Since this is a new year and actually the third month of 2018 it’s about time to update you on all the fun there was to have. We’ve returned from what can only be described as an epic journey of almost nine weeks (62 days) in warmer climes. We did pretty well at avoiding winter in the northern hemisphere, but the windy, cool temperatures of this week are still a shock to our tans. A short synopsis of the trip follows after my whining.
On a positive note, yesterday I joined a friend at Frenchy’s and managed to pick up some finds for the grandkids and even a couple of things for myself. Dropped my tax receipts off to the accountant to be done (fingers crossed) and enjoyed lunch with my buddy at The Beandock until she had to leave for a four hour shift. I stopped at the Bell dealership to pick up my phone and that’s when things went downhill.
Although today’s technology issues could be described as ‘first world problems’ as I said to the life partner “I live in the first world so I am allowed to be annoyed” he replied “oh you are that!” and I cannot disagree. My cell phone (about a year old) gave me grief since bought it - locking up, shutting down, overheating to the point I couldn’t hold it - getting so I didn’t trust it, and then on vacation I dropped it and smashed the screen. After a consultation with the local Bell dealer I opted to buy a new cell phone, use the insurance I’ve been paying $11/mo for to receive a replacement phone and sell that. Sounds pretty straight forward eh? Yesterday I picked up the new phone, bought a case and screen protector, paid the $11/mo for replacement insurance on the new cell as it must be put on at purchase but can be removed at any time, had it paired with my bluetooth in my car and although originally promised that the apps were backed up, I was told “it’s a Sony to a LG so you have to download them all again” So I have spent more than a few hours reinstalling, updating, syncing, signing in to the apps I use. But….the final indignity came when I called the insurance program and was told they had a replacement phone available to send me and I would be billed $200. Whoa, just a sec…why am I billed that? Well, we cover almost all the cost, this is your portion. You’re joking right? Is this the deductible cost? Well, you can call it that if you wish. I don’t want to call it anything and I don’t want to pay $200 after I’ve paid every month for protection which you won’t honour, I can buy a cheap new phone for less. An offer to keep the file open for 30 days was extended. Yeah right…And this morning when I spoke with the clerk at the Bell dealership (who had NEVER mentioned the $200 deductible) she said “oh yeah, they always charge that. I have no idea how she thought I was going to recoup my money with that fee in addition. She gave me the number of the repair service they use so that I could replace the screen and sell the expensive paperweight (I mean phone) I now own. The repair guy told me that it would at least $190 to replace the screen and suggested that unless it was an iPhone or something costing about $1000 would it be worth it? What a money suck technology is. Rest assured the next phone call I made was to Bell to remove the insurance - the clerk tried to tell me that it was a good deal if you were replacing the phone within the first year. I explained that although the incident happened in the first year, I’d been out of the country and unable to report it so essentially I’d paid $132, now the deductible was $200 and if I was lucky I could sell the phone for $250 to recoup those costs but had still purchased a new phone. Someone is winning, but it’s not the consumer.
As well, I had been attempting to complete a photobook (65% discount coupon is expiring shortly) and it had taken me a couple of days on our pathetic rural broadband (which I pay $75/mo for) to upload ‘some’ of the photos, yesterday I couldn’t even open the project so the struggle is real. The local (defined as 30 km drive away) library was open from 6 - 8 pm last evening so I opted to drive in the wind and rain (thankfully not snow in our area) and finish the book. I managed to accomplish this fairly painlessly in about 90 minutes, while visiting with a librarian acquaintance. Not my best effort, but I added a few stickers, changed some backgrounds and dropped it in my cart. Attempted to checkout and…the coupon would NOT apply no matter what I did. I sent a desperate plea to tech support on the live chat and was instructed to sign out, sign back in, clear my cache and cookies etc etc. reassured several times ‘this should work now’ to no avail. With five minutes to library closing I live chatted again (different tech) who went in to the database to see what I was trying to order and must’ve somehow fixed the glitch as the next time I hit apply….it did! Hallelujah!!! Grabbed my laptop and out the door as they locked it behind me. So…enough whining.
Coming home in March to put away the Christmas decorations reminded me of my promise to myself to NOT plan to travel during the holidays. The usual reasons of price, crowds and weather of course, but the fact is that a couple of weeks (not really anymore than that) of winter weather can be fun - thinking we’d like to go back to camp etc. We stored our vehicle with my nursing buddy and they kindly drove us to the airport as well. Off to Toronto for the overnight, delayed, in late, long wait for the shuttle, early start due to the overbooked shuttle etc etc. In to Miami the next morning and it was cool and overcast but we ventured out to enjoy the flea market next to the hotel and a lovely Cuban (well Miami Cuban) lunch. Breakfast and shuttle to the cruise port and by 1 pm we were on theahead and to the right of us and said “this is what you want?” We agreed it was and he sped up, put his passenger window down and had an involved conversation (en espanol) with the bus driver who indicated he would pull over at the next corner. We pulled in behind, grabbed our packs from the trunk and jumped on the bus. We were able to pass the time on the top level, ducking for overhanging tree branches, visiting Little Havana for lunch and learning about Miami. By mid afternoon we headed for a cafe, then grabbed the train to the airport.
Norwegian Getaway. A welcome drink in the sun while we waited for our stateroom and shortly we were unpacked, muster drill completed and readying for the evening. Dressed in our New Years Eve finery, up to the Brazilian restaurant for a wonderful leisurely supper then wandered out on deck for the festivities. Lots of music, dancing, drinks, noisemakers, lights, champagne at midnight and just a fantastic way to welcome in 2018. We finally wandered back to our cabin by 1:30 am and crashed. The sea day was a great way to explore the ship and the Getaway is huge. In fact, we haven’t been on such a large vessel in years as we’ve been on smaller ships and likely won’t choose a megaship for a while. When you’re dealing with these numbers of people for example, lots of food but not as much variety. The entertainment events have to be reserved. Takes a bit of planning to get to your destination on time etc. etc. Not terrible, just not as good a fit for us. The week spend by and we enjoyed all the spoiling…In Roatan we shared a cab with a couple from Kentucky and went to a resort to snorkel. It was coolish, soggy as it had rained and the wind came up suddenly as we were on the way to the reef - the shore captain got in the water but couldn’t keep his snorkel clear in the huge waves, I declined and we headed in, back to the cruise port in our cab and we ran for the ship in the torrential tropical downpour as we arrived. Belize was Harvest Caye which is a developed private island, so really not Belize, a cloudy day but a lovely beach, warm water to swim in, a wildlife display, lots of services, zipline, playgrounds, pools etc. In Costa Maya we spent the morning in the cruise port and enjoyed the wifi at Starbucks then watched a wonderful pole climbing and dance display from a local native group. In the afternoon we did a snorkelling excursion and although it wasn’t amazing, it was fun. There was a pirate ship theme and the young folks running it were entertaining enough. We’ve kind of gotten past wanting to snorkel in a group who are just learning. Fun way to pass a warm, sunny afternoon though. Cozumel was a great day where we opted to do our own excursion and arranged for a cab who took us across the island to San Gervasio to visit the Mayan ruins. We found a private guide who gave us a wonderful tour, explained his Mayan ancestry and the history of the island. The final sea day we attended wine theatre which was kind of like a couple of acts of dinner theatre with wine tasting. Not bad and a fun way to pass a couple of hours. Disembarkation day was the usual frantic and we had decided to try to find the hop on and off bus in Miami but…it didn’t stop at the cruise port so we caught a cab. After a lengthy discussion (English not being the driver’s first language) he finally understood that we wanted to catch the bus, still didn’t know where the terminal was but as we made our way along the city streets he suddenly pointed at the bus in the lane just
|Costa Maya, Mexico|
|San Gervasio, Cozumel|
Began our wanderings in South America with an overnight flight to Santiago de Chile (watched Victoria and Abdul - excellent movie) and slept a bit. Very efficient processing at the airport (even though the bags are scanned twice) and we grabbed a shuttle to the Matilda Boutique Hotel. Explored the neighbourhood a bit, had lunch (chorillana is like a poutine + ) and an early bedtime. An early
morning Uber to the bus station, some assistance from the ticket agent and we wait at the platform for our Andesmarr bus. Front upper level with the most amazing views of the Andes as we travelled over to Mendoza. Visited with a young couple (American / Polish) travelling for the past two years and swapped travel yarns. Snow capped mountains, 29 switchbacks in one spot, amazing geology, lots of buses and transports, ski lodges at the summit and a very speedy (half an hour) crossing at the Chile/Argentina border. By the middle of the afternoon we passing turquoise lakes which reminded us of western Canada and then into wine country.
|Santiago to Mendoza|
|Posada de Cavieres|
The 20 hour bus to San Carlos de Bariloche was an adventure, the buses all have stewards who check your ticket, answer your questions and serve you meals and snacks. We enjoyed a full chicken, rice, veggie and dessert supper with drink, tea and coffee. The movies were in Spanish but one had subtitles and… even if another language you get the gist. We passed by vineyards, general farms, industrial areas and my travel partner even saw an alpaca (so he thought but we were later told it was more likely a guanaco - same family but different critter). In to Bariloche by afternoon but unable to find a bus so we grab a taxi who takes us to Villa La Angostura. We have extreme trouble finding the Airbnb we’ve rented but our cabbie is persistent and eventually we arrive. The fairly new house is beautiful, the view of the lake and mountains is breathtaking, there are lots of kitties and it’s very peaceful. Our Argentine friends arrive an hour after we do (they too had difficulty finding the place and they don’t have the language problem). Thus began a great week of exploring the area with our in-house guides, interpreters and cooks. Ahh. We enjoyed the beach and lake, visited the town, hiked in the area to a Mapuche (local indigenous people) mountain park, took a cruise of the lake and national park, journeyed north to San Martin de los Andes and south to El Bolson (backpacker haven). Then we moved back to Bariloche for the second week and found our Airbnb which was a large older home with great grounds, an indoor asado (BBQ) and full of antiques. We explored the area, hiking, visiting waterfalls and parks, travelled to Colonia Suissa (Swiss colony) shopped and visited the museum in the city, had supper out to celebrate our friends anniversary. It was a very full agenda. Our friends dropped us at the bus terminal and we caught our bus to Chile as they headed north to Mar del Plata.
We enjoyed the bus from Bariloche to Osorno past the lake country, active volcanoes, farming country and small towns. The topography isn’t as dramatic as the northern route but it is very pretty. We had a room in a hostel near the bus terminal in Osorno - a young family and the hostess had great English suggesting lots of tourist activities. We wandered the city checking out the markets, shops and street entertainment, ate lunch at a food court - the marine pile was a big hit with the shore captain, supper at a small local restaurant (cheap and delicious) and then took a bus to Frutillar (strawberry in English) the next day as an excursion. It’s a tourist town with German roots from the 1800s on the lake, lots of great restaurants and shops. We wandered for the day, had a fantastic lunch and caught the bus back to Osorno.
We moved on to Valdivia which is a city on the river near the coast and enjoyed a German beerfest as the Kuntsmann brewery is located there and our timing meant we got to enjoy lots of lederhosen and clogs as well as beverages. We took the city bus out to Niebla which is a Pacific coast beach of dark sand (cold water and fog offshore) and caught some sun. Passed aquaculture, ferries, resorts and lots
of small villages on the way. The market in Valdivia is one of the best we have seen anywhere with fish, vegetables, fruit, crafts and lots of people, noise, and energy. Pelicans, vultures and gulls wait for the fish to be trimmed. It was so fresh that there was no smell at all. There was even a heritage submarine on the dock. We were attempting to travel from Valdivia to Santa Cruz but it was one of those…..you can’t get there from here situations.
|Breakfast buffet - La Perla|
brought us a treat the chef had left in the kitchen every evening and the breakfasts were a smorgasbord Ahhh. We spent the week visiting wineries, doing tastings and enjoying great meals (Peruvian) exploring the city.
When we opted to move on to the coast we found we first had to go to Santiago de Chile and catch a bus back out. And so we travelled to San Antonio for a few days. It’s much like Valparaiso and is becoming a cruise port, but is less sophisticated. We wandered along the waterfront, visited the fish pier, checked out the container ships unloading and were generally entertained. The next day we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and apparently it was a family event but…we were welcomes as family and given a great meal - chicken and rice and the best pisco sour I had in my travels. It was carnival and we were treated to a great parade, music and entertainment. The parade was so lengthy that some of the performers were on their way home while the later acts were still in the staging area. We had a great supper of empanadas and pastries at a small cafe and felt like locals. The next day we walked to the bus terminal and got a ticket for Casablanca which is less than two hours away and spent the day tasting wine at Bodega Re with lots of pre cruise passengers then on to lunch/tasting at Casa del Bosque which it turned out we’d visited two years ago when in Valparaiso (must’ve like it!) Back to the square, bought an ice cream for us and the toddler on the next bench then caught the standing room only bus back to San Antonio which made its way along the coast past beaches, small villages and resorts. Back to Santiago the next day with an airport hotel to catch a morning flight to Easter Island.
Believe it or not the LAN plane is a 787 dreamliner with nine seats across, yes that is how many people travel to and from Easter Island every day. The flight was smooth, I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin (great movie, even though I’m not into war stories) and we landed on the hot
humid island on time. Bit of a delay with attempting to buy national park passes, then looking for our ride to the hotel who arrived eventually and presented us with leis. The hotel was basic and could have used a thorough spring cleaning, no air conditioning but… it had a moai (statue) on the shore in front of our cabin to make up for it. The next day we walked to Hanga Roa, arranged to go snorkelling, checked out the park and waterfront, bought our national park passes and stopped for supper on the way back. The following day we rented a vehicle which enabled us to tour the island see all the major sites from volcanos, beaches, the quarry to multiple statue sites with lots of wild horses. Absolutely incredible to be visiting a place you’ve only seen on the Discovery Channel, pinch me are we really doing this? We were lucky to be there during carnival and saw great dance performances and a fireworks display that would’ve rivalled July 4th in Boston! We managed to snorkel in the rain just off the shore in very clear water and saw a variety of exotic Polynesian fish and healthy coral. We kept the rental and drove it to the airport, leaving the keys under the visor (sounds like rural NS) and catching our flight back to Santiago.
|Maoi on Easter Island|
Another stay at Matilda’s where we enjoyed supper at Vikingnos - very over the top decor - but a great carnivore meal. We wandered the squares and parks, stopped for Japanese - sushi/ Peruvian - causa snack on the way and enjoyed the peaceful hotel garden. Played tourist and visited the funicular and zoo as I’d done in 1994 to compare the changes. The funicular was the same but the zoo had been completely changed to reflect modern standards - the giraffe no longer leaned over and licked the side of your face and the rheas didn’t peck at your legs through the fence for example. A bit of a rush to get back across the city, pick up the bags at the hotel and off to catch the 6 pm bus north but… we made it!
The overnight bus made its way out of the city through vineyards, farms and industrial areas, out to the coast and finally dusk settled. We enjoyed our chicken supper and settled into our came seats - large and fully reclining we slept until 8am when we woke up in the Atacama desert. It’s the highest elevation, driest desert on earth and has a long history of mining. We made our way through Antofagasta which is a coastal city the size of Halifax, buying a sandwich from a vendor who climbed on the bus at a stop. By mid afternoon we were in Calama a small industrial city and checked in to our hotel, explored a bit, found some supper and turned in. We wandered the city, found it had a huge new mall which would rival West Edmonton and checked out various bus stations with a thought to going to San Pedro de Atacama. We eventually found a private tour and spent the next day with our driver exploring Laguna Chaxa with flocks of flamingos and Laguna Miscanti y Miniques at an elevation of 14000 + ft. I don’t manage this altitude well but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. A quick stop in San Pedro, sure glad we didn’t stay there - very dusty, crowded, noisy, full of backpackers - not a place we’d like to spend a lot of time. The following day we rented a truck and
We checked in to Matildas again, wandered over to the Plaza del Armes to people watch and have a drink, back across the bridge and ‘home’ in time to visit with some British / American guests and then have a delicious supper at the hotel. Stored the backpacks and off in an Uber to the market to meet our chef and attend cooking class for the day. We toured the fish, meat, fruit/vegetable and flower markets while being educated on Chilean cuisine then taxied over to the cooking school. We spent a very enjoyable day learning to make pisco sours, pebre (pico de gallo) and doblicita (bread) shrimp and avocado, corvina (fish) and tomatoes with panda cotta for dessert. The wine flowed freely and we poured ourselves into the Uber and back to Matildas to decompress in the garden while chatting with a researcher from Merck in Philadelphia who had done a week long horse trek over from Santiago to Mendoza (no thanks) until the taxi to the airport. Check in, security and a final pisco sour and empanada before the overnight flight to Miami. Early am nap at the airport, breakfast, check in, security and on to Toronto, then Halifax and an uneventful drive home by midnight.
It’s been a busy few days as we tie up the ends from the last trip and I have readied for the next adventure. The shore captain isn’t coming so will hold down the fort at home. So, in closing…we are checked in and packed, grandson tucked in for the night and we’ll be on our way in the morning for nine days of March Break fun with daughter #1. Can’t wait. Stay tuned.