the planning becomes even more intense.   I make sure that we can take a stroller everywhere we need to go, that there will be places to stop for diaper changes, meals and naps, and that there will be activities that she will enjoy as much as we do.  Then I ensure that there will be a way for us to continue our holiday after she has gone to bed that night by indulging in some good food and a regional bottle of wine.

I love this part of travel, the anticipation and planning, but realize that many people do not.  For that reason, I am going to start a series, that will detail past itineraries and include recommendations for traveling with children.  These are meant to be used as a guide when planning your trip, however, please keep in mind that some details may have changed since the time of writing.  I always suggest booking in advance and where possible, I will provide website addresses to do so.  Enjoy!

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 :

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.

Europe: Eat Lavishly, Sleep in Your Car

We had been driving most of the day, waking up in a coastal town just outside of Nice, driving to Monaco, then continued on for a quick stop in Pisa.  As we drove into Monterosso al Mare, the first of five villages that made up Cinque Terre, Italy, we were surprised by the number of people and tourists in this small coastal town.  There were no parking spaces, so I ran in and out of a few buildings to try to find accommodation to no avail.  We decided we’d keep driving to the next town on this Italian Riviera, called Vernazza.  It was barely visible by sea but based on our guidebook it sounded like a quaint place to spend the night.  It seemed that it took hours to wind back up into the hills, then back down narrow roads with hairpin turns.  There were tiny goat paths visible from the road, leading (we presumed) to cove beaches below.  We saw wild boars, orange and lemon trees as well as beautiful coastal views.  As Vernazza finally came into view, the sun was starting to sit low in the sky.

by Rayced on Flickr

by Rayced on Flickr

You cannot drive in the village as most of the cobblestone streets are too narrow to pass.  We went on foot in search of a room for the night but the only one available was $200 per night. At the time this was more than our entire budget for the day.  What were we going to do? It was almost dark, we had very little gas left and were unsure if we’d find a room in the next town, so we decided to give up and enjoy what little time we had in one of the most beautiful places we’d ever been.  We had a delicious pasta meal as we drank wine at a bistro table in a lamp lit courtyard.  We watched cats waiting for table scraps, observed the locals, lounging and laughing and talked until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.  At that point we stumbled back to our car, put the seats back and slept in our Renault Twingo on the outskirts of Vernazza.

As it turns out, it was a really comfortable sleep.  The front seats went back to be flush with the back seats which also reclined.  We had a sheet and a sleeping bag as well as towels that we covered the windows with to prevent peering eyes.  When we crawled out in the morning, we realized that we had not been alone on the side of the road.  Other travelers were also appearing from their cars with bedhead.  And so it began, a series of nights spent in our car.  Once we realized how comfortable it was, it was really hard to resist.  We could eat lavishly, see all the sights and indulge in any other cultural experiences we wanted and were still coming in under budget if we decided to sleep in our car for the night.  From that point on, we would usually find a campground at least, so that we could use their bathroom and shower facilities, but it was still a great way to experience Europe.  Now that we will be traveling as a family, we would need a bit more room, but a small camper van or VW Westphalia could still be an option to keep in mind!


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