Five Reasons to Visit Zanzibar

edmond gagnonBy Edmond Gagnon

Anyone ever heard of Unguja? How about the island’s more common name, Zanzibar? It’s known as the Spice Island as well as the birthplace of Freddy Mercury. An Indian Ocean archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, Africa, it’s also a diving and snorkeling mecca. Here are five reasons to visit Zanzibar. 

Five Reasons to Visit Zanzibar

Reef Diving,  Snorkeling, Surfing

A coral reef runs along most of the ocean side of Zanzibar for about a mile offshore. Levan Bank, off the northern tip, is one of the island’s most famous and impressive dive sites. There, you can see huge kingfish and impressive tuna. Inside the reef, the waters are calm and crystal clear. When the tide goes out, you can actually walk from the beach to the reef. According to many professional divers, Zanzibar offers some of the best dive sites in Africa, and possibly the world. 

The Beach - one of the best reasons to visit Zanzibar

There are official and unofficial guides who can take you diving or snorkeling, depending on what you want to spend or what type of boat you’re looking for. Seeing some of the rickety wooden boats along the beach may send you in the direction of a resort that offers more professional services. If getting up close and personal with scaly fishy friends isn’t your style, Paje, further south, offers pristine beaches and some of the best kite surfing anywhere. 

The Spice Island

Zanzibar has an abundance of spices, and therefore, an abundance of spice tours! They’re not only informative but an interesting distraction from the beach, where you can explore small villages set right in the jungle, and see first hand how exotic spices are grown and harvested for sale. You get to sample cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper that are plucked right from trees and shrubs growing all around you. Local guides encourage you to smell and/or taste the indigenous spices. 

A photo of the tour guide of Ed and his wife's spice tour showing off one of Zanzibar's spices.

Retreating under the thick jungle canopy, the spice tour was a nice escape from the 90°F heat. About halfway through the tour, they offered a cornucopia of fresh local fruit. Local guides receive training at a young age on how to climb trees and harvest spices. They make their village huts out of nothing more than grass and mud. Using hammocks for beds, furnishings remain simple and sparse.

Giant Tortoises

We took a leisurely three-mile boat trip to Prison Island (Changu) from Stone Town, the main port and largest city on Zanzibar. The trip was relaxing. Our arrival at the beach pier offered the most amazing shades of blue I’ve ever seen. The locals have opened the prison, once hell on earth for rebellious slaves incarcerated in the 1860s, for public tours. The island has also functioned as a coral mine in the past. Despite its grim history, Changu remains in the top five reasons to visit Zanzibar.

The main attraction of Prison Island is the gigantic tortoises. Some weigh up to 500 pounds, live until 150 years of age, and are about the size of a Smart Car. At one time, there were as many as 200 of the unique creatures, but now there are about 50. Since Zanzibar has become a world heritage site, the tortoises have been offered protection from theft and poaching. 

The Masai and Freddy Mercury

Whether it’s on the beach or in Stone Town, you’ll surely notice the people of Zanzibar come from a variety of backgrounds. We saw Muslims in robes and hijabs, native Swahili, and Masai in their traditional red Shuka. No matter their religion or heritage, the people were welcoming and friendly. Many of the tourists are European, with some flocking to the upscale Italian-focused resorts. 

Zanzibar is like any other exotic tourist destination, with people trying to sell their wares on the street or beach. Fortunately, street sellers were nowhere as bothersome or persistent as some we’ve encountered elsewhere. There is a colorful market in Stone Town, offering all kinds of fresh produce and seafood. If that’s not good enough, you can buy fresh fish and octopus right on the beach from the fishermen who caught it. 

Stone Town

We stayed in Stone Town for a night, hoping to explore as much as we could. Unfortunately, even with a city map, we found the narrow and winding streets confusing. The personal tour we booked was the way to go. We saw and experienced so much more, and our guide explained things that we had no idea about. For dinner, we sought out Mercury’s, a beachfront restaurant with an awesome sunset view. The kitchen is an open-pit barbeque, and there are autographed photos from Freddy Mercury and Queen on the walls. 

A photo of Stone Town

The stone architecture pays tribute to the town’s name, and buildings have taken on a lichen-stained patina that shows how gracefully they’ve aged. There is no room for cars on the inner-city streets. They are more like alleys or sidewalks, where everything has to be carried in or on wooden carts. Beware of some locals who buzz through the cobbled maze on motor scooters. 

The Beaches 

Try to imagine what your favorite beach looked like before it was invaded by massive resorts and the throngs of tourists that come with them. That is what the deserted beaches of Zanzibar offer. Miles of white sand with swaying palm trees on one side and turquoise water on the other. The northeast beaches of Nungwi, Kendwa, Pwani, Waikiki, and Kiwengwa were some of the prettiest that we’ve visited anywhere. 

There are a handful of resorts on the island that exist mostly on the north end. Nonetheless, you’ll find more fishermen and wayward cows on the beach than noisy jet skis or other pleasure craft. Small sailboats are more the norm. We stayed in an AirBnB and ate most of our meals in, but found plenty to eat and drink by visiting the mom-and-pop restaurants scattered along the beach. 

When not cooking at home, we found ourselves strolling down the beach for fresh homemade dinners, rather than taking a taxi down the road. Outdoor restaurants and patios can be nice, but they can’t compare to sipping cocktails in a shaded beach restaurant, listening to the waves roll in, and watching the moon rise over the ocean. 

Friendly Locals, Beautiful Locale

In conclusion, we found Zanzibar to be one of the most interesting places we’ve ever visited. We consider it quite safe and Cathryn walked to the beach and local village for groceries by herself. She worried when one local man followed her around the village, but it turned out he was only there to protect her and help carry things. 

The man even helped me carry a five-gallon jug of water all the way home. You’d think I gave him 100 dollars when I tipped him a buck. Not being resort people, we stayed in the Kamili View Apartments in Kiwengwa, a gated complex with a beautiful swimming pool. Our second-floor unit offered ocean views and breezes.

The Gagnon's AirBnb Pool

I don’t pick favorites and rarely return to places I’ve visited, but Zanzibar is one destination that both Cathryn and I agree we’d definitely return to. These five reasons to visit Zanzibar represent a short summary that doesn’t give this beautiful island justice. Book the trip and see for yourself.

If you enjoyed this article and wish to read more of Ed’s adventures check out my website at

Kompong Phluk, Cambodia: Village On and In the Lake

Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Remember your school days when part of the year you would walk to school and climb a towering set of stairs to the entrance, and the remainder of the year would row there in a boat right up to the doorstep? No? Then perhaps you didn’t grow up in Kompong Phluk, Cambodia.

Where is Kompong Phluk, Cambodia?

Many often call Siem Reap “Temple Town” because of its proximity to Angkor Wat. Kompong Phluk, makes for an interesting day trip from Siem Reap. It lies just 16 km away from Temple Town, although the meandering road makes the trip closer to 31 km. It is actually a collection of three floating villages by the Tonlé Sap Lake. The Tonlé Sap River fills and empties into the Tonlé Sap Lake, depending on the time of year. The Tonlé Sap is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, thanks to its unique plant species, fish, and animals, many of which are listed as endangered. Close to 4,000 people call Thnot Kambot, Dhei  Krahom, and Koh Kdol — the three villages of Kompong Phluk — their home. Severe flooding is not uncommon during the rainy season, but for the denizens of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia, it is an annual expectation.

A photo of a building in Kompong Phluk during the dry season

How Do the Locals Survive?

Kompong Phluk translates roughly as Harbour of the Tusks. The community sits high on stilts averaging six metres high. During the wet season months, from May to late October, the denizens rely on fishing. This includes river shrimp and the slightly larger river lobster — which is nothing like the ocean lobster I loved so much in Canada. With the change of the season in November, the water flow reverses and begins receding. Basic farming supplements the fish shortage. Villagers erect temporary shacks by the lake to accommodate the new (and temporary) agricultural activity.

With Siem Reap and the nearby Angkor temples attracting tourists, curious visitors are increasingly making trips to Kompong Phluk. This relatively new site made its way onto the tourist trail within the past couple of decades.

Kompong Phluk’s Flooded Forest

At about 6,000 hectares, locals refer to the largest mangrove forest in the area as the flooded forest. For a donation of around $5 US, local women will paddle you throughout the mangrove in their small boats. With this proving to be another source of income for the residents, the mangrove forest has a good chance of remaining intact, a blessing for both the village residents and people around the world.

A Helpful Donation or a Scam?

I think most travellers like to help add to the places they visit in some way. Despite that,they don’t want to feel they are being scammed. I think it is always one of the greatest dilemmas a traveller can face.

There is no shortage of children in Kompong Phluk. Like most Cambodian people, I find them to be very photogenic. They love slipping into your photographs. Unlike many of the street beggars I have encountered in larger cities, these kids attempt to use their smiles to entice you to purchase basic school supplies for them, such as notebooks and pencils. I curiously witnessed the process and it became rather apparent that these supplies had been bought and sold before. Meaning that they get you to buy the book and invite you to their classroom and then await the next generous group to come along.

An Educator’s View

It was a real dichotomy for me as I have worked in education for over two decades. Furthermore, I’ve lived in Cambodia since 2007, so I’m more familiar with mischievous Cambodian school children than the average tourist. I watched as two western women bought supplies and I accompanied them up the stilted stairway to a large classroom filled with happy, smiling faces. The kids seemed truly grateful and I questioned myself for doubting — perhaps even knowing — that their opportunistic mothers may have put them up to all of this.

A photo of the tourist and Kompong Phluk, Cambodia children

I suppose that if you go to Kompong Phluk, Cambodia someday and encounter this situation, you will have to allow your own feelings to guide you.

All about Michael

We first met Michael Carter back in January 2020 when he was interviewed by close friend and fellow Dreams Abroad contributor, Edmond Gagnon. Michael has since gone on to pen his very own articles for our site. These have seen him recount visiting some of his favourite places in Asia such as Vietnam’s Con Dao Islands as well as those on the other side of the world like Havana, Cuba. We can’t wait to see what more Michael has to share!

Massachusetts’ Capital: Things to Do in Boston

edmond gagnonBy Edmond Gagnon

If you are reading this, you’re probably bored and afflicted with the same disease that I’ve had since the pandemic lockdown. Wanderlust is a powerful ailment that causes itchy feet, strong cravings, and a yearning to get out and go anywhere. But in today’s COVID-infected world, our travel destinations are limited. Where can you go?

Explore your own country. Look around the state, province, or city nearby and pick a destination that you can travel to in the safety of your own vehicle. For those of you in the USA, check out some things to do in Boston. It’s the capital city of Massachusetts and sits on the Atlantic seaboard. The city is also reachable by air or rail if you’re looking for alternate means of transport (pursue those at your own risk). Make sure to check for any travel restrictions before heading out on your adventure.

Things to Do in Boston

Delve into the History of the City

Boston is a city of firsts. The city built Boston Common, the US’ first city park in 1634. In 1635, the first public school in America opened, the Boston Latin School. After that, Boston built the first subway in 1897. Other firsts include the first inoculation, first telephone, and more. Born of the original New England colonies, it’s steeped in history and home to some of the country’s most important forefathers. Charles River outlines the city proper, which backs up against Boston Harbor. 

When exploring a new city on foot, my wife and I like to stay in the old city center, if possible. The historic Omni Parker House is upscale and expensive, but we snagged a special rate that suited our budget. We saved a lot of taxi fare by staying in a central location. Additionally, a very helpful hotel concierge gave us invaluable tips and made tour bookings for us. 

Go Downtown

Boston has taken a unique approach to helping tourists discover their city. They offer several free walking tours that explore the historic downtown and harborfront. Explorers get a map outlining several different trails to follow, depending on what you want to see. Each trail is marked by a different color line marked on the pavement, and all you have to do is follow the yellow brick road. 

We took the Freedom Trail and started at the Beantown Pub. Best to stay hydrated. And it’s the only place in town where you can drink Sam Adams and stare at his grave directly across the street. Being team players, we did both, then wandered through the graveyard continuing our tour. We wore off the beer on foot, ogling centuries-old buildings and exquisite architecture. The Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copeland Square was something to see, especially the cavernous study room inside. 


Downtown is shouldered by the Boston Harbor, made famous by the Boston Tea Party, where American colonists protesting British taxes dumped crates of tea into the bay. If you’re looking for things to do in Boston, this stop should be at the top of your list. We strolled the scenic boardwalk connecting various wharves and restaurants that have been built into old warehouses. Fancy hotels with harbor-view patios and new condos offer sea views. 

A photo of a heavy iron fence post holding up a metal chain rope in front of sailboats in the Boston Harbor, a must-see when looking for things to do in Boston.

Tuck into Fresh Seafood and Wash it Down with Beer

Across the street from the Battery Wharf Hotel on Atlantic Avenue, we found a cool little beer garden that was neatly tucked into a city parkette. I ordered a couple pints of beer to quench our thirst and a homemade pretzel to nibble on. Still hungry, Cathryn found a place nearby that served up the best Lobster Roll we’ve ever had. Boston looked pretty awesome to us from our vantage point on the street corner. The cold beer and fresh lobster may have had something to do with it.

A photo of a lobster roll.

At least once in every place we visit, we treat ourselves to a nice meal. While exploring Long Wharf on the harborfront, we discovered a restaurant called the Chart House. Housed in the wharf’s oldest surviving structure, the John Hancock Counting House, the restaurant unquestionably capitalizes on its history. The brick and stone buildings have been beautifully restored. There is a cute patio that offers great views, but we chose to make dinner reservations and return later.  

The exposed wood beams, brick, and stone interior of the restaurant offers olde-worlde charm. Soft lighting and nautical decor enhanced the mysterious romance of the Atlantic Ocean. We shared fresh-made crab cakes served with corn relish. Cathryn had lobster bisque and stuffed salmon that she found a tad overcooked for her liking. I love seafood but chose a thick and juicy slab of prime rib. The menu was pricey but the food was delicious and the atmosphere stellar.  

Enjoy Park Life and Al Fresco Malls

We’d seen Boston Common while on the bus and decided to take a stroll through it on our way back to our hotel. It’s a beautiful park, consisting of fifty acres in the middle of the city. From its scenic bridges, one can usually spot swan boats in one of the many small lakes. There are public gardens, the New England Aquarium, and a museum that includes Boston Tea Party Ships. Tons of green space and picnic areas make it the perfect city oasis. This is another “can’t-miss” of things to do in Boston.

A photo of the Boston Commons, one of the cool things to do in Boston.

With our feet getting undeniably tender, we took a hop-on-hop-off tour that included a water ride on one of those silly-looking duck boats. The open-top bus offered fantastic views of the city that were a bit further out, and the boat tour gave us surprising views of the harbor and city skyline from the water. We planned a special stop at the end of our bus tour, hopping off at Cheers, the film location of the hit TV show. I’d hoped to share a beer with Norm, but he wasn’t there. 


If you’re looking for a cool outdoor pedestrian mall, check out Quincy Market. Blocks of closed streets line themselves with unique shops, bars, and restaurants. You can spend hours wandering the area and not see everything it has to offer. It’s a great place to check out if you’re looking for things to do in Boston. If you are a baseball fan, you have to see Fenway Park, one of the only remaining original ballparks still standing, and home to the Boston Red Sox since 1912. Professional hockey and basketball also have a base in Boston in the guise of the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. For a somber moment, visit the site of the Boston Marathon bombing. You can clearly see the race’s finish line marked on the pavement. 

Explore the Shore of Massachusetts 

If you get bored or don’t find enough things to do in Boston, or are looking for a secluded ocean-front beach, Cape Cod is less than two hours away by car. That was our next stop on this east coast trip. There are neat little towns to see along the coastal road and Provincetown is a totally cool place to kick back and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. 

If you enjoyed this article, please check out other travel stories on my personal website at

7 Reasons to Visit Havana, Cuba

When was the last time you jumped into a 1957 Thunderbird taxi at an airport? You can catch one at José Martí International Airport and, by the way, welcome to Havana, Cuba. This city oozes charm, history, culture, music, and love of life. Havana has three distinct areas. Most visitors congregate in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site declared in 1982. The Vedado section is also home to many places of interest. The newer area is certainly a more suburban district. Take a walk with me and experience a taste of Havana, Cuba.

1)Picture-perfect Havana architecture

OK, I already mentioned that lovers of vintage cars will be fed plenty of eye candy. A mechanic might have nightmares after looking under the hood of these automobiles, but they do look impressive on the outside. Another marvel is the city’s architecture.

Some buildings appear to be crumbling to near collapse and others are architectural wonders demanding the attention of your camera. You’ll be sure to angle for some shots of places such as El Capitolio, Teatro Nacional de Cuba, Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Habana, and countless more. Take advantage of a Hop-On-Again, Hop-Off-Again bus, and venture to La Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón, which is the second-largest cemetery in the Americas after La Recoleta in Buenos Aires. There are over 800,000 honorably-marked graves and over a million interments in all.

2) Havana’s the Perfect City for a Walkabout

Old Havana is a pedestrian’s dreamland. There are so many photo opportunities around every corner. I think it is a shame when I see visitors walking around with guidebooks or using smartphones to find their way around. Those are great as research tools, but chuck them in your bag in the room or leave them at home altogether. Just wander aimlessly instead. I prefer to allow my instincts to be my guide. For me, that is what a travel adventure is all about.

There are numerous landmarks in Old Havana upon which to set your bearings, but perhaps the most noteworthy is the Malecón. This is the seawall and promenade hugging the bay. Watch the waves crashing against or over the seawall. The Malécon is the gathering point for many locals. Here, you can observe carefree kids jumping from rocks and swimming, witness young lovebirds caressing and kissing, and enjoy the sunset in the shadow of the lighthouse of the majestic El Morro castle, built between 1589 and 1630 to protect the bay from marauding pirates and unwelcome colonists. 

3) Al Fresco Cuban Entertainment

Havana is choc-a-bloc full of colourfully-dressed people and street performers to entertain visitors and locals alike. Take a stroll around the block and you are likely to see living statues, mimes, and garishly-costumed stilt walkers. Stride through Parque Central and a Fidel Castro or Che Guevara impostor might cozy up beside you in the hopes of a photo op in exchange for a few pesos. Sitting in front of a placard commemorating the Cuban revolutionary heroine, Haydée Santamaría Cuadrado, I encountered a female follower of the Yoruba-Cuban religion of Santeria. She was resplendent in remarkably long fingernails and smoking an even longer cigar

4) The Chance to Move Your Feet to the Latin Beat

You can hear live music everywhere. Plenty of buskers work the streets. You might be sitting in a park and at the other end of the bench, someone will sit down and start playing his saxophone. Around noon every day, musicians descend upon almost every bar and restaurant and begin performing. They do not receive payment but earn their living from pass-of-the-hat contributions. What better way to wile away a sultry afternoon than absorbing the atmosphere and listening to rhythmic Latin music?

In 1999, German filmmaker Wim Wenders, along with guitarist Ry Cooder, released a documentary titled Buena Vista Social Club. This film presents a fantastic array of Cuban music performed by a collection of veteran Cuban musicians. Among other things, it showcases their performances in Amsterdam and New York’s Carnegie Hall. I highly recommend watching it if you want to become more familiar with the seductive musical styles of Cuba.

5) Havana Offers a History Lesson

Cuba has a rich historical past. Do some historical research before you visit and you will truly appreciate your experience more. I remember reading the story of Hatuey, a Taíno chief who fled Hispaniola with a few hundred people in canoes to warn the Cubans about Spanish invaders. Hatuey’s image is used as a brand name of many products in Cuba today — including a popular national beer. 

Research El Morro and then visit it for yourself. Climbing the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse will reward you with a view of the bay. Relive the Cuban Revolution by paying a trip to the  Museo de la Revolución while in Havana. This museum dedicated a small section to the 1895-1898 War of Independence waged against Spain. However, the museum mostly focuses on the revolutionary war of the 1950s and post-1959 history.

6) Craft Factories and Homage to Ernest Hemingway

Two products Cuba is world-renowned for are rum and cigars. You can easily arrange tours of Museo del Ron Havana Club or one of the cigar producers. The original Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás situated itself just behind El Capitolio. However, it relocated to still central Calle Pedro Varela in 2013.

And then there’s Ernie. Ernest Hemingway was a bibulous writer who produced many successful novels. He once claimed, “I drink to make other people more interesting.” He spent many years of his life living in Havana and wrote some of his most popular books at that time. In Cuba, the people knew him as Papa Hemingway. He had two watering holes he claimed to love. One was El Floridita, specifically for the daiquiris. 

I visited El Floridita in the mid-1990s and felt distinctly underwhelmed. Now it seems to be a popular tourist stop. On my more recent visit, I went to Hemingway’s other beloved cantina, La Bodeguita del Medio. This was his mojito haunt. I liked the small bar, but alas, it wasn’t long before there was the intrusion of a group of day-trippers. For those who might like to follow the Hemingway tourist trail (I’m not one of them), you could visit Finca La Vigía (his former home). Another Hemingway location is Cuba’s largest marina, just on the outskirts of Havana in Santa Fé named Marina Hemingway as a tribute to him.

7) The Wonderful People of Havana

I believe the greatest measure of any travel experience lies in the people one has met. Some might describe my Spanish language skills now as rudimentary. In the 1990s, I made frequent forays into Latin American countries and I became reasonably semi-fluent in Spanish. This particular Havana trip I am recounting occurred some 15 years after that. I made this jaunt to Havana during an extended visit to Canada close to two decades after my first taste of Cuba.

I met so many people in Havana who wanted to share stories and experiences and they all seemed to forgive my linguistic limitations. Communication was not a problem. Musicians encouraged me to join the festivities. I would often eat meals in paladares, usually family-run eateries, in which I was doted on and made to feel like I was eating at Grandma’s place as a kid.

Everywhere I went in Havana, I found the people to be helpful and genuine. The people of Havana are the icing on this travel cake. And who doesn’t love icing?


by Michael Carter

Visiting the Vatican: An Exercise in Looking Up

Cassidy at Castel Sant'AngeloBy Cassidy Kearney

Catch up on our day exploring the Roman Forum and Castel Sant’Angelo!

After weeks of getting up early, you’d think I’d have adjusted to waking up early. Sadly, the morning we visited the Vatican, that wasn’t the case. With a sharp 7:30 am departure time, I raced downstairs and grabbed all the food I could possibly eat in ten minutes from the morning buffet. Shoving a biscuit roll into my mouth, I met up with the group oh so fortunately on time. The rush wasn’t needed, however, as somebody else was running late. I felt a little upset about rushing through my breakfast and not enjoying the breakfast beans or eggs on display, but cosí é la vita.

When we got there, a tour guide gave us a once over. She was checking to make sure that nobody was wearing shorts or shirts with exposed shoulders. It felt like middle school all over again, but I was ready to forgive it to finally see The Creation of Adam in person. Standing in the courtyard, she told us about the history of the Vatican (both hilarious and grim), and I could barely contain my excitement.

Vatican Frescoes

The guide led us towards the Pope’s Chambers (spoiler alert: the pope doesn’t live there anymore), and we passed by ornate hallway after ornate hallway. One was lined on either side with marble statues, another with luxurious tapestries, and yet another hung brilliant Italian maps. The guide told us that Michelangelo completed The Creation of Adam in just four years, returning to the Vatican later on to finish The Last Judgement. Apparently, Michelangelo painted a cardinal that he didn’t get along with with donkey ears sitting in Hell. Luckily, the pope had a sense of humor at the time. He told everyone to leave the painting alone, and now, we can enjoy it centuries later. I bought a puzzle of The Last Judgement just because of this story.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

Photography is strictly forbidden in the Sistine Chapel, where The Creation of Adam rests on a simple panel on the ceiling. I saw other tourists try to sneak some photos, but I didn’t want to risk it. Besides, as I said before, it’s better to respect the no picture policy than ignore it.

As a lapsed Catholic, I appreciate the importance of the Sistine Chapel and wanted to at least show my respect by not taking photos. Any photos I would have taken of it probably wouldn’t have come out well out anyway. The panel is actually remarkably small, and the room was very dark. All the light pointed directly at the ceiling, which was incredibly tall. The pictures online or at the gift shop were much better than anything I could ever dream of capturing, even if the room hadn’t been filled to the brim with other tourists.

The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica

That being said, the Sistine Chapel is absolutely stunning to take in. Covered from wall to ceiling in Michelangelo’s works, there is nothing like it in the world. At one point, I had to find a wall to lean on because I was getting dizzy from craning my neck up and staring at the ceiling for so long. It’s truly something you could stare at for hours and still find new things you hadn’t seen before.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

After leaving the Sistine Chapel, we explored the Vatican even further. The tour guide led us across an enormous courtyard to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was the most ornate building I had been in yet. I saw marble everywhere. Golden mosaics littered the ceilings. This was another place I could have spent hours sitting in, just looking around. The guide took us to the side to see Michelangelo’s Pietà, one of his earliest works. It’s astounding to think not only about how much talent Michelangelo had, but also the sheer volume of celebrated art pieces he produced during his lifetime: The Creation of Adam, the Pietà, David, the Tomb of Pope Julius II, The Last Judgement, and a slew of other statues, paintings, and architecture.

St. Peter's Basilica from outside in the Vatican City

The Holy Door

The guide took us to see the coffin at the church’s end that represents St. Peter’s resting place. In reality, the Basilica was constructed on the remains of the old church, which was built on top of the cemetery where many believe St. Peter was buried. She also told us about the Holy Door, which the pope only opens every twenty-five years. In 2016, when I visited, Pope Francis had opened the door to begin a “Year of Mercy” due to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is one of seven doors that must be crossed during a pilgrimage to be forgiven for your sins. After a year, the pope sealed the door off with concrete for another quarter of a century.

After the tour, we wandered around Rome with the group until we grabbed a public bus back to the hotel. We feasted on lasagna and hung out with Nikos for the rest of the night. Tomorrow, we would be headed for Florence.

Laos: The Sleepy Sister of Southeast Asia

Harold Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Welcome to the Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), a land-locked and less-traveled nation in Southeast Asia. The population of the country has yet to reach 8 million. Most first time visitors to Southeast Asia concentrate on the Vientiane-Vang Vieng-Luang Prabang corridor. Perhaps rightly so, as Luang Prabang is truly a wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. But Laos has plenty of other less publicized gems located in the far southern and eastern Champasak region, hugging Vietnam and a small northern border section with Cambodia. Join me as we take a look.

Pakse, Laos

Pakse (population around 75,000) is the hub of the southwestern corner of Laos. It is located along the confluence of The Mekong and Se Don rivers. The backdrop contains a series of rugged hills. The riverside sunset views are spectacular. Mother Nature used a masterstroke when painting this scene.

What is there to actually do in Pakse? Surprisingly, I found the city has a decent selection of satisfactory eateries. The Panorama Restaurant on the rooftop of the Pakse Hotel provided a 360-degree view of the entire city. It offered optimum sunset gazing with cool, clear air in a relaxed setting. Makeshift restaurants pop up along the riverside in the late afternoon. This is an ideal way to mingle with the locals over some Beerlao. If alcohol is not your cup of tea, there are numerous excellent coffee shops in Pakse.

I rented a bicycle during the day to get around. This is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place. I get a bit of exercise and I can cover more distance than I would simply by walking. If you want a less tiring activity, watch or ask to join a game of pétanque. This French-introduced boules game is very popular in Pakse. 

Not impressed with the excitement factor yet? Read on.

Corner Cafe

Spread Your Wings

OK, so you’ve wound down for a couple of days in Pakse, Laos and now you want to become a little more active.

The nearby Bolaven Plateau is the country’s coffee-growing region. The French introduced the production of coffee in the early 20th century. Presently, Lao coffee is renowned and appreciated worldwide. Other attractions and curiosities in this area are numerous waterfalls and the villages of ethnic minorities.

The Bolaven Plateau is wedged between the Annamite Mountain Range. The Annamite straddles the Vietnamese border on the east and the Mekong River on the west. During the American-Vietnam war, the area was strategically important to both sides. The US heavily carpet-bombed the Bolaven Plateau. To this day, UXOs (unexploded ordinance) riddle the dense jungles. Sticking to marked trails or hiring a guide when hiking is advised.  

Been There, Don Det

Finished with your jungle trek and want to relax again? Head further south to Si Phan Don, a 50-kilometer region just east of the Mekong barely on this side of the Cambodian border.

Si Phan Don translates to approximately 4,000 islands, half of which are submerged during the rainy season. This is the widest area of the 4,350-kilometer-long Mekong River system, offering stunning views of lush jungles and scenic waterways. 

I caught a skiff in Ban Nakasang and settled on the island of Don Det.

Don Det gives an entirely new definition to the term ”laid back.” If you want to get your travel budget in order and slow down beyond belief for some time, Don Det is the haven for you. 

Pace of Don Det, Laos

Two Tribes

Two distinctly contrasting tribes coexist on the island of Don Det — the TVs (travelers, tourists, visitors… take your pick) and the DTs (permanent Det dwellers, locals, natives… take your pick). The TVs are a curious lot and a constant source of amusement for the DTs. I wonder what the DTs did for entertainment before the arrival of the TVs.

TVs come in all ages and from various nations, but all seem to share a fondness for lassitude. The biggest decisions of the day lie in the answers to: “Where to eat next?”, “Where to go for the next beer?”, and “Do I want to eat regular food or ‘happy’ food?”. The more adventurous of the TVs have been known to vacate their hammocks long enough to engage in the rather boisterous activities of floating down the Mekong on inner tubes, lounging on the small beach, or perhaps renting a bicycle to escape the hustle and bustle of the north end of the island. The favorite expression of the average TV is ”chill out.”

The DTs, on the other hand, are also a relaxed tribe, but in a much more traditional way. Their days are spent fishing, repairing fishing nets, playing pétanque, caring for their chickens and gardens… and of course, being amused by the behavior of the TVs.

Don Det Beach

Is it on Your Bucket List Now?

Some travelers have limited time and feel that hanging out and simply enjoying a place wastes too much of their travel time. Although true in some cases, remember that you won’t see the world in one trip. Stick around a while and enjoy the place you are at. 

If you like Vegas-style entertainment, 5-star accommodations, or piña coladas by the seaside — well, Laos might not make your bucket list.  

If you want something much simpler and want to take a step back in time for a while, then this is your ticket.

I hope to share my experiences in a different part of the world with you again soon.

Barefoot in Belize Part Two: From Belize City to Guatemala

Ed and his wife before traveling to Belize City from Caye CaulkerBy Edmond Gagnon

Most of our trip to Belize was spent relaxing on Caye Caulker. However, we also visited Ambergris Caye, our island’s northern neighbor, where we stopped for lunch during our snorkeling excursion. Given some time to explore the town of San Pedro, we found that everything was bigger, noisier, and a bit more expensive. You can drive a car there and party in late-night dance clubs. 

From Caye Caulker, we booked a cave tubing excursion out of Belize City. Our driver and personal tour guide picked us up at the ferry dock in a comfortable air-conditioned car. He talked about his country’s history on the way to the caves. Once there, our driver changed hats and became our river guide. Carrying inner tubes and donning helmets with headlamps, we hiked upriver, into the jungle. 

Hike to Adventure Near Belize City

The guide filled us in on flora and fauna along the way. The trek was uphill but easily manageable. Wading into the cool and slow-moving river was incredibly refreshing. Cathryn felt startled by something nipping at her legs. Apparently, they’re called Kissing Fish and are sometimes kept in tanks and used for exfoliating. Cathryn didn’t enjoy the spa treatment and was happier laying in her tube. 

Cliff swallows darted in and out of the mouth of the cave. Nothing but a dark hole in the rock, we could only see with the aid of our headlamps. Floating with the current, our guide steered us around rocks and walls. To me, a cave is a cave, and I’ve seen many. But tubing on a river in the dark heightened my senses — the sound of gurgling water, dank smell of the still and cool air — it was amazing. 

An image of a boat on Penten Itza Lake
Penten Intza Lake

Fresh Out of Belize City

Being so close to the border of Guatemala, and a fan of Mayan ruins, I booked an excursion to Tikal. From the ferry dock in Belize City, we were to board a luxury bus that would take us to the border. After waiting over an hour in the sweltering heat, a chicken bus pulled to the curb. It looked nothing like the shiny new one we’d seen in the brochure. I wasn’t surprised. 

It was a hot, bumpy, and grueling four-hour trip to the Guatemala border. Cathryn learned the hard way not to keep our money in a suitcase. One of the porters on the boat had ripped us off. Mobbed by currency exchange dudes, we had no cash to trade. Our driver found and rescued us from the hoard and escorted us to our private vehicle. I sighed with relief at the sight of all the new tour vans lined up in a row. Ours was not one of them. 

An image of the van Ed and his wife took in Guatemala.
A Guatemalan Limo

Eduardo was our English-speaking driver. He looked to be about 30 years old, the same age as his vehicle. The A/C wasn’t working and neither was Eduardo’s English, but we shared a laugh at having similar first names. It wasn’t our last laugh. When we stopped for gas, Eduardo couldn’t get the van started again. After watching him fiddle with tools and the battery, I offered a solution. Noting our chariot was a stick-shift, and that the road ahead was downhill, I suggested that we push-start the van. 

A Rolling Start To Tikal

A spider that crawled from the jungle near Belize City

Eduardo rounded up some help and the push was on. Being paying customers, Cathryn and I got to sit inside while the men pushed. On a good roll downhill, our driver jumped in and dropped it in gear. Eduardo turned to us and offered a big smile that was shy of a few teeth. We were off to see the wizard. 

Checking into our room just outside the park gate, howler and spider monkeys greeted us, playing in the trees. We felt thrilled about staying right in the jungle, in an upscale hotel. The novelty wore off when Cathryn discovered a spider the size of her hand in the bathroom. At that moment we understood why there was netting around the bed. 

Welcome to the Jungle

The ruins at Tikal are similar to others I’ve seen at Chichen Itza and Uxmal in Mexico but different in that the main plaza was tighter and more closely surrounded by jungle. My jaw dropped when I walked out from under the thick canopy. The ceremonial temples stood like ancient sentinels, their tops peeking through the treetops. The dark patina of the Mayan structures made them look mythical. 

Ed and his wife at the Tikal Ruins near Belize City

Eduardo was waiting in his Rolls Canardly (rolls downhill but can hardly make it back up) at the park exit. He drove us to the island of Flores on Lake Peten Itza, Guatemala’s second-largest lake. A causeway links the island to Santa Elena and the mainland. It was our chosen pit stop on the way back to Belize City. The town has an undeniably European flair, with pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets.

Flores to Caye Caulker

The island is small enough that we were able to walk its circumference, seeking out especially cool little cafes and courtyards. The lake looked calm and we enjoyed a sightseeing cruise on a water taxi that was nothing more than a wooden rowboat with a trolling motor. We loved Flores so much that we extended our stay by another day. 

An image of a restaurant in Flores, Guatemala, which is a quick drive from Belize City

To save time, and not endure another grueling bus ride back to Belize, we booked a flight from Flores to Caye Caulker. It was a small plane that only held a handful of passengers, but we could see right into the cockpit and had beautiful views of the Caribbean and our own Gilligan’s Island. 

There are no big and fancy all-inclusive resorts on Caye Caulker in Belize. If that’s what you’re looking for, try Ambergris Caye. But if you enjoy kite-surfing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, or just plain doing nothing but laying on the beach, then this place is for you. There’s no need to bring nice clothes. In fact, with a warm climate, you don’t need many clothes at all. It’s basically barefoot in Belize.

If you want to read about any of my southeast Asian adventures take a look at the travel section of my website at

Traveling Again in Spain During COVID-19

edgar llivisupa profile photoAfter living almost 100 days under a national shelter-in-place, June 21st was the beginning of Spanish life under “the new normal.” Society was able to live their life as if it were January. However, new habits, guidelines, and measures from the quarantine were still being followed. 

Businesses that severely impacted by the stay-at-home order felt the most eager for tourists to begin traveling again. The tourism industry was one of the most heavily impacted. Since the beginning of March, the Valencia region lost around 2.8 billion Euros in revenue year-over-year according to Levante-EMV, a Valencia-based news outlet. These losses weren’t limited only to the region. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Spain, according to the World Tourism Organization. As revealed by their 2019 International Tourism Highlights, the nation is second worldwide in tourist arrivals and spending.

Deciding to Begin Traveling Again

As the country opened its borders to foreign tourists on July 1st, I decided that would be an ideal time to make a trip and start traveling again. Planning was indeed crucial. The number of trains between my town and Valencia lowered from five to three. I needed to coordinate my travel time with the new train schedule. The final train departs from Valencia at 5:00 in the afternoon, undeniably an unideal time. Nonetheless, I, fortunately, didn’t have to worry about lodging. My friends offered to let me stay in their apartment. 

People must wear face masks as they start traveling again.

Once I arrived, the most apparent change was the number of facemasks and hand sanitizers. At the time, the government did not insist on wearing face masks in public. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone maskless and someone else scolding them. Due to the hot, humid Valencia heat, the masks were uncomfortable to wear. They felt like sweatbands for your mouth. 

Another noticeable change was the heavy use of path markers on the floor. I visited several museums that had strict one-way-only paths. Security ensured guests followed instructions. It was easy to become disoriented when following a path, especially if a floor had hallways that snaked in and out. Perhaps we will become as synchronized as the robots traveling on the Axiom in Wall-E.

Some Normalcy Amidst Fear

Dining hasn’t seen a noticeable change. People already felt accustomed to dining outside because Spaniards did that before. However, diners can now scan a QR code for most menus. Nightlife is an explicitly different story. Only a certain number of guests are allowed into a building, and they also must wear masks. However, stories of arrests or business closures of densely-packed nightclubs started to surface across the country. L’Umbracle, a nightclub very close to where I spent the weekend, had an outbreak reported two weeks after I began traveling again. 

Floor signs to maintain social distancing.

Around the time of this development, I made my second trip to Valencia. The country’s issue of the coronavirus evolved. No longer were there a few, isolated cases in remote parts of the country. Cities were finally starting to have outbreaks. Foreign governments started issuing guidelines to avoid traveling to Spain. In turn, the regional government fought unquestionably hard for an exemption. They paid a hotel to exclusively house travelers with the virus. 

Logistics Challenges

My second trip to Valencia required more planning and vigilance on my part. For one, I wasn’t able to stay with my friends. I didn’t feel comfortable staying at a hostel, either. As a former auxiliar who stayed past their visa, I didn’t have health insurance. In the end, I opted not to find a room at all and traveled daily to the city. This made traveling again significantly more challenging.

Fortunately, I only wanted to visit the City of the Arts and Science, a tourist attraction in Valencia. The multi-building complex had only opened the science museum, cinema, and aquarium to the public. There were many similarities to my visit a month prior; multiple hand sanitizer stations, path markers, low capacity numbers, and indicators to separate crowds. The cinema represented a good example of this. The museum officials separated groups by two rows and seats apart. 

An image of church pews with social distancing signs as people start traveling again.

Safety First

Something odd that I noticed was the water fountain at the aquarium: they were covered so that the public could not use them. Around this time, the city government had found traces of COVID-19 in the water throughout multiple neighborhoods in Valencia. Because I didn’t know whether public water contaminated with the virus posed a major threat, I felt comfortable that the authorities had shut the fountains off. 

A drinking fountain that Edgar noticed had been shut down as he started traveling again.

Unfortunately, the situation only worsened. As of the time of me writing this, the number of daily cases is rising. Every day, healthcare workers report approximately 3,000 new cases. In response, the Ministry of Health announced additional precautions. There is now a ban on smoking in public and nightclubs. Uncertainty is on the mind of many Spaniards as the summer holiday ends and employment and school return.

by Edgar Llivisupa

The Con Dao Islands of Vietnam

michael carterBy Michael Carter

Where in the world are the Con Dao Islands?

If you happen to be wandering around Vietnam or are looking for your next tropical adventure, head east of Ho Chi Minh City to the port city of Vung Tau. The Con Dao Island group is a cluster of 16 islands located about 80 km offshore from Vung Tau. A now-daily high-speed catamaran service connects the mainland with Con Son, the only permanently inhabited island of the bunch. Traveling there takes about four hours overall.

A Con Dao Anecdote: The Day of My Arrival

Just past high noon, the ”cat” docks at the harbor, which is about 12 km from Con Son town. Con Son claims the title of largest community on the islands, proudly housing approximately 7,000 denizens. In Vung Tau, I had hooked up with a fellow intrepid traveler, Jim. Jim and I grew up in the same Canadian town; additionally, this was the first trip to Con Dao for either of us.

A-frame cottages at Con Dao Camping
A-frame cottages at Con Dao Camping.

I don’t know the collective noun for taxi drivers offhand, so I’ll use the term ‘annoyance’. Hordes of taxi drivers waited as we disembarked, certainly eager to offer their services. “Where are you staying?”, “Where do you want to go?” Impossible questions to answer, as neither of us had ever been there before and therefore, had absolutely no idea.

We decided to incorporate the distraction of snapping a few photos of the undeniably scenic harbor as an opportunity to ignore the mini-fleet of vultures. Soon, a bus pulled up beside us and the driver opened its doors — ”jump in,” he welcomed with hand gestures.

“How much?”

No reply.

“Where do you want to go?” He asked in broken English.

“Don’t know, somewhere near the center of town.”

Understood or not, the hand gesture came into play again.

I felt unquestionably uneasy as we boarded a bus going to an unknown destination with no set price. We were the only passengers. Ah yes, the joys of an intrepid traveler.

When there appeared to be enough buildings surrounding us to indicate we happened to be in some sort of town, we requested to get off. How much did we have to pay? Absolutely nothing!

Café Soleil

As we stepped off the bus, I noticed a sign on a tree that read ”Piano Café.” Across the street, a small, open-air spot named Café Soleil beckoned. The only person in sight was a bare-chested, middle-aged man. We ordered two ca phê den da, which they didn’t have. Fortunately, Mr. Bare Torso walked a couple of doors down the road and got two for us.

Coffee shop in Vietnam
Best Vietnamese coffee in town.

A woman and a small kid soon appeared. She almost immediately touched my arm and smiled. After returning, the guy wrote a number on a piece of paper. He then wrote 1975 and pointed to himself — indicating his year of birth. He handed the pen and paper to me, particularly intent. In an effort to humor him, I wrote 1976 and pointed to my chest. A confused look washed over his face and he shook his head in disbelief. I decided to come clean and wrote my true year of birth. He gave me a thumbs-up and revealed the other number he had written — 2047. The soothsayer foretold my longevity. I am not going to die until 2047.

Despite their hospitality, we still felt damned hot. Plus, we still didn’t exactly know where we were or where we were going to stay.

Hospitality Abounds

Jim had one of those so-called “smartphones” that some people seem to enjoy carrying around these days. With the aid of his contraption, he located a nearby place that promised something good to eat. Other than the three early morning beers on the boat, my stomach was empty. After a feed, we could ask around for accommodation options.

A tree in Con Son Town, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
The streets of Con Son town.

The phone map touted a restaurant called Villa Maison, supposedly only about three or four blocks away. As we headed out, an idle taxi saw us hauling our bags,  filled mostly with wine we had brought over from Vung Tau. He asks the usual “where do you want to go?” question.

“It’s OK, it’s not far. We’ll walk.”

“Come in,” he says, utilizing the traditional hand gestures that graduates of Con Dao Bus & Taxi Driving Schools are required to master.

The Villa Maison was indeed only about three blocks away. The taxi driver charged us… absolutely nothing! (Now I know for sure I was certainly on a different planet.)

A friendly Villa Maison waitress welcomed us with cold, wet face towels, a lemon drink, and iced water. No charge.

Without a doubt, great first-day hospitality all around.

What to do for a few days?

Relax. If you want nightlife, head back to Vung Tau. We ended up staying at a property known as Con Dao Camping. Not camping as we know it, but rather a collection of A-frame cottages that snoozed beneath some trees, necklacing a fine beach. I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and thinking that life was a breeze. Tourists and residents alike consider Con Dao a peaceful existence, but it hadn’t always been thought of that way.

Entrance to Trai Phu Hai Prison on the Con Dao Islands.
The infamous Trai Phu Hai Prison.

At one time, many called this island the Hell of Southeast Asia. The French called it the Devil’s Island of the east. Why? The island used to house some of the most notoriously horrific prisons. Wardens kept their prisoners in horrendous conditions. It was here that people were subjected to in the infamous Tiger Cages. This is an article on its own, but do some research on the Internet if you don’t know about the tortuous Tiger Cages.

Michael standing behind prison bars in Trai Phu Hai Prison
A gangster serving a life term.

I spent a morning walking through the worst prison on the island, as well as a couple of smaller ones. They were truly despicable places.

More Than Horrific Prisons

But there is more to do than reading, writing, and hanging out in prisons. When you decide to get out of Con Son town and explore the island a little more, the best option is likely to rent a motorbike. Another option is what Jim and I decided to do — hire an elephant taxi. NO, not an actual elephant, but electric vehicles that act as a major taxi service both in Con Son town and around the island.

An Elephant Taxi
One of the many unique elephant taxis.

We stopped off at various near-deserted beaches. We spent probably too much time dangling from cliff faces that dropped off into the ocean, snapping a lot of pictures.

Rather than writing a lot of words using repetitive adjectives to describe ”scenic,” I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves.

The Life of Lassitude Comes to an End

This was a whirlwind 10-day trip to Vietnam from neighboring Cambodia. I spent six of those days visiting Con Dao.

With every departure from a new destination, I am always torn as to whether I will ever get to — or want to — return, or whether I will continue to seek out new destinations. I’ve been to Vietnam numerous times but this was my first to these islands. I think I’ll go back someday, but for the time being, my quest is to visit what is the unknown for me. If you happen to follow my adventures on Dreams Abroad, I hope to introduce you to both recently- visited places and newly- discovered ones.

To read more about Michael’s island adventures, check out Michael’s Tioman Tale Part One and his Tioman Tale Part Two!

A Tour of Taxco, Mexico: Part Six

Tyler blackBy Tyler Black

My time in Mexico City was slowly coming to an end. It was nothing short of fantastic. To read more about my trip, make sure you check out part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five.

I had just one last excursion left before heading home. This time, I was visiting Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico. I felt pretty excited about this tour because I couldn’t wait to see small-town life within Mexico. Operated by Olympus Tours, I highly recommend the excursion. The tour not only operated smoothly but was full of fantastic knowledge and interesting facts that kept me intrigued throughout the day.

The tour guide picked me up in a small van right at my hostel, Casa Pepe. Interestingly enough, I was the only English speaker in the van, as the other four tourists were from Colombia. Since I speak Spanish, I told our guide that he could stick to Spanish the whole trip so he wouldn’t have to translate back and forth between languages. He seemed relieved, but not before telling me in English that the sunburn on my face looked pretty bad and how much of a typical “gringo” I was. Okay, he didn’t say that exactly but that’s what it felt like! Luckily, the other travelers couldn’t understand him so I wasn’t as embarrassed.

Cuernavaca, Mexico

We set off south of Mexico City passing over mountains before arriving in Cuernavaca an hour later. I won’t lie, I was kind of disappointed right off the bat. We stopped in a small courtyard surrounded by three churches, each built during a different part of Mexico’s history. I do love old churches and cathedrals. That was one of my favorite parts of living in Europe. But I found myself rather bored here. We ended up not seeing anything else in Cuernavaca. After an hour of walking around the courtyard, we hopped on the bus and left. Thankfully, the tour got a whole lot better.

The square in Taxco, Mexico

Taxco, Mexico

After another hour-long car ride, we came up on Taxco, Mexico. Built on the side of a mountain, the town looked absolutely stunning from a distance. I felt really excited to try and make my way to the top to enjoy the views. The van let us off in the center of town and our guide walked us around a bit explaining the history of Taxco. Unfortunately, I was too busy taking pictures and didn’t listen to a single word he had to say. I can really be the worst tourist sometimes.

After showing us some points of interest that we could explore later, our guide took us to a jewelry store specializing in silver. Apparently, the areas surrounding Taxco, Mexico are filled with deposits of silver. The Aztecs used this area to make jewelry and decorations for their gods. To this day, Taxco silver is one of the most sought after metals. I bought a few souvenirs for my family because, well, when would I get this chance again?

A statue of text reading "mexico"

A Few Hours Left

Shortly after, I went to grab lunch with two of the people in our group at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the city. I found it incredibly challenging to converse and eat without constantly taking pictures of the view. The pair — a woman and her father — wanted to do a little bit of exploring in Mexico. I told them how much I’d love to visit Colombia and they gave a lot of great recommendations. It was also great to be able to converse in Spanish again and get some practice in. 

With only a few hours left in Taxco, I decided to walk throughout as much of the town as possible. This was quite the feat considering the town was built on the side of a mountain. My legs were on fire (probably still feeling the effects of hiking a volcano a few days earlier). Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience strolling through small streets and alleys, seeing everyone go about their normal routines. I stopped in some more shops to buy some souvenirs. My aimless wandering even led me to a great view of the Taxco, Mexico cathedral with the valley behind it in the distance. Visiting this town definitely made up for the rather slow beginning of the tour. I highly recommend taking a tour of Taxco. Words cannot accurately describe its beauty.

Time to Go Home

I filled the next morning trying to stuff everything back into my suitcase. I definitely bought way too many souvenirs on this trip, but it was worth it. Although my flight was at 1:00pm, I called an Uber around 10:00am. I figured there would be a lot of traffic on the way to the airport. And boy, was I right. What should have been a 35-minute car ride took a little more than an hour. Luckily my Uber driver was a very friendly man with a lot to talk about, so it helped ease my nerves a little bit.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about departing and not just ending this series on a good note. I’m here to tell you my little goof. If you remember from part one, I was given a slip of paper upon arriving in Mexico with all my passport information. It was almost like a tourist visa. I mistakenly threw it away. The lady behind the check-in desk refused to take my bags without that slip of paper. She told me I had to go to the immigration office to file a new one. Panic was setting in.

A beautiful field in Taxco, Mexico

Customs Snafu

I raced downstairs to the office. Of course, there was a line to talk with the agent. He explained that I needed to print out my arrival and departure flight information. So, I had to run across the hallway to pay a guy to print the documents out for me. After finally filling out all the proper paperwork, I then had to pay a hefty amount of pesos for them to authorize me a new tourist visa. And of course, they only took cash. I made sure to spend all my cash before leaving. So, I had to race to the ATM just outside the office. And that’s when my bank decided to decline my withdrawals. I was starting to imagine what my new life in Mexico would look like. At least I spoke the language.

A town square

Lesson Learned

Luckily, my bank sent me a text asking if it was actually me trying to take out money. Once I got that authorized, I was finally able to pay for my replacement tourist visa. My heart rate was through the roof. But, problem solved! I wasn’t going to be stuck in a foreign country. Moral of the story: DON’T THROW AWAY ANY DOCUMENTS YOU GET FROM CUSTOMS.

Thank you for taking the time to read this series on Mexico City. I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip and hopefully, it has inspired you to visit. Mexico City blew all my expectations out of the water. It’s a beautiful city filled with wonderful people and an amazing culture. It’s quite a shame that Mexico City, and the country in general, is viewed so poorly in our media. I’m so glad I decided to see it firsthand and witness just how wrong everything is portrayed. I encourage you to do the same.