Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vallarta - Week 1

Some of you will know that our arrival in Puerto Vallarta to stay in our rented condo got off to a rocky start. At the airport with 20 minutes to go before boarding our flight I got a message from the guy we were renting telling us there was "a delicate situation". 

Indeed! He had been working with another agent who had just informed him that the place he had rented to us was not available since he had given it to a friend to whom he owed money. Whoops. To be fair, Luis was good on his word and picked us up at the airport so he could show us other properties available that met our price range. That may have been the case, but in terms of what we expected, those apartments left a lot to be desired and were not up to the standard we knew we would find at Loma del Mar.

In the end, Luis did the right thing and returned our money and we booked a hotel we've stayed In before for the night and started working out our strategy for the month ahead. We had a lovely meal that night at Mariscos Polo's - a good seafood restaurant in town.
Bacon wrapped Mahi-mani stuffed with seafood and vegetables. Note the rice with ribbons of fried sweet potato. 

Baby RedSnapper fillet grilled

In the morning we went for coffee and ran into a couple of friends. We had already spoken to our hotel about renting one of the rooftop apartments and planned to see it later. On the way to coffee we stopped on at Freddy's pharmacy which also had an apartment available. At coffee we met Jack, Fred and Victor all of whom knew about apartments too. Jack took us to his place, the Villa Olivia up the hill and when we saw it we felt we didn't need to go anywhere else. It was so lovely, and the landlady, a French Canadian, was charming. We took it the next day although we had to stay in one apartment studio for the first four nights before moving to our present location up one floor. There's a roof top patio and pool too with an incredible view. 

We stayed one more night and checked out in the morning but not without mishap. While brushing my teeth I leaned a little hard on the sink and it broke off from the wall. No pictures. Some of you will know that this is the second time I've managed to break a sink in a hotel. The last time was in Osuna in Spain. I'm hoping that's the last time. If I'm visiting you, you might also want to reinforce your sink. 

Our first studio.

Our studio home until we fly back to Vancouver. 

The patio

The view from our patio.

Interior view. 

Jack and Nigel in the whirl pool on the roof. 

The view from the roof. Note the swirling thing is on the pier from which I took the photos looking back to land elsewhere in this post.

Now that we are settled with no more drama to deal with, perhaps my blog will get back to fewer words, and lots of pictures - since I heard loud and clear last year that my readers liked that. I enjoy it too. Herewith, a few pictures of things seen around town. 

Frida Kahlo in effigy.

The view from the wharf at Los Muertos Beach. The building just left of centre and below a sloping building that nearly preaches the top of the hill is where we are staying. 

Geordie and a new friend. 

A hibiscus flower in bloom outside our building. 

Colour and vibrancy at a tienda. And useful to boot. 

Aztec dancers. 

School decorations for Revolution Day. 

An accidental fish in the sidewalk. I saw this and realized it was made by two different footprints in the wet cement and I'm certain it was unplanned. 

And finally a panorama from the pier. Our building is in the photo. 
I'll look around for more photo moments to add to the blog as we enjoy our time here.


Friday, May 02, 2014


We had a wonderful hotel in Hanoi, and because I had had several positive emails with the hotel manager, we got upgraded to a suite for our first four nights. Don't you love the rose petals?

From our window we looked down on the street. And the vendors. There is obviously a great need for footwear in Hanoi.

The iconic red bridge crosses to a small island in the middle of the city. A small temple sits on the island and is one of the most visited sites in the city.

This long distance shot shows that not only tourists make the pilgrimage.

Just a view of the same lake. There is a small tower on another island in the lake 

We passed by St. Joseph's Church almost every night on our way to dinner. It was usually locked up, but the square in front was busy.

We saw many flowers for sale. The white lilies in the background of this flower seller's array are Madonna lilies and are apparently very popular with the locals at this time of the year.

We passed many flower shops with their exuberant displays.

This sculpted wall is inside the old prison, now a museum, where the French incarcerated many of the Freedom Fighters who struggled to free themselves from French rule. One of the items on display inside was an oft-used guillotine.

This gave some context of the way the prisoners were shackled.

And this lively, and unposed, scene was in a courtyard inside the prison too. I'm guessing the young women were performers.

We had lunch twice at this restaurant where the specialty was a richly flavoured broth brimming with grilled pork and pork meatballs and a side of pork and crab spring rolls. At every table a heaping plate of greens was provided to add to the broth as well as a pile of fresh noodles.

A very filling meal for about four dollars.

When we returned from our trip to Halong Bay, the hotel staff apologized that they couldn't upgrade us for our last two days. But we were hardly unhappy with our room.

Another meal. Ribs for Geordie, expertly divided by the waitress.

And a fusion presentation of pork three ways - glazed pork belly, pork tenderloin and a pork meatball wrapped in crisply fried leaves. The same leaves also garnished the plate, and one piece of the meat was captured in a piece of split lemongrass. It was all delicious.

Geordie went out for coffee one morning and got caught in a rain storm. The place he was sitting in sold him this raincoat for 10,000 dong, the equivalent of 50 cents. When he got back to the hotel the staff told him they would probably have paid 2000 dong. An obvious rip-off of the unsuspecting tourist - lol.

I've mentioned traffic in the city, but really didn't capture the frenetic feel of it here. It was Sunday morning when there was much less traffic than usual.

 But just look at this traffic sequence. In the upper picture you see the pedestrians and at the lower left a motorbike driving into the intersection.

And here we see the same motorbike a second later, doing its best to give the pedestrians a little lesson in who's boss.

And here a motorbike is pressed in to service to deliver dirty sheets from our hotel to the laundry.

I was surprised to find a knitter working away industriously in Hanoi. This woman was making hats for sale.

We also had coffee one day in this coffee shop. It's claim to fame? During the filming of Indochine (note the poster) it was where Catnerine Deneuve and the director had coffee during the shoot.

And here they are.

I will just take this opportunity to say thank you to all the folk who journeyed with us through SE Asia through my blog. Thank you for your many kind words about the photographs and my writing. I am so glad you enjoyed the journey with us.

And look. We lost weight. Looks like Pho (Vietnamese soup) really is a weight loss program.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Halong Bay

Even though we are at the end of our trip, we still had one tour left to do. Halong Bay is another UNESCO World Heritage site and is often on lists of "places to see before you die". It is indeed a beautiful place, even under the very overcast skies we had for our two day, one night trip.

The van with us and our fellow passengers took 4.5 hours to get to the bay itself. Just outside the city of Hanoi we passed several vendors with their bread displays. I'm trying to imagine stopping for a loaf of bread on a busy highway like this. People must or these women would not be here.

We transferred to our boat by tender. I took this photo from the wharf, and was pleased to discover it was our boat.

Just as on long distance flights, our routing was displayed as we travelled.

The karst formations that make this site so dramatic are visible from shore, but it is so wonderful to glide by them.

These dramatic islands are limestone and were created as the limestone dissolved. As you can see below, the area is an important shipping route.

There are over 1600 islets in the area of the bay.

Our cabin was very comfortable. We had a very nice shower, and all the toiletries were provided in recycled paper containers. Handspan Travel which was our tour company are very ecologically minded. I do think it's totally unnecessary to provide all these things though - combs, shower caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste and razors. Don't hotels realize that people tend to travel with their own toiletries, especially toothbrushes.

There are, of course, many tour boats. These boats have their characteristic sails but the rules laid down by the Vietnamese government say they cannot use sail alone and must always have engine power.

People do live in the area, fiishermen and pearl farmers mainly.

Here is the sail of our boat, the Treasue Junk. Note, the sail was up only while we were anchored. They really are just for decoration.

I got to go for a swim in the afternoon.  The water was lovely here. And we were anchored in an area with no other boats in sight which made it quite special. 

For those who think my bathing suit a little skimpy, p,ease understand that I swim with a Masters Competitive swim team. Baggy swimsuits cause drag.

Before dinner we got a food prep demonstration. I say that instead of cooking demo, because all we got was how to roll up a spring roll - not terribly difficult.

In the early morning it was still grey but the light was lovely. The staff were out in full force at 6 am swabbing decks and wiping down railings, but I was the first passenger on deck. I was also one of only three people who took advantage of the Tai Chi class. There are no photos, because, after all, I had the camera in my pocket.

After a light breakfast snack we went off to visit one of the floating villages. 

These bamboo boats were out pr transportation. Most of the people who rowed us around we're women by the way.

It was quiet and peaceful although our tour guide told us that the evenings tend to be noisy becuase the people enjoy karaoke. However they don't go too late because they have to use a generator to supply the power.

This was a lovely sight. The hole in the rock was dramatic. We boated right up to it.

Note that we had a boat woman.

After seeing the village, boating around one of the islands and seeing the pearl farms, wesaw a demonstration of the process of seeding the oysters. The small pellets are inserted after the oyster is pried open and anaesthetic is used to ensure the seed isn't rejected. The seeds are made with material from the insides of the harvested shells which is ground and pelletized.

And here, for milady's pleasure is one of the pearls of Halong Bay. Apparently, and it's no surprise, the biggest market for these pearls is China, although we did have the opportunity to buy some right at the  village dock. I'm sorry, we didn't buy any strings of pearls for you.