Tunnel Mountain Hike

My father (@pjgriffn on Instagram), and our family friend Filipe Weller (@fwpenedo on instagram) recently completed the Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park, Alberta.

The Tunnel Mountain trail is a 4.5km 266m elevation gain train that starts right in the town of Banff, Alberta and switchbacks back and forth to the top of Tunnel Mountain at 1692 masl (metres above sea level). The hike was easy and straight forward. We completed the hike in 1.5 hours round trip, including a 20 minute break at the top for lunch.

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Due to an extremely busy day tomorrow my Vietnam series will continue on Saturday June 29th when I showcase my travels to Cambodia… So technically it’s the Vietnam / Cambodia series…

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Plains of Six Glaciers Hike

Yesterday my dad and I completed the Plains of Six Glaciers Hike, which is considered to be one of the top twenty hikes to do in Alberta. My dad picked me up at my house at 6:00am and after a 2 hour drive we had arrived at Lake Louise. We thought by getting there early that we would find parking… we were wrong. We circled the parking lot a few times, and lucked out and grabbed the last available spot.

The Government of Canada starting running a massive promotion of the Canadian Parks back at the 150th Anniversary of Canada back in 2017, and ever since then tourism has kicked off. They figured by running buses to Lake Louise and Moraine lake that it would help ease congestion, but it actually made the problem worse because people park at the Lake Louise lot, instead of the overflow lot to catch the bus to Morraine Lake, leaving not many parking spaces available for people actually wanting to visit Lake Louise.

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The 14km and 587 metres of elevation gain trail starts at Lake Louise, then hugs the east side of the lake, before starting a gradual 500-or-so metre elevation gain through the trees towards the Plains of Six Glaciers Tea House. When we were nearing the Tea House we heard a rumble, and you could see a small avalanche that was occurring; luckily I had my camera in hand and ready to shoot and was able to snap a great shot of the avalanche in action. At the Tea House we stopped for some beverages and food. Dad had a delicious sandwich, some lemonade, and some tea, while I had some coffee, as well as some chips and salsa.

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The Tea House was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1927 as an enjoyable spot to hike to have a cup of tea and overlook the amazing scenery. In 1959 Joy Kimball purchased the Tea House and it has been run by her family ever since. The Tea House still has no electricity, and all food is prepared on a propane stove. Non perishable food items are helicoptered in once at the beginning of the season, and workers bring in the rest up with them in backpacks or by horse every 5 days, when there is a shift change.

I continued the last 1.5km and 100 metres of elevation gain of the hike to the end, while dad started to head back towards the car. The view at the end of the hike was out of this world amazing!

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It was time for me to head back towards the car too. I ended up catching up with my dad towards the beginning of the hike along the east side of Lake Louise. Total time for the hike was roughly 3.75 hours, which is actually slightly faster than the sticker time for the hike.

On the way home from the hike we stopped in Canmore for some well earned coffee and cola.

What hike is in store next? We’re not quite sure as we both have a busy July, but I do have the following hikes on my personal list that I’d like to complete this year: Galatea Lake & Lilian Lakes, Valley of 10 Peaks: Wenkchemna Pass, Geraldine Lakes, Crypt Lake.

The next blog post will be a continuation of my Vietnam. In the next post I’ll be travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay to check back tomorrow!

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Today I just finished a lovely hike with my friend Sara called Ptarmigan Cirque in my beautiful home province of Alberta. Ptarmigan Cirque is a 4.3 kilometer loop in Kananaskis Park that starts just along Highway 40, before traversing up 355 metres of elevation gain through the thick forest before opening up to a beautiful meadow / rocky area between some mountains. This hike is about 8000 feet above sea level, so make sure to pace yourself or you’ll find yourself out of breath.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Vietnam adventure in the beautiful city of Hoi An.

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Portland – Day 2 – Exploring Portland

The next morning, I started off the day by smashing my left foot on Catherine’s bag and breaking one of my toes. We made a new rule that we are to leave our bags in the corner of the room to prevent that happening again. We started out the day with some Starbucks coffee and breakfast. Next, we walked around downtown Portland exploring all the sights. The first stop was Keller Fountain Park, which was closed for the remainder of the year for extensive repairs and renovations. While I didn’t take any pictures of Keller Fountain Park I did see some pretty interesting sights along the way.

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The next stop was Chapman square. Chapman is center of three squares that comprise the Plaza Blocks which are bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues and Salmon and Jefferson Streets. The center square is named for former Iowa territorial legislator Virginian William Williams Chapman, who sold the land to the city in 1870. Chapman Square, originally designed for the exclusive use of women and children, and features all female gingko trees. Lownsdale Square, the square to the North, was to be the “gentlemen’s gathering place.” Fortunately today men and women can now safely coexist in either of them.

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The next stop was Mill Ends Park. Mill Ends Park is a 452 square inch park located in the median trip of SW Naito Parkway. The Guinness Book of Records recognized the park as the smallest park in the world in 1971. The history of the park starting in 1948, when a hole that was intended for a light pole never received its light pole and weeds started growing in the opening. The park was named by Dick Fagan, a columnist for the Oregon Journal. He planted flower in the hole and named it after his column in the paper, “Mill Ends”. This park has had some interesting history occur over the decades and has been home to such items as a swimming pool for butterflies (complete with a diving board), a fragment of the old journal building, and a miniature Ferris Wheel (which was delivered by a full sized crane). In 2001, on St. Patrick’s Day, the park had a tiny leprechaun leaning against a pot of gold and a children’s drawing of glovers and leprechauns. The park was temporarily relocated in February 2006 during road construction. In December 2011, plastic army figures and small signs were placed inside the park as a mock of the Occupy Portland movement. In March 2013, the park’s tree was stolen. A new tree was planted, and the next day the stolen tree was found lying next to the new one. In April 2013, officials from Burntwood complained to Guinness, claiming that Mill Ends was not large enough to be a park and that Prince’s Park, smallest in the UK, should hold the world record because it had a fence around it. In response Portlandians built a fence that was a few inches tall around and placed an armed figurine in the park. In 2018, Portland Parks & Recreation installed a miniaturized park sign and planted miniature roses.

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The next stop was Voodoo Doughnut. Portland is known for two doughnut shops; Blue Star Donuts and Voodoo Doughnut. We ended up trying both on this trip and preferred Blue Star over the two, but more on that in a later post. Voodoo Doughnut has seven locations throughout the states, with two right here in Portland. The original location, which we went to, was opened in 2003. There are over 100 varieties of donuts in total ranging from simple glazed doughnuts to extravagant donuts such as the “Captain my Captain” doughnut which has captain crunch cereal on it. Voodoo Doughnut has offered some strange varieties in the past such a the Nyquil Glazed and Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnuts, but these are no longer available due to order of health officials. In addition to doughnuts, they also offer legal wedding services, complete with doughnuts and coffee for the reception. I had The Loop, which is a raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops. Catherine opted for Chuckles, which is a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting dripped in mocha powder and topped with peanuts, caramel, and chocolate drizzle.

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After stopping at Voodoo doughnuts we explored Chinatown. We came across Lan Su Chinese Garden, which was absolutely beautiful. We only looking at it from the outside due to the fact we though the entrance fee of $11 USD was a bit steep for the small but beautiful garden. I messed around with my camera for quite a bit here because it was so pretty, playing around with different depths of field and lighting. The garden was envisioned back in 1988 when Portland and Suzhou, China became sister cities. The garden was built on leased land donated by NW Natural in China Town. The garden was designed by Kuang Zhen and built by 65 artisans from Suzhou. The park was officially opened on September 14, 2000. The name of the park is a blend of the names Suzhou and Portland; Su representing Suzhou and Lan representing Portland.

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Next up was checking out Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s City of Books is the Powell’s Books headquarters and is the world’s largest bookstore. The family owned and operated book store occupies over 68000 square feet of retail floor space and has nine color-coded rooms and over 3500 sections to choose from. The book store has about four million new and used books; some of which are even out-of-print. Powell’s even buys used books; purchasing about 3000 used books a day!

The Powell company was founded by Walter Powell in 1971. Water’s son Michael had opened a bookstore in Chicago, Illinois in 1970, which specialized in used and hard to find books that were primarily academic books. Michael joined his father in Portland in 1979 when he’s fathers store in Portland was not offered a lease renewal; and thus abandoned Chicago. They both found a great location for the new headquarters, which is the same building that Powell’s City of Books stands today.

In 1982 Michael purchased the bookstore from his father. In 1984 a second Portland bookstore was opened in a shopping mall in the suburbs near Washington Square. Over the years a few other stores were opened, and a few closed, with 5 still in place today; including one location at PDX airport. The City of Books headquarters grew over the years with its first expansion in 1999, and a major expansion in 2008 with two new floors being added to the stores southeast corner. Michael handed over management of the bookstore to his daughter Emily in July 2010.

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After visiting Powell Books we were both starving so we went to Grilled Cheese Grill, which was in the parking lot that has about 50 different foods trucks parked in it. I ordered The Moondog, which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Provolone, Hard Salami, Pepperoni, Sliced Tomato and Green Olive Tapenade on Sourdough Bread, served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle. Catherine had The B.T.G.C., which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Tillamook Cheddar and Bacon with Tomato on Sourdough bread, also served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle.
After eating our lunch we started the long walk up and out of the city to the west to the International Rose Test Gardens and Japanese Gardens. The journey took roughly 45 minutes. The rose gardens were absolutely beautiful and has a bunch of fully bloomed roses as well as some junior trees that had not bloomed yet. After finding out the price of the Japanese gardens was $19/pp we opted against them as we had both seen some amazing gardens in Japan in the past.

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The next stop on the list was Pittock Mansion, a French Renaissance-style chateau in West Hills overlooking the entire city. As it was 600 feet of elevation gain and my broken toe was causing me some agony, we opted to take an Uber. We had a wonderful lady named Melissa. Melissa was originally from New York and had lived in Canada for 26 years before coming to Portland. The drive was about ten minutes and I’m very glad we opted for the Uber instead of walking.

Pittock Mansion was originally built in 1914 for Henry Pittock and his wife. The 46 room mansion was built of sandstone. Construction was started in 1909 and wasn’t officially completed until 1914. The mansion was designed by Edward Foulkes, from San Francisco. The mansion feature technology only the very wealthy could afford; such as a central vacuum system, intercoms, lighting, an elevator, and a refrigerator. Henry’s wife Georgiana died in 1918 at the age of 72, and Henry died the following year at the age of 84. The Pittock family remained in the mansion until 1958, when it was put up for sale by one of the Grandsons. The mansion went unsold an a very bad storm ended up causing extensive damage to the home. The local community raised funds to have the mansion restored. In 1964 the City of Portland purchased the estate for $225,000. A 15-month restoration project was initiated and the mansion was opened to the public in 1965 and has been a Portland landmark since. The view from the top of the hill that Pittock Mansion sat on was amazing. There were amazing views of the entire city, the port, and Mount Hood.

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After visiting Pittock Mansion we walked roughly 40 minutes through the forest to Witches Castle in Macleay Park. It actually wasn’t as exciting as the internet made it out to be so I’d honestly give it a skip if anyone is visiting Portland and is thinking about visiting it. It’s just an abandoned house with some graffiti.

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It was time to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the Darci Lynne show. Again, because my foot was killing me and we had already walked nearly 20km I booked us an Uber. We had a lady named Marilyn who had nearly 20000 Uber clients over the 5 years she had been driving for Uber, which is quite impressive. She was into photography and graphics design so we had quite the chat during our rush hour commute back into the city.

After being dropped off at the hotel we got ready for the Darci Lynne show and enjoyed an IPA beer and cider in the hotel lounge area before walking over to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at Portland’5 Centers For The Arts. Portland’5 Centers For The Arts was established in 1987, as Portland Center For The Performing Arts (PCPA). The campus consists of three buildings; Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, and Keller Auditorium. PCPA changed its name to “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts” in 2013. The “5” in the brand name is intended to highlight that the organization has five separate venues, by counting separately the three theaters that occupy Antoinette Hatfield Hall.

Darci Lynne, a 14 year-old singing ventriloquist, performed her Darci Lynne & Friends “Fresh Out Of The Box” show and I must say she was even better in person than she was on YouTube and America’s Got Talent (AGT). Darci Lynne was the winner of season twelve of AGT and received 2nd place on AGT: The Champions. No photos or videos are allowed in the venue, but if you go on YouTube you can find videos of her performing her acts.

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After the show we walked back to the hotel to change into some warmer clothes before walking back to Deschutes Brewery again. We loved the place so much the previous night that we decided to come back. I tried a few more beers and Catherine had another cider. I tried Blushing Brut Rose, Lil’ Squeezy Juice Ale, and The Kveik Freak. We shared some garlic cheese fries and something called Sweet Fire Cheese, which is a pistachio biscotti topped with fresh chevre and marionberry-habanero jam. After eating and drinking we walked back to the hotel and went to bed as we were both tired.

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Check back tomorrow when we explore the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, and Wings and Waves Waterpark!

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Iguazu Falls

We spent our second last day of our South American trip exploring Iguazu Falls. In my personal opinion the Argentinian side is much better than the Brazilian side. About 80% of Iguazu Falls is on the Argentinian side and I feel the views are much better.

We woke up early so we could get a good head start on the day, but the weather had a different idea for us. There was torrential downpour that delayed our departure until approximately 10:00am. There was so much rain coming down that the pool overflowed and the restaurant where we eat our breakfast was starting to flood.

Eventually at 10:00am we set off and took a local bus for 130 Argentinian Pesos per person ($4.25 CDN) to Iguazu Falls. The bus ride took about 30 minutes. Expect to pay the same amount on your return trip.

The entrance cost to the Argentinian side is 700 Argentinian Pesos ($23 CDN). There are 3 routes on the Argentinian side (Lower Loop, Upper Loop, and The Devil’s Throat), as well as a boat trip to San Martin Island, but the boat trip was not operating today as the water levels were too low. We completed the routes in the following order: Upper Loop, The Devil’s Throat, and then finally the Lower Loop). Looking back at it I think we completed it in the right order because it was still raining when we arrived and I found the Upper Loop had the least exciting views of the three.

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After completing the Upper Loop we were hungry so we decided to grab some food from the fast food restaurant near the middle of the park. We both ordered some cheeseburgers. The cheeseburgers caught the interest of the local Capuchin monkeys and coati’s. Coati’s are similar to raccoons and are equally as annoying despite being cute.

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The sun was starting to come out and the rain had dried up by the time we started to walk to the Devil’s Throat. The experience and views are out of this world. You can hear the roar of the falls and the amount of mist coming from the falls is incredible. We became completely drenched in water from the mist, as well as my camera!

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After completing the Devil’s Throat we walked the Lower Loop, which in my opinion provided the most impressive views of Iguazu Falls. On this loop you really get to experience how large and impressive these falls are.

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The Brazilian side just has the one route and takes about an hour to complete. You can almost walk right into the Devil’s Throat on the Brazilian side so you’ll be sure to get soaked. The Brazilian side keeps you mostly further away but you can get some pretty decent panoramic shots. The entrance cost on the Brazilian side is 63 reals ($21.50 CDN).

After exploring Iguazu Falls we went back to our hotel to pack for our return flight home the next day. I tried to check in to the flight and had difficulty as it said the flight couldn’t be found. I had to phone Avianca and Air Canada and spent numerous hours on the phone and was up quite late trying to figure it out. Avianca is in financial hardship and had to return about 30 percent of its fleet the previous week and because of this they cancelled our Iguazu Falls to Sao Paulo flight and didn’t notify me. Air Canada (Avianca’s partner) told me to just show up at the airport tomorrow and see what they can do for us.

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Chile – Day 13 – Lago Grey Glacier Tour

Today we woke up at 7:30am and made breakfast as well as more salami sandwiches for lunch. We left the loft at 8:30am and drove the 2.5 hours towards Torres Del Paine National Park. The drive went slower this time as traffic was heavier and there was some construction on the road.

We checked in at the main office before entering the park and heading towards the Lago Grey Hotel, where we checked in for the Lago Grey glacier tour. The hotel lobby is absolutely beautiful and overlooks Lago Grey, and you can even see chunks of icebergs floating!

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After checking into the tour at the hotel we were asked to drive a few kilometers down the road to this beautiful cafe where we could relax until noon before starting a one hour trek along the lake to the catamaran. Lago Grey is fairly low at this time of the year so the catamaran can’t come to the hotel. I had a coffee and Catherine had a diet coke. We decided it would be an opportune time to also eat lunch.

After relaxing in the cafe we started the trek towards where the catamaran docks. The trek starts out by crossing a rickety suspension bridge that only 6 people at a time can occupy it. There was a park warden to ensure the bridge was not overloaded with people.

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The trek continued through a forested area for about 15 minutes before ending up at the edge of Lago Grey. We walked along a raised sediment area of the lake towards where the catamaran docks. We ran into Martin & Sophie again at the waiting area and talked for about 15 minutes before the Catamaran arrived.

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After boarding the catamaran we were instructed to wear life jackets when we go outside, but we didn’t have to wear them inside like we did for the Magdalena tour. We were onboard the catamaran for roughly 3 hours and got to see 2 different glaciers at the opposite end of the lake. On the return trip we had some pisco sours made from 10000 year old ice; they were delicious and the ice was the clearest ice I’ve ever seen. The wind picked up significantly on the way back and made from some slightly choppy waves, but it was no problem for our catamaran.

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After docking we were hit with some 120-160 kph winds and it was comical watching ourselves and others barely able to walk back along the lake. It was already 4:30pm by the time we got back to the truck so we decided to drive back to the loft and make dinner.

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Catherine cooked us some fajitas for dinner and then we watched an episode of Mayday before going to bed. Mayday is a Canadian documentary investigating air crashes, near-crashes, hijackings, etc. There are currently 19 seasons and the show is still going strong. It is one of my favorite shows on television.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, or the day after for the next installment in my Chile series!

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