In a few weeks my daughter and I will be boarding the plane for Peru. Well, I say for Peru. I mean a 30 hour trip via London Heathrow, Madrid, Lima and then onto Cusco.
So, looking down the Global Volunteer Network check list, that means it’s time to get packing!
According to GVN the key to packing for a trip to Peru, and Cusco more specifically, is to pack for a variety of conditions. Cusco is truly a land of extremes with intense sun during the day and cold mountain nights to remind you that you are 11,200 ft/3,400 mtrs.
We intend to travel outside of Cusco to Machu Picchu so we need to be ready for the heat and humidity there too. I’m hoping our experience of seven summers in Dubai will give us a head start.
Apparently, dressing in layers is the answer. Here is the suggested packing list:
- 7 Pair of underwear
- 7 Pairs of socks
- Water Bottle
- 5 T‐shirts
- Sun block
- 3 Long‐sleeved shirts
- Laptop (optional)
- 4 Pairs of pants
- 2 Pairs of shorts
- Swim wear
- Rain gear
- Athletic/walking shoes
- Hiking Boots
Doesn’t seem much, does it? I notice there is no mention of chargers!
Well, the aim is to travel light (background noise: husband choking on a cup of tea) with only one rucksack and a small day backpack. Accordingly, I’m expecting my daughter to treat me as her walking coat hanger and so I’m staying one step ahead of her and limiting the day bag to one.
The return luggage will be a different story altogether…
Perfect for visitors to Dubai or the family staycation.
Both UAE residents and tourists can unwind in comfort and luxury this summer at Novotel Dubai Al Barsha. The four-star property is offering guests a fantastic summer discount of up to 40% on their stay (complimentary breakfast included) until 19 August. Room rates start at AED 325.
Guests will receive a complimentary $10 credit voucher per day to spend in the hotel’s food and beverage outlets. In addition, Le Club Accor members will receive thrice the number of loyalty points along with exclusive benefits.
Every evening throughout the holy month of Ramadan, Novotel Dubai Al Barsha is hosting an authentic Iftar buffet in their main restaurant, located to the right of the lobby. The renowned Cravin’ Cajun restaurant will host Iftar but no Cajun food will be served during this period. The restaurant provides an enclosed space, which allows guests to enjoy a traditional feast in a comfortable environment.
From sunset to 11pm and for as little as AED 110 per person, Novotel Dubai Al Barsha is offering a delectable family-friendly Iftar buffet complete with live cooking station. The offerings include Middle East specialities and international cuisine to cater for every taste.
In addition, guests can relax in the hotel’s swimming pool or get pampered with exotic therapeutic massages, facials and treatments at In Balance Spa. For the health conscious, gym membership rates have been revised. Membership starts at AED 280 per month with facilities such as latest technogym equipment, locker rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi and Kids’ Club.
The hotel is located within walking distance of Sharaf DG Metro Station and close to the Mall of the Emirates providing easy access to major business hubs and popular tourist attractions.
Bookings can be made via www.novotel.com or for reservations call +971 (04) 304 90 00
In July, I will be travelling with my daughter (aged 10) to Peru to assist with duties at the Cusco Conservation Zoo. All adult volunteers taking part in the GVN volunteer program are required to have a police check. We are British citizens living in Dubai so I was expecting this to be a difficult process. Thankfully, this was not the case.
After waiting for my new passport to arrive from the UK, applying for a new visa and then finding time to drive to the other side of Dubai, I finally have my Certificate of good conduct aka Police Check.
Here are the 5 steps to getting your Police Check in Dubai, UAE:
1. Check your passport (and visa) is up-to-date.
2. Arrange for x 2 passport photographs and photocopy your passport.
3. Take your ID, passport, photographs and passport copy to the CID building between 7.30 and 2.30 (map below).
4. Take a number and sit in the respective area (there is a female seating area to your left) and watch the digital board for your counter number. The cost is AED 110 for expats. You will be asked for the items above and to come back in 3-4 working days.
5. Return to the same building, look for the desk with a sign showing ‘pick up certificates’ – number 17 when I was there – where you will be given an A4 envelope with your certificate inside. Done.
The process is very straightforward, especially if you already have an up-to-date passport!
This of course is assuming you have a clean record (parking fines are not taken into account).
I’m always on the look out for a good excuse to take another trip, whether it’s here in the UAE or further afield. One sure way to tip the balance and convince my husband is a good old-fashioned discount.
The Entertainer, a Dubai-based international company offering a portfolio of worldwide ‘buy one get one free’ incentives, has recently launched its ‘Hot Summer Nights’ travel promotion, offering guests the opportunity to enjoy their holiday for longer with amazing hotel offers. The offers are so good this year, I decided to share. All you have to do is become a member, download the app and voila!
The promotion features over 60 hotels and resorts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman, Doha, Lebanon, Turkey, Maldives, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Some of the participating partners include Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, The Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Fairmont The Palm in the UAE, plus properties across Asia and Indian Ocean including Banyan Tree Phuket, Conrad Hong Kong, Vivanta By Taj – Coral Reef Maldives, Lux* resorts and many more.
So, from the 1st of June to 31st August 2014, Entertainer Members can book one night, get one free; book two nights, get two free or even book three nights and get three free!
So how do you become an Entertainer Member?
Simply go to www.theentertainerme.com/hotsummernights and registered as an Entertainer Member.
Yes, it’s a global offer! So anyone who’s purchased any Entertainer product can access these offers.
Even better, you can win a free travel app here on The Apple & Cart!
To celebrate the launch of the new travel app The Apple & Cart readers are being given the chance to win the travel app worth AED 450/$122.
Answer the following question and the first 3 entries will get a complimentary travel app:
Where and what would be your ideal family holiday?
The first three entries will be will contacted by The Entertainer group. This gives the winner access to the Hot Summer Nights offer, but also access to 800 Buy One Night Get One Free offers for hotels across Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe that are all valid until December 2014.
Cusco – birthplace of the world
In less than eight weeks my ten year old daughter and I will be travelling to Cusco, Peru to volunteer in the local conservation zoo.
As volunteers, we will be based in the ancient city of Cusco, near the Sacred Valley of the Andes mountain range and only a few hours from Peru’s most famous landmark, Machu Picchu. We plan to visit the surrounding area, the captivating landscapes such as the Sacred Valley, markets and take a two day tour to Machu Picchu.
Cusco sits at an altitude of around 3,500m with a semi-dry and cold climate and we can expect temperatures of 21°C down to 1°C. The capital and largest city of Peru, Lima, is a 1 hour flight or approximately 22 hour bus ride away from Cusco. Many people think of it as a small village, Cusco is actually a bustling city of 400,000 people.
Seductive, striking and natural, Cusco’s history lives in its streets, squares, valleys and towns. There is a plethora of museums, markets, cultural and historical sites within the city limits that are easily accessible and visited.
I’m looking forward to scouring the markets for a few trinkets and gifts. Here’s my must-go list of Cusco markets:
- Plaza San Blas – workshops and showrooms of local craftspeople
- Center for Traditional Textiles – traditional weavings and textiles
- The Centro Artesenal Cusco – souvenirs and alpaca wool handicrafts
- San Pedro Mercado Central – fruit and vegetables
- Central Plaza de Armas – street food and drinks
‘Weird and Wonderful things at Cuscos San Pedro market’ , not your usual display of fruit and veg – especially numbers 1 to 6!
Located in Kandy, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy. Although you do not get to see it, the temple houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha.
Upon entering the site I could feel the serene ambiance and smell the fresh of Jasmine and Lotus flowers being sold as offerings.
Fortunately, there a number of story boards in English hanging around the main hall inside where the children can easily read the potted history of the tooth. We all left feeling a little bit more enlightened.
Time to head back to the hotel for dinner and a pillow fight.
Back in the AC, we were on our way to the next stop in our roomy 12-seater minibus to Gamini Gem factory, Kandy.
At this point, I think it’s a good time to point out that there were times when we simply felt like a purse being sent from one place to the next.
When you decide to take tour with a driver, like we did you are – in part – agreeing to visit some, let’s say, mutually beneficial establishments where things always end with a sale.
My husband and I were well aware that we were about to be ‘sold to’ at this particular venue but decided to put our cynicism aside and embrace the experience. Good job really, the kids loved it. The mini ‘tour’ started with a step by step explanation of how rough stones are selected, polished and made into beautiful jewelry. We were then escorted to the shop across the street, with assistance from two authoritative-looking policemen in brown suits, to the pride of place ready for the essential gem presentation.
Yes, we bought something. Two Moonstone necklace gems for only $10 madam.
Sri Lanka is touted as a great place to buy gems but without any prior experience or knowledge of gems, we stuck to the cheapest option to reduce the risk of unscrupulous dealers. According to some reports, there are some dealers ready to trick gullible tourists by passing off blue spinel, or other semi-precious stones as sapphire.
Leaving with our treasure, we climbed into our carriage for a thoughtful and educational trip to the Kandy War Cemetery and then to the Temple of the tooth.
Binoculars and camera at the ready…enjoy the view as nature entertains.
Masai Mara or The Mara as its known by the locals is famed for its bountiful array of animals including lions, leopards, cheetahs and of course the annual migration. It was named in honor of the Maasai people who describe the the area when looked at from afar: “Mara,” which is Maa (Maasai language) for “spotted,” an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savanna, and cloud shadows that mark the area.
The Great Migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and wildebeest to and from the Serengeti is on show every year from July to October. Don’t miss it.
If like us, you want to take full advantage of your time in a new place and see as much of the island as you can in one trip, it”s likely that you’ll be considering a driver. Sri Lanka is around 25k sq miles of mostly flat land, with mountains in the south-central region, so getting around and covering a fair bit of the country should not be too much of a challenge.
We contemplated taking a train from the airport and using a driver on an ad hoc basis but the cost versus hassle-factor finally led to a decision to go with a driver for the complete trip. Plus, travelling with two children, having limited time and not being familiar with the roads cancelled out the rental car option for us but I came across a number of stories of people who enjoyed the freedom of exploring independently.
When researching, Google produced a mix bag of results including recommendations from visitors on sites like Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet, as well as web pages of individual drivers put together by generous clients. After speaking to friends, reading a number of forum threads, it was obvious that there was no clear market leader or agency to fall back on so there was an element of risk and lots of research involved.
I eventually opted for a one-man-band driver who had his own website, a bunch of recommendations and testimonials. Thankfully, after a few surprises, we had a fantastic holiday and a great driver but it wasn’t straightforward.
Below are a few tips when booking a Sri Lankan driver:
1. Do your research.
Things may have changed since our trip so make sure you look at up-to-date and recent posts to get a general understanding of what is available. Consider social media for tracking down some of the people that left testimonials to qualify the recommendations. Make sure the driver can speak English at a level where he is able to respond to the barrage of questions coming from seats behind him!
2. Ask lots of questions.
One way to get a feel for your driver, before you commit, is to ask him questions about the fine details of the trip. There are different types of services; ‘A tour’ is when you leave the majority of the planning to the driver, down to the hotels you stay in and the places you visit. If you fancy being the tour manager and arranging the itinerary yourself (like we did) you will need to make it clear at the start that you only require him to drive you to places. Most 5* hotels offer driver accommodation for around LKR 100 (45 pence) which should be covered by the driver as part of the package but it is worth checking.
3. Discuss the right-sized vehicle before you leave.
I asked for a ‘car with a driver’ and was advised that we needed a ‘van’ for two adults and two children. I agreed to the upgrade for extra comfort. When we arrived we were greeted by a different driver, with a car. Subsequently we had to take a two hour detour to switch to the pre-agreed van that turned out to be a lovely new 12-seater mini-van.
4. Get what you paid for.
As mentioned earlier, we picked a driver based on his personal website and references. However, the driver that greeted us at the airport happened to be a freelance driver who was contracted to take over our trip. Fortunately, he turned out to be a polite, professional and kind man, who was a relatively safe driver on the mad roads of Sri Lanka.
5. Don’t be afraid to change.
“If you are not happy with the driver, change him” – that was the advice from a mum we met during our travels. One of the dads told me worrying stories of how her driver would constantly take his hands off the wheel and appeared to be a struggling to drive in heavy traffic. Another woman changed her driver after day two as she felt there was no chemistry and found it difficult to communicate.
Driving in Sri Lanka was an experience, a hair-raising one and a major part of our trip. Would we have a driver again? Yes and we would probably book the same guy. Is it safe? Not technically. I had mixed feelings that ranged from the exhilaration of the anything-goes, wacky races approach to times of shear terror when we were dodging head-on trucks, wandering pedestrians and wild dogs that seemed to disappear under the van and reappear the other side none the wiser. A holiday is not a good holiday without taking yourself out of your comfort zone in my opinion – a little fear does no harm!
Our driver was K.A. Udayasiri aka Udaya. He doesn’t have a website but can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org