Anyone who's been to Southeast Asia understands the draw of a night market.  It's where you'll find the best - and cheapest - local food. 
Ever since we returned from our trip to Southeast Asia three years ago, we've been trying to recreate the grilled fish we had at the Luang Prabang night market (anyone out there know the secret recipe??).  So, after a few failed attempts, I was really excited to hear that one of the local Asian supermarkets was hosting its own 4-day night market. 
Clearly, we weren't the only ones craving some authentic SE Asian street food, because the place was jam-packed.  While the ambience wasn't exactly reminiscent of the famous markets in Thailand or Taiwan (it was held in the supermarket parking lot, in a rather industrial part of town), the food certainly was.
The spicy noodles and squid balls brought us back to the excitement of experiencing our first night market in Cambodia.  We cautiously approached the first stall we saw and, after inhaling our bowl of delicious $1 noodles, we became night market converts. So it was a real treat to have even a little taste of SE Asia in our own backyard. And an even bigger treat to expose JR to some of those amazing flavours of our trip...even if he did prefer the taste of his own toes.
It seems that most of our vacations end up revolving around food, then when we return home we spend countless hours trying to recreate the newly discovered flavours.  We've nailed sticky toffee pudding and homemade pasta with cinghiale sauce, but those night market meals remain elusive...what vacation food do you crave?
 
I have an illness.  It's called OTD.  Obsessive Travel Disorder.  It's a very serious illness whereby the afflicted person cannot stop planning or thinking about travel: past, present and future.  Most days she can think of nothing else and finds it difficult to execute seemingly easy tasks such as:  the job she is actually paid to do, house cleaning, feeding her family and even sleep.

We haven't even been back from our trip to Southeast Asia a month and I'm already wondering where I'm going to get my next "hit"!  We have a few small trips planned to visit family, but my sights are locked on next summer when we're planning to take a few weeks to introduce our son to our friends in England and Italy.  I've even managed to sweet-talk some friends and family into joining us.  Because if there's something I love more than planning trips, it's planning trips for lots of people!  I just don't know how I'm going to make it through the next 372 days...
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Tuscany: Host of 1st OTD Group Therapy Session

Now, I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure the only known cure is. . . to travel.   Maybe all my fellow sufferers and I could plan a group therapy retreat...in Tuscany? Or Sydney? Perhaps we could hike the Cabot Trail and have a post-hike therapy session in a lakeside cabin?  Who's with me?

Here's to memories in the making...

 
When I think back to all the places I visited BB ("Before Baby"), and would love to re-visit with my son, South America tops the list.  It is rare to find a place with such beauty, tranquility, kindness and flavour!  My husband and I spent almost a month backpacking through Ecuador for our honeymoon and, even when I was stuck in a hut in the Amazon with the worst stomach flu I'd ever had, I still enjoyed every moment -- okay, maybe not every moment, but I don't hold a grudge against the Amazon and have even managed to make it into a funny and entertaining story.

In our guidebook was barely a passing mention of a lodge in the Amazon, called Liana Lodge, that turned out to be the highlight of our trip.  It was accessible only by water (after a 2-hour bus ride from the nearest town) and had no electricity.  But it was the perfect spot for us honeymooners.  The lodge had been created as a revenue source to help fund the animal rehabilitation centre the owners had built (called AmaZOOnico, open to guests of the lodge).  The construction of the lodge was very thoughtful: all the lumber used had been cut down by the government to build roads and no trees were cut down to build the huts and common areas - which means huts were built only where a natural clearing existed.  This gave each hut a real sense of privacy. 
We arrived in the middle of low season (late February), and the morning after we arrived all the other guests checked out, leaving just me and my husband to explore the jungle with our local Quechua guide by ourselves. A stay at Liana Lodge includes as many activities as you can cram in:  jungle tours (including some Tarzan vine-swinging), boat rides, AmaZOOnico visit, panning for gold, fishing, etc.

The day before we were supposed to leave, I became violently ill.  The kind owners used their single generator to run the blender to make me a jungle ginger cocktail to settle my stomach.  It tasted awful, but it worked.  We ended up staying a few days more so I could recuperate.  Our extended stay also scored us an invitation to a Quechua wedding of one the employees as they felt badly leaving us all alone.  All the old ladies ladling out the communal chicha (masticated, fermented yucca) had a great laugh at the tall gringo getting chunks of the "beer" in his goatee.  Fortunately, my stomach ailment allowed me a polite refusal of the drink. What an honour to be included in such a personal, intimate event.

We spent almost a week there and as we were boarding the canoe to go back to civilization, the resident monkey (whom I had christened "Manolo") bounded down the stairs to say goodbye.  Now I have my own little "monkey" and can't wait to introduce him to Manolo and all the wonders of the Amazon jungle.

Have you relived any of your "BB" travels?  How did it compare to your first visit?
 
Here's an oldie but a goodie from our trip to Costa Rica several years ago.  Reading this again made me want to run out and book another flight to Central America...it's a long one, but I didn't want to leave anything out -- hope you enjoy reading it too!

Sitting on the bus back to San Jose from Turrialba, I was trying to figure out what the strange feeling in my stomach was. It couldn’t be homesickness, my husband Bruce and I had only been in Costa Rica 3 days and we definitely weren’t anxious to return to the bitter weather that certainly awaited us in Toronto. I hadn’t overindulged on any soft cheeses or ceviche, so it wasn’t an upset stomach…

As I fought sleep, I realized it was a strange brew of regret and excitement. Regret that we couldn’t stay longer because we were meeting friends in Liberia two days from then and excitement because we had just done some incredible things and the rest of the trip promised to be equally exciting.

Turrialba, only an hour and a half bus ride east of San Jose, is a sort of kayaking mecca in Costa Rica. It’s a small town that offers easy access to some of Latin America’s best rivers. The names of these rivers are whispered with reverence by those in the know: Pacuare, Reventazon, Pejibaye.

We arrived in Turrialba late on a Tuesday night, nearing the end of rainy season, thinking it would be the perfect compromise between decent water levels and little tourist activity. One out of two ain’t bad, I guess. There weren’t too many gringos roaming around Turrialba, but it had been raining non-stop for days, making the rivers unrunnable and dangerous. Normally, hearing this sort of information after traveling for 12 hours and across 6 countries, would make any paddler dejected, to say the least. But in Costa Rica the Ticos (locals) have a saying: “Pura Vida”. It’s a catch-all phrase meaning everything from “You’re welcome” to “Relax, chill”, but mostly it means, “It’s all good”.

We had decided to paddle with a company called Costa Rica Rios. Someone had recommended them to my husband, and then when he met Stacey, one of CRR’s guides on the Ottawa earlier in the season, that clinched the deal. When we arrived at CRR, Skip, one of the three American owners, ran out to greet us and help us with our luggage. CRR is a full-service company offering guides, equipment, lodging and food. They have trips that offer mountain biking, surfing, hiking and canyoning, but their specialty is the rivers.
Once we’d settled into our modest, but spotless, room, Skip told us the bad news. There wouldn’t be any kayaking the following day, or anytime soon if it didn’t stop raining immediately. But we only had two days to kayak! All at once I was disappointed and relieved. Having just completed my first full season of kayaking I wasn’t even sure if I
was ready for the “big water” I’d heard about down here anyway. Skip offered an alternative: go canyoning tomorrow and check the levels over dinner. The waters rise quickly this time of year, but they drop equally quickly once the rain stops. Stacey and her team took my husband and I, plus two other stranded paddlers, canyoning the
following day. We rappelled down waterfalls, tried our hand at ziplining, survived a suspension bridge, had lunch at a local “soda” and followed it all up with a visit to a Serpentarium, where we learned how to run away from all the venomous snakes found in Costa Rica.

After an amazing meal, prepared by resident chef Flor, we relived the day’s events by looking at the pictures that Stacey had taken and evaluated the paddling situation. It was decided that the next morning we would skip the Pacaure and run the Pejibaye instead. Although we had our hearts set on the Pacaure, safety was foremost in our minds and the Pejibaye was certain to have some exciting moments because of its high level.

Another paddler joined us at the last minute because he wasn’t willing to offer himself as a human sacrifice to the Pacaure after 4 days of heavy rain. He knew his window for getting any paddling in at all during his stay was closing, so he jumped on the chance to run the Pejibaye with us. Three paddlers plus three guides was a pretty comfortable ratio for me. We had decided that Stacey and I would take the “Shredder” (a two man “cataraft”) instead of kayaks, in case the levels were too high for my comfort level.

It was on the Pejibaye where I finally understood what people meant when they said “there are no flatwater stretches, it’s rapid after rapid”. There really were no flatwater stretches and one rapid quickly crashed into the next. I thanked the gods above that I hadn’t put on any false bravery with my underwear that morning and tried to kayak the river. Just as I was getting the hang of the Shredder we stopped for lunch. Stacy, Skip and Crockett prepared a feast for us and I learned how to make “River Cheesecakes”. My trips down the river will never be the same. We packed up from lunch and headed to the top of the Pejibaye. As I was shoving my feet in the grips and muttering “pura vida” under my breath to calm myself, Stacey asked me if I was nervous. Was it my stunned
deer in headlights look that gave it away? There were some pretty wild moments on the Pejibaye that afternoon, but thanks to our expert guides, there were none that we couldn’t handle.

Two weeks later, as we were preparing to take-off for the journey home, Bruce and I were going over all the amazing moments of the past two weeks and agreed that our stay in Turrialba was definitely the highlight, and almost in unison, we asked each other, “Where next?!” Pura vida…
 
In my BB life (Before Baby), my husband and I were fairly adventurous travelers.  Well, adventurous in the eyes of our families, but my mom also thought I was 'adventurous' for riding the subway by myself. In University.  That said, we've done some pretty amazing things during our travels and now that we're traveling with our toddler, our trips are decidedly less adventurous - for the time being.  
So, in honour of my pre-parent life (Did I have such a thing?  Did I actually exist before JR was born?  Some days I wonder.  Perhaps its the sleep-deprived haze I walk around in that's affected my memory...), I dedicate Mondays to all those adventures I had that didn't involve a sippy cup.  Because what are Mondays for if not dreaming of escapes past and future?

FIrst