Only two and half weeks until we fly back to Vancouver to start our next adventure: settling down. After five months of travel I worked out that we have slept in 34 different cities, and seen even more. It’s almost impossible to say which was (or were) my favourite since almost all had something great going for them. Since there are so few, it’s much easier to say which were my least favourites. It’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our time in these places, since for the most part we did. This is simply a list of places I don’t really want to revisit, in order of travel.

Arusha, Tanzania: The big draw to go to Arusha is to quickly leave Arusha on safari or treks to Kilimanjaro or Meru. While we had good experiences there with a local who is a friend of Jamu’s uncle, the security issues push it onto the least favourite list. Walking two blocks back to our lodging was basically out of the question after dark, we took a cab two blocks, this is so foreign to me.

Las Vegas, USA: It’s Vegas, what can I say, you either love it or hate it. Our time there was really enjoyable due to great company and seeing good friends get married but I don’t ever need to re-visit the Las Vegas Strip.

Chetumal, Mexico: A border town with Belize, the only reason to spend the night is if you can’t make your bus connection. We ended up at a shopping centre and opted to see a movie.

Orange Walk, Belize: Our purpose here was to visit Lamanai, a Mayan site which was quite amazing. The other experiences left a lot to be desired. Aside from being dirty and run down, there was a general feeling of aggression and insecurity in the streets. While eating dinner in a small restaurant the power went out. Within seconds the cook ran out from the kitchen and rescued the one other customer’s bike from out front before slamming shut the exterior metal door, locking us safely inside to avoid a robbery of convenience. Events like this leave a lasting impression.

Armenia, Colombia: The only place we staying in Colombia that felt markedly unfriendly. Granted, we arrived at night in a storm and spent one night here on the way to Salento. We already knew that right downtown is generally not where one wants to stay in a Colombian city.

That means of the 34 places we’ve stayed, I would happily and readily revisit 29 of them, a pretty great ratio really. If I had to choose where to go back to first… I couldn’t. Instead I’ll list the cities that most surprised me by their awesomeness.

Mexico City, Mexico: Man, that city doesn’t get enough accolade. Yeah it’s big and there are literally millions of people, but outside the center, you don’t really feel the crush of it. There are many distinct and interesting neighbourhoods and enough tourist infrastructure to keep you busy for weeks. We spent only 2 days here and I would love to have at least a week next time.

Bogotá, Colombia: Colombia in general is still struggling to lose it’s reputation as a country reeling from drug wars and shoot outs in the streets. Medellín has probably been the most successful at rebranding itself, but Bogotá is quite amazing in its own right. Transport is a but of a nuissance but the people are friendly, the mix of architecture is outstanding and there is a life and style to it that was for me, unexpected. Again, we spent too little time here and I look forward to really discovering what it has to offer, maybe with a slightly larger budget that this time around 🙂




I was curious to see how much we have traveled in the past few months so started doing the math, it’s a bit mind boggling.  Next maybe I’ll add up the hours spent in transit, but then again, maybe it’s best not to think about that, especially considering in the past 5 days we’ve spent 25+ hours sitting on multiple forms of vehicular transit (microbus, luxury bus, pickup trucks in the back and front, chiva, van, and mototaxi).

If you’re curious, you can see it on the Stats page.

An end to the silence to talk about coffee

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here.  I was sure that while travelling I would eager to sit and write about places, people and events as they unfolded.  It turns out the minutiae of actually sitting down to write a post has deterred me from doing so, until now.  You might wonder what has aroused me from my laziness?  To those who know me well it will come as no surprise that it is to talk about coffee.

I was (am) a coffee snob.  I love coffee but I want it a certain way, in short, strong espresso with just the right amount of steamed milk, thoughtfully prepared.  My coffee should taste like coffee, not milk, not sugar, not really anything else.  Travelling has greatly reduced my snobbery but I still appreciate a proper macchiato when I can find one.  As it so happens, many countries we have traveled through so far are major coffee producers (Tanzania, Guatemala, Mexico).  Colombia, where we are at the moment is the fourth largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil, Vietnam and Ethiopia or Indonesia (depending where you get your stats).  In Colombia, as in Tanzania, Guatemala etc, coffee is a cash crop, meaning the farmers grow it in order to make enough money to buy the things they can’t grow.  In Colombia, the local grower (of which there are 550,000) cannot set the price as he wishes but can only sell to the state which sets the price twice every working day, the price a couple days ago was $45 USD for 12.5kilos that costs $30 USD to produce, meaning the farmer earns about $15 for said amount.  You can see that this is not really an avenue for getting rich and putting the money into the farmers’ pockets.

Enter Jesús Bedoya into the picture.  A trained lawyer but a 4th generation agriculturist, a man passionate about coffee and the effect it can have locally.  About four years ago he started experimenting with local roasting of local coffee, a novelty since traditionally the only coffee that stays in Colombia is of poor quality that can’t be sold.  Three years ago he opened a cafe (Café Jesús Martín) where he sells coffee grown on his father’s land and a few other local fincas (coffee farms) that he roasts to perfection in small batches.  It’s a small start but one that he is committed to making.

We had the pleasure of taking a tour with him through his toasting factory and being initiated into the art of “catacion” or cupping.  I was like a kid in candy shop.  I love hearing about coffee, how it’s grown, how it roasted, how best to prepare it, etc etc.  Jesús is a man passionate about what he does and making  change locally.  Should you ever make it to Colombia, get yourself to the coffee region, or better yet, Salento (a lovely town in its own right), where one of the cafes is located.  Do your part by ordering a coffee, or three, and enjoying the slow life knowing you’re contributing to the local economy.

A few more shots of our tour can be seen here.  Also, there are plenty more photos of our trip so far that can once again be reached by clicking the “Photos” link on the main page, it’s now fixed.


Jambo!  Hard to believe we’ve been in Tanzania for 3 weeks already, though not when I actually think of all we’ve seen and done.  We spent 3 days in Moshi when we arrived, going on a full day cultural tour for one of them.  We then spent 8 days climbing Kilimanjaro which was both amazing and challenging.  After that we moved on the recover for a couple of days in Arusha where we organised a 5 day safari, which we returned from yesterday.  Now one day here to do some laundry and for Jamu to get some work done while we have a good Internet connection.  Tomorrow it’s a full day bus trip to Dar Es Salaam and then the ferry the following day to Zanzibar.  The plan is to spend some time there, then return to the mainland to check out Bagamoyo and really experience Dar.

I mean to write more about each event, and hopefully find an Internet connection that is fast enough to allow me to upload photos.  Sadly we’ve taken very few in the towns and of people, since it feels very improper somehow, but have plenty from Kilimanjaro and the safari.  The new header is a shot of the Kilimanjaro from the camp at Shira 2.

Vall de Nuria

Hike, hike, hike… that’s what we do lately. The trek up Kilimanjaro creeps quickly closer, we leave 4 weeks from today. Our latest adventure took us to Vall de Nuria in the Catalan Pyrenees.  A few short kilometers from the border of France is a sanctuary nestled into a valley between substantial peaks, it has served as a pilgrimage site for many years. The Spanish and Catalan seem to have a strong history of pilgrimage walks. Access is solely on foot or via cremallara from the towns of Ribes de Freser or Queralbs.  Even though remote, as you can see from the website, it’s quite touristic; yet despite the number of people it attracts, you still get that proper mountain feel.

Instead of doing a couple of hikes from the sanctuary, we decided to spend our first day hiking in.  After 3½ hours of FGC and cremallara transport, we made it to Queralbs for midday, not a smart time to start a steep hike in 33C weather.  The hike from here to the sanctuary was about 8kms with close to  900m of elevation gain all told, nothing technical but not an easy afternoon stroll. It roughly follows the line of the cremallara and climbs through the a river gorge.  We passed through scrub and forests, saw rockslides and waterfalls and were generally in awe of the scenery.  We arrived at the sanctuary in the later afternoon, refilled our water bottles with the best water I have tasted in months and then continued up to the Alberg, our lodging for the night.

It’s part of both Hostels International (HI) and the Youth Hostel Network of Catalonia (Xanascat).  It was super fantastic.  We had the option of just accommodation, half or full board.  We took half board which included dinner and breakfast (full added lunch too). The meal process was something to marvel at.  We had been assigned a table number and after a small lunch the 8pm dinner couldn’t come soon enough.  After the doors opened the dining hall filled quickly and we waited back a bit to see what the deal was.  We heard pretty much only Catalan and it was obvious most people had been there before. We followed suit and picked up our plates, cutlery and self serve salad and bread and headed to find our table where a bowl of soup was waiting for us.  We struck up conversation with the table beside us, learning a few new Catalan words and offering some English and then went to find the main course which was earmarked and waiting for us behind the counter. Roast chicken in lemon sauce, really simple and really tasty.  What might have been the most amazing part is that following dinner everyone actually cleaned up their own space, including wiping the tables and sweeping the floors. It was a bit of a sociological experience as we were able to just fall into the rhythm simply by watching and learning. Mostly the place was full of families and I can see why, it makes it both affordable and easy to stay in the mountains without having to haul up all of your own food.

The next day we opted to climb the Pic de Fontnegra, mostly because the trail was a continuation from where we already were, instead of having to go back down to the sanctuary and back up again.  I have particular trouble finding trailheads so after a 45 minute detour we were on our way.  Along the trail we encountered cows, horses and sheep, of which only the horses seemed to be completely wild.  The trail was easy to follow until Pic d’Aliga (2475m) and then tapered down to what at times seemed only to be an animal path except for the sporadic cairns.  Thankfully, being above tree level it was pretty easy to see the way in the distance.  We made it to the Pic de Fontnegra (2728m) and stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the view.

From here we hiked back down to the sanctuary and in the interest of arriving home before 10pm, opted to take the cremallara the full way down.  The views on the hike up were definitely better than those from the train car so I regret having taken no pictures on Saturday.  I’m learning though that hiking at a reasonable pace and taking tons of photos are somewhat mutually exclusive.  Though we did take quite a few on Sunday, which are here.

L’antic teatre

You know those places that you misjudge at first glance and then kick yourself after for having been so wrong?  Antic Teatre is one of those places for me.  It’s about 5 minutes from home and I must have walked past about 50 times before ever wandering in.  You can maybe see why in the photo below, the sign says it’s a theatre and all you can see from the street is a set of stairs. The soft roar of conversation and laughter that float down to street level had piqued my interest, but I never ventured in.

That was until spring of this year when a recommendation from someone sent us up those stairs. All I can say is I’m sad I missed an entire summer on what is one of the best terraces in all of Barcelona.  It’s nestled between four buildings and manages to stay relatively cool on even the hottest of days thanks to the tree it has been built around. I’ve not been in the morning but I imagine it’s a great place to start with a coffee.  The late afternoon and evening is when it really starts to fill up, especially on weekends.  I love that every available perch will be taken up, even the stairs, and no one really cares.  The staff are chill but still efficient (a slight rarity around here) and seem unflappable even when the queue for a beer is 10-15 people deep.

As this chapter of our time in Barcelona winds down (5 weeks left!) this is the kind of place I want to make the most of. It’s sort of emblematic about what I love about Barcelona: a relaxed way of life in a climate that allows you to enjoy a terrace for more than half the year.  I could imagine living here forever.