South America!!

For almost two years, my sister and I would talk about this trip we were planning, practically shouting South America!!! each time we said it. I mean, it’s pretty epic. 31 days, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Falkland Islands, sailing around Cape Horn, Ushuaia: the southernmost city in the world, Chile, Peru, Central America, Cabo and then LA. Wow.

Our first glimpse of Buenos Aires, having arrived at 1am. So excited to start our trip!
Waking up in Buenos Aires. Our first glimpse, having arrived at 1am. So excited to start our trip!

This was a cruise on the Star Princess. We are barely cruisers: Warren has been on 1, 3 for me, 1 for Dennis and 2 for Melissa. People thought we were kind of crazy, but the chance to see that much of South America!!! on one trip was too great to pass up. Our cats weren’t too thrilled with us, but they both did fine with their house/cat sitters.

Star Princess. It was always a welcome site to see our "home" after a long day touring.
Star Princess. It was always a welcome site to see our “home” after a long day touring.

As with most cruises, this was a “taste” of each place. There was no time to get any in-depth look at the different places we stopped. We did have 2 days in Buenos Aires and 2 days in Lima, Peru, which was great. It was also very nice to unpack once and settle in to our cabin which was our little refuge from the world.

Tango in Montevideo, Uruguay
Tango in Montevideo, Uruguay
Lima, Peru
Lima, Peru
We hit the weather jackpot for our stop in Stanley, Falkland Islands.
We hit the weather jackpot for our stop in Stanley, Falkland Islands.

We did see as much as we could, but not everything we wanted. Like penguins. We thought we’d see way more penguins. But due to the excursions we planned months before, the lateness of the season (it was the end of Summer, beginning of Fall) and their migration, we saw maybe 10 at the most. Rats! We did see lots of sea lions, birds, dolphins and whales off the ship.

The very lonely penguin. All the others had migrated.
Sea lions on Islas Ballestas. The sounds and smells were rather overwhelming!
More Penguins! These are the endangered Humboldt Penguins.

We did have tremendous luck with the weather. I had been watching the ship’s bridge cam for a few months before our sailing date, curious about conditions, etc. The ship had been going back and forth between Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, sailing around the Cape each time. And many of these trips had really hideous weather. Rain, wind, huge seas, missed ports. But we made every port. We were late by four hours out of Ushuaia because of high winds, but we were able to make our next port. We did have a couple of hours of rough seas, but it didn’t last long and after that you could barely tell you were on a ship! We had hardly any rain, just a few sprinkles. However, it was cold at the bottom of the world!

It's good to have knitwear to swath oneself in!
It’s good to have knitwear to swathe oneself in!

Even in Summer it was cold and the wind made it feel even colder. But we were bundled up and could retreat into our nice warm cabin to recover before heading back out on our balcony. And then before we knew it, we were at the Equator and it was HOT! Packing for this trip wasn’t very easy!

Zip lining in Costa Rica. It was so hot, but so much fun!
Zip lining in Costa Rica. It was so hot, but so much fun!

Melissa and I joined the Knitter/Natterer group and we would meet each morning that we were not in port, so sea days, and would spend a few hours with our new friends knitting, and yes, nattering. We would take over a part of the Crooner’s Lounge, which is the martini bar, and right in the hub of activity. We had lots of people stop by to look at us, join us, shake their heads at us… They were a great group and it was so nice getting to know them all and their backgrounds, and I miss them and our time together. All of us purchased yarn along the way, merino wool, baby alpaca being the most abundant (Falkland Islands had beautiful wool, and of course Peru was a jackpot for Alpaca) and we’d oooh and aaah over all our finds.

Our group of knitters with our husbands, meeting for dinner.
Our group of knitters with our husbands, meeting for dinner.

The food was wonderful and too much. Too. Much. Food. And when you don’t have very good self-control… well let’s just say I’m back on Weightwatchers. sigh….

Fancy drink of the day
Fancy drink of the day
The desserts... oh my they were delicious!
The desserts… oh my they were delicious!

31 days on a ship is a looooong time and we loved getting to know the staff who worked tirelessly, without days off, cheerful and fun and helpful. We really appreciated their dedication and we appreciated how hard it must be for them being away from their families for long periods of time.

There are a lot of memories and experiences that are slowly being separated from the jumble it all became in my brain at the end of the trip. We saw a lot. We experienced  so many different ways of life, climates, food! Just relaxing and staring out at the ocean was pretty good too!

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I’ve been asked by my friends what I liked the best, which place was my favourite. That is so hard because we saw so many different unique places. I must say though that a highlight for me was the day we sailed around Cape Horn (which, surprisingly to me, is an island). We had a strenuous and beautiful (and cold!) hike in Ushuaia that I loved. Valparaiso, Chile was a place like no other that I’ve seen. Sensory overload of colour, higgledy-piggledy buildings built on steep hills, stray dogs, graffiti, more hills, funiculars and pisco shots.

Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso, Chile

I’m happy to be home now. I missed my kids, my cat, my bathroom (our cabin bathroom was tiny but efficient!), different clothes, a little solitude. Both Warren and I came home with bad colds, his worse than mine. We experienced all four seasons in a 5-week period, so I guess it caught up with us, and also being in rather close quarters with everyone on the ship. It’s nice to have a little room to spread out and cough in privacy. Although I REALLY miss this view from my bed!

I miss these views. Imagine watching this from your bed!
Another gorgeous sunset.

I’ve gone through all my photos and organized them into albums for each place we visited. These are all loaded on my Flickr site and the link is here if you’re interested in seeing them.

The bottom of the world.
The bottom of the world.

thailand, singapore, shanghai

I guess it’s time to wrap up the trip! I finally finished editing my photos and uploaded them to flickr, made a slideshow to show the family and now I feel like I can move on. Except I need to finish here.

Thailand: Not everything will go as planned when you have a trip of this size, and I guess Thailand was our example of that. The port where our ship was docked was far from Bangkok, where we were to spend 2 days, but driving back to the ship at night. 3+ hours one way… yikes! We made it to Bangkok that morning afternoon, saw one temple; granted, it was a spectacular temple, got caught in a torrential thunderstorm, made it to lunch which was waiting for us (we arrived over an hour late) and then 4+ hours back to the ship due to flooded streets, collapsed buildings, crazy traffic and accidents along the way. And we were drenched to the skin… literally! It took my walking shoes 3 days to dry out!

Enter Plan B! Instead of heading back to Bangkok the next day, we detoured and went to Pattaya, a beach community close to where we were docked. We started our morning at the Sanctuary of Truth, a large wooden structure that is still being constructed. It was amazing! Every square inch of this large sanctuary is hand carved. And it’s huge…about 345 feet high and incorporates images from Buddhism and Hinduism from China, India, Cambodia and Thailand. It really took our breath away.

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Singapore: Everybody says how clean the city is and that is true! When you have laws against littering, spitting (thank goodness), chewing gum, etc… it shows! We arrived as the city was making preparations for the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister and the father of modern Singapore. It’s a beautiful city and has changed so much since we were last there in 1981. The only thing that I recognized from that trip was the Merlion.

Shanghai: Our flight home had us connect through Shanghai and we decided to stop over and spend 4 days to see the city. Warren had visited Shanghai before, but this was my first time. We stayed with friends from Canada who live there part time teaching in a local university. It was nice to have a low-key time to really explore the city and eat the food! It wasn’t too low-key though since my fitbit says we walked just over 71,000 steps over 3 days. That’s 32 miles. The 11 hour flight home felt kind of relaxing!

All the photos are divided into albums. Here is the link to the collection if you’re interested. This has been a trip that had been a long time in thinking, dreaming and planning. It’s hard to leave it all, but I’m glad I took the time to get the photos organized.

Our trip was through UBC Alumni Travel Club and facilitated by Worldwide Quest. They did an AMAZING job organizing our trip and making it run as smooth as possible. We would definitely travel with them again. In fact, we hope that our group of 25 can do trips together in the future. We were accommodated in hotels in Hong Kong and Kaiping, China, and then for 2 weeks we were onboard the Celebrity Millennium. It was Warren’s first cruise, my 3rd. While it would have been nice to be able to spend more time in each city, it was a good way to get a flavour of the places and not have to pack and unpack each night. Unfortunately most of the ports were a distance from the cities and towns we visited, but we had very good tour guides that would make the bus rides go as quick as possible, a good group of people that didn’t complain and loved stories about the history, culture and food as much as we did, and gorgeous scenery to watch along the way.

The feature group photo at the top is not mine, but taken from the UBC Alumni Flickr site, album linked here.

Okay, now it’s time to get the yard ready for summer and my sweater finished!

beautiful vietnam

I’d have to say that this country was number one on my list to visit. And it did not disappoint. I would have loved to spend more time here and hope to do so one day. The people were wonderful, the food was so, so delicious, the countryside and rice paddies were lush and the cities were chaotic and crazy and totally fascinating! And then Halong Bay, oh my! We took a 3-hour boat cruise on a junk around the thousands of limestone rocks coming out of the water. It was magical.

These are just a few of the many photos we took over our 4 days in Vietnam. More are on my Flickr site.

My photo album on Flickr Vietnam is here, and I also have sub-albums for each city we visited. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

connecting

When we signed up for this trip over a year ago, we were drawn to it by the itinerary that went to Hong Kong, Kaiping, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, and the involvement of Dr. Henry Yu. As I said in the last post, Henry and Warren had worked together a few years ago on a series of Chinese Canadian stories, with Warren and his cousin and her children highlighting the story of their grandfather, CD Hoy, his mother’s father, who immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s.

About a month before we were to leave on the trip, Warren got to thinking about where his grandfather was from, and the facts that he had was that CD was from a village called Sui Soon Lee in the county of Hoiping, Guangdong Province. So he did what we all would do, he googled it. Turns out Hoiping is the Cantonese version of Kaiping (Mandarin), one of the places on our itinerary where we were scheduled to visit the World Heritage UNESCO Diaolou sites. Emails ensued, Henry pursued it with his contacts, put us in touch with these contacts and voila, it was proposed that we would possibly try to visit the village while we were there. We didn’t have a long time in Kaiping… only 1 night, so it would be a tight squeeze if we could fit it in.

The morning that we were taking the ferry from Hong Kong to Zhongshan, the port city for Kaiping, we met Wanda Huang, a Chinese educator with local knowledge of the area and diaolous, who grew up not far from Sui Soon Lee and spoke the local dialect; as well, she lived in Canada and spoke perfect English. She would be accompanying us on this 2-day excursion.

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So it wasn’t really until that morning on the ferry that we realized that visiting the village was a real possibility, but we still weren’t positive that we’d find the village and what we would find if we did!

We picked up another local woman along the way who works for the government and was familiar with the village and its connection to CD Hoy. So there is our coach/bus following this woman on her scooter down narrow country lanes and voila, we pull up into the village. This is it!

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We were told that the writing on the gate said it was Sui Soon Lee. And off we go, gathering attention and interesting looks!

Sui Soon Lee, the ancestral village of Warren’s grandfather

The first man we meet, as translated by Wanda, tells us that he had known CD as a little boy. We’re not sure about this since he left the village in 1901 and this man, while elderly, was certainly not 100+ years! We made mental notes to ourselves to check what years CD made trips back to the village. But regardless, he told us the house still stands and would we like to see it?

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As we were following him down a narrow lane, I’m snapping photos along the way and it was starting to hit me what was happening. I’m wiping tears while trying to take pictures and look totally normal. Hard to do. Believe me, I stood out!

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We were shown the house which is now uninhabitable and is used as storage, started to take pictures of it when a few more people showed up and started talking to Wanda.

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Incredibly, Wanda tells us, this little grey-haired woman says she is related to CD Hoy. Her grandfather and Warren’s great-grandfather were brothers. That would make her a great-aunt or great-great aunt, not sure, but it doesn’t matter! It’s a family connection!

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What ensued after was lots of chatting, laughing, photos, more people, a cute baby, more people… Our fellow travellers were incredibly patient and I think were just as touched that this connection was made.

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We stayed a bit longer but then said our goodbyes and we were off for our scheduled itinerary visits. But this was a truly amazing experience!

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This would not have happened without the hard work of many people: Amanda Butler with Worldwide Quest, the UBC Alumni Travel Club, Dr. Henry Lu, Wanda Huang, Dr. Selia Tan. We are so grateful and are very excited to share this with the family and see about making a return visit!

Lastly, as I was getting back to our coach, I saw this woman sewing in an open storefront, a beautiful gold cloth.

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Yes, I think we need to go back so I can investigate this further…

More photos on my Flickr site in this album.

home again!

We got home last week and I’m still trying to get my body back to the pacific time zone. I’m sleeping a lot, napping a lot and my cat is very happy about that since he likes it when I lay around. We have a lot of catching up to do, he and I!

I have knitting that I have been working on, but before I get back to that, I have started editing and posting photos from our trip. I have a lot… about 1,500 of them and I’ve been trying to get that number down. I’m determined to get this done in the next week, before I begin to forget everything and every place we visited. And there were a lot of places: Hong Kong, Kaiping China, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Shanghai. My head is still swirling from it all!

So my first two batches of photos are up on flickr. I decided to group them by city and work on each group until I’m happy with what I’ve got. Hong Kong and Kaiping, China are first up.

hong kong skyline

This trip was sponsored by UBC Alumni Travel and hosted by Worldwide Quest. They did an amazing job! We had a study leader join us, Dr. Henry Yu, a professor of History at UBC as well as Principal of St. John’s Graduate College at UBC. Warren had worked with him on a project on Chinese Canadian stories a few years earlier, so when we saw this tour come up and Henry’s name attached, we were one of the first to sign up. We were a small group and very well taken care of. And the subtitle, “Chinese Migrations and Cuisine” had us eating a lot of very delicious food!

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Our small group just outside the Cang Dang Village in Kaiping, China.