Mayan Adventure Tour – Part 2

Our day of travel to San Cristobal was interesting. Our bus took us through the mountains and some lovely scenery to San Cristobal. There was one town where the road was previously blocked (by locals who were unhappy with the government) and the road had recently opened up. If it hadn’t, we would have had a much longer journey on a different route to get around the blockage. It was a bit scary when we approached a town as traffic wasn’t moving – there seemed to be a gathering of the locals related to the previous blockage. We had to wait a bit, and once traffic started to move again, our driver got out of our bus, ran over to their donation table and contributed to their cause. En route to San Cristobal, our CEO explained that there is quite a bit of unrest in this state. Most of the state of Chiapas is controlled by the Zapatistas. She explained that citizens killed (in 2016 I think) the mayor and another local government person because the citizens were unhappy with the mayor for not providing resources for public works. However, I’m not sure what city/town she was referring to. From my research, I think the town was San Juan Chamula in 2016. Also, she explained that some communities do not allow government police forces of any kind in their neighbourhood and they provide their own policing.

Well, the shorter route allowed us to get into San Cristobal at a decent time. Donna and I were able to explore some of the city and check out one market. Then walking past our hotel, our CEO spotted us and told us to get inside because there had been a shooting at the market we were just at. While waiting, we learned of a strong earthquake that afternoon in Mexico to the west of us but far enough away not for us to feel it very well. When given the “all clear”, Donna and I headed to the other market at the other end of town to check it out and see some more of the city. Later, again, we learned there also was a shooting in this second market after we left. Hmmm, I don’t think the shootings had anything to do with us! Other than that, San Cristobal was a lovely city.

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Our group went on a boat ride up the Sumidero Canyon. Reviews say it is very beautiful but I wasn’t impressed. Firstly, our CEO did not come with us to translate from Spanish to English so we did not know what the pilot/guide was trying to tell us most of the time. Secondly, I did not think the scenery that beautiful. Perhaps because I’m from the west coast with so much natural beauty. We did notice the huge amount of garbage and plastic floating in the river. I am surprised the locals don’t take pride in this tourist attraction and clean it up. The pilots of the boat pointed out some crocodiles to us. We got quite close. Some of the crocs were among the garbage. For all we know, the crocodiles might have also been plastic as I never saw them move. There were also some monkeys playing in the trees on the side of the river. They moved. Another interesting site on this boat ride was a religious shrine – up on a shelf of a wall in a cave. There was a ladder leading up to the shrine and I have no idea why it was there. The trip might have been more interesting if we had a translator but I think I would have preferred to do something else this day though.

Some of us chose to visit some modern Mayan villages. First was San Juan Chamula. It has a unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village and they have their own police force. Our guide took us for a small walk around the town and explained some of their beliefs and customs. They encourage tourism so that people will understand their way of life and customs. Once we paid some pesos, we were able to enter their church. There are no pews in the church, and the floor area is completely covered with a carpet of green pine boughs. The sides are lined with statues of saints. These statues are adorned with unusual ornaments like pineapples and flowers and mirrors to deflect the evil spirits. Some locals were there lighting candles, even sacrificing a chicken. They didn’t seem to be bothered by us. Sorry, photography was not permitted in the church so I didn’t get photos of the inside but the outside doorway was lovely as you can see in the photos below.

After San Juan, we visited San Lorenzo de Zinacantán. We had to descend from the mountain into the valley to get into Zinacantán. The first thing I noticed were the many greenhouses. Zinacantán is one of the leading flower producing villages in Mexico. In the village, we went to one of the local family-based textile shop. We watched a woman do some weaving, saw their many different coloured dyed yarns, and watched them make corn tortillas over an open fire.

The roads through Mexico were generally quite rough. There were so many speed bumps going through the towns. I like the term our fellow British travelers called them – “sleeping policemen” or “silent policemen”. These sleeping policemen made our traveling time much longer and sometimes difficult to sleep on the bus!

We drove through more hilly, winding roads to the Guatemalan border. Those prone to carsickness didn’t sit in the back. Our bus and driver abandoned us at the border –  “no man’s land”. We had to walk across the border into Guatemala pulling and carrying our own luggage to our next bus. There are money changers at the Guatemalan border with large wads of Quetzals (GTQ) and hanging around in the parking areas. Luckily I had bought my Quetzals in Canada so I had no need of money changers. There were also plenty of vendors lining the road in “no man’s land”. Very different from any border I’ve crossed before.

But we made it to Lake Atitlan. Approaching the lake, we had to drive down a steep and long road to get to Panajachel. We were able to explore Panajachel the next morning and saw a little parade walking down the main street. The kids were so cute.

For our second night on Lake Atitlan, G Adventures arranged for home stays with local Mayan families in San Juan La Laguna to help their economy. We took a lovely boat ride there with views of all the volcanoes and the local communities and hillsides. I enjoyed this boat ride more than the one on the Sumidero Canyon. When we reached the town of San Juan, we were introduced to our various host families. Donna and I had quite a walk to get to our family but it was an interesting walk through town. The teenage daughter, Pamela, met us in town and walked us to her home where we met the mother and father, a son and grandmother. They also had a lovely dog and cat. The son spoke English the best. He was a basketball star and his family proudly display his many and HUGE trophies. Currently, he is a coach at the school and studies part time. The sister also studies while the mother and father sew products. I think I counted 5 sewing machines, not all the same type. They all seem very hard working.

Once we got settled in our rooms, Donna and I rejoined our group in the main part of the town. We went to a textile cooperative. The products were lovely and the prices were attractive. I bought a beautiful and very colourful table cloth. Next stop was a natural herb/medicine cooperative and then to an artists’ studio. These paintings were unique and lovely.

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After our spending spree, we stopped at a little grocery store to buy some things for our families. We bought beans, sugar, and oil. Donna, the dog lover, also picked up some biscuits for our family’s dog. When we returned to our home stay family, the family fed us and we attempted some conversation. They are lovely people but it was difficult to communicate with their small knowledge of English and our equally small knowledge of Spanish. We learned that they had been doing the home stays for many years and we signed their book which included many people from around the world.

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The Mayan Adventure tour – Part 1

Donna and I flew from Mexico City to Cancun – again on separate flights but 10 minutes apart. And we managed to easily find each other upon arrival. The bus took us to the centre of Playa del Carmen and we walked through the crowds to our hotel along the famous and very busy Fifth Avenue. Playa del Carmen was a very busy place. Due to our hotel’s location right off 5th Avenue, we discovered our hotel was not quiet. We had to endure 2 out of 3 very noisy nights to sleep through. Also, at times our hotel hardly had any water trickling out of the taps. Thank goodness we were there only 3 nights. We were happy to meet the other people in our group and our tour leader (about 16 of us in all) and be on our way. It is rather corny but G Adventures call their tour leaders CEOs – Chief Experience Officers.

Donna and I were happy to say goodbye to Playa del Carmen but it was an early morning start for our group to get to Chichén Itzá at a decent time. By the time we got to Chichén Itzá, it was hot. Our guide for this site had his shady spots all mapped out so that he could give us all the great information about Chichén Itzá while we stood in the shade. But there no climbing on these ruins and buildings though.

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After touring Chichén Itzá, we went on to Mérida in the northwest part of the Yucatán Peninsula. Mérida is a beautiful city with much of it’s architecture from the Spanish colonial period. Upon arriving in Mérida, some of us opted to go on a quick walking tour of the historical centre. The next day we had a full day in Mérida. Donna and I opted to continue exploring the city on our own. Mérida was lovely.

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We even walked along Paseo de Montejo, a wide boulevard with large and elaborate homes on either side of this main avenue. Paseo de Montejo was fashioned after the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City and the Champs-Élysées in Paris and was conceived as a boulevard for the wealthy class of the time. It was populated with fancy residences built with the wealth generated by the sisal fiber boom. Of course, the old buildings were lovely.

We admired the fence of this one.

 

In Mérida, we stayed in the Hotel Reforma. Our group had mixed reviews regarding the rooms, but the interior courtyard was pretty. Apparently, Fidel Castro stayed there (at least once). It was in 1955. He was not only in exile but also in incognito. There is also a love story involved. Castro met the young women from Mérida but she didn’t know Castro’s true identity. The love affair ended in 1960 when she learned of Castro’s true identity and she realized that she could not live his life in Cuba. Anyway, in our travels we saw quite a few old and lovely buildings with similar interior courtyards like this one.

One of the interesting things we were able to fit in (which included finding the out-of-the way building) was to visit Casa Federick Catherwood to see his lithographs of the various ruins in Mexico. Federick Catherwood drew illustrations of what he saw in his diaries. Catherwood (an Englishman) along with John Lloyd Stephens (an American) made their way through the Chiapas & Yucatan jungles to climb the crumbling steps of overgrown pyramids and ancient Mayan cities. The ruins were forgotten by the inhabitants of the regions. Catherwood’s drawings showed the buildings and carvings as he saw them in 1839 and the early 1840s. I found some of his lithographs to show you.

Our next destination was Palenque in the south but on the way we stopped at another Mayan ruin – Uxmal. We had another guide for Uxmal. The sign at Uxmal said that they could provide guides who spoke English, French, Italian, German and Dutch along with Spanish. Quite the “off the beaten track” tourist attraction. Luckily for us, we got an English speaking guide who also knew the good shady spots. We were there in the morning so it wasn’t too hot yet. Uxmal was probably more interesting as it wasn’t as crowded and we could climb some buildings and see the views. Another difference between Chichén Itzá and Uxmal was that many of the buildings in Uxmal had rounded corners.

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After Uxmal, we stopped on the Gulf of Mexico for a lunch with a lovely view and watched the many pelicans. We continued south into the state of Chiapas and arrived in Palenque in the evening for our next two night stay. We stayed on the outside of the city so we didn’t get to see much of the city. We awoke the first morning to some very noisy Howler Monkeys.

The Howler Monkeys might be loud but they are also elusive. In the morning we went on a guided tour through the forest. We saw some Howler Monkeys at the very tops of some trees but they were not close enough for us to get a good view of them or any photos. The forest and trees were different and interesting.

Also, in the forest we saw undisturbed Mayan ruins. They growth on them hasn’t been cleared off or the ruins fixed up in any way. It was so interesting to see and I think we were fortunate to be able to see them. To get inside one of the ruins, we had to climb down through a hole. Our guide told us that there are no plans to clear up and repair these ruins. They want to leave them as there are.

After the forest walk and checking out these ruins, we went to see the official Palenque Mayan ruins. These ruins are slowly being restored.

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To cool off on this hot afternoon, we went to the Roberto Barrio waterfalls. We drove for about an hour outside Palenque through some hills and into the jungle of Palenque.

There were quite a few series of waterfalls and some looked a little dangerous to get to from where we were. I was happy with just the one. The local children guided us to the caves behind the falls and showed us where to swim out. It was lovely. The guides also took the more daring of our group down the different levels of the waterfalls, jumping from the rocks to the pools below.

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico City – Part 2

On Day 5 we chose to stay in the city centre to visit some of the popular tourist attractions.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes (the National Arts Museum) is a beautiful building just on it’s own – all its marble and domes.

Inside, there was displays of art by Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro and other artists.

Next, we discovered another beautiful building – the Palacio de Correos (central Post Office). Beautiful ironwood is inside and a cute little museum displays uniforms, mailboxes, etc. from different eras.

We took a quick look at the ruins of the Templo Mayor beside the Catedral Metropolitana near the Zócalo. However, after seeing the Teotihuacán Pyramids, it didn’t look as impressive. Although, to be fair, the Templo Mayor was taken apart and covered over by the new Spanish colonial city, so there wasn’t as much ruins remaining as with Teotihuacán.

We had to search a bit for the Secretaría de Educación Pública but it was worth it. This building has some of the most beautiful murals by Diego Rivera. Best of all, there was hardly anyone else there and it was free! We just had to leave our ID at the front desk. The building has 3 floors of murals around the two interior courtyards and each floor had a different theme. We could have spent a lot more time there but the office building was closing for the day and we had to leave.

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That evening we had dinner on the 41st floor of the Torre Latinoamericana. Lovely food and views.

Day 6 – We took the Metro to the last stop on the #2 line south, then transferred onto “el tren” (another type of train) to the Xochimilco area. Here, we visited the Museo Dolores Olmedo to see more Diego Rivera paintings and learn more about Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. As a bonus, the hacienda grounds have many beautiful peacocks roaming around. We were also able to see some of the xoloitzcuintzles the museum has. These are the rare hairless dogs of pre-Hispanic origin. They were in a fenced-off area so we couldn’t mingle or pet them, nor could we see them that well or get decent photos of them. I hope this one photo gives you an idea of what they look like.

We found the famous and very busy market in the centre of Xochimilco, picked up some lunch and ate in the nice park by the market for some quiet time. Then we walked over to the floating boats (trajineras) on Lake Xochimilco. Lake Xochimilco is famous for its chinampas (floating gardens – now affixed to the lake bottom) and its trajineras (flat-bottomed boats). We just had to check out this attraction. There were many, many boats docked and all tied up together, each waiting to be hired. I could not imagine how busy the lake would be if all those boats were out floating around at once. I guess it would just add to the entertainment. The boat ride in “Victoria” was nice but not impressive and it was very commercial. In addition to the vendors along the shore, there were boats wandering the canals selling food, drinks, souvenirs and even plants. Mariachi bands had their own trajineras hoping to earn some pesos by playing some music and songs. I imagine Lake Xochimilco hosts many celebrations on the trajineras.

The area around the boat rental area was not an enjoyable place. It was busy, with many aggressive vendors trying to sell us a ride on a trajinera. We happily left the area after our boat ride and walked back to the train and Metro to get back to the city centre. Returning to the city centre on the trains was very crowded (packed!) but everyone was well behaved.

Day 7 – We took another Metro trip back to Chapultepec Park to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología (Anthropology Museum). This is probably one of the best museums in Mexico City. It had displays of the different pre-Hispanic Mexicans. There were several exhibits hidden behind the buildings so we had to be adventuresome and really look around. Their number of artifacts was huge and there was so much to see. These photos are just a small sampling of the ones I took.

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After taking the Metro back to the Centro Histórico area, we went up to the 8th floor of Sears (yes, Sears still exists in Mexico) and had a lovely hot chocolate in the cafe while enjoying the view on their balcony. Highly recommended! Next, we stopped in at the Gran Hotel de la Cuidad de Mexico to see its lovely Tiffany stained glass ceiling – it was gorgeous! From the outside, we never would have imagined that such a treasure was inside. But we decided not to stay for the expensive dinner and views. My camera was no good enough to capture the beauty of the ceiling so these are downloaded.

That ended our week in Mexico City. It was certainly lovely and busy and I am sure we only saw a fraction of the things to see in and around the city. It is definitely worth a return visit to see more. I never felt unsafe, especially with a police officer on every corner in the central part of the city! The Metro was big and covered a lot of territory. During peak hours, certain parts of some metro lines reserved the end cars for females only. We took advantage of this. So in addition to being careful, there was also probably a bit of luck involved regarding our safety for the week.

Next – the beginning of our G Adventures “Mayan Adventure” tour.

Mexico City – Part 1

My sister, Donna, and I booked a “Mayan Adventure” tour with G Adventures – a tour of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. But first, before the tour started, we decided to spend a week in  Mexico City.

Flying in from different airports, we successfully managed to land in Mexico City within a reasonable time of each other so that neither of us would be waiting too long for the other. After finding each other in the huge airport, we made our way to our hotel in the Centro Histórico area in Mexico City. Not only were we brave taking public transit in the wee hours of our first morning to get to our hotel, we also dared to take Mexico City’s very crowded metro several times during our week there. After leaving our luggage safely at the hotel on this first day, we walked around and discovered some of the Centro Histórico area, including a market, El Zócalo (the huge main square), and the Catedral Metropolitana with its beautiful altar and all its gold. I couldn’t get decent photos of inside the Catedral Metropolitana, so these two of the cathedral’s inside are downloaded.

Day 2 – After a good night’s sleep we took the hop-on hop-off Turibus to see some of the tourist sites and neighbourhoods. One of the neighbourhoods we hopped out at was Tlalpan. We walked through it’s market and a few of it’s streets, some cobblestone.

We also hopped off in the neighbourhood of Coyoacán as we planned to see Frida Kahlo’s La Casa Azul (The Blue House). However, the line up to get in was very long so we ditched that plan. But we enjoyed the neighbourhood anyway.

Day 3 – We took the Metro to the very large Bosque de Chapultepec in the city. My dictionary tells me that “bosque” means “forest” but I couldn’t say we really saw a forest – but we did see trees. It was more of a park with lots of different attractions – some trees, a lake, many vendors, museums, a castle, even a Canadian totem pole (of course), etc. It was Sunday, so the park was quite busy. We began with the Museum of Modern Art – good thing it was free because it really wasn’t worth the visit. But we enjoyed the Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum of History. There were so many beautiful things in and around the Castle. After the Castle, we walked around the park and found the totem pole (a gift from Canada). We marveled at the huge amount of vendors in the park and at all the people out in the little boats on the lake. It was so busy on the lake, we were surprised we didn’t see any boats colliding.

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After the park, we walked around nearby Condesa, an art deco filled neighbourhood with nice parks. Its beautiful Amsterdam Avenue had a large green walkway down the middle dividing the street. We did a little walking tour and saw evidence of some buildings damaged from the magnitude 7.1 earthquake in September 2017. After our exploration of the barrio, we had a nice quite dinner, then took the Metro back to our hotel.

Day 4 – We took a tour bus to see the Teotihuacán Pyramids, about 40-50 km northeast of Mexico City. Not only an ancient city, Teotihuacán was one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities of Mesoamerica, and the most important and largest city of pre-Aztec central Mexico.  At its peak, it was 20 square km with a population of about 125,000–200,000. Because of limited time on this tour stop, we chose to forego the climb up the Pyramid of the Moon and climbed up the bigger Pyramid of the Sun. There were lots of very steep steps but the climb was not too difficult. There was plenty of resting opportunities due to the slow line of people moving up the stairs. Once at the top, we could see how large the ancient city was. We had a good view of the 4 km long Avenue of the Dead. After admiring the view and the surroundings from the top, we joined the queue to descend the stairs back down to the ground.

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On the way back to the city, the tour bus stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Like quite a few buildings around Mexico City, the foundations of the old Basilica is sinking because it was built on unstable land – the old lake bed. The Lady of Guadalupe and her famous cloak is very popular here as we noticed from all the paintings and figurines of her. We viewed the inside of the old Basilica and the new one right next door – impressive.

One thing I found unnerving for the first few days was the amount of police throughout, including the the many police officers in riot gear by the Zócalo. And it seemed like every intersection in the central area, even though they had traffic lights, had at least one man in uniform blowing his whistle and directing the traffic and pedestrians. However, by the end of our visit to Mexico City and the end of our entire trip, we got used to seeing them. There was never anything happening at the Zócalo that warranted us seeing the police in action. Actually, usually the square was blocked off so we couldn’t go onto the Zócalo. But during our last day in the city, the square wasn’t blocked off and there was some filming in the Zócalo – so the riot police were a little more alert then.

Another thing I found interesting was Mexico City’s method of garbage pickup. Traveling into the city the first morning, we saw huge piles of garbage on the side of the road. It did not look attractive. However, we didn’t notice the garbage during the rest of the day. Walking through the city on other mornings, we watched the various methods of clean-up in action. The garbage got picked up and taken away in bags loaded onto little trailers pulled by peddle bikes. Storekeepers and people swept and washed the sidewalks down during the night and early morning. The city looked clean by the time people traveled to work in the morning.

Upcoming – Part 2 of Mexico City

 

the Long Drive home

I stayed in Montreal for a couple of more weeks. While there, I visited the famous Notre-Dame Basilica. I can’t remember if I had ever been in it before but I wanted to see how it compared to some of the cathedrals we saw in Britain. By the way, I can’t take credit for these photos of the Basilica – they are from postcards I purchased in the Basilica. Anyway, I thought the Basilica was impressive.

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To travel home I drove across the northern United States again – New York, Philadelphia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. One unexpectedly interesting place I stopped was Nauvoo in Illinois.  In 1839, the Mormons, led by Joseph Smith, built the town of Nauvoo. It was from here his ancestors and followers headed out west to Salt Lake City in the 1840s. The Nauvoo historic site had restored buildings and replica homes that I took my time exploring.

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The old town site showed an interesting gardening method, particularly for squashes and things that grow on vines.

I loved the Nauvoo State Park I camped in. It was across the highway from the historic town. There was hardly anyone in the campgrounds and was within walking distance to the old town and the current town. I stayed here two nights so I could see everything properly, have a day off from driving, and the price was right.  I would certainly go out of my way to stay there again. It was such a lovely looking area and the scenery along the Mississippi River was pretty.

camping in Nauvoo State Park

 

The scenery continuing west was interesting.

 

My big stop on the way home was Yellowstone National Park. I approached Yellowstone through very scenic Teton National Park.

view of the Grand Tetons

Yellowstone was crowded and I found it impossible to find parking in a couple of places so had to skip some attractions. There were bison roaming around. One was even on the road blocking traffic on one road but I couldn’t get a good picture of it so you’ll just have to believe me. But Yellowstone was nothing like I’d seen before. There were geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents all over the place – it was quite steamy in places and you could feel the heat and steam coming off them. It was all quite beautiful and I was in awe. Unable to camp in the park because all the campgrounds were full, I tried to see as much as I could the day I was passing through. I had to go into Montana to find a campground for the night.

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After Yellowstone, it was onward home through Montana, Idaho, Washington and finally into British Columbia.

 

The Islands – Cape Breton and Prince Edward

Next, our little convoy traveled over the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton Island. On Cape Breton, we camped near Baddeck for a few days as it is centrally located. From here, we could explore the Island, drive the beautiful Cabot Trail, and visit the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Out of the 4 nights we camped there, 2 odd things happened on 2 separate evenings at this campsite. The first evening we were out driving around the scenic Bras d’or Lake and we came back after dark. Ron discovered a fire had been lit in his fire pit and had burned out. He certainly did not light it. The 2nd incident occurred on another evening when we came back again after dark. I discovered water in an item I left to dry in front of my door and I certainly did not fill it with water. I suspect the new owner of the campsite. He was very friendly and always on the go and traveling all over the campground. I guess he did these things for a little chuckle.

Our first full day on the Island, we drove the Cabot Trail. We had heard of various amount of times it would take to drive around it – from a couple of hours to approximately 6 hours. It took us about 9 hours but we stopped a lot. One of our first stops was The Gaelic College at St. Anne’s. I wanted to pick up some Gaelic books to help Craeg learn more Gaelic. We also stopped to eat some great seafood while admiring the view. There were also more stops for the various views and a couple of stores to pick up supplies. One definitely has to allow for lots of time to do that drive!

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The next attraction of priority was the Fortress of Louisbourg. It is the largest reconstructed 18th century French fortified town in North America with over 50 buildings.

We stopped at the city of Sydney for another self-guided tour and yet another seafood dinner. Really folks, there wasn’t much to see in Sydney. The stores in the cruise ship pavilion only open when a cruise ship is in town and I haven’t yet figured out why a cruise ship would stop there. I guess the city might have a few interesting attractions though.

To leave the Cape Breton Island, we drove down the west coast and stopped at Inverness. We walked down to the boardwalk and along it. It was so nice and relaxing we didn’t want to leave.

But …..  we had a ferry to catch to Prince Edward Island. Once on PEI, we camped for 3 nights. My first night I had a very disturbed sleep. One of our camping neighbours left out their garbage in a plastic bag. During the night, some wild animals dragged the bag of garbage to right beside my trailer – almost touching it – and then fought over the contents for several hours. So I kept waking up during the night while the animals made their aggressive noises a few feet away from me. I was afraid to move or look out to see what animals were making the noise because I didn’t know if my noise or movements would make them aggressive to me. I didn’t have the same protection the other campers had with a hard shell camper.  I do know that one of the animals was a skunk as it did leave a scent for a few hours. Luckily, the skunk didn’t spray too much and the smell was gone by the morning.

Upon rising in the morning and when the animals had disappeared, the garbage was all over the place. The guilty campers who fed these animals claimed they forgot about the garbage when the went to bed. Well, I don’t know how they could forget their garbage as the big bag of garbage was right beside their door that they had to use to get into their trailer. Some people! I guess I was fortunate that we were not camping in other areas where there are bears and other big animals scrounging through the garbage. Well, that’s my rant.

PEI was such a lovely island though.

We first took a tour bus of Charlottetown. The tour bus was not picture-taking friendly. It was difficult to take photos from – the bus was enclosed with small windows we couldn’t open and quite bumpy. But it was informative. After the tour, and once we had an idea of the city, we did a historic walking tour.

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While on PEI, we visited various Anne of Green Gables and L.M. Montgomery sites on the north shore. Of course, you can’t go to PEI for the first time without visiting them.

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French River, PEI

 

While driving around we saw some beautiful countryside and visited some nice places such as Summerside (where we stopped for more great seafood) and a quaint seaside town, Victoria.

 

I have to return sometime to check out the famous beaches, cycle the 274 km Confederation Trail and many more things.

Confederation Bridge

We drove back to the mainland on the 12.9 km Confederation Bridge. They charge to get off Prince Edward Island but not on – there was no charge for the ferry ride to the Island but there was a toll on the bridge upon leaving. Driving over this long bridge was great – even though my car is quite low to the ground compared to a lot of other vehicles, I still could see over the sides and the wonderful views.

 

On the mainland, we drove along the Acadian coast of New Brunswick and once back into Quebec, up the Matapedia Valley. So pretty.

Once we reached the St. Lawrence River, we visited some pretty gardens – Jardin de Metis. The weather was not great for this visit but we went anyway – a bit cold and rainy.

The very strong winds the next morning presented a slight challenge for me while folding up my tent trailer; but I managed. Along the St. Lawrence River, we saw some interesting art work and stopped at the smart and modern looking Pointe-au-Père lighthouse near Rimouski. The wind was still very strong along here. This stretch of the river is well known for the tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in May 1914. There was a museum and a few other things to see here but we couldn’t dawdle, we had to move on.

 

We continued along to Lévis, the city across the river from Quebec City, for our last 2 nights before returning to Montreal. This was also my first time in Lévis. We walked around this small but quaint downtown. It is built on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City. Of course, we had to walk up all those stairs to get to the old town.

We also visited Fort Lévis.

 

After a second night here, our convey broke up.  Sue & Ron drove directly back to Montreal and I took the ferry ($8.40 for me, my car and Tiny Tilly) across the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City where I went to Montmorency Falls. I got to the falls early enough to avoid a lot of the crowds. I climbed the stairs to the top – I warmed up the day before in Lévis. I don’t know how many stairs there are – a lot – but the falls are 84 metres (276 ft) high. Then I walked across the bridge over the falls and back, and then back down the stairs. They are the highest falls in the province of Quebec.

Then I drove across the bridge to Île d’Orléans. This island is known for it agriculture and beautiful scenery and the entire island is a designated historical district. I drove around it and stopped in the very few places it was possible for me to stop (including the chocolate store). It was very difficult to get off the road that went around the island while pulling Tiny Tilly. There were very few parking areas that could accommodate a car with trailer. It was a beautiful drive though. I’ll have to think about coming back without pulling a trailer and explore the island some more.

 

After striking off Montmorency Falls and Île d’Orléans off my bucket list, I drove back to Montreal.

 

 

 

 

Scenic Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia was very pretty with so much history. Upon entering the province, we drove along the western coast, along the Bay of Fundy.

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We came across a very odd custom of the campers around here. In one campground, there were many regular seasonal campers celebrating “Christmas in July”. They had their Christmas lights and decorations out, were partying, and exchanging gifts as if it were Christmas. I have to admit, the campsite was very pretty with all the Xmas lights.

One night we found a campsite with a very scenic view at Delaps Cove, a very small fishing hamlet overlooking the Bay of Fundy. And wow, what a sunset!

Along this coast, we quickly visited the lovely and quaint university town of Wolfville, and the small town of Truro. We stopped at the Grand-Pré UNESCO World Heritage Site. Grand-Pré is the site of an Arcadian settlement from the 17th century in the “Land of Evangeline”. This is the scenic setting for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline – A Tale of Arcadie“. Since coming home, I found the famous poem but I haven’t read it yet. Apparently, it is about 2 lovers who are separated because the British expelled and deported the Acadians from this area, Acadie, in the Great Upheaval prior to 1764. A tragic history.

Fort Anne was built to protect the harbour of Annapolis Royal. The remote controlled lawn mower added some extra interest.

Port-Royal was one of the first European settlements in North America.

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Wow, did we experience a storm along this coast one night. It rained very hard and there were very strong winds. I was worried that Tiny Tilly and I would either float or blow away during the night. I didn’t get much sleep that night but I survived. I was very jealous of Sue & Ron sleeping in their more secure trailer. But in the morning once the storm passed, I was very proud of Tiny Tilly. She kept me dry and in the same spot I parked her!

On the way to Yarmouth, we passed a little treasure. It was the St. Marie Church in Church Point. Not only is it 117 years old, but it is also the largest wooden church in North America.

Yarmouth was an interesting little city. It had lots of charming old homes, many with widow walks. We did a self-guided walking tour around this historic city. It looked like such a charming place.

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Shelburne was the next little jewel. We planned on just passing through this little town, but when I saw it, I just had to explore it. It was so picturesque. So we did another self-guided walking tour. We learned that Shelburne has a big place in North American history. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of black families migrated here following the American Revolution.

Next stop – Lunenburg! What a cute little town. Lunenburg is known for its red buildings on the dock so we were sure to check them out. We took an afternoon to tour around Lunenburg by foot. Lunenburg was also built on a hill so our glutes got a good workout walking around the town.

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There was so much beautiful scenery along  this Atlantic coast. We camped near St. Margarets Bay and just had to stop for photos while driving by Mahone Bay.

We even checked out the very busy and much photographed Peggy’s Cove.  Peggy’s Cove was not what I expected. I have only seen those idealistic photos taken from the water of the docked fishing boats. So I was surprised to see it is a town built on rock. Certainly not enough earth on the rocks for them to have decent gardens. Picturesque though.

We arrived in the Halifax area a couple of days before the Tall Ships Festival. We couldn’t stay in the Halifax area as long as we originally planned as there were no campsites left during the Festival. Halifax was wonderful though. We walked around the city and the waterfront and saw Pier 21 – Canada’s immigration museum. I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time here and see more but I guess now I have an excuse to return.

We headed along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia heading to Cape Breton Island. It turned out to be a road not used much, fairly isolated and a very rough road. The scenery was not quite as scenic as the other drives but it was pleasant. We even had to take a small ferry across a river at Isaacs Harbour as there was no bridge to cross the small river. At least we provided some amusement that day to the two guys who worked the ferry. They didn’t look busy at all as we seemed to be the only vehicles in sight.

 

Canada 150 Trip – New Brunswick

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday and summer was a good time to see more of Canada. So I drove east pulling my very small tent trailer, Tiny Tilly, to Montreal. In Montreal and Quebec, I enjoyed the Montreal Jazz and Mont Tremblant Blues festivals and had some R & R after the long trip from Vancouver. From Montreal I continued east following my sister, Sue, and her husband, Ron. They drove in their truck and pulled their bigger trailer while I followed behind them in my little car pulling Tiny Tilly.

Ron & Sue's trailer

view following Sue & Ron

We had just over 3 weeks to pack in all the wonderful sites of 3 provinces. This was my first time in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and I loved it. It was worth the trip.

En route to St. John, New Brunswick, we stopped at the town of Hartland to see the world’s longest covered bridge at 1282 feet (391 metres) long over the St. John River. We walked across it and back and then drove across it before heading to the city of St. John and the Bay of Fundy.

The fog came in quickly and thick for our first night in St. John but the second night was much better. Less fog made it easier to see the view of the city from our campsite. In St. John, we followed some historic walking tours to see some of old St. John, the old architecture and various sites and to learn about the city’s history. Here, we experienced such friendly people. Awesome!

I just had to see the “Reversing Falls Rapids”. To quote the information pamphlet, “The Reversing Falls Rapids are created by the daily collision of the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River.” To properly experience it meant 2 trips to the falls. The first was in the early afternoon when the tide was low so we could watch the water traveling inland. There are falls hidden beneath the surface of the water and the water was very active there. We watched the water roll and swirl towards the Bay of Fundy. Several hours later in the evening we returned to watch the water traveling in reverse inland up the St. John River over other hidden falls. The water rolled and swirled in different areas in the opposite direction.

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We camped in the Bay of Fundy National Park for two nights. We weren’t impressed with the campground. We were in Wolfe Point campground. I hope the others in the Park are better but this one I don’t recommend.

One of the famous sites along the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy are the Hopewell Rocks (or the “Flower Pots”) and the highest tides in the world. The tides here were wonderful to experience. We went to the Rocks in the afternoon at low tide and returned the next morning at high tide to see the difference.

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While driving along the Bay of Fundy, we stopped at the little fishing town of St. Martens on the Bay of Fundy (probably one of quite a few). We walked out to the rocks and the water. It was so picturesque and here we had the first of our many delicious seafood meals.

After our adventures on the Bay of Fundy, we drove to Moncton and experienced Magnetic Hill. Magnetic Hill is an optical illusion. Apparently the road, bound by the rolling terrain, fools us into believing that the road goes down when when it actually goes up. It was $6 per car. Unfortunately, my car did not roll “uphill” by itself like it should have. However, when we were doing our ride of the hill, a thunderstorm started and all the staff disappeared so I couldn’t talk to them about it. Sue & Ron had no problem rolling up the hill in their truck. What a disappointment!  So after this lack of adventure, we drove into our next province, Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

The Trip home

I not only left Montreal and Quebec but also Canada to head home to B.C. through the northern United States. I entered the US just east of the Great Lakes. On the way south from Canada, I drove through Courtland, N.Y. It impressed me as a beautiful old town that had kept many of its original buildings and old mansions. It is probably not the only town with character in the area so I think the area would be a good place to return to and explore some time in the future. The scenery was lovely as I drove through the Finger Lakes area – Cayuga Lake, Taughannock Falls, Trumansburg, Perry City and Watkins Glen. I was able to take secondary roads through New York and Pennsylvania then into Ohio until I got closer to Cleveland and Toledo. I managed to skirt around these cities successfully.

Indiana spiderwebs

Indiana spiderwebs

I camped in Indiana in a cottage country area. It was pretty with several lakes in the area.  Unfortunately, it was getting late in the day and I could not afford the time to look around for the most appropriate and reasonably priced campsite. I camped in a very commercialized campground that specialized in seasonal stays. Although not a big site, golf carts were allowed and the seasonal residents sure made use of them. I felt like applauding as someone walked to the showers. He was the only person I saw walking anywhere in the campground.

This part of Indiana is Amish country and I enjoyed hearing the horses and buggies clip clopping by on the country road during the night. I was on the edge of the campground and close by was a field with horses in it. In the morning I discovered that several spiders had used my car to spin their webs on – pretty. Unfortunately, they disappeared as soon as I started driving. Driving west from here, the countryside was also very pretty.

From Indiana into Illinois and then Iowa. I spent half a day in the Amana Colonies in Iowa. This area, or colonies, had 7 villages – Homestead, Amana, West Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and South Amana. Not confusing at all. The Amana Colonies were established in 1855 along this Iowa River valley by a group of German immigrants and their families. They sought religious freedom and to live a communal life. They had a successful communal community until 1932. Today, the towns and the community is a National Historic Landmark but the heritage sites have been a tourist destination since the early 20th Century. While there, I toured the Amana Heritage Museum, the Communal Kitchen and Cooper Shop and then, finally, the General Store. The volunteers who worked in these historical buildings were very happy to provide me with lots of interesting information. The buildings and villages were very well kept. There were lots of little tourist shops to explore in the main Amana – quaint but a bit commercialized. I liked Middle Amana best as it seemed not to have changed very much throughout the years. Only on leaving the Colonies, I discovered they have a camping site and cycling trails. I think if I ever return to the area, a longer stay would be a good idea.

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As I drove through Iowa, I took my time and enjoyed the Iowa countryside before I went into South Dakota.

While traveling through the south part of S. Dakota, I just had to stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. Interesting! This building is decorated and transformed each fall. Different colours of corn ears and prairie grasses are attached to the building to create mural themes. This year the theme was Rock of Ages. They have been decorating the buildings since 1892 (the present building since 1921) and they have photos of each year displayed inside the building. Surprising, but there was no charge to go inside the building. The building is used for large venues such as exhibits, dances, stage shows, and basketball tournaments.

While in Mitchell, I visited the Prehistoric Indian Village. It is an archeological site revealing clues about the lives of the people who lived there 1,100 years ago. The site also has an interesting museum to tour. Even though a small town, I didn’t see everything there was to see in Mitchell. I left some other attractions for a future visit.

While driving through S. Dakota, I stopped at the 1880 Town. This was not a town but a privately owned indoor/outdoor museum/town with more than 30 prairie/western type buildings dated from 1880 to 1920. It was well advertised along the highway approaching it so I thought I’d check it out.

Before entering the Badlands National Park, I stopped in at the Prairie Homestead. The homestead has a sod home from 1909 dug into the side of a hill. Absolutely no luxuries here. The museum also had displays of some machinery from the area. They had an interesting short film to see about the family that lived in this sod home. The homesteaders lived a very hard life in this area. There was also a colony of white prairie dogs in the yard running in and out of their numerous holes. Apparently, white prairie dogs are quite rare. The prairie dogs are white because they have lost some of their pigmentation.

The National Badlands Park was beautiful. I didn’t get to see any bison but I saw plenty of Bighorn Sheep. These non-native sheep were very content to eat along the roadway allowing tourists a close view and photo ops of them. The scenery was beautiful. The colours were wonderful. There were plenty of eroding spires, pinnacles, and ridges along with canyons and prairie land to see.

After driving through the Badlands, I just had to stop at Wall Drugs in Wall. In 1931, Wall Drugs started as a small drug store in the middle of nowhere (the town of Wall) until they started to advertise free ice water to parched travelers. As a result, it grew and became popular. Now, this attraction is a cowboy-themed shopping mall/department store spread out in several buildings and outdoors (at least a full block). I quickly went through the sections but didn’t see much that I wanted for souvenirs. But it was big! It had jewelry, western wear, fudge, books, & pottery to name only some of the things they sold.  And there were historical photographs and artifacts and other things to look at. Definitely worth a visit. The next time, I’ll definitely allow more time to go through and explore it.

Mount Rushmore, S. Dakota

Mount Rushmore, S. Dakota

I camped in Rapid City, S.D. for a couple of nights to explore the nearby Black Hills and see Mount Rushmore. The day I wanted to visit Mount Rushmore, the Rapid City visitor information centre told me not to go as visibility was so poor that I would not be able to see the carvings. I went anyway as I was in the area only for a short time. I and plenty of other people were lucky. The clouds sometimes were low and made the carvings difficult to see and sometimes the clouds cleared enough so I was able to see the 4 men clearly. It was awesome. Also, I spent some time in the visitor centre checking out the information displays and watching the short film on making of the monument.

After Mount Rushmore, I explored the town of Keystone, drove through the scenic roads through the Black Hills to Hill City and Deadwood. In Deadwood, I took a guided tour of the Adams House, the 1892 Victorian home of two of Deadwood’s founding families. It still had its original furnishings. There were such beautiful features inside. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so I can’t share any of that beauty with you.  It had oak interiors, a hand-painted canvas wall, and beautifully decorated sinks.

Nearby was Mount Moriah Cemetery so I thought I’d go check it out. The historic cemetery includes such notables as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The town charged a fee to enter the cemetery. As it was a bit late in the day for me to take my time and enjoy touring through the property, I opted out of entering. Anyway, the original markers on the graves have been replaced. Perhaps when I return and have more time I would take my time going through it. It was getting late so I drove around Deadwood a bit. Definitely a place to return to in the future.

South Dakota had so many interesting things to see but I didn’t get to see everything that interested me. I think another trip through this state and the area is in the future.

I had one last attraction I wanted to see on my way home – Devil’s Tower. The drive there was lovely. The earth is red – it reminded me of the Red Centre in Australia.

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Once I stopped and admired Devils’ Tower, I continued west then north into Montana. In Montana, I drove west in a valley along Flathead River. It was scenic and had some cute little towns. I entered northern Utah and drove around the north end of Lake Pend Orielle. All very scenic. Then into the last state – Washington. I drove through Spokane (which I’ve never been to before), along some secondary roads  and then north and back into B.C. at the Okanagan Valley.

During this road trip I got to go through eleven states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, S. Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington.  I also discovered plenty of places to return to. A good road trip.

Now to build up my travel fund again and decide where I’ll travel to next.

Searching for Dryer, Warmer weather

Into the next province – Saskatchewan. I camped in the Interprovincial Cypress Hills Park, which is in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. From what I could see through the rain pouring down, it looked like a very beautiful and big park. I was grateful for my little tent trailer to keep me dry and cuddle up in as it poured during the night. I wanted to drive around the park to see more of it. Unfortunately, in the morning the clouds were low and visibility was poor. I wouldn’t have been able to see much of the nice views. So I decided to come back in the future for another visit to explore it more.  I haven’t had much luck with this park. A few years ago when I wanted to see the park, it was closed due to fire threats. I’m sure one day I’ll get to see it properly.

Despite the rain, I did get to see some of the beautiful Cypress Hills as I headed south to the Red Coat Trail. The Red Coat Trail was used by 275 red-coated men of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP – the national police force prior to the RCMP) when the NWMP travelled west onto the prairies in 1874. The 275 men, beasts and carts made a 5 km long column crossing the prairies. It must have been something to see.

Statue of handsome NWMP near Redvers, Sask.

Statue of handsome NWMP near Redvers, Sask.

This secondary route didn’t have all those red coats and was not busy but it was scenic. There were beautiful rolling hills with many colours. Unfortunately, when I saw some really nice scenery and wanted to take photos, there was no convenient place to pull off the road.  And when there were places to stop, the scenery was pretty but not as colourful. I enjoyed the drive anyway.

Along this route, I still put up with the rain. It was challenging to find the least soggiest site to camp on. The advantage of this route was going through some small towns, towns that provided basic camping sites for a reasonable amount. Some of these campsites were nice and some not so nice. One of the small towns I camped in was Wawanesa. The insurance company was named after this cute little town.

From Saskatchewan,  I drove into Manitoba and then into Ontario. Around Winnipeg, my only option for driving became the busy Trans-Canada Highway (“the Number 1”). It is a busier highway and not as picturesque but it got me to the next province, Ontario.

Finally, I reached dryer and warmer weather when I  reached Ontario.  I made sure I stopped to admire the views over Lake Superior. At the eastern end of Lake Superior I reached the town of Wawa and its big Canada Goose statue. I just had to stop for that photo op.

From Wawa I headed east along an isolated road to Timmins where Shania Twain grew up. I could see why she left the town as it was not quaint or scenic or anything. I was quite happy to be just passing through.

I did see some nice towns though, such as Kirkland Lake in Ontario. On the Quebec side were Rouyn-Noranda and Val-d’Or. After these towns, I drove south through the huge Parc La Verendrye. It was isolated and had very few campsites near the main road. There were other campsites well off the main road in isolated places. Obviously, the park was not meant for family camping but for hunting and fishing expeditions. Along this approximately 220 km route, the park had very few rest stops along the road and little signage to indicate how far through the park I was.  Well, I had the experience of driving through it once. After driving through the park, I was glad to reach Mont Laurier and familiar territory.

 

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