Saturday, December 19, 2009

Home sweet Antigua.


Home base for pretty much the entire trip will be the town of Antigua. By pretty much all accounts, Antigua is a small but very charming town, chock full of colonial Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. The town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and its residents take pride in preserving the colonial look and feel of the town. I read somewhere that there are barely a handful of buildings that are more than 1 storey in height. Whatever the building height, I'mjust hoping I don't see either a McDonald's or a Starbuck's there - that would just crush my expectations!The town is into a valley that is surrounded by three volcanoes that dominate the horizon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chichicastanango.

Chichicastanango. I love the name. It just rolls off the tongue. Commonly referred to just as Chichi, this mountain Guatemalan town is known for for its traditional K'iche' culture.  The K'iche' are the largest indigenous Mayan culture. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Semana Santa.

Holy Week is the last week of Lent and the week before Easter. It starts on Palm Sunday and includes the religious holidays of Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) and Good Friday.  Holy Week commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ and culminates in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  When I think of where to go to celebrate Holy Week, the last place that woud come to mind is Guatemala.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Will he come with me?

Ispoke with my brother Mark today.  He's just  few years younger than I am.  He's a doctor who lives in San Mateo, California and though we don't see each other often, we share many interests in common that whenever we do get together, time flies by quickly because no matter what we do, we thoroughly enjoy ourselves.  One thing we definitely have in common is a penchant for galavanting and exploring new places.  I told him of my plans to go to Guatemala for Semana Santa and I asked if he would be interested in going with me.  Of  course, I was doing my best to twist his arm :-)  I don't know if he as just trying to be polite or if he really meant it, but he told me he would think about it.  I hope he decides to come *keeping my fingers crossed* :-)  The last time we traveled together was a few years back when I made a trip out to the Bay Area.  He had a hankering for a road trip and so did I.  We pulled out the map of California, bounced around a few ideas about where to go and ended up settling on Death Valley National Park.  Yep, Death Valley which at 280+ feet below sea level is the lowest spot in North America.  Name sounds foreboding but it was a place neither of us had been to and the information provided on the park's website made it sound like a very interesting place to see and it turned out to be exactly that.  If you've never been, you must put it on your list of places to see in the US!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

¡Hola Guatemala!

S
o you want to know why am I going to Guatemala? Simple answer. Because I want to experience a very special event and to explore a country that I know almost nothing about.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Memories of China and Mongolia.

This is the diary of my trip to China and Mongolia in the summer of 2009.

I'm writing this posting just a shortwhile after having returned to the US. At the moment, I'm sitting at the departure gate at La Guardia airport. My connecting flight back to DC has been delayed by who knows how long thanks to a really bad thunderstorm hovering over Long Island.

It has been an extremely long travel day and I really, really just want to get home. Luckily, I have my computer and all the photos I took on this trip to help me pass the time.

As I scroll through the pictures, I'm still amazed by all the experiences I had on this trip. I had a phenomenal time from start to finish.

Things in China are of scale and scope that is often hard to fathom. Current day China has a largest population in the world and it seems like all of China was visiting the same sights I was.  Everywhere I went, I was surrounded by masses of people.

And, if Beijing is not already the largest city, geography wise, in the world, it soon will be. The size of its airport is most certainly daunting as one terminal is more than a mile long!  Unlike DC, where we only have one highway that encircles the city, Beijing has 5 and I was told there would soon be a sixth Ring Road.  Unbelievable!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sain yavaarai!

Back row, from left to right: Sharon (Shaz), Adrian (Doors), Violeta, Erka, Theresa, Puji, Rachel, Gamba, Karen, Forrest, Evan, Adam and another one of our drivers.
Front row, from left to right: Our driver (and I'm so bad for not remembering his name considering we spent 10 days riding around in his car), me, Eric, Cathleen, Jenny, Marilyn and the another of our drivers. Maree took the photo so she's not in the shot.



T
he title of this posting is how you say goodbye in Mongolian. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. Puji said it about a million times to me but I just can't get it :-(

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Picnics.


When you're travelling across the Mongolian steppe, where villages are far and few between, the only lunchtime dining option is to bring your food along and picnic. So, that's what we did on most of our roadtrip days.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Riding camels on the dunes of the Bayan Gobi.



T
he sand dunes of Bayan Gobi were as close as we were going to get to any landscape that remotely resembles the famed Gobi Desert.

On the road.


T
here were a lot of long car rides on this trip. Fortunately, good conversation helped bide the time. If no one felt like chatting, I plugged my headphones and listened to some music. One thing for certain, the rides were way to bumpy to do any reading so looking out the window and watching the scenery go by was a good option.

Uh.....



S
ome things you can't explain. Uh, such is the case with the stone penis that we saw on our way out of Kharkhorin.

Puji said we had to go visit it....it's a famous landmark. Uh....okay. So we went and we saw. Uh, photo op anyone? Not me. I let Puji do the honors.

Supposedly, the penis was erected (no pun intended...*blushing*) so it points up towards a supposedly 'vaginal' slope above. This was allegedly a deterrent to restrain the sexual impulses of the monks and ensure their good behavior.

Uh, sure...*wink, wink*

The Chant of the Monks.



H
ard to believe but I was in Tibet for 10 days and during that short stay, I managed to vist quite a few Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. Go figure that I would not hear monks chanting until I visted Erdene Zuu Monastery in Mongolia.

We arrived at Erdene Zuu just in time for the 11am chanting session. I was determined to experience the chanting so I quickly rushed to the chanting hall.

Erdene Zuu.



O
ne of the highlights of my trip to Mongolia was our visit to Erdene Zuu Monastery, located on the site of Chingis Khan’s capital city of Kharkhorin. Kharkhorin is often confused with the "Karakorum" (the mountains and highway between Pakistan and China) but it is actually pronounced "Harhorin" . The city was founded in 1220 by Chingis, and completed by his son, Ogedai, after his death.

The Eagle and I.



I
got to hold a Golden Eagle!! No, I wasn't hunting. This was very touristy moment that took place in the vendor stalls just outside the entrance to Erdene Zuu Monastery. There was one vendor who for a small fee, (can't remember how much.....didn't really care) would let you put on a leather glove and hold the bird. I simply could not turn down this opportunity and I'm so glad I did it!

The day the moon came between the sun & the earth.



T
his morning, we saw a partial solar eclipse!!

A solar eclipse is when the moon sits between the sun and the earth. In a total eclipse, the skies go dark as the moon completely blocks the sun so all you see is the corona of the sun.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Zayain Khüree.



W
e arrived into Tsetserleg, the provincial capital of Arkhangai, just after lunch. Finally, a town that I can actually point to on the map! Woohoo! :-)

Taikhar Chuluu. That's some rock!


T
aikhar Chuluu is a 25 meter tall pinnacle of granite that rises abruptly from the surrounding grassland. On our way to Tsetserleg, we took a quick stop to check it out. If the vendors were any indication, this place is quite the tourist hotspot. Who would've thought?

Chuluut River Canyon.


O
n our way to Tsetserleg, we broke journey to stretch our legs, return Mother Nature's call, and have a look at the Chuluut River Canyon. The canyon was really nothing much to look at especially if you compare it to the spectacular Grand Canyon.

Unlike the Grand Canyon which is composed of layers of sandstone, shale and limestone, the Chuluut River Canyon is a swatch through basalt rock which imparts the predominantly gray coloration.

The Chuluut River is famous for its rich fishing grounds and there are plenty of fish tours that come here. Of course, the waters in Mongolia are so pristine, I think every river and lake is teeming with fish!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur. This one didn't get away.


K
nown as the "Great White Lake" in English, Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is a large, freshwater lake located within Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.

According to legend, the lake was formed when an elderly couple forgot to cap a well after fetching water. Scientifically speaking, the lake was formed by lava flows from a volcanic eruption many millennia ago.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Khorgo Uul.



K
horgo Uul is an extinct volcano that ies east of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur Together, the volcano and the lake are the core of the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. We arrived at the volcano late this afternoon. It was a cold and dreary day so I put on the blue plastic rain jacket that we had gotten from Puji. As I got out of the SUV, I felt the raindrops. Luckily, it was just a light drizzle....not enough to deter us from hiking up to the top of the volcano.

Walking on water.



S
heep, horses, camels, gers, and wide open sky. These were things I was expecting to see on my trip through Mongolia. Never in a million years was I expecting to see water zorbs. Would you? :-)

As we drove along the shores of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Great White Lake), we all of sudden saw five brightly colored plastic balls floating on the surface of the placid lake. Huh? What was this all about? We had to find out so our caravan of SUVs pulled over and we all jumped out. As we neared the balls, I could tell they were zorbs but I had never seen ones on water.

Jargalant.



W
e're in Jargalant....located somewhere in Mongolia....basically, another town in the middle of nowhere. We arrived into Jargalant around mid-morning and had a couple hours to kill. First stop was the local grocery store to pick up some munchies. According to Puji, there is a small Lama Buddhist temple and a museum in town.....in case any one was need of a culture fix. It was a beautiful day so I just decided to wander about, look at the scenery and do some people watching.

Mongolia bridge fallin' down.



I
f London bridge is fallin' down, then this wooden bridge that we came across on our way to Jargalant is on it's last stud :-)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Zuun Nuur.


W
e arrived at the ger camp at Zuun Nuur in the late afternoon. This was the first time that several of the gers were three person gers. I shared one with Sharon and Adrian and Violeta bunked in with Alexandra and Teresa. Perfect for her because our Portuguese travel mates prefer to be sleeping in a really, really warm ger which is perfect for Violeta.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Khövsgöl Nuur.


Q
uick lesson in Mongolian. "Nuur" means "lake" so this posting is about our visit to Lake Khövsgöl. Don't ask me how to pronounce the name....I'll mangle it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Camping under the Mongolian sky.


N
o ger for us to sleep in tonight. Instead, the plan was to find ourselves a Mongolian family that we could dine and *bunk* in with....our opportunity to *bond* with a local family. Actually, the plan was to share a meal with them and while they snoozed in the comfort of their gers, we would be camping it....tents and sleeping bags would be our rooms and beds for the night!

It's a dzo. It's a what?



A
dzo ("zo"). That would be a creature that is part yak and part domesticated cow. True yaks can only survive in higher elevations but they make great pack animals and their milk is of a higher fat than that of the cow. So, for Mongolians, the best of both worlds is the bybridized dzo. Properly speaking, the creature is referred to as a "khainag" in Mongolian but dzo is easier to say so that's the term I used.

Four-legged beauties.



T
he breed of horses that are found in Mongolia are the Przewalski's Horse. Unlike their European cousins, the Lippazaners and the Andaluasians, this breed is not a tall, lean, muscular stallions. Instead, they are short, stocky mustangs that roam freely on the range....they are the working horses of Mongolia. Even so, they are beautiful, with large heads and long manes and tails.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Erdenet and Uran Togoo.



T
he destinations for today's roadtrip were Erdenet and Uran Togoo.

We hit the road right after breakfast. More bumpy roads. I let Violeta sit by the door so she had a handle to hang on to. Poor thing....the bumpy ride was not something she was used to. Sharon sat beside the other door and I was squashed between the two of them. We gave Adrian the front passenger seat so he could have room for his legs.





First night on the Mongolian steppe.



H
otel? What hotel? There would be no hotel stays on our trip through Mongolia. Gers all the way!!

More commonly known as the *yurt*, a ger is structure that is made of a circular wooden frame that is comprised of one or more lattice wall-sections, a door-frame, roof poles and a crown.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Amarbayasgalant Monastery.



M
y tummy was full, the ride was bumpy, the scenery was spectacular and the traveller chat with Violeta, Sharon and Adrian was helping pass the time away. I was having a great time!

Our next destination was Amarbayasgalant Monastery.

On our way.....!!



U
laan Baatar is not one of my favorite cities and I could not wait to get out of it into the Mongolian countryside.

Today's the day we begin our roadtrip!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

We're off to the races!



H
orseracing was the last of the three *manly* sports of Naadam that we had yet to experience....that is until today!

Shortly after breakfast, the mini-bus showed up at our hotel to take us to the races! Very excited. Had no idea what I was going to be in for but always up for whatever adventure awaits me!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Under the Big Top.


Y
esterday, Puji told us about the circus and so I decided wanted to go because I love the circus and been a-g-e-s since I've been under the Big Top. I love the acrobats, the clowns, the animals...everything and I've never been to a circus outside the U.S. so this was an opportunity I was not going to miss out on. Somehow I managed to convince Violeta, Sharon and Adrian to come with me. As it turned out, Adrian was a "circus virgin" and he was not sure this was going to be something he was going to be interested in but he was up for it.

Naadam Festival. The Archers!



A
fter lunch, we all headed back to Central Stadium to watch the archery events. Held in a smaller venue than the open ceremony was, Violeta and I were able to get a good spot in the viewing area to watch the events from. From our vantage point, in the viewing stand, we could see the image of Chinggis Khan painted into the hillside.

Who needs the WWE....



W
hen you have the wrestlers of the Naadam Festival?

Mongolian wrestling is THE highlight of Naadam but I must admit, unless you know how the sport is played, you can't really follow it so for me, it was more people watching.
Of course, the first thing you notice is the wrestling *outfit* which comes in two colors - red and blue. Didn't seem to matter if the top and bottom were the same color or opposite colors.

....and the horsemen opened the show.


I
t wasn't the President of Mongolia speaking that opened the Naadam Festival. Even Grand Marshal riding around in the car did not signal the start for me. No, for me it was the horsemen who heralded the opening of the festival.

Naadam!



A
fter years of dreaming and months of planning, I finally get to see experience the Naadam Festival today!! Pinch me! So, so excited!!

We woke up to a cold and dreary day in Ulaan Baatar. Rain was threatening. After breakfast, I piled on a couple extra layers of clothing and put my umbrella in my backpack.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Mongolian gang.


T
onight, Violeta and I met with our tour leader and fellow tour mates.

Our fearless leader is an Aussie by the name of Adam Martin. He's freelance tour leader who focuses on tours through Indochina. He was a last minute fill-in for the person who was suppose to be leading us but who fell sick and couldn't do it. This is his first trip to Mongolia. It's going to be interesting to see how well he holds up and does his job.

This is largest I've travelled with of late. There's 15 of us in total.

There's Sharon and Adrian who are a married couple from New Zealand but who have been travelling around the globe for the past 7 months.

A reunion with Doug!



D
oug Plaxton, Canadian by birth, a part time actor body double by profession and world traveller since January 2008. I met Doug in Croatia - more specifically, on a ferry ride from Split to Hvar Island. On that day, Doug connected with Lei and I.....the poor ended up with us, trying to hitch hike from Stari Grad to Hvar Town. At lunch that day, we exchanged contact information. The next time I logged into my Facebook account, there was a friend request from Doug and so I added him to my list.

Welcome to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia!



I
can't believe I'm in Mongolia!

It all started very early this morning, at 4 am to be exact which is when my alarm went off on my cellphone. I quickly scrambled out of bed, washed up, dressed, did my last minute bit of packing and headed downstairs to catch a cab to the airport. I had booked a cab the day before so I waited patiently for it to show up. Minutes late and I was getting antsy. I am so impatient when it comes to waiting for cabs to take me to the airport. Fifteen minutes past due time and I asked the desk manager to call me another cab which he kindly did.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Eatin' the day and night away.


I
love to eat which explains why I am not and will never be a skinny Minnie. And of all the food cultures in the world, Chinese cuisine is one of, if not THE (okay, a little bias on my part) most varied. I have eaten Chinese food since the day that I was born and I rarely go for long stretches without it. So, I have been in foodie heaven since I first stepped foot in Shanghai.

Lama Temple.



O
n my last afternoon in Beijing, I went to see the Lama Temple.

Formally known as the Yonghe Temple , "Lama Temple" is a Tibetan Buddhist temple located very near the Hou Hai Lake area.

Can you get any cuter than this?


P
andas epitomize cuteness. I don't know of anyone who will argue with that statement :-) The sight of these fuzzy, black and white, roly-poly four legged creatures will instantly melt my heart. We're lucky that we have three pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, DC but of course, I'm in China, homeland of the panda so I must see one before I leave. I found out that they have a few juveniles at the Beijing Zoo so I arranged with one of my tour guides to make a quick pit stop at the zoo on the way to the Summer Palace. Yes, I bought a ticket to go to the zoo to just see the pandas :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A rainy day in Beijing.



I
woke up this morning to gray, overcast skies. A whole day of rain was forecasted. Luckily, I had not planned to do any sightseeing today. Instead t was going to be a day dedicated to shopping....to the Silk Market in the afternoon and in the morning, to a newly built shopping plaza nearby Tiananemen Square that I had seen on our taxi ride back from Olympic Park.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I have bad kidney chi :-(



Iwent to see a Chinese doctor today for a health check. How did this happen? Well, because as part of one of my local tours of Beijing I was offered the opportunity to visit a pearl necklace. I am not a pearl girl so I asked if they could arrange for me to visit a Chinese doctor instead. Of course, they obliged. Why did I want to see the doctor? Well, I'm unfortunately reaching that stage in a woman's life where my body is undergoing changes and I wanted to make sure all was okay.

Houhai.



H
houhai is the name of a Lake in Beijing and the area that surrounds it. I love this part of town. It has that wonderful mix of urban/suburban, new/edgy, and old/traditional that so appeals to me.

Cabbing it old style.


B
eijing is a thoroughly modern city. Although bicylces are still a very popular form of getting about town, town is so spread out that it's easier to get from point A to point B by car, bus or subway. But many of the hutongs are too narrow to accomodate for even the smallest of cars so in these neighborhoods, bicycles are still the preferred form of transport.

Beijing hutong. The 'hood gone by.


L
ast night when I got back to my room there was a message waiting from me from someone named Ekco. Who? The note read to call her back with regards to my tour for the following day. So he/she was my local guide for the next day. I returned the call and made plans to meet in the hotel lobby the next day.