My New Poison: Reyka Vodka

I’m not much of a Vodka man. Generic vodka requires sugary mixers to remove the medicine-like taste from it while most good vodkas are too harsh to sip neat and require a Bond-like martini and a tux to make you look like you’re not an alcoholic for drinking vodka straight.

Little did I know that sitting in the back of my fiancée’s freezer lied a beautiful Icelandic small-batch Vodka from the distillers of The Balvenie, Reyka Vodka. Not only does it have a clean, sweet taste but it’s also a ‘green’ vodka — in both senses of the word.

From the About.com review:

Amidst the clean air of the village of Borgarnes in western Iceland, sits the distillery where Reyka comes together. The entire operation is run by the abundant geothermal heat of the land, a factor that led to the naming of the spirit as Reyka (Ray-kuh) is an ancient Icelandic word for steam or smoke…Reyka has a strong “green” aspect to it. A delightful nose of sweet rose and fresh cut hay fills the senses with clarity.

I couldn’t agree more with this description. There is a muted sweetness to this vodka that makes it not only a pleasure to sip but abhorring to mix with anything else.
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GoogleTV

Finally. A first step toward the answer to my gripes on the state of TV and the Web.

A Quick Thought on the iPad

A few months ago when the iPad was announced my initial thoughts were that it would be a great device for the majority of people who didn’t need a powerful computer to simply consume and share media. As well, I thought that if you had a notebook and an iPhone that you probably didn’t need an iPad.

However, after having used Uproot’s new iPad and checking out some of the great apps built for the device I’m starting to think that in fact it’s my MacBook that will be the device I won’t need very soon.

Partners & Spade


Beautiful work from multi-disciplinary group Partners & Spade. More images after the break. (via swissmiss)
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Vodaphone Headquarters – Barbosa & Guimaraes

Though it resembles a parking garage that a giant sat on, the Vodaphone Headquarters in Porto, Portugal is an office I would love to work in.
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Peru Trip: Great Adventure People

I’m back in Toronto writing this post after what will certainly be one of the most memorable weeks in my life. Shortly after my last post, the group was scheduled to begin what we hoped would be the highlight of our tour. A trip to Agues Calientes where, we hoped, we’d get a head start on travelers from Cuzco taking the train to the great Incan city in the clouds, Machu Picchu. What followed however kicked off a week of confusion and quick, careful planning to get us safe and sound back home.

On a scheduled day trip to some ruins including Moray and Tambomachyu, both vast and inspiring places in their own right, we were told of flooding in the valleys of the Andes. We saw the devastation first hand in Urubamba in Cuzco region (not the same as Cuzco city where we were staying) earlier that day. In fact, the hotel where we were scheduled to stay that night was effected by the flooding. What we didn’t know was how bad it was.

The massive rainfall, which we assumed to be normal but turned out to be the worst the country had experienced in over 15 years, had swelled the river to the point that it was wiping out crops, local homes, businesses, roads, the train track through the Sacred Valley and bridges. The damage had caused mudslides and trapped over 3000 people at Macchu Picchu, where we were scheduled to visit the next day.

The news hit us like a gut punch. Not only was our trip ruined, but we immediately felt the weight of how worse this situation could become. As a group, we thought about fellow travelers and local guides we had met along the way that were likely trapped in at Macchu Picchu. We worried for our safety, not knowing exactly where we were to go the next day and how we were going to get there. It’s at this time we were more focused on the leadership of our GAP guide, Simon Myburgh, than ever before.

In the lobby of the San Augustine hotel back in Cuzco, we carefully listened to the news, contacted loved ones and decided together that we didn’t have much options at this point other than waiting out the night and attempting to continue on with the tour, if possible.

The next day proved to be worse. Our bus driver, unwilling to take us to our next scheduled stop due to heavy rains and washed our roads in Puno, was the canary in the mine that we needed. The tour in our eyes was over. We needed more than ever to get safe passage back to Lima to ensure we got adequate time to get to our international flights home.

At this time, GAP Adventures, our tour operator had little to report. Checking their website and Twitter account at that time, we had no info from them or through our guide about what to do. Later we discovered they assumed we would just continue on to Puno as scheduled – despite the news coverage of damage and road closures that they now state wouldn’t have effected us. Emails to GAP’s Toronto headquarters were answered with the standard company terms and conditions that basically stated GAP isn’t responsible for a re-scheduled itinerary in the face of a natural disaster. We were told to contact our insurance company and begin the process of a trip interruption claim. This was not the news we wanted.

Acting swiftly, our guide told us that if we wanted to leave Cusco for Lima, we needed to get to the local LAN Airlines office. From there we’d be able to purchase one way tickets to Lima for the next day. (Side note: LAN is a wonderful airline that deserves praise for their efficiency and professionalism in an industry that is sorely lacking it.) Feeling we were being left out in the cold if we didn’t take that option, we agreed.

What happens following that will vary depending on who you talk to. Accusing our guide essentially going rogue, all of our correspondence with GAP Lima to date has amounted only to frustration in trying to lodge a complaint for what we felt was poor treatment given our options. It should be noted that the office was expending considerable resources helping aforementioned travelers who were trapped and needed shelter, food and water. However, the inability for the company to have an immediate and consistent communication with its groups, many of whom were savvy enough to use various channels like Twitter, email and the website to seek out information, was astonishing. During the crisis, wherever we turned we couldn’t get a response on how we should have handled the situation until messages from my Twitter account were finally answered by GAP’s chief, Bruce Poon Tip.

After the CEO got involved things moved much quickly. Reps from the local office were in touch and a series of meetings and assurances of refunds, make-up activities and coverage for our hotel in Lima were promised. Though fulfilling that promise resulted in even more back and forth between offices, with all parties blaming one another, from the head office to the regional office to our trusted guide, who remained the only one who appeared to working in earnest for our best interest.

Safe back home now, it may sound that we were overall dissatisfied with our trip but that couldn’t be further from the truth. GAP is an acronym for Great Adventure People, and that’s who we got to be in a beautiful country with a rich history and a strong people. The tour company’s efforts to aid those most effected by the disaster continue to be a success and our group all reached our destinations safe and sound. GAP’s head of operations has even agreed to meet with me to understand how they can improve their communication strategy to avoid the type of situation our group faced.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be booking my trip from a different brochure the next time around. But I’ll know that no matter what’s in the pages, nothing is guaranteed. Which is fine by me.

Peru Trip: Arriving in Cuzco

It’s safe to say that if you’re a resident of Cusco, Peru you’re most likely working in the tourism industry. As the gateway city to Machu Pichu and the many trails that lead there, Cusco is a city who’s future is so dependant on it’s past.

From the time Liz and I arrived at our hotel, situated just a block from the old city’s centre, Plaza de Armes, we were both amazed at the extent to which the Inca, Pre-Inca and Spanish architecture was preserved. With archeological sites and colonial-era churches at every turn Cusco truly offers wonders from a world gone by.

The city lives and dies with the millions of backpackers, soul searchers and everyday vacationers looking to take in majestic views of the Andes and learn about the Incan civilitation. Trips to sites and museums have helped us understand more about this truly facinating culture that strives to balance it’s native and Spanish heritages. Hagglers, knocknoff marketplaces, hundreds of shady travel guides and tourist focused venues like Irish pubs and Aussie cafes are abound though and along with the wet, cool weather make it difficult to appreciate the town as a preserved landmark.

Cusco has offered us everything we desired during our stay. An amazing history lesson, some great local food and the experience of the other great industries here like agriculture, ceramics and woven goods made from alpaca and llamas. The city is alive at night with many great bars, cafes and live music too.

Tomorrow our journey continues to the Sacred Valley before we go on to Machu Pichu via Aguas Caliente where I´ll hopefully have some photos I can post.

Peru Trip: Lots of Rain

You can’t go to the rainforest and not expect rain. But when it downpours from 4am till late afternoon you start wondering if maybe you should have picked a sunny destination for your holiday.

With some patience, good local food and a yoga break, the afternoon came soon enough for our group to move on to wilderness exploration on a nearby lake. Just a short boatride downstream from our Eco-resort Rainforest Expeditions, a lodge focused on sustainability and supporting the local economy, we fished for piranna and spotted native birds in their habitat.

Along with afternoon to evening hikes through the jungle, learning about how lodges like the ones we had stayed at have subplanted most of the previous harmful industries like gold mining and forestry, and just enjoying the simple but chic amenities of our open air room, Liz and I have taken away a true understanding of how conscious living can make a huge impact on our environment.

Next stop Cusco, our guide Simon’s hometown where we’re promised some great food, good parties and probably most important, a hot shower.

Peru Trip: Day 1-2

On Monday Liz and I departed Toronto for Peru for a two week tour. We’re travelling light, with no more than a backpack and a daypack each as we’ll be trekking through the Amazon, hiking to Machu Pichu (assisted by a train ride, since we’re not that adventurous) and visiting Cusco, Lake Titicaca and Puno before returning to Lima and back home.

This all started almost a year ago when Liz and I, each well traveled on our own before meeting each other, wanted to visit somewhere we’d each never been. With South America on my list and Liz’s interest in ancient civilaizations, we decide a GAP tour through Peru was the way to go.

When we arrived we has some time to tour Miraflores and Central Lima, the tourist and original parts of Lima repspectively. We didn’t spend too much time in Lima as were getting aquainted with our group and guide before heading out the next morning. When we return we’ll make sure to enjoy a proper dinner at one of the world’s greatest culinary cities before departing for home.

As of now were awating our flight to Puerto Maldanado where we’ll begin our boat ride and trek into the Amazon for a two night stay in a rainforest lodge. Our days will be filled with hikes and exotic animal spotting, our evenings tucked away in our open air beds with only a mosquito net between us and the wilderness outside.

I’ll do my best to post as much as possible over the trip with photos and anecdotes of what I’m sure will be an unforgettable experience.

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