Everything You Need to Know About Tolantongo, Mexico

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Follow a winding road 1000 metres down into a steep valley surrounded by lush vegetation. See the turquoise blue river, steam pouring off her surface as she snakes through the valley floor. Soak yourself in a deliciously warm thermal pool, all to yourself, hanging over the edge of the cliffside while you stare off into the mountain valley. Let the warm waters pound on your back like a massage as they cascade down the mountain. And if you dare, climb into the very heart of the mountain through a black tunnel, torrid water pounding down from every crevice inside her, the hot blood of the mountain.  Steam billows so thick you feel it in your lungs. Watch your step along the smooth rocks as you walk along them from ankle deep to neck deep water. At the end of the tunnel, in the mountains heart, sit and breath her in, feel her heat wrap you in a blanket. It’s impossible to tear yourself away; it’s like being back in the womb, the sounds, the comfort, the warmth, the peace you feel. But you must. The rest of the mountain is calling you. Dare to run through the blast of icy cascades pounding from the mountain top, the very mouth of the mountain.  Pass through the frigid wall and reach the inside of the cavernous mouth, a warm reprieve, waste deep, with tiny smooth round tastebuds, pebbles on the floor, to massage your feet. Stare in awe at the stalactites, the strange smoothened figures on the walls and cavern ceiling, like grotesque teeth from thousands of years of dripping that warm, mineral rich water. And in the centre, a battering blast of hot water beckons you, dares you to try to withstand the power as the tongue of the mountain pounds on your back and pushes you down into the warm depths. Steamy breath gushes from her mouth out into the valley in clouds. Continue reading

Camping in El Chico National Park, Hidalgo

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It felt good to leave the monstrous Mexico City behind and escape the smog and chaos of the big city life. We weren’t headed far, just an hour and a half away to Pachuca, in the next state over, Hidalgo. This was a stop over for some nature adventures in the state we were excited to explore. Our stop over ended up being extended a few days however, as we fell in love with our oh so comfortable king size bed and quiet guest house. We hadn’t slept too well our last few nights in Mexico City in our noisy budget hotels, so finding a place with a good bed and no noise was a welcome respite. We decided to extend our stay mostly to just relax and catch up on some writing and sleep. Our host was so wonderful and welcoming and there were no other guests so it was extra quiet. She even got wine (and grape juice for me!) to share to help her celebrate the opening of the place, whilst burning copal. I highly recommend staying at this cute little place, ‘Downtown Pachuca’; Gina is the host and her place can be found on booking- definitely get the King size room! Continue reading

Hiking in the Sierra Juarez Mountains, Oaxaca

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With our upcoming plans of trekking the Himalaya’s in Nepal, we needed to get a trek or two under our belts. There were plenty of hikes online with pricey tour companies, but we didn’t want to have to pay someone hundreds of dollars to walk with us, we were quite capable of that, thanks! After digging around some more we found there was a company in town that helped coordinate treks through the Sierra Juarez mountains and the Pueblos Mancomunados (united villages) for a fair price. The best part was the money went directly to the guides who lived in each of the villages so your money was actually making it to the villages. What made these villages united was that they pooled resources to help each other out, and 6 of the 8 communities came together and created the ecotourism programs that helps sustain the villages today. 

And so, on the first day of the new year, I awoke at 6am after not really sleeping at all (thanks anxiety!), caught a cab to the second class bus station and hopped in a collectivo van headed for the village of Cuajimaloyas, resting at a mighty 3100 meters above sea level. Continue reading

On Horseback To Iglesia de San Juan, Chamula

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While in San Cristóbal de las Casas we decided to go horse back riding through the country side to a small village. Technically this would be my first time on a horse (the ride I took in Peru hiking through the Salkantay Pass to Machu Picchu was a mule) and I was so excited! This would also be Travis’s first ever horse ride. We were picked up, myself, Travis, Matt and Monica, another hostel dweller, by Juan in his old pick up truck. His son hopped into the truck bed, which was full of huge sacks of maiz, and laid down to have a snooze, so that we could all squeeze into the back seat. We cruised to the edge of town where his pasture was located and then all got ourselves acquainted as best we could with the four horses. They didn’t speak much English (our guides, not the horses :P) so we just sort of went with the flow – which was a little unsettling since, you know, we were about to get on these huge beasts and had absolutely no idea what we were doing – Monica was the only one of us who had any experience with horses. I picked the smallest horse- thinking this would be a good idea, however that didn’t quite work out in my favour. I had the only horse who was clearly either overweight or pregnant, her side stuck out implausibly far, and she was the only horse without a sort of bit (which I am thankful for in the sense that it meant my horse was far more comfortable) but it also meant I had no control whatsoever. Continue reading

An African Diary IX: Africat

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Day 20: Tuesday December 8th, 2015

Today we are leaving Ngepi. But oh how I love this place! The hippie vibes, the beautiful scenery, but most of all the work this lodge is doing to be sustainable and help out the local surrounding villages. Ngepi runs completely on solar power, all of their water is pumped from the river, they employ almost all of their staff from the once nomadic surrounding villages, they only serve wild game (no large domesticated animals), and they offer an incentive program to locals to plant trees and maintain them so as to ease the camps ecological footprint. The place is filled with adorable wooden signs reminding you to do your part. And the bathrooms! They were hands down the best I’ve come across in my travels. The walls were made of lanky sticks fashioned together into a six foot high fence, the showers were all fenced in with the same stick work (with no roof of course so you could look up to the heavens as you showered with the river water). Trees and vegetation covered the walls all over the shower section, creeping in from the surrounding vegetation. The shower platform itself was just a cute little dipped cement oval with a hippo carving at one end, and the shower head just floated above your head with the plumbing all hidden from view in a tangle of vegetation. It was like taking a rain shower in nature heaven! In the toilets you only had three stick fence walls – two on your side and one behind you – the front wall being left out so you sat and looked out into the thick tangle of forest while doing your business – as nature intended! Continue reading

An African Diary, Part III: Sossuvlei

DSC_0784Day 7: Wednesday, November 25th 2015

I had the most terrible time falling asleep last night. I just couldn’t quiet my mind. I was excited about my sudden change of plans to stay another ten days in Namibia and I was crazy excited for our sunrise adventure in just a few hours. Finally, around 1am I drifted off only to awaken an hour later needing to pee. The moon was so full and bright, I didn’t even need my head lamp as I trudged half asleep across the dirt road to the bathroom. I fell back asleep quickly, but 445am came all too soon. Up we rose and within 20 minutes we had the tent all packed up, were dressed, made bathroom stops and boom – we were on the road! I was impressed with our efficiency – we were getting damn good at packing up camp in a hurry! We were third in line to get to the gate and only had to wait for five minutes before they opened it and let us through.  You could feel the excitement rippling through the line of vehicles waiting, it was like the line to get in to Disney World or something; I didn’t know people could collectively muster that much excitement at 5am! Rug and I blasted Macklemore’s Downtown to get us even more pumped up.

I would have loved to have gone a half hour earlier to get the full effect of sunrise, to be able to enjoy the vast array of colours as the sky shed her sapphire night gown and donned her flushed violet, copper and  periwinkle ensemble. But alas, they don’t open the gates quite early enough so as to limit driving in the dark to protect the wildlife. The drive only took a half hour this time as we were following the other cars who were most definitely not obeying the speed limit! And so by the time we reached dune 45, most of the pre dawn stunning sunrise colours had already played out. But we could still at least catch the sun itself as it crested the dunes if we scrambled up this dune fast enough.  Continue reading

Petra, Jordan

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Feeling completely bagged, I touched down in Amman, Jordan, my first Middle Eastern country, with tired eyes and an excited and open mind. We decided last minute at the Dubai airport to skip spending a night in Amman and instead head straight to our Bedouin camp near Petra and stay there two nights instead. With a tight schedule, we only had about five days in Jordan, so we had to really pick and choose  where to spend our time to maximize it.  The last minute decision cost us a staggering 70 Dinar (that’s about $140 CAD) to get transport to our Petra camp from the airport. It was a 2.5 hours drive in a private taxi, our only option from the airport – surprisingly we weren’t even being scammed, these were set prices by the reputable taxi company at the airport, all prices were posted.  Needless to say, it hurt my backpackers soul to pay that much. Continue reading

Cappadocia

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With some flight delays and missing baggage, our little jaunt across the country wasn’t entirely smooth, but we didn’t let that dampen our moods. Our first day ended up being a freebie because no one had their bags, and thus the warmer clothing needed for our tours, so we instead got the full tour of the Michelle Dream Cave Hotel. When Butch and Brenda first came to Turkey in 2002, they had no idea they would fall in love so quickly with this incredible country and end up buying a condo and spending their winters there.  They also happened to make an amazing business contact and now life long friend, Ahmed. Before they knew it, they began making plans of purchasing land and building a cave hotel. If Cappadocia is known for anything, it’s the caves! The hillsides are peppered with caves. From hundreds to thousands of years ago, these caves were carved into the mountain sides as houses, refuges, stables and pigeon houses.  Today they are used as storage for lemons (the temperature remains the same in the caves year round even with the changing seasons), but mostly – they are turned into cave hotels. Continue reading

The Cats Of Ephesus

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It was a brief flight from Istanbul down to Izmir. My illness was holding off thanks to the Pepto, but I was terribly weak and desperately tired. We all piled into the huge family van and our driver safely got us to Ephesus, where we checked into our lovely little bed and breakfast. It was a free afternoon, with suggestions of what to see and do – but I kept thinking all I wanted was a nap. Instead, I powered through the feeling and joined a few others to head down to the beautiful little market and explore the quaint city streets filled with shops and restaurants. But in the end we had an early night because in the morning we had our Ephesus ruins tour lined up. Continue reading

Istanbul, Turkey

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Feeling rejuvenated and ready for adventure, I hopped on a plane and touched down hours later in Istanbul, Turkey (after another lovely airport overnight in Athens). Before I left Yellowknife, my good friend Mike (more commonly known as Rug) and I had made plans to go on an epic six week adventure together. It started with him joining me in Africa. I had settled on the country Namibia and I still to this day cannot recall how it was I chose Namibia out of all of the countries in Africa, but I believe it was one of those ones that the universe seemed to be sending me subliminal messages about, over and over. Experience has taught me it’s best to listen to the universe, and so, without knowing anything about Namibia, I decided this would be my African destination. I was interested in Turkey as well and he told me his mom and step dad owned a really cool cave hotel there, and that maybe we could check out Turkey together as well!  Jordan had of course been on my wish list from the start and after some planning we figured we could spend a week in Turkey, a week in Jordan and then use the rest of our time down in Africa. Continue reading