Overcoming the Fear of Travelling Solo as a Senior

To escape the harsh Canadian winters of Nova Scotia, the place I call home, I do what more and more people are doing which is… to seek out some place that is warm. Florida is not the answer for me as has been the custom for many Nova Scotians in the past. For the last nine years, winters have taken me to the Far East, to such countries as Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, India, and, finally, last year to South America for the first time.

When I explain to friends, old and new, why I choose to travel to far off places by myself without my husband (Hubby), I get various reactions, such as: am I worried about getting sick, do I feel safe, how do I endure the long flights, or where do I get my energy? They might then end up by saying, “I could never do it.” Before addressing these concerns from the dubious, let me digress to the events leading up to my discovery of travelling solo as a senior female.

I never planned to do this kind of travel when Hubby and I moved to Nova Scotia from the big city of Toronto in 2006. It happened gradually. We kept meeting people in Annapolis Royal…the little town nearest to where we live in Victoria Beach… who had been to South East Asia. They helped perk my interest in the possibility of going there instead of to the south where we had gone previously. To my surprise I was able to talk Hubby into testing the Asian waters. We both realised it was so much cheaper to head east rather than south. For the same amount of money as we would spend to go to Cuba and stay at a resort for a week, we could stretch out our time away in Thailand, for example, to a month or more. Heck, after our second visit we realised we could stay for three or four months and live on a much smaller budget than we ever would if we stayed home. Home meant having to heat a century old house with oil and driving two cars.

Our home in Victoria Beach.

Annapolis Royal in December

After our fourth visit to SE Asia, Hubby announced that he was tiring of this part of the world and wanted to spend his next winter in Florence, Italy, where he had lived for a while as a young man. He also had friends in England he wanted to visit. The thought of spending my winter in either of these places left me cold (no pun intended). I was going back to Thailand again, not just for its warmth, but also because I wanted to shop. If you refer to one of my previous posts you will know why shopping in Thailand is my lure. Click on this link to read: Shopping the Markets in Chiang Mai.

Hill Tribe village in northern Thailand.

Night market in Chiang Mai

So now back to the concerns I have encountered from those who are interested in travelling solo as an older person. I say “interested” as I accept that not everyone wants to do this. We all have different ways of deriving satisfaction on our life’s journey. However, for those who would like to do it, but think it’s impossible to travel as a solo senior who is married, I want you to know it is… if you want it badly enough. You can convince your spouse or partner, if you have one, that it’s better for your relationship if you take time off from it and just trust. You can be safe if you use your common sense…this is where seniors have something that the younger set may not. You most likely won’t do anything crazy like walk around deserted streets late at night. You won’t get sick if you are careful of what and where you eat, and should you get sick there are tons of pharmacies with qualified staff and good hospitals in all the countries I have travelled to. Finally, you will survive the long trip overseas if you prepare yourself for the flight and take it easy for the first week by not eating too much spicy food and keeping a normal sleeping schedule. I have many tips for keeping in shape and staying healthy while travelling which I can address in a separate post if you want me to. For anyone who does decide to give solo travel a try, two things can happen:

  1. You will gain a thirst for more.
  2. Or if not, you will be glad you overcame any fear and just did it…once!

Either way you won’t regret it!

Fear of what disasters could happen are a huge concern for anyone starting off on a solo trip. When Hubby and I went on our separate trips in 2013, I was scared, but at the same time I was excited to be out there on my own. I could almost taste the freedom facing me. To deal with the fear factor, I started off with the familiar by travelling to Thailand first. I had friends there and was so familiar with this country that was becoming like a second home for me as Florence was for Hubby.

Viet Nam, however, was another story. My first night in Hanoi scared me to death when I was finally faced with the hoards of motorbikes and cars which seemed to be everywhere buzzing around like flies. With few traffic lights and police to direct the chaos, the Viet Namese drivers cope with a seemingly effortless charge ahead into the flow aiming for any spot that looks like a possibility. As a pedestrian, we must wait for a small gap or lull before heading out into the traffic. Then we pray the drivers see you and go around you rather than into you. I will be forever indebted to Mike and his wife, Diane, for helping me master the art of crossing the busy streets of Hanoi. Their presence was a gift because having been there many times, they were happy to not only be a guide for me, but to be my dinner companions. Aware that this was my first venture to a new place on my own, they kindly took me under their wing… or tried to. I can be awfully independent at times.

Hanoi traffic

My next leg of this solo journey took me to India and Nepal. This was the most daunting part of my whole trip. Any traveller will tell you that India isn’t easy…Thailand is a breeze in comparison. I was definitely put to the test by having to endure scams, pushy males, and sickness. You will come away from India either loving or hating it. By the end, I was somewhere in between. Should the opportunity arise to return, I would. If you want to learn more about my adventures in India you can click on my post Incredible India. 

This is Kerela in South India

Nepal came much easier to me, but it still had its challenging moments, such as my encounter with a bull who didn’t like what I was wearing. You can find out more about this adventure by reading my post Adventures in Nepal.

The Annapurna Massif – part of the Himalaya range.

What I learned from this trip was that any fear you might have about travelling on your own can be overcome by simply doing it. If you don’t have friends you can meet up with, you can always find fellow travellers willing to help you out at the places you stay or eat. Moreover, don’t discount the incredible helpfulness of the locals who in almost all cases will bend over backwards to help. Not everyone is out to scam you. Even in India which probably has one of the worst reputations for devising outlandish schemes to get your money, you will find incredibly helpful people.

So what I have learned about overcoming the fear that comes with travelling on your own is to gain all the information you can about whatever it is you need to know. And, of course, what better way to gain this information than by actually doing it. You can read all the guidebooks and talk to others who have done it, but the best teacher is your own experience. You will make mistakes, things will go wrong, you will get scammed, you will get discouraged, and sometimes feel very alone. However, look at these as the ingredients that make up the experience. Keep at it and you will get better at it. Fear will be replaced with love. Through your own growing, you will learn to not only love yourself more because you have done something you wanted to do and be proud because of it, but you will also become more accepting of all those you meet up with on your travels. You will become that better person where you will have gained a more open mind and be more compassionate towards those who have less than you. You will cease taking our wonderful country we call Canada for granted. This is what travelling solo has done for me, and I am so grateful that in my senior years I can still do it.

For more thoughts on my solo travels, you can refer to Travelling Solo or Not?

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

Dalat “Le Petit Paris”

Dalat “Le Petit Paris”

My latest post “A Wonderful Welcome to Viet Nam” mentioned three reasons for returning to this country. It should have been four.

Returning to Dalat is the fourth for me and a good reason for anyone visiting this country for the first time. If you like anything that is reminiscent of Paris or anything French, such as fresh baquettes, colonial architecture, an Eiffel Tower look- alike which happens to be the city’s radio tower, wide, tree-lined boulevards, and just plain old charm, then take a side trip up to Dalat.

Dalat's Eiffel Tower

Dalat’s Eiffel Tower

Discovered and built primarily by the French when they occupied the country in 1912, it was an answer to their search for a retreat to escape the heat of Saigon. Dalat’s location at 4,900 feet above sea level offers a temperate climate where the yearly temperatures hover at 15 to 25 degrees C. It’s no surprise that over the years it has earned another appropriate title…”the city of eternal spring”. If you don’t like this title, then how about “city of a thousand pines”? The city has so many tall pines that you can actually smell them. If it weren’t for the usual traffic woes, I would have a hard time believing I was in Viet Nam.

A nice pine-scented view.

A nice pine-scented view.

My first visit to Dalat was five years ago. The city, I am happy to report, hasn’t lost its charm, and there are little if any signs of climate change. The one and only complaint I have is the constant traffic which is chaotic and noisy as it seems to be no matter where you are in Viet Nam. It’s just the way they drive here, and we either adapt or end up as toast.

There is a motor bike under there.

There is a motor bike under there.

Dalat’s temperate climate in the Lang Biang Mountains has created an ideal place to grow things making it literally the ‘bread basket’ of Viet Nam. All kinds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers can be found growing year round. Their speciality is strawberries, black currants, and artichokes in the produce department, and when it comes to flowers, it has to be hydrangea and roses found just about everywhere throughout the city… lining the boulevards and hanging from lamp posts.

One of the best places to see what grows here is the Dalat City Park located near the Xuan Huong Lake. This lake was created after the construction of one of the area’s many dams resulting in one of the city’s main attractions. If you are one for walking, it’s a 7 km trek all the way around. I got marvellous views of the city from all angles because of the lake’s configuration which resembles a banana.

Looking across the lake to one of Dalat's churches.

Looking across the lake to one of Dalat’s churches.

A view from the other side of the lake.

A view from the other side of the lake.

To some, the Park borders on the kitschy with its ceramic animals placed strategically amongst the flower beds, and the gaudily adorned horse-drawn carriages readily available to transport weary visitors. Nevertheless, the gardens themselves with their variety of flowers and shrubs are absolutely beautiful on a perfectly clear, sunny day such as I had.

Dalat Park entrance.

Dalat Park entrance.

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Inside the park.

Inside the park.

Coffee is another rapidly growing industry here putting Viet Nam in second place on the list of the world’s coffee producers. Their focus has been the Robusta type used primarily in instant coffee like Nescafe, but since its lofty position as number two coffee producer, the farmers are beginning to move over to the Arabica type and gaining recognition there. Coffee cafes are on every street corner, but most don’t serve Italian or American coffee – just Viet Namese which is very strong and sweetened with condensed milk. I find it ironic that most locals still prefer to drink tea.

Wine production is becoming a serious concern of late. It started with the French in the ’50’s and has now morphed into a viable industry. Dalat wines can be found throughout Viet Nam and Japan and other SE Asian countries are now importing it to good reviews.

Advertising Dalat wine at the Park.

Advertising Dalat wine at the Park.

Dalat, like all cities and towns of a certain size, has a market as one of its central attractions. Nestled between two hills in a tiny valley, it’s a beehive of activity any time of the day or night. Smack in the middle of the city, it’s close to a host of small hotels and hostels and great places to eat. My hotel was probably a ten minute walk away as ‘straight as the crow flies’, but in order to get to it, I had to go down one hill and up the other making my trip much longer. The city is very hilly so walking can be difficult as the streets seem to meander up and down and around. Walking around in circles can be frustrating for those of us who are directionally challenged.

Looking down on the market at night.

Looking down on the market at night.

Every kind of fruit imaginable.

Every kind of fruit imaginable.

In spite of the heavy traffic, Dalat’s air is clean which was a real treat for me. Certainly its lofty location contributes to this, but another reason is because other than growing food, the only industries are in education and scientific research. Many schools were started by the French so Dalat quickly became a learning base for all Indochina. Today there is a large training school for teachers and a thriving university. Tourism is growing, too, as travellers and locals seek a respite from the heat in the south and the cold in the north especially at this time of the year. For the adventurous tourist, there is trekking, canyoning, and mountain biking. There are numerous minority villages to visit for handicrafts, silk farms, six good-sized waterfalls, pagodas, and lastly the number one attraction right now…the Crazy House.

Is it the name or is it the fact that the weird architecture of this house reminds tourists of Gaudi’s creation in Barcelona? Whatever it is, it’s become a ‘must see’ for anyone who visits Dalat. I have to admit I didn’t go to see it this time around because I toured it five years. My husband and I joined in the fun of exploring its maze of tunnels, climbing its ladders, and being constantly surprised by what lay ahead…spiderwebs, mushrooms, strange animals, with everything seemingly sprouting from the trees. A Mrs. Dang Viet Nga, daughter of the successor to Ho Chi Minh as Prime Minister of Viet Nam, received her Ph.D in architecture from Moscow. Her objective was to build a house which would bring people back to nature so she began with a giant banyan tree. It’s absolutely amazing what she has accomplished over the years. She is still alive and her creation has garnered the reputation as one of the world’s most bizarre buildings.

Outside of the Crazy House.

Outside of the Crazy House.

Inside the house.

Inside the house.

Yes, Dalat has much to offer tourists who come here, as well as the people of Viet Nam who are beginning to tour their diverse country now that they have the means to do so. The Viet Namese are romantics at heart so Dalat provides them with the perfect setting for their wedding pictures or a honeymoon. Roses, flower gardens, a beautiful lake setting, and hotels that cater to them, is this not enough? Apparently not, as not only locals, but bus loads of tourists will include a trip to the Valley of Love for even more love theme kitsch. As a mature, solo traveller I might have felt a little out of place so didn’t make the effort.

Dalat does have more serious attractions for visitors, however. The French left behind a noticeable legacy with their catholic churches exemplifying their gothic architecture. They are lovely to look at from the outside but, unfortunately, aren’t open for viewing.

Lovely gothic style church.

A more modern church.

A more modern church.

However, there are numerous elaborate pagodas to visit reflecting the Chinese architecture. They are open for viewing. My choice was to check out the Truc Lam Pagoda. This zen monastery sits on top of a mountain to the south of the city and is easily accessible by cable car. After a hair-raising motor bike ride out to the lift, I was then treated to my own cable car for a 15 minute ride through the lush greenery of the pine forest. I instantly felt at peace and totally safe. What a fantastic view of the city and its environs! The grounds of the monastery were almost as peaceful save for some bus loads of Russian tourists who arrived. This wasn’t a problem for me as the grounds are so spread out and beautifully designed, providing many secluded spaces with tables and benches for sitting and meditating or just getting away from people.

Entrance to the pagoda.

Entrance to the pagoda.

A temple with huge bell.

A temple with huge bell.

Hollyhocks.

Hollyhocks.

These are for real. Not sure what they were.

These are for real. Not sure what they were.

A quiet spot for some meditation.

A quiet spot for some meditation.

Zen affiliates from around the world have donated benches. This is from Canada.

Zen affiliates from around the world have donated benches. This is from Canada.

Descending down a tree-lined path, I came upon Tuyen Lam Lake, another man made lake.

I was surprised to find stalls selling souvenirs and one in particular caught my buyer’s eye. Taking a chance and wandering in, I found some money belts handcrafted by a minority village in the area. They were a decent price so I bought some.  Over to the left, at the end of the lake, I spied some signs advertising food and coffee. Hot and weary, I decided to check them out. I didn’t see anything that whet my appetite until a restaurant advertising classic cars and ‘weasel’ coffee grabbed my interest. In case you don’t know, ‘weasel’ or civet coffee is made from this animal’s poop… and it’s expensive….way too expensive for my budget! However, since I hadn’t had my coffee fix for the day, I decided my caffeine treat would be a mocha latte…made with regular coffee. Yum! I thought this was an appropriate way to end my visit before heading back to the city.

My mocha latte.

Would I return for a third visit? Without a doubt should the occasion arise. Dalat may not have the history and culture of other hot spots, such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi Han, Hue, or Hanoi, but it does have a comfortable climate and enough things to see and do to keep visitors there for at least a few days. Like the French over a century ago, we tourists are searching for a place that not only offers a relief from the sweltering heat, but also some of that irresistible French charm they left behind.

Mui Ne: A Little Resort Town in Viet Nam

People who visit Mui Ne either love it or hate it.

Before I get into why this is so, let me give you a short description of its location and geography. It’s approximately a four-hour drive northeast of Ho Chi Minh City on the coast of the South China Sea. It’s easy accessibility to the city and its 10 km long beach make it a great seaside escape not only for HCMC residents but also tourists. Over the past 10 years it has morphed from a sleepy fishing village into an over-developed resort town.

The main and only street follows the coastline for 10 km. When approaching it coming from HCMC, you enter from the west which puts you into the actual town of Mui Ne… the main tourist strip with all the fancy resorts. This end of the street is called Nguyen Dinh Chieu which then turns into Huynh Thuc Khang somewhere in the middle. Keep travelling along and you will find yourself in the City of Phan Thiet…also the capital of the province…which is graced with a large harbour dotted with a multitude of colourful fishing boats. Here is the centre for SE Asia’s production of nuac mam or fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

So this is Mui Ne. It’s a one street strip of restaurants, fancy resorts, budget hotels, and restaurants lining both sides of the street and hemmed in by the ocean on one side and sand dunes on the other.

Most people who absolutely love it are the windsurfers. They come from all parts of the world to do their stuff. With more than 200 days out of the year with strong winds coming off the ocean, it’s a surfer’s paradise.

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The red  and white sand dunes are another rave about this place. Coming very close to the strip of beach resorts along the sea, they appear to be in the backyards of many hotels. I just had to go to the end of the garden at my place to see a part of them. The better views are outside the town where you can be right in the midst of them and experience the joy of driving a dune buggy. I preferred to simply walk and observe the buggies as they got mired in the sand. I was attempting to be more ecologically responsible.

On the white dune.

On the white dune.

The Russians love Mui Ne  because they get great package deals to and from their country, and like us Canadians they are eager to escape their harsh winters for some fun in the sun. In fact, they have almost taken over the town as evidenced by the restaurants which serve Russian food. Even the menus are in Russian. Many restaurants, shops and hotels are now Russian owned by expats who have moved there.

Anyone who likes sun and a tropical climate also loves it, especially at this time of the year which is their dry season. For those staying in a four or five-star resort with their own private beach, life at the beach is good. However, for budget travellers a beach isn’t always easily available. If your hotel/hostel has wrangled a deal with one of the bigger hotels or resorts who are willing to let others use what they think is theirs, then you’re in luck. Fortunately, the place where I stayed did have access so I had the beach at my disposal. Although the beach itself is lovely, it is beginning to show some wear and tear. In some spots the sand is disappearing due to erosion. In other places, the beach is being invaded with piles of garbage and cattle who are allowed to roam at will. For me this was not inviting so I merely used the beach to capture a sunset or two. I didn’t bother to sun bathe or go swimming. I may have if I had been staying in one of those swanky resorts who lay claim to a piece of the beach or have their own outdoor pools.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Is it now evident to you what people might hate about Mui Ne? The Russian invasion, the dirty beach, the over-development, and one more thing…the bland food….are the list of complaints I have heard. I have to agree on the dirty beach and the over-development, but the Russians and the food were more than acceptable to me.

I had a young Russian couple next door to my room at Diem, Lien where I stayed. Although their English was limited, I found both Vera and Vasili easy to talk to and curious about Canada. We found we had much in common. Yes, most Russians prefer to keep to themselves, which has earned them a bad reputation, but I have found they are actually shy with other tourists because of their lack of English. I have not and did not encounter any difficult or loud Russians.

As for the food, I found a lovely little restaurant newly opened three months ago, on my first night in Mui Ne. I enjoyed the food and ambience so much that I returned every day from there on. Owned and managed by a young Viet Nam couple with a four-month old baby, who was at first fussy and probably colicky, I indulged in fresh scallops nicely prepared in a garlic sauce, stewed chicken in a clay pot, tasty grilled chicken with morning-glory greens, fresh spring rolls, and for a change, spaghetti carbonara. All the food was prepared by the husband who was a fabulous cook in my opinion. Everything was fresh, tastefully spiced, and reasonably priced. A glass of good Dalat wine was only $1.50. My dinners were consistently at about $5,00 including the wine. The name of this little gem, in amongst all the other similar restaurants along the strip on the Huynh Thuc Khang end on the dune side, was Mui Ne House. They have no website and aren’t on Face Book since they are so new, but if you are ever in Mui Ne then do try to find them. By the way, the baby settled down after that first night and slept peacefully in her hammock from there on.

One more attraction which gets mixed reviews is the Fairy Stream. I wasn’t too excited about seeing it. However, it was part of the tour package I took to see the dunes at sunset so I had no choice. It’s actually a pretty half hour walk…in bare feet…from the sea up to its source. Strange rock formations in various shades of red and white shaped by the water as it meanders through the sand dunes create an unusual and different site every day.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

Strange looking sand formations.

Strange looking sand formations.

Our group.

Our group.

I read in Travelfish that they wouldn’t recommend it because of reports that it was dirty and hazardous. Other than a couple of cows we met along the way, I noticed no garbage at all. Apparently the town authorities have been working on a clean up. One thing which did take me by surprise was the demand from a sweet young woman who was showing us sites and taking our pictures along the way. Little did we know she wasn’t a part of our tour, but a self-employed ‘tout’ who demanded we each pay her 100,000 dong at the end. In Canadian dollars this would be $6,00. Being more budget conscious and perhaps a little more experienced at what was happening here, I immediately spoke up and stated this was way too much money for a half hour of her time. After some haggling, we settled on 20,000 each. To me this was worth her time and the information she was able to share with us. We could have paid her nothing since she wasn’t a part of our tour. Our jeep driver had no English and didn’t accompany us. I doubt if we could have learned anything on our own.

There was one other incident on this tour which took us by surprise. After we had toured the great white dune on our own time, we were told to meet our driver at the jeep by five o’clock so we would have time to catch the sunset at the red dune before heading back to town. After we had all finally assembled to head back, we had to wait. At first we weren’t sure why, but our driver after much discussion with the other jeep drivers informed us simply that the police were asking for money to the tune of 5 million dong or $295 Cdn. I couldn’t believe it! Here, right in front of our eyes, was the corruption you hear about in this and all SE Asian countries. Fortunately, our driver was honest and had the decency to tell us. After a 20 minute wait, we started out only to stop two if not three more times to wait out the police. There was much telephoning and further yelling from the other jeep drivers at each stop until finally our driver informed us with elaborate hand signals that we would be taking another route back to town. There went our opportunity to see the sunset which was to my mind no big deal. It wasn’t until the next day when I met up with a gal who had toured the dunes the day before with a group that actually paid a lower fine…a fine for doing nothing wrong as far as we could tell…that I realized what we had missed. The red dune at sunset is absolutely gorgeous!

I hope I haven’t painted too gloomy a picture of Mui Ne. What impression you come away with is purely a personal one. My eternal optimism sees it for what it is. It has its problems and isn’t perfect. However, I am happy with my time there even though I am not a surfer. Looking back I enjoyed my meals at the Mui Ne House Restaurant immensely, not only for their good food but for the warm greetings I received from the owners. The family who own and manage Diem Lein Hotel were also helpful and hard-working, especially the two sisters. I particularly enjoyed the garden, a little haven of flowers, trees and butterflies, which provided me with a peaceful place to have breakfast each morning. Furthermore, I was able to catch up on my sleep because the building was built like a motel and situated well away from the noisy street traffic. I doubt I’ll ever return to Mui Ne unless I were to use it as a short stopover on my way to HCMC or Dalat… or take up surfing!

Vilcabamba the Village of Longevity

“Please don’t forget about us. We need you to come back.”

This was a heartfelt plea from many Ecuadorians, locals and ex-pats alike, after the devastating  earthquake that hit this beautiful country on April 16th of this year. I was fortunate enough to spend enough time there in January to develop a real liking for Ecuador and its generous people. Yes, our tendency may be to write off a country which has suffered such a blow, but it’s just when such a disaster like this happens that tourists need to keep on coming. Perhaps they won’t want to visit the western coast where the earthquake caused the most devastation, but there is still the central and eastern part of this tiny country which was still impacted both emotionally and economically rather than physically. Under the leadership of Raphael Correa for the past nine years, Ecuador has progressed from one of the poorest South American countries to one that has progressed to one of the most developed. As a result it has gained a reputation as a comfortable and affordable place to retire. Yes, this country now needs us to ‘keep on coming’ more than ever.

One place that I visited this winter which was not affected by the earthquake due to of its southerly location in the central Andes is Vilcabamba. It has over the last 15 years or so become a magnet for not only tourists but also for adventurous if not disenchanted  ex-pats looking for that proverbial ‘land of milk and honey’. It first grabbed the world’s attention back in 1955 thanks to an article that appeared in the National Geographic. They had heard the rumour that a more than usual number of its inhabitants were living to well into their 90’s so they decided to check out the rumour for themselves. Their article attracted a lot of attention but provided no conclusive observations. To this day, the answer is still up for debate on whether the story is based on myth or reality. Over the years, it’s been called the  Valley of Eternal Youth or Longevity and sometimes the Sacred Valley because the Inca claimed it as one of their most spiritual meeting places.

I first heard about Vilcabamba in the International Living magazine which I have subscribed to off and on over the years. For five years straight, this organization has consistently given Ecuador the first prize as the best place for people to move to for retirement. It’s true, they often paint a picture of this country through rose-coloured glasses earning them the dubious title of “International Lying”, but nevertheless, they have succeeded in helping many people find a lifestyle which for the most part is fulfilling all the dreams they might have had.

So, you may ask, is there really any evidence to support the claim for why this village has gained such a reputation as a haven for healthy living and longevity?

There are many reasons as far as I am concerned, and the first that comes to mind is it’s almost perfect climate. From what I could gather by talking to those who live there and what I experienced, the climate is pretty steady and is almost ideal all year round. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold. In a previous post “Ecuador – A Land of Diversity”, I wrote that in the northern Andes where the town of Otavalo is located, it can be quite cold, just as all along the low-lying coast it can be hot and humid. Vilcabamba also seems to get just the right amount of rain keeping everything green to allow for all manner of fruits and vegetables to be grown all year-long. You can expect grey skies, blue skies, sun, and maybe a light shower or two all in one day. This was the pattern while I was there and apparently this is what you get for most of the year. Boring you say. Well maybe for some but not for me; it’s what keeps their temperatures comfortable. Vilcabamba is located in the southern part of the Andes where the mountain chain begins to taper off, but it’s still over 3,000 ft. above sea level and, of course, near the equator which is another explanation for its almost perfect climate.

When you live in a climate like this where you can grow fruit and veggies year round, chances are you will be eating a more healthy diet than you ever would in Canada or the US. Almost every fruit and vegetable imaginable can be grown there including coffee and cocoa beans providing two of our all time favourite foods – coffee and chocolate. Heavenly! Pesticides are not used here either. Could such healthy foods not be another good reason for the longevity myth?

Vilcabamba’s  environment is pretty decent, too. It has the Andes Mountains surrounding a spacious valley which in turn produces numerous rivers and waterfalls. There is no lack of uncontaminated water. In fact, much of it is used as a source of bottled water for parts of the country who want clean, healthy drinking water. This abundance of water also explains why fruit and vegetables grow so prolifically. Then there are the surrounding mountains with their imposing presence not only giving the village a pretty setting, but also providing many walking trails, hot springs, and spa resorts, another plus in support of health and longevity. Nature reserves and parks are abundant with at least three in the vicinity. I decided to take a morning hike to the Rumi Willco EcoLodge and Nature Reserve with trails to meet all levels of physical endurance including well-marked trees and plants for those of us who lack knowledge in botany. This reserve is situated in one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world with over 132 types of birds and 500 plant species. In fact, the Huilco tree from which the park derives its name is only found here and goes back to well before the time of the Inca as source of medicine for all kinds of ailments.

So much green space in a high altitude would naturally suggest that the air is clean – another argument to support the longevity myth. Moreover, there is little industry here other than farming which seems to be all sustainable and organic, and the one water bottling plant I already mentioned. Nor are there any towns or cities within a 200 mile or more radius that have any kind of heavy industry to pollute the environment. For the time being at least. It seems that developers and farmers who want to burn their land to get in an extra crop or two are threatening to upset balance. The Rumi Wilco Reserve is one such project which was started by a private concern to be sustainable and to preserve what is in danger of disappearing.

My  final pitch as a possible reason for the longevity myth could be that so many of the herbs and medicinal plants that we have access to for good health are grown in this valley. Over 200 species of plants grow in this area and have been used by the indigenous people for centuries. The Wilco tree in the Nature Reserve is a good example. Would you  be surprised to know that many North American companies are now looking at some of these plants as a potential cure for cancer?

I have to admit I didn’t see any centarians while I was in Vilcabamba or even octogenarians for that matter. I was told, however, there were some around in the rural areas. Nevertheless, it makes good sense to me that if people are living in a warm climate with plenty of sunshine, growing and eating food that comes from clean soil, drinking clean water, breathing fresh air, and working hard at things that are meaningful to them, why wouldn’t they live a longer and healthier life? Do you still think that longevity in Vilcabamba is a myth?

I enthusiastically recommend that people keep Ecuador in mind when planning their travel itinerary either now or for their next winter escape. I think you could easily fall in love with it as I did and the thousands of other ex-pats who now live there and make it their home. My bucket list does include another trip there in the not too distant future, and I definitely want to return to Vilcabamba. There are numerous places in this area where you can find that affordable haven for rejunvenation and well-being to suit all pocketbooks, great restaurants offering all organic food, delicious coffee, clean water and air all around. Let’s hope it can stay that way; a village that can still offer an almost perfect environment in a country which is still relatively safe and has worked so hard to promote its fledgling tourist industry.

Resorts for nature lovers and good health located around Vilcabamba:

  1. Hosreia Izhcayluma
  2. Madre Tierra Eco Resort
  3. The Community Cultural Centre for yoga.

A Picture Gallery of scenes from Vilcabamba

 

A Walk About Cuenca

I love Sundays. There has always been something special about them. In fact, I wrote a post about a year ago titled “ A Precious Gift” about spending a memorable Sunday in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Sundays have no special religious connotation for me but I do find them inspirational. For example, I have noticed it is often on a Sunday that I get inspired to write another blog post.

I woke up today realizing this is my last day in this beautiful city called Cuenca. What was I to do with it after I finished Skyping my daughter and my travelling friend, Cathy? Some of the guests here where I’m staying were taking an excursion out to visit some nearby villages for their Sunday markets, but that didn’t hold much appeal for me. There were other things I could have made an effort to see, such as the El Cajos National Park but that didn’t ring my chimes either. What I opted for was to set out to explore all my favourite places right here within walking distance from my hostel.

Tourists and locals who want to explore or who simply want to stroll will invariably head for the pulse of this city: the Plaza del Calderon.2016-02-21 13.50.11

As I approached it, I could hear authentic Andean music or folklorical as I’ve seen it referred to. This was exciting because I have been wanting to hear more of this music but somehow the opportunity had just not presented itself. There it was, finally, at the Nuevo Catedral! Three men dressed in native costume were making music that literally sent chills through me. 2016-02-21 13.40.59

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At last I had found what I was looking for and to sweeten the pot even more they were selling CD’s. Without hesitating I bought one on the spot for only $5.00!

Feeling quite elated, I decided to head down to Calle Larga the street following the Tomebamba River one of four rivers snaking through Cuenca. The streets here are laid out in a kind of grid pattern in spite of the rivers, mainly because the heart of the city is nestled between the Andes that run parallel on either side of it. The Tomebamba River, which is the nearest to the centre, flows from west to east so all the north south streets lead to it.

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I find myself on a street I have not walked on before. At first it appears to be rather nondescript with houses, shops, and a few eating places on either side. Suddenly a shop with colourful textiles and a few people milling around catch my eye so I  decide to check it out. I find the kind of llama sweater I bought for myself a few weeks ago which I mentioned in my latest post. If I can get several of those at my price of $10 I decide I will buy them. I am in a shopping mood after buying that CD. He starts at $28 and finally comes down to $15 but I can’t accept that even though they are thicker and of a slightly better quality. I know I am fighting a loosing battle. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, I spy some bags which might sell if again I get the right price. Starting at $15 he eventually lowers to $8 so I buy two of the three he has in stock. Buying in Ecuador takes much effort so I’ve had to walk away from many of the things I see and like because of our crummy Canadian dollar!

Purely by accident or maybe it was fate, but the next street I take leads me straight to Cafe Goza, the most popular spot in Cuenca for their many specialty coffees all grown in Ecuador. It’s popular with locals and ex-pats alike and is always busy: so busy in fact that it has a security guard standing outside where everyone sits. I’m not sure why this is so, but I’m assuming there must have been a nasty incident there at one time. It’s odd because I haven’t seen much evidence of police in the rest of the city. Better to be safe than sorry I guess when it comes to the safety of the ex-pats. Apparently there are well over 5,000 living here.

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Sated with a cappuccino and some apple cake, I continue my walk, snapping pictures of the old colonial homes, the bridges spanning the river, and stairs leading down to it.

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By this time the sun has come out from behind the clouds to pour its warmth on me. Sitting there beside the quick-flowing river, I take the time to appreciate this environment for possibly the last time and to realize how fortunate I am to be here in this wonderful place. I love people watching and this was the perfect place to do it. Families playing games or splashing in the water, older folks out for a walk with their dogs, young lovers smooching under a tree, and old indigenous women looking for recyclables to cash in for extra money. It was all there; the good and not so good.

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It is time to move on again so I continue west which will lead me back to the centre. I am looking for Avenida Benigno Malo which has become one of my favourite streets. I discovered it for the first time yesterday and after seeing many restaurants offering daily luncheon specials I noted this and remembered to return. I know I might be disappointed because it is Sunday when many restaurants and shops are closed. However, as luck would have it, I find one which is offering soup, BBQ chicken, dessert and juice for the paltry sum of $4.00. I had taken advantage of a similar lunch special or almeurzo two days ago on another street. Such specials can be found in the better class restaurants on some of the smaller streets where foot traffic is lighter. Their portions are substantial and they are usually good. Tourists like me on a budget love them!

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Benigno Malo has a fine showing of the old Spanish colonial architecture which contributed to naming Cuenca a Heritage site some time ago. That’s another reason for choosing to walk this street and not the others. It’s a photographer’s delight. Right in the centre it runs smack dab into the famous Nuevo Catedral or Church of the Immaculate Conception which is another photographer’s gem. Snap, snap! I must have taken over 100 pictures today!

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Over four hours have passed since I stepped out onto the street at my hostel. Now I am back in my little room with a full stomach and at peace with this city which I hope I will get the chance to revisit. Once again, it’s time to pack up my bags for tomorrow’s early morning departure and long haul bus ride to Quito, my next stop. This will be another revisit to seek out the places I missed or maybe just to explore those already seen in greater depth with a more seasoned eye. Time will tell.

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“Oh, My Aching Feet”

“Oh, My Aching Feet”

“This is the wrong form. I can’t accept this,” says the guy at the boarding gate desk at Pearson Airport in Toronto, after scrutinizing the reciprocity visa form I had just passed to him. I think the first thing that popped into my mind was why the heck didn’t I heed the little voice inside which said to me when I was applying for this visa to Argentina, “Is this all there is?” Somewhere in the process of filling out my information I thought I recalled that there was the word ‘forms’ and not the singular, but I could only find the one I had in my hand so this had to be it. At the time, I did think this rather odd but didn’t dwell on it as more pressing issues took over.

That’s all he says to me. “What should I do,” I asked after we stand there momentarily looking at each other. “I am not going to miss my flight to Buenos Aires because I haven’t the right form. It says right there that I’ve paid for it. Won’t that do?”

“We need the authorization number so go over to the Customer Service desk to get the proper form printed off,” he replies. “If you hurry, you can make it.” By now I am beginning to feel the first pangs of panic and my voice probably reflected that as I realized I hadn’t a clue where that desk was or how to find that missing form even if I did know where it was. He tells me that if I take a short cut through the Duty Free shop and hurry that I can probably make it back in time for my flight. Probably! He doesn’t seem too concerned so I think perhaps this has happened to others. In fact while I was waiting at the gate in good time to board my plane, many reminders were given to us, the passengers, that this reciprocity visa was required. Obviously many of them weren’t even aware of this so I felt pretty smug that at least I had mine. Little did I know!

I start to run through the throng of people still waiting to board, telling myself to stay calm and that this will turn out all right. The plane just can’t go without me. I see the desk not too far away but also see that all three reps are busy with customers. I presume they are the unfortunate ones who have missed their connections due to the icy weather conditions in Toronto which had already delayed my flight from Ottawa by two hours. They don’t seem to be in as much of a panic as I am so I bravely announce that I need help right away with printing out my visa form for my flight which is just about to take off for BA. One of the girls picks up on the urgency of my situation long enough to tell me to grab the nearest computer, go into my account and bring up the form. By now my mind is drawing a big blank. What account? After a deep breath, some common sense finally clicks in. I try to get into my g-mail account but the computer isn’t co-operating. I ask the girl for help but she replies that she isn’t very computer savvy. Excuse me but am I hearing her correctly? Finally, a young fellow appears who is obviously aware of my panic and inability to function properly so steps in to help. He manages to calm me down and together we find the account which by then I remember setting up to get the form(s). Behold, there is the elusive second form which I had missed when I applied several days ago. It was way down the page and hardly visible as far as I could tell. No wonder I missed it! He quickly ran it off and after a hasty heartfelt ‘thank you’ (if I had the time I would have given him a hug) I ran for my gate via the Duty Free. By now I’m convinced that more than a few minutes have passed and that the plane has probably taken off. Then I hear my name being called and realize they’re waiting for me! The Duty Free staff are now aware of what’s going on so all come to my rescue pointing me in the right direction to my gate. God bless them all! The area is totally deserted as I approach. All the passengers are on board. I race down the ramp. Please don’t close those doors I silently pray. Instead the crew greet me as though all is normal and calmly direct me to my seat. Such an overwhelming feeling of relief washes over me. I quickly give thanks to all seen and unseen beings who have helped to finally get me on my way.

The rest of my flight was totally stress free. They fed me lots of food, I watched a couple of movies, and even got some much-needed sleep. The next morning I woke up to the captain announcing that those of us on the left side of the aircraft should raise the blinds and take a peek at the view of the Andes below us. We were making a quick stop in Santiago, Chili, and there below us were miles and miles of brown mountains iced with a smattering of snow on its chain of peaks. What a wonderful introduction to South America!2016-01-11 11.17.13

As I write this, I am exactly into the fourth day of my visit to Buenos Aires. In some sense, I feel as though I am in another world way down below but as I get more settled this sophisticated city seems no different from any other European city especially Paris. I understand now why it’s called ‘the Paris of South America’. I should also mention that not only does it look like Paris but it’s almost as expensive.

Here are some things I have noted so far and wish to pass on for anyone who may be thinking of visiting this city:

  1. Bring some American dollars to tide you over until you can find a bank that takes your bank card. My friends and I found out that many banks won’t accept them. So far a bank displaying a big red ‘B’ near the door is the best bet. Money changers, which are now legal in Argentina, like American dollars and Euros but wouldn’t even consider my Canadian money. This is true for right now but in Argentina such things as economy and money can change on a dime.
  2. The cheapest and best way to get from the International Airport to the city centre (about 45km away) is by bus and taxi. The company I used was TiendaLeon located right at the arrivals door. For $15US the bus took me along the main highway to somewhere on  the outskirts of the city. From there I was transferred to a mini van taxi which brought me right to the place I am staying in Palermo. They were all efficient and courteous. If I had taken one of the many taxis that were lined up I would have paid $40.
  3. Bring a good pair of walking shoes, or sandals preferably at this time of the year which is their summer. The city is huge (like Paris) and is divided up into many areas. Palermo where I am staying is further sub-divided into its sections i.e. Viejo, Soho, Hollywood,. There is a subway system which unfortunately doesn’t cover the whole city and buses to go where the subway doesn’t. I have been relying mostly on my feet to take me to where I need to go. I can see more that way. Unfortunately, my lousy sense of direction has caused me many additional steps.  However, I do find that motorists are fairly courteous and seem to obey all the traffic signs. It’s certainly a big improvement over the SE Asian cities I’ve visited.
  4. Buenos Aires, as I had predicted, is not a cheap place to visit, especially in the touristy area where I am staying. Accomodations and restaurants, including food if you eat in, are high. They still haven’t reached our level but with the low value of our Canadian dollar, they are getting close. Transportation by public transit is an unbeatable deal, however. It costs only 5 pesos to go any distance on the subway which is about $.75
  5. If you want to learn more about the city BA has a great deal in their FREE Walking Tours – one in the morning and one in the afternoon both to different parts of the central part of the city. They are available every day come rain or shine. My friends and I took the morning one on our second day here and found it very helpful in learning BA’s past and present. It’s a good way to orient yourself to such a huge city which can be overwhelming at first.
  6. It also helps to know some Spanish. I have found a course on-line, called Memrise, which is helping me a bit for the everyday words one needs but it’s not enough. Many Argentinians know a little English so we manage. However, I have noticed that signs and menus are almost always in Spanish. Thank goodness many Spanish words are similar to our English words. Apparently Argentinians speak a lot like the Italians so my husband who can speak Italian should find it easy to get around when he arrives in March.
  7. Finally, Argentinians like to think in terms of ‘big’. Our walking tour guide took us to Avenue de Julio which they claim is the widest avenue in the world. In fact, he said that Argentinians like to think they have the biggest and best of many things in the world like steaks and soccer.

Probably the best part of my days here so far is waking up each day to the sun. Was it less than a week ago I was slogging around in the ice and snow in Ottawa? My first day here was overcast at about 28 degrees but the last three have been sunny with clear blue skies and temperatures hovering at 30 to 32 degrees. Yes, it’s hot but not unbearably so as there is little humidity and some soft breezes. Today I stayed close to Casa Aire Palermo where I am staying to give my aching feet a rest. This bed and breakfast is owned and run by a young couple with an adorable one year old son who smiles all the time. It’s an older home with about five rooms which they let out and comes with a common kitchen and living area for the guests’ use. To keep within my budget I have been limiting my meals out and taking advantage of their kitchen. Immediately outside my room I have access to a small garden where I can sit at any time of the day. You can find this great place on booking.com my favourite site for locating great places to stay around the world. They have never let me down.

As I look back over this week, I am still coming to grips with how it could have taken a turn for the worse when I was beginning my journey at the airport in Toronto. I would have liked to have handled the situation without losing my cool and almost having a panic attack, but luckily for me it was the beginning of a trip which so far has exceeded any expectations I might have had. I am just so thankful to be here learning about a new culture, meeting up with old friends from Dubuque, Iowa whom I met seven years ago in Bangkok, and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Life is indeed good!

A few pictures taken on my Walking Tour of Buenos Aires

The Theatre Colon opera hall.

The Theatre Colon opera hall.

The most beautiful Catholic church in BA

The most beautiful Catholic church in BA

A tango in the park.

A tango in the park.

Our tour guide displaying his skills at guitar playing and singing.

Our tour guide displaying his skills at guitar playing and singing.

 

 

Travelling Solo or Not?

Travelling Solo or Not?

We have finished another delicious dinner in the city of Hue in Viet Nam. We have paid our bill and thanked our waiters with a smile and a tip. I am leading the way out, making my exit on to the busy street cautiously merging into the chaotic pedestrian and motorbike traffic. I look behind to see how he is doing but see no sign of him. Thinking he got caught up in the crowd, I wait for him to catch up to me. Minutes pass but still no sight of him so I retrace my steps back to the restaurant. He couldn’t still be in there talking to someone after our agreement to leave and head back to our guest house, could he? Oh yes he could! There he is talking to a young couple totally oblivious that I am not anywhere around. Normally I would have joined in and participated in the usual conversation that travellers have when they meet for the first time. However, after a tiring day of sight-seeing, I had just wanted to climb into bed and have some time to myself, a desire I thought he had understood. Any patience I had left quickly evaporated once I got out the door for the second time because by now I was on the verge of committing murder or getting a divorce!

Three years have passed since this incident and fortunately Hubby and I are still alive and still married to each other. However, this restaurant episode served as a good learning experience for us when travelling together. Our independent natures often clash when we are together for a long periods of time especially when dealing with the challenges posed by visiting a foreign country. To keep them to a minimum, we have learned to put more time into communicating just what is or isn’t important to each of us which sometimes results in us going our separate ways for a while. Then, he can talk to all the people he wants, dispense with his map and rely on the locals for instructions on how to get from A to B, and go wherever he wants. I can wander freely looking in shops and out-of-the-way places and take lots of pictures.We both agree that temporary separation has been a good solution. When we come together again, we are more willing to compromise on any further contentious issues that might crop up.

The restaurant incident illustrates one of the so-called “bones of contention” we have had when travelling together. He gets great enjoyment out of engaging just about anyone who “looks interesting” (his words) in conversation, whereas I just want to keep focused on getting to our destination or to eat our meal without the usual preamble that takes place when meeting fellow travellers. On the other hand, one of the difficulties I have had when travelling alone was not feeling comfortable with striking up conversations with strangers. Oddly enough, I now find it much easier and often (but not always) rather rewarding to engage in conversations when I am on my own and sometimes even when we are together. We have learned from each other and have found a fairly comfortable balance on this issue.

There are benefits to both ways of travel but the more personally transforming has been my solo travel. Here are the three most important reasons for saying this:

  • Freedom – This has to be the best bonus to travelling alone especially as a married woman. I get to do whatever I want. This may sound selfish to some, but I have learned that until I take care of my needs first, I can’t be of any real use to others. Travelling solo has helped me realize this. For five months out of a year, I can happily relinquish my duties as chief cook and bottle washer, cleaning lady, and yard maintenance woman. I can choose to eat when, where, and what I want. No matter what I do I have only myself to answer to. Fortunately, Hubby feels the same way about this so has no problem letting me go off to do ‘my thing’ while he does ‘his thing’ in Florence, Italy. He feels very at home in Florence having spent a significant part of his early years there enhancing his singing career and immersing himself in the Italian culture which he loves. For the winter months I prefer and feel totally comfortable in the warm climate of Thailand and other SE Asian countries so have headed in that direction. This pattern has evolved over these past eight years and seems to suit our independent personalities for now.
  • Self Growth – Like so many women of my generation, who have struggled with the fear of doing something different which is more in tune with our true nature and not what others or society thinks we should do, I have solo travel to thank for helping me the most. Although a daunting venture at first when I made my first solo trip to India and Nepal three years ago, it was thee I had to overcome my fear. When I look back on this trip it was certainly the most stressful one I have ever taken but probably the one where I learned the most. While there, for some inexplicable reason, I felt a protective presence around me reassuring me that I was not alone. My posts “Incredible India” and “Adventures in Nepal” can fill you in on the details of that trip. Always interested in self-growth, I have participated in many workshops and seminars, as well as teaching courses on the topic, but none of this succeeded in increasing my confidence to the level that travelling solo has done. When on my own, all my focus is on being responsible to myself and not my classmates, students, or my husband. What better way is there to conquer fear and become more confident than by simply taking the plunge and doing it.? It’s much like learning to swim!
  • Doing what I love – My love for travel was sparked in my pre-teen years while reading the Vicki Barr books (Vicki was an airline stewardess) and the smattering of geography I received in school. In my early 20’s, I back packed to Europe for nearly a year with a few girlfriends. At that time, I would never have dreamed of doing it on my own as so many young women are doing today. Now in my senior years, I have rediscovered not only my love of travel and all the personal benefits that come with it, but also the enjoyment I receive from writing about it all. Travelling solo got me started in earnest with the writing and now allows me to do more than if I were with Hubby.

Of course, there are some cons for solo travel and they are

  • Loneliness – The battle of learning how to deal with loneliness which most likely will appear at the end of the day when you go out for dinner or come back to your room wanting to share your day with someone. At first, I experienced many days in succession living like this, but with my increased confidence in ‘breaking the ice’ and starting up conversations with fellow travellers and locals, the problem is waning. For me, it’s been a challenge to ask for help not only because I don’t speak the same language, but also in simply overcoming any feelings of pride and admitting I need the help. While travelling with Hubby in Morocco, I really began to appreciate his ease at speaking French which is widely spoken throughout the country and his asking directions which can be annoying but also helpful – at times!
  • Expense – As you would expect, it can be more expensive to travel solo especially for accommodations and moving around. In most countries a single person will pay the same rate for a decent size room as a couple. Some places will have a small single sized room or you can opt for a dormitory style guest house, but if you are looking for something for a long-term stay as I do when in Thailand, there is no choice except for a double room at double the price. In most cities, I have to pay full fare for taxis, tuk tuks, or whatever mode of transportation is offered. The one exception is the songtao in Chiang Mai which operates like a bus with one fare per person.

I have discovered that the pros for travelling with a spouse are actually the cons for travelling alone. They are

  • Banishes loneliness – Having Hubby with me certainly eliminates any kind of loneliness. I always have a dinner companion and someone to bounce ideas off when making decisions on where to go and arranging transportation to get from one place to another. Two heads are sometimes better than one! It’s also somewhat comforting to be able to pass the reins of responsibility over  to him so I can have a break from having to do it all myself.
  • Easier – There are some countries which are more stressful for female travellers than others. Thailand and SE Asia, for example, are relatively safe and easy. There certainly is little hassle from the male population. India and Morocco, on the other hand, can be somewhat problematic for women if they aren’t prepared for it. I was certainly stressed out once I had finished travelling to Delhi and the Taj Mahal in India, and probably would have found Morocco more challenging if I hadn’t had Hubby to speak French to the pushy cab drivers.
  • Less expensive – More choice and less cost for accommodations is definitely a plus when sharing a room with someone. Also as I mentioned above, you can cut your taxi fares in half, and sometimes reduce your food costs if you can agree on sharing certain dishes which would be far too large for one person. Unfortunately, Hubby and I have never been able to agree on this one. Not liking the idea of sharing, he would rather eat the whole thing whether he needs it or not.
  • Meet more people – Yes, I have to admit when I am with Hubby I do meet more people and especially young Europeans and locals. We met many from both groups while in Morocco this year – all were wise beyond their years and absolutely refreshing to talk to. It amazes me that they even want to spend time with us older folk but they do. Perhaps it’s because we both tend to be younger of heart and so can relate to them sometimes better than the older travellers.

Finally, the cons for travelling with Hubby are almost opposite to the pros for solo travel, and they are

  • Less freedom – Naturally, I don’t have the same kind of freedom I have when on my own. To achieve a little space from each other, we will often take a day to go off on our own to pursue our individual interests. This gives us a much-needed break so that when we get back together again, we are more open to compromising with each other.
  • Learn less – Because I don’t have to do all the planning or organizing or deal with other minor nuisances that come with travel in foreign countries, I tend to leave much up to him when we get together. As I already stated, although I have a nice break from these responsibilities, somehow I don’t feel as connected or learn as much as I do when on my own. I admit I become complacent!
  • Need for patience – Travelling with someone else also calls for oodles of patience and flexibility. As we get older, we are getting better at it. I am conscious of being more patient with him when he stops to talk, or when he takes forever to prepare for a day’s outing, or when simply walking along the street. He calls me the ‘energizer bunny’ but I think he goes too slow. Not surprising there has to be lots of ‘give and take’ around this. In all honesty, can I actually call this a con when it has helped me to be more patient and flexible, the two qualities of which I’ve not been overly endowed?  Yes, there can be growth of a different kind when travelling with someone like Hubby.

I have concluded that for me it’s almost a draw when it comes to determining which mode of travel is better. There are definitely pluses and minuses for both. Of course, it helps when the person you are travelling with is your spouse because really who else do you know so well? A best friend can work if you know each other’s needs and personality quirks. I happen to like both modes of travel, but if for long periods of time or in more challenging countries, I would definitely prefer to have someone with me. That said, I do feel that I have been very lucky to have both ways at my disposal for as long as we can both travel. The question that remains is whether I could handle travelling completely on my own if ever circumstances should put me into such a dilemma?

 

This gallery of pictures is of our trip three years ago to Viet Nam where we mostly travelled together but did take a two-day break from each other. We were in Hanoi where I had visited the previous year on my own so he wanted time to explore and test out the new opera house there. I wanted to go further north to visit the Hilltribe village of Sapa. So we separated and joined up for a final trip together to Halong Bay.