Living in Lima Part 2: Day Trip to Peru’s Mini Galapagos & Natural Desert Oasis

If you research the best day trips to take from Lima, the towns of Paracas and Huacachina will be high on the list. Both are located in the province of Ica, and they’re situated close enough to each other that tour buses can stop at both towns and return to Lima on the same day. This past Sunday, I took this tour after pre-booking with Peru Hop, a hop-on, hop-off bus/coach service that my colleagues recommended. The coach itself was clean and comfortable, making it easy to take a nap after my very early 5:40AM pick-up.

En route to Paracas at 6AM

Our first stop was Paracas, located on Peru’s west coast. We arrived at 9:30AM and went straight to the docks, where we settled into the waiting speedboats. The cloudy skies didn’t take away from the beauty of the rock formations and structures that we saw, many of which were thousands of years old (according to our bilingual boat guide). 20 minutes later, we reached the Ballestas Islands, a group of protected islands that are home to dozens of species, including sea lions (see video below), penguins, cormorants, pelicans, mussels, crabs, and star fish. It’s easy to see why these islands are nicknamed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”!

We returned to shore at noon and had 45 minutes to explore before departing for Huacachina. Our tour guides had pointed out restaurants where we would receive 10% off our meals for being Peru Hop passengers, so I stopped at one to try their famous maple hot cakes. This was my first time trying hot cakes, and I can promise you that it won’t be my last! They were delicious and really hit the spot – I guess the boat ride worked up my appetite.

2-hour boat tour of the Ballestas Islands

Beautiful old structures in the middle of the ocean

A charming tourist area in Paracas

Maple hot cakes for breakfast!

Next up was Huacachina, a stunning desert town 1.5 hours southeast of Paracas. Our central meeting point was at a surprisingly gorgeous hostel, where we were offered free wi-fi and the option to dine at a poolside restaurant. Many of us decided to preorder food for later so that we could eat it on the way home. I chilled out in the shade and bought an extra bottle of water because it had suddenly gotten hot and sunny (approximately 28 degrees Celsius). The Peru Hop website was definitely right to suggest bringing sunscreen and sunglasses!

At 3:30, we met up with the tour guides and were split into groups of 6-8 for dune buggying. If you watched that video and thought, “Wow, dune buggying looks terrifying”, that’s because it is. The driver took us up to a lookout point, but on the way there, he sped up and down extremely steep sand dunes. I’m not a fan of rollercoasters and neither were the four Mexican girls in my group, but the driver didn’t care – he gleefully raced up and down the vertical dunes, to the utter delight of the only male passenger in our vehicle! The rest of us were hoarse from screaming with terror. The guide had explained that he would expect a tip for taking us through the dunes at full speed, so the male passenger covered the tip for everyone as he was the only one who wanted the buggy to go at the fastest speed possible. (FYI, the costs of the day’s activities were already included in the fee for this full-day tour. The only extras were tips, food, and optional desert supplies, such as bandanas).

Getting ready to head out for a nerve-wracking ride!

I have to admit, however, that the stomach-churning rollercoaster ride was worth it for the views of the sunset and the only natural oasis in South America:

The natural oasis in Huacachina

I couldn’t get enough of this view!

There was an option to try sand-boarding (see video below) down the dunes, but I opted out – it looked like an accident waiting to happen. Ironically, we later saw a woman being driven to the nearby hospital with what looked like a neck injury.

We walked back down the dunes and picked up our food at the hostel at 6PM. The bus had unforeseen mechanical issues and was delayed by almost two hours, but I ran into two Canadian colleagues and was in good company while we waited. After the 4.5-hour coach ride, I got back to my apartment around 1AM, exhausted but so happy that I had taken this day trip. Peru Hop itself was a great experience, in spite of the delay – the tour guides were helpful and professional and I felt safe travelling across the country with them. I highly recommend a trip to Paracas and Huacachina for anyone who has a day or two to spare while in Peru!

Don’t Get Angry About Donald Trump’s Presidency – Get Educated!

Well, folks, the thing we never thought would happen has just happened. This morning, American businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and not many people are happy about it. 

After the nation made the progressive decision to elect Barack Obama as president in 2008 and again in 2012, a certain amount of excitement and hope surrounded the 2016 election: was America finally going to elect a female president? The numbers were close, but ultimately, the people of the United States made the mind-boggling decision to elect a man who appeared completely unqualified to lead the most powerful country in the world. 

Even Canadians (such as myself) know that Trump was one of the least popular presidential candidates in U.S. history. Examples: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 election against him, despite losing the presidency. Multiple world-famous performers declined invitations to perform at his inauguration ceremony. His vulgar and shockingly offensive comments about women and minorities kicked off protests and marches in at least 60 countries. Frustratingly, many Americans – women and minorities included – still support both him and his agenda.

If you’re angry, devastated and/or thoroughly confused about Trump being elected, my advice is to educate yourself and others about local and global issues that will be affected by his presidency. Think climate change, women’s rights, immigration, LGBT rights, international trade and relations, etc. Once you know the facts, let others know what his being elected actually means. Find out his plans (or lack thereof) to resolve society’s most urgent and important issues. Reread his latest speeches and learn more about who he has appointed to his cabinet. Knowledge is power, friends! Use it wisely. 

Remembrance Day 2016: In Flanders Fields

Each year, Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th) honours the sacrifice brave men and women have made in order to secure peace and freedom in Canada. 

“Flanders Poppy on the First World War battlefields.” Source: greatwar.co.uk

“In Flanders Fields” is undoubtedly our most popular war poem. Penned on the World War I battlefield (in 1915) by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, it has become the unofficial “anthem” of Remembrance Day. The somewhat official symbol of commemorating our veterans is the poppy, which millions of Canadians wear on the left side of our coats in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. 

I’m no poetry expert, but I think these words are as powerful as any picture: 
“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow 

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky 

The larks, still bravely singing, fly 

Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead: Short days ago,

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie 

In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you, from failing hands, we throw 

The torch; be yours to hold it high. 

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.” 

Thank you to all our veterans and current members of the armed forces. 🇨🇦

Thanksgiving 2016: What Are You Thankful For? 

As its name suggests, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family and give thanks for what we have. It’s also a time for turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie, though unfortunately the excitement over these seasonal foods often overshadows the real purpose of this holiday!

My family’s tradition is a simple one: we either cook a turkey dinner from scratch or order one from Summerhill Market in Toronto and spend the day talking and laughing as we share a delicious meal together. Today’s dinner from Summerhill was, as always, very tasty; dessert was a creamy cheesecake baked by yours truly (recipe courtesy of my aunt). I took pictures but was salivating (okay, drooling) in a most unladylike fashion at the sight of the meal and couldn’t spare the time to snap better ones. Continue reading