Travel

The T List: Five Things We Recommend This Week

Never-before-seen textiles by Rosie Lee Tompkins, a bed-and-breakfast in Mexico City — and more. Book ThisA Minimalist Respite in Mexico CityImageEach of the property’s seven guest rooms features bed linens and bathrobes by the owner Roberta Maceda’s fashion line, Octavia.Each of the property’s seven guest rooms features bed linens and bathrobes by the owner Roberta …

A geeky geographic overview of the Canadian Rockies

The Pacific ring of fire is an area where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. This ring winds around the edge of the Pacific Ocean from Australia to Asia to the Americas; the American Cordillera being its eastern edge. This continuous sequence of mountain ranges (Cordillera) form the western backbone of North America, Central America,...

A tale of two mosques

The Blue Mosque LOCATED in the heart of Istanbul's historic Sultan Ahmet area, which has a high concentration of top sites of tourist interest and is always overrun by large tourist buses dropping one big batch of visitors after the other, is Istanbul's signature Sultan Ahmed (Blue) mosque. It is nearly impossible to visit Istanbul and not see this mosque; a proper comparison would be like...

Discovering Eastern Ontario

I like to go on a multi-day longish-distance cycling trip and recently I biked from Ottawa to Toronto around the Canada Day long weekend. I started with a four to five day itinerary in mind spanning between 400-450km, but in the end I had to cut it short to 3.5 days and 350km due to heat and exhaustion. The ride was fun, and my first through rural eastern Ontario. A guy I contacted through...

Ecuador's Andean North

The Pan-American Highway descends into a valley as soon as it exits Quito from the northern side, traversing through dusty suburbs of the capital city. The air feels warmer here, few kilometers away from the Equator, a line that marks the extreme circumference of our spheroidal planet, effectively dividing Earth into northern and southern hemispheres. I stop at the Mitad del Mundo monument to let the significance of this line sink in. The northern sierra region of Ecuador has some of the most beautiful hiking trails, lakes and volcanic peaks in the country. Small and large indigenous towns dot the landscape, with people still living a predominantly rural lifestyle. I am going to be spending a week in this region. Otavalo, about two hours north of Quito, is ideally located in the...

French River

A rail bridge, a road bridge, a snow-mobile bridge, a canoe route, a hiking trail and long history of fur trade. Where else would these co-exist, but in northern Ontario? Last weekend, I drove with some friends to the little town of Iron Bridge in Northern Ontario. On the way, we took a break at the site where the French River crossed Highway 69. Ontario Parks has facilitated a wonderful visitor experience by building a visitor centre next to a gorgeous steel suspension bridge which, to my pleasant surprise, turned out to be a "snowmobile highway". Until few years ago, I had no clue that...

Hiking in Banos

Hitch hiking two rides from Latacunga, I ended up in the little tourist town of Banos in the central Andes. The town is located at the base of the active Tungurahua volcano, which has been pretty active lately with the last eruption reported in April 2011. Originating from Quichua tunguri (throat), rahua (fire) "Throat of Fire", I wasn't able to see the volcano for two days due to a thick...

Hitchchiking to laguna Cuicocha, the guinea pig lake

It took me a while to visualize the guinea pig, or "cuy" as it is locally called (hence the name cuy-cocha), that they talk about. However, if you notice the two humps on the big island inside the lake, it does allude to the shape of a cuy. Trek along the rim of this crater lake I spent the next 4 hours waling along the edge of the crater on this scenic trail. This lake had formed inside a collapsed volcanic crater nearly 3,000 years ago. Starting at an elevation of 3,246 m (10,650 ft) from the sea level, the trail passes through a thick forest of native pine and non-native eucalyptus trees that have adapted to high altitudes. There are lots of blueberry and redberry bushes on the way, not to mention the large number of flowers and colourful butterflies that flutter from one flower to...

On the road in Mexico city

I was very surprised to see how diverse and mixed Mexico city was. My visit was short (just 9 days, with many day trips from Mexico city in between) so I only got a teaser of the whole deal. Still, since my couchsurfing hosts were scattered around the city, I was compelled to take the public transit and explore neighbourhoods; and I was glad to do that. The historic downtown with one of the largest city-squares in the world gave me and idea of how it would have felt in the colonial era back when the Spanish were ruling (you have to ignore the crowd and noisy cars). The Coyoacan delegacion, not far from crowded downtown, felt like a village that escaped the mad growth that rest of Mexico city saw. Then there was the green Chapultepec park and business district, rich Polanco (Miguel Hidalgo), residential Benito Juarez, the huge Tlalpan to the south and canal maze at the Xochimilco borough. When I go next time, I will try Mexico city's free bicycles to go around during the day. It's...

Reasons why you should visit Canada's Parliament building

The sky was very cloudy when I visited Ottawa last week and constant rumbling sounds from above reminded us of a lurking thunderstorm. Thankfully few showers later it all fizzled away and I seized the opportunity to visit Ottawa's most notable attraction, the Parliament Hill. A collection of Canada's federal administrative buildings, the Parliament Hill consists of three edifices arranged...

Route to El Chico: hits and misses

I love traveling in the lowest class of collective transport - a minivan, collectivo, combi, marshrutka, sherut or whatever they may be called - the vehicles that start only when full and stop wherever people flag them down. These are usually quite systematic, but for a visitor like me, these seem chaotic, crowded and confusing. Add to that one of my favorite thrills of traveling in a foreign country - the language barrier, the resulting combination of these random factors is often unpredictable and curious. On my recent trip to Mexico, I had a number of such incidents and strangely I ended up 'discovering' something new each time. From the city of Pachuca near Mexico city, several combis (mini vans) depart for the village of El Chico, some a 40-45 minutes away. The mini vans are...

San Jose: What to see in limited time there

I'll be honest with you: There is not much exciting about San Jose, it is a functional city and a logistics hub, and certainly nothing like Quito or Lima or Havana or any other Latin American capital. That said, for most travellers one or two days is sufficient to check out the city and experience some of its attractions and offerings. The city is laid out on a grid, like most Spanish colonial towns, with narrow streets (many of these are one way only) and colonial architecture. It feels like a gritty downtown, especially some blocks near the bus stations, but that's only on the surface. Once we started walking there and interacting with people, it felt friendly and warm. Street vendors are perfect to buy fruit and groceries from, or inquire about that interesting wooden Jesus doll in a cart full of toys. Start off at the Central Park (Parque Central) with some icecream and people watching. Right next to the park is the Catedral Metropolitana, the main cathedral in San Jose....

Slithering in the Rain: Uxmal's Maya ruins

There is nothing more disappointing to an independent traveller than arriving at a popular tourist site and finding it filled with busloads of tour groups. I like to have the vastness and emptiness of archeological ruins all to myself and don't mind sharing it with a select few who, just like me, have worked hard to get there first thing in the morning. I packed the night before, bought bus tickets and planned the schedule carefully, but fate had other plans. My early morning chicken bus broke down on its way which, although gave me some memorable experiences and storytelling material, resulted in a humiliating defeat at the hands of these despicable tour groups and their luxury buses. When I entered the site and saw a teenager throwing stones on a pyramid and others shouting at each...

Under the shadow of a volcano

Locals don't think seem to care about it but as a visitor I found it difficult to grapple with living in this constant threat of a volcanic eruption. Latacunga has a small historic area, with a mandatory main plaza surrounded by a cathedral and some government buildings. The main market stretches around few blocks adjacent to downtown proper. The main reason for tourists to be in Latacunga is...

Volunteering to Save Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

We emailed Vicky who leads the Association for Saving the Turtles of Parismina (ASTOP) with our request to volunteer for the cause. We heard back from her promptly, with a comprehensive outline of the program, requirements, accommodation, donation, etc. Getting to Parismina is a bit tricky, but we got there fine and got set up in a homestay with a very nice family. The organization requires a minimum commitment of 5 days, registration fee of per person, and accommodations with a family include meals for per day. Expect plenty of gallo pinto (rice and beans) for all meals, plus some sides of meat, salad, patacones, etc. It would be very easy to ask for vegetarian meals as well. Accommodations are basic, safe, and with a very friendly family. When we were there, we had three other people staying at different houses in the village, and everyone had pretty much the same experience. Work is pretty simple. During the nesting season, you will patrol the beach every night for eight...