The Knickers Flag

We were picked up early and headed for the Chilean/Bolivian border – there was no time for coffee, although it seemed very much like a hurry up and wait situation! We had ordered from a street vendor by Chilean customs but they seemed to be a one pot operation making the coffee production rather slow. This lead to our driver corralling us back to the bus, before our coffee was ready, sharing sips quickly with the kindly Joost and Janne who had successfully received their coffees but were not allowed to take them on the bus! The vendor of course was quite mad at bus driver, a dramatic shouting match showcasing the expressiveness the South Americans are known for!

We drove up past two volcanoes on our way to the Bolivian border. They are incredibly beautiful and next trip, I hope to be able to climb one of them. The border area….brrrr! Windy and cool! DEFINITELY wish I had packed a few more warm layers! We discovered there were banos all around, when we requested a washroom and the guides just gestured all around them. Grab a piece of tissue and help yourself! >.<

There are fees at the Bolivian border and the national park office, which are typically not covered by the tour providers, so keep some Bolivian money set aside for this.

Our guide, Nelson, was excellent. He did not speak a word of English, really, but since the only other male in our group, also named Nelson, was a native Spanish speaker, he was able to translate the important parts for us. We packed into a Toyota 4×4 that Nelson took great care in keeping neat and clean, our luggage strapped up on top and us 6 all sandwiched in cosily. Our group consisted of: me and Ellen, a pair of sisters from Ireland, Niamh and Emer, Nelson from Chile, and his friend Sandra, from Germany.

Nelson (our driver) had some excellent music on deck, mainly Bolivian folk-y type music in general, interspersed with a select few 80’s hits. Perfectly surreal to groove to with the surreal scenery around us. We started at Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde, surrounded by volcanoes.  Here, we got our first taste of flamingos. WOW! They are absolutely beautiful birds.



We continued through the moonscape-like desert to the so-called ‘Dali Rocks’. The Irish girls had the brilliant idea of doing running panoramic shots. We would start at one spot while the picture taker slowly panoramed around. As soon as we were out of the shot, we’d run around behind and pose on the other side of the shot just at the camera hit that spot. Doubled! This was super tiring in the decreased oxygen environment but fun. Shortly after this, I discovered that my fingernails looked like the red, white, and blue ice cream cones probably due to the lack of oxygenation. Yikes!

The natural hot springs were the next stop on our tour (also at an additional cost to get in). Ellen and I didn’t go in because of the cold (not wanting to get wet), and the small and crowded nature of the pools, and instead walked around looking at flamingos instead. We were able to get quite close, so surreal! Apparently the hot springs were very nice tho.

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We next took a brief visit to the Geysers, which were not as good as Yellowstone. This was also the highest point in journey (4500m), making it both very cold and tiring. I felt overall pretty good, but just slow. Others in the group were really feeling the altitude.


We had a tasty lunch at the refugio where we were staying for the night once we got there and were then able to take a rest.  I got a headache, really my only symptom of being at altitude, apart from being stuffed up, especially when lying down. I took an ibuprofen and that seemed to fix me right up, along with a snack and some water. I was feeling quite lucky to have such mild symptoms at altitude, unlike some of the others who were very headachey, weak, and nauseous.

After a brief rest, we set off for Laguna Colorado. It. Was. Amazing. There were SO many flamingos in the waters, eating, sleeping, flying. Plus…there were llamas! Laguna Colorado, means the coloured/red lagoon and indeed, the colours = wow. We were feeling pretty good and took lots of fun photos, pretending to be flamingos, and otherwise goofing off.

Back at the refugio, we tried some coca tea, reputed to aid in altitude acclimatization. I was feeling just fine at altitude, thank goodness! We rested, chatted and then took supper, which was a pretty decent soup and spaghetti. I rallied the group for a birthday song and birthday snickers to Ellen.  She made a brief speech, we all cheers-ed her and wished less altitude sickness upon her! ha!

The refugio eating quarters
Our beds at the refugio

Our evening was topped off by the stars. Wow. Stupendous! So clear without any interference from city lights, we could see satellites and shooting stars.

I planned out my clothing for the next day, layering being very important. It was not too cold in the sunshine without the wind blowing, but with wind and any decrease in sun, it was quite cold. With all this planning, one of the Germans called me very German! I was touched. Haha! I wanted to do some laundry as my undies situation was starting to reach critical, but after much discussion decided that they may not dry quickly enough and a ‘knickers flag’ clothesline streaming off the car the next morning to dry, may not be appreciated by Nelson y Nelson!

An amazing first day in Bolivia!

An American Tale: Gillian Goes West (and East)

This post is SO LATE! I feel so bad about this particularly because this was such an amazing trip and reminded me again of why I love to go to the States and on roadtrips in particular.

To be honest, I kept putting this off because it was going to be a long post and I need to learn how to be more pithy when I post. Also, I was overwhelmed by the whole 2 weeks and how to condense that into one post. I think that writing it now, 8 whole months after having gone, I’m actually better able to summarize, as I can better pinpoint the highlights, the memorable moments, and the places I would definitely recommend.

June 7-16th, 2015

Creston, BC ->Yellowstone National Park, WY -> Rapid City, SD -> Minneapolis, MN -> Medora, ND -> Browning, MT

This is the first time I’m going to summarize a trip in a single post, rather than day by day. Especially in times when internet is not readily available and days are so jam packed full of stuff to do, it’s hard to write everyday. Plus, who am I to pretend that each day is really that exciting? Particularly when you’re driving up to 10 hours a day…with you, yourself, and your podcasts.

Incidentally, we hosted a couchsurfer last night, and we were talking about roadtrips and how to entertain oneself on roadtrips. Here are a few I listen to on roadies:

  1. Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean
  2. Risk
  3. StoryCorps
  4. Ted Radio Hour
  5. Invisibilia
  6. Snap Judgement

Anyhow, Yellowstone! A must! The buffalo and deer roam freely around the park. The sunsets? Insane. I met my friend Liza, who lives now in Denver, CO. We were neighbours and besties in Korea, having many adventures within Korea and abroad. We also have the strange tendency to dress the same, without planning it. I saw her last on my roadtrip with Leah, and it was great to coordinate another meet-up with her.

Within an hour of leaving home, my GPS died…DNR, no CPR, no intubation, nothing would resusc it. I figured out the cable that connected it to my car, supplying it with battery power, had a piece broken off and it wasn’t until I got to Mall of America and a Best Buy in Minneapolis that I would be able to replace it. Luckily, Jeramy, old-fashioned worried BF that he is, had insisted that Leah and I carry a paper roadmap of Canada and the US on our trip across the US. It lives under the passenger seat of my car permanently, so I pulled it out and along with road signs, I was able to continue my navigation.

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We camped outside the Eastern gate of Yellowstone, at a small campsite, that was largely un-occupied, on a beautiful little site on the river’s edge. The hiking is incredible in this area and we enjoyed a day of hiking up a trail on which we encountered no other humans, forded/fallen-tree-balanced-across 2 overfull creeks, saw evidence of horses, bears, and deer, but only met birds and one deer from far away. From our campsite, we saw the most incredible thunder and lightening storms I have EVER seen, the first night from far off, down at the other end of the valley, and the second night, right in the midst of it, which I still hold clearly in my mind today as simply amazing. Of course, we also had time within Yellowstone Park itself, watching Ol Faithful and the other geysers and mud holes, and the unique and beautiful wildlife. Nothing like passing a buffalo going slow in the right lane first thing in the morning!

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Sidenote: I got to use my new mini cam/videocam for the first time! It’s like a GoPro but cheaper…and honestly, gets the job done just fine.


We struggled a bit with lighting a fire the first night (copious amounts of lighter fluid was used, my girl guide mother would be horrified), but we got much better at it by our last night.


There was no shower at our campground, so we ingeniously (we thought) used the sinks at the seldom-used rest-stop just up the road. So fresh! So clean! I don’t know if your standards get lower when travelling, whether you become more creative, and more take me as I am, or what, but just to have clean hair and a quick once over with a proper bit of hot water was all we needed to feel recharged!

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Sunset from our campsite
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Mt Rushmore!
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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Devil’s Tower
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Looking out over Yellowstone

From Yellowstone, I left Liza and Wyatt (the dog) and moved on alone to Rapid City, South Dakota….still navigating with my trusty roadmap, highway signs, and my sense of direction. Who needs a working GPS anyways?! I went via Devil’s Tower National Monument, popular for rock climbers these days, saw a moose, and had a memorable moment at a gas station in Gillette, when a kindly funeral director helped me check the air pressure on and top up my tires. I have to say, in all my travels in the States, I have only experienced kindness and welcoming, although I do realize that I am a young, white chick!

I reached Rapid City, South Dakota that day, ending my day with a quick visit to Mt. Rushmore. I agree that while it seems quite large in photos and in movies, it is really smaller than I anticipated. However, considering when it was carved and the impressive likeness, it is still pretty impressive! I enjoyed the exhibits, and it was very mysterious with lots of fog rolling around the faces.

My bed that night was a Couchsurf, found at the home of a very kindly and well-travelled mother-daughter pair. The mother (over 80 years of age!) had many stories to tell, still sharp as a tack, and looking forward to a trip to Europe with her daughter in a few days. I hope that I am that wise and well-travelled by her age!

The next day I had a jam-packed schedule set up, with a trip to Wall Drug, a detour through Badlands National Park (very reminiscent of Cappadocia, Turkey), and taking the long way around via a route that to be honest….I can’t recall now! I decided not to stick the main highway though, and boy am I glad I didn’t! The scenery through South Dakota is absolutely stunning: canyons, grasslands, beautiful rock formations – this is the kind of big sky country I could live in! Wall Drug is a fascinating amalgamation of shops, and displays of things like old photos, licence plates, and other memorabilia. It is a great way to break up a drive.

Otherwise, the drive to Minneapolis was flaaaatttttt and straighttttt!! (AKA BORING!) This is where the podcasts come in! I was glad to reach my Airbnb that night for a rest before the wedding of Katie (who I met in Korea) and Brad the next day. Prior to the wedding, I met up with Ilona and Val and their significant others for breakfast and a trip to Mall of America. We had all met while teaching English in Korea, and hadn’t seen each other since then. It was awesome to reconnect and really cool to see the vast expanse that is the ‘American Breakfast’, as well as the Mall of America (huge, has really cool amusement park and giant Lego statues in the middle!). Katie’s wedding itself, beautiful, outdoors, travel-themed reception, lots of dancing, and great fun indeed.

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Campsite in Medora
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Badlands NP
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Medora Musical (Awesome)
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The Korea girls!
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Tipi Camp in Browning
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Badlands NP


After the wedding, I made another big day of driving through North Dakota, to end up in the town of Medora. Medora is home to the Medora Musical, a wonderful open amphitheatre performance including live horses, live music, and a general good time. I very much enjoyed myself. I was able to camp at another campsite right by a river, with very friendly and helpful staff, and a few other campers who were in awe that I would take such a trip all by myself. Honestly, with the pop-up tent (after I figured how to fold the darn thing up), it was SO easy to camp by myself.

Medora is also right across the highway from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While a small park, it is chock-a-block full of prarie dogs, buffalo, wild horses, and other critters and plant life. The loop road through the park takes only about an hour and a half or so to drive through, and you have to be very careful not to run over (or get run over by) the multitude of prarie dogs and buffalo that inhabit the park!

My last overnight stop was a bit of a splurge, but SO cool. I stayed in Browning, MT, with the hope of taking the Going-To-The-Sun road home (not to be, still closed), at a tipi camp! They supplied bedding on the grass and had set a fire in the little stone fire circle in the middle of the tipi. It was SO cool to light my fire and then fall asleep next to it (yes, I was a bit afraid to light on fire). There was an amazing sunset that night, and the drive home next day was beautiful and sunny, the perfect way to end a wonderful trip!

A few tips for road tripping, since a roadtrip is basically the ONLY was to properly see the US and Canada:
1. Snacks!
2. Wet wipes
3. A roadmap
4. Route planning
5. Take the long way around
6. Reusable cutlery
7. A popup tent so you don’t have to waste time with set-up and take down.
8. Spare blankets for picnics/keeping warm by the fire
9. Tupperware containers (will come in handy for many things)
10. Portable USB charger(s)

Really Old Things

I set off in the morning for an adventure to Rainbow Valley, while Ellen rested her sore foot. My group was quite small, just 8 of us, including a very lovely Swiss mother and her grown son. Barbara, the mother, was very talkative, describing herself as a ‘happy retired lady’. She told me that she used to help her dentist hubby when he first opened his practice, though she had no experience as a dental assistant, and she thought every day of divorce during this time, haha! She said when he got a real assistant and she could just do the books, it was much better. When I commented to her that Swiss chocolate is very delicious, she said ‘It’s ok.’!!! A real card, that one.

Our guide was rather talkative, which is always nice. When they are a hand talker and also your driver however…sometimes a bit scary! No, truth be told, I’ve had considerably scarier rides, any city bus at all that I rode in China, for instance. We also picked up a hitchhiker along the way, an older man, who it was translated to me, as an itinerant worker, had been walking for 8 hours to find work.

Yerbas Buenas

Yerbas Buenas is a 7000 year old large amalgamation of rocks/large rock formation. It was originally a place to stay for travellers and now is simply notable for its beautiful petroglyphs. There are many drawings here, many of which tell a story about the times past. They are simply fascinating to look at.

The main face of Yerbas Buenas
One of the mystery pieces – lizard? Rodent?

Our guide delighted in telling us about some of the local plant life as well. The ricarica, good for breastfeeding and digestion, and the pingopingo, from the Ephedrina family, known as the ‘Atacama Viagra’ but good for urinary infection too. Apparently this is no where near as strong as the Chinese strain of the plant, and you should select the fourth section up from where the leaf meets the main stem, as it has the highest concentration of the effective substance in it. He also pointed out a cactus, whose flowers are high in Vitamin C, and were therefore eaten and used to keep scurvy away. This cactus is fondly called ‘the mother-in-law cactus’!

Mother in Law Cactus

Valle Arcoiris: Rainbow Valley

Our next stop was just a short ways down the road. Rainbow Valley, as it is known for the myriad of colour found in the rock, is an estimated 240 million yrs old. Our guide told us that it was originally formed from a magma chamber. The various colours are due to the different minerals in the rock and dirt. We also visited a rock formation that was very reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in Arizona, or the grand entrance to Petra in Jordan, albeit in miniature.

Our Valle Arcoiris Group
Canyon carved by spring floods

Our guide provided us with a snack and we took the opportunity to get to know our group mates a bit better and get into some deep discussion with our guide. He was telling us about how the president of Chile is really ‘just a puppet’ for the 8 families that essentially own all of Chile (business, land, etc). He said that he was originally an architect, but to practice as an architect in Santiago, he would have to work for one of the major companies and just continue to feed into the wealth of the major players. He didn’t want to do this, and so decided to move  his family to San Pedro de Atacama, and go as ‘off the grid’ as he could. He said that they power their home with solar panels, don’t have a tv, buy local/organic, send their daughter to an alternate playgroup rather than a government run preschool, and do whatever else they can to make their money count as their vote. I loved this, as it is how I want to live and try to live, and it’s fascinating to see this feeling mirrored on the other side of the world.

Gesturing hand, telling us about the rock formation and colouring 😉

Afternoon: Moon Valley

Our afternoon tour was considerably bigger with a whole busload of people, though we did get to know a lovely Irish couple, who had lived in Vancouver for a few months. It’s truly a small world.

Our first stop was the 3 Marias, although now technically known as the 2 1/2 Marias. It was originally also used as a resting place. The reason they are now the 2 1/2 Marias is because a few years back a tourist stood on one of them and broke it off. We asked what had happened to the tourist who broke it, thinking it would have been a huge fine and deportation for sure, but he received only a 100 dollar fine!

I’m the 3rd Maria/Death glare at the people encroaching on my photo.

We climbed up a steep slope to the to top of Achachas, a sand dune/rock formation. What a beautiful 360 view! Our very funny guide Simon told us volcano story about the two brother volcanoes Licancabur and Juriques, who stand side by side. Licancabur is the ‘perfect’ volcano, with symmetrically sloped conical sides. Juriques, on the other hand, appears to have been lopped off in the middle, and to the other side of Juriques is an empty spot, exactly mirrored across the valley with a ‘female’ volcano, Quimal. Quimal was supposedly Licancabur’s girlfriend/fiancee, originally located on the same side of the valley as the other two. When Juriques began flirting with her, the father volcano down the valley, Laskar, erupted in anger and chopped Juriques’ head off and moved Quimal across the valley from the boys. A cautionary tale on the dangers of promiscuity to be sure!

After a quick exploration of a cave, studded with mineral crystals, we headed back to town for a well deserved rest!

Tips for exploring San Pedro de Atacama region:

1. Light layers.
2. Good footwear.
3. Water. Lots.
4. SPF 60.
5. Headlamp for exploring caves.
6. Scarf for when the wind is throwing sand in your hair and eyes and also for when it gets cold at sunset.
7. Snack although there are empanadas and water at the main entrance of Moon Valley if needed. I don’t think other destinations like the lagunas and Valle Arcoiris have snacks though.
8. Travel with a locally owned/eco-conscious tour company

Day 20: Welcome to Jordan – are there birds in that bag?!

Day 20: Amman, Jordan

As you may have read on Facebook, I was up bright and early this morning for really no good reason. On the bright side, this meant that I could finally wrap up all Turkey – related articles and move into our Jordanian adventure.

Eefje and Muath put on a great breakfast spread to start the day, which was rather grim looking at first, definitely threatening rain. We met Chris, a photographer/journalist/videographer from Atlanta, Georgia and also met up with Avery, of a similar profession from Seattle, who we had met the night before as she’d been on the same planes as us from Istanbul. We decided to set out together from the hostel as Chris had already been in Amman for a month and knew his way around.

We started off going to the new skatepark that had just been built a few months back. There was some super cool graffiti there and the boys skateboarding seemed to be having a blast. No helmets or wrist guards, unlike Canada however and there is tons of trash lying around the park and the adjacent playground. This completely blows my mind as litter is so much less common in Canada and people would never allow a children’s area to look like that. Really fascinating.

From there we moseyed on to the souq and one of the mosques where it truly became a little busier and more like some of the big, busy cities we’d been to before. They were just starting prayers and all the streets nearby were cordoned off to cars, Chris said to minimize the chance of terrorist attacks during prayers. 😦

We worked our way quite quickly through the souq which was composed of the usual market stalls: clothes, fruits and veggies, shoes, household goods and so forth and ended up at the end where there is a very unique street. As we turned on to it, I noticed a car with its trunk open…there were birds in it!! This street is apparently famous for its bird sales. Pigeons, turkeys, doves…all sorts! And the mode of transportation once purchased? You guessed it, a paper bag.

Not appreciating all the creepy leering, invitations to touch turkeys, and whatnot we parted ways with the rest of the group and headed for the Citadel.

On our way up, we happened to notice that the Roman Amphitheater was to our right. Having seen a few amphitheatres in recent days, we decided just seeing it was enough and carried on upwards.

We had seen a sign pointing the way to the Citadel and began to follow the road up. We got most of the way up and could see steps leading upwards towards the Citadel so we decided to take them. The steps stopped and a trail continued before ending in a wall, which being small, was easy to scramble up and over. From there we picked our way around some ruins and skirted the fence….indicating that we’d probably come up come up quite the wrong way! As we entered the ruins, one of the guards kindly reminded us to please buy a ticket and don’t climb up the Citadel again as it “could be dangerous” (it was at no point that way) hah!

We took an enjoyable hour or so perusing around the ruins and the small museum there. To make up for missing the Basilica Cistern, there was even a cistern. Although it was garbage filled (I see a theme here) and contained no Medusa heads so that was a bit anticlimactic.

Citadel Cistern

Garbage filled. >(

Once we were done at the Citadel, we decided to try and check out Rainbow Street. No one had informed us just how hilly Amman is and our journey to Rainbow St involved a hike down a huge hill and then back up another huge hill in addition to several sets of stairs. We figured we had earned our lunch time snack. Sadly, Rainbow St looks like it has some cute restaurants but many were closed because it was Friday today. We did stop for a quick bevy tho in a restaurant of very questionable cleanliness called F.R.I.E.N.D.S. @cafe.

From there we headed back down the hill and headed for Weibdeh hill where our hostel is for a quick falafel sandwich. It was delicious and cost just 2 JD for both of us including tea! Nom nom. We got ourselves some tasty treats from a bakery just down from the falafel shop and boy were they pleasantly good!

We returned back to Hawa to the exciting return of Leah’s bag! Since then, we’ve just been hanging out, relaxing and chatting with our wonderful hosts Eefje and Muath and their cats. Chris got us a cake to celebrate Iranian new years tonight. Yay!

Malcolm just chillin

Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York!

We’re here we’re here! After a long day of driving, through often craptastic conditions, we’ve arrived in NYC!

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We met in Moncton on Thursday morning at 11:30 after Leah drove up from Halifax with Ali, Dunc & Grace. We tossed her bags into the car, took a few pictures and hopped in to exchange pre-roadtrip Christmas presents! We set off and Leah was quickly introduced to our new Korean roadtrip companion, Park Gar Min. AKA Gillian had reconfigured our GPS to speak Korean to us throughout our trip.

We hit a bit of snow on our way to the border and throughout northern Maine but nothing that Gill, Gar Min and Leah couldn’t handle! We ate some delicious Christmas leftovers and sweets supplied by Gillian’s east coast mom, Susan! While that brightened our trip through northern Maine, we can’t say we warmed to it and we were SO happy to eventually cross the border into New Hampshire! Gillian says the only good parts of Maine are Katahdin, Acadia NP and the sweet Starbucks employee who was the recipient of our first name/blog card and who gave us some NYC advice! Our friendship almost ended twice when I asked Gill if she liked “Rent” and “Glee”…. She replied she likes “Rent” and is fond of ALL cheeses…. Ummm Glee Gillian, not Brie! Regardless, crises averted!

When we were driving through Massachusetts, singing along to “How Bizarre” and started harmonizing without realizing it, I knew this was the beginning of a beautiful trip!! We finally reached Mo’s apartment in New York’s Upper West Side by around 1:30 in the morning. The drive was great from Boston on, pretty much, and while we’d like to report very exciting stories, in fact, we can’t tell you much except for the toll booth employees were very friendly, Park Gar Min is to be trusted, and without fail, every time we pulled off the road to try and find a washroom and/or coffee and/or gas station, there would end up being a rest plaza just a mile down the road when we got back on the highway. Shoulda kept going…..

Cross all your fingers and toes that we don’t have our car broken into and with that, we are off to sleep for a well-deserved rest!!