February 2, 2015

Humans of Cambodia

By Noemi Gamel
2 Sinath

 

Cambodia has carved a special place in my heart. Its raw nature, resilience, and warmth remind me of Bolivia. We have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the people during our time in Cambodia, and we want to share their unique stories with you.

Mao was our tuk tuk driver for four days while we were in Siem Reap. We met him when he drove us from the bus station to our homestay and offered to be our driver for the rest of our stay. He was a soft-spoken young man who was kind, helpful, and patient with us. He joined us for lunch one day and shared his story. Mao is the youngest of seven children. He is 32 years old and has been a tuk tuk driver for 15 years. He left school at age 16 years because his family was very poor and he needed to work to help them survive. He spoke English well, and he said he learned it from working with the tourists. He never had any formal English lessons.

Sinath was our guide at the War Museum Cambodia in Siem Reap. Like many stories in Cambodia, Sinath’s is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Sinath went out to find food for his starving family one day when he was 9 years old. When he returned to his village, his entire family (both parents, 2 brothers, and 1 sister) had all been killed by the Khmer Rouge. He lived on the streets on his own for four years until he finally joined the Khmer Rouge with other child soldiers.

Sinath said he joined Pol Pot’s regime in exchange for food and clothing because he was starving on the streets. He says the Khmer Rouge recruited children as soldiers because they were easier to brainwash. In 1979, Sinath joined the Cambodian Army to fight the Khmer Rouge. He fought to liberate Cambodia from the regime responsible for the horrific genocide until 1988, when he lost his right leg to a landmine. Sinath was wounded 10 separate times but miraculously survived. He has been working as a guide at the War Museum to preserve the memory of all his friends and family who have died because of the war. Listening to Sinath tell his story brought tears to my eyes.

Rithy was our landlord in Phnom Phen. He is a multi-lingual engineer with a highly entrepreneurial spirit. He designed the beautiful apartment we rented from him as well as the restaurant he owns and runs with his chef wife. We loved talking to him and his kids, who lived in the apartment below us. They were friendly and proud of how far Cambodia has come in such a short time.

Cambodia has endured some extreme hardships over the past few decades. Despite these hardships, it is a country full of amazing, warm people.  We were happy to meet some of them and to learn the details of their stories.

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January 26, 2015

The Temples of Angkor

Angkor-1By Noemi Gamel

There is something about temples that draws us to them, no matter what our religious or spiritual stance. We spent two day visiting the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We liked some of them so much we visited them twice, such as Angkor Wat (the centerpiece of all the structures) and Ta Prohm (the jungle temple)

Angkor Wat is the best known temple in Cambodia. It is even featured on the Cambodian flag. We learned that Angkor Wat was built in a swift 38 years by the power of one million people and 4,000 elephants. We spent two hours walking through the causeways, open rooms, shrines, and stairways. We were humbled to find that some of the visitors were not simply there to admire the architecture or take in the historical value: they were there to worship. They burned incense and kneeled before the Buddhas in reverence. While I will not pretend that I understand the features or history of Buddhism, I appreciate its beauty and simplicity.

Ta Prohm was one of my favorite temples. It is over 900 years old and has been partly reclaimed by the surrounding jungle. Seeing the trees breaking the stone and intertwine themselves as part of the temple’s architecture is like looking into a time capsule.
I think we learn a lot about a culture when you look at its history and architecture. You learn what they cherish the most. Visiting the temples of Angkor was like peeking in the window of Cambodian culture.

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January 19, 2015

Thai Cooking Class

By Noemi Gamel

Thai Cooking-3One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its food. While simply eating the cuisine is fun, learning to cook local foods allows you to take the cultural experience to a higher level.

While in Bangkok, we took a Thai cooking class. At first, I was concerned that Tristan, who is eight years old and only recently learned how to work the toaster, would be bored or hesitant to participate. I was wrong. Kara and Tristan not only had a blast during the class, they completed all the activities without help.

Our instructor, Koong, was fun and had a knack for engaging all the participants, including Kara and Tristan, who happened to be the only children in the class. We started by visiting the fresh market to learn about the types of ingredients that are essential in Thai cooking. We then walked to the school, where we prepared five dishes: Tom Yum soup, pad Thai, a green curry dish, chicken or tofu salad, and mango with sticky rice. We were able to do so much because the staff had the ingredients already chopped and prepared, so all we had to do was the “fun” part of mixing and cooking everything together.

Learning to cook local cuisine is a window into some of the cultural color. For example, we learned from Koong that Thai brides-to-be impress their future mother-in-law by vigorously pounding the curry paste with the mortar and pestle. If the bride does not hit the pestle hard against the mortar, this is a sign she is lazy. Take note, ladies! She also said that Thai cooking is influenced by Chinese and Indian cuisines, which is an insight to its crossroads location both geographically and culturally.

We returned to our apartment with stuffed bellies and a cookbook of all the recipes we prepared. I cannot wait to get home to try my hand at Thai cooking.

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January 12, 2015

New Zealand: We Visited Hobbiton

By: Noemi Gamel

Hobbiton 2Before coming to New Zealand, I was secretly ashamed that I was most looking forward to visiting the Hobbiton movie set on the North Island. My shame diffused when I saw the safety video on the Air New Zealand, which featured a Middle-Earth theme complete with hobbits, dwarves, and promotional words by Frodo himself, Elijah Wood.

To further add to our excitement about visiting Middle Earth, I mean, New Zealand, we watched the third installment of the franchise The Hobbit in Queenstown. When we finally arrived for our tour of the Hobbiton movie sets, we could barely contain our excitement.

The kids took a picture with Gandalf and then we were taken by bus to the sets. It was truly a magical experience. The hobbit holes were delightfully detailed. We learned Peter Jackson’s secret of forced perspective to make the hobbits look small and Gandalf look tall. We saw different sections of the set where various scenes were filmed, including when Gandalf and Frodo first enter Hobbiton at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring; the scene of Bilbo’s party under the birthday tree, and the scene when young Bilbo in the first Hobbit movie runs through a field to catch up to the dwarves after changing his mind about going on the adventure.

I am a casual Tolkien fan. I read The Hobbit as a teenager, but I have not read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have watched all six of Peter Jackson’s films. Walking through the set made me appreciate the time, effort, and investment that the whole country put forth to make these films happen. No trip to New Zealand should go without a visit to Hobbiton

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January 5, 2015

New Zealand: Days of Old and New

 

By: Chris Gamel

Maori 1New Zealand has embraced the marriage of the two predominating cultures that make up its people: the Maori who arrived by boat approximately 1,000 years ago and the Europeans who arrived 600 years later. In order to experience both cultures, we visited a Maori village one evening and then spent the following morning at the Agrodome, a exhibitionary a sheep and beef farm.

We drove from Tauranga, the small town where we were renting a house, to Rotoroa, the stronghold for the Maori people on the North Island. From the information center, we were taken by bus to the Tamaki Maori village about thirty minutes away. We picked the company because it is owned and operated by Maori people. The tour essentially mimicks the process of one tribe (the tourists) visiting a traditional Maori tribe in their village, beginning with the startling challenge of peace, the sharing of unique cultural elements, a performance of traditional songs and dances, and ending with a delicious traditional Maori dinner of “hangi”, which is essentially meat and vegetables steam cooked in an underground pit. The experience was both educational and respectful of the Maori culture.

The following day, we returned to Rotoroa to spend the morning at a working sheep, beef, and agricultural farm that is open to tours. We watched a sheep show where they introduced us to the nineteen types of sheep found throughout the world and culminated with a sheep sheering demonstration. We also briefly saw a sheepdog at work, herding and managing a group of sheep around a field. In addition, we received a tour of the farm where we saw the paddocks housing sheep, cattle, alpacas, and deer, and we saw the orchards of kiwi fruits, olives, and manuka. To further highlight the continued marriage of the old and “new” cultures in New Zealand, we were surprised to learn that the Agrodome had actually been bought by a Maori family two years ago.

While New Zealand is known for hobbits and high-adrenaline  adventure travel, it is also a mecca of cultural experiences. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, make sure you take the time to learn about the Maori and the European cultures that make up its people.

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December 29, 2014

The Freedom of Driving

By: Noemi Gamel

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During the 5 months that we traveled in South America, we made use of public transport in many of the cities we visited. We also walked a whole lot. In New Zealand, where we were planning on going to many different places that were quite far, we decided to rent a car. Doing so has opened up a completely new world of possibilities.

When we were bound to walking and public transport, our world was small. We went to shops, restaurants, and sights that were within walking distance of the apartment or hostel where we were staying. Every once in a while we would take a bus or taxi somewhere further away, but for the most part, we stayed within a confined perimeter. When I booked accommodations, I always asked if there were restaurants, a grocery store, bakery, and laundry service within walking distance.

Now that we have a car, our world has expanded. It doesn’t matter if our accommodation is farther from the town center or even in the outskirts, because we can easily drive to town for eating, shopping, or sight seeing. We can also buy groceries in larger amounts, because transporting them from one place to another is easy. You can’t exactly do that when you are traveling by public bus. We can try restaurants that are farther away from us. We have more options regarding the sights we visit.

The other difference I noticed is the way we take in the views. When we traveled by bus, I felt like I needed to entertain myself to pass the time, whether by watching a movie on the iPAD or reading (if the road was not to windy). Now that we are driving, I don’t feel the need to pass the time doing anything else other than enjoying the view outside the window. I think it’s because we are spending time as a family in the car, and we feel more inclined to spend time together. On a bus, you feel more isolated and you don’t want to talk so as to not disturb the other passengers.

Having a car has given us other freedoms too. If we want to stop to admire a view or take photos of wildflowers on the side of the road, we can do that. We have done both. In fact, each of the images accompanying this blog post were taken because of opportunities presented by driving.

When we return to the US, I am committed to taking more road trips. The road to freedom is wide open.

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December 22, 2014

Sometimes It’s OK To Splurge And Do Nothing


By: Noemi Gamel

Long-term travel is not always glamorous. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, or as if I am complaining about this wonderful opportunity to travel around the world for one year, but the fact is that traveling constantly gets tiresome sometimes. We have no structured routine. Each time we arrive somewhere new we have to figure out where to buy groceries, where to do laundry, how to use public transportation, and I need to learn how to find my way around the kitchen. When you are on a long-term travel adventure, especially when on a budget, taking time to do nothing but rest and relax is essential in order to give yourself a respite from the stress of travel.

Fortunately, we found a way to do just that. We decided to split our flight between Easter Island and New Zealand with a one-week stop in Moorea, French Polynesia. It was a rough decision, but someone has to do it!

We spent the first three days in a cabin away from the tourist area, but then splurged for four nights in an overwater bungalow at one of the resorts in Moorea. We spent the week doing nothing but resting on the beach or by the pool. Beautiful sunsets, breathtaking vistas, and bright fish among the coral were our entertainment. We totally blew our budget, but we did not regret it. Of course, when you are on a long-term trip, only you can make decisions about your budget, but honestly, but sometimes you need to give yourself the wiggle room for one splurging adventure

 

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December 16, 2014

GLOBAL HOLIDAYS!


By Rodica Woodbury 

For many of us, treasured holiday celebrations extend beyond the borders of our home. They can take the form of a fragrant, tasty dish that originated in a kitchen in a faraway land … or of a festive decoration that has delighted generations of family members. No matter which holiday we celebrate, or how, our family rituals remind us that we share a global connection and that the traditions we honor at home are the real gifts of the season.

Here are a few favorite holiday traditions of our staff at Thomson Family Adventures.

(Visit our Facebook page and tell us about yours!)

 

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CLAUDIA– It wouldn’t be Christmas morning at the Dunn household without a glass of Smithwick’s, an Irish red ale style beer from Kilkenny, Ireland, in hand while opening presents. The tradition came about once my sister and I came of age and when my Father replaced the egg nog with Smithwick’s delivered by Santa himself. Then, once the presents are opened and we’re feeling jolly, we retreat to the dining room table for a steaming bowl of Mexican pork posole (po-SO-lay), a spicy pork/hominy stew that is known as a ceremonial dish for celebrating life’s blessings made by my mother. Christmas morning is a true representation of my background and the blend of two different cultures coming together to satiate us!

GRACEOne of my favorite family traditions is making old fashioned hard candy in the forms of drops, candy canes, and lollipops. All the recipes, equipment, and hands-on knowledge has been passed down from my great-great grandfather, who opened a candy shop in Crystal Beach, Ontario in the 1860s when he moved to Canada from England. The 16-inch copper pot, marble slabs, candy-pulling hook and “drop-chopper” are all original from his shop, and now located in my grandfather’s basement. In December, you can always tell which flavor is being made by the delicious smells throughout the house: citrus, mints, and licorices!

JIM – My wife and I have blended a few Christmas traditions over the years, and now my kids consider them etched in stone! Although I can’t really trace their origin back to a specific place, I do know that they have been passed down through at least a few generations. Every year my wife makes block Christmas cards to send to friends and family, creating a new design for that year. She carves the design into linoleum blocks, rolls paint over the design, and “stamps” card stock to make the cards. The card production can be seen on a clothes drying rack in the den and sometimes on the basement clothes line! It’s a labor of love that we thoroughly enjoy and I think people enjoy receiving as well.  Also, our Christmas morning breakfast tradition is cinnamon rolls with baked egg cups (recipe below). Very very yummy! We usually open our presents and eat afterwards. Our kids look forward to this breakfast every year!

SARAH – Christmas always makes me think of two things: making cookies and Stollen bread (the good fruit cake!). A week or so before Christmas, we would help mom make sugar cookies, ladyfingers, and chocolate spritz log cookies dipped in chocolate and walnuts. Decorating the sugar cookies was always the best; trying to figure out what visuals would make each other laugh. It was always a challenge to keep the cookies and bread around long enough to make it to Christmas! I’m looking forward to creating equally delicious gluten free versions in the coming years.

ANDREW – I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii where the sun is usually warm and shining in December. I would grab my surfboard and walk down to Ewa Beach or head to Ala Amona Beach to join everyone else in the waves. Spending a few hours out in the ocean, riding the rollers under the big sky, made me feel relaxed and at peace, and grateful to be where I was on Christmas Day.

The Kackley Family Recipe for Baked Sausage Egg Cups

Take muffin pans and line the cup with ground sausage.  Make sure that the top forms a little lip to hold the egg in the muffin tin.  Place one egg in each cup. We usually use about 2 lbs and make around 10 eggs. I then bake the cups at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.  Check for preferred doneness. Enjoy!



December 15, 2014

Easter Island: Land of Mystery

By Noemi Gamel

Easter Island-1I have wanted to visit Easter Island for many years, and I admit that it is because of my fascination with anthropology. The significance of the statues known as moai was a complete mystery which intrigued me.

Traveling to this volcanic island, one of the most remote places on earth, has emphasized to me that traveling makes places that are exotic, familiar. After visiting the museum and the Rapa Nui National Park, I understand the significance of the moai as tributes to the family heads of the Rapa Nui people. I understand the strength, time, and effort it took to carve the maoi from the rock quarry in the hills and bring them down to the beach to stand watch over the land. I understand the importance of these statues to the local Chileans as they continue to bring hundreds of visitors each day to support the local economy.

We hiked within the quarry in Rano Raraku Volcano and basked in the sun in the beach of Anakena. We witnessed the stunning views from Orongo, from which the Rapa Nui men would compete in the Bird-Man Ritual. In this competition, the men would climb down the treacherous cliffs, swim 1,400 meters to the neighboring island of Moto Nui, where one man would bring back the first egg of the sooty tern. Sometimes, they would have to wait for weeks before they found an egg. The victor would be declared king for one year.

I am leaving Easter Island much less ignorant about this land of mystery than I was before visiting it. Though some of the sense of mystery may be gone after learning more about the place, my appreciation for it has not dissipated.  In fact, it has increased. Easter Island is beautiful. I learned a lot about it and I am grateful to be able to visit this “bucket list” destination.

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December 8, 2014

Bariloche: Chocolate and Vistas

Bariloche-2While we have enjoyed every place we have visited during our round the world trip, Bariloche, Argentina currently holds the favorite spot in our hearts. Not only was it a beautiful, clean city with charming architecture and breathtaking, panoramic views, it is also a chocolate lover’s haven.

Bariloche is one of those places where you can do nothing or do everything. There are ample hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and mountain biking opportunities amongst the trails in the mountain forest and around the lakes. One of our favorite hikes was around Cerro Otto, where we took a cable car up to the mountain. We also hiked the trails around Hotel Llao Llao, which also offered stunning views.

I have to admit, my favorite part of Bariloche was the chocolate. A group of Swiss families came to Bariloche many generations ago, and they brought their chocolate recipes with them. Some of the chocolate shops that line the streets of Bariloche have been around for seventy years. They have spent that time perfecting their chocolate recipes and the results are evident upon first taste. We ate chocolate every day while we were in Bariloche. Sometimes we ate it in the form of a dessert, other times as a truffle, or in a drink. Even though the city has so many activities to offer the adventure-seeking traveler, my favorite thing to do was to go to a coffee shop to eat chocolate and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Bariloche, and Argentina in general, left me a feeling of wanting more. I want to come back and explore the country further. Chris and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of traveling in Argentina, and we both want to visit Bariloche again some day. No other country we have visited so far has had this pulling effect on us. It may have been the amazing vistas…or it may have been the chocolate.

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