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REASONS TO RISE EARLY WHILE TRAVELLING

    During my tour leading career I have been cursed at by group members for setting pre-dawn wake-up calls, I’ve encountered mini-protests within my group when informing them of departure time, and I’ve literally dragged people out of bed. Why? Am I a horribly sadistic person? Nope…in fact the opposite is true. It’s my desire to showcase a location in its purest form; untainted by hordes of people or extreme heat. So I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite reasons to get outta bed ridiculously early while travelling: 1. BEATING THE CRUISE SHIP CROWD. The cruise ship crowd doesn’t get up and going before dawn, so you should. Get your butt out of bed early. Anyone who has visited sites such as Pisa, Santorini, or the Venice knows that once the cruise ships arrive, all pleasure you experienced exploring is immediately drained and panic sets in. My favourite quote from a cruise ship goer was at Ephesus in Turkey stating with a southern drawl, “Where are we? I don’t even understand why we came here…everything is just old and in ruins.” Yup. 2. HOT AIR BALLOONING. Whether it is over Luxor, Cappadocia, Bagan’s Temples, or the Serengeti, hot air ballooning at dawn is a surreal experience.  In the darkness of the early, the glow of the fire filling the massive balloon is an impressive site in and of itself. For me, the serenity at dawn rising above the vast golden-hued plains with hundreds of grazing zebra and wildebeests below in the… Read More »REASONS TO RISE EARLY WHILE TRAVELLING

    DON’T TOUCH MY BOMBILLA

      Since my first adventure to South America many moons ago, I have been intrigued by this mysterious herbal beverage that is sipped through a metal straw. Frequently consumed and shared in parks, on buses, trains, and even on horseback by gauchos, Porteño hipsters, bus drivers, families, and groups of friends alike. What is this substance? The only thing that is shared like that in Vancouver isn’t a beverage. Yerba mate is more popular than coffee yet not found on any menu. It took a couple more visits to South America until I got a taste of yerba mate culture and was invited into a mate circle. I’ve been hooked on the green stuff ever since. What the heck is yerba mate (yer-bah mah-tay)? Perhaps one of the most incredibly nutritious, invigorating drinks ever. It packs the same amount of punch as coffee (without the jitters), has the health benefits of tea, and the nourishing euphoria of chocolate. The leaves of the rainforest mate tree (holly family) naturally contain plenty of caffeine, heaps of vitamins and minerals, amino acids plus a plethora of antioxidants. It is widely consumed in South America, particularly in the southern parts of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Originally harvested by the Guarani people in the sub-tropical forests around Iguazu Falls, people have been drinking this unique beverage for centuries. Yerba mate culture is so ingrained in some societies of South America, particularly in Patagonia, that I’m convinced babies come right out of the womb… Read More »DON’T TOUCH MY BOMBILLA

      BOGOTA STREET ART

        Colombia is throwing off its negative reputation with a cultural and artistic renaissance to match any of its South American neighbours. Nowhere is this more evident than in the street art which adorns Bogotá’s walls, and which reveals the untrammelled creativity of the capital’s graffiti artists. Check out some of my favourite pieces of street art…

        HEART FLUTTERS AT MACHU PICCHU

          As a professional gypsy, I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to some of the most amazing places on earth. I have been affected by all of the places that I’ve visited but am very aware that not all destinations are created equal and everyone’s personal experiences in those places are different. For me, there are those places on this planet that cause my heart to flutter and face to beam every time their names are mentioned. I light up when someone asks me about them and a sense of euphoria overwhelms me when I begin to talk about them.  Rapa Nui, Iguazu Falls, Torres del Paine, El Camino de Santiago, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Salar de Uyuni are a few of those places that make my heart skip a beat. The one place above all that has this euphoric effect on me is Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is one of the most mind-blowingly beautiful places that I have ever seen. Of course there are older and more important archaeological sites in the world, but few of them have a location as stunning as Machu Picchu. The Inca were not only ingenious architects but they knew it was all about location, location, location. They could appreciate a room with a view in the 14th century. Located high above the lush Urubamba Valley, the stone buildings hug the mountain and the terraces cascade down the steep-sided slopes into the dense vegetation. There is no question that this… Read More »HEART FLUTTERS AT MACHU PICCHU

          PIRAÑHA FISHING IN THE AMAZON

            Deep in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin, with sweat rolling down my back, I sat patiently in the dug-out canoe under the equatorial sun’s harsh rays. The surrounding jungle was tranquil in the mid-day heat and not the cacophony of sounds heard the night before. The occasional mosquito buzzing in my ear wasn’t enough to make me lose my concentration. Nope. Bathed in DEET, I was jungle-ready and determined to catch a piranha!  Piranha fishing? Whoa…back-up. Initially my boyfriend (Mike) and I were totally shocked by the guide’s suggestion, not because of the activity per se, but because there could not possibly be piranhas in the same river that we had swam in twice the day before, right?! Don’t get me wrong we were a bit crazy and had knowingly (some may say insanely) swam in the same river that we had spotted black caiman and massive anacondas in earlier…but piranhas?! They are all kinds of terrifying! Why didn’t the local guides tell us about the piranhas before we had gone swimming? Clearly because we NEVER would have gone had we known. Ever.  Armed with nothing more than fishing lines, rusty hooks and rotten pieces of chicken, my boyfriend and I were poised to catch ourselves some fierce little piranhas from our dug-out canoe. Our Huaorani guide, Eduardo, demonstrated his fishing technique with such ease and within seconds, he had a piranha on his line. The fish was voraciously gnawing away at the meat…not even on the hook…when Eduardo plunked it in… Read More »PIRAÑHA FISHING IN THE AMAZON

            THE ENCHANTED GALAPAGOS

              Ever since I was a kid flipping through my Animal Kingdom books, I’ve wanted visit the enchanted Galapagos Islands.

              PERU PHOTO BLOG

                The jewel of South America, Peru will send your camera into overdrive with its jaw-dropping terrain, colourful markets, white-washed cities, forgotten temples entangled in jungle vines, and massive archaeological complexes. The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the world…click through the Finisterra Peru Photo Blog below to find out why!

                HOW TO BARTER WITH THE BEST OF THEM

                  You’ve landed in a foreign land, stepped off the plane and are immediately bombarded with sounds, sights, and smells that are exotic, exciting, and sometimes overwhelming. Armed with your trusty guide book in hand, you walk the gauntlet of cabbies vying for your attention and shouting prices at you – welcome to your first haggling experience. For many travellers, haggling or bartering can be an intimidating and often frustrating experience as most of us are from countries where the sticker price is the actual price without question. In many parts of the world, virtually all prices can be negotiated – trinkets, taxis, clothing, excursions, and even accommodation can all be bartered over. Haggling is culturally ingrained in many societies and is expected by foreigners and locals alike. A fine balance of finesse, patience and humour are essential to master the art of haggling. Here are some tips to help you fine-tune your haggling skills. First thing is first, you need to set a benchmark price for whatever it is that you are bartering for. Whether it is a taxi from the airport or a wooden trinket at the market, make sure you ask at least 3 vendors their price so that you have an idea. Of course make sure you know the exchange rate before you start any bartering so that you aren’t offending or overpaying (www.xe.com). Brush up on you local language skills. If you speak the local language (at least the basics), you are going to get a… Read More »HOW TO BARTER WITH THE BEST OF THEM

                  BRINGING AWARENESS TO BLINDNESS IN NEPAL

                    For two and a half weeks this October, Finisterra will venture to far-flung regions of Nepal with 17 donors and board members of Vancouver-based charity, Seva Canada. Tour leaders Aili Rauk and Rob Kruse, will work alongside local guides to showcase some of Nepal’s most spectacular sites en-route to very remote eye clinics. We are honoured to be hosting this trip and to give Seva donors the chance to witness the positive impact they have had on Nepali communities.  Blindness and visual impairment is a massive world-wide issue. With numbers growing daily, it is estimated that 39 million people are blind and a further 245 million have debilitating low vision. Half of the world’s blindness is caused by cataracts, a reversible condition that requires a 15-minute operation at a cost of about $50 throughout most developing countries. Since 1982, Seva has developed a sustainable approach to a world-wide problem and has worked closely with its Nepali partners to help them build clinics, train staff, and provide cost effective cataract surgeries. Its mountainous terrain and extreme diversity of ethnic groups have resulted in Nepal being one of the least developed nations in the world, where access to medical care are severely limited. Travelling across Nepal’s ruggedly beautiful terrain, the group will visit remote hospitals and eye-camps that Seva supports where participants will have the opportunity to interact with local doctors and patients. The group will learn firsthand about Nepali life from villagers and local guides crossing the country from chaotic Kathmandu… Read More »BRINGING AWARENESS TO BLINDNESS IN NEPAL