Photograph: Thirsty Coyote

Jasper, Alberta

This guy was one of three coyotes on a very important mission to cross the road and get to the other side.

And that’s all they did, just to get a drink of water.

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Photo of the Day – Me Next!

This was a great series of shots I was able to capture. Big horn sheep jumping back and forth across a small lake in Jasper, Alberta.

It was a bit nerve wracking watching a few weaker guys not make it and awkwardly splash around until they were able to touch the bottom of the lake.

Photo of the Week – Cub (not from Chicago)

I forgot about this photo I captured in Jasper, Alberta last summer.

A mother black bear and her 3 cubs kept peeking out of the bushes along Maligne Lake Road.

So cute!

Good reading ahead!

My sister pointed me to a very neat social cataloging site where you can, “see what your friends are reading. Keep track of what you’ve read and organize your books into virtual bookshelves. Join a book club to discuss your favorite novels…”. 

The site is called Goodreads and it’s actually quite neat. It managed to keep me distracted for a few minutes yesterday, and I was able to look at a long list of travel literature recommended books, after I rated a few books that I enjoyed from that genre.

The results left me drooling for some reads:

I also set a reading challenge for myself for 2012: 30 books (starting as of yesterday). Me thinks that’s quite do-able.

Very neat, and a very good way to waste some time, almost as good at wasting my time as Pinterest!

Happy reading!

Fantasy Friday – Lost in Laos

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I have heard so many amazing things about Laos in the past few years, ever since the country opened its doors to a large flow of tourists in 1999-2000.

The food, people and culture are all said to be unique and great.

Here’s my fantasy agenda:

1. Attapeu

It has a rich history dating back to the Lane Xang Kingdom in the 16th century, as evidenced by the ancient stupa That Sayasettha, which local people believe to house the remains of King Saysetthathirath.

Ther is an extensive river network which includes th XeKong, Xe Kaman and Xe Xou rivers. One can travel the Xe Kong River along the border of Cambodia and then up in the Xe Pian River with access to Xepian National Protected Area (NPA). so you can accessible by trekking or by boating.

2. Bokeo

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All tourist attractions around Huay Xai can be seen on foot within a day. Observe the view from the top of the Chinese-styled temple, Jom Khao Manilat, the most important local sacred place. It’s not to be missed and why not have a look at the stunning French-built Fort Carnot. Both sitesare located near the ferry crossing pier Huay Xai Chiang Kong.

Besides temples, markets, and other site attractions around the town, Huay Xai offers several interesting villages, where traditional ways of life can be observed and where you can learn how villagers earn their living. Sightseeing through villages in the city should take approximately half a day. Some of the hill-tribe villages can be found within walking distance and others can be reached with an open taxi or ‘songteaow’. Hill-tribe villages in Bokeo are rather traditional and more conservatyive than those found in northern Thailand. Visitors are suggested to see the Village Headman (or phuu nyai baan) before strolling around the villages.

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3. Bolikhamxay

Only an hour-drive from Vientiane, the small and peaceful village of Ban Na on the outside of Phou Khao Khouay offers guided trekking and a great opportunity to watch wild elephants from the safety of an observation tower. Finding numerous tracks and possibly getting a glimpse of these wonderful creatures will be an unforgettable experience!

In the mid nineties, a considerable part of Ban Na’s land has become ‘home’ of anelephant herd of more than 40 heads, victimizing the local farmers by frequently raiding their fields. The shifting of the elephant’s territory from the upper hills to the lowland has probably been caused by the planting of sugarcane or disturbances due to the construction of a reservoir for power generation several kilometres to the north.

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4. Champasak

One of the most visited provinces of Laos; Chamapsak has a population of around 50,000 and is formed by Pakse, the Bolaven Plateau, Paksong, Champasak and Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands). Bordering Thailand and Cambodia, Pakse sits at the confluence of the Mekong and is the province’s capital, as a result of the Lao-Japanese Bridge spanning the Mekong, the town has quickly grown as an area of trading importance and is a popular tourist destination.

The Mekong River flows past the ancient Khmer religious compound at Wat Phu Champsak, before dispersing at Four Thousand Islands, an area of utter tranquility. The Bolaven Plateau is renowned for its production of coffee, rattan, fruit and cardamom, while the vast number of wats (temples) across the terrain make for interesting viewing.

The Champasak cultural landscape, including the Wat Phu Temple compound, is a well-preserved planned landscape more than 1,000 years old. It was shaped to express the Hindu belief of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from mountain top to river bank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10 km.

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5. Luang Namtha

Famous for trekking and ecotourism opportunities in the Nam Ha National Protected Area and home to over 30 distinct ethnic groups, Luang Namtha is perhaps the most diverse province in the entire country. If you are interested in Trekking, forest camps, home-stay, hiking, kayaking, rafting, biking, mountain biking, boat tours through the villages of Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, Vieng Phoukha and Long makes you a partner in improving people’s lives and in preserving the wonders of the Nam Ha NPA.

6. Vientiane

The landscape in Vientiane Province varies from the flat, fertile alluvial plains of the Mekong River Valley to rugged limestone mountains in the northern and western part of the province. Outside of the main provincial towns the countryside is a beautiful, lush green mosaic of rice paddies, tropical fruit trees, and jungle vegetation dotted with quaint villages where traditional architecture and lifestyles can be seen.

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7. Vientiane Capital

That Luang, or the Great Stupa, in Vientiane is a national symbol (its image is on Laos’ official seal) and also the most sacred monument in the country. From the outside That Luang looks more like a fortress surrounded by high walls an it features two temples with the main stupa, the top of which is covered with gold leaf, standing 148 feet tall.

The beautiful architecture is in Lao style, influenced by Buddhist beliefs-these include finely-gilded, red-lacquer doors, pointed lesser stupas, many Buddha images and beautiful flower and animal images.

Thanks to the novel The Lost Girls and my friend Katie for inspiring this weeks Fantasy Friday. Come to think of it, Katie has been my inspiration two Friday’s in a row!

Conclusion: The Lost Girls

Last week, I mentioned that I was currently reading a travel novel called The Lost Girls. It was a great break from all the murder mysteries I have been reading lately, that’s for sure!

Overall, it was such an entertaining book. It left me giggling, reflecting, jealous, but mostly, it left me drooling.

Three good friends quit their jobs and spend an entire year traveling around the globe. They completed, “60,000 miles around the world, from the mountains and jungles of South America to the beaches of Australia, passing through Kenya, India, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand”.

Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner

The book was able to keep my interest and actually make me laugh out loud, which is a hard thing to do when by myself. It was divided into different sections for each lag of their trip, and by chapter, with the three girls rotating writing tasks.

My favorite of the three, or should I say – most relatable, was Holly. She always found a way to analyze her surroundings and get a real feel for the culture. Holly really seemed to appreciate each person she encountered and tried her best to enjoy every experience. I cannot believe she made it through a month at a somewhat suspect ashram in India. Really, I have never heard anything that great about these places. Her patience and peace-keeping personality very much sounded like myself.

Not to take away anything from the other girls. They both had unique personalities on their travels. Jen (adventure/thrill-seeking) and Amanda (dedicated/out-going/fun-loving) would be people I would love to travel with. They were full of energy and loved to dance. I must say, as I mentioned above about being jealous…it was mostly due to their night of dancing to reggaeton music in South America.

The danger with reading this book, the only negative aspect, one warning for anyone reading……

You will have the strongest desire to pick up everything and LEAVE to your nearest airport.