Grant McWilliams

Travel Trip Journals


Trip journals are trip specific blogs. That is a blog about a specific trip that I've taken. I have them ordered first item first which is backward from a typical blog because it makes it easier to read about the trip from start to finish. Granted that also makes it more difficult to read the latest news when I'm on vacation because the most recent entry (the last one) will be last. But, since most people don't actually get around to reading the Trip Journal until after I'm back I think that will be ok.

Also there's a ton of them missing, this article will explain why.

Last minute decisions

As most of you know we are supposed to be in China/Southeast Asia right now. Actually we were supposed to be sitting at home now recovering from our Asian adventures. As a side effect of personal and technical problems associtated with my current work contract we were not able to leave on June 19th. By July 1st we were still hopeful and by August 1st we'd decided that we'd visit China for one month and return in the Winter for Southeast Asia. By August 10th we had accepted the fact that none of this was happening and we'd be lucky to go to Boring Oregon for vacation let alone somewhere foreign and exotic. I hadn't given up hope though and started studying the Baltic states and looking over VISA requirements for Russia because we could spend two weeks there and see quite a bit. Two weeks in China wouldn't have gotten us anywhere so it was out. My contract dragged and I finally decided to make our life easier and go somewhere we'd been before and what better place than France?

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BC - day one

img_1278The train north only leaves once a day and returns once a day so we didn't have a lot of choice when it came to time. That's ok because with it leaving at 8:30 we'd be getting into Vancouver at just before noon and the returning train would leave at 6:pm which would give us almost two more days that we wouldn't have to pay for accomodations. We had several choices of stations to leave from making us feel a bit like Goldilocks including Seattle (too far away), Edmonds (too small) and Everett (just right). Most of the Amtrak stations that I've been to on the west coast are dinky little shacks in the wrong part of town but Everett has built a brand new station that they're sharing with the Everett City transit and Greyhound. When (if) we ever get a commuter rail it too will service this station in addition to the 5 state colleges have classrooms upstairs. It really is a nice station and I took plenty of pictures of it.

The train up was comfortable and took about 3.5 hours. We didn't stop at the border because apparently the Canuks aren't nearly as paranoid as the Americans are when it comes to terrorists blowing up trees in the middle of nowhere. We arrived at Vancouver station at about 11:30 am and went through immigration easily enough. I brought custody papers and they asked me where "mom" was and I fumbled as I usually do. I finally said that I was the sole parent and they let us on through. The first thing that we did was find an ATM so we could have some Canadian spending cash on us. There were taxis waiting out front so we told them to take us to the Victorian Hotel . About  5 minutes and 7 Canadian dollars later we arrive and are greeted by a lady with a strong French accent.

It was a beautiful sunny day and she urged us to put our stuff in our room and head directly to Stanley park which I had planned to see the next day. After checking Saturday's weather she said we should go right away. We dropped our bags in our very nice old room, got our bearings and took off. The bus was supposed to pick us up at the end of the block so we waited there. Another bus came by and asked us what we were waiting for and then informed us that the routes had changed because of the work being done on the subway. He then volunteered to take us to the correct stop which he did. The correct stop was in front of the revolving restaurant that you see in a lot of pictures of Vancouver. Strangely the buses don't take dollar bills so we went downstairs to a souvenir shop and bought a $1 bookmark with a $10 bill. This gave us plenty of coins for the next bus. We went back to street level and the bus pulled up immediately. Fifteen minutes later we are at the entrance to Stanley Park and Piper won't stop asking if we can ride bikes so we set out to find bike rentals.

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So we've decided to go to Vancouver BC and we need to get there. There are several ways of doing thisimg_1292
  1. Greyhound Bus
  2. Amtrak Bus
  3. Car
  4. Amtrak Train
  5. Ferry to Victoria, Ferry to Vancouver
The first is out on the account that I'm not into torture especially when I'm the one being tortured. Amtrak Buses aren't too bad but really if you have the choice of riding a train or a bus which would you choose? Maybe you don't know because you've never ridden trains but let me tell you there is no comparison. A coach seat in a train is about the same size as a business class seat on an airplane. A seat on a Greyhound bus is worse than a 2nd class airplane ticket - you decide. The fifth choice is a great one but I took it out because of time constraints. That leaves two choices - drive or ride the train. The cheapest would be to drive my car to Vancouver but the problem I have with that is my car has a lot of miles on it and who knows how much longer it will last. Ok, so I can rent a car for the weekend which ends up costing about $40 more than the train plus I need to pay for parking once I get there. So my two choices are rent a car, spend 6 hrs driving, have to find a place to park it in the city, sit in line at the border for customs checks, worry about convincing the rental car agency to let me cross the border, convince the border people that it's ok to take a rental car across or walk onto a spacious train, watch the beautiful Pacific Coast scenery (not seen in a car) and cross the border stress free. Hmm, not hard to decide. Having said all of this if you can drive it will still be faster and cheaper than the train.

There's just something about trains though that make you feel like you're further from home.
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Originally I was going to take all of Spring Break and do a Northwest trip that included Seattle, Victoria B.C. and Vancouver B.C.  Image but my project at work is dragging on so I only had a few days left of it for holiday so we decided to just spend it in Vancouver. I figured that it was close enough that we could come back later if we liked it. Since I did the research for the whole Seattle->Victoria->Vancouver->Seattle trip I will be putting that Itinerary up on this site later for others to follow. That section of course doesn't even exist yet (but it will).

So I've lived in the Pacific Northwest on and off for 17 years and I've never been to British Columbia. For those of you who don't know it's only a couple hour drive from Seattle. So why haven't I ever packed a picnic lunch, got in the car and driven to Canada? Well, when I first moved here I had other pressing issues (no money, no interest), then later after I moved to Seattle I was busy experiencing Seattle and the U.S. side of the border like the Olympic Penninsula. Once I started traveling I would climb on an airplane and fly halfway around the world and not even think about BC. British Columbia got neglected.

There is another reason I never went there - similarity. I've met quite a few Canadians over the years and they all resemble us (Americans) for the most part. When I started traveling I wanted to go to foreign lands, not the Canadian side of Washington. I feared Canada would be too much like the U.S. to warrent any serious travel. Canada in my opinion was for inexperienced travelers that couldn't make it in Paris or Istanbul.

So I originally planned on spending a week somewhere because my kids were out of school for Spring break. Not knowing what was going to happen at my job in the near future (like whether I'd have any money or not) I decided on going somewhere close. That means Portland, Spokane, Seattle, Victoria or Vancouver. I live in Seattle so obviously that's out, I've spent enough time in Spokane to know you don't want to be there in the winter and it's not that great anyway in comarison to the others, Portland is getting old since we've been there quite a lot. At this point the hilight to Portland is ice skating in the mall! So that brings us to Victoria and Vancouver - the northwestern cities oft neglected by me.

As I said I had planned on spending a week in the two cities but project overruns at work meant I was only going to have a few days. That cut out one of the cities and since Vancouver is easier to get to (and larger) we decided to name it the winner and give the runners-up prize to Victoria. I did however, plan the whole Victoria/Vancouver trip so I'll be finalizing itineraries and uploading them to this site in time. Later we'll do it as I planned.

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Mexico 2006 - Day 9

Today we took a tour to Mitla, Santa Maria del Tula, Hierva el Agua and a few other places. I had wanted to go to Mitla but my guidebook didn´t tell me how because it´s about 50 km down the road. Thankfully our hotel Casa Arnel had a tour again in a suburban for 300 pesos. This ended up being about $120 all together but everyone in the family thinks it was a good deal. I almost didn´t take the tour and just stay around the hotel because Piper was slowly getting sicker and I thought it would be dumb to risk her health just to see something that has been there for 2000 years and will still be there the rest of my life but she woke up in better shape than she was when she went to bed so we went.First stop was Santa Maria del Tula which is a small town with a tree. Since Mexico has about a billion towns called Santa Maria they have to give each one a last name too. So since this town used to have a bog filled with Tula plants the name ended up being Santa Maria del Tula. In this bog also was a cyprus tree. It needs a lot of water so the bog was a perfec place for it to plant it´s roots. Problem is the bog dried up after about 1950 years and the tree was still alive.

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Plane tickets

We up late and missed breakfast so we decided to split off and Jade and I would walk to TAME and get the plane tickets and Mo and Natalya would head for the internet where we would meet up with them. We got to the TAME office and like true Americans we forgot that the rest of the world takes really long lunches so we had an hour and a half to wait so after picking up a hotdog we headed back across the river to the internet cafe and met up with the others. After rejoining we needed to kill time so we headed for the little Zoo inside a building that had mysterious and strange creatures of Ecuador. It's a little shop run bimg_0833y a guy and what appeared to be his daughter. They had the ugliest looking turtle in the world (matamata turtle) as well as an Anaconda skin, a Crocodile and a bunch of fish including Piranhas. The only thing separating the crocodile and us was a small bridge about 2 feet off the ground. He didn't look interested in us and actually looked very depressed as he had about 20 feet of room to move in is all. Mo spent most of her time freaked out because we went in a section where the lights were all off and our 15 year old guide had a flashlight.

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Museo de Banco Centro

img_0854I thought it quite strange that a museum would be called Central Bank until I got there. It appears that the bank owns the land and/or finances it's operation as the museum is in an adjoining building to the Banco Centro. Before Ecuador was conquered by the Inca there were other cultures there. Cuenca was the city of the Cañari people. We saw Cañari on the bus coming from Riobamba. They were attractive people but like many of the other indigenous groups they were quite small and wore little light colored bowler hats. Anyway, the location of the Museo Banco Centro was a royal Cañari palace which after being conquered by the Inca became a royal Inca palace naturally. It seems the city was founded (which they called Guapondeleg) about 500 AD which makes it very old for an American city. The Incas took over in about 1450 or so. The Inca replaced the Cañari architecture with their own impressive works and in some of the buildings you can see the layers. The Cañari didn't have the advanced carved stone architecture that the Incas had but it was no worse than what the Spanish eventually built over top the Inca buildings.

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I thiimg_0802nk I've said this but most Latin American cities are stink holes but Cuenca is different. I'd put it on par with most Italian cities for cleanliness and probably as clean as the more dirty French cities (Nice, Tours etc..) so it's not too bad. The city center is very nice with many restored colonial buildings, many plants and clean streets. It really is odd that Ecuador could have a city as nice as this when the rest are so dirty. It's as if we just took a bus into another country. The people dress nicely and the women are much more sexy than other places in the country. Maybe it's just money, maybe it's education or maybe it's something else but it's different here. The attitude is different too like the people here aren't struggling and have higher self-esteem. The women move when they walk like they're trying to look good and more men strut. In other cities people are just getting things done and there's not much thought about style or presentation. I don't have a problem with img_0816that because I don't spend any time with presentation or style either but I'm just noting the difference.

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To Cuenca

Five-thirty came early like it always does. Mo and I talked about our plans for quite a while and our thoughts about the trip and the next thing we knew it was too late to get our tickets so we decided to just take a bus to Cuenca and day trip Alausi and the train down the devils nose. This allowed us to eat a proper breakfast which was included in our stay. Breakfast was huevos tortillas (omelette's) with juice and some sort of bread. We paid and took a taxi to the bus terminal. We erroneously assumed that since Cuenca was the third largest city in Ecuador and we were on the Panamerican highway that there'd be many buses going there, we were wrong. The next bus wasn't for 2 hours and there was only one company serving Cuenca from Riobamba. We decided to kill the 2 hours on the internet and took a taxi back downtown. When I told him I wanted to find an abierto internet he looked at the other driver and said “They want internet” in Spanish and made a funny face. It seems silly to take a taxi to find internet but it only cost one dollar and the internet for Mo and I both cost another dollar. We won't exactly go broke at that rate.

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Riobamba day 2

My plan for the second day in Riobamba was for us to catch a bus to Banos andimg_6776 go swimming in the hot pools but we walked to the Terminale Norte and found out we had to be at the Terminale Oriente as that's the only place you can catch a bus to Banos. We took a taxi for a buck and arrived at what appeared to be a large parking lot/market with no actual terminal. My guidebook said that the south route to Banos was closed and so we needed to go to Ambato then Banos which takes three times longer. Since we were day tripping this wouldn't work for us so we really needed someone to tell us how long it would take to get to Banos and have a formal ticket with times on it. It didn't look like that was going to happen and we were feeling a bit lazy so we decided to just hang out in Riobamba and go to the hot pools when we get to Cuenca. This meant we had the rest of the day to get acquainted with the locals and see what Riobamba was all about. The best place to do this is in the city parks so we headed to Parque Mandanido named after Pedro Mandinido who was on the team to mark the equator. We sat for quite some time and watched the locals stare at us and even had one stop and try to talk to us. We then found a Pastaleria and bought some strange milk soaked cake before moving to another park which was just as nice. In a small way we felt like we belonged for the first time since we arrived in South America. There's something nice about just hanging out in a park and watching the world go by. Until your stomach starts complaining about your complacency and urges you to move.


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Travel Trip Journals