Room Check Please

I don’t like snakes.  Plain and simple.  None.  Not even rubber snakes.  This week I read of a woman who woke up in her hotel room to find a garden snake on her arm.  At first thinking it was her husband she suddenly remembered he was not there; and opened her eyes to the surprise of her life.  She jumped up flinging the serpent across the room.  Read of her ordeal here.  Now I can’t begin to tell you what my reaction would have been.  Surely some screaming and hollering, then beating the life out of that snake.

Don’t call animal rights activists for me just yet, I actually do like animals but not that close.  It is my practice to thoroughly check my hotel room before settling down for a good night’s sleep.  I look under the bed and peel back the covers for anything that may be lurking in the dark areas, also I check behind picture frames and vanities for large holes where small animals can hide or for hidden cameras.  These things have been known to happen and I do not want to be a victim.  I also do the mirror test again for any spying activity but that’s a different post for another time.

To do a quick search of the room only takes a few minutes.   It helps to put my mind at ease.  To eliminate the possibility that there may be unwanted intruders from the animal kingdom such as centipedes, lizards, millipedes, roaches, spiders, scorpions, etc. is paramount to me enjoying a restful sleep in a relax environment.  Now, you may think I’m being a bit over the top, paranoid, or even influenced by too much television, but the fact of the matter is I prefer that all creatures remain in their natural habitats and not venture into mine.

I can still recall with trepidation the anxiety and fears I felt while visiting a boarding school/orphanage in Cambodia.  After a tour of the school and the orphanage’s living quarters, I sat down with my host at a picnic table under a tree with large shady branches, to eat the meal they prepared for me.  A few of the children would wander in an out of the space.  Some with quizzical looks on their faces.  Of course, our conversation was about life on the compound.  Among other things, I learned that the host’s pet dog became blind because of an attack from a spitting viper found under their bed, and at one time while eating at the same picnic table a snake dropped unceremoniously down from the branches.  Everyone scattered.  I don’t think those stories were told to frighten me.  The host was just recounting a day in their life of always expecting the unexpected.  However, my reaction was to immediately scan the tree and nearby shrubbery for snakes.  Needless to say, I was wary from that moment on.

Community Peeps, you may recall in a previous post (check the blog archives) how I talked of my ordeal in Trinidad and Tobago and my encounter with a few geckos in the room.  How my companion and I spent the entire night watching the geckos on the ceiling to make sure they didn’t fall on us (we had never seen geckos before).  We didn’t sleep a wink but kept the lights on the whole time.   Come to think of it, the geckos were probably more scared of us than we were of them 😁😁.   What has been your experience with any unwelcome room occupants other than your pet?  Please tell of the experience, good or bad, in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comment in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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A Couple Close Calls

As I pull my thoughts together to speak of unwanted surprises I had while traveling, a smile spreads across my face recalling my panic and hysteria at the time.  Essential travel documents like passports and visas are needed to enter foreign countries.  An itinerary planner knows to double check, cross check, and recheck papers to ensure there are no mistakes which can up-end vacation plans.  Well, back then, I was not an itinerary planner, but from a couple close calls, I have learned valuable lessons that shape what I do today to avoid unnecessary pitfalls.  Valid passport and appropriate visas are necessary to begin a fabulous holiday.

The first near miss occurred in a place that was far from home.  The country was Cambodia.  In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, I had originally traveled to Vietnam, and from Ho Chi Minh City, I traveled by long distant coach to Cambodia.  As I exited Vietnam, the entry process into Cambodia was smooth.  Passengers had to disembark to be processed through immigration and customs, then walk less than 100 meters between the two countries to embark the bus again.  A headcount was conducted as we re-boarded and traveled the remaining miles to our final destination.

While in Cambodia I visited many places of interest in both Phnom Penh and Krong Siem Reap, but the biggest draws for me were Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Royal Palace, the killing fields and the Tonle Sap River.  When all the sightseeing was over, then the adventure began.  It was time to catch the bus heading back into Vietnam for my impending flight home the next day. I boarded the bus but what a shocker it was when the attendant took my travel documents – passport, airline ticket confirmation and returned to tell me I did not have a visa to re-enter Vietnam.

I was numb.  Even though he tried to explain to me what was wrong, my brain was not comprehending anything.  Of course, I had to disembark, and the bus left for Vietnam without me.  To cut to the chase, besides crying, begging and pleading to everyone for help, I did a lot of praying, running back and forth to offices as directed, made phone calls to my bank to release funds, etc.  That day was one hot mess.  My predicament was dire.  I needed to be in Ho Chi Minh City to catch the return flight back to the USA in time for work the following day.  Total strangers worked tirelessly to process the emergency visa which would allow me entry into Vietnam.  Because the bus was long gone, I had to hire a private taxi to drive to the border where another taxi was waiting to transport me into the Ho Chi Minh.  The ordeal cost me a pretty penny but by this time I was only too glad a resolution had been worked out and so I couldn’t argue.  With the emergency visa in hand, both taxi drivers understood I was in a race against the clock and needed to make up for lost time, so they drove like the wind to cover the distance.

The second near miss was because of a calculation error.  More than 18 months prior to planning a surprise cruise for my Mom and sister, I had checked my passport to confirm everything was in order, and on the day I checked, it was.  However, I had failed to recognize that by the time the future departure date rolled around my passport would be nearing expiration.  At the airport, the ground flight attendant informed me that I could not leave the USA because my passport did not satisfy the amount of time for international travel.  The flight was to Barbados.  Because the flight was very early, I thought the attendant was joking and wanted to make sure I was fully alert and wide awake.  She repeated herself and if I wasn’t awake before, I sure was by then.  She explained my passport was due to expire in less than two months.  For a passport to be acceptable for international travel it must have six or more months of validity.  Grasping the magnitude of what was unfolding sent my body into a panic.  People seemed to be moving in slow motion, voices sounded slower and tears began to fall.  My niece, who was my traveling companion, eyes welled-up with tears, but she could do nothing for me.  It was obvious, she would have to leave without me.  The flight departed, but I was determined to correct my oversight.

To make a long story short, acting on the directions from the flight attendant, I headed to the immigration office in New York City and pleaded my case.  I was told the waiting time to process an emergency request was six weeks.  To my mind, that was not an option.  I needed to be on the island the next day to start a week-long cruise through the Caribbean.   All of a sudden, I was left with a few hours to get there.  After much praying, pleading, and explaining the mistake, I was granted a new passport in less than 8 hours.  I can only attribute all thanks and praise to God for answered prayers.  I missed my flight that day, but was able to fly out the next morning on a flight connecting through Miami. I arrived at my destination with just two hours to spare before boarding the cruise ship at the Bridgetown port.  Needless to say, it was a close call to ruining a perfect surprise vacation for my loved ones.

Community Peeps, all’s well that ends well.  I cannot begin to impress just how important it is to pay attention and double check that you have the correct visas, and updated documents before you travel.  Give yourself enough time to make any adjustments.  Kudos and appreciation to all those strangers who came to my rescue back then.  It is forever etched in my mind.  What has been your experience?  Anything similar?  I’d like to hear of it.  Please share in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comment in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Sarcastic About Sargassum

Recent reports in travel news have stated beaches along the south coast were experiencing a new phenomenon that could threaten the livelihood of the tourism industry there.  The culprit is none other than a seaweed called – Sargassum (read the article in highlighted link).  If it is one thing tourist expect when they go to a beach is to find it pristine, the waters clean and clear of debris.  They expect to enjoy a time of fun and frolic in the sea and on the sand without interference.  However, the sea algae much to the consternation of the beachgoer is getting in the way, is unsightly and smells foul when it decomposes.

Sargassum has only just reached our shores along the Atlantic, but this problem has been a nightmare throughout the Caribbean for a few years now.  Governments of popular tourist destinations have been grappling with the predicament for some time and their tourism industries have been affected.  The maintenance of beaches and disposal of the seaweed has caused distressed hoteliers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The brown and orange colored seaweed is thick and presents an obstruction to marine life like turtles and smaller fish that thrive and live on the coral reefs near the shore.  Even small fishing boats have difficulty cutting through the impasse, before their motors become entangled in the weeds.  On occasion, when flying into my paradise island home Barbados, from the air I have seen long, large swathes of the plant floating on top the ocean waves heading for the shore.  Because the island has been inundated with the algae, the government, at one time had to declare a national emergency.

For the tourist, this obstacle hampers the time they spend in the water.  I for one, don’t like stepping into the surf with seaweed ebb and flowing at my feet, furthermore, having to wade through to a depth where swimming would be more enjoyable.  The seaweed can also be a dangerous impediment not only to adults, but especially for small children who may become entangled while swimming.

Community Peeps, if you have travel plans to vacation in the south or to visit an island in the Caribbean, simply be aware of the disgusting seaweed.  Maybe if your favorite hotel/beach is faced with this dilemma then you can plan an alternative itinerary for your time there.  I don’t mean to be sarcastic about Sargassum when I tell you don’t get wrapped up in the beach this summer.  Be aware.  Your comments on any encounters are always welcomed.  Write them in the box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comment in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Everybody Loves A Parade

Parades allow people to publicly express themselves in large gatherings, marches, walks or formal processions.  Every Independence Day in the USA there are parades of military might, heritage floats and demonstrations of national pride.  Across this great nation, people gather from all walks of life to express their love of country.  The process is supported by citizens, immigrants and visitors alike.  Standing shoulder to shoulder, people will witness all the displays, listen to the speeches whether in agreement or not, applaud or demonstrate anti-behavior towards all that may go on.  The visiting tourist may not have a clue about all that they see once they encounter a procession but are often drawn to the sidelines to watch in amazement.  It has been my experience in different countries to follow processions, if only to be nosy and to see what was going on.  I could easily tell from all that I saw what type of parade it was, and whether I should get closer or watch from a safe distance.

Besides witnessing the pomp and pageantry of parades stateside on special holidays, if possible, I like to view parades while on vacation.  I was drawn to large crowds of people in Barbados, Ecuador, Greece, Hawaii, Peru and Philippines, respectively, some marching in protest and others celebrating a national holiday or cultural heritage.  On most occasions, it was not a part of my travel itinerary, but a pleasant diversion and an opportunity to mingle with local residents.  So, I never miss standing on the sidelines to capture the event even though I may not understand all that may take place or the reasons behind the cavalcades.  Some parades can present dangerous situations for outsiders.  Tensions may rise and if caught in the heart of demonstrating protesters, the tourist may find themselves outside of their element.  It is always good to stand away from large crowds just in case you may need a quick getaway.  Find or look for a quick route to escape if things turn ugly.

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In Athens, Greece and Lima, Peru respectively, marchers were protesting against government policy.  Police with riot gear were out in full force to keep the peace.  Placard bearing marchers and the masses were shouting slogans as they filed pass government buildings.  I moved along with the train of people for several blocks just to watch the developments as they unfolded.  In both cases, the protests were peacefully carried out although the gravity of the situation was not underestimated by the police but keenly observed.  It was obvious they were ready, and capable of handling any imminent danger.

In Quito, Ecuador and Oahu, Hawaii, the respective processions demonstrated their cultural heritage.  Ethnic groups, dressed in fancy colorful duds paraded down the streets dancing to drumbeats, clapping and stomping.  Floats carrying musical bands, costumed characters, and people waving to the crowds were fun to watch.  Both parades were more festive and celebratory.  It was easy to blend in, enjoy the fun, and to mingle with the sea of people that lined the streets as the participants moved slowly along.  The gaiety from the revelers was contagious, did not present a stressful environment but a relaxing atmosphere.  Still, as a visitor, I was careful, observant and had an exit strategy should a disruptive incident like a fight arise.

In Bridgetown, Barbados and Sagada, Philippines, correspondingly, their parade emphasis was on a national anniversary, much like Independence Day here.  In Barbados, the parade is formal and excitedly anticipated by citizens.  It is well planned, and the main drills are performed at a cricket oval or a horse racetrack (depending on the weather) where residents can go to view in comfort.  Different arms of the public and civil service march pass to the beat of the national police band in salute of the various dignitaries, after which a street parade follows.  Residents follow the procession for miles along the parade route.  Separately, the day I arrived in Sagada; the marchers were made up of some adults but mostly children.  They were dressed in uniform and marched to the music of the school band.  The expressions on everyone’s face was one of pride as they twirled batons and pompoms.  They were celebrating an anniversary and had walked to the town square where they were on display.  Their demonstration was formal and clearly a moment of local pride.  Attendees, most likely proud parents, lined the streets, cheered for the children as they went by.

Community Peeps, everybody loves a parade if only to watch others stand for their cause, celebrate heritage or represent their country’s national honor.  What has been your experience?  If you have encountered a good or bad incident while attending a parade, at home or abroad, please share it with me here.  Write it in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comment in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Shared Spaces

Accommodation types have exploded to house the swelling number of travelers in recent times.  From the major hotel chains of yesteryear to the economy inn, we have seen an influx of a variety of lodges that cater not only to the rich or middle class but to the budget traveler too.  One such boarder type is the hostel.  This housing brand caters mostly to a younger market, and those young at heart guests who prefer the ambiance and lifestyle. One that can be considered fun, easy, relaxed, and shared.  Don’t get the wrong idea, hostels are efficiently managed and have clear guidelines, but for the most part, the aura is inviting, warm and friendly.   For this post, I want to talk about shared spaces in hostels such as:  lounge areas, bathrooms, kitchen and sleeping quarters.  Of course, all that I will mention hereafter is based on my own experience, so as not to paint all hostels with a broad brush.

First the lounge areas are typically the hangout spots.  Guests gather there to socialize and talk of their adventures.  Friendships are made and travel tips are exchanged.  A simple decor usually gives the area an inviting and comfortable appeal.  Bean bag chairs and extra-large cushions, hammocks, lounge chairs, large mats, shelves of travel books either left by former patrons and other material lends to the aura there.  A big giveaway that you’re in the right place are young people huddled with backpacks or rolled up travel gear, power charging their technology.  Generally speaking, it is the meeting place for individuals, large groups and parties for meet and greets.  The front desk is set very near to this area if only to keep a vigilant eye on the activities there.

Next, the kitchen offers the independent wayfarer the opportunity to prepare a cooked meal whether breakfast or dinner (most guests are out and about at lunchtime).  On a first come first served basis, pots, dinnerware, stove and refrigerator are available for use.  Even leftover foodstuff, primarily basics like salt, cooking oil, sugar, etc., from past guests are at the disposal of any brave guests to use.  A code of honesty is understood by those kitchen operators.  I have never seen or heard of discrepancies regarding individual food stock.  Items are clearly labeled and rules for usage and disposal adhered to.  Kitchen clean up after use is mandatory.  Hostel management usually provides janitorial services throughout their establishment.  However, messy cooks are encouraged to leave a clean kitchen for other users.  Reminder “clean-up” signs are posted in this area and all other public places too.

Bathrooms present the most irritant for travelers.  Although cleansed daily, the showers and toilets are dependent on users to help the facility keep them clean.  In the past, if I shared a bathroom, I would rise very early in the morning before other guests to ensure I benefited from a clean shower stall.  I skive the thought of someone else’s bath-water pooling around my feet in a stall that may have poor or slow drainage.  Besides toilet tissue, hostels do not provide towels or other toiletries as most hotels do.

Sleeping quarters can be the toughest aspect of the whole hostel experience.  If a single room is not available, then sharing a space with four or more persons is the only option.  Some hostels offer dorm like settings, sleeping up to 20 persons in one large room.  Obviously, if you elect to sleep in such a space, it is expected you will not have much complaints for comfort, space or noise level.  For example, chatter, laughter, movement in and out, lights on and off, can disrupt the early sleeper.  Normally, each person is assigned a bed, given clean bedding and those on the bottom bunk have a curtain for privacy.  You may not rest your personal belongings on another’s bed and vice-versa.  It is not advisable to leave valuables in this particular space either (deposit at reception for safe keeping) since security cameras are not operating here.  Curfew times for lights out are maintained to give everyone at least a few hours rest each night.

Community Peeps, though hostels are fun places to meet other like-minded travelers, their success also depends on vacationers doing their part to maintaining a welcoming and inviting atmosphere.  I’ve gained travel friends and have had some of my best adventures staying in them on my limited budget.  Remember, you get what you pay for.  What has been your experience staying in one?  Please share in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comment in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Bangkok Surprises And Lessons

In retrospect, I consider my trip to Thailand over two decades ago still hilarious and memorable.   One day in particular, my friend and I experienced surprise after surprise while exploring Bangkok.   It was bright and sunny, great for an adventure, so we believed, and the day did not disappoint.  We filled our stomachs with a sumptuous breakfast and talked about what we were expecting to see and do.  Back then, my itinerary planning skills were practically non-existent and many of my activities were done on the fly, that is, impulsively.

The morning we left our hotel, we decided to take a tuk-tuk ride to the Emperor’s Palace.  Tuk-tuks are modified makeshift motorcycles attached to a covered cart that carries up to four persons seated on the inside.  They are used for easy transport in and around the city, often zipping in and out between cars and buses.  The fare depends on the distance, but often negotiable.  We settled on a fee before leaving the hotel and were eagerly expecting to be dropped off outside the palace doors.

To our amazement, not long into the journey the driver abruptly pulled to the side, stopped, and insisted on payment for petrol.  When we resisted, he refused to go any further and ordered us to disembark the tuk-tuk.   That was not the arrangement.  We were livid but remained calm.  We were in a bad situation.  Neither my friend nor I spoke Thai.  We had no clue where we were, how far from the palace we were, or how to get there.  Whipping out our city map and studying it for a while we eventually decided to walk the street in search of assistance.  Lesson learnedplan ahead, have clear directions and only use reputable drivers recommended by hotel.

We managed to connect with another tuk-tuk driver who knew exactly where we wanted to go and took us there without further ado.  We paid the driver and he went on his way.  At the palace gates my friend and I purchased our tickets and proceeded to enter when we were stopped.  Politely, I was told that my attire was not suitable and if I wanted to enter, I would have to cover myself.  When I asked “why?”  I was told these exact words, “should the Emperor come out onto the balcony, he should not see me wandering around the gardens indecently clad.” I was wearing a pair of shorts to the knee, spaghetti strap tee-shirt and Birkenstock sandals (the kind without a strap around the heel).  The staffer took me to a room where I could rent a blouse, sarong, and shoes for the time I would be spending at the palace.  I was assured the items given to me were laundered daily after each use.

Well, I put on the shirt, sarong, shoes and was allowed onto the palatial grounds.  The buildings, architecture, and gardens were absolutely beautiful.  My impromptu get-up was not a camera moment that I am proud of, but I was not the only soul who had to re-dress in order to enter the palace.  I was dressed to suit the weather but not to strut around the royal grounds.  Actually, the rental is a brisk business for unprepared, unsuspecting tourists.  By the time you realize you should have dressed more appropriately it’s too late to turn away.  So, the only option left is to rent the recycled garments.  Lesson learneddress suitably especially when visiting certain religious/civil/public places of interest. 

After the palace incident, we decided to hire a guide.  He took us on tour to view several temples and buddhas:  The Sleeping Buddha, Jade Buddha and a few others I do not recall their names now.  At first, we were enchanted, impressed by what we saw and heard.  At one of the temples, our guide instructed us that in order to show respect, we had to remove our shoes before entering.  We willingly obeyed and neatly placed our shoes along with the many others at the door.   My friend and I were still wearing our sandals.  However, our guide wore sturdy cowboy boots.  He was knowledgeable and had a solid command of the English language.  After completing the tour, we returned to where we had left our shoes and slipped them on but were aghast to find the cowboy boots missing.  We helped the guide search but to no avail.  They were gone.

After we left the compound, we came upon a sign partially hidden near the entrance stating, “Do not leave shoes unattended.”  The theft quickly brought our tour to an abrupt end.  We paid and gave our guide a generous tip to assist in getting a new pair of shoes.  As my friend and I walked away, we felt sorry that he had lost his American-styled cowboy boots on account of taking us on tour that day.  No one wanted our sandals 😊.  Lesson learnednever leave your possessions unattended in a strange place.

To end the day on a high note we chose to treat ourselves to a Thai meal.  As we walked to the restaurant, we met a young girl cooking and selling her treats on the street.  Against my friend’s advice, I purchased eight of the hot fried balls she deftly dropped into a paper bag.  I questioned her about it as we waited for them to cook.  In her halting English, she told me it was a flour batter.  Eating the first ball, I recognized the taste instantly.  The flour was not regular wheat flour but cassava flour (yucca).  It was slightly sweet and tasty.  I encouraged my friend to try it and she too fell in love with the fried dough. Lesson learneddon’t be afraid to try something new, you just might like it.

Community Peeps, first, we were thrown out of our tuk-tuk, then we had to wear different clothes, we lost shoes, and lastly, we tried street food which was not recommended.  Well, Bangkok sure surprised us and taught us valuable lessons too, don’t you think? Have you ever had such a day whilst on vacation?  Share your experience, whether at home or aboard with me here.  Write it in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comments in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Itinerary Planner

Market Strategy

Most tourists like to meander through marketplaces, if not for the view, for the sale they expect to gain.  As an itinerary planner, I often include these venues as places of interest.  Those who like to peregrinate the length and breadth of a city will inevitably run into a souk, bazaar, flea-market, fair or arcade of some kind, and may choose to wander in just to pass the time.  Whether indoor or outdoor, marketplaces are treasure troves worth exploring.  Therefore, it is a good idea to have a market strategy before venturing inside.  Usually, markets are jam packed with cultural novelties, artifacts, art, crafts, sculptures, food and just about anything you can think of.  It’s where vendors and customers interact to each other’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  On location, one can expect to witness a dichotomy of wills on display in business transactions and haggling skills.  It’s a place where real treasure and junk coexist, but that’s a determination which rest solely in the eyes of the beholder.

Large marketplaces are diverse, and frequently sell food, clothing, artifacts, etc. all under one roof.  These kinds typically draw the larger crowds.  Smaller markets tend to specialize.  More like the antiques, fruit, vegetables, and flea-market types.  However, no matter the size or category, people are drawn like magnets to explore and maybe to procure a purchase or two.  I confess I am no different.  As a world traveler, I use the opportunity to browse large and small markets to better understand the culture I’m in.  Though not a foodie, I usually gravitate to the food, fruits and vegetables markets where I can taste-test and learn of different foods and their preparation (tip: a sure way to fill your belly for free).  To browse in any one of the locations I mention hereafter would be worth the time and effort, and in my opinion, should not be overlooked or dismissed as a nonentity.  About that strategy though, firmly answer the following questions: Do I seriously want to make a purchase?  Do I have space to carry it or have the means to ship it home?  Do I want to only enjoy all that I’ll see?  The answers to these pertinent questions will help to keep you from busting your budget, from regretting an impulsive buy, and from making a bad decision on the spur of the moment.

One memorable market I visited and worth mentioning is Japan’s Tsukiji Market.  It no longer occupies the location it did for the past 83 years, but has been relocated to  Toyosu, and is so called.   My experience perusing that iconic landmark which supplied a third of the world’s fish and seafood was jaw-dropping.  It was my first time visiting a fish market of that magnitude.  I watched fish sellers shout, bid, work, and even sing as they moved fish in and out.  My host bought a few fillet chunks of tuna, another ‘first’ seeing the actual fish, and the size of it.  Up until then I was only accustomed to the canned mush “Chicken of the SeaBumble Bee brand.  The tuna was served with miso soup and to this day, it was the best tuna I’ve ever tasted, finger licking good.

Two other markets that I enjoyed visiting were the Spice and Grand Bazaars, respectively, in Istanbul.  The minute you step into the mall, the scent of a variety of spices assault the nose.  Piles of cumin, curry, paprika, saffron, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, mushrooms, twigs, and leaves I could not identify were on display.  Barrels of figs, olives, grains and ready-made salad condiments were neatly arranged to encourage the salivating visitor to buy.  The Grand Bazaar also is as it states – Grand.  One can easily get lost in the myriad of stalls if not careful.  Vendors sell everything you can think of.  It is a hive of activity and a pick-pockets dream location for their nefarious acts.  However, these two locations are interesting and should be explored once in Turkey.

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Israel’s Mahane Yehuda and Carmel Markets, respectively, to my mind are a foodie’s delight.  Vendors are friendly and quick to invite you into their stall to take a look.  A cacophony of shouting and calling to patrons to buy is the daily norm.  One vendor in particular caught my attention, crying in a loud shrill voice, ‘Boreka’ (Bow -reee-kah).  From his stall he managed to catch the attention of others and drew a crowd.  He deftly manipulated the fast-food he was preparing and handed them out on order.  I could not resist trying the stuffed, fried-dough, after all they were selling like hot cakes.  I was not disappointed, it was delicious.  Jaffa Flea Market was also a haven for old, antique items that could be used to decorate the home.  Furniture dealers displayed nifty woodwork designs that were not from the standard assembly line.  It was interesting just to inspect the skilled workmanship of the furniture.

Yet another food market worth mentioning and one I visited two years ago was the fruit and vegetable market at Saquisili in Ecuador.  The produce was fresh and, in many cases, organic.  Local farmers sold their produce wholesale directly to merchants, retailers and individual buyers.  Vendors organized by neatly squatting under one large roof to display a wide variety of their goods.  This market event operates just once a week, is the highlight of its small community, and people of all walks of life travel there over great distances to fraternize, buy and sell their goods.

I could go on and on about the many markets I’ve had the privilege to peruse in places like: Cambodia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, India, Peru, Thailand to name a few, but beside food, I love to frequent markets that offer old as well as new stuff.  In Seoul, South Korea, I stopped by Namdeamun Market where designer name brands were the order of the day.  The knock-offs whether genuine or not were readily available on every table and stall.  I bought two identical style purses in different colors and a hat that I still wear to this day (colorful winter hat with two braids, my friends may remember it 😊).  I still own and periodically use these items.  Not a bad purchase and quality of items I’ve had for more than 20 years now, if I should say so.

Community Peeps, if you do not have a market strategy when you visit such a place you are bound to come out a little lighter in the wallet than you bargained for.  Therefore, it is imperative to walk in with a clear plan that is attainable.  What has been your experience venturing into these or similar turf?  Any haggling stories you’d like to repeat here?  If so, please write them in the comment box below.  As always, I’m eager to hear about it.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comments in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Itinerary Planner

Train Tripping

Train travel is one of my favorite modes of transportation at home and abroad.  I love to hear the chug, chug, chug of the wheels on the track and the occasional whistle blow which reminds me of the old western movies (I bet the recollection just brought a smile to your face too 😊).  I especially love to travel by train from country to country or from one end of a country to its furthest end.  It is the opportunity to see the countryside, landscape and natural beauty.  It is also time to rest and recover from an exhaustive vacation, cover a great distance over land, and eliminate a hotel expense especially if traveling overnight.  A resource I have found particularly useful, informative and nearly always accurate is “”  What started out as a hobby for Mark Smith, the man in seat 61, has turned out to be a helpful tool for all those who visit his website.  He writes about train travel around the world.  His information which includes maps, links, etc., of the destinations, train stations, connections, schedules, ticket fees and services are spot on.  I was able to use his recommendations many times over.  Here are my train travels in South Africa, Italy and Japan respectively.

I traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town using the overnight sleeper train, a journey that took more than 12 hours.  I rode economy class which turned out to be a mad scramble of pushing and shoving just to board the train.  Once I secured my seat next to a window and settled down for the long ride, looking around I realized I was the only foreigner in that car.  The chatter was loud, at times there was singing, kids playing, and vendors moving up and down the aisle selling their goods from depot to depot.  Food was another activity that brought the passengers together.  Groups or family members (I presume) were sharing and passing food around the car.  It was nothing like the train rides I am accustomed to in the USA, but I was loving the experience.  As night came, activities became quieter as everyone settled down and prepared to sleep as best they could in the straight back seats.  Folks spread blankets and pillows along the aisle and in between seats, wherever they could make themselves comfortable for the night.  I simply stretched my legs out on another vacant seat while propping up trying to remain vigilant of self and property.  Once a male vendor knocked my protruding feet off the seat while passing down the aisle saying something in his native tongue (at first, I thought it was accidental) until a couple women across the aisle gave him a scolding.  Then I realized they were coming to my defense.  Before this incident happened, I had become familiar to them by my frequent smiles and friendly gestures to the children.  I had even bought and shared a meal with the South African sitting next to me.  It was an unforgettable experience and I would do it again.

The next ride was from Durban to Jo’burg.  I reserved a single cabin in the sleeper car, and was given a clean sheet, pillow and blanket.  This trip was overnight and lasted more than 12 hours too.  The ride from Durban was different.  This time I enjoyed peace and quiet as we rode along occasionally stopping at scheduled stations to pick up and drop off passengers.  I decided to try out the meal car.  The food was adequate and satisfying.  Nothing spectacular happened to me on this ride though, worth mentioning, other than at one of the stops I looked out the car window and saw little boys on a wall panhandling.  When I didn’t throw money to them, they decided to moon me (pulled down their pants to show me they derrières).  All I could do was laugh, but wished I’d had a few coins to throw their way.

Another train journey I recall was from Venice to Rome.  That ride was comfortable, arriving just before midnight.  That meant many hours before our scheduled check-in to the hotel.  The option to stay at the train station for the few hours was upended when the cleaning crew came to do their job.  All persons were unceremoniously ushered from the waiting areas and doors closed until reopening times at first light in the morning.  With more than five hours to spare my niece and I wandered the streets, stopped in a café or two until they closed, listened to the vibes belting out from a local disco and finally sitting down on the steps of a hostel where the young people were constantly coming and going.  Poor planning was at fault for our having to wait out the time on the streets in the dark hours after midnight until check-in.

Still another journey by train was on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto.  No one takes the bullet train to sightsee or to oohh and ahhh about the landscape.  For me, it was all about the experience and traveling on a train that goes up to speeds of 200 mph.  Before the cat could lick his ear, it seemed like we had gotten to our destination even though this was a two-hour journey.  Time flies when you’re having fun.  My Japanese host smiled knowingly at my disappointment.  Just when I felt like riding a bit further, I was getting off.  The train was comfortable, neat and clean.  Passengers were quiet and formal.  Everything was orderly.

There have been other places I have taken the trains with interesting stories to tell such as Argentina, Chile, Kuala Lumpur, Spain, United Kingdom, Venezuela and many more.  It is a fascinating and comfortable form of transport, and safe too.

Community Peeps recounting these memories of my train tripping days are always a treat.  I may not get the chance to revisit some of these places or do some of the same things again, but I do have the best recollections of them.  What about you?  Any train stories you would like to share with me?  I’d be glad to hear of it.  Please share in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comments in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Itinerary Planner


Everest Or For Ever Rest

Never thought I’d see the day where headlines announce overcrowding of the slopes on Mount Everest.  Not in droves, but recent news reports have highlighted an increase in the number of mountain climbers who have undertaken the task to complete the arduous climb.  Some do it or forever rest where they have fallen.  Sherpas who are professional guides help to carry equipment to the top.  They lead climbers, hikers, celebrities and groups up the dangerous mountain terrain to an altitude where only planes fly, and at the peril of their own lives.

I take my hat off to all those who have reached Everest’s zenith or are in the throes of planning the hike up some other treacherous mountain.  Truly, it is not for the faint of heart.  Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, the peak scaling 29,029 feet.  Before even reaching the summit, the climb up causes the body to gasp for air.  Oxygen is thinner at the 26,000 feet elevation and beyond, otherwise called the “death zone.”  Some effects the climber may experience there include exhaustion, delirium, incoherence, and moments of insanity, all due to the inability to breathe in enough oxygen.

Mount Everest has proven to be a perilous nature challenge, but lately, more and more people are taking up the dare.  Optimum fitness levels and pertinent climbing skills help to achieve the goal of reaching the pinnacle.  However, some persons have not been so fortunate.  According to an article in Business Insider, 11 people have died just this spring alone from trying to reach the crest.  Overall, it is recorded that the steep mountain has claimed the lives of 306 people to date.  As if the tough climb was not enough to drain the experienced climber, they bypass frozen dead bodies, now a part of the landscape, which must present a mental conflict as they trudge slowly upward.  Besides the real dangers the assent poses, hikers say the 20 minute limit spent on the peak is worth every bit of trouble before descending to base camp.

What is causing this sudden surge in interest with respects to Everest?  Have the situation become easier or more navigable than in prior years?  I don’t think so.  The dangers certainly are the same.  Plus, thin air, avalanches pose the most serious threat to climbers.  In 2018, an avalanche took the lives of 16 Sherpas.    So, what pushes the hiker to go all the way to the apex?  Could it be to enjoy the view (which I am told is out of this world), to claim bragging rights, to take photos, to be a part of an elite group of mountaineers?  Whatever the reason, losing life or limb is a hard price to pay for 20 minutes of goal satisfaction.

Everest may be the only place on earth that my itinerary plans would recommend, turning back, until better circumstances, better fitness, and better overall conditions could be met.  I believe in accepting limits and preserving life in order to try again another day.  The thought of forging ahead at the risk of your own life, just because you may have considerable expedition expense loss, wasted time and talent, or because you say to yourself, “I’ve come too far to turn back” may not be prudent thinking.  Another day, another attempt, another opportunity may present itself if you are determined to one day achieve the goal.

The closest I will ever come to Everest is when I visit Nepal, which I hope to do some day.  It would be amazing to rise to the heights, but I can still remember my experience when I climbed Table Mountain in South Africa.  That mountain would be considered a hill to the likes of the mighty Everest.  Even though, it does not hold many of the risks found on Everest, it proved to be a strain to me physically and mentally.  The venture took me twice the time to complete.  My legs felt like stumps, at times my heart felt like it would burst inside my chest, and the residue of salt squeezed out through my pores from sweat were caked on my face by the time I reached the top.  I looked a frightful sight but the view at the crown was fantastic and worth the effort.

Although climbing the South African peak did not pose a danger or threat to my life, they were many times on the trail I felt like giving up.  The battle to continue was as much a mental one as it was physical.  I achieved the personal goal, gained bragging rights, took awesome photos and relaxed before descending via the cable car.  My experience on Table Mountain pales in comparison to what the Sherpas and professional climbers do on Everest.  Yet, my attitude to such an undertaking is if at first you don’t succeed, try again.  Do not risk your life unnecessarily.  Live to try again.

Community Peeps, mountain climbers and hiking enthusiasts, what has been your experience on climbs?  What challenge or difficulties did you face?  Please share your experience in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comments in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

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Itinerary Planner

The Weather Variable

Summer is swiftly approaching and lots of people will take the opportunity to catch the sun’s rays on a destination trip they have been planning for months.  Beginning this Memorial Day weekend and continuing through to the Labor Day weekend, we will see travelers from the four corners of the USA using every means of transport to reach their vacation spot, nationally and internationally.  Whether making a solo or family and friends’ trip, there are some things one should consider before departure.  One such consideration should be the weather variable.  When making plans, a knowledgeable understanding of the destination’s precipitous weather conditions should be studied to guaranty successful itinerary activities and expectations.

At the height of summer, a few damaging, even deadly weather conditions may take place.  In the Caribbean and Americas there may be hurricanes; in Asia and Africa they are called monsoons.  In the USA, specifically the south and mid-west another natural affliction is tornadoes.  Heat waves and torrential rains also weigh into the injurious mix.  A knowledge of the day’s forecast before take-off to start your holiday is advisable.  Check the weather forecast and advisories daily, and a weekly review leading up to your departure date.

Off peak seasons are the cheapest travel times and they usually happen to be when the weather is not considered to be the very best.  In some of my adventures, I chose to travel during the rainy season.  Of course, I watched and noted the forecast and planned my daily activities to suit.  It has been my experience in places like: Costa Rica, Kuala Lumpur, Paraguay and Panama, I have witnessed torrential rains pour down from the sky like clockwork.  Obviously, residents who are familiar with the season, are always prepared when they leave home by carrying an umbrella, raincoat and boots, if needed.   In one of the aforementioned places, I have had my encounter with changing weather patterns too.  I remember traveling with a friend and it was our first day in Paraguay.  We decided (actually, it was my idea since I wanted to see the landscape), to travel to Asuncion by local bus from the airport.  Clearly, this meant a longer time driving to the city since the bus would pick up and drop off passengers along the way.  By the time we arrived in Asuncion, heavy dark clouds had gathered, and it started to rain.  We were riding in the bus, higher off the ground than most sedans.  I could see motor vehicles trying to maneuver away from the pooling water on the roads but thought nothing of it until it became evident, we were experiencing a flash flood.  The rising water started to lap at and climb the bus steps as we drove along.  Some passengers including myself became alarmed and began to scream about the invading water level.  The bus driver then began to look for steeper roads to pull away from the flooding areas.  The rains soon stopped but not before some cars were left stalled in the murky waters.  That flooding experience can be blamed on poor drainage, inadequate infrastructure, or maybe even global warming, but whatever the cause, it was a close call, one that I do not ever want to repeat.

Community Peeps, vacations are relaxing, fun getaways.  However, we must still consider and respect weather conditions wherever we go.  Be prepared by knowing what the day’s forecast is before setting foot outside your door.  Have you ever been caught in bad weather and felt unprepared?  What did you do?  Please share your experience in the comment box below.

Readers, as usual, I invite you to click follow to receive timely updates, select like to show your love and support.  Share this post on your social media site.  Write your comments in the box below.  Your interest, time and attention are always appreciated.  Thank you for reading.

More times,

Itinerary Planner


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