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Much of my blog (not really a blog) will relate to my love of travel with articles and pics. It will be an ongoing project.

COSTA RICA


The first thing we felt getting off the plane in San Juan, Costa Rica is the heat.  It is  steamy!  Air Transat had a mini bus drive us to Jaco Beach on the Pacific side of the small Central American country.  The distance was only 90 kilometers but we had been told the trip would take 2 ½ hours and we soon saw why.  The roads are narrow with hairpin turns and much traffic.  The bus driver overtakes vehicles in dangerous situations and all you can do is close your eyes and pray.  Our guide, Emiliano was a very knowledgeable young man and not hard to rest your eyes on. 

We stopped at a restaurant for an ice-cold beer and some good food.  We sat with a couple from Toronto and exchanged pleasantries.  Near Jaco Beach the bus stopped on a bridge so we could observe crocodiles in the river.  We were told the government provides cows to graze along the river for the crocs to feed on and it is to attract tourists.  I told Emiliano about our son’s band, how to find their songs and an invitation to stay with us if he ever came to Canada.  He was very excited about listening to some  AMPED music when he got home.

Our ocean front room had an amazing view of the ocean but no AC!  Very hot!  In the evening at dinner in town we met a lady from Alberta who knew one of the dealers I knew from the casino where I worked at the time.  Such a small world! 

I have a fear of the ocean and usually won’t go in past my knees as in Mexico a wave had crashed into me, I fell into the foaming surf and just when I was struggling to get up another wave hit me with a vengeance (or so it seemed).  Spitting up salt water and with a swimsuit full of sand I quickly ran on the beach to safety.  In Costa Rica I braved the Pacific Ocean once again but with much more bravado as I had a rented boogy board that I attached to my ankle.  I could not believe how much fun it is to body surf.  Instead of being fearful of waves I was now looking behind me to spot a big one to ride to the shore.  The wave would lift my board and like a bullet I would ride it till it crashed onshore.  We spent a few hours playing in the ocean but then I couldn’t believe what happened!  The Pacific Ocean is very vast as we all know.  It was while I was riding a smaller wave that Fred caught a big one and at lightning speed landed on top of me near the shore.  Being a novice at body surfing he didn’t know how to steer the board away from me.  That was the end of the fun for me as I think he cracked one of my ribs, or at least bruised it badly.

My husband has a fear of heights and to face his fear we decided to go Zip lining in the jungle.  After a bus ride from our hotel a taxi took us into the jungle where we were strapped into our harness and a small group of us walked about 15 minutes on a steep climb. 
 
After being shown how to brake properly with gloved hands, off we went from platform to platform high above the jungle below.  At times we were 40 (120 feet) meters high and our longest run was 43 (400 feet) meters long.  I did find though that I couldn’t pay much attention to my surroundings as I was intent on watching for the guide’s signal to brake.  Brake too soon and you end up only halfway between platforms and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by having a guide come out to rescue me.  I could do this. Oh what fun!  At the last platform we were lowered the 30 (90 feet) meters by ropes and pulleys.
We booked a jungle cruise and took a mini van from our hotel. The drive along the highway was very scenic, mostly along the ocean. We then took a narrow, rough road that was bordered with dusty hibiscus hedges. At Punta Leone an American family of very large people got on and on the rough road the van bottomed out a few times.
 
The river cruise on the Tarcoles River was very interesting with our guide pointing out many species of birds; herons, egrets, ibis’.  At one point the guide stopped, got out of the boat and slapped the water with a dead, plucked chicken and he accompanied the slaps with small grunts.  He motioned for everyone to be quiet and within minutes an enormous crocodile sliced through the water, opened his gigantic mouth to engulf the chicken and slowly slid backwards into the river.  The guide pointed out scars at the back of his leg from a croc that had snuck up behind him while he was luring another one.  At the mouth of the river hundreds of pelicans sat in trees watching our boat glide by.
 
One day we rented a car and drove south spotting teak plantations, scenic lookouts and bad roads.  Manuel Antonio State Park is a wonderful place to hike with scenic lookouts, monkeys and beautiful beaches.  One beach had been closed off to shoot a Disney film with Antonio Banderas.  While walking along the trail I was very aware that there might be snakes in the trees above us so I was constantly looking up as well as ahead on the path.  The jungle was very thick but we didn’t see much wildlife besides the monkeys.  It was so hot!!!!

A thirty minute flight from Jaco Beach landed us in Liberia to pick up more passengers.  This area is remote and there are many cattle ranches but we weren’t allowed off the plane.  This airport is the smallest I have ever seen.  We sat on the hot tarmac, with no air conditioning for over an hour.

At the airport men were trying to solicit the $17 US departure tax even while a voice on the loudspeaker warned tourists to pay that inside.  Security was tight.  My carry-on luggage was searched twice.

LAS VEGAS

I know that many of my readers have been to Las Vegas but since my blog is online some of my readers live overseas and have never been to Las Vegas so this is for them.

We drove to Vegas from Black Canyon City, Arizona where we had spent 5 months, about a 5 hour trip.  Our friends, who were on their way from Black Canyon City to San Francisco had planned a stop in Las Vegas and asked if we would be interested in joining them for a few days of fun in Sin City.  We drove separately in our truck but stayed with them in their RV at the Circus Circus KOA campground that is located on the north end of the strip.  The game plan was to see most of the casinos on the strip and the first evening we walked about 6 ks or more to check out Treasure Island, The Mirage and Caesar’s Palace.  At the Mirage we were treated to an outdoor show of a volcano that spewed fire on top of and down a waterfall.  We could feel the heat of the flames.  The pirate show at Treasure Island was cancelled due to high winds.  In all we walked through at least 15 themed casinos and Janis and I rated them, both of us usually in agreement.
Bellagios we rated #1 as it has a classy entrance with floor to ceiling windows framed with silk draperies.  The windows frame a lovely outdoor setting that one might see in a European city, decorative stone balustrades beside the water.  A walk into the Conservatory put us into a joyous mood, as well as invoked a sense of awe.  The entire room showcased brightly coloured azaleas, crysanthemums, birds of paradise
A scarlet bridge led to a similarly coloured Japanese Pagoda.  The entire Observatory was done with Feng Shui to keep the Chi (energy) flowing.  Flowers, rock and moving water made this a very calming place, a refuge from the busy Vegas sidewalks.  Outdoors, neatly manicured hedges and green grass (a treat to my eyes after living in the desert) provided contrast to the concrete on the strip.

Janis and I were delighted with New York, New York from our very first sight of the replica of the Statue of Liberty, complete with tugboats in the water below, the Brooklyn Bridge, facades of brownstones and tenement buildings.  I commented that I half expected Tony and Marie of West Side Story to emerge onto one of the balconies.  Inside the casino the bottom floor is replicated to make you feel that you are strolling in a NYC village, complete with steam coming up from manhole covers.  Cafes, bakeries and eateries delighted our senses and Lloyd joked that he was looking for the soup nazi (think Seinfeld).  Janis and I were absolutely charmed by the authenticity of this reproduction of the Big Apple.
 
Caesar’s Palace is absolutely stunning with busts of Caesar and marble angels trumpeting at the top of one building.  Fountains, marble statues and many Romanesque buildings make this one of the largest casinos on the strip.  The Coliseum was built especially for Celine Dion’s shows that are featured 200 nights a year.  I would have loved to attend her show but at $200 a ticket I settled for listening to her CDs.

As one might expect, the Paris casino can be identified by the Eiffel Tower that looms over it.  Once inside we were enchanted by the Parisian theme.  Just as in New York, New York, streets resembled the ones in Paris and those I had actually seen on a trip I took to Paris.  Awnings above Parisian Bistros and actual trees added to the authenticity of this French capital.

Alladin also enthralled us with its ceilings of white clouds and blue skies, shops resembling villages you might see in the Middle East.  Apartments with potted plants on balconies and soft lighting behind curtained windows looked inviting.  Earthenware pitchers holding crimson geraniums rested on windowsills.  We ate a tasty lunch at a restaurant surround by this middle-eastern motif, though oddly enough the food was totally western.

 Wynn Casino, one of the newest casinos on the strip is total class.  Gaily coloured carpets on terrazzo floors lead to a tastefully decorated casino where the leather chairs were softer than in any other casino.  To get to the gaming floor we strolled under an archway of real trees that were softly illuminated to create a peaceful atmosphere.  I commented that it would be a great place to exchange wedding vows rather than in one of the many tacky wedding chapels on the strip.  Downstairs there is an outdoor restaurant where patrons can sit beside a waterfall that cascades down a natural rock wall.

When one hears the name Venice one immediately thinks of the canals in this Italian city and the Venetian not only has the canals but gondolas and oarsmen that serenade you as they steer the gondolas through the canal.  Unfortunately for us, we had just missed a wedding ceremony before we ambled in.  Darn that stop we made at Hagen Daas!  As you can imagine, the casino was beautifully decorated in an Italian theme.

Some of the casinos are more difficult to recall than others but these obviously were our favourites.  All of the casinos feature high end shopping with retailers like Cartier, Tiffany’s etc. and I personally was surprised that Vegas is such a shopping mecca.  I was also greatly surprised that Las Vegas is not the tacky tourist destination I had feared it was.  You can also try your luck at gambling if you are feeling lucky. 

 

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT

The young woman raced along the beach, pebbles tearing her bare feet.  Tears streamed down her face only to dry in the blustery wind that blew across the sand.  She threw herself upon a rock and clutched its jagged edge, tightening her hold until pained seared through her hand.  With the pain came anger and frustrations, such as she had never felt before.  Anguished sobs tore through her entire being and she felt as though she wanted to die.  Betrayed, she had never felt so betrayed….

They had met at a party.  Their hands had accidentally touched as they both reached for the same appetizer and an electric current passed between them.  She had gazed into his limpid eyes that had a hypnotic effect and had felt an immediate attraction, in fact a vague sense of familiarity as she scanned his face.  They had left the boring party and had driven to the coast for a walk along the beach.  Stars, like brilliant jewels twinkled in the black heavens above them.  Being under a canopy of stars always filled Dana with a feeling of indescribable peace, and being with this stranger who didn’t see like a stranger felt so comfortable and so right.  She had a feeling of having known Craig for a long time.  She discovered the true essence of him in just a few short hours, much less than it normally took to get acquainted with someone new.  They discovered they both had read the same books, believed the same philosophies and were both advanced Tai Chi students.  The files of Edgar Cayce held as much fascination for him as they did for her.  They were astonished to discover they had actually been at the same seminar in Virginia Beach.  Long into the night they sat among the weathered sand dunes reflecting on the cosmos.

After Craig had dropped her off at her apartment with the promise of another date, Dana had lain awake marvelling upon meeting this fascinating man.  She was hopelessly in love.  She adored how his cheeks dimpled when he smiled and the way his unruly curls fell over his forehead.  The bracing scent of his aftershave still lingered in her nostrils as Dana drifted into a peaceful slumber.

Dana suddenly jerked awake, tears flowing down her cheeks.  Her dream was so real; she had never known such anquish.  In the dream she had been in love with a man named Zolar and they were to wed during the next full moon.  Just before their wedding Zolar came to explain they could not be wed for his parents had arranged a marriage to Helena, a girl in the neighbouring village.  He had to honour the wishes of his parents.  He was terribly sorry for he loved her with all his soul and he always would.

Dana sat up abruptly, hands to her face in shock and amazement.  Her heart palpitated rapidly beneath her rib cage as realization flooded her entire being.  Craig, the wonderful man she had just spent such a magical evening with was Zolar.

THE BEACH


Oh, that breeze feels so marvellous and the invigorating smell of the ocean reminds me of the walks I went on with my dad when I was a very young child.  He would take me to the village harbour and I suppose because of the memories of those times, I feel so peaceful whenever I’m by the sea.  It’s like coming home.

 Wow, when I see birds flying I marvel at the miracle of flight.  Those gulls are like children playing as they soar, wings outstretched to ride the air currents high above the surf.

Ah, it sure feels good to be barefoot.  The sand feels delicious between my toes, hot at first, then a soothing coolness as my feet sink further into it.  There’s a weather beaten log that I can sit down on.  I wonder how long it has been lying here on the beach?  What kind of tree was it once a long time ago?  For the log to be so high up on the beach it must have been hurled by churning breakers as they crashed on the beach during a severe winter gale.  I wonder how may miles of ocean it drifted before the storm?

It is awesome to think that all of this sparkling sand surrounding me was once rock.  How many eons did it take the rock to erode into minute grains?  When I really think about it, exactly how long is an eon?  I cannot comprehend time and space.  My lifetime is not even a second if I compare it to eons.  I feel so small and insignificant, yet I feel that I belong.  I am an integral part of the universe.

THE ROCK

                                                                    
Thanks to a Prudential Insurance commercial on TV many years ago “The Rock” was familiar looking to me as we had glided past in on the ferry to Morocco. Now we were going to explore this geological marvel that lies at the intersection of two continents and the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Everyone on the bus was visibly more relaxed today after being in Tangier the day before.  Once we reached Gibralter we immediately clambered aboard a mini bus for a tour of the upper elevation of the rock.  Much to my delight the bus driver selected me to sit beside him in the front so I had an unobstructed view.  The experienced driver (he did later wipe out his side mirror in town) casually negotiated the steep narrow road that snaked to the top.  The road ran dangerously close to the edge of the rock and I imagined the bus missing a curve, plunging all of us to our deaths.  I shook off my wild imaginings and took in the fantastic view. 
To the west I could see the mighty Atlantic ocean shimmering in the sunlight and the coastline of Spain curving against the blue water.  To the south we could see the continent of Africa on the other side of the Strait.  I was so excited and thrilled by the amazing view.  We saw many Barbary monkeys, actually called Barbary Macaques and we had been warned by our driver to hang on to our glasses as they love to grab them off your face and toss them from the precipice.

Another big thrill was wandering through the magnificent St. Michael’s Caves.  The stalacites and stalamites were beautifully illuminated with hidden lights.  The caves have wonderful acoustics and we were told that symphony orchestra concerts are held here.  I stood for some time in reverence and awe, wishing I could attend one of the concerts.  I had read that many pre-historic relics have been found here, including the first Neandrathal-type skull,

Gibralter’s Main Street is pedestrianized, quite charming and has quite a variety of retail shops and restaurants featuring Indian, Chinese, Italian, Spanish foods, though British pubs outnumbered the others.  We had a leisurely pint of beer and some lunch in a pub and then had some free time to wander around by ourselves.  There were an amazing variety of shops selling all sorts of goods, jewellery, perfume, porcelain figures, clothing etc.
All too soon we had to board the bus for our return to Portugal.  At the Spanish border we were relieved that the Customs Officers weren’t too tough on us as our bus driver had warned us they might.  The Spaniards still held a grudge against the British for “reclaiming” Gibralter and at one time had closed the border but re-opened it in the 80s.  I was certainly grateful that they had.
 

TANGIER, MOROCCO

Tangier in the background
Early in the morning we tourists boarded the ferry at Algeciras for a ride across the Strait of Gibralter to Tangier, Morocco.  Fred and I stayed up on the upper deck and watched in awe as we glided past “The Rock” of Gibralter.
When we disembarked from our tour bus in Tangier we discovered that a young man had assigned himself to us.  A friendly young fellow with a lame leg, he limped along beside our group as we approached the Casbah.  It was comforting to know that he could answer any questions we had and he would also discourage any locals who might approach us in a negative manner.

Within the Casbah we were astounded by the poverty, the beggars, the lack of hygiene in locals selling produce, dead chickens lying out in the open on the sidewalk,  flies hovering around the carcasses.  We saw people with deformities and one memory that stays with me is of a young mother sitting on the sidewalk, her feet so dirty she likely hadn’t bathed in weeks and a baby clinging to her strapped in some type of scarf.  I remember thinking what kind of life was in store for that baby?  The street vendors were very aggressive and annoying as they walked beside us shoving their wares in our faces.  While walking down a narrow alley my senses were on overload and I recall looking up at the blue sky above, thinking that I would like to be anywhere but here.  I was crushed with culture shock!

Our group was led into a restaurant that was decorated ornately in mostly reds; velvet curtains, brocade wallpaper, Persian rugs; all a little garish.  Maybe an interior designer’s nightmare but it felt rather cosy as we settled against our pillows. 
 
 The menu was soup, chicken, lamb shishka bobs and couscous and it was very tasty.  One of the ladies in our group stood off to the side and looked a little ashen.  I think she was shaken by what she had seen outside and apparently had no appetite for Moroccon cuisine.  We were amused to watch a trio of pudgy ladies who performed a belly dance.  A quintet of men entertained us as they sang and played instruments while we dined.


From the restaurant we were escorted to a store that displayed many beautiful Persian rugs.  As soon as the retailer realized we were not interested in purchasing one we were aggressively herded downstairs where a variety of leather, brass and ceramic goods were on display.  From there we were led out in the street where once again the hawkers pounced on us.

On the way back to port we stopped so those who chose to do so could ride on a camel.  The poor camel cried out in distress every time he was forced to kneel so that another tourist could clamber upon his back.  I have to admit my husband was one of those tourists.  He just didn’t realize that the camel was likely in pain.

At the port we were informed that the boat picking us up would be late due to heavy fog in the Strait.  We just milled about chatting with the others from our group and one lady told me that a local boy had been eying my camera that hung on my shoulder.  About fifteen minutes later we heard sharp slaps and we were told that the security people had caught a young man trying to pick someone’s pocket and they strapped him on the spot.  It made me even more diligent about hanging on to my camera.  When the fog finally lifted we cruised back to Algeciras for a very late dinner at our hotel.

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION


Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.
Here are examples that happened to me:

While disembarking the tour bus in Algecirus, Spain I couldn’t help but hear two elderly ladies talking about Dutton.  Now to most people, including myself at one time, the word Dutton would have meant nuttin (I couldn`t help myself) but a girlfriend of mine was born and raised in that little hamlet west of London, Ontario.  This I explained to the ladies and they asked my friend`s name.  I replied that I didn`t know her maiden name but that she now lived in Newmarket.  `Oh that must be Lorena`s daughter` one lady replied.  I had to be in Spain to meet people that knew my friend`s family.

I was in Vancouver visiting my oldest brother who due to the high cost of rent in Kitsalano lived in a large house with four other people.  At the dinner table I discovered that most of the others were from `out east` meaning Ontario.  I was chatting with one young lady who revealed she was from London, Ontario.  Now I know nary a person in London but I did tell her that my cousin and his wife owned a restaurant in south London.  `Not Marty and Gail` she asked astoundingly (already knowing the answer) and when I nodded she told me she used to wait tables in their restaurant. 

My oldest son Dan drove a tow truck many years ago and went on a call in Niagara-on-the-Lake to change a flat tire.  It turns out that the driver was Dutch so Dan told him that his mother (me) is Dutch, that she came to Canada with her parents.  The man asked Dan, where his grandfather came from in Holland.  Dan told him Herkingen, not expecting any reaction as most people didn`t know where that is, even people in Holland.  This man excitedly told him that the man in the back was his father and he was from Herkingen.  Even more surprising was the elderly man in the back knew Dan`s grandfather.

We were in the airport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and had offered to watch traveller's luggage as they went for a refreshment.  While sitting waiting for our flight we struck up a conversation with another couple beside us.  We asked where they were from, discovered they were also Canadian, also from Ontario and then to our mild surprise they informed us they were from our city.  Imagine our total surprise that it turned out they were country neighbours who lived about 2 ks from our house and that our son Jeff was their paperboy.