BootsnAll Travel Network

I’ve moved!

June 2nd, 2013

Hello! I’ve recently moved my blog to the following:

My new site includes more material, more photos and a much cooler look. We plan on travelling more in the next few years and I wanted a home for all my writing and photography that I could be proud of. I also wanted my own domain name which I couldn’t have here.

Please visit me at my new site and don’t forget to subscribe!

Thanks for your continued support!

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Guanajuato and Queretaro, Mexico

March 6th, 2013

February 2013 – Guanajuato translates (from the indigenous Indian language in this area) as “hilly place of frogs”. It was the richest Mexican city in the 18th century because of the mining of silver in the hills surrounding the town. The approach to the historic center is really unique – cars have to go through the old, and quite long, mining tunnels to get into the old city.

It’s a very picturesque town to walk – it actually reminded me of Vernazza in Italy (minus the sea) because of the winding stairs, colorful houses, and wonderful views. I had to pinch myself a few times to remember that I was actually in Mexico. And for such a small town there is an abundance of very impressive churches and some very pretty plazas. Another thing that makes the town very attractive is that many of the streets are closed off to car traffic – it’s a great place to walk around (Mexican cities not great for that).

There is a funicular in the center of town that goes up one of the hills. Below are some photos looking down on Guanajuato. For someone who enjoys taking photos it is heaven.

Most of these photos were taken on the first of my three days in Guanajuato. I woke up in the middle of the first night there feeling like total shit. For the most part of two days I stayed in my room with a major case of the Crappuccinos*. Tip: don’t eat salad in Mexico – I never order salad, I have no idea why I would ever do anything that stupid.

* Crappuccino is a sophisticated way of telling someone that you have traveller’s diarrhea. Tell a fellow traveler that you “have to go for a crappuccino”, it will automatically discern you from the unknowledgeable, inexperienced traveler and you will no doubt be treated with equal doses of respect and sympathy.

A few more photos:

My mom and I stayed at Casa de la Luna (500 pesos/nt, about $41 inluding breakfast). The guesthouse has a few longterm guests studying Spanish at the university (we met a Korean student and a Canadian who were there for 3 months). Ana is like a mom and Lado loves to joke with the guests. A very nice place.


I told my mom that anyplace after Guanajuato would most likely be a disappointment in comparison. I was right.

Queretaro is a much bigger town and, like Guanajuato, has a Centro Historico that has been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco. It has lots of pretty churches and some wonderful plazas. The town isn’t inundated by tourists and there are some good and affordable restaurants. It’s a nice town and is very walkable (unlike Guanajuato, the terrain is flat in the Centro Historico and streets are laid out in a grid). I didn’t fall in love with Queretaro but it is nevertheless a very nice town.

One of the reasons for staying a night in Queretaro was that it is the closest big town to Mexico City and the airport. The next day I said goodbye to my mom and took a bus directly from Queretaro to the airport for the trip home.

My Mexico Summary

I became a fan of Mexico on this trip. If you look at the photos on this post and the previous ones on Mexico, you’d probably admit that it wasn’t what you would have expected of Mexico. I had misconceptions before coming here and the beauty of some of the towns in Central Mexico surprised me. I often felt I was somewhere in Europe.

The people were extremely nice, the Spanish easy to understand, the food good. You can travel cheaply and comfortably – transportation infrastructure is excellent and there are lots of affordable hotels and guesthouses. I was nervous about Mexico City but I never ever felt any threat to my safety. The only negative was that I got sick to my stomach (lost 5 lbs over 2 days). That seems to be pretty common though of travellers going to Mexico.

I’ll most likely be back. My mom retired in Thailand ten years ago but these days seems more keen on Mexico – I’ll probably be back here soon to see her again.

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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

March 5th, 2013

February 2013 – San Miguel de Allende has a reputation as an American enclave in Mexico. Ex-pats living in other parts of Mexico (including other Americans) often malign the Americans who live here: “they have no interest in the culture, they don’t speak the language”, “they inflate prices because of the money they throw around”, “unlike ex-pats in other parts of the country, ex-pats in San Miguel don’t intergrate”. I heard ex-pats say that you can identify Americans living in San Miguel by their fake boobs and inflated lips.

There’s a lot of truth to the above. My mom showed me around town and there are indeed a lot of Americans. If you walk into a restaurant in the center of San Miguel it is filled exclusively with Americans being served by Mexicans – you’d think that you were somewhere in Southern California. I got the sense of two distinct societies not mixing but living very seperately (and at different economic levels) in the same space. There were also a lot of OLD people, Americans in their 80’s. It was strange to see. But I also tried to put myself in their shoes – at that age I think I would probably want to be with like-minded and similar aged people. The weather is perfect for an oldie; very dry, always sunny, never really hot. And the infrastructure is there – they have an incredible library in San Miguel where an ex-pat can find all the English literature he/she could ever want. Even German and French. So the infrastructure is there and I can see how that would make San Miguel very apealing to an elderly American. Its not the place I could see myself being, but I can understand why many would find it ideal.

I found San Miguel a bit boring though. It doesn’t have the life of other Mexican towns that I would see later. No locals hanging around in plazas, no kids running around. The bars seemed empty. It’s a very pretty town and has some nice churches – but it just didn’t feel Mexican.


Mexico City

March 5th, 2013

February 2013 – Mexico City was not somewhere I had ever wanted to go. It was actually one of those places most likely to be on my ‘avoid’ list. I had a banker friend (with Scotiabank – they are all over Mexico) who had told me that car jackings were a regular occurrence in the downtown core. Mexico City was a dangerous place. That was about 10 years ago. But my mom is now spending part of the year in Mexico and she invited me to visit her. Which meant flying in through Mexico City.

We spent a day and a half in Mexico City. Although that’s not enough to really know a city, I was incredibly impressed by what I saw.

We stayed right next to the Zocalo in the Centro Historico, 2 blocks from the Metropolitan Cathedral (the largest cathedral in the Americas). The area is filled with historical buildings, restaurants and cafes, and some large boulevards. It actually kind reminded me of Paris.

Above: Doesn’t that look like Paris?

We took the double decker Turibus (there’s a stop next to the cathedral) which took us a from the historic center, down the Paseo de la Reforma ( MC’s largest boulevard). The boulevard is lined with palm trees, monuments, and skyscrapers. It then entered Chapultepec Park which is home to the zoo as well as some museums (including the Museo de Arte Moderno and Museo Nacional de Antropoligea). We got out here and had lunch at a small taco place before visiting the Museo de Arte Moderno (very nice building – but I found the art boring). We then hopped back on the next turibus and saw a few more of the city’s better neighborhoods: Condesa (leafy streets full of trendy restaurants and cafes) and Polanco (very upscale and exclusive, home of MC’s very rich).

I know these neighborhoods don’t represent the majority of Mexico City’s districts and I’m sure there are many poor and dangerous areas (I saw some iffy-looking neighborhoods on my return trip to the airport, places where I wouldn’t have wanted to be walking around). I’m still impressed though by much of what I saw in Mexico City – on top of some very unique modern architecture, the downtown core was very clean and organized. There was a bicycle path down Paseo de la Reforma and the city has a bicycle rental program similar to Montreal’s Bixi program. They had green bicycle-taxis covering the Zocalo. I guess I had somehow pictured Mexico City to be like some of the decrepit Latin American cities I had seen, places like Havana, Santo Domingo, or even San Jose in Costa Rica. It wasn’t – you can see money in Mexico City and according to many people we spoke to the city has changed dramatically in the last few years. Anyway, I was impressed by what I saw.

Close to the Centro Historico, and across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is the Latinoamericano tower which has some of the best views across the city from the 42nd floor. A few photos I took from there.

Above: Me and my mom

Another thing that impressed me; transportation is modern in Mexico and is very well organized. Bus stations are structured like airport terminals. You buy your bus ticket using your name, you get a seat number and they tell you the gate where you’ll board. Your bags go through x-rays (just like at the airport) and are checked in (they give you a ticket for your baggage). An attendant checks your ticket and gives you a free lunch (I got a ham and cheese sandwich and an apple juice) and you get in your seat on the bus. Just prior to the bus leaving the station a guard comes on the bus and does a video tape of everyone in their seats for security purposes. Also, taxis were plentiful and cheap.


We stayed at the Hotel Rioja in the Centro Historico. Great value for the money; 250 to 300 pesos for a room (that’s $21 – $25). Fantastic location. Not the Ritz but if all you need is a clean room with private bathroom then it is perfect.

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Fall in Montreal – photos

October 29th, 2012

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Montreal from Mont-Royal

September 13th, 2012

September 13, 2012 – A few photos from my favorite place in Montreal.

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Seeing Red in Montreal

May 23rd, 2012

May 23, 2012 – Summer is unofficially here in Montreal and the flowers are budding, the trees are green, and the usual crazies are hitting the streets.

Montreal is hitting the news these days because of its student strike. The strike started in February, a response to a new law imposing higher tuition of $325/year over 5 years (ie. $1,625 total increase over that period). Not unreasonable some would say considering Quebec has had the lowest tuition in Canada (the reason I came to Montreal myself). Quebec has long subsidized the cost of education with 1) the highest tax rates in the country and 2) equalization payments from the rest of the country. Considering these facts and the new belt tightening across the board (including Unemployment Insurance) it seemed reasonable that tuition rates, which have been frozen at current levels since 1994, would go up.

Instead, about 1/3 of the province’s students went on strike. Some student leaders have even demanded that education should be free. As the strike has gone on it has become louder, bigger, and more violent. The Charest government replied with Bill 78, an emergency law aimed at limiting freedom to protest. This has totally backfired and the usual suspects have climbed on the student bandwagon; the unions, sovereignists, anarchists, communists. The Parti Quebecois (the main opposition party) has of course jumped right in there. It has become the usual circus that only Quebec seems capable of.

Why they march:

Key student leader – why pay for anything? That’s for other people.

The view from outside the province – yikes!

More balanced reporting from one of Quebec’s best journalists;

It’s a mess and the average Montrealer is pissed off with both sides; the government for totally screwing up negotiations, and the students for 1) being unreasonable and 2) bullying, vandalism, and just general fuckery. The people are on the side of the government because of this alone. One could argue that both sides deserve each other. In the meantime, it promises to be a long summer for the average Montrealer.

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Montreal, March 21 2012 – 25C!

March 22nd, 2012

March 21, 2012 – I had to post this, it will probably never happen again in my lifetime. Montreal in March is usually covered by ice and snow. I’m usually playing outdoor hockey. The previous high for a March 21 was set in 1945. Yesterday hit 25C! These are pictures of Park Lafontaine where everything is melting after a week of warm temperatures. Weather cooling off in the next few days but 14 day forecast has no days below 0C which is amazing.

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Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

February 23rd, 2012

January 10, 2012 – Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

Anyone who’s followed my blog knows that we haven’t been crazy about Costa Rica. Santa Teresa ended up being the one place in Costa Rica that we loved!

First of all, Santa Teresa itself isn’t much of anything. It’s a dirty little town built up along a horrible dirt road. Because of the dryness of this area, a wave of dust bellows up whenever a car goes by, covering the plants and stores on both sides of the road with a layer of dust. Motorcyclists (a lot of people on motorcycles or ATVs here) wear bandanas to cover their faces. It amazed us that they couldn’t tar a road cutting right through town, yet, a couple of kilometers away in the middle of nowhere, the road is tarred. Walking in Santa Teresa, anyone walking has to contend with both the dust plus the lack of sidewalks. Costa Rica is not the place to walk anywhere. Access to the beach is along little dirt paths from the main road. Santa Teresa is in fact another dirty Costa Rican beach town.

Still we loved Santa Teresa. For one, the nature is beautiful. We flew in from La Fortuna (via San Jose) and saw the rolling hills and rocky shoreline and thought that this area had the most spectacular geography that we had seen to date in Costa Rica. Sunsets were spectacular and different in some way every night. The weather was hot and dry, unlike the wet and humid that we had encountered in La Fortuna. But the main reason we loved Santa Teresa was because of the hotel/yoga center we stayed at. Yup, yoga center – I know I can expect some snide comments from friends on that…

We stayed at the Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center on a small hill looking down over Santa Teresa and the beach. I had booked this place for Lissette – she’s always enjoyed yoga but never has enough time. I’ve never done yoga but figured I’d give it a shot.

Below: The iguana that hung out on our roof.

Horizon gets a perfect 5 out of 5 from me.

The hotel has about 10 villas and cabins spread out over a lush, green property. The cabins are modern, comfortable, and completely equipped. Each has a private balcony where you can sit and enjoy the sunset. I could stay there for that alone. The highlights of Horizon however are the yoga and the food.

Yoga: A beautiful yoga deck overlooking the coastline and wonderful yoga teachers. I was afraid to embarrass myself but each yoga teacher that we had over the course of 5 days was fabulously helpful and encouraging. Every morning at 9am we would go for yoga, the courses lasting 1 ½ hours. In the beginning I just wanted to survive but after the first class I actually started to enjoy it. It got the circulation going and I would feel great the rest of the day. Another thing I never knew – there are a lot of really hot women who do yoga. I would suggest to any guy who wants to meet women to take up yoga.

Food: The owners (Yoav and Gali) serve the most wonderful food in their lovely “Tea House”. It’s all vegetarian, which made me nervous when I booked this place. But everything was incredibly delicious and we always looked forward to our fruit shakes after our morning yoga.

The hotel attracts a very international crowd and while we were there we met Italians, Israelis, and some Swiss. The hotel has an ambiance that makes it easy to mingle with others. Maybe it’s because of the yoga. Many of the guests were repeat customers.

We actually wanted to prolong our stay because we enjoyed it so much. The only thing I would suggest to Yoav and Gali is that they don’t change anything.

Below: Santa Teresa is a very popular surfing spot.

Below: This dog came out of nowhere to say hi. He took a liking to Lissette and just sat there on her feet for 10 minutes. Little things like that sometimes really make your day.

Santa Teresa was our last stop on this trip and we actually left Costa Rica on a sad note. We didn’t think much of Costa Rica overall but wish we could have stayed a bit longer at our last destination.

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La Fortuna – Costa Rica

February 15th, 2012

Jan 3, 2012 – Arenal volcano, La Fortuna area.

After 10 days of mostly relaxing, the Arenal volcano area was where we were going to be active and adventurous. We had a lot of things on the agenda; ziplining, the hanging bridges, an animal conservation center, hot springs, hikes around the volcano.

Things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped.

Firstly; it never stopped raining during the first 3 days at Arenal. I was also guilty of bad planning; we stayed at Leaves and Lizards which is the No. 1 rated hotel in the La Fortuna area. I never realized however that the hotel was off the main road and how long & expensive it would be to get off site for activities. This seemed to be a common theme in Costa Rica.

We found out on the first full day; Debbie at Leaves and Lizards (L&L) had arranged for a driver to take us to 1) the Proyecto Asis animal rehabilitation center in the morning and 2) to Eco-Thermales hot springs in the afternoon. Proyecto Asis was a 45 minute drive away and cost between the two of us $90 for a 3 hour tour/volunteering (in which we prepared and fed a few animals; spider and capuchin monkeys, parrots, a macaw, some raccoons and a coati). We then went to the hot springs where we relaxed in the water, had a few pina coladas and had lunch. When the bill came the sum was for $120 for about 3 hours. The arrangements for the driver came out to $70 for the day. Adding it up, we had spent $280 that day. We both found that to be a LOT of money for what we got; both Proyecto Asis and Eco-Thermales were a disappointment. And these are the No. 1 and No. 4 activities in La Fortuna according to Trip Advisor. I had read some people say that the La Fortuna area was overly commercialized; but that experience honestly popped our balloon. We were on vacation for a month – why pay that kind of money for a disappointing experience when we can get better value elsewhere? I had other activities planned for our next destination and I figured we’d get much better value for money (which we did).

Below: Proyecto Asis animal rehabilitation center

Below: Eco Thermales hot springs

A few things; In Costa Rica nothing is as close as it seems. You look at a map and the scale of it and you think something might be 10 minutes to get to. Wrong. The roads are winding and in horrible shape. I would recommend that anyone coming to Arenal (or Costa Rica in general) rent a 4*4. We’ve travelled to many countries without a car but Costa Rica is the one place we have travelled where we feel it is essential. Transport is also incredibly expensive; taxis here cost more than in Manhattan! I don’t think any of the guide books adequately prepares you for this.

We therefore decided to forget about our other planned tours; ziplinning (which we can do anywhere), hanging bridges (which some people have told us is a disappointment), and hiking around the volcano (again, getting there would most likely be really expensive).

We decided to stick to the large grounds of the hotel where we were staying.

Which leads me to my review of Leaves and Lizards.

L&L is on a large property looking out towards the volcano. Very nice views. It is not a “hotel”; the large property has its own farm, stables for its horses, a central dining area, along with 8 villas well spaced out and private.

The villas are spacious – some people have called them “rustic”. I think they are a step above that; very comfortable with most of the amenities that one needs in a somewhat remote villa (a small fridge, microwave, coffee machine, safe, wifi). They are definitely not romantic, but they are comfortable and we enjoyed the room. Each volcano has a spacious outdoor seating area looking out over the volcano. The nightly rate is $150.

Dining. Food and beverages not included in the above rate. There are set times for meals; breakfast from 7-9, dinner at 7pm. At dinner, all the tables are put next to each other into a community longtable. A good way to talk to people next to you if that is what you want (note that most of L&L’s customers are American – I’m not saying that in a bad way, I’m just saying that if you’re hoping to meet diverse people from varying places you’ll be out of luck). Breakfast is a set meal, at dinner you have 3 eating options. Breakfast was our favorite meal, the dining area is a great place to watch the birds going to the birdfeeders.

Free activities: milking cows or picking up chicken’s eggs at 7 am, free hour-long hike at 6:15 am by an onsite guide. You can do some walks on some trails around the large property as well.

Leaves and Lizards offers to arrange many tours, many off site (like the ziplinning, hanging bridges etc). For these off site tours, you better have your own transport otherwise very expensive. For some, I’ve heard the rates are cheaper by booking directly. L&L also arranges a few on site tours including their own horse rides to a private waterfall. $75 per person which is reasonable and everyone who’s done it seemed to have loved it.

The above gives you a good general description of L&L. Overall, I think the owners try to appeal to families and I can see that if you have kids (and your own transport) that Leaves and Lizards might be a good value as well as being fun for the kids because of the farm and farm animals. Couples might not appreciate it as much and might not think that they get the same value for their money.

Particulars that we liked/didn’t like;

• Dining area a good 5-10 minute walk from the villa along a rocky, hilly, pot-holed road in the dark. The rocks on the road are the size of baseballs. That got old real fast and honestly dinner was not worth it. Where’s Taco Bell when you need it? What they don’t tell you is that you can have it brought to you in your cabin – after one of the girls told us we ended up doing that 3 out of the 7 nights. We noticed most people seemed to drive to the dining area.
• Breakfast was good. We were not impressed with dinners – food overall starchy, salty, a bit bland. A common theme is stuffing things into something else; Stuffed tomato, stuffed Chicken, etc…I wish restaurants in foreign places stuck to cooking local cuisine.
• The ladies in the dining area are very nice, nicest Costa Ricans we’ve met on this trip.
• I’ve mentioned this on a review of another place; A pet peeve is when you get nickel and dimed on the little things like beer, wine etc. In the other review I commended them for not doing that. At Leaves and Lizards you get nickel and dimed; $4 for a can of beer? $35 for a bottle of wine? I don’t like that.


Debbie was incredibly nice with us the first day, introducing Lissette to a horse and giving her horse lessons. Lissette still talks about it. Of course the hope was that we would sign up for the horse tour to the waterfall (which we almost did) – but she didn’t have to do that and it was extremely appreciated. L&L also seems to be involved in helping disabled local kids through a therapeutic horseback riding program and Debbie told us a few stories that were inspirational. Meeting the horses, seeing how they were cared for, and hearing about people’s rides to the waterfall was a learning experience. I really recommend doing the horse tour in support of their endeavors.

Having said that, Debbie is bit pushy to book you on a tour. We had mentioned in the beginning that we were thinking of getting a guide for a private hike on the volcano – at breakfast on our 3rd day she suddenly told us that we had a guide that day. We said no, we had never discussed specifics. The same happened to another couple, they found out first thing that morning that Debbie had booked them with a guide – they weren’t happy about it at all about it but went along with it. I mentioned our Proyecto Asis/Eco-Thermales tour which really disappointed us. We ended up spending most of our time at L&L in the villa; reading and playing scrabble on our balcony while enjoying the view.

Overall, we give Leaves and Lizards a rating of 3 out of 5. As mentioned, if you had your own transport and came here as a family you would most likely appreciate this place much more than we did.


We flew Quepos – La Fortuna with NatureAir. It takes 30 minutes and is a beautiful but very bumpy ride!

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