On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Back to Coffeeneuring again after missing last year due to my bike trip to Portugal. This fall, the weather in Edmonton has been abysmal for biking. Almost the whole of September and early October has been snowy and cold. Lucky for me then that I spent most of this time on a bike trip in PEI and Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, where the weather was far more conducive for biking. I arrived home just in time for another dump of snow but, by the official start date for coffeeneuring, the snow had melted and the air temperature smartened up a bit. So here goes my attempt to get in my 7 rides in 7 weeks for 7 coffees!

Coffeeneuring #1

Where: To Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 14, 2018

What: A latte at Sips & Sweets (also known as La Crema Caffe), St. Albert

Distance: 16.8 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28727307

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts across the street but nothing in front of the cafe itself.

Weather: Sunny, 0C to start my ride but warming to 5C by the time I got home. Nice day for riding.

Duckweed on the storm ponds frozen into pointillism-like swirls.
The trees are mostly bare now. No fall colours here.
I love the frozen duckweed patterns in the ponds. Very artistic.
A very humdrum latte. No art here! But it was warm inside, sitting in the sun.

Coffeeneuring #2

Where: Edmonton Garrison, Namao, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip muffin at the Tim Horton’s on the base.

Distance: 51.81 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28806351

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks, have to lean bikes against the building, but pretty safe.

Weather: Sunny, 10C when started at noon but warmed to 20C by the time I got home. Abnormally beautiful fall day.

Leafy trail through the woods on the way to the base.
On the bike trail to the base. Field finally harvested after all that snow in September.
Small Tims coffee and chocolate chip muffin – my usual treat at the 38 km mark.

Coffeeneuring #3

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 21, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Good Earth Cafe, 130 Bellerose, St. Albert

Distance: 26.61 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28929473

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks but lots of bolted down steel chairs to attach a bike to on a large accessible patio. This place is one of our “go-to” stops on our club rides in St. Albert, when 40-60 of us show up.

Weather: Sunny, 5C when started at noon but warmed to 10C at finish.

The Sturgeon River in St. Albert. Not much greenery anymore but no ice yet.
Nice enough day to have my coffee outside in the sunshine, although I was the only person on the patio.

Coffeeneuring #4

Where: My usual route to Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Friday, October 26, 2018

What: A french press coffee at Cerdo Tacos & Tequila, Perron Street, St. Albert

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29058214

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. One bike rack, which can accommodate a few bikes, on a common patio for the shops in the area.

Weather:  An overcast 8C with a cool north wind. The coffee was a nice warm-up.

The only coffee they offered was a french press and I was not allowed to take it outside on the patio. Afraid of me running off with the press I guess. My bike just visible through the window.

Coffeeneuring #5

Although I went to the gym for a stationary bike ride and a workout, I needed to get this coffeeneuring ride in while the weather was still nice for riding. So I just did a short ride over to Juntos, a nice coffee shop in the Campbell industrial park. For a change, I rode up Poundmaker Road, a dirt road on the edge of St. Albert. It had been recently graded and sprayed with calcium and, although a little slick, was not bad to ride on. If I didn’t have to get back home to prepare for the trick-or-treaters (carve pumpkin, get treats ready, etc), I would have done a longer ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Juntos Bistro, St. Albert

Distance: 8.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29189397

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks at all even though our bike club takes up to 40 riders there on our rides in St. Albert. Gets kinda crowded in the parking lot with bikes strewn everywhere. I was the only bike there today though so just leaned it up against their window.

Weather:  An overcast 5C. Not much wind so it was really pleasant for riding.

An only mildly bumpy Poundmaker Road but still shook the camera enough to fuzz up the photo 😦
Coffee and cookie, with my bike patiently waiting outside.
It has been dry enough, finally, for the fields to be combined.
Bare trees but clean trail. Flurries in the forecast for tomorrow so it was good to get out today.

Coffeeneuring #6

After 2 weeks of roller coaster weather – snow, followed by a partial melt, followed by frigid temps (-20C wind chills), then more snow, and repeat ad nauseum – I was finally able to get out for a ride. The streets and paths had melted off enough to ride, although I took it pretty slow going around corners. It started out sunny and +5C and ended up overcast and +4C by the time I got home, but still felt great to get the bike out again. Took advantage of the “coffee shop without walls” rule.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What: A coffee on the Poole boardwalk in Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert.

Distance: 16.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29542484

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, it being a boardwalk through a wetland and all, but lots of observing areas to park a bike and um, observe.

Weather:  A sunny then overcast 5C.

Critter tracks on the frozen ponds. Probably a fox looking for any waterfowl that got caught in the last freeze.
My bike on the snowy, though melting, observation boardwalk. Nice place to sit and have a coffee.
The path was wet but not icy. Yet. That skim of water will turn to slippery ice by the evening.

Coffeeneuring #7

It was touch and go whether I would be able to complete the challenge this year but a few days of thaw enabled me to take an embarrassingly short ride out to the gazebo at the north end of the Red Willow Trail in St. Albert. With no fat bike or studded tires, I took it pretty carefully on my completely iced up residential street. The main roads and the Trail were mostly ice-free but it still required my full attention to make sure that I stayed vertical. There were still a few sneaky ice patches lurking in the shadows ready to do me harm if started to get complacent! My target destination was the final rest stop that we use on our weekly road rides in St. Albert – a gazebo at the north edge of town. This ride approached it from the opposite direction from what we usually do and after a considerably shorter ride. The city had not cleaned off the trail in that part of the park and it was mostly glare ice for the last few hundred metres but doable with care. There is no coffee shop anywhere nearby so this was another “coffee shop without walls” ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What: A hot chocolate at the gazebo in Kingswood Park, St. Albert.

Distance: A paltry 4.1 km

Ride Link: No link this time. Hardly worth it 😦

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. No bike racks but lots of room to lean bikes on the gazebo and bushes surrounding it. Our summer rides have had as many as 12 bikes comfortably and safely resting.

Weather:  A partially sunny 4C.

My icebound street. Sidewalk was mostly ice free but the street needed my careful attention.


The gazebo – a dry island in a field of snow and ice.


The approach to the gazebo was a little slick. That is solid ice, not slushy at all. Slow riding.


My thermos of hot chocolate and coffeeneuring patch from a few years ago.


The Sturgeon River ice-free again. Has been frozen and thawed multiple times already this season with our roller coaster weather.


My South American Adventure

Pretty deficient on posts in the last while but this should make up for it. I spent Nov 8 to Dec 7 in Peru and the Galapagos touring, trekking, sightseeing and just having a good time in places I’ve never seen. This is the diary of my travels, with a few pictures to hopefully enhance my non-flowery prose.

Nov 8 – Awakened just after 3 am by what my sleep-muddled brain thought was my alarm. I opened my iPad to turn it off and saw that Air Canada had emailed me that my 7:25 am flight to Toronto was cancelled due to a mechanical problem! I then realized that it was my cell phone ringtone that woke me up so then listened to the phone message. They had re-booked me on a 6 am flight. Could I get to the airport in time for it? Yikes!

I called Lucille, who I was supposed to pick up for the 7:25 flight, but no answer. I no sooner hung up when she called me. She was re-booked on a flight through Winnipeg at 9 am but wanted me to pick her up anyway so I quickly left. No traffic, only went through 2 red lights (it was 4 am and no cars in intersections), and I got to her place and the airport quickly. The check-in attendant arranged for her to get on my flight. Lots of room! Why didn’t the others get re-booked for this one? They got routed through Winnipeg instead. An uncomfortable start to a month-long trip!

We arrived in Toronto just after noon, had lunch and loitered around the terminal while waiting for Gaye, Blaine and Deb to arrive.

They got in just after 4 pm, had a bite to eat and we all waited to board our 5:50pm flight to Lima. The Air Canada Rouge 767-300 is an old, tired airplane! Our A-321 from YEG was way more comfortable. We were in the air shortly after 6 pm for an almost 8 hour journey in discomfort. I was seated in 27C, an aisle seat just behind a bulkhead but it was the shortest legroom bulkhead I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t stretch even my short legs out, except for the one on the aisle. And a hard seat, with not much padding. The bathroom door springs were worn out so the doors didn’t close on their own, leaving lots of light spilling out after people left. Not the best situation when on an overnight flight and sitting right behind the bathroom! And the vents were cycling between hot and cold. Sigh…it was to be a long flight. They served an acceptable meal around 9 p.m. – I chose chicken this time, after the lousy pasta experience on the Portugal flight a few weeks before – and settled in with half a book that Lucille gave me (literally – she ripped it in 2 after finishing the 1st half, ever mindful of the extra weight). Got up to walk around a few times but limited places to go!

Don’t think I dozed but my eyes closed for a while after I finished my half of the book. It was going to be a long, tiring day ahead.

Nov 9 – We arrived in Lima at 4 a.m. but Blaine and Deb’s bags were delayed for some reason. Ours had arrived on the carousel right away. Eventually their bags appeared and we made our way out. A cab driver was waiting for us and took us to Hotel El Ducado. Asleep by 5:30 am but awake again at 7:30 am to get ready for our bike tour of Lima that Gaye had booked a few weeks before. We had breakfast at the hotel then off to the bike shop by 10. Jose, the tour guide who Gaye had arranged, had bikes waiting and after signing forms we were off on city tour. Lots of traffic, horns, some nice separated bike lanes and some quiet streets. Peruvian drivers verge on manic and impatient but, remarkably, we didn’t see any collisions. It’s a chaos that they are used to, obviously. The historical centre was busy and crowded and we had to walk our bikes a few times when the crowds got too thick. Stopped for lunch at 2 p.m. at Tinta. Got back to the bike shop at 5:30 after 23 kms of touring. Here’s a link to the tour route. Had supper in a mall by the ocean then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and grab taxis to the bus station (30 soles per cab). Took the Excluciva overnight bus to Nazca, with the fold-flat sleeping pods on upper level. Very comfortable and we all got a good sleep. If you ever take a Peruvian bus – get the 180° sleeping pods, even for day trips. The extra expense is worth it!

Nov 10 – Arrived in Nazca at 4 a.m. and the taxis that Lucille had arranged were waiting for us. Got to the Travel One hotel and went immediately up to the room. Again, asleep by 5:30 and awake at 7:30 but with enough sleep because of the overnight bus. The cost of the hotel was only $9 US each! The driver from the hotel/airline (Aeronazca) drove us to airport, arranged the flight over the lines, drove us back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and drove us to the bus. Said it was all included in hotel price! We all gave him good tips. The flight over the Nazca lines, and the bored commentary by the pilot (“…and, pay attention, here we see the triangles…”), was pretty unremarkable. The lines/figures, for the most part, are very indistinct. It was a clear day but they were hard to see, except for the 2 by the observation tower on the highway. That is understandable considering their age but there are a lot of other much more recent and distracting lines (survey lines?, vehicle tracks?) that serve as graffiti on that ancient canvas. Although I am glad that I did see them, I would not recommend spending the time and money to see them if any of my friends plan to travel to Peru in the future, especially if time is an issue. We had lunch at Mamashama and walked back to bus station for the Cruz del Sur trip to Arequipa.

The “tree” and “hands” figures from the Nazca Lines.

We departed a little late at 3 pm. Nice bus again but on the bottom floor this time and not in the 180° pods on the upper level. Should have spent the extra and got the pods – these bottom level seats don’t recline as far and you are in your neighbours lap, like on an airplane. Otherwise quite comfy though, with seatback tv screen and power receptacles. They served a warmish supper soon after departure and we just watched the landscape. Desert and desolate! Sand everywhere. Eventually got to the ocean and started many switchbacks up and down. Climb bluffs, back down and repeat. Big surf when the ocean was in view! Sun went down at 6 pm, straight down. Sunset sure is different close to the equator! After dark, couldn’t see through windows but still lots of switchbacks. Highest speed I saw on the public speedometer was just over 80 kph but mostly in 50s, reflecting the bendiness and steepness of the roads.

Had another bus snack at 8:30 pm. Mostly boring ride and, because of bumpiness, couldn’t do any reading or iPad stuff. Don’t think any of us managed to sleep either.

Nov 11 – We arrived in Arequipa 2 hours late, at 1 am. Apparently this bus is always late. Found a taxi to hotel, taking all 5 of us, and all 5 of us had to share one room (and 1 bathroom) due to their booking error. At least the room had 5 beds! Didn’t get to bed until 3 am then up at 7 to be picked up at the hotel at 8 am for the Colca Canyon tour. Another dozen or so people were on the 24-passenger minibus and we headed out. After a while we stopped for a break and snacks and I bought some coca leaves. Guide showed us how to use them – just place a wad of leaves between teeth and gums, let it mix with your saliva, then spit them out after 10 minutes or so. Numbs mouth a little but didn’t feel any other effect and the taste wasn’t offensive. Cruising along on Highway 34A, we stopped at a nice viewpoint to look at wild vicuñas, with El Misti volcano providing a particularly nice backdrop.

El Misti volcano and vicuñas on the way to Colca Canyon.

Vicuñas, a little closer.

And, of course, the ever-present ladies in costume, with their llamas and alpacas, selling souvenirs. I observed one unsettling sight though – road workers, whose job was obviously to clean up the plentiful road side trash, just tossing that trash over the side of a convenient bluff rather than picking it up! Out of sight, out of mind, though grossly lazy.

After turning north on Highway 1SE, we stopped for a pit stop and tea break. Our guide said that anyone with high blood pressure should not try the Inca tea concoction that they sell there, touted to combat the effects of altitude. My blood pressure is fine so I figured that I was safe to try it. It was a combination of 3 teas – coca tea and 2 others. Even though I felt fine at the time  – no symptoms of altitude sickness at all – I thought that the more help I had to get used to the altitude, the better. In retrospect, that was a bad idea to try it even though it tasted quite pleasant. Back on the bus, we continued to cruise along at 4200 metres elevation on the high plains on the way to Chivay. I started feeling strange after about 20 minutes, hot and sweaty and couldn’t focus my eyes – like veils being progressively draped over them – and then passed out. Lucille called for help and first thing I remember was wondering why the tour guide had my legs propped up over the top of the seat in front of me and why did my mouth taste like puke? Because he was trying to get blood back to my brain and I had puked the tea up when unconscious! The guide gave me cotton dosed with rubbing alcohol, which helps open breathing and blood vessels, enabling more oxygen to get to brain. My head and stomach felt like I had a bad hangover, which IS a symptom of altitude sickness, but it came on so suddenly and powerfully that I think it was a reaction to the Inca tea. Thankfully, I was able to change my shirt when we stopped a few minutes later. Took a picture at 4900 m elevation, the highest point on the road.

Gaye and a bloated me, post poisoning and with a clean shirt, on the highest point on the road – 4910 metres (16,100 ft).

Finally arrived in Chivay, where we were put up for the night at the Casa Andina.

Nov 12 – Felt crappy all day, still feeling horribly hungover due to being poisoned, but the fresh air when walking the Colca Canyon viewing trail helped. Great view of condors and saw about 14 of them soaring. Long day of driving again but spectacular views of the canyon. Arrived in Puno after dark so didn’t even see Lake Titicaca.

A condor coming right at me. Beautiful sight!

A small part of Colca Canyon.

Nov 13 – Got up early and walked to the lake for a few pictures then to the bus station which was nearby. Caught the bus to Cusco, which is at considerably lower elevation than Puno. Arrived at 2:30 pm. Our hotel, the two-star Casa Campasina, was very close to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and the taxi took us most of way there. Our street was too busy and narrow for it to stop on so we had to walk a few blocks. Checked in, then went for a walkabout. We found the Alpaca Expeditions office, Lucille paid for her hike – the rest of us were going to wait until Thursday – and had supper. Lucille found a place offering a Rainbow Mountain hike for tomorrow, so she booked it.

Nov 14 – The four of us did the free walking tour of Cusco from 10 till just after lunch while Lucille left very early to do the Rainbow Mountain hike. I was still feeling too bad to attempt that hike, to my disappointment. The city tour was informative and the guide (Diego) explained much of the history of Cusco. He took us to some retail places (great alpaca goods store), demonstration of Incan musical instruments, pointed out good examples of Incan stone construction and eventually up into San Blas for pisco sours (not for me, still with “tea” hangover). We asked Diego if he could recommend a good, cheap, lunch spot. He pointed us to a small restaurant in a non-touristy area close to the square so we tried it out. In my naivete, I asked the waiter “menu, por favor”. Well apparently that means that you want the set menu for lunch, not a paper menu to choose from! We only caught on when he started loading the table with soup, then drinks, then main course. It was all good though and only cost 9 sols apiece, about $3.50! After wandering around town some more, checking out markets and all, we met Lucille for supper – she none the worse for wear after hiking to 5200 metre elevation (over 17,000 ft) and still pumped after her hike.

An “Incan” performer in Cusco. He played many of the musical instruments on display.

A typical wall of Incan construction. The precise stonework showed that it was part of a temple foundation.

Nov 15 – We arranged for a tour of the Sacred Valley through our hotel for $35 US including lunch. We visited the Pisac terraces, had a great buffet lunch in Urubamba, then went to the Ollantaytambo ruins and Chinchero for textile dying demonstration. You can see why the valley was sacred – it is so green and fertile! The Incans, not to mention present day Peruvians, made very efficient use of the flat valley floor and the terrace system climbing up the mountain sides, with each terrace earmarked for a different crop that would produce best at the elevation/temperature.

Overlooking the Sacred Valley

Some of the terraces at Pisac. For scale, the dots on the highest terrace are people. Each terrace wall is about 8 feet high.

A Pisac terrace wall. The amount of work to build the terraces was incredible.

The Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo

The amazingly precise stonework of Incan temple walls.

Nov 16 – Finally feeling ok! We wandered around the city for the day, relaxing before the trek. Went to the Alpaca office in the afternoon to pay (cash only) and in the evening to get our duffels and meet other trekkers, 13 of us in all. Six women from Toronto (Linda, Jackie, Jen, Dara, Lynn and Heather), 1 woman from Belgium (Pauline, 23 yr old) and 1 girl from Australia (Audrey, 19). I was the oldest in the group. Alpaca said that every hotel in Cusco would have a scale to weigh our duffel, to make sure we stayed within the maximum weight, but not ours! Just estimated the weight and packed everything up for early morning.

Nov 17 – The Alpaca bus picked us up at our hotel at 4 am, picked up others at their hotels and then headed out to the trailhead. Drove for 2 hours to the trailhead, at km 82 of the rail line, where they made us breakfast, then we started the hike. Nice morning and not hard walking. Had a few hills and steps but not too strenuous, probably because the adrenaline was flowing with the excitement of what was to come. Lots of pack horses and mules on the trail carrying supplies to people who lived along the trail and for construction projects. I rounded one corner and saw a cloud of dust rising from the valley below. At first I thought that it was steam from a hot spring but NO! One of the horses, carrying 50 kg of cement, had fallen off the side of the narrow trail, rolling and crashing through the trees and underbrush down a steep and deep ravine! Everyone thought it was dead because it was a long way down but it was not hurt at all! They found it grazing at the bottom, minus the cement of course, none the worse for wear. We arrived at our Day 1 camp just before 5 pm, with Lucille and I ahead of the rest of our group. Good and plentiful supper, considering the chef only had the use of a 2-burner propane stove. Told we would be awakened at 4:30 am next morning, have breakfast at 5 and leave by 6. We needed the early start because of the long day ahead. Good tents (Eureka Timberline), thick mattresses and warm mummy bags. Wore long johns and socks to bed initially but before long stripped them off because too warm. 14 km hiked.

Our group of 13 at the start of the trek. All eager and ready to go.

There is climbing on the 1st day too. It’s not all flat!

Some steep sections on this day but it was still an easy day.

The group of 5 on Day 1. Not bedraggled yet 🙂

Our line of tents on 2 terraces. The campsites are clean and flat and the camping equipment is first rate. Thankfully, Alpaca provides their own toilet tents so we don’t have to use the nasty public squat toilets.

Nov 18 – Day 2 is hardest day on the trek because of the distance, steepness and altitude. Our guide, Lizandro, led the way uphill for the first 2 hours, stopping every 10 minutes for a rest. Good slow and steady pace. After 2 hours he let us go at our own pace while he stayed with the slower ones. Lucille, Jen and I kept together at a good pace, stopping every 5 minutes, or sometimes less, as the trail got higher and steeper. Lots of stairs, spaced unevenly and at random angles, so it’s hard to maintain a consistent pace. If you are reasonably fit, the climb and distance are not hard – it’s the lack of oxygen that wears you out. The muscles don’t hurt, you just feel bagged! Got to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek at 4215 metres, around 9:45 am and rested and waited for the others. Pauline and Audrey, with their young legs and lungs, got there before us but not by much. Blaine and Gaye arrived about a half hour after we did and we started down other side about 10 minutes later. Reached the bottom of the other side, at Pacamayo, after 2 hours and the porters had tarps and mattresses laid out for us to rest on while lunch was being prepared. Much appreciated, especially since we had to wait about another 90 minutes for rest of the group to arrive. Had lunch, then another 2 hours more to climb Runkuracay Pass, then 2 more back down to our Day 2 campsite, about 30 minutes past the turnoff to the Sayaqmarca ruins. All in all, it was a wonderful day. The challenge of the physical exertion combined with the altitude, the many Incan ruins that we passed and explored, the great scenery and – bonus – no rain at all, made for a great hike. 16 km hiked.

So near yet so far. Dead Woman’s Pass is just to the left of the nipple.

One of our many breaks on the way to the top.

Almost there. Rest breaks are closer together now as the air gets thinner.

At the top!! 4215 m elevation.

Waiting at the top of Dead Woman’s Pass for our group.

Only a dozen steps to go to the top but Gaye needed a break!

Down the uneven steps on the other side of the pass. Constant care and concentration are required.

One of our porters. These guys are awesome!

Nov 19 – An easier and even prettier day, with not as much climbing but a fair amount of descending. Went through the cloud forest and different ecosystems. The trail has many of the numerous types of orchids that grow in the park and Lizandro was good at finding them. The blossoms on most are about the size of a fingernail though, not the huge kinds you see in a botanical garden. It rained for about 3 hours in the morning but, surprisingly, the rocks were not slippery. The ponchos get in the way of our feet when on steps though, and there are some hellishly steep steps, so we had to tie them up a little and be careful. Passed by more ruins – Phuyupatamarka, Intipata – and arrived in camp well before supper. Lizandro led us over to the ruins by Camp 3, Wiñay Wayna, which he claimed were in better shape than MP.  Lots of pictures later, and getting slightly lost, we made our way back to camp. That is the first spot on the trail with cell reception so there were a bunch of people on the roof of the bathroom trying to get a signal! For the first 2 days, there are numerous campsites for the different trekking companies to use. For Day 3, every trekker on the trail had to use this one. So it was a confusing campsite with all 500 people staying there overnight on a multitude of camping terraces that all look the same! For supper, our cook baked a cake for Lucille’s birthday, which was a nice touch and hard to do on a propane stove! We had the porter tipping ceremony after supper, with all porters and trekkers introducing themselves. This is the last time we will see the porters, since they go down to Aguas Calientes by a different route tomorrow, bypassing Machu Picchu. 10 km hiked.

A rainy morning required ponchos but a pain on the steps.

One of the many Incan ruins on the way to Machu Picchu.

The steps on day 3 were worse than on day 2. Irregular, uneven and STEEP!

Wiñay Wayna ruins, near the day 3 campsite.

Nov 20 – up at 3:30 am so we could be close to the beginning of the line for entry to the last part of the trail. Had a light breakfast then a 5-minute walk out of camp before we hit the lineup for the Sun Gate registration! We waited until it opened at 4:30 then headed off to the Sun Gate. Got to the monkey steps, an extremely steep set of 60 steps leading to the Sun Gate, at 5:40. Misty and not great views of MP initially but a few breaks in the clouds allowed us to get a few decent shots. After about 45 minutes up there, we continued down for another 45 minutes to reach MP. We hung around the top for a while for more pictures, then made our way down to the registration office. Got our passports stamped (!) and then back up again, with Lizandro guiding and explaining what we were seeing.  Caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes around 2 pm, met the group for lunch then wandered around town till the 4:20 train back to Ollantaytambo. The Alpaca van was there to meet us and take us back to Cusco. Arrived back at our hotel around 8 pm. 5 km hiked on the trail but much more while we explored around Machu Picchu. We were very happy with how we were treated by Alpaca Expeditions and highly recommend them if anyone is planning to do the hike.

Gaye preparing to climb the Monkey Steps, aka the Gringo Killer, the steep part on the left. Yes, they are as steep as they look.

Almost at the Sun Gate. Hand over hand and don’t lean back…

Our view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate on a dull, foggy morning. We were still happy to be there 🙂

Gaye, Blaine, Dara and Lucille resting at the Sun Gate.

The group overlooking Machu Picchu once we were below the cloud layer.

Machu Picchu

Nov 21 – Because we were so impressed with Lizandro, our guide for the Inca Trail, we hired him for the day to do a tour of all the sites around Cusco that we missed before. Went to Minas (salt mines), Moray (concentric terraced greenhouses), Puka Pukara (defensive fort), Tambomachay (fine stonework indicating temples, used for water worship, royal bathing and also for defense), Q’enqo (used for sacrifices and mummification), and Sacsayhuaman, the huge fortified temple overlooking Cusco. A very interesting and full day.

The evaporite cells of the Moras salt mine, in production from pre-Incan times to present day.

The concentric terraced “greenhouses” of Moray.

127 tonne rock that the Incans moved from 7 km away, yet they hadn’t discovered the wheel! Moved by brute force and ingenuity. Or aliens.

The Plaza de Armas in Cusco in foreground.

Nov 22 – The 5 of us flew from Cusco to Lima to Quito to Baltra (Galapagos). The Quito airport has quite the process for entering Galapagos – paying an entry fee, checking luggage for any seeds or produce or animal traces. Once at the Baltra airport, a sniffer dog walks all over the luggage before being released to the travelers. We took the free bus for the 10 minute ride from the airport to the ferry crossing, 1 ferry ($1, 10 minutes across channel), then public bus into Puerto Ayora ($2). Our hotel (Vista al Mar) was just a block from ocean and bus stop. Settled in and explored the town.

Lucille at the Baltra, Galapagos airport.

The sniffer dog checking the luggage in Baltra airport.

Nov 23 – Arranged a guided tour to Los Gemelos (a volcanic collapse structure), underground lava tunnels, and El Chato 2 Ranch, a private tortoise reserve with lots of tortoises of many ages, and the Charles Darwin Center, all on Santa Cruz Island. In the afternoon, we wandered around town and arranged a tour of Isabela Island for the next day. Puerto Ayora is a very relaxed town! Nobody is in a hurry, nobody trying to hustle you on the street (like in Cusco), just very chillin’.

Blaine walking through the lava tunnels at El Chato Ranch.

I didn’t know that tortoises could read.

A tortoise spa.

Nov 24 – Up early to catch the 7 am speedboat to Isabela. Uncomfortable 2 hour ride in launch. Booked into our hotel for the night (Cerro Azul). Toured marine iguana sites (the critters are literally underfoot – need to watch where you step because they blend right in with the rocks), went snorkeling (the best part of the day) with sea turtles off the tour boat, saved Lucille from swimming out to sea, and saw blue footed boobies, Galápagos penguins and the ubiquitous frigate birds. Sea lions own this place, as shown in the following picture.

The sea lions relax wherever the hell they want to…

Marine iguanas by the dozens. You have to watch where you step ’cause they blend in so well.

Galapagos penguins and a blue-footed boobie.

Nov 25 – A tour to Sierra Negra volcano and Volcan Chico. Long hot, dusty hike, over 18 kms, but wonderfully stark topography, especially walking on Chico. Didn’t go into the vast Sierra Negra caldera, the most active volcano in the Galapagos with it’s most recent eruption in 2005, but walked a long way on the lava flows of Chico (last erupted 1979).  Returned to Santa Cruz on the 5 pm speedboat. Great day except for the very uncomfortable return trip, sardined in with the other passengers!

Me in front of the Sierra Negra caldera, last eruption in 2005.

Walking in the moonlike Volcan Chico flows, last erupted in 1979.

An uncomfortably cramped speedboat ride back to Santa Cruz Island. At least I wasn’t the guy with a ladder in his eye!

Nov 26 – Toured Las Tintoreras, on Isabela island, and saw white tipped reef sharks grouped together in a small channel. They rest there during the day, perfect for the tourists to see them, and go out hunting at night. Snorkeled again (not with the sharks), with a better mask this time, but not as good visibility in the water so didn’t see as many fish. Went to Los Grietas, a popular tourist swimming spot, and swam in the narrow, deep channel. Not very exciting – don’t know what the draw is except for a good place for diving off the rocks. Would have preferred more snorkeling off the boat.

White tipped reef sharks, 4 to 5 feet long, resting in a tidal pool. They swim out during the night to feed.

A gruesome looking marine iguana. I’m glad they are only a foot or 2 long!

Nov 27 – Blaine, Deb and Gaye wanted to relax in town, so Lucille and I arranged a tour out to the north part of Santa Cruz Island, accompanied by a Canadian dad and daughter (Ian and Alex) from Lachine, a suburb of Montreal close to where I grew up.  Laguna el Junco, a water filled collapse structure, was very misty but with a flock of frigate birds soaring and diving quite close to us. Although visibility was limited, it was a nice relaxing walk. The guide then took us to Puerto Chino beach for another snorkeling opportunity. It is a nice fine sand beach, but the water was too rough to see anything through the roiling sand. Eventually, we took our masks off and just enjoyed the water for 40 minutes. We then visited the David Rodriguez tortoise reserve to see yet more tortoises of all ages. Saw where they incubated the eggs and segregated the hatchlings into different enclosures based on age up to 5 years. All were from Santa Cruz Island. After 5 years, they are released into the wild to fend for themselves. This tour was a little different in that the guide didn’t speak English. Fortunately Ian spoke Spanish and translated a lot for us. When he wasn’t around, it was a lot of hand gestures and back and forth in our limited languages but, surprisingly, everyone made themselves understood.

Puerto Chino beach. Nice fine sand, complete with sea lions and hidden iguanas.

Nov 28 – Lucille and I went to the Charles Darwin Center for the morning then wandered around looking at wildlife, both at the center and in town at the fish market. That place is a lot of fun, with all the pelicans clambering to get scraps and iguanas underfoot (as usual). Even the odd sea lion looking for an easy snack. In the afternoon, the group got a taxi and we visited the lava tunnels at El Miramar. Not as large as the ones in El Chato but still cool to see.

Looking for easy snacks at the fish market.

Nov 29 – Went for coffee, checked in with Latam, and went for final island lunch. Got a taxi at 12:30 for trip to the airport ($25 for the 5 of us), caught the ferry and bus, then waited while chaos ensued at check-in with everyone arriving at the same time. Flew Baltra to Quito, then Quito to Lima. Arrived around 10:30 pm. Lucille and I said goodbye to Blaine, Deb and Gaye, as they were continuing on to home on a 5 am flight next morning and were just going to wait at the airport, while Lucille and I went to a hotel (Hotel Padama) close to the airport. 30 soles for the cab ride.

Nov 30 – Repacked for the Amazon then went for a walk in the neighbourhood by the hotel. Pretty rough looking, lots of storefront auto repair shops, laundries, generally an industrial area. The tiendas all had bars across the doors, either to prevent pilfering or enable owners to do other stuff in back maybe. Probably the former. Have to “hola” to get their attention, say what item you want, pay for it, then it is handed to you thru the bars. Wouldn’t want to walk around at night. Hotel arranged for cab to airport (30 soles again – a set charge from the hotel) at 3pm. We had nice lunch outside security, then went thru the cattle process. Took off boots and hat, forgot change in pocket so got wanded. Eventually made it through and just chilled until plane time at 6pm. The plane left a little late and we arrived Iquitos at 8. Oppressively hot and muggy! Lucille had arranged for a car to be waiting and a hotel employee drove us to the hotel. Lots of tuk-tuk and car traffic. Tuk-tuks far more prevalent here than anywhere else we have stayed. Probably has something to do with the remoteness of Iquitos – the largest city in Peru that cannot be reached by road.

Dec 1 – Up at 6, showered and breakfast at 7 (eggs, toast, fresh blended and thick papaya juice and instant coffee. What is it with Peru and instant coffee? They grow the damn stuff! Make it properly!!) Picked up at 8:30 by Ashuco, our guide for the week, and a tuk-tuk. Drove us to the Maniti office where we were informed we had to pay the balance owing for the tour in cash. They had a Visa sign and machine, and we had paid our deposit by credit card, but the manager claimed it wasn’t working. From the reviews that I have since read on TripAdvisor, this is a common occurrence with this company! The place gave me the impression of being very unprofessional, which was not a good sign of things to come. The boss said some people’s expectations were different from what the tour actually provided and Maniti got bad reviews as a result. I would give him bad review on his attitude alone, not to mention a shoddily run office! Ashuco, our tour guide, walked me over to an ATM but it wouldn’t give me any soles or dollars on my BMO debit card. Went to another ATM with the same result. Was getting very frustrated with Peruvian banking system. Lucille was able to get money out as a cash advance on her Visa card and lent me enough to pay my outstanding bill with rest of the dollars and soles I had, leaving very little for spending money for camp. After settling the bills, back in a tuk-tuk to the boat. Took about 90 minutes to get to camp, about 23 km down the Amazon River. The Amazon is a lot bigger than I imagined – wide and deep – and has lots of traffic on it.

The Maniti camp is just off the Amazon, about 23 km downriver (NE) from Iquitos. (Thanks to Google Earth)

Access to the camp is off a little creek where we dock, climb a ramp up the riverbank, then a 5 minute walk to the huts.

The dock for Maniti camp, as well as for the local inhabitants.

The rough, narrow and slippery boardwalk leading to Maniti camp. Note the water mark on the tree on the left. This whole area is under water during the rainy season (max in February). Access to the camp is then by boat.

The Maniti camp is not bad. Pretty basic huts – 8 foot walls, bottom half plywood, top is screen, no windows just open to the air. Water for sink, toilet and shower is pumped straight from the Amazon and not heated. Never a problem in that heat! Had a good lunch (catfish, rice, veggies) then relaxed in a hammock tent till 3pm. For our afternoon tour, we took a boat for half hour or so to a path in jungle. Ashuco led the way, pointing out all the different trees, birds, tree iguanas, pygmy marmoset monkeys, turkey vultures… Back on river, he took us to an area in the river where grey and pink dolphins were surfacing.

Our hut in the Maniti camp.

Inside the hut. Pretty basic but lots of room for 2 people. Would be cramped if all 4 beds were used.

The large dining hut.

The hammock hut. Nice place to relax between jungle walks.

Back in camp, we met a couple from Israel and Canada, and another from India and Thailand (I think). We had a night walk scheduled for after supper but a thunder storm moved in and cancelled those plans. Ended up just showering and lying in bed listening to music from 8:30 onwards, waiting for lights to go out (power is only on from 6pm to 9pm).

Dec 2 – Ashuco woke us up at 4:30am to see the sunrise but said that it was foggy and wouldn’t be good. So why did he wake us up!! We went back to sleep while everyone else went out. Later reports of the sunrise varied but sounds like we should have gone out after all. We went for a jungle walk behind camp after breakfast for about 2.5 hours, walking on trails, bushwhacking, crossing streams on questionable “bridges” and sweating profusely the whole time. Extremely hot and muggy all morning but no rain. Still, we came back as wet as if we had been in a downpour! Saw a few saddleback tamarinds high in trees, tried to encourage tarantulas to leave their holes (without success). No frogs either but saw lots of bats exiting from their tree with a little help from Ashuco’s prodding. Good picture of one when it crashed onto the ground and Ashuco held it up by its wings. It wasn’t hurt and it immediately flew away when Ashuco let go of it. All in all, a fun morning.

A tree iguana relaxing on a branch.

Gotta watch where you put your hands! There are some nasty plants in the jungle.

Lucille crossing a slippery bridge on our jungle walk.

A fruit bat that crashed near us. It wasn’t hurt and flew away when released.

Back at camp, some new people had arrived, from Germany (Anna, Pascal) and US (Meagan, Matt), by the time we got back. Had lunch (roast water buffalo!) and hammock time till we went out to Isla de los Monas (Monkey Island) at 2:30. More like a monkey petting zoo, with 8 different species and 35 individuals, but they were friendly, except when Lucille tried to retrieve her walking stick from one. They also had a very colourful scarlet macaw as a pet.

Very tame monkeys on Monkey Island.

Last stop on the trip on the river was at the village, close to our camp, where they produced sugarcane rum using traditional methods to extract the sugar juice from the cane. They make a number of drinks, from non-alcoholic to potent and we sampled 3 of them. The one I liked the best was a pink-coloured concoction called “flamingo”, citrusy and strong, a combination of ginger, camu camu (source of the sour citrus flavour) and honey.

After supper, we went out for night walk behind camp. Ashuco fished a black tarantula out of its hole using a thin twig but we didn’t get to hold it. Also saw yellow frogs and black frogs but no green ones. Ashuco’s grandfather was a shaman and taught him what all the different plants and animals were used for. Don’t lick the green frog.

A black tarantula, prodded out of it’s hole in the ground.

Dec 3 – Ashuco woke us up at 5:30 to go birdwatching. Too misty to see sunrise but saw hummingbirds, oropendola (with hanging basket-like nests), turkey vultures, a hawk, flock of parakeets and a bunch of others I cannot remember names of.

Back in for breakfast then out at 9am to a traditional native camp where we were face painted, danced with them and got to try out a blowgun. Everyone hit the target on 1st or 2nd try but it was only about 15 feet away. The dancing was meant to be an audience participation performance (traditional welcoming maybe? Don’t know, as nothing they did was explained to us) but seemed forced and not entirely comfortable.

Back to camp for siesta, lunch and another siesta then out to the “flat forest” to look for tarantulas.  A 30-minute boat ride across and up river then through a forest of ficus, acacia, wimba trees and palms. The pink toed tarantulas hide inside the dried, rolled up palm leaves so Ashuco was searching in those. He found one and gently persuaded it to climb on Lucille, then me. Remarkably gentle and soft feet as it climbed over our heads. We left camp hearing thunder and the storm arrived just as we finished playing with the tarantula. Heavy warm downpour and we were drenched in no time. We took refuge in the local “bar” until most of it passed, then down to the boat and camp. No night walk tonight.

A pink-toed tarantula. It was very gentle but I wouldn’t want to piss it off.

Dec 4 – Went to an animal rescue centre, more like mini zoo, in the morning. Got to hold a baby sloth in the sloth enclosure – unbelievably cute – then to the anaconda enclosure. One huge one that, thankfully, was sleeping, another about 8 feet long and thick as my calf that Lucille tried to hold but too heavy and slippery, and a nasty and irate 5 foot long python that lunged and hissed anytime someone got close. Then to the caiman cage to see a pygmy caiman, about a foot long, a black caiman and a white caiman. I was under the impression that caimans were all small but the black ones can grow up to 7 metres long and the white to 2.5 – 3 metres. Both caimans in the enclosure were about 2 feet long. The pool also had a couple of turtles. Spotted more parrots outside – a green one and another scarlet macaw – then back to the boat. We picked up another tour group whose boat was having trouble and we were taken to a floating bar where we did some piranha fishing. I got 2 little catfish but Lucille caught a piranha, which the guide kept to cook up for lunch. The bar was hopping, with music, selling beer and about a dozen people on it. Glad we came here rather than just fishing at the mouth of our creek like some other groups did.

A baby sloth is very cute.

I don’t know if Lucille appreciated just how big that anaconda was!

We had lunch, including the pitiful small and bony piranhas, had our daily after-lunch siesta then headed out to the Garzal Conservation Area for our night in the jungle. Nina (from Finland) joined us, along with her guide Linder. Passed through a lovely little village, clean, tidy – even had garbage bins along the sidewalk past the houses – registered, then walked into the bush. After about a 30-minute walk, including stopping to play on the Tarzan vines hanging from a huge wimba (?) tree, we arrived at our camp for the night – two large screened-in huts with an outhouse between them.

Lucille playing Tarzan (Jane?) on the vines hanging off the huge trees.

Our “night in the jungle” hut. About as basic as you can get and still have walls.

We dropped our day (night) packs then started on the trail to the observation tower, Palo Alto. After 50 feet we hopped into a boat and Ashuco and Linder poled along a narrow waterway. After about 10 minutes, we beached (jungled?) the boat, and followed another indistinct path to the next creek. Same procedure until we beached again. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the 3-story tower, climbed it and waited for sunset. Frogs and birds (and Ashuco) got louder and louder as sunset approached. Once dark, we descended and looked for frogs. Ashuco has amazing eyesight and he found 3 of them, each one bigger than the last. How the hell does he see them? Their eyes don’t glow in the dark and they were quiet!

A storm had been approaching the whole time we were at the tower and rain was imminent, so we headed back to camp. Pitch dark, with only our lamps for light, walking in the jungle at night is much different than during the day! Ashuco was rushing to beat the rain but the boat got stuck in the vegetation a few times so we almost made it back before the downpour started. Didn’t get too wet though and Ashuco and Linder doled out dinner – 1 potato and a piece of chicken each – then set up the mattresses and mosquito nets. With nothing else to do, we were all into bed by 7:30. It was a quiet night, with the rain you couldn’t really hear anything else anyway, and blacker than the inside of a water buffalo.

Ashuco poling our boat through the jungle creek.

Mosquito net tents over our mattresses. It was very cozy.

Dec 5 – Got up at 5:30, packed our bags and headed back to meet Teddy, our boat driver for the past 4 days, in the boat. The other people in camp, a new group, had been out for a sunrise trip so we all headed back together. Back in camp, we showered, had breakfast and a short rest, then Ashuco took us in a canoe for a paddle up the creek by camp. I paddled in the bow, Ashuco in the stern and Lucille took pictures (my camera battery had died). The creek is barely wider than the canoe is long and we got stuck a few times on logs but it was a nice change from walking in the jungle. Managed to turn the thing around when the creek got too clogged with downed trees and sweepers blocking our path and went back to camp for an early lunch. Another shower, pack bags, then head upriver for the 2-hour trip back to Iquitos.

Our last morning paddle up the creek by camp.

Lucille and I finishing off our 5 days in the jungle with a nice quiet canoe ride.

Once there, we took a tuk-tuk to the office, dropped our bags and walked to the main market, Belen. Quite large and lots of variety of goods and food but garbage was everywhere and not clean. Spent about half hour there, walked to an ATM where Lucille was able to get some money for us for Ashuco’s tip, then took a taxi to the airport.

Had a beer and pizza while waiting for plane, which took the edge off our hunger (still hungry from not much to eat yesterday). Plane was 45 minutes late to Lima but our taxi was there to meet us and we got to the hotel around 11pm. After showers, repacking and a final celebratory beer each, into bed at 1am.

Dec 6 – Lucille’s iPad alarm, buried in her pack, went off at 5:30. Hauled her suitcase downstairs but didn’t make it far before Manuel (the night crew reminds me of Fawlty Towers) jumped up and grabbed it from me. Got a brief goodbye hug as she dashed off to the waiting cab, on to her next adventure in Argentina. Going to miss her company. She has been a great roommate for the past month.

Went upstairs to the hotel breakfast room at 8 am – 1 egg, 2 buns, coffee. Not much choice but at least they offer it. Went for a 5 km walk around lunchtime, in the same areas covered a week ago, just to get a little exercise. Pretty unexciting area to walk in, no parks or anything, just an industrial area. When I got back, the front desk lady had me change to a 1-bedroom, just down the hall. I had paid for the double earlier that morning but she didn’t understand that I should now be getting a cheaper rate. Not worth pursuing for only about $15 difference. Tried to sleep in the afternoon and evening but couldn’t. Lucille called on FaceTime around 7 pm but connection bad so didn’t talk long, just to let me know she arrived safely at her apartment in Mendoza. Finally got to sleep around 10 pm and woke up just before the alarm at 11:30. Going to be a long day tomorrow unless I can sleep on the plane!

Cab came early, at 11:45 pm, and no traffic so got to airport in about 7 minutes. Through bag drop and security quickly, had some supper and settled down for the +3-hour wait. A Snickers bar at Lima airport costs $4US!! Didn’t buy it. I’ll have to get my Snickers fix in Toronto.

Dec 7 – Plane delayed for 35 minutes and we ended up rolling down the runway at 3:50 am. No big deal as I have a few hours layover in Toronto anyway before the YEG flight. I was alone in the centre row of the 767-300 so it was a pretty comfortable flight. Didn’t sleep but was nice to be able to sprawl over 2 seats for a while. Watched Rogue One on my iPad on the Rouge system. On a Rouge flight, they don’t have any seatback screens, you have to rent an iPad or bring your own if you want any streaming entertainment. We arrived in Toronto around 11:30 am and I treated myself to a Timmy’s coffee and muffin. Peruvians haven’t discovered muffins yet, which is probably a good thing. Good internet at Pearson so emailed a few pictures to family.

Rolling down the runway at 3:45pm on second leg of flight home. Lucked out again with no one in the middle seat between the window and aisle on the A320, so I had lots of space. The A320 has plugins on 2/3 seats on each side of the aircraft to charge devices although the USB port on the seats don’t work or not enough power to charge an iPad.

Overall impressions of this trip? Wow. It was my longest yet and certainly the most diverse, with 3 distinctly different aspects to it. A very enjoyable and enlightening month. My favourite part had to be doing the Inca Trail hike, day 2 specifically, because I was most worried about it due to altitude and fitness concerns. But, after my initial episode on the Colca tour, altitude and fitness did not prove to be factors at all. Well, maybe having to stop for a break every 4-5 minutes on the way up to Dead Woman’s Pass would be considered a factor but no headaches or other symptoms. Just a general lack of oxygen slowing us down. Muscles didn’t even get sore, except for slight tightness above knees with all the down on days 2 and 3. Guess all the biking, stairmaster and workouts were worthwhile 😊. Very pleased with how I fared physically and I loved the challenge. I thought that Lucille would rocket way ahead but we kept pace with each other all the way. Nice to be able to do that together. My biggest disappointment was not being able to go with her on the Rainbow Mountain trek due to still recovering from being poisoned by that damned tea. My priority was being healthy for the Inca Trail and I did not want to compromise that.

Galápagos was a total contrast to the noise and hustle of Cusco. Laid back atmosphere, great temperature – I thought that it would be much hotter at the equator – and interesting environment. No being pestered on the streets and felt safe everywhere. They do have to work on their boats though! Bloody uncomfortable island hopping unless you are sitting in the very back of the boat. Noisy but better than sitting canted over on the side seats and wrecking your back for 2 hours. My favourite day there was doing the Volcan Chico trek. Hot, dusty, dry but great topography. And of course seeing the animal life on the islands that we can’t see at home.

The jungle was pretty well as I imagined – hot and sweaty with enormous plants, flowers everywhere, and lots of crawly things. I had no expectations of how I would like it, especially with the heat and humidity, but Ashuco showed us a lot of varied places – poling the boats through the swamps after dark and the jungle walks were highlights. Monkey Island and the animal recovery center felt more like petting zoos but were still enjoyable and we saw animals up close that we didn’t see, or only saw at a distance, on the jungle walks. It was good to see how cute the sloths were up close! The theatrics of the Yaguas tribal dance felt contrived but it was intended to be a performance, albeit with audience participation. And I got to use a blowgun! The enormous size of the trees was a surprise, although I knew that the Amazon was being logged for a reason. It is not just palms and vines. These are trees right out of Tolkien, some nightmarish, some fantastical. After the poor customer treatment in the office at the start, our time in the jungle was enjoyable and interesting, due mainly to our guide Ashuco’s knowledge and enthusiasm.

Would I revisit anything? The Inca Trail was great, because it is everything a hike should be – challenging, historic and scenic – but there are too many other hikes in other parts of the world that would now take precedence. I would go back to Galápagos but by booking a boat tour to see more of the islands and do more snorkeling off the boats. Not to see more iguanas and tortoises and boobies specifically – I pretty well had my fill of them – but to chill out in the relaxed atmosphere and play in the water. Again, other water holidays in places I have never visited would take precedence. The jungle was interesting but 5 days was enough to get a good taste of that environment. So I guess I would say a reserved no to return visits to any of the areas. Overall impressions of Peru are dirty and noisy (they have a love affair with their car horns), with ridiculous banking rules (1 withdrawal a month from some ATMs and extortionate fees). Although all our tour guides were very conscientious about keeping the environment clean, the general population still needs a change of mindset. The amount of garbage and litter on the roadsides, in the cities and in the country, is staggering. Saying that though, I still enjoyed the country. On a positive note, I saw very few people smoking! And their buses are way more comfortable than ours. Don’t know if Galápagos was typical of Ecuador but it was much cleaner and we had no problems with ATMs. It would have been nice to have scheduled at least a day in Quito to get a (minimally) more informed impression of that country. I loved my time there.

Glad I went on this trip. It helps having a great roommate and companions and I met a lot of interesting and adventurous people. I hope to keep on traveling for as long as I can!<<<<<<

2016 Coffeeneuring

After almost a year of not blogging about any ski or bike trips (or anything else, for that mater), the annual  Coffeeneuring Challenge has shamed me into action. You can read all about it in the link provided but, in a nutshell, the challenge by biking blogger Chasing Mailboxes is to visit 7 different coffee shops between October 7th and November 20th, with a maximum of 2 visits per week. I normally park the bikes once the snow flies and, since I live near Edmonton, Alberta, the snow usually flies early. So my challenge isn’t to find different coffee shops, it is to beat winter! There are a few more rules to follow but all are quite doable, especially for a retired guy. I completed the challenge in 2013 and 2014 but missed last year while in Italy and Slovenia on organized bike trips at the time (planned bike trips are ineligible). So this is my official documentation for 2016.

Coffeeneuring #1:

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

When: Friday, October 7, 2016

Where: Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada (Invoking the “Coffee Shop Without Walls” rule).

What: Hot chocolate from a thermos

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11411648

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. A 3- or 4-bike lockup post just off the deck but rarely used unless people wander off out of sight.

Weather: -2C, overcast and windy.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.


Coffeeneuring #2

We got hit with, what I hope, was an early season snowfall on the 8th and 9th. Not a lot of snow, about 10 cms (4 inches) total, but the ground was cold enough to retain it on the greenery (brownery?). The roads and trails, thankfully, managed to retain enough summer heat to melt off after a while so I was able to venture out today without worrying too much about the traction. I did my usual ride out to Big Lake then veered off on a part of the trail that has been closed for over a year due to nearby condo construction. I  circumvented the concrete barriers that still bar the trail (is the city ever going to remove them?) to visit Good Earth Cafe. This is the go-to coffee shop for our club rides in St. Albert in the summer, mainly because of the large common patio just outside it’s doors. And having decent coffee and treats. A little too cool to sit outside today though.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

When: Monday, October 10, 2016

Where: Good Earth Cafe, St. Albert

What: Black coffee and praline brownie

Distance: 16.5 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11457311

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Few bike racks but plenty of space to park bikes by shop.

Weather: -1C, overcast. Snow lingers on ground from recent snowfall but trails are clear.

Two days after our first snowfall. Trails are clear though.

Two days after our first snowfall. Gotta watch out for slippery leaves!

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.


Coffeeneuring #3

After last week’s early snowfall, we had yet another 10 cm dump on October 14th. So much for starting week 2 of coffeeneuring on a high note :(. The temperature has hovered between -4C and +2C all week under cloudy skies so not much melting has been going on. Thankfully, the city has plowed the trails and they are mostly ice-free. Today’s excursion was my usual route out to Big Lake again, with a side trip to the Glasshouse Bistro. I imagine that it gets it’s name due to the fact that it is housed in one of the largest, if not the largest, greenhouse/garden centres in the Edmonton area.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

When: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe

What: Latte and double chocolate muffin

Distance: 18.6 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11564541

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. One bike rack (although it holds ~6 bikes) about 100 feet from the entrance. I have locked to it many times but today I just chained my bike to a fence by the door.

Weather: -1C, overcast, with a penetrating dampness.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table. Glad that people are having fun with this early snow 🙂

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago.

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago. Fewer leaves on the trail though.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.


Coffeeneuring #4

The weather has finally changed to more bike-friendly, and biker-friendly, conditions. After almost 2 weeks of snow and temps hovering around 0C, we are now having “normal” fall conditions – normal for here being sunny and 5C to 10C. The city kept most of the trails swept clean during the cold spell but the thaw has meant snow melting during the day, flowing across the trails and freezing at night. A thin layer of melt on top of the ice patches is perfect for unseating an unwary cyclist 😦 The trails were actually in better shape when it was cold!

I went on my usual ride out to Big Lake, in Lois Hole Provincial Park, around lunchtime. Although my wife saw some trumpeter swans out there in the morning, they must have been hiding by the time I got there. Lots of Canada Geese and various ducks though. The temp was +2C when I left home and I’m glad that I dressed in layers as I was forced to shed a number of times during the ride. Nice to feel the heat of the sun again! The snow has pretty well disappeared, except in the shadowy and north-facing areas. Still some ice on the ponds and puddles though.

After my out-and-back to Big Lake, I decided to head to the north end of St. Albert. There is a new commercial development out by the Costco, which includes a Tim Hortons that I have not visited before. Not that I am a big fan of chain coffee shops – I would rather patronize the independents – but there are also some nice trails at that end of town that make for a reasonably scenic trip. But no independent coffee shops 😦

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

When: Saturday, October 22, 2016

Where: Tim Hortons, 1075 St. Albert Trail

What: Coffee and chocolate lava muffin

Distance: 26 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11617660

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts outside the coffee shop and another 3 about 50 feet away, so good for 6 bikes. Other than that, would have to lean bikes against walls or windows. Could be much better since there is adequate space for more posts but, being in a “power centre” where bikes are not the normal mode of shopping transportation, I suppose it is adequate. Typical for Tims though.

Weather: Sunny (yay!!) and +2C when I left home. +6 by the time I returned 90 minutes later.

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the previous entry).

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the Coffeeneuring #3 entry above).

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Some nice trails in the north end of town - backyards on one side, bush on the other.

Some nice trails in the north end of town – backyards on one side, bush on the other.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.


Coffeeneuring #5

Taking advantage of the sunny weather while we still have it, I went out to the garage to prepare for another coffee ride. Well damn! A flat front tire! Thankful that it didn’t happen while on the ride, I put a new tube in and set out. My plan was to ride out to Big Lake (again) and check out a coffee shop in St. Albert that is now under new management, complete with a new name, on my way back. As I noted on yesterday’s ride, all the melting during the day has resulted in a lot more icy patches to contend with after the overnight freezes. It was down to -6C last night so I expected the usual wet areas of the trail to be a little treacherous. After the first 7 km, my front tire was feeling squishy so I added more air. It had me concerned though – I had filled it up adequately when I changed it earlier. Did I miss a tiny wire or stone poking through the tire? I had felt all the way around inside the tire and didn’t feel anything. The hole that I found in the previous tube was just a pin prick so it was definitely something small that caused the flat. I had wanted to do a little exploring today but, preferring to have to change the tube in the comfort of my garage rather than in the cold (it was 0C when I left) I headed for the coffee shop.

As I anticipated, the normally wet areas on the trail were now covered in sheets of ice. I managed a little skid on one of them when I was forced to make a slight steering adjustment but stayed upright. One helpful walker even offered a warning of ice ahead around a bend, which I appreciated. I checked my tire again at the coffee shop and, sure enough, it was down again. I pumped it up again, had a quick coffee and muffin, and boogied off back home.  The Sips and Sweets Cafe – formerly La Crema Caffe, formerly St. Thomas Coffee Shop…) seemed to be no different from it’s previous incarnation, just with a new name on the inside. All the La Crema signs were still up outside. Can’t really say that I noticed any difference at all but I only go there once or twice a year. The latte was passable but the barista was evidently not trained in coffee art. Doesn’t affect the taste, of course, but helps with the presentation!

Once home, I pulled the tube and put in my third tube of the day! Still can’t find the hole though. Some days, biking is just like that.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire. And my Year 2 Coffeeneuring patch (2013, I think).

When: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where: Sips and Sweets Cafe, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte (nothing to rave about) and blueberry muffin.

Distance: 15.8 km, on a flattening tire shortened day.

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11632695

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Three bike posts (good for 6 bikes) across the street and a wrought iron patio fence, good for another 6 or so.

Weather: Sunny, 0C when I left home, +2C when I got back. Nice day for trail riding.

Too much of a hurry to get home so no other pictures from the ride.


Coffeeneuring #6

After a wet, dreary week I was finally able to get back in the saddle and continue my quest for 2016 coffeeneuring success. Although the weather still wasn’t the best – typical of late October in these parts – it had been a week since I was last on the bike, so off I went to search for new and better coffee experiences. One of the aborted aims of last week’s ride was to find the location of a new coffee shop that I had heard about. Not wanting to just meander last week with a slowly deflating tire, I instead went to a centrally located cafe. This week, after my usual trip to Lois Hole Provincial Park, I cruised around to try to find the hole-in-the-wall location of DaVinci’s Cafe. It turned out to be hidden in a back lane in an industrial park near the park. The place is just a gem though – a small family-run independent shop with great coffee selections and a yummy looking lunch menu. They are actually a gelato making operation and the coffee shop is a new, and very welcome, addition. Thus it’s location in a bay of the gelato plant.

Even cool, grey days can generate some internal sunshine! Glad I went out today.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

When: Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where: DaVinci’s Cafe and Gelato, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte and chocolate chip muffin

Distance: 16.9 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11710550

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, nothing to chain up to, and even limited vehicle parking due to it’s back lane location.

Weather: +2C (36F), misty and damp but no precipitation.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current. One of these times I expect “The Scream” to appear!

DaVinci's location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

DaVinci’s location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.


Coffeeneuring #7

October was an abysmal month for biking – cold and snowy when it wasn’t cold and rainy – with only rare glimpses of sun. November, however, has broken all sorts of records around here for warmth! Instead of turning the clocks back an hour, like we have to do tonight, it seems that the weather gods have turned their clocks back a month or two. I wasn’t able to make use of the nice weather earlier in the week (highs of 18-20C) but got out today for my last coffeeneuring ride. Not my last ride of the year though, I hope, with the good weather forecast to last at least for another week.

I did my usual route out to Big Lake, stopping at the waterfowl viewing platform and walking the boardwalk through the wetlands. Not a breath of wind was rippling the water – it was the calmest that I have seen the lake for some time. Still some ducks and geese hanging around and I was able to watch a muskrat swimming back and forth gathering food for future use.

It was a pleasant ride and there were lots of people on the trails taking advantage of the nice weather. I like seeing people enjoy the trail but having to avoid all the dog walkers who think the trail was made for only them and their dogs on 8-foot leashes gets frustrating after a while. But that’s what I get for going out on a sunny Saturday.

I had a surprise at the coffee shop. They rotate their urns through the usual Second Cup offerings and I normally get whatever medium roast is displayed. Today it was “Holiday Blend” WTF?? It’s only the beginning of November, not even to Remembrance Day, and they are already flogging their Christmas offering? Sorry – Holiday offering. It’s akin to stores putting up their Xmas decorations as soon as Halloween is over. I told the barista that I thought it was a tad early but she just shrugged it off. Maybe I was just getting owly after avoiding all the dogs :/ At least it was nice enough out to let me sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: Second Cup, corner of Bellerose and Inglewood, St. Albert, AB

What: Coffee (Holiday Blend, whatever that is) and lemon-poppyseed muffin

Distance: 16.4 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11802151

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No racks but an iron patio fence to chain up to, good for a few bikes.

Weather: Partially sunny but +9C (50F) and dead calm. Ending the challenge on a high note!

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

A beautiful day for November in the north. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

A beautiful day for November in central Alberta. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.




Homeward Bound – Oct 26, 27

Today was a travel day for everyone. First to leave, shortly after breakfast, was Lucille. After goodbye hugs, she was off to the airport to catch her flight to eventually get to Tanzania and a week of safaris – on her own again after a month with our company. Alan, JoAnn and I caught the GoOpti bus at 10 a.m., which I had booked months before, to take us to Venice. Chris had a few more hours to go before his ride to the airport and his flight to back to Edmonton. I chose the flight home from Venice because it was cheaper booking a return flight from the same city, even including the cost of GoOpti and a hotel room for the night.

The 8-passenger bus trip was comfortable and fairly quick. We stopped after 2 hours at a truck stop for a wc break and snack, then drove another 1.5 hours to Marco Polo airport outside Venice. We had booked rooms at the Gronda Lagunare hotel in Tessera, a small town about 5 minutes from the airport, because it was way cheaper than staying in Venice and handy to the airport. We caught a cab from the airport, not expecting the driver to be too excited taking us the short distance, but he was ok with that. The rooms in the small 5-room hotel were not ready for us when we arrived so we dropped our bags in the rooms, while the staff made them up, and went for a walk. There is not much to Tessera and we ended up having a nice walk along farm roads then relaxing at the café beside the hotel. At one point we spied 2 women with luggage getting off a bus at a stop near the hotel. We wanted to find out how much the bus fare would be to the airport for tomorrow (the tobacco shop that sold tickets was not open) so we stopped the women. “Do you speak English?” JoAnn asked. The answer was yes and we chatted for a while, finding out that a single bus fare to the airport was €8! They were looking for a hotel that we had noticed just a few blocks away so we gave them directions. Eventually, we asked where they were from. “Oh, Edmonton, Alberta” and “Grande Prairie” were the answers. The world is certainly a small place. We had a nice supper at a nearby restaurant and turned in for the night. Even though the hotel was on the main road from Venice to the airport, it was a quiet night with little traffic noise.

The next morning we went for a walk again, stopping in at a wine shop (a bottle of 1965 Amerone for only €365 – we didn’t get it) and a grocery store. We all bought a wedge of Grana Padano at the grocery to take home.

The hotel manager called a cab for us. We could easily have walked the distance to the airport with our bags but the only road had no sidewalks and it was too busy to walk beside the traffic. We caught a Lufthansa flight from Venice to Frankfurt, had a 2-hour layover, then off to Toronto on Air Canada. The AC flight was far more comfortable than the AC Rouge flight on the way over! After another short layover in Toronto, where we were all questioned by customs for checking off cheese on our declaration cards (it was no problem), we finally caught our final flight to Edmonton. We arrived just after 1 a.m., though our bodies considered it to be 7 hours later. I drove JoAnn to her son’s place to pick up her car, then drove Al home. A long day, but it was good to be home after a very fun 28 days away.

Ljubljana – Oct 25

Today was another day of exploring so Chris arranged to have the car again. At first we considered taking the bus to Lake Bled but Chris found another Rick Steves recommendation for a day trip over the Vršič Pass to get there, so we decided on the car option. Glad we decided to do it this way. Lucille was going to run in the Ljubljana marathon today so she would not be joining us.

The breakfast area was inundated by all the marathoners staying at the hotel. So many lean, fit people eating healthy foods! We still managed to fill our plates with breakfast and lunch goodies, wished Lucille good luck and set off. Al, and Emma – the name given to our wonky gps unit, managed to take us 20 kms out of town in the opposite direction that we needed. Hard to blame Al, with all the road signs in Slovene. I certainly wouldn’t have done any better :(. But Emma should have known better.

After discovering our error and finding an exit off the freeway, we were off in the right direction. Such are what adventures are made of. We stopped in the little town of Indrija for coffee. It was Sunday and the town was pretty vacant but lots of people in the café/pub. It would have been nice to be there on a weekday as it is an old mining town, formerly the second largest mercury mine in the world, and I would have loved a mine tour.

A Sunday morning vacant town square in Indrja.

A Sunday morning vacant town square in Indrija.

Our route followed river valleys, first the Idrijca, then the Soca, through Tolman, Kobarid, Zaga and up to Trenta. A little past Trenta, the road starts climbing up the Vršič Pass, a steep (14%) twisty climb with 26 numbered switchbacks over 9 kms. The scenery was beautiful, with the snowy Julian Alps peaking through gaps in the rounded foothills bathed in fall colours. We pulled off the road at a small parking area to a path leading to a viewpoint in Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia. We decided this would be a good place for a picnic lunch.

The entrance to Tregliv Park, the only national park in Slovenia.

The entrance to Triglav Park, the only national park in Slovenia.

No picnic tables but old fortifications are a good substitute.

No picnic tables but old fortifications are a good substitute.

The view down the Soca valley from the viewpoint. Pretty area.

The view down the Soca valley from the viewpoint. Pretty area.

Snowy peaks and fall colours.

Snowy peaks and fall colours.

The trip down the other side of the pass was just as steep – this time with 24 switchbacks, all of them cobblestone. I couldn’t help thinking about how exhausting it would be to ride that pass. We saw a few cyclists, all on downward legs, and it is supposed to be a popular bike route (especially if one is masochistic).

Cobble stoned switchbacks on the Vrsic Pass.

Cobblestone switchbacks on the Vrsic Pass.

We continued on to Lake Bled, a popular resort and tourist spot and home of the only island in Slovenia (!). We found a paid parking spot and started to walk the 7 kms around the lake. It was a leisurely stroll, with a bunch of photo ops of the Bled Castle perched high on a crag overlooking the lake and, of course, the island. We didn’t have time to visit either places but the walk was nice after sitting in a car for the last few hours.

Bled Castle, looking impregnable from this side.

Bled Castle, looking impregnable from this side.

The island church on Lake Bled, the only island in Slovenia.

The island church on Lake Bled, the only island in Slovenia.

We arrived back in Ljubljana at 6 p.m. and had a lot of trouble finding parking again. So we resorted to what proved to be successful yesterday – re-arranging the construction barriers by our hotel. Not entirely legal but it works. And soon after, just as happened yesterday, a car moved while Chris was watching. So he quickly took its spot, returned our barrier to its rightful position and all was legal again.

We met a tired-looking, but hungry, Lucille and went off to our last supper in town at Spajza, one of the top restaurants in Ljubljana. We were led to a back room, which we shared with 6 Norwegian marathoners. Another night of good food, good wine and great companions. The evening ended with more ice cream (a nightly ritual when we couldn’t get gelato), and our usual game of Wizard. And more wine. Ah…I’m going to miss Slovenia.

Up early so we could get the car by 8 a.m.. The City Hotel has a huge buffet selection for breakfast so we (me anyway) bulked up and made up a good lunch as well. Europcar was a little late with the car but we were able to get away close to 9 a.m. Chris drove and Al was navigator, with help from a balky gps unit, and we found our way out of the city and to Škocjan, about 80 kms down the A1, in plenty of time for an 11 a.m. tour.

The Škocjan Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are absolutely jaw-dropping in their beauty. The word “awesome” is overused but certainly applies to these caves. We were not allowed to take pictures while in the caves, likely due to the fact that constant flashes from the crowd would lessen the experience of what we were seeing. (The tour guide actually gave one guy hell when he spied his phone turned on – “What are you doing with that phone? There is no reception down here! Turn it off.”). The blackness offset by the subtle path lighting is magical. This cave system is not as long as the more famous, and far more tourist oriented Postojna Caves, but they are bigger in terms of volume. It is not just the beauty of the stalagmites, stalactites and other dripstone formations – the caves are VAST! At one point in the walk we crossed a bridge suspended 45 metres above the Reka River, the underground watercourse that flows through the caves, and there were at least another 50 metres over our head! There were times during the walk, with the path lighting fading deep into the blackness, that I expected to hear hammering and see Orcs labouring away in the depths. I cannot recommend a visit to these caves highly enough.

I stole this picture from the internet since we weren't allowed to take pictures. It shows the incredible size of the caves.

I stole this picture from the internet since we weren’t allowed to take pictures. It shows the incredible size of the caves.

The exit of the cave tour. A picture just can't do justice to the size.

The exit of the cave tour. A picture just can’t do justice to the size.

Exiting into the sunlight.

Exiting into the sunlight and a cliff side trail.

Wending our way along the side of a cliff after exiting the caves.

Wending our way along the cliff after exiting the caves.

The trail leading from the exit, the gaping opening at far right. along the side of a cliff.

The trail leading from the exit, the gaping opening at upper right. along the side of a cliff.

After leaving the caves, we drove around the area a bit and stopped in the small town of Divaca for a picnic lunch before heading on to Lipica, the home of the famous Lipizzaner horses. The Lipica Stud Farm is now a government run facility but still breeds and trains the horses for sale and show. Our tour included some of the stables, the museum and pastures. The young horses are allowed to stay with their mothers for 3.5 years, frolicking in the pastures, before beginning training. The few who turn out to be exceptional join the famous show. The rest are used for breeding, pulling carriages on the farm, rider training or sold. These horses have a pretty good life!

Hello there horsie! They are very comfortable with people.

Hello there horsie! They are very comfortable with people.

The mares stable. Lots of room in the stalls.

The mares stable. Lots of room in the stalls.

One of the many pastures for mares and colts.

One of the many pastures for mares and colts.

A happy horse.

A happy horse.

A happier horse. No skittishness there, on the horse's part anyway.

A happier horse. No skittishness there, on the horse’s part anyway.

Our drive back into Ljubljana was disrupted by barriers, still set up for the pre-marathon fun run earlier in the day, blocking off our street. We drove around a bit until the barriers were removed but there was no parking anywhere close to the hotel. Except for a spot in a construction zone 100 feet from our front door. We removed the barrier blocking the spot, drove the car in and put the barrier back. Problem solved! As luck would have it, just then the car in front of ours drove off. So…move the barrier, drive into the vacated spot, put the barrier back and…we were now parked legally!

Our nightly game of Wizard, this time played in a common area near our rooms, was disrupted by another guest who complained that she had to get up early and that we were making too much noise. At 10 p.m.? Really? And we thought that we were being quiet. Some people are just too sensitive. Yes, there was wine involved.

Ljubljana – Oct 23

We came down to breakfast to the sound of accordion music coming from the CD player. I guess there is just no way of getting away from it here. Shortly after we finished, Paul showed up to drive us all back to Ljubljana. Not before we had a look through the Firbas gift shop though. Another thing we discovered about Slovenia, besides having great wine, is that they also provide pumpkin seed oil at every table in addition to olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Pumpkin seed oil is delicious! So a number of large and small bottles of the oil were purchased to take home. None of us have ever seen it in Edmonton.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and it would have been nice to ride but our tour was over, so we settled in for the 2 hour ride back to the city. Paul dropped us off at the City Hotel and left to meet up with Julie and Steve, who were also staying in town overnight before flying home to England. We arranged to meet up at 7 p.m. by the pink church and go for a group supper.

We were early for our rooms but were able to stow our bags in a back room before setting out for a sunny explore, in contrast to the wet one we had the previous week. The city looks far better in the sunshine and it was much busier and the market square was full of vendors.

A dry and sunny market square.

A dry and sunny market square.

We wandered on the riversides, back and forth over a number of the bridges. Most of the bridges, both pedestrian and vehicle, have some artwork displayed. Eventually, we found a food festival that takes place every Friday during the summer and this would be the last one of the season. Various restaurants had set up tents, kiosks and food trucks and were doing a booming business. Not only food though – you could buy beer and wine to drink with your food preference. It took us a while to find a sitting area large enough for us (almost- Lucille and I had to share a stool, 1 cheek each) and we ate, drank and people watched.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher's Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher’s Bridge.


The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

We went back to our hotel and checked in, then back out again to get some info for the next few days and see the castle. We wanted to see one of the cave areas and, based on a Rick Steves recommendation, decided to visit the Škocjan Caves, about an hour south of the city. Combined with wanting to drive to Lake Bled on Sunday, we decided to rent a car for both days. Lucille wouldn’t be able to join us on Sunday as she had decided to be a bandit in the Ljubljana Marathon, i.e. run it without registering (she found out about it too late to register).

We took the funicular up to the castle and enjoyed the views from the top of the walls.

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but...it's a funicular!

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but…it’s a funicular!

View from the castle walls. The snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

View from the castle walls the snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

The fall colours looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

The fall colours, looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

As scheduled, we met the SimplyCyclingSlovenia group and went to a restaurant recommended by Paul. As often seems to be the case, service was chaotic but the food was good. We said goodbye to Paul, Julie and Steve and got back to our hotel by 11 p.m. Again with the goodbyes, this time to Gwen and Stan who were leaving Saturday. We would be getting up early to get the car and drive off and they didn’t want to get up that early. So now we were five.

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