August - December 2015
  • Day107

    When In Rio.....

    December 15, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    Of course, we weren't going to travel all this way and not do at least a few of the "must do" in Rio things.

    First, let's talk booze! Specifically, let's talk Caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail. It's a mixture of Cachaca, lime and sugar. Cachaca is distilled sugar cane juice and it packs a wallop at anywhere from 38 - 48% proof (the homemade moonshine version can be even stronger). According to Wikipedia, in 2007 Brazilians consumed 1.5 billion liters of the stuff!

    Rather than do too much damage to our livers, we elected to do a web search for the best Caipirinha in Rio and we were directed to Academia de Cachaca in the upscale Leblon district. Located right next to Ipanema, Leblon is about a 4.5 km walk from our apartment, so we set out at around 11:30 to ensure we wouldn't be drinking before noon.

    When we arrived at Academia, there were quite a few customers having lunch, but not too many had Caipirinhas on their tables. OK, on a Monday afternoon, most of them probably had to get back to work, so a potent cocktail was probably not their best choice.

    Brenda ordered a classic lime Caipirinha and I chose the passion fruit version. Our drinks arrived in short order and were served in a squat little old-fashioned glass. We'd seen Caipirinhas being served on the beach in tall glasses and figured, for the price they were charging here, they could at least give us a decent pour. After my initial disappointment wore off, I took a sip through a straw without first stirring the drink. I guess all the cachaca was sitting on the bottom as I could feel my chest hair multiplying when the firewater went down my throat. Yikes! OK, I didn't have a lot in my stomach at that point, but the drink went straight to my head. "Holy crap", I thought, "I'm not going to be in any shape to carry Brenda home!". In the end, we were more than happy with the size of the drinks and merrily teetered our way out of the bar.

    On Tuesday, we made our pilgrimage to the top of Corcovado to visit the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the redeemer). We rode up the mountain in a mini bus that left from Copacabana beach. The sinuous road up the mountain is relatively narrow and ridiculously steep in some places, yet I was astounded to see a bike lane indicated all the way up. The summit of the mountain is 709 meters above sea level. I could not imagine riding my bike up this hill, yet we did actually see one brave soul pedaling his way to the top in the 39 degree heat.

    The statue is impressive. It is 30 meters tall and, much to my surprise, is covered with a mosaic of sandstone. It truly is awe inspiring as is the view from the summit, which is the highest granite dome formation in Brazil. Equally awe inspiring is the panoramic view of the city. You can see downtown Rio, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Maracanã Stadium, and several of Rio's favelas.

    Of course, while in Rio, we had to try one of the local favorites: Acai. It's the frozen pulp of the Acai berry and is served as a sorbet in just about any snack bar in the city. We've adopted one spot that charges R$8.00 for 500 mls, about $ 2.75 CDN. In the heat we've been having the last few days, there's not much more refreshing than a nice tall Acai. And, of course, we always take in the numerous health benefits of consuming Acai. Did you really think we ONLY eat it because it tastes good? Yeah, maybe.
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  • Day102

    Copacabana

    December 10, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    As much as I dislike the song and the artist, since I've been in Rio, I can't shake the earbug out of my head.

    We're staying in Copacabana and, of course, every time I see the name of our neighborhood written on a sign, my inner voice immediately starts singing that insipid little ditty. God help me, I have to endure two more weeks of this!

    Other than that one annoyance, Rio has been most enjoyable so far. As Brenda says, it feels like we've arrived in a completely different country since leaving Salvador. It's a lot more cosmopolitan, everything seems to be better maintained and definitely it's more affluent. Unfortunately, it's been either overcast or raining almost the entire time we've been here, so we haven't done much other than scout out our surroundings, eat and plan the rest of our stay here. On the plus side, we left the oppressive tropical heat and humidity behind us in Salvador with the temperature here hovering around the high 20's. Next week it's supposed to warm up considerably so we'll take in the sun and sand on the Copacabana (At the Copa,....) beach.

    We also feel much more at ease here than in Salvador as there are always throngs of people everywhere. Of course, we're still on our guard and will not be doing anything that could result in another mugging. As such, I haven't been strolling the streets with my camera and the photo on this blog is a stock internet photo. Sorry.

    The fruit here is equally as good as in Salvador, but prices are much higher, although still a far cry from what we'll be paying back home. I'm kind of dreading heading home and leaving behind all this ripe and juicy tropical fruit.

    One of the most popular treats here is Acai. The pulp of the acai berries is frozen and blended with different ingredients to make a sorbet style treat that's loaded with antioxidants. We've tried two versions so far: a R$8.00 version and a R$22.00 version, that claims to be the best in the world. It was excellent, but I'm not certain it was worth paying 3 times the price for it. I'm sure we'll experiment with many more versions before we leave here.

    Yesterday we walked the three kilometers to Ipanema, but despite looking for her, I never saw the girl. It was nice and a little more affluent than Copacabana (...the hottest spot north of Havana...), but overall we prefer our neck of the woods.

    All in all, I'm certain the next two weeks are going to whiz by and we'll be back home before we know it. We're very heartened to see the warm temperatures Ottawa has been experiencing and hope they'll continue on through January. Please!
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  • Day100

    Salvador

    December 8, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    As are most of the cities we've visited on this journey, Salvador is a city steeped in history, some good, some bad, all interesting. Our first Pousada, (or B and B, to us Canadians),was located in Pelourinho, the oldest part of the city, so we were well placed to get a close look at where things happened 500 years ago.

    Salvador was founded by the Portuguese in 1549 and was, in fact, the capital of Brazil until 1763. Like Quebec City, it's divided into a lower town and an upper town that are connected by steep winding roads and two elevators.

    Portuguese colonists were heavily dependent on indigenous labor during the initial phases of settlement to maintain the subsistence economy. The importation of African slaves began midway through the 16th century and, as a result, there is a strong African influence in this province of Bahia.

    The Pelourinho area is named for the pillories that were located in the central square where disobedient slaves were tied and mercilessly beaten. The Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) is also located Pelourinho. It was built by slaves over a period of a hundred years or so beginning in 1704 for their own use (of course, they weren't allowed inside the other churches). Although we did not get inside, we understand that statues of black saints are prominently displayed. Work on the church was always done at night so that the slaves' normal daytime work would carry on uninterrupted.

    The food here also reflects the African culture with dishes like Acaraje, a dumpling made from a paste of ground peas, fried in dende (red palm oil) and filled with prawns, chili, coriander and tomato. Acaraje is most frequently sold from street carts by colorfully dressed Bahian women. Then there's the moqueca, which is a coconut and dende stew that usually contains fish and seafood (we opted for the vegetarian version). The aromas of these dishes fills the air in the old city.

    On a Saturday we ventured off to the Rio Vermelho market, which is in a much more upscale part of town that had us ventured outside of Salvador's "safe for tourist area". As we bused across town to the Mercado Rio Vermelho, we spotted a bustling street market and knew we had to stop there on the way back. Rio Vermelho was fine, but was another high end market that few of the locals could afford. They did have some great samples for us to try from wines to cashews and we ended up leaving with a pound of semi-smoked cashews for about $9.00 CDN.

    Somehow, we managed to find a bus to take us back to the street market and I was able to sample my first Acarajé. We also bought 12 mangoes, 3 papayas, 10 cherimoyas and a huge bunch of bananas for the equivalent of $3.00 CDN!

    Sunday we decided to escape the heat at Shopping Salvador, the city's largest and newest shopping mall. The bus to take us there stopped on a busy street that we had already traveled many times. But on this day, it was less crowded as the majority of the shops were closed. As we walked towards the bus stop, with my cell phone in my hand, I sensed someone walking behind me and I slowed to let him pass. He also slowed. I stopped and he stopped. We got into a staring match and suddenly he grabbed for my phone. I tussled with him for a few minutes and held onto my phone when I saw another young man running towards us. He, unfortunately, was not coming to my aid, but was joining the feeding frenzy. In the end, my cell phone and backpack were taken from me and, as I chased after the thieves, they dropped my backpack. I was basically unharmed, except of course for my very bruised ego, and the only thing taken was my phone.

    This little adventure, of course, put a bit of a damper on our time in the old city and negatively colored our impression of Brazil. How brazen can they be to steal from someone in broad daylight with lots of other people around? Yes, we had been warned of the dangers here, but we had, until that time, never really felt the least bit threatened.

    We regrouped after a couple of days, but after the mugging, we never really felt comfortable in the old city again.

    On November 30, we moved to a new Pousada located in the beach area of Barra which is said to be the safest area in Salvador. We did indeed feel much more comfortable here, but never entirely at ease. In fact, I never took my camera out of our room while we were there, so unfortunately, there are no photos of the beach, the lighthouse or the nightly sundown celebrations there. We did, however spend some quality time on the beach although the sun here is so strong that I had to be careful not to burn even while sitting under a beach umbrella.

    We left Salvador on December 7th and we were not unhappy to be on our way. Our next stop is Rio and the Copacabana beach where we hope to have a more peaceful stay.
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  • Day88

    What's Up Dock?

    November 26, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    One of the highlights of our last day at sea yesterday was the sunset and moonrise that took place almost simultaneously. Because we were so near the equator, as we sailed southwest towards Salvador, we witnessed a fiery sunset on the starboard side of the Sovereign and, once old Sol had dipped below the waves, we crossed to the port side and were treated to the full moon climbing into the heavens. Quite an amazing spectacle.

    There was an information session for those of us who were getting off the ship in Salvador where we were warned to be very careful with our belongings, not to wear any watches or jewelry (not even costume jewelry) and to keep our wallets and money out of sight. The tourist areas are relatively safe, except for pickpockets, but we were cautioned not to venture out of those areas. Holy crap! Do we really want to be here? Can we just stay on the boat? Please?

    After concluding that we may not make it out of Salvador alive, we had another delicious vegan Indian meal in the dining room and bid farewell to our favorite little waiter, Jose, who brought a little sunshine into our lives each day.

    After dinner, the entertainment crew put on a "Rock Never Dies" retrospective of classic rock songs in the theater, which was actually pretty well done. Some of these cruise line musicians are very talented.

    We packed our bags and left them outside our cabins for collection and said goodnight to each other a little after midnight.

    Finally, after eleven days on the big, blue sea, we docked in Salvador Brazil at 7:00 this morning.

    We had to be out of our cabins by 7:00 this morning and were scheduled to disembark at 8:45. We had plenty of time for breakfast, one last walk around the deck and a look at Salvador from the pier while we waited. In the end, we didn't set foot onto gangplank until about 9:15, but things went pretty smoothly after that. An immigration officer took a cursory glance at my passport and stamped me into the country and clearing customs consisted of nothing more than more than my belongings passing through an X-ray machine.

    We had plotted a course to our hotel using Google maps on my smartphone and set off through the chaos of the cruise terminal toward our destination. Of course, the first thing Ms. Google did was take us through a dirt paved alleyway and up one of the switchbacks that we were repeatedly told should be avoided at all costs. The sun was beating down. The incline on the switchback felt like 40%. I had my fully loaded Farpoint 40 on my back, my Eddy Bauer daypack on one shoulder and Brenda's Eagle Creek backpack under my right arm. As I trudged up the hill, sweat leaking out of every pore in my body and avoiding potholes and excrement of all sorts, I kept singing Beast of Burden to myself. A couple of locals gave us funny looks, but they were more of curiosity than they were threatening. Nonetheless, I have to admit, I was a little nervous, which only added to my sweating. Thanks for nothing Google.

    Just when I thought the hill would never end, we rounded a corner into the Pelhourino district and a wide open boulevard teeming with tourists. Hallelujah! We'll live to tell the story!

    After another few hundred meters we arrived at our lodging, La Pousada Colonial and were warmly greeted by our hostess, Kelly. Our room wasn't yet ready so she told us where it was safe to walk about and suggested some sights to see while we waited.

    We set off in search of fruit and purchased some mangoes and papaya for our lunch, which we brought back to the hotel to eat. Kelly gave us a knife and plates and we sat down to enjoy our bounty. Suddenly she summoned us outside and introduced us to one of the many fruit merchants who sell their produce from a wheelbarrow each day. She convinced us to buy some cashew fruit and a bag of little green mangoes that, to me, looked overripe. We later found out that they were delicious, super sweet and tasted just like mango ice cream. We'll definitely buy more of those.

    In the end, it felt great to get our feet back onto dry land even though our first day here was a little harrowing. I'm pretty certain we'll enjoy our stay here, particularly if pleasure can be gauged by the variety and perfection of the fruit.
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  • Day87

    Sailing, Sailing, Over The Bounding Main

    November 25, 2015, South Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our eleven day crossing of the Atlantic on Pullmantur's Sovereign was actually booked as two separate cruises: Malaga to Las Palmas and then Las Palmas to Salvador. The first cruise originated in Valencia and so when we boarded, many of the passengers had already been there for a couple of days. As it turns out, the ongoing run to Las Palmas was Sovereign's last Mediterranean cruise of the season.

    The majority of the 400 or so passengers on this leg were older European couples and, for the most part Spanish. A great many of these people disembarked at Las Palmas and a bunch more boarded, bringing the ship's population to around 900 passengers.

    The second leg of the voyage that brought us to Salvador, Brazil was a repositioning cruise. During summer in the Northern hemisphere, the Sovereign cruises the Mediterranean. As the temperatures drop in November, it heads south of the equator and sails up and down the Brazilian coast until March, when it returns to Spain. Although this was by no means a no frills cruise, there were no stops and we were at sea for a full eight days, catching only a glimpse of land on day six. The Sovereign has made the Atlantic crossings for a few years now, but this was her maiden repositioning trip with passengers. A full 30% of the passengers that boarded in Las Palmas were Germans who had taken advantage of the low fare through an Austrian travel agent that was promoting the crossing.

    Another predominant group was comprised of young, bohemian nomadic hippie types who were following the sun at bargain basement prices. They made for an interesting dynamic on the ship, particularly when it came to the dining room dress code. I mean, I'm a hippie at heart, but I know better than to sit at a formal dinner wearing shorts and a tank top.

    The Sovereign has a capacity of 2733 passengers and is manned by a crew and staff of 820. On this crossing, the passengers outnumbered the crew by only a handful.

    Overall, the crossing was very smooth and there were no 'torms to wock da boat and turn us green, although we had some rain one afternoon as well as one cloudy day.

    The food on board was good and plentiful, but the vegetarian options were limited. Fortunately, Jose, the assistant waiter in the dining room, put in a good word with the chef and we were treated to some very fine vegetarian Indian food for the last few nights we were on board.

    The sun became unbelievably strong as we neared the equator and, even with a good base, my skin was reddening after only 20 minutes exposure. We ended up sitting more in the shade and reading our Kindles during the sun's peak UV hours.

    We had a couple of spectacular sunsets on board, but never quite made it out of bed to see the sunrise.

    It's too bad we've had to cancel our return sailing to Barcelona in March, but chances are we'll do this all over again at some point in the future.
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  • Day86

    November 24

    November 24, 2015 in Brazil ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    November 24

    We left Las Palmas on November 18th and haven't seen dry land since. We came to within 24 kilometers of Cape Verde, but that was in the middle of the night and would have been out of visual range in any case.

    We'd seen the odd seagull and cormorant as we sailed the Atlantic, but this morning I noticed there were many seabirds riding the thermals and trailing the Sovereign. I knew we crossed the equator around 9:30 last night, but we're still almost two days sailing from our destination. Where did all these birds come from?

    The answer came just before noon. I was lounging on a deck chair and my attention was suddenly drawn to a crowd gathering at the stern of the ship. Land ho!!!

    We were heading straight for a series of islands that featured a very prominent phallic rock outcropping. As we drew closer, the crew announced that this grouping of twenty one volcanic islands is known as the Fernando De Noronha Archipelago. It's located 350 kilometers east of the Brazilian coast and is home to 2600 people. The island is regularly visited by Brazilians who come to enjoy the beaches that are said to be among the top ten most beautiful in the world.It's a Unesco World Heritage site and an important breeding ground for sharks and dolphins

    Surprisingly, while we were still several kilometers away from the islands, my cell phone received an SMS message from the local telephone company offering calls for only €3.50 per minute. I decided to pass, but was nonetheless impressed that this tiny, isolated island community had their own cell service. You have to be pretty far off the beaten track to escape technology these days.

    It would have been nice to be able to disembark and explore the islands for a few hours, but we had to content ourselves with a glimpse of terra firma after 5 full days of water, water everywhere.

    Only two more days before we can retire our sea legs until our next cruise.
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  • Day80

    The Canary Islands

    November 18, 2015 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    On November 18, after two days at sea, we docked at Las Palmas, the capital of Grand Canary Island. Grand Canary is Spanish territory and the influence is everywhere, from the buildings, to the language and, of course the food. It is the 5th largest urban area in Spain with a population exceeding 700,000 and is purported to have the best climate in the world. Christopher Columbus spent a little time chillaxing here in 1492, the year he discovered America and proved his, "The world, she's a rounda" theory.

    We had about six hours ashore, so we took our time and strolled the 5.6 kilometers into the old part of the city, admiring the architecture and the cathedral. This one was built between 1500 and 1570, but I once again refused to pay for admission and save my €10.00. I can look at the photos of the inside online. It's a matter of principal.

    The historic center was fairly small and we were able to see most of it in pretty short order, so we again slowly made our way back to the ship and awaited our 7:00 PM sailing time.

    I made the mistake of wearing my Xero sandals today. They're very minimalist and are nothing more than a thin layer of rubber held onto my feet by nylon straps. Usually I'm OK to walk long distances in them, but the streets and sidewalks here are all paved with uneven ceramic mosaic tiles. I could feel every one of them through my soles. By the time I got back to the ship, my dogs were screaming at me and I couldn't wait to put them up.

    All in all, I'm glad we stopped here today. I'd always been curious about the Canary Islands, but traveling here from Canada is not too high on most people's radar. It's very pretty, but as with most island nations, fairly expensive. The only thing priced lower than in mainland Spain were the plantanas de Canarias, pint sized bananas that sold for around €2.00/kg in Seville but could be had for as little as €0.50 here.

    Despite having the best climate in the world, Las Palmas was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
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  • Day78

    The Rock!

    November 16, 2015 in Gibraltar ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    When the steward turns down our bed at night he leaves El Diario, the schedule for the next day, in our cabin. In last night's edition we were informed we'd be arriving in Gibraltar early in the morning and would be able to go ashore at 8:00 AM. We'd once again set sail at 2:00 PM so we were asked to return to the ship by 1:30. There was also a note that we should set our clocks back one hour for the time zone change.

    Brenda and I slept in, had breakfast and didn't go ashore until almost 9:00. Given the short time we were in port, we didn't go up to the park at the top of the rock where there are apparently monkeys everywhere. Next time. We explored the town within the fortification walls which is now primarily geared toward the tourist trade. Of course, this was not always the case. Due to it's location and natural defenses, military minds said whoever controls Gibraltar controls the Mediterranean. It was first occupied by the Phoenicians in 950 BC and was later taken over by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, the Christians, the Moors (again) and then Spain who eventually lost it to the British. They're still arguing over possession to this day.

    I have to admit, I expected the rock to be more impressive. You know, like your first glimpse of the rockies or the Empire State Building. It's iconic. Everyone's heard of it. I guess it's one of those cases where all the hype set me up for disappointment. Still, it was very cool to see it and photograph Roch and the rock, but my initial reaction was, "That's it?!?"

    After walking through the old town for a while we decided we'd had enough and set out to return to the ship. It was only about 11:45 and it took about thirty minutes to cover the distance into town so we'll be back on board well ahead of the 1:30 cut off.

    Strangely, as we approached the dock at around 12:15, the Sovereign's whistle sounded. "That can't be the call to boarding, there's still more than an hour to go" I said. We then noticed we weren't the only ones who cut short our stay in Gibraltar. I figured we weren't the only ones who found the place a little dull.

    By the time we set foot on deck it was 12:30 so we went up to Deck 11 for lunch. We had just had time to finish eating when I thought I felt the ship move. It can't be, I thought. It was barely after 1:00.

    That's when it hit me: we should have waited until tonight to set our clocks back!

    It's a good thing we found Gibraltar so boring since, if we'd have been enjoying ourselves, we might have missed our ride to Las Palmas.

    Somebody up there was looking out for us.
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  • Day77

    Back to Malaga

    November 15, 2015 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 17 °C

    After lunch with Brenda's family we walked off some of the paella as we made our way to the bus station for the return trip to Malaga. The ride today was much less of an adventure than was the trip to Seville and was, in fact, completely uneventful. We arrived in Malaga a little before 7:00 PM and checked in to a little hotel located a stone's throw from the apartment we had rented while we were here previously. We went out for a bite to eat and then turned in early to be prepared for the next leg of our journey.

    Sunday morning we awoke and made our way to the cruise terminal at 11:00 AM. We checked in our luggage and then wandered about the city until it was time to board. We were amazed to find the port was filled with people this Sunday morning. The were dozens of booths lining the waterfront occupied by artisans selling everything from baked goods to jewelry. It looked like they were doing a rousing business.

    We walked back into the historic center and visited the cathedral as Brenda wasn't with me when I went two weeks ago. It was equally impressive the second time around. We then strolled around for a while until we came to a Tapas bar where we stopped for a cool one and some Spanish tortilla.

    With full bellies we made our way back to the cruise terminal and checked in for our eleven day Atlantic crossing.

    ¡Hasta luego Espana!
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  • Day77

    La Familia en Sevilla

    November 15, 2015 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Brenda and I arrived in Seville on Sunday, November 8 and were delighted to find many shops and most restaurants open and bustling with patrons. Of course, this was in stark contrast to all the other cities and towns we've visited so far, both in Portugal and Spain, where on Sundays we were fortunate to find anywhere to buy food or eat.

    We spent our first day in Seville just wandering about, getting the lay of the land and scouting out restaurants and sights we'd like to visit. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Sevilla (as the Spanish call it ) is an incredibly beautiful city with a wealth of history to explore. Most of the main attractions in Seville can be visited free of charge at least one day per week, the exception being the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla palace which is only free to Sevillians or members of the EU. I believe they should extend that to include the Commonwealth Nations as well.

    We were still in laid back mode from our time in Malaga and, with no real schedule or agenda, we moved about the city at our own very slow pace. We got into see the museum in the Golden Tower (no one knows how it was named, it's not even yellow) and scouted out restaurants while we awaited our visitors. Brenda's brother, Gordon, his wife, Betty, their daughter, Zenna and Brenda's sister, Anna arrived in Seville late on the evening of November 11 after more than 24 hours of travel from Vancouver. They planned to spend a few days with us before we headed off to Brazil. It was great to see them and have a little family time in a small group. Our visits with them in Vancouver are not usually for such extended periods of time and there always seems to be something else going on. This was much more relaxed. We took a walking tour of the main monuments that included the cathedral, the Alcazar palace, Plaza d'Espana and the old tobacco factory. We dined out as a group, shopped for shoes (painful for me) and souvenirs (Anna, did you ever buy that Flamenco apron?) and basically acted like tourists for a couple of days. We had tapas and drinks at the bodega across from our apartment on Friday night and ended our visit on Saturday the 14th with churros y chocolate for breakfast and a paella feast lunch at La Paella de Sevilla restaurant. Gord and Betty were extremely kind in agreeing to schlep my bike back to Vancouver with them so that I didn't have to carry it with me across the Atlantic and through Brazil. I'm so grateful. Brenda's bike? We decided that the damages it suffered in the crash were bad enough that it wasn't worth dragging around the world with us so she sold it to a shop that specializes in Dahons. We'll buy her a new one when we get home.

    I'm fortunate to have married into such a wonderful family and hope we'll be able to repeat the experience in the years to come.
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