faery lake

flat jane amid the faeries

we were walking in tijuca forest, the urban forest in rio de janeiro, when flat jane spotted a map along the side of the road. the map showed a tiny lake known as faery lake high up on the hill. we had already been walking for a couple of hours so everyone in the group was tired. not flat jane! she was raring to go! luckily auntie corina found her second wind and trudged up the hill with her. it was quiet...all you could hear were the rain drops on the forest rooftop...we waited patiently for the faeries to show themselves. i think if you look very closely above the flowers you can see the flash of light they left behind.




we spent the first 3 days in sao paulo just getting used to the time difference and the exhaustion that comes with traveling...aka jet lag. i haven't had the best of luck with jet lag this trip. i seem to experience the symptoms harder and longer than jay does. a two hour time difference and a few hours of flying can make me grumpy for at least a day after the journey. so imagine what jay had to deal with after flying for 25 hours and a time change of 12 hours. hehehe... we did manage to fit in a visit to the museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (masp) which is housed in a modern building designed by lina bo bardi. the modern art collection inside wasn't very impressive but once you've been to moma in nyc can anything compare?

sophia and flavia

the next couple of days we couchsurfed with flavia, luis and their gorgeous daughter, sophia. we had a great time with them over dinners often waiting for luis to translate flavia's enthusiasic questions from portuguese. the weather was not cooperating with us though which added to my jetlag grumpiness, so we didn't venture very far. we toured the downtown area which would have been much more fun on any other day...like a day that wasn't sunday so the shops are closed or a day that is sunny...or even just a day when it isn't raining in the torrential sort of way that it was on that day...

our first few days in rio didn't get much better weatherwise. we were staying at a hostel in copacabana that my brother, mark, recommended which i will not repeat the recommendation by naming it. we stayed in a 14 bed dorm with only one toilet/shower to share and, with the week of rain preceding our visit, the whole place was rank. i think we had been spoiled with our private double rooms with aircon and cable tv while we were in vietnam. we were a bit bummed but decided to hit the beach each morning before the rain inevitably started again. we lucked out one morning when the clouds broke and the sun shone its radiant rays upon us. our southeast asia tans were fading fast so this hit of sun was a welcome surprise...until we got back to the hostel and realized we managed to get a burn in 30 minutes of sun.

view of sugar loaf and copacabana from corcovado hill

we found a couple of cs hosts in rio for the rest of our stay. we stayed with naira and her family in the northern part of the city. she was a girl that mark had met at a party last year and she offered to put us up. i think we stayed in her room and she moved in with her sister for the three days we were there. every morning her mom would have breakfast laid out for us and generally kept us well fed. on the night we arrived naira took us to a forro (pronounced foh-ho) party with some other local csers and their guests. a forro takes place in a big room similar to a social hall you would find in manitoba. the forro band plays loudly as couples swing around the dance floor, the moves similar to a two step but with more hips swaying and with a bit more flair. the next day we decided to visit christo redentor up on corcovado hill which we didn't realize was under construction until we were climbing the final stairs up to the statue. the ticket attendant had warned us about the cloud cover but said nothing about the scaffolding. with less than favourable conditions the top of the hill was still packed with people and we still managed to get some nice views of the sprawling city below.

christ the redeemer

naira and her boyfriend took us to tijuca forest one afternoon and we marvelled at the lush greenery that surrounded us. the park was definitely the most jungle-like that we've experienced on our trip...even more jungley than our old front yard ;p it was sprinkling rain for most of the day but as we were descending the hill a downpour started. we were rescued by a nice man in a station wagon who took pity on us and drove us to the nearest metro station about 15 minutes away.

tijuca forest

andre and pilar

we moved to andre's place to an area called santa theresa near lapa. lapa is the happening center for all things fun...like forro parties, restaurants and bars. andre's place was the penthouse apartment of a block that climbed a hill. we had a great view of the neighbourhood, peeks into neighbour's windows and 4 different options for outdoor space. he had a friend, fabien, from italy crashing for a few months on his hammock out on the terrace. andre's girlfriend, pilar, plus me and jay made five of us in a one bedroom...sounds crowded but we made it work. jason didn't get a chance to flex his chef muscle at all during our stay. fabien took the role as head chef making us 4 cheese pasta, eggplant and tomato pizza and bbq fish. our excursion with andre et al. was to a popular fish market. the beer didn't stop flowing even after the bill was tallied...one more bottle ordered...always just one more...one more...

ipanema beach and 'two brothers' peaks

our last day in rio fabien took us to ipanema beach. we had an acai (pronounced a-say-ee) drink which is everywhere in brazil and is reported to have many health benefits. the variation we had was super sweet so perhaps the health benefits were outweighed by the sugar content. we enjoyed our day at the beach and found it really handy to have a translator with us. fabien knew what all the hawkers were selling and got us some yummy arabic pastry treats.

view of praia do meio, trindade

so brazil is huge! did you know that? we had hoped to see more than we did but 15 hour bus rides did not sound appealing and with our budget almost tapped out we couldn't afford to fly. we found a memorable place to visit anyway...on budget and with a beach nearby. trindade is a small community about 25km outside of paraty...which is between rio and sao paulo. we had heard alot about paraty but happened upon trindade while looking for a hostel online. the smallness of it appealed to us and so did the description of a forest meeting the beach. we spent our five days in trindade exploring a waterfall with a 'rock that swallows', getting pushed around by the ocean waves and reading on the beach.

praia da figueira, trindade

jay's photo - cat with tongue hanging out

historic centre, paraty

we headed back to sao paulo via the coastal highway bus to stay with luis and family again before catching our flight to santiago, chile.



a japan highlight tour

our host, mochan (a nickname derived from 'mo', the first 2 letters in his surname, and chan meaning mister)

jay came across a japanese guy offering tours of japan while doing a routine couchsurfing search. mochan started wishclub a few years ago after he tired of owning and running a local bar. his purpose was to provide a social context in which travelers and local people could meet and mingle while exploring japan. he requests that travellers that stay with him and take the tour offer to pay ride shares. we thought this sounded reasonable as we had heard how expensive it is in japan...from pretty much anyone that knew we had added it to our itinerary! so we signed up for 2 days in the shimizu/shizouka area which, for those that are not familiar with japan geography, is very near mt. fuji.

after a cozy night sleep on a soft mattress on a tatami mat floor, mochan took us out to see mt. fuji. we had a late start so by the time we reached the viewing point you could see the clouds had rolled in and mt. fuji was quickly disappearing. there was no point in driving closer so we turned around and head in the opposite direction to experience a traditional tea ceremony.

tea master preparing our tea

we entered the tea house and were shown to a large open room with shoji screens on the windows and tatami mats on the floor. there were already two men sitting crosslegged in the room that had been served their tea. mochan asked us to follow his lead and described the steps to us as he accepted his tea. in the picture above the tea master is elaborately folding the napkin so that she can wipe down the utensil and cup you see to her left. it was a performance of placing items, moving them, measuring powdered green tea, pouring hot water, whisking and stirring and finally the presentation of the tea. as the tea master is preparing the tea another woman in traditional dress served us each a sweet made from red bean paste.

jay turning his tea cup

when the tea master presented the perfectly prepared tea, she bowed to us and we bowed to her while sitting on our knees and by placing our hands on the tatami mat in front of us. mochan explained to us that she sets the cup with the more beautiful or more interesting side facing towards the guest. when we picked up the cup, we were to place it in our left palm and slowly turn the good side to face the others in the room.

the tea house wet room

after our tea was consumed we wandered around the rest of the tea house. there were narrow hallways leading to smaller rooms off the larger communal tea room. one room was the wet room where the tea master prepares the water and her tools for the tea ceremony. there was also a more traditionally sized small tea room for individual visitors. this room had a small door low to the floor so that the room was accessible directly from outdoors. you can see the door from the exterior of the tea house in the photo below. traditionally, you are invited to tea by the tea master. there is a wash basin where you can wash your hands before tea is served. you are then invited to enter the house through the low door. this door requires the visitor to enter the house while bowing showing respect to the tea master.

corina and jason with the tea masters

rock wash basin to wash your hands and low door to enter the tea room

the next day we made a point of leaving the house early and arrived to the viewing point of mt. fuji with just a slight haze in the sky. we drove on to one the lakes near mt. fuji for more scenic photo opportunities. we walked around the lake taking in all the beauty of springtime in japan. it was a perfect day.

mt. fuji photo op early in the morning

the gorgeous mt. fuji

and what is a visit to japan without imbibing in some sake? mochan took us to a sake factory for a private tour where we learned how grains of rice are turned into the throat burning liquid of sake. we had to take our shoes off and slip on factory issued flip flops and wash our hands as not to bring in any unwanted bacteria. the making of sake is a very serious and even religious endeavor. barrels of sake are brought to the temples to be blessed and at this factory there was an armoir with several buddhas inside. at the end of the tour our guide showed us how the good stuff was made (much slower and with less pressure) and then offered us a taste. a special treat just for us!

barrel o' fermenting sake

getting the good stuff

barrels o' sake waiting to be consumed!

usually the wish club tours include more than two people but we came on a slow weekend. mochan made up for the lack of other travellers by inviting some people from shimizu to dinner. if you look closely at the photo below you can see that one of the tables has a blanket below it. most homes in japan do not have central heating even though temperatures can dip below zero. the use of shoji screens, gas heaters and a kotatsu (a table with a heat source and blanket below) keep the main living space warm and cozy. one of the girls demonstrated how at home she would lie beneath the table with only her head and shoulders sticking out of the blanket while she watched tv. we also learned that when pouring a drink for someone you should say "may, may, may" (more, more, more) and that the receiver then says "ote, ote, ote" (stop, stop, stop).

wish club dinner guests

we had a great weekend exploring the shimizu/shizouka area but once again we were left wanting more.




tokyo with a little t

shinjuku area, tokyo

i wasn't expecting tokyo to be cute. i certainly was expecting it to be big and populated, expectations that were definitely met. but tokyo is really just a collection of small neighbourhoods knitted together by metro, trains and freeways. small pockets of traditional buildings and gardens, lines painted to depict sidewalks on the neat and narrow asphalt lanes, and business signs with japanese anime characters help give the big city of tokyo its charm.

takashimaya times square (downtown), tokyo

rikugien gardens

komagome neighbourhood (where we couchsurfed)

the cuteness extends to some obvious trends you see while riding the vast and often confusing metro system. every cellphone has its charm...dangling from phones of business people, teenagers and the elderly alike. cellphone use is restricted to texting only as there are signs posted everywhere appealing to your politeness and remind you to switch to silent mode...your phone and you! every purse has a terrycloth towel in a tidy square ready to dry the hands of its owner after washing at a shrine, temple or washroom. it is perfectly acceptable to nod off while riding the metro. at one point i nudged jason from his nap to witness a row of 10 bowed heads across the train aisle. you can't tell a book from its cover in tokyo. book jackets adorn each volume in various styles...plain vinyl or leather, printed giftwrap or even the paper bag of the bookstore from which it was purchased.

even the sewer covers are cute!

and oh how clean it is in tokyo! i have heard people rave about the cleanliness of singapore but tokyo definitely takes first place in my opinion. people wear face masks if they have a cold or even the slightest runny nose. the streets are immaculate and in pristine condition...their lines perfectly drawn. there is even a person dedicated to cleaning the escalator hand rails. he or she stands at the top of the escalator armed with cleaner and two cloths, one in each hand, positioned to clean the two rails simultaneously. the transient population keeps up the tidy obsession keeping their belongings neatly in boxes on wheels. we walked through a park one sunny afternoon to see several people laid out on their backs on squares of cardboard, shoes off and precisely positioned on the grass beside them.

some of tokyo's almost invisible homeless population

tokyo has a good mixture of modern city and traditional japan. we enjoyed our four days here and definitely plan on returning to japan. tokyo has whet our appetite for more.




farewell vietnam

nha trang beach

nha trang was our last beach destination in south east asia. we will fondly remember our hotel stay there as it was the nicest place we had stayed in a long while. our hotel was 2 blocks from the beach, provided a scrumptious and free breakfast, had cable tv, a mini fridge, air conditioning and an extremely comfortable feather top bed. all for $24 a night! 3 cheers for ha van flamingo suites!

communal mud baths
we decided to take one of the tours that was offered by the hotel to the thap ba mineral & mud spa. neither of us had ever tried one and it was comfortably in our budget if we used the communal mud bath and not the couples romantic type bath. as it turns out we were treated to our own communal bath and were able to float flat out in the mud...like pigs...in mud...
once we were slathered and soaked in the cool mud we were instructed to bake in the sun. after you could no longer crack a smile without cracking the mud we showered under the hot mineral water to get clean...very clean as the signs specified. several people ahead of us were sent back to get cleaner still before being allowed into the soaking pools of hot mineral water. the rest of the afternoon was ours to enjoy leisurely by the swimming pools and waterfall. one of the pools was filled with 38 degree mineral water and had an amniotic affect on me. i just wanted to curl up and go to sleep right there in the pool...dangerous to be sure!

large hot mineral spa

after relaxing until we felt like jello we were dropped off at the cham tower which was close by. it was a small but `superb´example of temples built in vietnam by the cham dynasty between the 7th and 12th century.

po nagar cham tower

vietnamese women leaving the towers

(note: it´s ok to wear pj´s to pray...or anything else for that matter)

ho chi minh city hall

our last stop in vietnam was ho chi minh city. we were really looking forward to this part of our vietnam trip. not because of hcmc but because we would be there for tet and would be meeting our friends ron and ali again.
tet is short for Tết Nguyên Đán which is the lunar new year celebration in vietnam. it is a huge deal and used to last for a month but now with modern society what it is, it has been reduced to 4 days.

chuc mung nam moi! happy new year! buy a balloon!

the streets after the fireworks on nye
we were on our way to try out a local bar with ron and ali on nye. we were prevented from making it to our destination as there were crowds and crowds of people on the streets. at one point the crowd got so thick that we couldn´t go any further so we decided to stick it out and see why everyone was gathering. a while later we were rewarded for our patience with fireworks shooting over the river nearby. we were so close to the fireworks that we were sprinkled with their ashes...in some cases still smoldering ashes. the walk back to our hotel was quite an adventure. throngs of people were walking and even more were on their scooters. you cannot even imagine how many people were on the streets that night. crossing the street was akin to frogger at its highest level! what a way to end our visit to vietnam.


flat people continue their tour of asia

when last we saw the flats, all those weeks ago, they were chillaxing under the sun of thailand. they had a few more opportunities to feel the sun on their laminated flat faces when we took them out in cambodia and vietnam but once we hit japan the mitts and scarves came out to stay.

here we have the flat penners posing in front of the famous angkor wat at sunrise. the early morning was hard on auntie corina and uncle jason but since the flats had spent the previous few days sleeping in the camera bag they were raring to go.

its common in cambodia to find randomly discarded shoes and sandals. this beach on bamboo island was no exception. on this island however someone turned the broken flip flops into tree art as colourful as the flat people.

we entered into the year of the tiger with the flats in ho chi minh city, vietnam. flat jane and flat owen chose this paper tiger as their favourite.

everyone was excited to leave the heat behind for a blissfully cool week in tokyo, japan! flat hannah, flat ellie and flat sasha had to sneak behind the guards for this photo op at the imperial palace.

flat jane and flat owen played it safe and took their photo outside the gate of the imperial palace.

the flats enjoyed a traditional japanese tea ceremony in this tea house near shimizu, japan.

it was too cold to swim under this waterfall but the flat petroffs were lucky to see a rainbow...but not lucky enough to find the pot of gold.

the gardens in tokyo were beautifully manicured and peaceful places to sit and rest after walking through the bustling streets of tokyo. many japanese people had their photos taken under this umbrella and so the flat penners did too. well, you know, when in tokyo do as the tokyo-ers do...


flat penners & flat petroffs