Packing for South America

So I've started preparing for my one-month trip to South America and here's what I've currently got on the list of things to bring along:

- Money Belt
- Money Leg Stash
- Whistle (when I get separated from my friends)
- Headlamp (for hands-free accessibility in the dark)
- Keychain LED Lights (when a headlamp would be overkill)
- Sunglasses
- Second Pair of Eyeglasses (just in case)
- Lens Cleaning Cloth
- Rechargeable Batteries (AA and AAA)
- Camera
- Camera Memory Cards and Accessories
- Battery Chargers (so I can charge multiple sets at the same time)
- Joby Camera Tripod
- Power Plug Adapter (for Bolivia)
- Silica Gel Packs (to theoretically suck up moisture in the camera bag)
- Mosquito Head Net (just in case the bugs start driving me insane)
- Hooded Poncho (in case there's an unexpected deluge and I don't have my raingear handy)
- Stretch Utility Straps (so snakes don't go up my legs)
- Elastic bands
- Digital Watch
- Combination Locks (one to lock belongings left behind at the base hostel and another one for the road)
- Spanish Phrase Book
- Medic Alert Neck Chain (with English / Spanish notices of my penicillin allergy)
- Emergency Blanket (just in case it's freezing cold at night in the desert)
- Water Bottles (1.5L and 1L)
- Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets (100 1L tablets)
- Pocket Knife  
- Swiss Army Knife 
- Carabiners (to hang stuff off my pack)
- Plastic Fork
- Plastic Spork
- Plastic Knife
- Plastic Spoon
- Duct Tape
- Clothesline (a.k.a. grass trimmer line)
- Ear Plugs (for noisy hostels and buses)
- Stereo Earbuds (to listen to movies on the plane)
- Twist-ties (to tie together zippers to make pack accessibility a tiny bit more difficult to curious fingers)
- Compressible Pillow (my luxury item)
- Fast-Drying Towel
- Facecloth
- Bandanas (serve multiple uses)
- Clif Builder's Protein Bars and Granola Bars (to keep me energized during the long flight and airport stayover)
- Sealable Plastic Containers (2)
- Thick Needle and Strong Thread (in case a pack needs to be stitched back up)
- Sunscreen (Scent-free SPF 60 and SPF 50)
- Don't Bite Me Patches
- Watkins Insect Repellent Lotion (28.5% DEET; in case the patches don't work) 
- Extra Soft Moleskin Padding Roll (to keep blisters away)
- Q-tips
- Kleenex
- Toilet Paper (1 Roll for the Amazon as suggested by the tour operator)
- Sanitizing Wipes
- Hand Sanitizer
- Disposable Razor (in case my beard starts driving me crazy)
- Antiperspirant
- Bodywash
- Toothbrush
- Toothpaste
- Tooth Floss
- SPF 15 Lip Balm
- Zip Lock Bags
- Plastic Shopping Bags
- Laundry Bag
- Notebook
- Pens / Pencils
- Backpack (70L)
- Raincover / Airport Bag (to protect my pack from airport conveyor belts)
- Small Backpack (for day-trips)

Medical Kit:
- 1 Glove
- 2 Gauze Bandages (7.5cm x 5m)
- 12 Sterile Non-woven Pads (5cm x 5cm)
- Waterproof Adhesive Tape
- 6 Blister Cushions
- 10 Heavy-Duty Fabric Band-Aids
- 10 Large Water Block Plus Band-Aids
- 15 Finger-Care Tough-Strips Band-Aids
- 20 Waterproof Adhesive Bandages
- 1 Fabric Bandage Wrap
- 1 Tube of Polysporin Complete (30g)
- Polysporin Eye and Ear Drops (10mL)
- New-Skin Liquid Bandage (10mL)
- AfterBite (14mL)
- Scissors
- Cuticle Scissors
- Pointed Tip Tweezers
- Tweezers
- Benadryl Allergy Elixir (100mL)
- Imodium Quick-Dissolve Loperamide Hydrochloride Tablets (20 tablets) for rapid relief of diarrhea
- Extra Strength Acetaminophen (20 gelcaps) to rapidly relieve headaches, fever and pain
- Extra Strength Allergy Sinus Medication (24 caplets) to relieve runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, sinus pain and pressure
- Extra Strength Cough, Cold and Flu Daytime Non-Drowsy (10 caplets)
- Extra Strength Cough, Cold and Flu Nighttime (10 caplets)
- Extra-Strength, Non-Drowsy Reactine for 24 hour allergy relief
- Prescriptions

And this is what most of it looks like before it's all packed...

Besides the obvious clothing, footwear, tickets, passport stuff, what did I forget?


One of the perks of my job is the occasional opportunity to travel for business.  On this occasion, I was off to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 

Not only was it my first visit to the East Coast but it was also my first time flying on Porter Airlines and WestJet, and I must say that both airlines know how to treat their customers right.  Flying out of Ottawa, Porter has its own airport lounge where you can chill before your flight while enjoying their free Scottish snacks, soft drinks, coffee, and spring water.  The seating area isn't much better than those found in the terminal boarding area but nevertheless, the gesture is much appreciated.  The on-board snack consisted of a fruit salad (with blueberries, pineapple, and mango, if I recall correctly), along with a Nutri-Grain bar and a Scottish cookie.  Pretty good for a 1h45min flight!  While WestJet did not offer as extravagant of a snack, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of available legroom and the friendly staff.

Anyways, back to talking about Halifax. If you're looking to hang out at local pubs with friends then I can see as being the place for you as the city has more than its share of restaurants and bars that have a reputation of hosting some great times especially during the university session and main tourism season. Unfortunately, I did not witness these wild parties as weekdays in early May are not exactly party-friendly times but I heard many stories about them.  Despite it being a bit of a dud, the Halifax Police paddy-wagon was spotted numerous times during the evenings circling the downtown streets, deterring would-be drunks from having a little too much fun.

I was a bit disappointed by the Boardwalk along the Harbour.  I can't say exactly why this was the case, perhaps it was once again the time of year, but nevertheless, I expected more.

Another disappointment was the Halifax Citadel but once again, I'm sure there are more activities and re-enactments during the summer tourist season that would bring this fortress to life.

Spring Garden Road appears to be the place to go after-hours as it has a nice mixture of restaurants and stores that makes it a bustling street day and night.  You will also find the pleasant Public Gardens up to the Road.

So to summarize, Halifax is a pleasant city where East Coast heritage meets the 'big' city.  With its fair share of pubs and restaurants, Halifax serves as a nice place to hang out with friends over a meal and drinks but as a city to solely take in the sights, more than a day would be overkill in my books.  That being said, Nova Scotia is definitely not a total write-off.  If you time to spare, you might want consider driving east to Cape Breton Island, like I did after the business-side of my trip ended, to experience another side of the Nova Scotia scene.

Good Night Budapest

Just like Vienna, Budapest illuminates its famous buildings to provide a refreshing look of the city at night. If you're planning on taking photos of the city at sunset, Castle Hill is the place to go.

While snapping photos atop Castle Hill, I was surprised that there weren't many people taking advantage of the warm autumn evening to stroll around Castle Hill so quite honestly, I was a bit worried about the thought of walking back down the pathway through the dark, forested hill by myself. But no worries, I came back safely without any hassles, not even seeing a single person along the pathway, and am able to present these evening photos of Budapest.
Now I must admit that I was disappointed that the Parliament Building was not lit to its full potential so Budapest folks, I hope you're listening, light it up!

There's a lot more I did in Budapest but since time is limited, I'll just summarize by saying that Budapest is a worthwhile visit for a couple of days on your next European trip. In my opinion, the hype surrounding Budapest is a bit over done, as this city is still struggling to find its true identity in its post-Communist era, both physically and emotionally, as it tries to play catch up to the capitalistic world we live in today. The city could also be cleaner as there were several instances in which I wondered how such filthy conditions could be tolerated by its residents.  That being said, I would be interested in going back to Budapest in about ten years' time (or another major economic boom cycle) to see if the rise of Hungary's new generation has made any difference in the city's culture and stature as Budapest can definitely regain its prominence as a world-class tourist city with the right attitude and financial support.

Chillin' in Budapest

I read that Budapest has a number of large modern shopping malls so since it was so close to my hostel and was attached to the nearest subway, I decided to check out the West End City Center. It was a very large mall and so were the prices.  Back at the hostel, the Americans mentioned that prices were amazingly cheap in Budapest.  Well, I don't know about that.  Compared to prices back in Canada, the mall's prices were roughly equivalent to those found in Canada but as you hit the touristy areas of town, prices skyrocketed to three or four times the prices found in Canada. Food at grocery stores was also pretty much the same as those found in Canada so I never did find those amazing deals and unfortunately, did not have a chance to ask the Americans as they were around the next night.

When it comes to food, there is no better place to go in Budapest than the Központi Vásárcsarnok (Central Market).  From fresh fruits and vegetables to tender meats to dried mushrooms and peppers to prepared foods, this place has it all and it's huge!

And what would be a visit to Budapest without visiting one of its renowned thermal baths like the Széchenyi Baths...

With a multitude of pools to choose from, inside and out, with a variety of temperatures from frigid cold to super hot and the dry and steam saunas to the "river current" whirlpool, you can easily spend an entire day here.

The Pest in Budapest

Just as in Buda, Pest has its fair share of buildings in ruins but I must say that there appears to be a concrete effort in restoring some of them to their former glory.  Case in point,  is this church near the shores of the Danube.
As you can see, the exterior could use a little bit of tendering love...
but don't worry, there's A guy working on it
and he's doing a good job!
There were also numerous newly restored buildings available for lease on top of the "h  andyman specials" on sale.  Hopefully, the economic downturn hasn't curtailed too much of the investment in restoring historical past.

But enough about that, a visit to Pest wouldn't be complete without a walk around the Hungarian Parliament Buildings 
or St. Stephen's Basilica, which plays a prominent role in Pest's skyline. 
Here's a video of what you'll see inside...
and if you climb up the staircase,
and walk your way past the wine cafe and up some more stairs,
you'll have a great view of Budapest.

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