Korea

Seoul is full of soul! Even on a cold winter’s day the city feels warm and alive with its fall colours and friendly people. After flying into the airport, the city is only a 45 minute train ride away, and then our hotel only 5 minute ride from the station! As we drove up, the hotel was lit like a winter wonderland, lights hanging from the trees out front looked like they came right out of the movies and ushered us into beautiful lobby with pillars towering throughout the lobby that lead right up to the Christmas tree! The entire hotel was decorated for Christmas.  Rising above the city was my room, situated on the 9th floor it gave the most impeccable city view with the ice rink, and sea of lit trees below. After a scrumptious lemon and salmon slab with cheesy mashed potatoes it was time for well-deserved rest!

The following day we went the N. Seoul tower in Nansam Park. It was a short ride up on the gondola with fascinating views of the urban metropolis sprawling out below us. The park was beautiful, being a mountain in the center of the city; it offers a breath of fresh air in the concrete jungle. Walking around gives beautiful views of the now seasoned cherry blossom trees, with their faded pink petal falling and landing all over the place. The fading color was not all lost though as all around the park is filled with the vibrant color of the love locks that fill the grounds with messages written on them. On a pathway that meanders through the trees, 24232466_10154802086721082_8251325290297702426_n.jpgI was able to place my own lock. Finally, we made our way up the tower on top of the mountain. Blasting of to the top of the tower the ride takes 20 seconds and includes a rather comedic lift off sequence. At the top of the tower there are no shortages of panoramic views. 360 degree views of Seoul give perspective to how large the city is and to the architecture within the city itself. Plastered on the windows of the tower are the names of major cities and how far away they are giving us a real idea of how far we have come from home!

 

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Next stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, the central palace 24177048_10154802058106082_7471160437439914762_n.jpgthat houses Korea’s cultural heritage as well as its current President! The palace is made in a series of concentric rings leading all the way into is main building which houses the throne for the at the time emperor of Korea. The architecture of the buildings was amazing and the colours that 24232253_10154802058201082_1825795222709179582_n.jpgthey were painted in couldn’t be done justice by the meager cameras we used to show them off. After our food Korea.jpgwalkthrough of the palace we stopped for authentic Korean cuisine. As usual, one of my favourite parts of travelling is trying different kinds of food! Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables,  meats and soup. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes that are served with your meal.  One of those being Kimchi, which is salted and fermented cabbage.  I have a student in my class from Korea who just moved to Egypt.  Her family helped me plan where to go in Korea, and especially what foods to try.  She suggested a Korean style sushi roll filled with seasoned meats and vegetables called kimbap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the palace was the walking center of Myeondong. The 24294143_10154802058051082_5241760159006991354_n.jpgstreets were lined with store after store, and restaurant after restaurant, letting us feel like we were in a mall that was outside with snow falling above us. After a few rounds of Starbucks and an upcoming dinner reservation we headed back to the hotel. Arguably the fanciest dinner I have ever had, we 24231823_10154802057976082_4934397247845915051_n.jpgdressed up and went back to the tower. Only this time when we went up, it was even higher and, the floor was spinning! Our restaurant was revolving giving us a fully automated panoramic view of Seoul at night while we wined and dined on some very small portions!

The following day, we set off on the tour arranged by ur hotel (One of the most popular tours in Korea).   Our tour started early and drove us in a large tour bus out to the final stop on the Korean metro line to North Korea that was not operational.  Next was the 3rd infiltration tunnel that the north had dug into the South’s territory in hopes of getting a preemptive strike. We took a monorail down into the tunnel that was backbreakingly small in its height. Next was the lookout hill where we could use optiacals to see into the propaganda villages and the guard towers that litter the Demilitarized Zone. Finally after a quick lunch, we were on our way to the Border. Called the Demarcation Line, it is the literal line in the sand that divides North and South Korea.  After standing on the steps behind the infamous blue buildings we were able to take pictures of the north and their lone guard standing motionless outside their building. It was a sight to see. The South Korean soldiers were sharp as tacks as they watched the line and escorted us into the negotiation building. Once inside we circled around the table that is used for negotiation and it was explained to us how the discussions are done. No one sits at the head of the table except the translators and no one is allowed to cross the speaker wire that separates the table in two. After walking through building we finally got to “cross” the border (the other half of the room) and stand in North Korea.  We were then escorted out of the JSA and returned to Seoul for the remainder of our time in Korea.

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It was a short trip, but one packed with so many surprises and so many items crossed off the bucket list. Seoul was well worth the time and effort to view, and will forever be one of my favourite countries to visit.

 

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Greece

 

IMG_5335.JPGThere is only one word to describe the Greek experience, and that word is; exquisite. From the architecture to the natural beauty, and from the food to the company I kept, the trip was nothing short of that. On a quick trip from Cairo to Athens, my crew of two and I landed and met a friend from my previous trip to Italy!

IMG_5285.JPGAthens, part city and part coast is situated right on the edge of the Aegean Sea, and has the feel of a coastal Mediterranean city that you might not expect from such a large and sprawling metropolis. Despite the sea of buildings that extend as far as the eye can see, Athens has another skyline. A picturesque rangeIMG_5287.JPG of mountains runs through and around the city giving the skyline a dramatic horizon. In the center rises the fantastic plateau of the Acropolis, arguably the most photographed site in the city, the Greek flag flies proudly over this landmark that is the symbol of IMG_5289.JPGdemocracy. The symbol for western democracy constructed around 2,500 years ago, is the Pantheon, a temple for the Goddess Athena, for which the city is named. From this site we trekked all around ancient Athens to the IMG_5303.jpghistorical sites that are now preserved and integrated into the city today. Totaling around 22 kilometers our group was tired, but it was well worth it to see the ancient city temples, centers, and most notably, the temple to the Greek god of gods, Zeus. The temple of Zeus lies in the heart of Athens and was to be dedicated to the god himself. Construction began around the year 100 B.C. the temple was one of the great projects of its time, being extraordinary in height and in the grandeur of the masonry on the columns. Sadly the temple was sacked for material and now remains as a few sanding columns on the original sight, though that shouldn’t discourage anyone from beholding the magnitude of their presence. As another installment of our walking tour, we came across the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown soldiers. Right next to the Parliament of Greece lays this memorial to those who fought for their Country of Greece and were not identified or who were never found. This tradition is common practice in many countries and is described as a great honor to be one of the guards selected to guard the tomb. The changing ceremony is very unique and a precise. As one could expect from the military the IMG_5318.JPGmovements of the soldiers as they march and maneuver towards the tomb and towards each other are sharp and highlight the amount of practice and discipline these Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 5.00.42 PM.pngmen have. The guards stand their post 24 hours a day 7 days a week never letting the memory fade, and is something that is thought provoking and very humbling to watch.

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On one of our days in Greece we took a full day boat cruise from Athens to  to Poros, Hydra and Egina in the Saronic Gulf.  At each of the islands we enjoyed time to stroll, sightsee, try different foods and even swim.

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IMG_5334.JPGGreek food was as delicious as I had heard it would be! I tried greek salad of course! Gyros: meat (pork) roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread, IMG_5333.JPGor served as a sandwich wrapped in pita bread.  I also tried Moussaka an oven-baked layer dish (Close to lasagna).  There are two different kinds one with ground meat and one with eggplant . I IMG_5417.JPGtried Souvlaki which is grilled small pieces of meat (usually pork but also chicken or lamb) served on the skewer.

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Overall, my trip to Greece was beautiful (and I think I may have gained about 10 pounds with all the amazing food).  I can’t wait to go back and explore the next item on my bucket list….Santorini.

Vietnam

21151053_10154581389906082_1991291456_n.jpgVietnam is hot, sweaty, and above all else stunningly beautiful.

Our trip started in Hanoi, a city on the rise with a unique old town feel. The bridge that spans the river running through the city lights up the night sky as it changes colors in a dazzling way, and the old quarter, in which we stayed, is alive with fruit vendors, tourist bars, and local cafes.

 

 

 

 

 

map_of_vietnam.jpgAfter the rendezvous with our group in Hanoi we set out bright and early for the mountain town of Sapa. A little over 6 hours on the bus and some very picturesque views of the flatland to mountainous landscapes and we had arrived. Greeted by a welcoming party of the local residents and the rain of course, we trekked through the city to do a quick bag drop and were back out the door of the hotel to the Dragon Mountain garden! The garden lies roughly in the center city and is accessible by a literal maze of winding stairs and paths. Even though the winding trails had even the most navigationally sound person of the group puzzled we trekked on and found our way to the, rickety, lookout! What a view it was! The entire city could be seen from the point; to include the lake, track, and church below. In the surrounding areas clouds could be seen coming over the mountains and sinking into the valleys below, creating a picture perfect scene of grey on lush green with the sun peering through.

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View from the lookout of Dragon Mountain

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Bamboo Trees

The hike to the top of Dragon Mountain was “civilized” compared to that of the next adventure. After a good night’s rest and some traditional pho for breakfast our crew set out on another hike but this time it was downhill. The downhill hike was very entertaining, the sights were beautiful, the company warm, and the mud, slick (since it had rained the past day).  Luckily I made a friend who helped me through the mud! She was an 8 year old girl from one of the villages who was smart enough to wear rubber boots! I was lucky to have her help, as she held my hand down the slippery parts and guided me down the steep trails. Going down from the mountain town visiting smaller villages of the Vietnamese mountains and seeing and speaking with people who had never left these places was a unique experience that will be rivaled by few others. We had a delicious meal of traditional Vietnamese food at the second village including spring rolls, rice, and cabbage. The grand total of our hike down from Sapa was 12 kilometers, 1 fall, 1 lost pair of shoes, an incalculable amount of photos, and an immense amount of fun!!

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Hike in Sapa

From Sapa we caught an overnight train to Hanoi and from there a flight to Danang followed by a cab ride to Hue City.

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Hue city was incredible and jam-packed full of sights and heat. Taking a group tour around the city our tour guide, Danny, showed us the Thien Mu Pagoda, or the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady. This since converted Buddhist temple was built by an ancient king when the celestial lady foretold he would build the pagoda for the prosperity of the city. It stands today at the entrance of the Buddhist temple, which itself is a tranquil and beautifully constructed place.

 

 

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Danny took our group down the river by dragon boat to the Forbidden City of the King.

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The Forbidden City of the King

The ornateness of the city is fascinating, the roofs are colour coded identifying which ones the king lives and works under and are topped with intricate carvings of dragons. Walking through the Forbidden City gave us a close look at what life was like for the kings and showed the small details that went into making the artifacts that were spread all around the city, such as the nine 2 ton urns that were decorated with images of what the kings best thought represented Vietnam.

 

 

 

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Entrance to the City of the King.  The entire city has a moat around it to protect it. 

 

21208311_10154581389561082_1656021518_n.jpgFrom the Forbidden City our guide, Danny took us out to two tombs of former kings. Although I live in Egypt and have seen the impressive tombs of the Pharos, the tombs of the kings in Vietnam are something to be rivaled with. These tombs themselves were estates that the king would construct before his death to live and die peacefully in and were built in a beautiful place. The first of the tombs was modeled much like the Forbidden City complete with a courtyard that housed the stone statues of the grounds protectors, a manmade lake, a monumental marble tablet to account for the king’s story, and in the center of the grounds a hill. This hill, closed to the public, houses the king’s remains, and the location in the hill unknown to any living being, the king rests.

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Before visiting the second tomb, we stopped for a delicious meal! We had chicken and mushroom soup, fried duck spring rolls, egg plant with ginger sauce, braised chicken with lemongrass and chili, red snapper fish with sweet and sour sauce, and steamed rice.  Of course, to drink we also had fresh lemon juice which was one of my favourite parts of the trip! It is delicious and tastes like freshly squeezed lemonade.

21244442_10154588015676082_642470301_n.jpgThe second tomb was much more vertical than the first tomb. Up 127 roasting hot black stone steps, the king lay in rest under a ceramic statue of himself. This tomb was incredible; the inside of the building was covered completely in shards of coloured ceramic. Said to have taken 11 years to build, due to the amount of foreign ceramics used, and due to the overwhelming detail they are organized in, this tomb is not only a testament to the king it holds but to the artist who brought it to reality.

 

 

 

 

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Steps to the tomb 

20992812_1512922108754185_7913228223341265199_n.jpgOur group’s last stop on the trek through Vietnam was Ha Long Bay. Just a short plane ride from Danang to Hanoi followed by a comfortable 3 hour taxi ride to Ha Long, and we had arrived. One of the new 7 natural wonders of the world and even across the bay from the shore of our hotel’s beach it was easy to see why. The lime stone mountains are absolutely awe inspiring. But beauty had to wait. In-between our arrival to Ha Long and our tour of the bay, we elected to partake in some good old fashioned amusement park fun. A Ferris wheel towering over the city, an alpine slide twisting through the hills, and the Guinness book world record holder: tallest gondola tower in the world pulled out the carney side in all of us.

We also spent an afternoon at our hotels pool and private beach.  While at the beach I was actually stung by a jellyfish which is very unpleasant!

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21208960_10154581388941082_2017446109_n.jpgThe final attraction of the trip would prove to hold some of the most amazing sights. We were supposed to leave bright and early in the morning for the boat tour, however, because of rain, it was postponed till later that morning when the rain subsided.  The rain in Vietnam was a result of a typhoon hitting China.  The boat ride through Ha Long Bay was indescribable. Because it was off season, we were able to rend a two level tour boat for only four of us.  The crew was wonderful, and we were served a delicious Vietnamese meal consisting of fish, shrimp, rice, spring rolls, squid salad, spinach, lemon chicken with vegetables and different dipping sauces.

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All around our vessel the cliffs rose and fell into the water, covered in fresh green vegetation, these monoliths did nothing but humble us as passed through them. As our boat twisted and turned through this dreamlike world we caught glimpses of caves high in the cliffs and below the boat jellyfish the size of several pillowcases floated silently. The natural beauty of the bay was only enhanced when our boat docked at the largest cave in the bay. A short hike up, took us to the entrance of the cave that had three chambers averaging 25 meters in height. The limestone caves were carved in such a way but the ocean waters that could never be matched by an artist, although the colored ambient lighting did add a sense of wonder and beauty to the underground structures.

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From the cave our boat took us on a short ride to the kayak lagoon. This lagoon only accessible by kayak was amazing. Again the limestone cliffs of the bay rose to incredible heights and they were littered with trees, vines, and monkeys. The monkeys would drop down to the water for a look at the kayakers, and then just as easily as they came down they would climb the wall in such a way that would put even the best rock climber to shame.

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We then visited a pearl farm, where we learned about how they harvested pearls. An oyster makes pearls on its own by secreting nacre, or mother of pearl, around an irritant that gets into its shell. … At oyster farms, when the mollusks are large enough, a worker carefully pries open the shell and inserts a small  bead, as well as a piece of membrane cut from another pearl oyster.

21245227_10154581388956082_734821206_n.jpgOur final stop on the boat cruise was the only island that could be climbed up to an observatory. This gazebo on top of the mountain truly gave us the best view of the bay. It was a sight that could only be described as a screensaver on a computer. The randomly placed mountains poking out of the ocean could only be truly enjoyed by sitting in silence while viewing them. The day was finished by a sunset cruise back to the docks. And as if it was even possible for this place to be more beautiful, it achieved this feat. Ahead of a rainstorm our boat trudged through the water towards the falling sun, giving the best view of the daylight through the openings of the clouds and the cracks of the peaks.

This view and moment will always be ingrained in my mind and is one of the many reasons this country is so special. The trip had concluded. The wallet was lighter but the bag of experiences is heavier and the wander lust continues as I leave this hot, wet, and prodigious country of Vietnam.

 

 

Daily Life in Egypt

It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s hot and cold. It’s full of history both old and new. It’s Egypt.

Egypt is probably the most misunderstood country in the world. With its rich history and diverse culture it is no wonder people don’t give it the full understanding it deserves.

The heart of the country, Cairo, is a mosaic of cultures and lifestyles clashing. With its twenty-two million inhabitants this city is the largest city in the Middle-East and the largest city on the continent of Africa. Situated on the mighty Nile River the city along with the entire country shares in the wealth and fertility that the river brings from lower Africa.

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Typical Sight In Traffic

Living in the city is not for the faint of heart. As if being in the Sahara desert wasn’t enough of a struggle, one must adapt to endless lines of traffic Cairo is notorious for, some of which can cause delays of upwards of two hours! The lack of driving laws or standards is the root cause of this catastrophe of traffic that in some rare cases allows the rider to have an unprecedented amount of fun while riding the streets of Cairo. Meaning that the poor enforcement of road laws allows for things to be seen that may not be seen elsewhere. Drifting down a highway while avoiding bricks in the road, hitting speed bumps (might as well be logs in the road), backing up on freeways, and driving down the wrong side of the road; all of which are in their own respects dangerous but somehow start to seem normal.

But life in the land of the Pharos is more than just traffic and congestion. Life here also moves slowly. Watching the locals move with sluggish pace and an attitude of relaxation is befitting of the people of Egypt. One can enjoy a nice spring day while sipping on one of my favourite parts of Egypt…the mango juice. Or… enjoying my favourite Egyptian food, Koshari.  Koshari is an Egyptian dish originally made in the 19th century, made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with tomato sauce and chickpeas.

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Koshari

As the summer comes and goes winter sets in. The desert spreads its frigid nighttime temperatures into the daytime providing a shocking reality to anyone visiting the country: IT DOES GET COLD HERE!!! The best thing to do when it gets cold though is to warm up through the risky but fun business of Arab trading at the world’s oldest market. The Khan el Khalil is Cairo’s one stop shop for just about anything a traveler could wish for. From clothes to food, jewelry to art, tea to souvenirs, and shisha to performers this place has it all, and the best part is there are no price tags. The market is known for its shrewd traders, some of the best in the world and always willing to find themselves an unlucky victim. But for the seasoned barterer the market is a playground in which the best deals can be found on some of the most unique items that truly represent Egypt.

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School play, Mother’s Day Crafts, Time Board Games, and Science Fair

My favourite part of Cairo, however, has to be my students.  There is never a dull day in my classroom.  It seems every day brings something new, we are always focusing on something new.  School has been busy with math challenges, cultural days, birthday parties, speech contests, science fairs, concerts, and many other.  At every event, I am always so proud of the effort and devotion my students put into their work. It is hard to believe there is only a month left of school!

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I will miss the many memories I have made with my students! One of my favourite is when they played a joke on me! I constantly have a broken phone (I’m not good at holding on to it) and my students brought me an empty Iphone7 box as a gift.  I have never seen them laugh so hard!

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Egyptian Cultural Day

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Ready for the Science Fair

Ramadan in Egypt starts on May 26 and lasts till June 24.  This will be a big change for school.  School during Ramadan lasts only until 2 pm, as classes are condensed.  As well, many of the students do not come to school due to fasting. Children, depending on their age, do not fast during all of Ramadan.  However, they are starting to fast, only during smaller time spans.
Egyptians like rest of the Muslims all over the world fast at the holy month of Ramadan.  It is the time when they all come close to each other and respect each other.  During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims endure a period of daily fasting where they do not let food or drink pass their lips from dawn to dusk.  Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically – a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God. The act of fasting is also to remind them that others are less fortunate than themselves.
Visiting and living in this city and this country can be absolutely life changing if one immerses themselves into the unique lifestyle that is best described as controlled chaos. If you have ever thought of visiting, please let me know and I would be happy to show you around my new home!

Philippines

During spring break, I joined up with four teachers from my school to explore the Philippines.  We visited many cities and islands and here are the highlights from our trip.

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Cebu was the first stop of our vacation.  We spent the day lounging by the outdoor pool surrounded by palm trees.  Or in my case, burning by the pool no matter how much sunscreen I applied.

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We chose to fly to Cebu because it is close to an area where you can swim with whale sharks.  After a ridiculously early 4:30 am start we embarked on the 3 hour journey from Cebu to Oslob.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting the whole thing to be like, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the place was quite quiet – a few other sleepy looking travellers and locals but nothing like the circus type affair that I feared might be the case.  We arrived and ate breakfast in a small hut located on the beach.  IMG_2833.jpg

After we finished breakfast, more tourists were starting to arrive.  We walked over to a building situated down the beach which was the entrance to where we would swim with the whale sharks.  By this time there were a lot of tourists and we needed to wait in line until it was our turn.  We went out in a small wooden outrigger paddle boat and headed about 20m offshore, where you had half and hour to spend with the whale sharks.  I spent the next half hour surrounded by about 5-8 whale sharks.

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Admittedly they weren’t fully grown, but these creatures are still massive yet incredibly agile in the water. Although one of the biggest rules was not to touch the whale sharks, clearly no one had informed the whale sharks themselves and they happily swam straight at me as I flapped around trying to avoid their fins.

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While in Oslob we also visited the Tumalog water falls.  We took a bus to the top of a hill, then there were motorbikes that you hired to take you down to the waterfall.  There was also a river that had little fish that ate the dead skin off the bottom of our feet.  In China, this is popular in spas, however we got to experience it for free.

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Tumalog Falls

Next, we took the flight to Puerto Princesa.  We chose this town because it is a van ride away from the Puerto Princesa underground river, which is one of the new 7 wonders of nature.  The Puerto Princesa Underground River is an 8.2km long underground river.  The van ride was a roller coaster, and our tour guide was super ready for it with his warnings and jokes!  Instead of catching up some sleep, I was awake during the whole 1.5-hour ride because it was impossible to doze off from all the bumps and wild turns.  Everything was handled by the tour guide.

IMG_3003.JPGDuring our wait for the Underground River Tour, we participated a side Mangrove Boat Tour.You will be taken on a tour of the mangrove forests by at least two volunteers from the organization running the tour. One volunteer would be paddling, while the other would be telling you stories about the mangrove forests of Palawan. During the tour, our guide told stories on the importance of mangroves in the environment. How they filter wastes and why the ecology in the area was diverse and their role to the environment.

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To get to the underground river, we took boats (above) to a beach.  From there we walked up to our waiting point, where we took another set of boats into the underground river.

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The government has set up guidelines for the tour, to ensure the river is an uninterrupted as possible by tourists.  In the boat, your guide does not speak, but instead you listen to an audio tape that tells you the history of the cave.

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Leaving the cave

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Bats lined the roof of the cave.  We were warned not to open our moth (bat poop)

Our next destination was El Nido! We again, got up at 4 to make it to El Nido for our next activity.  We spent the next two days island hoping on a small  boat with about 15 people.  We would take our boat to new islands, anchor and jump off to swim and snorkel.

IMG_3559.jpg At one bay, we anchored and kayaks were brought to the boat that we could rent.  Christine and I rented one and kayaked through Big Lagoon.  The water was clear and you could see the coral and creatures underneath.

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Snake Island

The last beach we visited was called snake island because it had a trail of sand connecting the two islands.  Our boat docked beside this island and we swam in to do the five minute hike to a viewpoint.  On the hike up the trail we ran into someone….

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Yawning or ready to eat us… You decide

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Watching the sunset from the boat

The boat provided meals and gave us the opportunity to sleep on the beach in tents we set up.  We even had a campfire on the beach.

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We spend a few more days in El Nido after the boat tour.  We rented scooters and drove around the island.  This gave us a chance to see the smaller villages, the beautiful views, and less popular beaches.

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After El Nido, we took a three hour ferry to a smaller island called Coron.  This island is known for the World War II ship that sank, that you are able to dive to.  While here we again rented scooters to explore the island.  IMG_5821.JPG

While on Coron, we also went on a firefly dinner.  A boat takes you to a floating building where you eat a buffet dinner.  Next, we went out in kayaks along a mangrove swamp.  We saw fireflies floating lighting up the trees and heard the sounds of birds and monkeys.  The most amazing part, was the water.  The water contained glow in the dark algae.  When you ran your hand through the water, or when the paddle went in the water, the water would glow.  When the man paddling would tap the boat, the water would vibrate and the water would glow.  It was my favourite part of the trip.

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One of the many amazing views from our dinner table

Overall, we had an amazing trip.  We saw amazing views, got a “tan” (burn), had crazy adventures and returned with memories that will last a lifetime.

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Spain

We began our Christmas break in Spain.  Christine and I spend eight days there, with the majority of our time in Madrid.  We stayed in a hotel located in the main town square where we were close to many shopping streets with street performers in the squares every night.

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Having lived in Egypt, we ate as much pork as possible in Spain.  We had many delicious meals including eating octopus for the first time, and having Spanish ham on eggs and french fries.  We tried churros and chocolate from the oldest shop in Spain.  We also tried hot chocolate. However, in Spain and Italy hot chocolate is very thick and is similar to drinking warm pudding.

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We loved exploring the markets and shopping streets in Madrid. There were many Christmas markets set up in the squares.  We went on two walking tours, one during the day and one during the night.  We learned about the history of Madrid and saw the historical areas of the city.  We also visited the Royal Palace (Picture below).

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Our tour guide invited us to her house for Christmas Eve.  We met a large group of men and women our age, who were also traveling to Spain for the holidays.  We enjoyed the opportunity to learn about different countries.  It gave us many new travel ideas.

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Our favourite part of Spain was visiting Ronda. We took a train from Madrid and stayed in the small town of Ronda.  Ronda is a town with two different parts on either side of a canyon, with a bridge that connects the two parts.  The Guadelvin River runs through the city, dividing it in two and carving out the steep, 100-plus-meter- deep El Tajo canyon upon which the city sits.  There are many smaller shopping streets to visit, as well as the opportunity to hike from the top of the bride, down to the water below.  We spend an entire exploring the hiking paths.  While in Ronda we also toured an old bull fighting arena.

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After our time in Spain, we headed to Italy for the final two weeks of our Christmas vacation.

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The Coopers Take On Egypt

In January my parents came to Egypt.  It was great to see them when they came to visit and I think they did get to see quite a bit while they were here. They visited the pyramids,  Khan el-Khalili, felucca ride on the Nile and Alexandria.

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Pyramid Visit 

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Khan el-Khalili

We vistited Khan el-Khalili.  Khan is the largest market in Egypt.  No visit to Cairo is Complete without a stop at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar. Shop owners calling you to their stalls, the scent of spices, the hustle and bustle of trade, and the many beautiful objects that can purchased will have you lost among alleys for hours. Put your haggling skills to the test when buying statuettes, spices, souvenirs, silver jewellery, t-shirts, galabiyyas, or handmade rugs and paintings.  My dad of course was an instant expert with haggling, as I am fairly certain he tries to haggle prices at Walmart back home.

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Felucca Ride 

 

I also took them to my favourite restaurants in Cairo.  They tried butter chicken, and coconut ice cream at my favourite Indian restaurant. We took them for Lebanese food, where they tried chicken shawarma hummus, fresh Egyptian bread, chicken fettah, and the traditional Egyptian meal of chicken swarma.  Shawarma is a meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a spit (commonly a vertical spit in restaurants), and may be grilled for as long as a day.  Shavings are cut off the block of meat for serving, and the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. They are served in a wrap.

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Coconut Ice Cream

My parents also came to the school and got to meet the students and stayed for the afternoon.  The kids were so excited to meet them and we had a question and answer period. As well, dad brought grain samples to show the class what we grow on our farm.

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I was also happy that mom brought over some items that we can’t get here – Kraft dinner (of course), vanilla, brown sugar, Valentine and St. Patrick’s day stickers and other  things for the students.

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