Every now and then, I find myself looking up and in awe of the grandeur of nature or some colossal man made structure. And usually when I travel and especially when I have my camera handy, I like taking photos from below and looking up. These are my “wow factor” moments.
For updates on my BBH Journey & other food related adventures follow me on Yelp – Little Red Jenn
It’s one of those things that you dream about and wish for but think it’s too complicated or maybe too intimidating to believe it might actually happen. The Inca Trail Hike was one of those things. I felt a similar anxiety and excitement last year before my Europe trip because I would be traveling to a new part of the world – a new continent for that matter! But for some strange reason, this time for Peru, it felt different. Only a handful of people in my social circle had traveled to Peru and among those, only 1 had hiked the Inca Trail. So unlike Europe, I didn’t have a lot friends to turn to ask for advice and additionally, I didn’t have a Spanish speaking travel companion! That’s the one main advice that a lot of people had been telling me prior to the trip – travelling to South America is easier (and less stressful) if you’re travelling with a Spanish speaking friend – or start learning Spanish! And since I had no Spanish speaking travelling companion, I had to settle for the latter: start learning Spanish.
I started (more seriously) planning for Peru in May 2013. My trip was planned for the last week of October 2013. The Inca Trail hike was booked and reserved and we were seriously looking into flight tickets and travel route and accommodations. I had 6 months to prepare mentally & physically. After getting confirmation that our hike had been reserved, I was pumped. I started hiking every weekend and got myself running more after work during the weekdays. Unfortunately this regime did not last very long! For some odd reason during the last month prior to the trip, I did nothing physically in preparation for the trip (aside from the 5k Color Me Rad run but that wasn’t entirely serious!). And to make matters worse, did I learn any Spanish during those 6 months? Nope! Nada! And boy did I wish I had taken it more seriously. Half an hour after landing in the Lima airport, I had wish I had learned at least SOME basic Spanish. I survived Spain (Barcelona & Granada) so I thought I could survive Peru. But I was wrong. It was completely different. I needed to know more than just the numbers 1-10 and “Gracias!” and “Bueno!” and “Dónde está el baño?” And it wasn’t just the language barrier. Their lifestyle and mannerisms were just completely new to me. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (just added to my anxiety!) but I think this might be what they call a culture shock.
The following consists of my recollection of what went down during the unforgetable 4 Day Inca Trail Hike!
Day 1 – The Warm Up. Approximately 5-6 hours of hiking covering 12km reaching a maximum altitude of 3000m above sea level. They rated this as “easy” compared to the other days and it’s true, it was definitely easier in comparison. Not too many steep uphill or downhill climbs. Lots of flat plateau and meadow like areas with amazing scenery right from the start.
Day 2 – The Hardest Day. They weren’t kidding. About 6-7 hours of hiking covering nearly 11km (9km of that is nothing but a constant uphill climb to the highest point at 4200m). I personally struggled with this. I can blame it on the altitude (which was legitimate as my lungs were crying ) or my lack of pre-hike preparation. Going uphill – stairs, not my forte.
Day 3 – The Longest Day (my favourite day!). Approximately 8 hours of hiking covering 16km, with the highest altitude at 3900m. This day consisted of some uphill climb but mainly steep downhill stairs. I’m not kidding about the steepness. I still, till this day, cannot comprehend how the porters can practically run up and down those stairs with up to 40lbs of weight on their back!! It was my favourite day because there were so many beautiful Incan Ruins along the way and the scenery was breathtaking. It wasn’t Machu Picchu but I thoroughly enjoyed Day 3. Besides, my knees can handle downhill more than my lungs can handle uphill! I was a happy lady.
Day 4 – Machu Picchu day. If I hadn’t chosen to climb up Huayna Picchu on this day, I would have probably classified Day 4 as the easiest day. It was only a short 2hr (4km) hike to the Sun Gate and to Machu Picchu. The only downside? All the bajillion gazillion tourists that had arrived by train/bus. It was a strange feeling seeing so many people after hiking in the mountains for 4 days and having only been with the select group of people that had been hiking along with you. Other than that, we were incredible blessed with a gorgeous sunny day at Machu Picchu. Actually, we had 4 days of incredible hiking weather. The only time it rained was at night and a few minutes of misty drizzle at the peak of Day 2 and 3. But other than that, we were expecting torrential rain – we packed for it too! But luckily, we didn’t even need it. Machu Picchu was an incredible sight. When we arrived at the Sun Gate, seeing the first glimpse of The Lost City was like a breath of fresh air! And hiking right into Machu Picchu and seeing it up close was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I highly recommend planning a trip to Machu Picchu and if you’re relatively fit and healthy you MUST do the 4 day Inca Trail hike. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s not impossible. It’s one of those things where you have to experience it first hand. These pictures don’t do any justice!
Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu - We opted to pay extra to be able to climb up to Huayna Picchu. Highly Recommended! You get to see Machu Picchu from a different (higher!) perspective. The climb up to the very top was probably the hardest hike/climb I’ve ever done. It’s not long. But a lot of areas where you had to rely on chains and ropes and areas where you’re basically hugging the boulders and rocks to stay alive. They say it takes about an hour to get to the top, we got to the top in about 45 minutes (mind you I was out of breath and sweating like a pig). It wasn’t easy AT ALL. But the view was unlike any other view from any hiking trail I had ever been on.
>> For More Peru Photos <<
>> Peru Travel Tips & Highlights <<
Cusco > Puno > Lima. This trip was by far the most stressful, toughest, and yet most rewarding trip I’ve ever been on. Here are some tips & highlights:
- You usually need to fly into Lima before flying into Cusco. I’d recommend one of two options. If you’re pre-booking your flights I’d suggest choosing a REALLY LONG layover to give you more than enough time to make your connecting flight because the Lima airport can get pretty hectic and LAN (airline) is known to have delays/cancelled flights. The other option is to book a flight to Cusco right when you get into Lima.
- Altitude sickness sucks. When people tell you to take it easy when you get into Cusco, LISTEN TO THEM. Taking it easy literally means doing nothing. A simple stroll to the main square or to a nearby cafe for food is probably the most I’d recommend you doing on your first day. We were originally supposed to have 3 days pre-hike, but because of flight delays & issues we only ended up spending 2 days in Cusco before the hike. And we were struck with altitude sickness for the majority of those 2 days, so it didn’t leave us THAT much time to really enjoy Cusco.
- Thinking about hiking the Inca Trail? Which tour company should you choose? There are many to choose from (Llama Path & Peru Treks are two good ones) but we opted for the 4 day Classic Inca Trail hike with Sun Gate Tours. We lucked out with one of the best Inca Trail guides ever. His name is Cesar. If you’ve done the hike and got him as a guide, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
- Depending on your tour company, they recommend for you to bring extra sols with you on the hike for emergency purposes. You’re probably thinking, “Okay what if nothing happens to me? I’m going to end up with lots of extra money!” The extra emergency money can also be used to pay tips for the guide, porters/cooks. Depending on your tour company and how many people are on your group you may need to pay more or less. But I highly recommend bringing lots of SMALL bills with you to make this process easier. (Plus this is also useful if you want to purchase water or Gatorade or snacks along the way on the hike)
- A poncho IS useful. If it rains, it keeps your pack dry as you hike. And you can chuck it out after the hike.
- You’ll be sweating A LOT. Wet wipes saved my life.
- Bring the bug spray. Although they only came out in the evening.
- Bring sunscreen. And make sure you put sunscreen on the back of your ears because that area can get sunburned as well!
- Thinking about going up Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu? Do it! It’s worth it! A few important suggestions:
- Don’t bring your backpack! There is an area near the buses & washrooms at Machu Picchu where you can pay to safely store your backpacks. The only thing you need with you is your passport, camera & water. If you have a small lightweight, non bulky backpack that you can share with someone, sure. But definitely pack light! VERY LIGHT.
- Leave plenty of time for everything. Get the later admission time slot for Huayna Picchu so you can have an adequate amount of time to explore Machu Picchu. And make sure your train departure time at Aguas Calientes is also later in the afternoon so you can have a bit more time to soak in the views on top of Huayna Picchu & also time to poke around Aguas Calientes itself before heading back to Cusco.
- Good places to eat in Cusco: Jack’s Cafe, amazing breakfast/brunch/lunch spot. Limo Restaurant, tried the Cuy – Guinea Pig (tastes like really lean fusion of chicken & duck) and Ceviche here. Pretty good! Inka Grill, tried Alpaca! Tastes like pork.
- Always bargain when you want to buy something. And be careful when choosing your alpaca sweater. Go to an expensive (touristy) store to familiarize yourself with what a real alpaca sweater feels like. And also to get an idea of how much they can cost. I found this video helpful.
- Getting bus tickets from Cusco to Puno can be pretty hectic as well. Even if your hostel sells you pre-booked bus tickets, it is really only a voucher. You still need to fight your way through a non existent line up at the bus company counter inside the Cusco bus station to obtain an actual bus ticket, then line up at another line to pay some kind of government tax, then get your bus ticket validated, then frantically find the correct bus to hop on to!
- Honestly, there really isn’t much to see or do in Puno. If you want to check out Lake Titicaca and the floating islands, I’d recommend taking an overnight bus into Puno, do the half day/full day/over night boat tours, then get out of Puno and head towards your next destination. We opted for a half day tour of Lake Titicaca & Uros Island and were very happy with that option.
- Good places to eat in Puno? Unfortunately, I didn’t find any good place to eat in Puno. There were many pizzerias in Puno, but ask to make sure they will actually be serving pizza!
- Good places to eat in Lima: La Lucha, amazing sandwiches/burgers/fresh fruit juices. We loved it so much, we ate here twice. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try any seafood in Lima but I’ve only heard good things about the seafood (esp. ceviche) in Lima!
- Inca Cola tastes like cream soda. It just looks like pee.
Would I go back to Puno again and see Lake Titicaca and the floating islands again? Probably not. It felt like it really was just a once in a lifetime experience. Not twice. Would I go back to Lima again? Yes, to try the seafood. But only if I had more time, and if I were going with someone who spoke Spanish or someone more familiar with the city. Would I go back to Cusco again? Possibly. I didn’t get a chance to check out the nearby town of Pisac. I hear their Sunday markets are amazing. Would I hike the Inca Trail again? I don’t know. Maybe with a better camera (I didn’t bring my DSLR). It was definitely an incredible experience. I would go to Machu Picchu again via the train, but to hike it again? It would probably take A LOT of convincing!
>> More Peru Photos <<
>> More on the Inca Trail Hike <<
There’s always been this city rivalry between Vancouver & Toronto — West Coast vs. East Coast. And even though I’ve lived in Vancouver for most of my life and have only been to Toronto for just a week, I must say that Toronto is pretty amazing. Of course, I was there during the beautiful summer weather and not in the dead of winter, so I’d love to experience an East Coast winter one of these days! So what did I love about Toronto? The people. The little (but really not that little) neighbourhoods and areas in around the downtown core. The night life (even on a random Tuesday night). The fact that there’s always something to do – there’s always some kind of festival, or community event. The food. I’m not a vegetarian, but I was pleasantly surprised at the number of REALLY GOOD vegetarian/vegan options at a lot of restaurants. A lot of Pho places had REALLY good vegetarian options – I was amazed! Toronto makes it easy to be a vegetarian/vegan. The beautiful graffiti street art. They were all over the place and they were gorgeous.
So here’s my suggestion (Travel Tips) of must see and must do and must eat things for Toronto:
- Kensington Market. Toronto has lots of areas (Little Italy, Little Portugal, Koreatown, etc.) but this was by far my favourite little area. If I had to compare it to an area of Vancouver – it’s sort of like Commercial (The Drive) and Strathcona combined but not really. Ha! It’s not an actual building, but a collection of small local markets and shops and coffee shops spanning a few blocks – it’s definitely very hipster. Every last Sunday of the month they have something called Pedastrian Sundays where they close off the streets and have a full day of farmers markets, street performances, food & music. If you’re lucky and you happen to be in Toronto on the last Sunday of the month, you MUST go there. There’s talks of a Walmart being built there and I really hope that doesn’t happen.
- Khao San Road. The most delicious Thai food I have ever had. Vancouver lacks good Thai food so, I give this to Toronto. Plus they have a huge vegan menu!
- Roasted Marshmallow Ice Cream from Greg’s Ice Cream. I don’t know how they do it, but it tastes EXACTLY like roasted marshmallow over a campfire.
- Ossington Avenue & Queen Street West. Another area with a variety of local boutique shops, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops – spend a day wandering through this area, you won’t regret it.
- Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) are only $2. You’ll find a huge selection of them especially in Chinatown (on Spadina avenue).
- Other eateries & cafes worth mentioning – Fresh Restaurant. Chatime (known for their Roasted Milk Tea). Korean food in Toronto tastes so much better than Vancouver. I don’t know why. It just does.
- Trinity Bellwoods Park. If you’re looking for a nice patch of grass to have a picnic, to read, or simply just to relax after a day of walking, go to Trinity Bellwoods Park. It’s right off Queen Street West.
- Niagara Falls IS worth the trip. I’ve seen some amazing waterfalls before (like in Iceland) and Niagara Falls was more than what I had expected. It’s bigger and more beautiful when you see it up close. I did pay about $20 to go on the Maid of the Mist and even though it’s a HUGE tourist attraction, it’s rare that you get a chance to see such a massive powerful waterfall up close.
- If you are making a day trip down to the Niagara Falls, make sure to stop by the small town of Niagara on the Lake and drive through the wineries. The wineries itself wasn’t anything spectacular, the few that we did visit were short of being spectacular. Most of the staff at the various wineries seemed like they didn’t want to be there and weren’t interested. However, I’d recommend Reif Estates Winery. They were very knowledgeable and went above and beyond in terms of customer service. They even gave us some free tastings on the house! Plus, their wines especially their dessert wines were delicious! Two thumbs up.
- The Pie Plate Bakery and Cafe. This small little cafe is just outside of the Niagara on the Lake area. Don’t get their sandwiches because the bread seemed a little too crispy and hard for my liking, but their pizzas are AMAZING. Their peach pie was also delicious. Two thumbs up.
Will spending a week in Toronto make me want to move there? I can’t say that for certain. I did miss the beautiful Vancouver beaches and mountains – something that Toronto definitely lacks. But if there’s a job opportunity or some greater calling or whatever, I would definitely consider it.
>>> more photos of my Toronto trip <<<
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” – Benjamin Button
It’s been a while since I’ve written about my Bun Bo Hue (eating) journey so it’s time for an update. Here are the three latest ones I’ve had.
#14 – Le Petit Saigon on E. Hastings
I need to come back here again because it’s been a few weeks since I’ve eaten there and I don’t really remember what was in it. I do remember liking it and feeling like it was one of the best BBH I’ve had so… that means I will go back there again.
# 15 – Thai Son on E. Broadway in Vancouver. I’m SO happy that one of my favourite Vietnamese restaurant location has finally re-opened! The restaurant was partly burned down due to a fire at a grocery store/market next door so I have been craving this place since November 2012!! Yes, I know they have other locations but this was my go-to lunch spot during work. They re-opened on May 3. I will say though that their BBH isn’t the best in town, but their regular Pho and their lemongrass broken rice dishes and vermicelli dishes are amazingggg!
My re-usable Starbucks coffee cup was hot without a sleeve…so I made one!
>>> THE FINE PRINT <<<
Just like how I can’t stand following a recipe when cooking, I can’t stand following a pattern when I crochet. Or perhaps it’s more like I don’t know all the crochet terms to properly follow the instructions. So when I crochet, I just crochet. Freely.
I have an obsession.
I’m currently obsessed with trying to grow everything from seeds. Herbs, flowers, plants everything. Everything I eat that’s got a seed, I always end up Googling to see if I can germinate it. I’ve started a herb garden (which is still in its beginning stages, but my seedlings keep getting “leggy”. Any suggestions?). I’ve also been curious about Terrarium Planting. So out of curiosity and spontaneity, I took a packet of seeds and sprinkled them in a glass jar. A few weeks later, it grew and grew and grew and I realized I really shouldn’t have put the ENTIRE packet of seeds into that glass jar! They have now sort of died off because there were just way too many seedlings. But for a good week or so, it looked really neat! So here is the BEFORE & AFTER photograph of what it looked like from above. Enjoy.