Thursday, April 17, 2014

Next Up? An Epic Camping Adventure in Grand Canyon National Park

Last April, my mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. My world was turned upside down and I was in a state of shock. Amidst it all, my sisters and I were faced with the task of cleaning out her apartment and sorting through her belongings – a heartbreaking task that proved to be even more difficult than it sounds.

As I was going through some of her things, I came across a binder. This wasn’t strange in itself; mom loved to write and had tons of binders filled with notes, ideas and clippings. What was strange was the fact that it wasn’t a binder filled with her writing ideas, it was a binder filled with a dream she had had for years and wanted to fulfill that coming summer; the dream to take a camping trip to one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

Everything was there; she detailed how much money she would need to budget, what airport she would fly into, what hotels she would stay in when she wasn’t camping, a list of tour companies that offered guided camping trips, what items she would need to bring with her and what activities she would pursue while she was there. I knew this was something she always wanted to do but I was unaware that she had put those plans into action and planned to take that trip in just a few short months. I first felt guilt at not being able to help her fulfill this wish sooner. That switched to a feeling of extreme sadness at the thought that she would never realize that dream. Mom’s final wish was now in our hands and without saying a word at that moment, we three sisters came to the same conclusion; it was our duty to fulfill that dream for Mom with an epic trip to one of the world’s most iconic destinations; The Grand Canyon.

We tried to make plans to take this trip at the same time mom had planned to but with work obligations and conflicting schedules, we had to put it aside. I was laid off, fell into some financial woes, was rehired on at another job and will be laid off again in a couple of weeks. I will have the time and money to go this Spring, Summer or Fall but my sisters will not. Both of them were just hired on at new jobs and will not be able to take the time off until next winter and that is when I will be back at work. We have had to succumb to the reality that we will not be able to take this trip together but each of us will do our own version of Mom’s trip on our own time. I think, in some ways, it will be better that way. I can’t think of a better way for each of us to have that time alone to remember and honor Mom in such a extraordinary way.

I’ve already started planning. I visited the Grand Canyon five years ago but it was a quick, half-day tour of one little area and than it was done. However, just from that little trip, I saw enough to know I want to see more. I’ve done the research, I’ve bookmarked a number of companies I am interested in contacting, I have all my gear that I will need and I have the money put aside for the trip. It’s in the works but I want it to be just perfect and as similar as possible to the trip Mom wanted to take. I will fly to Las Vegas, join a guided camping tour and try to fit in as many activities as possible while I am in the area; mule rides, hikes, whitewater rafting…It will the best trip of my life, it will be epic. And since mom is always with me, she will be with me in the Canyon and will finally be able to see her dream come true!

As for other upcoming adventures in the future? My dream, since I was a kid flipping through my dad’s old World Encyclopedia’s and admiring the beautiful landscapes of faraway lands, is to visit New Zealand. It always was and always will be at the top of my bucket list…and hopefully gapyear.com can help make that dream a reality too!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I'm Afraid I May be Suffering from the Long Term Affects of Wanderlust

While many people complain about all the things that go wrong on their travels, I am always the first to say that the only thing I hate about any trip is coming home. Things go wrong while traveling. It’s inevitable. It’s unavoidable. And its always a learning experience and something to talk about (and maybe even laugh) later. Going home after a trip is something that often comes too soon but it is only at that moment when my bags are packed and I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my return flight that I really feel down. Most times, while I am waiting for that last flight, I am secretly hoping it will be delayed or cancelled or that I will end up stuck in transit due to a snowstorm or volcanic eruption so that my trip can be extended a little bit longer. To me, wandering around aimlessly in an airport beats going back to the cold weather and my day job in Atlantic Canada. And once I do get home, I experience travel withdrawal – better known as Wanderlust.

This state of impending Wanderlust usually starts the day before I am due to board my plane back home. That last day spent wandering around my destination and taking it all in one last time is also spent dreading the moment when I have to say goodbye to the beach, the café where I took my daily coffee and the resort or hostel that was my home away from home. I know it sounds insane when I say I hope for delays once I arrive at the airport but, to me, delays are an extended vacation. I actually enjoy wandering around airports. I like listening to the different languages, watching people rushing around trying to figure out where they should be going or racing to meet someone, browsing the boutique shops, getting lost and finding neat little cafes or hangouts and watching the planes take off to foreign lands. If my flight happens to be on time, I’m disappointed because that means I will be back home sooner than later and my trip will be over.
This state of Wanderlust remains for a long time I get home. In fact, I don’t think it every really goes away; it usually remains until I leave for my next trip. When I really think about it, I believe I was born with this affliction…I seem to have always been, and still always am in a state of perpetual Wanderlust. I blame my parents, even though they often complain about my constant state of unsettledness that sees me moving from place to place and job to job and my constant need to be always going somewhere, but never really settling anywhere…or with anyone for that matter. I’ve grown to be very independent and adventurous so working a 9-5 job at the same place year after year and staying home watching TV night after night is boring and uninspiring to me.

I’ve never been scared to try new things and I’ve never been scared to do anything on my own. I learned at any early age that if I sit around waiting for other people to do things with me, those things may never get done so I set out on my own. As a child, when the other kids were playing video games, I played outside alone. The day I got my first car at age 17, I drove two hours just to get a coffee. By the time I was 19, I was already taking weekly trips two hours out of town to my favorite national park to spend the weekend camping…alone. Back than, people thought I was crazy but they often told me they wished they could do the same. I find it strange when I hear someone saying they can’t do something because they are afraid or because they don’t want to go alone. These days, they think I am even more foolish than ever! My adventures, as of late, have taken me much further than two hours out of town; I’ve traveled all over the continent as a solo, female traveler. But traveling alone has never bothered me. In fact, I love traveling alone!

It’s been almost a year since I last went on a trip outside of Canada. Work obligations and a lack of funds have kept me closer to home as of late. However, my constant state of travel withdrawal and wanderlust will not have me in one place for long! I have plans…big plans. The problem is putting those plans into action. I have a bit of a head start on that. For starters, I am constantly thinking about travel and where I will travel next. Lately, with the awful winter we have had on Canada’s east coast, I’ve been dreaming of taking a trip down south. I had my eyes set on Barbados for Spring Break but, unfortunately, due to foul weather and work obligations, I was unable to go. This is the first winter since 2008 that I have not traveled to a warm climate to spend a week lying on the beach and enjoying some much needed sunshine that is quite rare this time of year in Canada. Now, I am gone into full-blown travel research mode even though I have no direct plans on going anywhere until at least the summer. I spend my days daydreaming of where to go next. So far, I have it narrowed down to The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas in June, Newfoundland in July and Europe in the late summer or fall…if all goes as planned – not that I ever make real laid-out plans. These plans could go out the window if I get called to work through the summer. So far, my summer is free but that could change any moment. But even with the possibility of work coming up, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with ideas on how to approach my superiors about taking time off (without pay, of course) to go on at least one of these trips. My nights are usually spent like this as well. Can’t sleep? Stare at the ceiling and think about where I will travel next!

When I am not daydreaming about travel, I am actually putting things into action. I have always loved travel so much that I became a freelance travel writer! I figured why not write about the thing I like to do most and combine my two passions; writing and traveling. When writer’s block sets in or I just don’t feel like doing any work, I start researching travel. I spend many hours searching for travel deals, doing research on the best destinations to travel to, learning more about destinations I am interested in traveling to, watching videos about travel destinations and reading just about anything I come across that has to do with travel. I even sign up for various travel newsletters so I don’t miss out on any new developments in the travel industry!

Other aspects of my life are taken up by travel as well. I love to read but it seems that every book I buy is related to travel in some way. Actually, even the books I receive as gifts from friends and family are travel related. I guess my constant ramblings about past trips and reminiscing about my days on the road tipped them off to the sort of books I would be most likely interested in reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are getting tired of me constantly rambling about my past and future travels. I read everything; books about epic road trips by other travelers, city guides, destination guides, travel industry news, travel tips…you name it. If it’s about travel, I will read it!

Another favorite pastime of mine (also travel related, of course!) is trying to find ways to get free or discounted trips and trying to find ways to make extra money to afford to go on more trips. I search for contests that offer trips to be won and bookmark the ones that can be entered daily so they are right there, ready to be filled out every morning! I already won a trip to Costa Rica last year! Because I am a freelance travel writer, I play that card to score free accommodations and other freebies related to travel. This may sound a bit sinister or even selfish on my part, but, trust me, various hotels and tour providers have gained from my services. For example, during that trip to Costa Rica, I offered my services as a travel blogger to a hotel, a resort and a tour company. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the trip and what these businesses had to offer so once I got home, I blogged and posted reviews and wrote articles to promote them and draw in more potential customers to their business. I got free hotel stays and tours and, in return, they got free promotion. I am an obsessive collector of frequent flyer miles and I avail of every opportunity and coupon I come across. In order to find out about deals, offers and new developments in the travel industry, I obsessively add anyone and anything that has to do with travel to my Facebook and Twitter accounts so I don’t miss out on anything.
I am not lazy by any means but I am not partial to the 9-5, wake up-eat-work-sleep-repeat routine. Fortunately, I long ago developed a skill that allows me to work seasonal jobs. For a few months of the year that I don’t have a “real” job, I live off the income I make from freelancing. This works out great for me; I can make money on the side of my real job, save up for travel and travel on the months I have off every year! In the past, I have a lot of odd jobs online. Market research, mystery shopping, book reviewing and selling items on Ebay were just some of the things I have done to make a few extra bucks to use towards my travels.

So I guess it’s safe to say that I am suffering from the long term effects of Wanderlust. It has, after all been over a year since I left the country and embarked on any sort of extended journey. I mean, I have taken a few short trips around home to try and satisfy my itchy feet and prevent myself from going completely stir crazy but I am way past due for another epic adventure far away from the comfort zone of home.


If you are a traveler who has recently found yourself stuck in one place for too long, you may now be wondering if you, as well, may be suffering from the effects of Wanderlust. Here are some of the signs that you have a bad case of this affliction. Are you exhibiting any of these signs?

1) You live and breath travel. Everything you do revolves around travel somehow.
2) You find yourself browsing Netflix for international flicks that are filmed in your favorite travel destinations or destinations you would like to travel to.
3) You watch foreign films in different languages other than your own…without subtitles.
4) You find yourself looking up common words and phrases in languages of the countries you would like to visit.
5) You interact, online, with people who are from the countries you would like visit. Sometimes you even add them to your Facebook or Twitter account.
6) You only search for jobs in the travel industry or jobs that require you to travel as part of your workload.
7) You research destinations just for the hell of it.
8) You are always on the look out for travel deals and promotions…even if you have no direct plans to travel.
9) You know every little tool and trick to get you through customs easier, to avoid being scammed by cabbies in foreign lands, to score a deal on a hotel, attraction or tour and how to get properly lost in a foreign city.
10) You know more about distant lands than you do about your own backyard.
11) You hang out at the coffee shop in your local airport and watch the travelers coming and going and airplanes taking off and landing…even though you have no plans on going anywhere yourself.
12) You always have someone lined up to look after your place and feed your pets if you have to leave at a moment’s notice.
13) Your cell phone contact list is loaded with important phone numbers you need while traveling – your insurance provider, various airlines, emergency contacts, various embassies, hotels you stay at frequently, credit card customer service numbers, etc
14) You have a suitcase already half packed with various travel items so it is almost ready to go at any moment.
15) You have your local airport shuttle service on speed dial…or you dial it so much, you know it by heart!
16) Under no circumstance will you EVER allow your passport to expire. That’s just plain stupid. You have a need to be at the ready at all times to just jump on a plane and fly away. You see your passport as your ticket to freedom.


Well, I can proudly (or sadly, depending on how you look at it) say that I have exhibited all of the above symptoms. You might say I am obsessed…I say there are worse things I could be obsessed with. Travel is a healthy obsession that I think everyone should indulge in! I always say “experiences are more important than material things” and I am living proof of that. I have sold or given away many of my material possessions and the things I remember most about my life thus far are not things at all, but the experiences that made it all worthwhile!



Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Book Review - How to Travel the World on $50 A Day

How to Travel the World on $50 A Day
By Matt Kepnes















I just finished reading this book and, I must say, it was quite informative. The title of the book makes it sound like it is geared towards travelers who want to do a single trip around the world. However, even though I am not particularly interested in traveling all around the world in one trip, the book is broken down into sections that explain how you can save money on every continent and in various countries and cities in multiple trips if you so choose.

The book included a number of chapters concerning valuable information for travelers including:
-Getting Over Your Fears
-Is Travel Really Too Expensive
-Banking Overseas
-Getting the Right Credit Card
-Airline Tickets
-Buying a Backpack
-Travel Insurance
-Get a Travel Discount Card
-What to do with your Stuff
-The Savings Mind-set
-Tips for Saving Money on Accommodations
-Tips for Saving Money of Food and Beverages
-Tips for Saving Money on Transportation
-Tips for Saving Money on Activities

The book continues into another series of chapters on various continents with sub-chapters on various countries located on those continents and breaks down costs for virtually everything in every location including meals, hostels, hotels, activities and transportation. The reader also discovers which countries are the most expensive and which ones are the cheapest.

After reading this book, I have come to realize that my fears about long-term travel have been ill-founded. I can now see that it is more possible than I ever dreamed and is something that is completely achievable in my lifetime…and that is good news because it is something I have always planned to do, it’s just that now I have a clearer vision of how I will make that happen!

This book is perfect for any traveler whether you are planning to travel to just one country, planning to explore an entire continent or embarking on an epic around the world journey. Trust me, you will be inspired to sell your belongings, pack your bags and embark on that once-in-a-lifetime trip you have been dreaming about for years!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Guide to Cape Breton Island

Overview

Just a little bit east off the Coast of mainland Nova Scotia in eastern Canada is the tiny island of Cape Breton. While the island belongs to the province of Nova Scotia and is a part of Canada, it is nothing like any other place in the country…or in the world for that matter. It is hard to know where to begin in telling you what the island has to offer because there is so much. The culture, the history, the scenery, the beaches, the hiking, the food, the nightlife! One can travel to Cape Breton Island and enjoy a taste of all of these things in just one day if they wanted to. Ideally, a good solid week is usually enough to get a good taste of the island. Longer is even better. And you will want to stay longer because the island has that effect on people; they come, they fall in love with the peaceful landscapes, the isolated beaches, the down-to-earth people and the lively nightlife. They leave with a heavy heart. Most come back again and again, some come back and never leave.

Best Places to Visit in Cape Breton

Sydney
Locally known as Cape Breton Island’s unofficial capital, the city of Sydney may be small (with only about 30,000 people) but there is much to see and do. The Sydney Boardwalk is a great place to start your visit. This boardwalk runs along a section of the harbour downtown and in the warmer months, buskers gather to show off their various talents to the crowds that gather on warm summer nights. It’s a great place to watch the boats coming and going, to watch a starry night sky or enjoy a plate of Fuzzy’s Fries or an ice cream float or some homemade fudge from the Cape Breton Fudge Co located nearby. A few small museums, like Cossitt House and St. Patrick’s Museum, are located in the downtown area and these are great places to learn more about the history. Come nightfall, one can learn about the darker side of the local history by taking the guided Ghosts and Legends of Historic Sydney walking tour. The city is also home to many restaurants (with both ethnic and local fare), cafes, bars, retail shops and a casino.

Glace Bay
Glace Bay is a mere twenty-minute drive from downtown Sydney and just embarking on a tour of the Miner’s Museum makes the trip worth while. Upon entering the museum, visitors can see a number of exhibits that depict the life of the average coal miner from the time coal started to be mined in the area until the industry ceased to exist in 2001. The next step in a visit to the museum sees visitors donning a cape and hard hat in preparation to enter a real coal mine complete with all the fixings that a miner would see during a typical shift. The guide, a retired coal miner himself, has lots of stories to tell about the camaraderie that developed between miners and the dangers that awaited them around every turn. I highly recommend taking a tour of the museum on a day when the famous Men of the Deeps hold one of concerts in the auditorium. This choir made up of retired coal miners put on a spectacular show that can bring grown men to tears!

Mira
The name Mira may sound familiar to you and that is probably because you’ve heard about it in the song “Song for the Mira” written by Allister MacGillivray and performed by numerous artists over the years. Mira is not far from the urban center of Sydney but the peaceful and quiet surroundings make it seem like you are in the middle of nowhere. One can spend a perfect summer day walking sandy Mira Gut Beach, sailing down the Mira River or relaxing on the banks of the river at Mira Provincial Park. Two Rivers Wildlife Park is also located in the area and visitors can see many of the wild animal species – mountain lion, coyote, wolf, otters, moose and reindeer - that make the park their home.
Framboise and Area
This is one of the most remote areas of the island. Deep woods, long sandy beaches, desolate coastline and a sparse population make this an ideal place to get away and admire nature without any distractions. There are a few historical museums and provincial parks in and around the town of St. Peter’s but, for the most part, you will be surrounded by pure wilderness. Morrison’s Beach is a great place to spend an evening roasting marshmallows over a fire and watching the night sky and if you like to fish, some of the best fishing holes are located in the area.

Louisbourg
If you only have the choice of visiting a couple of places on Cape Breton Island, be sure to include Louisbourg in your itinerary. The town’s claim to fame is the reconstructed 18th century French fortress that stands on the edge of the town. When it was originally constructed, it was much bigger than what is there today but The Fortress of Louisbourg was once a bustling fortified town until the English attached and seized it for good in the mid 1700’s. Today, visitors can walk through the fortress and experience what it was like to live in those times. Some original artifacts are on display throughout the grounds and guides are dressed in period costume. Even the restaurant serves meals that would have been typical of meals served in the 18th century. After spending a morning or afternoon at the Fortress, relax and take a cool dip at Kennington Cove Beach or have a picnic near the old lighthouse at the other end of town.

Baddeck
There is so much to say about Baddeck, I don’t know where to begin! First of all, the town itself is right in the middle of the island and makes for the perfect central destination from which to embark on various adventures. Everything on the island is about an hour’s drive or less away from Baddeck. Baddeck is a resort town popular with movie stars (Madonna, Sylvester Stalone, Sean Connery just to name a few) and it is the world-class sailing on the Bras d’Or Lakes, the fine dining restaurants and the quiet and relaxing nature of the town that draws them and many visitors each year to the town. However, you do not need to be a famous movie star to enjoy (and afford) all that Baddeck has to offer. The Yellow Cello offers delicious and affordable meals and snacks in a cozy café that hosts live entertainment. A five-minute boat ride takes visitors across a small bay to Kidston Island where there is a beach, a lighthouse and some walking trails. For a mere twenty-five bucks, one can enjoy a sail on the Bras D’or lakes onboard the beautiful schooner The Amoeba and see bald eagles and Alexander Graham Bell’s stately mansion, Beinn Bhreagh. Speaking of Alexander Graham Bell, did you know that this famous inventor of the telephone and many other inventions once lived and worked in Baddeck. It’s true and visitors can see his work and learn all about his life at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.

Ingonish
Ingonish is another must-see on any visit to Cape Breton Island. The town is at the opening of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and is along the famous Cabot Trail. While in Ingonish, visitors can enjoy a number of long, sandy beaches including Ingonish Beach, North Bay Beach and Black Brook. A number of walking trails are located in the area. Franey Mountain, Warren Lake, Broad Cove Mountain, Middle Head and Sqeaker’s Hole are just of few of those trails. Maryanne Falls is a great place to admire two waterfalls and take a swim in one of the freshwater pools below and freshwater swimming is also available at Warren Lake. Because Ingonish is a hub along the Cabot Trail, there are a number of restaurants, gift shops and places to stay such as the Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa which is one of the most famous and nicest resorts on the entire island. The Highland Links Golf Course has been rated as one of the top ten golf courses in North America. When you are ready to move along the Cabot Trail towards the next major hub on that route, you will pass through some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Canada. In fact, the Cabot Trail, with its rolling hills, rocky coastline, and deep valleys that meet the sea, has been voted one of the most scenic drives in North America. Along this route, some can’t miss stops include Gampo Abbey Monastery and The Skyline Trail which is said to be one of the most scenic walking trails in all of Nova Scotia. A number of other hiking trails, picnic parks, beaches, gift shops and waterfalls are also located on this 100-kilometer-long stretch of scenic highway.

Cheticamp
The Cape Breton Highlands National Park ends where Cheticamp begins but the beauty of the Cabot Trail continues on through the town and beyond. This small French/Acadian fishing village with its colorful houses, well-manicured lawns and rocky coastline sits at the foothills of the surrounding mountains. The town, although small, is a major hub in the area. Grocery stores, retail shops, coffee shops, bars, hotels and a number of restaurants are scattered about. Several museums, a world-renowned golf course and a scenic boardwalk are all located in the village. Camping is available at the opening of the Highlands Park and near the sandy beach at Plage St. Pierre. Several hiking trails, including La Buttereau, are located near the entrance to the town going into the national park and some of the most beautiful sunsets on the island are seen from the look-offs and beaches in that area too. Heading west on the Cabot Trail the town of Cheticamp fades away and the scenery gives way to rolling meadows on one side and the raging sea on the other. At the bridge at Margaree Harbour, you can go one of two ways but they both end up in the same place. The road that goes towards Chimney Corner is a windy one along the coast. Whale Cove Beach, with its warm waters and sandy bottom is a great place to take a nice dip on a hot day. The other route runs through a forested area with old homes and fields. No matter which way you go, you eventually end up in the town of Inverness.
Inverness
Inverness is mostly known for its long, sandy beach that runs from one end of the town to the other. A boardwalk and beachside café welcome visitors at one end and the other end is a quiet, windswept, lonely stretch of Atlantic coastline with cute little cabins perched atop the dunes. The town itself is lined with restaurants, shops and cafes and a newly built golf course has been added to the island’s list of world-class courses that are said to be among the best in North America. Inverness was once a mining town and visitors can learn more about this part of the town’s history by visiting the Inverness Miner’s Museum.

Where to Eat in Cape Breton
When it comes to places to have a great meal in Cape Breton, the choices are endless. There are many different types of restaurants all over the island from small take-out canteens to fine dining. Coastal Waters in Ingonish offers a wide range of items. The plates are big, the prices won’t break the bank and the staff is friendly and accommodating. Le Gabrielle in Cheticamp is a unique restaurant inside a lighthouse-inspired building that offers a wide range of local favorites including fresh seafood, pasta dishes, wraps and many more. The Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour is home to some of the Island’s best seafood dishes and the restaurant overlooks the scenic rocky coastline that surrounds the small fishing village. The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou is one of the most famous pubs/restaurants in Cape Breton for a number of reasons including the fact that it is owned by some of the members of the most famous musical families on the island, The Rankins. Patrons are often graced by performances by some of the most accomplished musicians from Cape Breton. Various seafood dishes, fresh salads and baked goods are just some of the delicious down-home items that can be found on the menu. Amedeos in downtown Sydney specializes in authentic homemade Italian Cuisine served in a stylish and comfortable bistro. Governor’s is located on the Sydney Waterfront and serves up a variety of local favorites and patrons can enjoy live entertainment during their meal on many nights during the week.

How to Stay Safe in Cape Breton
Cape Breton is not a dangerous place to travel to by any means. However, just like you are at home or anywhere that you travel, its important to always be familiar with your surroundings and be aware of potential dangers that could occur. Keep an eye on your belongings and lock your car when you are away from it. During the late summer, storms sometimes creep up the coast and cause high sea levels and large waves so it is very important that you stay away from the coastline during these storms. In the highlands, in particular, bear and coyote encounters are common but rarely do these animals interact with humans. If you do cross the path of one of these wild animals, try to make a large beeline around them, scream or make loud noises if approached and make sure to always have a stick or bear spray with you when you are hiking or camping in the backcountry. Moose and deer often wander onto the highways in many areas of the island. Reducing your speed and keeping a sharp eye on the road and ditches in these areas are good practices to ensure you do not hit one of these animals.

How to Save Money in Cape Breton
While it may cost a bit to get to Cape Breton depending on where you are traveling from, generally, it is quite cheap to travel around the island once you are there. If you want to save money on food, try eating at one of the great diner’s that offer delicious food at cheap prices like Mike’s Lunch in Glace Bay or Fitzgerald’s near the Seal Island Bridge. There is a hostel located in Pleasant Bay that offers very cheap accommodations and camping is an option during the summer months if you want to save money on accommodations.

Finally, Don’t leave Cape Breton without…Attending a Ceilidh, which is a traditional Celtic gathering with fiddles, dancing and singing. The biggest Ceilidh that is held every year in October is the world-renowned Celtic Colors Festival which features traditional Celtic artists from all over the world who converge on the island for ten days of non-stop music and cultural events in various venues all over Cape Breton. If you travel to Cape Breton during this time of year, be sure to take a drive around the Cabot Trail because the area is known for its beautiful fall foliage.











Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The True Meaning of Pura Vida

I opened my inbox one day to find an email with a peculiar Subject line. "Congratulations, you have one a trip to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in Sunny Costa Rica". I promptly deleted it but a nagging feeling prompted me to retrieve that email and read it thoroughly to be sure it was, in fact, just another scam. Four months after I read that email, I was boarding a plane for San Jose, Costa Rica and onto the small Pacific Coast village of Montezuma where I would learn an important lesson in life and in living it to the fullest.

There wasn’t much going on at Anamaya Yoga Retreat on my 4th day in Montezuma, Costa Rica. I had gotten into the routine of waking early and watching the sunset, reading in the hammock, taking a dip in the infinity pool and checking emails all before breakfast was even served so on this day, I decided to break the routine and do something a little different. I didn’t want to waste the day sitting by the pool so I strolled down the hill into the village and spent the day exploring the little streets and surf shops and enjoying the beach in the village. The village had so much energetic ambiance. Smiling, energetic people of all walks of life, embracing the day and one another. I can still feel it now if I close my eyes and bring myself back there.
It was the hottest morning in Montezuma since I had arrived and the walk down the hill was torture. I was only half way to the flat part of the road when a young man on a motorbike stopped. “Senorita, I take you to bottom of the hill if you like.” He was wearing nice shirt and khaki shorts which gave him an air of coolness and confidence, like he often picked up strange women who were about to pass out while walking down that hill in the heat and deliberately dressed the part each morning before leaving the house. I never take rides from strangers but I didn’t think I was going to make it any further without collapsing so I took him up on his offer and a few minutes later he dropped me off at the beach. With a wave and a friendly “Buenos dias”, he sped off .

Since I was on the beach already, I plopped myself down on the sand in a shaded area and relaxed and looked out over the ocean. A storm had passed near Montezuma the previous night and the water was extremely rough. I tried to go for a swim but the waves were too powerful and the undertow too dangerous so I relaxed under a tree. The smell of cerviche and Empanadas in the restaurant a few meters from the beach filled the air. The sounds of palm trees rustling in the gentle breeze and locals and tourists going about their daily business lulled me. A dog chased a stick nearby and his barks were followed by the laughs of the happy children who were egging him on. A stray cat sat near a foot cart, waiting for a hand-out. The rhythmic sound of the waves coming ashore, like a lullaby, gently rocked me to sleep.
Shouting zapped me out of my trance to see people on the beach pointing to something in the water; Some brave, fool-hardy surfers were attempting to surf dangerously rough waters close to some jagged rocks. It looked like the scene might end in tragedy but, fortunately, the surfers made it safely to shore. Welcome to Costa Rica – home of adventure seekers, lovers of life and daredevils!

By late-morning, the heat was really getting to me and I was starting to feel dehydrated. I wanted a refreshing fruit smoothie but didn’t want to pay the going rate of about 7 dollars for one at a tourist trap. So off I went, up and down those little streets, in search of a reasonably-priced smoothie. At the end of one of the main roads heading back towards Anamaya, I noticed an interestingly-decorated, outdoor smoothie bar. The thatched-roof and various trees and plants that seemingly sprouted from the walls were what caught my eye. It looked like it might be just my kind of place to sit for a bit and relax.

A free-spirited and friendly young man was eager to take on the challenge of making me up something that was refreshing but not-too-sweet. It took a long time for him to make it as he carefully thought out each and every ingredient he put into it and made sure it was mixed to perfection by allowing me to taste it at intervals to see if it was mixed enough. After some mixing and shaking and adding of various exotic fruit, some of which I didn't recognize, he placed his finished masterpiece before me. For the price of 3 dollars, I received a delicious orange-colored smoothie in a massive glass.

I stayed at the bar and took a seat. “So are you from around here?” I asked him. “Yes, born and raised in Costa Rica, just down the road a little bit.” He obviously loved his life in Montezuma and at one point, he asked if I knew what "Pura Vida" meant. To me "Pura Vida" meant The Pure Life and it was what I had witnessed over and over again while traveling through the country. Natural, untouched, simple and pure. He went on to explain it in more depth for me. “That is how most people interpret it. You see, 'Pura Vida' can be a greeting, a state of mind, a way of life. You meet someone walking down the street, you say 'Pura Vida'. You catch the perfect wave while surfing, you say 'Pura Vida'. You have a wonderful day, instead of saying goodnight, you say 'Pura Vida'. You find a great smoothie bar while walking the streets of Montezuma, you say 'this is Pura Vida'. It can mean anything but always something good. Anytime something good happens, “Pura Vida” is the appropriate thing to say.” Made sense to me. How can you not be living the “Pura Vida” in a country that is considered to be one of the happiest in the world according to the Happy Planet Index and to all the locals?

It was mid-afternoon when I started walking up that steep hill to Anamaya. I managed to make it without collapsing in the ditch. There was still enough daylight left to hike to Montezuma Falls. I had gone there the day before and chickened out of jumping off the falls into the pool below but now I was determined not to leave Costa Rica without taking the risk.
The path to the falls was steep and rocky. I stopped to take a rest mid-way down the trail and that is when I became fully aware of my surroundings. The growling of nearby howler monkeys, the buzz of millions of tropical insects going about their business, the sound of the distant waves crashing onto the beach below, the trees rustling in the gentle breeze. The rainforest felt so alive that it was almost like the forest itself was living and breathing.
I made it to the waterfalls and again paused to take in the beautiful sight before me. Beautiful, cascading water falling into a crystal clear, blue pool beneath a canopy or thick rainforest. Before I could talk myself out of it again, I took the leap into the clear, refreshing water. If there is one thing I absolutely hate, it is missed opportunity. I take every chance that comes my way because, sometimes, you only get one chance to do something and that opportunity never arises again. And to think, if I had not listened to that little voice in my head telling me to read that email again, I would have missed out on the time of my life and would never know what it is like to live the true Pura Vida.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Nothing Like a Good ol' Fashioned Blizzard

Winter 2013/2014, you can go away now…and I don’t mean that in the nicest way possible! I’ve had enough of all this snow!

Those are my thoughts about this winter so far. “Go away.” As you can see, I am not a big fan of winter but this one, in particular, has me hating it even more. The snow started in mid-December. There was so much of it that I had to invest in winter tires for my car for the first time ever and the snow didn’t stop until a few days ago when it, instead, rained so a lot of all that snow melted and flooded everyone’s basements. Now we have another massive rain storm hitting us later this week and than another snowstorm hitting immediately after it and another storm predicted a few days after that one. Get me a plane headed in a southerly direction and some time off work and I’d be one my way to a hot, sunny climate with white, sandy beaches.

I don’t know why I came to hate winter so much. I loved it as a child. I was always the kid who wanted to be outside building snow forts and tunnels, skating on the pond and downhill skiing. I think I can pinpoint when the hatred might have started. It was during my first winter in St. John’s, Newfoundland…one of the worse winters on record for the province and the worse winter I ever had to endure. Newfoundlander’s are tough when it comes to harsh winters but that winter caught the entire province off guard. Snow started falling in November and didn’t stop until June. There was an average of about 3 storms a week and when it was all said and done, twenty-one feet of snow had fallen that season. Three months into my move, I was ready to pack up and head to the mainland. But I stayed there for another ten years and every year (although the following winters were not as bad) I suffered through towering snow banks in the crowded downtown where there is nowhere to put it except on the roof of your house or on the street.

A few years ago, I tried to embrace winter and make use of it. It comes every year, so why not try to make the best of it. I bought a pair of skates, a pair of snowshoes and a really thick, warm winter jacket with all the cold-weather gear to go with it. I went outside a lot that winter and kind of enjoyed it. But summer came again and I realized how much I love being warm and those winter items went into storage and haven’t come out since.

So based on my overall hatred of winter, you may be surprised to learn that there is one thing I kind of like about the season; blizzards. Yup, that’s right. I enjoy a good ol’ fashioned blizzard. I know this sounds bizarre since blizzards are those storms that create the most havoc but there is just something about a blizzard that makes me liken winter to something warm and fuzzy for lack of a better description!

Imagine the panic that would ensue if an announcement were made announcing a forecoming apocalypse. That is what it is like here when an announcement is made about an approaching blizzard. People racing to get to the supermarket to stock up on food as if they expect to be locked in the house for the next year, lineups at the liquor store so long that they end in the parking lot and traffic backed up as everyone tries to get to the same place at the same time to get dibs on emergency items before they are all gone. I’ve been in the grocery store when they have run out of items. Ice, bottled water and other necessities fly off the shelve and panic follows when people are unable to find what they are looking for even though they probably still have a stockpile of these items at home from when they stocked up in preparation for the last blizzard. I am proud to say that I am not one of these people that spirals into total panic at the word “blizzard”. But I do enjoy visiting the grocery store a few hours before a blizzard hits to get a good chuckle at everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Ironically, there have been times when warnings were put up about an impending blizzard only to wake up the next morning to the sun splitting rocks and not a snowflake to be seen. This has made me come up with a theory; the grocery stores realized how much business they get right before a blizzard and, in cahoots with local radio stations, they fabricate these false blizzard warnings to make an extra profit. Either way, I love the excitement of watching people fall over themselves trying to get that last bottle of water or pack of batteries to add to their growing stockpile of blizzard supplies that they never really use. It’s also funny to see how people’s shopping habits change when they think they are going to be stuck indoors for a while. The usual purchases of fruit, vegetables and healthy meals and snacks turns into cartfuls of junk food and soda. The excuse that is widely used? “Well, if the power goes out, I’m going to need to have some non-perishable goods that don’t require a stove or microwave to make.” Right.

Another thing I love about impending blizzards is the anticipation of work being cancelled! Years ago, I looked forward to school being cancelled, now its work. Nothing like a good ol’ snow day! When the storm is at its peak, I have the radio turned on, the weather network on in the background and websites announcing cancellations at the ready. I sit at the window watching the drifts pile up and the roads get covered. However, that anticipation quickly turns to disappointment if the storm moves off before morning.

As strange as this may sound, my favorite thing about blizzards is when the snow is coming down at is fiercest, the wind is howling at top speed and than the power gest knocked out. I am usually prepared for such as event because it happens a lot here during bad storms. I make sure to have some food that can be easily prepared and fresh water in bottles and containers. There is something about cuddling up with a blanket in front of a freshly lit fire with candles lit around the room and only the sound of the raging storm outside to be heard. Its like going back to another era when there were no lights, electric heat or televisions and being reduced to that once and a while is like a breath of fresh air. You have no choice but to get away from the computer and let the cell phone battery run dry and get out a deck of cards or a boardgame and play by candlelight.

A blizzard is a blizzard no matter where you live but there was something special about blizzards in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Newfoundlander’s are tough when it comes to bad weather, there’s no doubt about but, so I learned when I lived there, a blizzard can quickly turn into a party of sorts, especially if you live in walking distance to George St. and can find the one or two bars that stay open even in the worse kind of weather…and the patrons they did come and they did spend money and had a grand ol’ time while the wind howls outside and the snow piles up. And when the power went out, customers got an extra treat; a live acoustic performance by candlelight performed by whatever band happened to be in the vicinity at the time.

As much as I love a good ol’ fashioned east coast blizzard, there is one thing I hate; the shoveling that inevitably comes with one! But I do love the way the landscape looks under a newly fallen blanket of fresh, white snow. When the winds die down and the snow tapers off, I bundle up and make my way outside to take some pictures and enjoy the view before moving on to inspect the damage and dig out from the freshly fallen snow and ice. I must say, digging out of a snowstorm in Atlantic Canada is one of the best ways to connect with neighbors as everyone comes outdoors to help one another dig out…and swear in unison when the snowplow comes by and dumps more snow to shovel!



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Share Your Travels Via Afar Travel Highlights

I love sharing stories about my travels. Not just because I like to brag about the places I’ve been but to help other travelers learn more about the places I’ve seen so that they can learn about these places and maybe go there too. There are many sites that allow travelers to share their stories but I recently came across one that I am really enjoying. Afar.com has dedicated a section of their website to allow travelers to share highlights of their trips. The section, appropriately called Highlights accepts short snippets of trips by travelers from all over the world. You can publish as many as you want and even add pictures and links. The site also allows users to add a bio, a link to their personal blog or website, a profile pic and gives them the option to share their stories via various social networking sites. Other users can “like” your stories and you can like any stories that you enjoy as well. All you have to do is go to the afar.com website, sign up and click on “post a highlight” tab to start sharing your travel stories.

Buddhism for Beginners - A Book Review

Buddhism for Beginners

By Thubten Chodron
I am not a religious person. I am not against religion, I don’t hate religion, I just came to the realization many years ago that following any religion is just not for me. I live a good life and know right from wrong and how to treat others so, in my opinion, I do not need a religion to guide me to do the right thing in life. That being said, I do find religion interesting and because I tend to read every book that lands in my lap, I recently found myself reading a book about Buddhism that was given to me as a gift.

I was born a Christian (Roman Catholic) but over the years, I began to move away from it because it just didn’t fit with my own personal beliefs. Organized religion, in general, doesn’t fit with my lifestyle and I prefer to stay away from it all completely. However, I did look into Buddhism in the past just to learn more about it and based on what I had learned, if there was a religion I could relate to best, this would be the one. Buddhism seems to fit more with my belief system.

Buddhism for Beginners written by Thubten Chodron is a great book to read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the religion or for anyone who would like to start practicing Buddhism. This step by step book informs readers about all the basics and beyond from when and how the religion started, the various beliefs and the various branches of Buddhism. I always knew a little bit about the religion and some of the beliefs but after reading this book, I feel I know everything I need to know in order to understand it more and even start practicing it if I so chose. Either way, it’s an interesting read and very informative in a number of ways. Not only does it outline Buddhism as a religion, but also as a lifestyle and a way to live positively and without regret.

Chapters include:
The Essence of Buddhism
The Buddha
Meditation
Selflessness
Karma – The Functioning of Cause and Effect
The Buddhist Traditions
Steps Along the Path
Working with Emotions
Social Activism and Ethical Issues
Women and the Dharma
Shrines and Offerings




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Unique Accommodations Around the World

I love to travel and I am always looking for unique things to see and do and ways to save money so I can travel more. One of the things I have researched in my travel planning is unique places to stay. When most people think of accommodations, they think regular, run-of-mill hotels, motels, resorts, inns and bed and breakfasts. Not that there is anything wrong with these places, its just that I and many other travelers out there like to be a little more adventurous and prefer to stay in places that most people wouldn’t even know exist. I’ve come across a number of unique places to stay in my travels and in my trip research over the years and have compiled a list to share with other travelers.

10. Quebec City, Canada can get mighty cold in the dead of winter and the first thing anyone wants to do while visiting the city during those months is find a warm, cozy hotel and snuggle up next to a warm fire. Wrong. Many people actually seek out The Hotel de Glace or Ice Hotel as it is known in English and it is growing in popularity with people from all over the world making reservations during the four months of the year it is open. The hotel itself is made of ice that is, on average, four feet thick and even the furniture and dinnerware is made of ice. The hotel holds a nightclub, movie theater, heated washrooms and outdoor hot tubs.

9. Not many people think of taking a vacation somewhere colder than where they live but little do many people know, there is a thriving tourism industry in northern regions, particularly in northern Canada, and many travelers are choosing to go North for a unique travel experience rife with culture, spectacular scenery, the Northern Lights and snow. Staying in a hotel is always an option no matter where you travel but hotels are the same all over the world and are not a great way to experience a new place or culture. Many adventurous travelers to Northern regions prefer to stay in Igloos. The website innsnorth.com offers information on booking an igloo for your stay and there is an entire Igloo Village in Iceland that is open to travelers looking for a unique place to stay. These igloos are comfortable and warm and allow visitors to get a taste of what daily life is like in these very cold, northern regions.

8. A lot of people who have never been to Costa Rica think that the images of tree houses in the rainforest is just a marketing ploy to get potential visitors thinking the place is like something out of The Pirates of the Caribbean. But in reality, tree houses are a common site in the country and not only do some people actually live in them, there is a tree house hotel in La Fortuna. The hotel has private tree houses on-site. Most of the amenities and services that are available at other hotels are available and each tree house has a full bathroom, air conditioning, refrigerator, safe and balcony. Tree house hotels are becoming increasingly popular around the world with similar properties located in Nicaragua, Sweden, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, France, Brazil, The United States and China.

7. Almost every child envisions what it would be like to stay in a castle and little do they and most adults know, Europe is home to most of the world’s castles and many of them are open to the public and available for overnight accommodations. Hotel de la Cite in France, Swinton Park in England, Schloss Hotel Igls in Austria, Ashford Castle in Ireland and Castel Parrona in Italy are just a few of the Castles one can stay in while traveling in Europe. Castles that have been transformed into hotels are also located in other parts of the world. If you are looking for a unique experience steeped in history and old-world charm, there is no better place to stay than in a centuries-old castle. However, if ghosts and things that go bump in the night are something you would rather avoid, than you are best to avoid staying in certain castles as many of them are said to be haunted by previous owners.

6. When some people think of camping, they think of family outings to a campground close to home where they pitch a tent and sing and roast marshmallows around a fire. Camping is not just a North American phenomenon; it’s a common activity everywhere and there are campgrounds all over the world. That being said, have you ever considered scrapping the idea of staying in a hotel and roughing it at a campground or in the backcountry of your destination? Camping is cheap, it’s widely available and most campgrounds have at least all the basic services needed to sustain a decent living on the road. Many campgrounds are located in rural, scenic areas on the outskirts of cities and towns and camping offers travelers a more local experience because it will be easier to meet local people and you will get a better feel for the place because you won’t be surrounded by tourists and touristy things that come with staying in hotels and resorts.

5. We spend our lives trying to stay out of jail but some tourists who travel to Ottawa, Canada, seek out the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Hostels are located all over the world and offer a unique experience in themselves but this hostel takes it a bit further. It actually was, at one time, an actual prison that now offers both dorm rooms and private rooms to budget-seeking travelers of all ages.

4. Native American history is interesting and it goes back further than any other recorded human history in North America. You can learn a lot by visiting museums and attending cultural events but the best way to immerse yourself in Native American culture is to stay in a teepee in an area populated by native Americans. Most of these accommodations are located in Western Canada but there are some located in areas of the United States as well. Staying in a teepee is a sure way to learn what the lives of pre-colonial natives were like and learn more about their intriguing story, past and present.

3. Lighthouses are becoming a rare sight in many coastal areas because they are no longer needed with all the new navigation technologies that are available. Many lighthouses are now being torn down or are falling apart from neglect but fortunately, many of them have been turned into accommodations for travelers seeking a unique place to stay. One thing that is guaranteed when staying in a lighthouse? You will always have a million dollar view of the ocean and surrounding coastline. The architecture is also unique and that is something that catches the attention of many people and you will experience what it must have been like for the lighthouse keepers of the past who spent most of their lives living in such accommodations as part of their job.

2. When all else fails and you still don’t want to resort to staying in a hotel or motel (whether it be for financial reasons or other reasons), you can always sleep in airports, train stations and ferry and bus terminals. I’ve slept in every airport I have ever been in and no one seemed to care. I’ve also slept in ferry, bus and train terminals but have come across some that frown upon the cheapskates who don’t want to pay for a hotel room! If you plan to try your luck at sleeping in one of these places, I will warn you that it takes some skill. These places can be noisy, cold and brightly lit. Make sure to have a blanket and pillow, some clean clothes to change into in the morning, some snacks and water for when the concessions close and some travel toiletries to wash up with in the bathroom sink because showers are rare in these places. Carefully select your sleeping area by choosing a place that will most likely be darker than other areas after hours. Stay away from windows because they tend to be cold and keep your belongings as close to you as possible at all times. The main bonus about sleeping in these places is you are always close to food and coffee, there is usually free Wifi throughout the building and there are tons of new people to meet that can make for some interesting conversation…or you may make a new friend or find the perfect travel buddy!

1. Couchsurfing is basically what it sounds like; sleeping on available couches in homes around the world. I know it sounds like something more suited to younger people are backpackers but this travel trend is becoming more and popular with all kinds of travelers of all ages. It’s a great way to meet new people and be immersed in a new culture and, often times, these local hosts will show you around and introduce you to places that are off the beaten track. There is no better way to see and do things that you normally wouldn’t have access to while embarking on a guided tour or staying at a resort.






Saturday, January 25, 2014

Surviving Cabin Fever Season

As most of you probably know by now, I do not like to be stuck in one place for too long. I am extremely claustrophobic and I need to have access to wide open spaces at all times. I guess that is why I enjoy leaving the house periodically to go for a drive between working and household chores and why I love to travel to far away places. I’m not sure how I developed these strange traits (at least strange to most people who can sit for hours at a time in front of a television – something I cannot do no matter how hard I try!) but I suspect it has a lot to do with my upbringing. My parents were always on the go and always took us kids with them everywhere – road trips, beach excursions, museum visits – you name it, we went. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m glad I was exposed to all that at an early age. It allowed me to develop an interest in the world around me and to develop many hobbies and interests that I took into adulthood. The only problem is, well, I took it into adulthood and now my feet are constantly itchy and I always have to be doing something outside the house!

When I lived in the city, being stuck somewhere in one place was never an issue because everything was in walking distance. No, I didn’t have a car but there was a mostly reliable and efficient bus system and I lived in a central location right downtown that was close to malls, museums, walking trails, restaurants, bars and anything else I needed. I could just walk out my front door, walk for about two minutes and be in a beautiful park. When I moved back to Cape Breton, I found myself living in the country without a car. This worked for a while because there were so many open spaces I could wander around and explore and I had the use of my dad’s car whenever I needed to go into the city to run errands. After a while, that got old. I got sick of spending all my time in that little village so I broke down and bought a car, the first one I owned in over ten years. It was so nice to have that freedom again. The freedom of being able to just jump in the car and go wherever I pleased, whenever I pleased…that is until mid-December when the snow started falling and still hasn’t stopped. I neglected to even consider putting winter tires on my car because I usually get along fine with all-seasons. I guess the combination of heavier snow than normal and the fact that this car is heavier than the cars I am used to driving and has different sized tires than what I am used to resulted in my car literally being parked at the bottom of the driveway, buried in snow and ice for a little over two weeks.

For those two weeks, I was stuck in the house, unable to go anywhere unless someone came to pick me up. While it was nice that friends and family offered to take me to get my groceries and pay bills and run daily errands, its not the same as jumping in the car and going on my own. When I’m behind the wheel and in control of the vehicle, I get to listen to whatever radio station I want, I can crank the volume up as high as I want and I can take the long way home or go for a little drive around while I finish my coffee. The first day without my car wasn’t so bad except that I do have a caffeine addiction and I am in the habit of taking a drive into town at around the same time every day to appease that addiction with a medium coffee with milk or a French Vanilla Cappuccino if my sweet tooth is acting up. I solved that problem with some homebrewed instant coffee. It wasn’t the best tasting coffee but it helped keep the caffeine withdrawal symptoms at bay.

That first day went into a second and a third until it turned into a week of not being able to move my car. Believe me, I tried. Every night is snowed and every morning I walked down to the bottom of that long driveway, shoveled all the snow that was around the car, salted the ice and broke it with an ice pik, warmed up the car and tried to move it….to no avail. Those low-profile tires that make driving so much fun in the summer months made driving in the winter much like driving on banana peels. The wheels just spun and spun but the car would not budge. For another week, my car sat at the bottom of the lane, unable to move. My fault for neglecting to put winter tires on it earlier but in my defense, I wasn’t expecting a winter from hell especially so early in the season. It wasn’t even technically winter when the snow started falling!

So what did I do during those two weeks that I was almost literally stuck in one place? Well first of all, I shoveled a lot. Than I paced a lot. Than I shoveled some more…and paced some more. I managed to order some winter tires but they sat at the garage almost the entire time while I waited for the hill by my house to be cleared of snow and ice so I could get up it. Somewhere in between all that shoveling and pacing, I realized there was no point in being anxious and I started looking at the situation as an opportunity. An opportunity to give my car a rest and save on mileage so the warranty doesn’t run out as fast. An opportunity to save on gas and therefore save on money too. And an opportunity to work on some things that I had tossed aside.

So during those two weeks, I revamped my blog, organized my photos, started a newsletter, a Tumblr account and a Facebook page and, most importantly, I completed the MatadorU travel writing course that I signed up for over a year ago. I also started organizing my notes for a book I want to write and completed a few other projects I had been procrastinating about. Now I am on a roll and can’t stop writing. Not having the distraction of a car parked in the yard that I can jump in at any moment to aimlessly drive around listening to music, drinking coffee and dodging work really got me into action!

The roads finally cleared enough for me to get my car into the garage to have four brand new studded winter tires put on. The car drives like a tank on snow and ice now but I think I broke that bad habit of going for pointless drives. Since getting the car back, I have no real desire to go anywhere except to the grocery store or for something specific. I am getting so much done and writing so much that I barely think of going for a drive! Or maybe it is because my very long driveway is still impassable and I don’t feel like trudging through knee-deep snow and ice through coyote-infested woods to get to my car parked at the bottom.

Summer will be a different story though. Once the temperatures warm up and the roads to the beaches are cleared of winter’s remnants, the temptation will be too much. I love my work and I love to write but I love nothing more than a moonlit drive in the country or early morning walk on the beach!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

One Need Not Travel Far to Enjoy The Beauty that is All Around Us

People who travel mostly focus on their travels away from home when they are blogging or sharing on social media. Surely, these travelers (at least most of them) are not traveling 365 days a year so they must be doing something at least somewhat noteworthy when they are home. Travelers usually tend to be engaged in their communities and immersed in their surroundings no matter where they are so where are all the stories about the travels in their own backyards and hometowns? I am a traveler and I have been on many trips away from my home country but I also like to embark on adventures close to home when I am not traveling. I don’t have the money or the time to be traveling away from home all the time so I make use of what is available to me in my own backyard.
When I lived in St. John’s, there was something new to explore each and every day and I took advantage of as many of those new adventures as possible. Even if I had to work that day or it was a bit cold, I always got out of the house and did something, somewhere. At times, I didn’t even have a car available to me and I still managed to find new places to explore. I went to museums, I attended workshops, I explored new walking trails, I visited parks. In the city, there was always something new to be discovered!
Since I moved back to Cape Breton, I’ve been living in a rural area. For the first year, I only had access to a car a few times a week to run errands in town but I still got to do a lot of exploring. I grew up in this neighborhood but even years later, after returning as an adult, I discovered many little places that I did not find when I was a child. The caves behind the fish plant, the little slab of beach down the street that used to be someone’s backyard (the house was torn down sometime while I was away), the giant fields beyond the power lines. I re-explored places that were my favorite haunts as a child. The gravel pits behind the baseball field, the beach that ran along the shoreline from the fishing wharfs, the (now grown-in) foot paths that created a maze in the wooded area behind my house. And on days when I had access to a car, I explored beyond my backyard.
As a child, my parents often took my sisters and I on road trips and family vacations. We were always on the road exploring or going somewhere new. On my 17th birthday, Mom woke me and led me outside to receive my birthday present. I opened the front door to see a car I had never seen before. It took a few seconds for it to register; when she handed me the keys, I realized it was my car. Within minutes of being handed the keys, I was gone. I remember the last words out of Mom’s mouth were “don’t go into Sydney until you are more used to driving around by yourself. She didn’t say not to go to St. Peter’s, which was almost 200 kilometers past Sydney. Technically, I didn’t disobey her.
I now have access to a car full time. I had bit of extra money saved away from the job I worked on last winter and I live in a rural area so I felt it best to have my own car in the driveway so I could come and go as I please. And all summer, I came and went…a lot. Within days of taking my new car home, I left on my first road trip of 2013. I drove to Moncton (stopping in various towns I had never been to before along the way) stayed with my great-aunt in Dieppe for a few days, and drove home., except I didn’t drive straight home. Straight home would have taken me along the Trans-Canada Highway – the way I had taken to get to Moncton. Instead, I took the long way home over the Confederation Bridge, across Prince Edward Island and across the Norththumberland Straight on a ferry that arrived in Pictou, Nova Scotia. That is how most of my road trips go. I always try to avoid backtracking and try to see as many new places as possible.
Since moving back home, I have found new beaches, new roads I have never driven on, new coffee shops, new walking trails, new parks I didn’t know existed...all within a few hundred kilometers of my home. I have also found some great places to just park the car and listen to the waves crashing onshore, watch a meteor shower or listen to my favorite radio show, CBC Radio 2 Drive. My adventures sometimes yield some surprises too. Like the time I saw five deer grazing in the field very early one morning on my way to Ingonish to visit my sister. Or the Bald Eagle’s nest I happened upon in a lonely graveyard not far from where I live. Or the incredible swimming hole I found about an hour away. I also took up a new hobby recently; Geocaching. This new hobby has taken me to a number of new places around my hometown and beyond and it’s fun!
Winter is settling in now and road trips are just not as fun when it’s cold and snowing. I now have to resort to other activities to keep me busy. For the past few weeks, I’ve been driving to town and parking my car in the coffee shop parking lot and listening to my favorite radio show and tinkering around with my new phone that I am still trying to figure out how to use. I’m sure that will get old after a while. Christmas will come, I will be busy celebrating with family and friends and by mid-January, my surroundings will be covered in a few feet of snow – and that means a whole new landscape in which to discover via another method of transportation; Snowshoes.
So the question is: Will you settle into the mediocrity of everyday life and spent your days dreaming of your next international vacation or will you get out there and take a vacation in your own back yard? You would be surprised by how enlightening it can be to just explore the places you spend the most time in!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Can Proudly Say That I am Now a MatadorU Graduate

Well, I finally did it. I completed the MatadorU Travel Journalism program in Travel Writing. I have to say, I feel mighty proud of myself considering when I signed up for it quite a while back, it looked like I would never get through it. With a full time job and other obligations always getting in the way, I didn’t really get much done with the course until recently when I found myself unemployed and with a lot of free time on my hands. Yes, it took me a while to complete but its done now and I am quite pleased with how the whole thing went.

When I first signed up for the course, I was a little skeptical. I had read all the good reviews about it and knew that many travel writers recommended taking the course but I really wondered how much I could possible learn that I didn’t already know from years of reading up about the travel industry and travel writing. By the time I reached the second chapter in the course, I realized that there was a lot I didn’t know…and needed to know. And now, I feel so much more knowledgeable about the business of travel writing and more confident about my writing and in promoting it.
For the small enrollment fee of $350.00, students get access to the whole curriculum, assignment feedback from editors and lifetime access to the entire program. Each chapter ends with an assignment that allows you to incorporate all that you learned. Curriculum chapters include
1) Researching and preparing for an assignment
2) Adding multimedia to your storytelling skills
3) How to monetize your website
4) Guidebook writing and press trips
5) Narration

Once you sign up for the course, you can take as long as you want to complete it and once you’ve completed it, you will receive a printable certificate and the option to post a banner stating that you are a MatadorU graduate to your blog or website. You will also have access to some bonus materiasl such as a list of paying travel writing markets and some informative videos.

MatadorU also offers courses in Travel Photography and Travel Filmmaking and you get a discount if you sign up for two or more at a time. I wish I had of done that when I signed up but I wasn’t interested in taking any of the other ones. Now I am and I think I will soon be signing up for the Travel Photography course!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Some of the Top Travel Destinations for 2014

2014 has arrived. The summer of 2013 has come and gone but Spring Break and summer 2014 will be here before we know it and if you like to travel, no doubt, you will be looking into potential trips for the upcoming year. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide where to go because there are so many things to consider such as the safety of many destinations and your personal budget. The following list is about ten up and coming destinations that are going to be popular for the 2014 travel season and what they have to offer.

Nicaragua

Between Costa Rica and Honduras is the largest country in Central America, Nicaragua. The Pacific Ocean and The Caribbean Sea border the country making it a prime destination for scuba divers and beach enthusiasts but that is not all the country has to offer. Once plagued by high crime rates, Nicaragua is seeing much better times and it is cheaper than ever for budget travelers to visit the country and not break the bank. One thing many people don’t think of doing when visiting Central America is fishing but the country is home to two of the regions largest freshwater lakes and a prospering offshore fishery which means tourists can also enjoy this activity while in the country. Imagine exploring a colonial town full of sidewalk markets and live music venues in Leon or admiring the city of Grenada’s unique architecture or finding the perfect souvenir at the Nica Markets. If you are adventurous, you may want to try volcano boarding at Cerro Negro or hiking a volcano at night or surfing at San Juan del Sur. If partying it up at festivals is your thing, there are many throughout the year including Carnival in March. These are just some of the top things to see and do in Nicaragua. Beautiful scenery is a top criteria for many travelers trying to decide where to go and Nicaragua, with its lowland plains, central highland volcanoes and the Amerrisque Mountains, is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the Americas. The people of Nicaragua embrace their unique and diverse culture too. This multi-ethnic country is big on folklore, tradition, food, music and religious ceremonies. The weather in Nicaragua is generally nice year-round but it tends to be cooler in the highlands and very hot in the lowlands with rain becoming more frequent in the months between May and November. Whether you are a backpacker or someone looking for a relaxing beach getaway, Nicaragua is one place that should be high on your radar of potential places to travel to in 2014.


Cambodia

For years, Thailand was the top Asian destination for budget travelers and backpackers but Cambodia is quickly becoming the new Thailand and will be one of the most sought-out travel destinations in the world by 2014. Cambodia is situated in the southern region of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia and its location allows travelers to enjoy other popular destinations in the region including Thailand and Laos because the countries are located so close together. The people of Cambodia are probably the main thing that attracts so many visitors from around the world. They are known for being well-mannered, soft-spoken and friendly. They have much pride in their unique culture that includes a mixture of Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, French colonialism, Angkorian, and modern influences from around other parts of Asia and the rest of the world. The food, the dance, the music and the intriguing and sometimes turbulent history make Cambodia a place of unified diversity like no other on the planet. The people of Cambodia have faced some tough times throughout history and this had made them strong in the face of hardships. The landscape of Cambodia is as diverse as the people and their culture. With a low-lying central plain, large lakes, the Mekong River Delta, the Dangrek Mountains and the Eastern Highlands, Cambodia is one of the most scenic countries in Asia. The weather depends on the time of year and elevation. Typically, the temperatures are quite hot most of the year with precipitation heaviest in September and October and the driest weather occurring in January and February. There are many things to see and do in Cambodia. Angkor Wat, the most famous ancient temple in the country, is best visited at sunrise. Pub Street and Siem Reap Night Market is an exciting place with night clubs, restaurants and shops. Tonle Sap Lake is home to the famous Floating Villages and it is worth it to take a boat tour to them. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is where you can learn about some of Cambodia’s most brutal moments in history. The Killing Fields near Phnem Penh is a mass grave turned monument with remnants of one of the many killing fields that was unearthed and left as a reminder of what was lost. Other must-do activities include taking a tuk-tuk around downtown Siem Reap and making the six hour drive from Siem Reap to Phnem Penh along a scenic and rural highway.

US Virgin Islands

Although they are located in then Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean Sea, The Virgin Islands belong to the United States. For a very small area, the Virgin Islands have a long history, a very pronounced culture made up of West African, European, American and Danish influences. The US Virgin Islands have traditionally been more expensive to visit than some other Caribbean islands and have long attracted a more elite demographic. Today, prices are lower than ever and the islands are quickly becoming a haven for budget travelers looking for a scenic, relaxing, culture-rich beach vacation. Saint Thomas, Saint John, Saint Croix and Water Island are the main islands and are known for their white, sandy beaches particularly the ones located at Magens Bay and Trunk Bay. The Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Christiansted National Historic Site and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve are the best places to really see and experience the land and learn more about the history and culture but there are many other things to see and do in The US Virgin Islands. Maho Beach in Cruz Bay is a great place to spend a day at the beach and see marine life such as sea turtles, rays and starfish. Hikers enjoy the Ram Head Trail in St. John for its spectacular views consisting of coastline and tropical vegetation. Secret Harbor and Honeymoon Beach are uncrowded beaches that are home to some of the best snorkeling in the area. Wayward Sailor offers daily sailboat tours, guided snorkeling adventures and eco-tours. Magic Ice is the largest ice gallery in the world and includes beautiful sculptures detailing various aspects of local history, a slide and a wedding chapel. The weather in the US Virgin Islands is nice throughout the year with hotter temperatures during the months from June to September and most precipitation falling during the months from September to November.

Portugal

Portugal has always been a widely visited country but, until recently, it was not as widely visited as other parts of Western Europe. Today, visitors from all over the world travel to the country to experience its colorful culture and explore it’s scenic landscape and 2014 is bound to be a record-breaking year for travel to the country as more and more people are taking advantage of lower prices and numerous deals. Located on the Iberian Peninsula in the southern portion of Western Europe, Portugal is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, making it a prime beach vacation destination on the continent. These beaches, such as Falesia Beach, Praia Da Rocha and Praia la Luz are sandy, long and located in scenic areas along the coastline. Whether you are looking for a crowded beach where you can meet lots of other tourists and locals or a secluded beach where you relax undisturbed, there are numerous beaches to cater to every type of beachgoer. Unique geographical features such as the River Tagus, the rolling plains of the Alentejo region, the cliffs of Algarve, the volcanic lakes of Sete Cidades, the Sierra da Estrela, the valleys of Curral das Freiras, the river valleys of Northern Portugal and the forest in the Montesinho Natural Park region make Portugal a land of beauty and diversity and with ease of access to a variety of transportation methods, travelers can experience many of these natural wonders in a short period of time. Portugal is also known for its unique Manueline architecture which can be mostly seen in the cities, especially in the capital city of Lisbon. Visual arts, cuisine, music and dance are also a huge part of Portuguese culture and visitors can learn more about the culture and history in the many museums, restaurants, cafes and galleries that are located all over the country. Many outdoor activities are enjoyed in Portugal including cycling, horseback riding, hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, off-roading and fishing and there are numerous attractions located all over the country. Oceanario de Lisboa features ocean-themed exhibits and aquariums which are home to a number of marine species. Monte Cable Car offers a great way to get to the Monte Palace Tropical gardens while seeing some spectacular views along the way. Ponte D. Luis I is an impressive bridge that joins Porto and Gaia. Parque Aventura - Albufeira is an entertainment center featuring physically challenging activities and obstacles such as ziplining, skateboarding, rope bridges and much more. Zoomarine Algarve is where you can watch dolphins, seals, sea lions and tropical birds do presentations and visit a state-of-the-art aquarium. The Mediterranean climate of Portugal means the country is one of the warmest in the region but there are still some areas that get colder weather and lots of precipitation certain times of year. The best times to visit Portugal are from April to June and from September to November.

Bolivia

South America has long been a popular travel destination but Bolivia is only recently gaining the popularity that other countries in the region have had for years. The reason is cheaper prices and more political stability in the region, ease of access to neighboring countries which allows travelers to travel to Bolivia from nearby countries and lower crime rates. Although Bolivia is a relatively small country, its people descend from many backgrounds resulting in a unique and diverse culture made up of Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians and Africans. The food, the dance, the music, the art, the clothing, the various languages and even the architecture unite to create one of South America’s most diverse cultures. Due to the fact that Bolivia is landlocked, a beach vacation is out of the question but there are many other outdoor activities to enjoy such as trekking, mountain biking, ziplining and rock climbing. With a geographical location consisting of tropical rainforests, dry valleys, tropical savanna, large and small rivers, the Western and Central ranges of the Andean Mountains, Lake Titicaca, salt flats, plateaus and lowlands, visitors can participate in the above activities and many more while enjoying spectacular vistas and opportunities to view local wildlife. The history of Bolivia is also very interesting and is displayed in a number of museums in every region of the country. The friendly locals, who are proud of their heritage and culture, are more than willing to share their knowledge of their country with foreigners! There are a number of must-see attractions around the country such as The National Folklore Museum in La Paz. Tiwanaku is the site of some of the most mysterious ruins on the continent. Valle de la Luna offers visitors the chance to see some unique geologic formations. Santa Cruz Cathedral is a large and beautiful church that is a must-see, both inside and out. Avaroa National Reserve is a great place to view several species of flamingoes in their natural habitat and see some of the countries unique landscape. Tunupa Volcano rises above a beautiful village and offers great views of the surrounding area. Visitors can even have the chance to participate in Shamanic Healing Ceremonies at Sasha Runa and if you are a biker and are not afraid of heights, it might be worth your while to try out the Death Road, said to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world.


Lithuania

Until recently, not many people were very aware of Lithuania but this country in Northern Europe is quickly gaining popularity with travelers of all ages and backgrounds. Although Lithuania is a relatively small country, it is rich in culture comprising of elements from several ethnic groups including Ethnic Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, and history going back to Prehistoric times. The climate of Lithuania is both Maritime and Continental with cold, damp winters and warm, dry summers. The best time to travel to the country is between the months of June and September and while the winters are cold, summers are warm enough for tourists to enjoy the ninety-nine kilometers of sandy coastline, much of which consists of beautiful public beaches. When it comes to things to do, there are many attractions all over the country. The KGB Museum in Vilnius is dedicated to bringing awareness to a particularly dark part of history for the country. St. Anne’s Church is a huge Gothic Cathedral that’s impressive both on the inside and from the outside. Gediminas Tower offers great views from its observation decks. A walk through Vilnius Old Town allows visitors to see exquisite architecture. The Devil’s Museum offers bizarre exhibits featuring devils from all over the world. Trakai Historical National Park features a castle and other medieval architectural wonders. For outdoor enthusiasts, biking, boating, fishing and golf are popular activities and there are hot air balloon rides available in some areas.

Honduras

Another Central American country that is becoming very popular with travelers from all over the world and is set to be one of the most visited counties in the region for 2014 is Honduras. Although bordered by the three countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Honduras still has plenty of coastline along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea which means one of the top attractions is its sandy beaches. The country’s intriguing history goes back to pre-colonial times when the Mayans flourished as a civilization. The culture is a mixture of European, Amerindian and African influences rich in folklore and colorful celebrations and festivals featuring local food, dance and music. The geography of Honduras includes mountains, narrow plains, scenic coastline, lowland jungles, valleys and rivers which makes the country a hotspot for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities such as scuba diving, climbing, hiking, windsurfing, ziplining, bird watching and fishing. There are many attractions located in various regions of the country. Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum in Roatan are beautiful tropical gardens. The UNESCO world-heritage site of Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is located in La Mosquitia and allows visitors to explore some of the natural wonders of the country. Gumbalimba Park offers ziplining, nature trails and a beach and is home to a number of animal and bird species. Bay Islands Underwater Museum tours are given via snorkeling excursions where you can see Mayan artifacts, shipwrecks and a number of marine species. Float Utila is the world’s biggest floating tank and visitors can embark on a unique and thrilling adventure. Parque Nacional La Tigra is a beautiful park with many miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, scenic viewpoints and opportunity to view local wildlife. Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion is a spectacular Spanish Colonial Cathedral. The climate of Honduras is mostly tropical but it tends to be cooler in higher elevations where there is more of a temperate climate. The best time of year to visit is between the months of February and June when there is less precipitation and the temperatures are warm.

Mexico Yucatan Peninsula

With so much negative news coming out of Mexico in recent years, it’s no wonder certain parts of the country are seeing fewer tourists. That being said, there is one area of the country that is seeing more tourists than ever and that is the Yucatan Peninsula which includes the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo and is home to the Riviera Maya, Cancun and some of the regions most impressive Mayan ruins. This peninsula is located in the southeastern portion of the country and runs between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The region is most well-known for its long beaches that line the many miles of coastline. The soft, white sand and warm, crystal blue waters make the region one of the top beach destinations in the world. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid eyes on is one located near the Mayan ruins of Tulum called Playa Santa Fe. The island of Cozumel is home to some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. Did I mention there are also opportunities to dive with whale sharks and this is one of only a few places in the world where this can be done. The other thing that the Yucatan Peninsula is known for is the Mayan ruins such as Coba, Tulum and Chichen Itza located in the state of Quintana Roo. Of course, we all know Cancun is a top destination in the area but for tourists looking for a more relaxed and less crowded vacation, the town of nearby Playa del Carmen is popular and many of the world class resorts are located in that area. It is very easy to get around various areas of the country. For example, ADO offers a coachline bus service that travels between various towns in the area. One can travel from Playa del Carmen to Tulum or Coba for a mere few dollars on an air-conditioned, full service, comfortable bus. Mexico is well-known for its colorful Spanish culture consisting of lively music and dance and delicious and flavorful food. The country’s history is long and it is easy to learn all about it by visiting one of the many museums or by simply engaging very friendly locals in conversation. The people are proud and love to learn about the tourists as much the tourists want to learn about them. There are many things to do while visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. Casa de los Venados is a great place to see traditional Mexican art and crafts. Uxmal is the ruins of another ancient Mayan city waiting to be explored. LabnaHa Cenotes & Eco Park is a nature and wildlife area in a park filled with tons of things to do including a chance to zipline. Tulum Monkey Sanctuary is another nature and wildlife area with Spider monkeys and many other local animal species. Explore caverns and caves at Grutas de Calcehtok. There are also a number of outdoor adventure activities to participate in including nature walks, jungle treks, canopy tours, surfing and parasailing. The best time to travel to the Yucatan Peninsula is between the months of December and April. May is the start of the rainy season which can see lots of rain mixed with very hot temperatures and hurricane season is between the months of May and November so, although one can get really good deals during that off-season, it is best to avoid the area at that time as these storms can be very dangerous.


Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has always been a popular beach vacation destination for travelers from all over North America and the country will remain a top destination for 2014. While many of the travelers to the country will be opting for the all-inclusive beach vacation at popular resorts in well-known tourist areas, more travelers are starting to take advantage of the many things the country has to offer outside the resorts and are moving toward more independent methods of travel that will take them to areas a little more off-the-beaten path to participate in less traditional activities. Located in the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, The Dominican Republic encompasses half of the island of Hispaniola. The country is most well-known for its long, white, sandy beaches and world-class resorts but is also known for its colorful and lively culture with a large focus on music and dance. The geography of the country is quite diverse in the interior, away from the coast. A number of mountain ranges, valleys and lakes create a landscape suitable for many outdoor activities including hiking, horseback riding, golfing, biking and climbing. Visitors can participate in scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and other water sports along coastal areas of the country. The tropical climate and average annual temperature of twenty-five degrees means the country is a haven for outdoor lovers. Must-see attractions and historical sites are located all over so there is never a shortage of things to see and do, no matter where you are. Damajaqua Cascades in Puerto Plata is a group of scenic waterfalls and visitors can just admire the falls or participate in a guided canyoneering adventure. Isla Saona is a national park consisting of a beautiful beach area. National Park of the East is another national park that allows visitors to experience pristine natural areas of the country. Tainopark is a museum dedicated to the Taino people and how they lived and went about their daily lives. Catedral Primada de America in Santo Domingo is a beautiful cathedral and architectural marvel. Park of Three Eyes of Water near Santo Domingo is a group of caves and unique geographical formations. Some of the more popular beaches in The Dominican Republic include Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, Ryanna Sun, La Romana, Bahia de las Aguilas, Macao Beach and Paradise Island & The Mangroves in Punta Rucia.

New Zealand

New Zealand has always been at the top of many traveler’s bucket lists and while many people have traveled to the country in the past, for the most part, airfare is too expensive for most people. Today, that is changing and 2014 is going to be the year that sees many people who once thought they would never see the country packing their bags and heading there. Prices are much lower now than they were a few years ago and New Zealand is becoming known the world over for its spectacular scenery, low crime, friendly people and adventure tourism. After all, the extreme sport of bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand so that should say something about the type of adventures one can have in this far away land. River rafting, back country exploring, ziplining, rock climbing and many other adventures await and for those travelers who prefer more low-key and relaxing activities, there are plenty of those too. The Auckland Museum is a great place to start to learn all about New Zealand’s history, culture and geography. Rangitoto Island is a volcanic island where one can bird watch, hike, climb, fish and swim. The Auckland zoo is home to species of wildlife from around New Zealand and the world. Banks Peninsula in Christchurch is home to some interesting geological formations and beautiful bays. Lake Pukaki is a great place to spend the day relaxing on the banks of one of New Zealand’s most scenic lakes. A trip on the Christchurch Gondola offers up some fantastic views of the area. Golf is a popular activity in the country and there is plenty of opportunity to take a scenic drive through the Waitakere Ranges or along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and see some of New Zealand’s natural landscape. New Zealand is also known for its beautiful, sandy beaches famous for having warm waters and suitable conditions for surfing and other water sports but if there is one thing that New Zealand is known best for, it’s the spectacular scenery that can be found all over the country. Towering mountains, green valleys, rocky coastline, clear lakes and raging rivers make the geography of New Zealand one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The weather is nice throughout the year too with February and March being the warmest and driest months and June, July and August being the coldest.



















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