Friday, August 23, 2019

A Summer Hiking Adventure - Gabarus, Sterling and Framboise

Everyone in my family has a part of Cape Breton Island they love most.  My mother loved Cheticamp, my sisters and I love Ingonish and the Highlands and my father loves The Framboise area on the south coast.   While I still love Ingonish and the Highlands, over the last few years, my preferences have changed slightly.  Recently, the Highlands area has seen a huge surge in tourism and while I think this is fantastic for the island as a whole, I prefer more low-key places where there are less crowds.  Gradually, my summer drives and camping trips shifted to the other side of the island in Cheticamp, Margaree and Inverness and most recently, those day trips and overnights shifted to the even more remote areas of the south coast.

When I was a child, my family had a cabin in the Sterling area around Framboise so I became familiar with the area at quite a young age.  However, as a teenager, the bustling tourist village of Ingonish was more appealing as there were lots of young people and beach parties and bonfires.  Now, I prefer the seclusion of long, lonely beaches and remote wood roads through the forest.

Summer is not my favourite time of year for hiking.  I prefer the late spring and early fall when the temperatures are a bit cooler and the black flies and mosquitoes are not as bad.  However, a few weeks ago, I decided to embark on a hiking adventure in the Framboise area because our summer here in Cape Breton was off to a slow start. 

I started the day near the little fishing village of Gabarus.  I wanted to check out the old Oceanview Road which I was told once went all the way through over to Louisbourg.  I drove for a few kilometers and reached the point where the road was too rough to keep going.  I parked the car and contemplated which direction to go on foot. There were two old roads, one going to the right, the other to the left.  I took the one to the right, hiked for about 15 minutes before it got too muddy and turned back.  Upon closer inspection, the other road looked quite muddy so I didn't bother hiking it.  I should have known there would be mud since there had been so much rain the day before. So that ended the first segment of my adventure.
Next, I drove to the Sterling area.  My family's old cabin is no longer there but the land is and every time I pass it, I can still picture that old white bungalow with the big rose bush in front.  Something I remember vividly is asking dad to pull the shutters back so we could watch the bats awake from their slumber and fly away into the trees.  For some strange reason, the other thing I remember is a pillow shaped like a guitar that had been left there by the previous owner, a schoolteacher who also left behind some other interesting items. I slowed down in the area where I was sure an old pioneer graveyard used to be located.  My dad took me there a few years ago and while it was fairly easy to find back than, it proved a lot more difficult this time around.  Some trees had been cut in the area for pulp and the path that used to lead to the graveyard must have grown in because it was no longer a visible impression through the forest.  I drove back and forth looking for any indication of an old road and finally, I found it when I looked closely at a spot that looked more beaten down than the areas around it.  I was right; it led right to the old graveyard. When I wander these old graveyards and look around at the old headstones of the area's pioneering people , I think about what it must have been like to live in the area in those times.  These people once thrived here, had homes and farms and families.  I imagine it was much different from the ghost town it is today.  After wandering around and looking at some of the very old headstones for a while, I next headed to the old Sterling Mine site.

When I was a child, I was told that the old Sterling Mine site is haunted and even today, that place still gives me the creeps.  The older folks used to say that you could hear the workings of the mine long after the mine had closed.  Any time I've gone there, there was no one else around although there are plenty of signs of people being around.  Illegally dumped garbage, gravity sprayed all over the old foundations and crumbling buildings are evidence of human activity at the site however, I suspect this activity takes place in the dead of night and I would never dare go near this place after dark. On this day, the only recent sign of life was some footprints.  Deer, lynx and coyote footprints to be exact.
I walked over to the edge of what I nicknamed the "Cape Breton Desert" because of the wide open space devoid of trees (except for a few creepy dead ones) and crumbly terrain that resembled sand. It's not really a desert.  I'm not exactly sure how this landscape came to be but, due to the fact that the Sterling Mine site is the only place that has such a landscape on the island, my guess is it's directly caused by the mining activities that took place there.  I'm guessing the lack of trees was perhaps caused by chemicals used in the mining process and the sand-like ground is actually a spongy hard mud likely created by years of mine workings that destroyed the natural earth.  I've been to a real desert before and walking across this man-made desert is much like the real thing.  It's dead quiet, loose debris slowly tumbles across the landscape and a constant wind coming from the forest at the edges turns into a howling breeze that sends goosebumps down my spine and up my arms.  The only thing missing is cactus and and scorching heat.
It was quite eerie walking across that landscape, especially when it seemed like I was the only person who had walked across it in, well, forever.  There were no other footprints except for the lone trail of a coyote who must have scattered across earlier that morning.  I followed his trail to the little brook on the right edge of the desert landscape, hoping he wasn't waiting for me there.  I'm sure he wasn't far off, curious creatures that they are.  He was probably watching me through the trees the whole time, perhaps contemplating pouncing on the small hiker trespassing on his territory or perhaps simply interested in learning what on earth brought me there.  What brought me there was a childhood memory of crossing this exact vast wasteland decades earlier with my parents.  I thought it was spooky even then.  There were rumors floating around that gold could be found around the old mine.  My parents, ever the adventurous souls looking for a new adventure to embark on, bought some gold pans and we set out to strike it rich.  We found some.  Not enough to get rich off of though.  Just some fine flakes to stir enough excitement in us kids to make us naively think we might just strike it rich.
As I continued to walk across that desolate landscape toward the distant treeline, a light mist began to fall and the fog started rolling in and this made that creepy landscape even creepier. When I reached the treeline, I didn't dare go into the dark forest.  I had a strange feeling that something was watching me from the darkness within.  The mist turned into a light rain and eventually, I made my way back across the desert to the car.

When I returned to the car, the rain had stopped so I walked around the remains of the old mine site.  Some crumpling buildings covered in graffiti were scattered about but it's the little pond to the right of the buildings that sends shivers down my spine.  It is said, the pond, which is man-made and used to be part of the mine workings, is bottomless.  Well, I'm sure that is slightly exaggerated but it is quite deep.  The thing that really freaks me out about it is it doesn't get deep gradually; it falls off right at the edge.  So if you can't swim and end up slipping into this pond, you may never be found.

My next stop was new to me.  Yes, believe it or not, despite all the time I've spent exploring Cape Breton Island, in particular this region of the island, there are still places that are yet to be explored.  I drove toward Grand River and turned at the road I noticed many times but never bothered to drive down.   I was curious to know where MacDonald Road led and decided to make this my last adventure of the day.

I love driving on old wood roads that lead into the unknown.  I love not knowing what is behind every turn and this road is long, remote and has many turns.  I only worried a little when the road kept going longer than I thought it would but the worry quickly turned to curiosity, as it usually does, because now I had to know what was at the end.  Eventually, the road got narrower and rougher and I reached a point where I could not go any further.  I was next to a large field with an old cabin.  I exited the car and proceeded on foot along what remained of the old road.

I heard there was a very old bridge somewhere on this old road and when I realized I was walking alongside water, I figured I would be crossing it at some point.  I came upon a path that led to the water so, naturally, I followed it.  I reached the water's edge and had to turn right back around as the flies were too bad.  I continued for only another few minutes on the old road before reaching the water again.  This time, I found the old bridge.  Or, more accurately, what remained of the old bridge. I looked for a way to cross but there was none unless I walked through the unknown depths of the raging water that separated me and the other side.  I reached the end of the road.  Intent on not wasting my journey through the fly infested wilderness, I took a seat on some rocks near the water where there was a nice breeze and cracked open a cold beer...my usual ritual after a long day of hiking.  

Friday, May 17, 2019

There's more to Travel than Meets the Eye. There are Lessons to be Learned!

Lesson Learned? Don't trust everything you read on booking sites.

I've noticed that booking sites are sometimes inaccurate, especially when listing amenities or, in some cases, the hotel itself.  I arrived in Glasgow, Scotland to stay at a Ramada hotel near the airport.  I booked it online and had all the information, which I even took with me.  I was on foot, so once the bus from downtown dropped me off near the airport, I set out on foot to find it.  I walked around for two hours with no luck.  Did I mention that it was a cold, rainy night?  I finally found it but instead of a Ramada, a Marriott Hotel stood in it's place. I learned that they had changed their name and didn't bother to tell me even in the emails we were sending back and forth during the booking process.
The hotel website also forgot to mention that they were under renovations.  The fire drill went off every ten minutes and my key card wouldn't work resulting in me being locked out of my room every time I left.  Did I mention that the restaurant they had listed was a pantry room with packaged goods which was closed the entire time I was there?

Lesson Learned? Don't Turn Down Once in a Lifetime Opportunities or you'll Regret it Later

I was tired the first night I arrived in Montezuma, Costa Rica so when the other girls staying at the yoga retreat I was staying at decided to attend a beach party happening that night in the village, I turned it down to catch up on sleep instead.  That was six years ago.  I still regret not going with them.  All I heard them talk about all week was the amazing night they had on the beach with live music and friendly locals.
I was sick the day I was supposed to go on a boat tour to Cozumel, Mexico.  I wish I had of just stuck it out and went anyway.  I heard it's a very nice place.
Upon arrival to a show at Harbour Lights in Bridgetown Barbados, I was ushered to a table where some women from Manchester, England were already sitting. We shared conversation, dinner and drinks throughout the night and just when the party was getting started, it was announced that the bus I had arrived in was leaving for the night. The women from Manchester offered to drive me back to my hotel later in the night but I declined and went on the bus instead.  Half way back to my hotel, I regretted the decision but it was too late to go back.
While in Varadero, Cuba, all I heard everyone, tourists and locals alike, talking about was this Cave bar that everyone went to in the evenings. I was traveling alone and thought it best not to venture into night clubs alone so I stayed away.  I found out later it was actually a pretty great place to go and was a bar in a real cave.
A popular way to get around in Montezuma Costa Rica is by ATV.  Many of the other people staying at the Yoga Retreat I was staying at ventured off on adventures to places unreachable by car because they could drive ATV's.  I wish I had of at least tried to learn or had someone show me or take me around on one.  The others found a beach that they claimed was so beautiful, it was indescribable.

Lesson Learned?  Expect the Unexpected

My first day in Barbados was nothing short of disastrous.  Upon arrival at the airport, my shuttle driver was nowhere to be found.  I turned on my phone and logged into my email to send her a quick message to let her know I had arrived and BAM!  I was hit with a thirty dollar charge for 15 seconds of data usage.
Upon arrival to my accommodation an hour later, I was advised to wear bug spray at all times to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes as an outbreak of Chickengunya was affecting the region.  Of course, I neglected to check my governments advisory page where I would have seen this advisory beforehand and therefore would have packed copious amounts of bug spray.
That day was topped up by a gas leak which forced me to move myself and my belongings to another room where I spent the entire first two nights wondering if I was going to die in my sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Venturing onto the highway was interesting in Cuba.  Horse carts? Farm animals? Bicycles? Overcrowded buses and truck beds? Motorcycles?  Pedestrians? Farm equipment? You name it, it's on the road!
After a much-needed nap in a hammock overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Montezuma, I awoke to find a strange creature sleeping underneath my hammock.  To this day, I have no idea what it was.  I waited patiently until it awoke and sauntered away before making any sudden movements.
My arrival to Juan Santamaria Airport to catch my flight home from Costa Rica went without a hitch until I started to board the airplane.  That's when passengers were stopped at the gate and made to surrender all carry on so it could be searched before moving forward.  My carry on bags were pretty much ripped apart and left in a pile of rubble on the floor for me to pick up and repack.  I didn't find out until later that the reason for this impromptu  bag search was due to a terrorist attack that had just occurred at the Boston Marathon.
On a road trip to the Magdelan Islands I decided to camp instead of wasting money on hotels.  Had I read up on the weather in the area, I would have known that camping is not the best idea.  The wind knocked my tent down the first night and it was so windy the next night, I wasn't even able to set up the tent.
In Costa Rica I was a little freaked out by the Geckos that were plastered all over the walls of my room.  Looking up from my bed first thing in the morning and seeing a reptile right above me was kind of unnerving.
I knew it got very hot in Death Valley, California but I didn't know just how hot it could get until I left my air-conditioned car and literally felt the sun cook my skin.
Death Valley National Park
While sunbathing on the beach in Barbados, I young vendor approached me and without speaking a word, started to rub some of the aloe lotion he was selling on my legs.  Mildly disturbed but not wanting to be too rude, I laughed and brushed him away stating I wasn't interested. He backed off but not without wondering if I was interested in seeing what else he had to sell.  I wasn't but he showed me anyway and I couldn't help but wonder if just looking at a pile of illegal drugs was enough to put me behind bars in a Bajan prison for the rest of my life.  Again, I politely said I wasn't interested and got up and quickly left the area without looking back.
If you plan to travel to Scotland, be prepared to pay to pee.  Have no change?  Be prepared to hold it!
Need to use a public washroom in Cuba?  It'll cost you a peso for one square of toilet paper provided by an attendant who will chase after you if you leave without paying!

Lesson Learned?  Be Prepared to be Blown Away

While unexpected negative things will happen while traveling, some of the most magnificent things happen too.  Within minutes of arriving to my hotel in Barbados, I was informed that I was the only guest at the entire complex. But that wasn't all.  I didn't just have an entire hotel to myself; within minutes of my arrival, I was handed a key to a gate that led to a private stretch of sandy beach across the street.  I initially didn't believe this was an actual private beach because all beaches are accessible to the public in Barbados.  Upon seeing this beach, I realized that I would indeed have it all to myself.  While anyone could walk onto it, the little section inside that locked gate, was guarded on both sides by sharp rocks and coral that was virtually impassable.  Imagine!  I am the only person I ever met who had en entire Caribbean beach all to myself for an entire week. Did I mention that I enjoyed home-cooked meals three times a day at that hotel?  Talk about being treated like royalty!
My very own stretch of Caribbean Beach
Anamaya Yoga Retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica was paradise on earth.  The saltwater infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean was just the start.  My room featured a bed that faced a patio with glass doors overlooking the ocean.  The first thing I saw every morning was the sun coming up over the ocean.
The Saltwater infinity pool at Anamaya
I arrived at the Arenal Observatory Lodge late in the evening and decided to relax with a late-night swim in the pool and dip in the hot tub....that I had all the myself and that had a perfect view of Arenal Volcano.  What a magical night I will never forget!
The swimming pool at the Arenal Observatory Lodge
While visiting the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico, I followed an old wood road with a sign pointing to a beach called "Playa Santa Fe".  When giant sand dunes and a little beer hut appeared in front of me, I knew I found something special; a deserted beach more beautiful than any I've ever seen before.
Playa Santa Fe in Tulum, Mexico
I was blown away by everything in Costa Rica but it was a memorable and life-changing conversation about Pura Vida I had with a young man working at a smoothie bar that really hit home! I'm telling you, you just never know what life-changing experiences you will encounter while traveling.  These memories are things I will never forget!
The smoothie that lead me to learn more about a Costa Rican way of life
Lesson Learned?  Be Prepared to be Disappointed

Just as much as you will be blown away on your travels, you will be disappointed.  You know that iconic and famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign?  Well, it's not quite as you expect in person.  For one, it's very hard to get a good picture of it because there are large crowds gathered around it at all hours of the day and night.  There was a long line-up when I was there.  I wasn't expecting that. The sign certainly looks good in pictures but in reality, it's just a regular sign on a traffic island in the middle of a large highway. Want to have your picture taken?  Better wait until the line clears and take your own unless you are prepared to pay a hefty fee to have the on-site professional take the picture for you.
The epic sign that well, isn't so epic in person
I always pictured Las Vegas as this smallish city that just appears out of the desert with a two-lane road along The Strip and ending back in the desert.  Not quite.  How about multiple lanes of traffic at all hours.
The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada
Want to grab a bus in Cuba?  Remember that you are on Cuba Time!  Expect long waits well passed the time the bus is supposed to arrive.
While in Playa Del Carmen, I thought I would get an afternoon of shopping in.  I wasn't aware that most places close for a few hours during the mid-afternoon for Siesta.
I failed to research Waverley Station in Edinburgh, Scotland and was overwhelmed by how large the station was upon my arrival.  I spent more than an hour running around in circles trying to find my way to the street.  

Lesson Learned?  Don't listen to Online Reviews

I always read hotel and restaurant reviews and I suggest you do too.  However, only use them as a vague guideline because everyone has different tastes, different expectations and different opinions. I was excited to be staying at a top-rated resort in Varadero, Cuba.  The pictures looked beautiful, the reviews spoke of luxury amenities, lovely grounds and friendly staff.  Within five minutes of my arrival, I knew I made a mistake.  I arrived late at night and was greeted by cranky staff who were fed up dealing with wild guests acting like animals. People screaming and running around throwing things and people into the pools and smashing glass.  I was horrified.  I woke up the next day and opened my door to the site of a half-naked, drunken, passed out middle-aged man. This went on for the entire week. Fortunately, I spent most of my time off the resort where I felt much safer.
The hostel I stayed at in Barbados got terrible reviews but it was the only affordable place I could find. I was worried about what awaited me because other travelers said the staff were mean, there were dogs running around everywhere and the entire place was horrible. I arrived to a large building that was nothing like a hostel, the dogs were pets and served as both my new friends and protectors as they watched over my room the entire week. The food was incredible and the rooms were cozy and well-equipped. The place was the complete opposite of what I had read.
Almost every review I read about the food in Cuba was negative.  Every meal I had in Cuba was well-prepared and delicious....except for some of the meals served at the resort I was staying at.  In other words, if you venture away from the gated resorts, you will find delicious, authentic meals that are not buffet-quality food left out in the sun all day.

Lesson Learned? Even When Traveling Alone, you are Never Really Alone

The first time I traveled alone, I was terrified.  I wanted to go somewhere so badly but no one was available to travel.  I decided to go alone because if I wait around for everyone's schedules to align with mine, I might wait forever.  I went alone to Cuba and had a fabulous time.  I met people, I went on tours, I wandered around Varadero and Havana alone and nothing bad happened to me.
I met wonderful people on my tour of the Scottish Highlands who, upon discovering I was traveling by myself, took me under their wing and made sure I never ate alone.  I bonded with one woman in particular over late-night pizza and a rainy misadventure trying to find our bed and breakfast in a rain and wind storm.  I've traveled many times alone since and nothing bad has ever happened to me.  In fact, I now prefer to travel alone!  Yes, bad things happen but hey, they happen at home too!  Research, common sense and a keen sensitivity to those spine-tingling butterflies you get when something just doesn't seem right will go a long way in keeping you safe while traveling.
I was having trouble trying to find my hotel in Glasgow, Scotland.  I stopped at a service station to ask for directions and a nice man in a company vehicle offered to drive me there as it was quite a distance away. 
In Cuba, a teenage boy selling seashells on the beach approached me, the intriguing and approachable foreigner, on the beach and in broken Spanish, starting to inquire about my life in Canada.  He asked things about snow, my job, whether I was rich and what it was like up north.  In a mix of broken Spanish and English, I answered these questions and was greeted with a look I can only compare to one a deer might have when caught in headlights.  That's when I realized he didn't understand.  The rest of the afternoon was spent having a comical conversation via charades and sand drawings.
In Costa Rica, I enjoyed one of the most enjoyable dinners I ever had.  I entered the room alone and sat down at a table with 20 other people from all over the world who knew nothing about anyone else around the table.  Within the hour, we were eating, drinking and being merry as if we were old friends.  

Lesson Learned?  The World isn't as Bad as I was Led to Believe

If I took everything I heard on the news to heart and based my views of the world it, I wouldn't leave the house, let alone travel.  Yes, bad things are happening.  Yes it can be dangerous out there.  But no, the world is not nearly as bad as we are lead to believe.  News networks have us thinking that Mexico is a very dangerous place and they are right.  It is dangerous.  But not all areas are full of drug cartels and criminals looking to hurt tourists and the regular, local everyday people are some of the friendliest I've met on any my travels.
Before I traveled to Cuba, I was warned by others that women are not treated very well and the men are very forward and aggressive.  The only aggressiveness I experienced from Cuban men was having them approach me to shake my hand, ask where I am from and slide a pretty flower into my hair before going on their way.

Lesson Leaned?  Fear is Overrated. 

From the outside I look like a fearless, adventurer ready to tackle anything but, in reality, I experience fear just like anyone else.  I learned that the key is to not let that fear control my life so much that I never try anything new or take risks. And you know what?  Every single time I pushed my fear aside and jumped into something that scared me, I ended up having the time of my life.
While in Costa Rica, I was offered the chance to take some surfing lessons.  I always wanted to try surfing and was super excited until a few hours before my first lesson.  Fear took over and all I could think about was Jaws, undertows and rogue waves.  With some persuasion, I went in the water.  To this day, learning to surf ranks high on my list of best things I've done.  When I stood on that board and rode my first wave, I forgot all about man-eating sharks and drowning.

During that same trip, I was also offered a chance to go ziplining.  Again, excitement and than fear of falling hundreds of feet to my death or crashing into a tree at high speeds.  I did it anyway and have no regrets.
Jumping off the edge of a waterfall that same day came easy despite some fears.  And no, I didn't sink the bottom and drown or land on any rocks or break any bones.

Lesson Learned? Watch out for the Unseen Dangers

Travel should a relaxing time to let loose and be care-free but be aware of the dangers that do lurk! In Barbados, I learned the hard way that coral is not fun to walk on with bare feet!  I also learned, with almost tragic consequences, that coconuts are a common danger in Barbados and anywhere they grow.  I was taking a leisurely stroll through a public garden with tall coconut trees when that leisurely stroll was shattered by the sound of a loud crashing sound only a few feet behind where I had just stood.  I whipped around to see that a coconut had fallen and smashed on the ground, narrowly missing me and the guy walking a few feet behind me.  Had I been there a few seconds earlier, I would probably be dead.
I knew I would be staying in a remote area of Costa Rica and had I researched the wildlife of the area, I would have known that Jaguars lurk all around the area and I wouldn't have wandered alone down a wood road at twilight.  I ran for my life when something big rustled the trees next to me and it was only after I returned did the locals inform me about the presence of the big cats in the area.
In Canada, we drive on the right of the road.  In the UK, they drive on the left side.  It took nearly being hit by a bus for that to be drilled into my head!  Now, I make sure to always look BOTH ways before stepping onto the street.
Walking on the side of the road in Barbados is terrifying.  Sidewalks are almost non-existent and drivers are oblivious to tourists who are literally hanging onto tree branches on the side of the road to avoid falling into traffic.
A street in Barbados
Coming from a very small town in Atlantic Canada meant I was not used to driving on sprawling interstates like the I-15 outside of Las Vegas where I nearly got my sister and I killed trying to get into the correct lane.

Lesson Learned? Getting Sick while Traveling is an Unfortunate Reality

In Mexico, I thought I did everything to avoid ingesting the tap water.  I drank bottled water only, I asked the bartender to hold the ice cubes and closed my mouth in the shower.  I did well until I ordered an ice tea from the cafe across the street and didn't ask the barista to hold the ice cubes.  I spent 3 days of my vacation in bed, so sick I could barely stand up.  In Costa Rica I neglected to use sunscreen and drink lots of water while at the beach one day and ended up with heat exhaustion.

Lesson Learned?  Poverty and Suffering are all Around
The world is a beautiful place with beautiful people but, unfortunately, some of those beautiful people live in extreme poverty.  You will see things that will break your heart. Roofs caving in, buildings falling in on themselves, people eating from garbage cans, people walking the streets with no shoes and children asking strangers for spare change are some of the things you might encounter while walking through residential neighborhoods away from the touristy areas.  While you might be tempted to swear at or swat at an annoying street vendor, it's important to remember that they are trying to make enough money to feed themselves and their family.  Be nice and if they are selling something nice, why not buy an authentic locally-made item from a local rather than a souvenir made in some other faraway land! 





Saturday, April 13, 2019

An Early Spring Hike Along Belfry Beach and an Adventure to a new-to-me Lake

It was a disappointing winter for me.  In November, I placed my snowshoes in the back of my car and they didn't move once.  Believe it or not, although I live in Atlantic Canada in a region known for usually getting a lot of snow, hardly anything more than a thin layer fell at any given time.  When a substantial amount did fall, it was easily whisked away by a steady stream of cold rain that quickly turned ground into a skating rink.Now that it's spring, I'm betting that my snowshoes will be of no use this year at all and my hiking shoes are already out.

I'm definitely not getting outdoors as much as I usually do in the winter and spring months but late last week, I did finally get out for a hike in one of my favorite areas of Cape Breton. I left fairly early on a Friday morning and headed toward Belfry Beach.  It was a nice day but it was quite windy so my intention was to check the beach out and see what it would be like for hiking.  It looked fine so I left the car At the bottom of MacKay Road and started the long hike along Belfry Beach to Fourchu.

The first leg of the journey went quite well.  The sun was shining, the temperature was comfortable and the waves rolling ashore lulled me into a state of relaxation that can only be found on a remote, deserted beach.  I walked for about 45 minutes before reaching a nice sheltered area surrounded by trees and bushes beneath a cliff.  Not a breath of wind could be felt there so I sat in the sand and enjoyed my homemade lunch and a beer.  I could hear the wind howling on the other side of the cliff and dreaded rounding that bend to continue up the beach with that breeze whipping me in the face.

Once I bundled up again and rounded that bend, that howling wind only battered me for a few minutes before I got used to it.  The long walk to Forchu wasn't so bad and all the walking overheated me to the point that I had to remove my jacket!  I saw no wildlife that day on the beach and that is strange in that area.  Usually I see some bald eagles or seals or sometimes even a deer but nothing was seen that day.

My next stop was at a new-to-me trail to a lake I had never been to before.  I drove for about twenty minutes towards the Framboise area until I reached an old wood road on the right hand side.  I parked the car off the road and started into the woods.  It was a nice change to be among the trees.  There was hardly any wind and it was much warmer than it was near the ocean.  I love a variety of terrain in my days and that day I spend one half of it listening to the sounds of waves hitting the shore and the other half listening to trees rustling in a soft gentle breeze.

I was told by others who had recently hiked to this lake that it was only about a kilometre hike in.  I walked and walked and walked for what seemed like a long time.  A glance at the activity tracker on my phone indicated I had long passed the one kilometre mark.  I hiked just over two kilometres before the lake came into view.

I was surprised by how large the lake was and even more surprised at the fact that I didn't even know it existed until recently.  It was still covered in a tick layer of ice.  I walked along the edge just a little, consciously not venturing too far for fear of falling through the ice into the freezing cold water. I could see some weak spots in the centre, an indication that the day's mild temperatures and sunny skies had quickened the thawing process.

Darkness was approaching quickly and when I finally decided to start hiking back toward my car, the sun was starting it's slow descent into the horizon.  At one point I thought I heard something in the distance.  A howl or some sort of yell.  I stopped.  Nothing.  I heard it again and stopped.  Nothing.  The third time I stopped and listened, there was a distinct sound coming from the area of the lake where I had just been; coyotes.  I'm not afraid of coyotes while hiking as I've never had any issues with them but I still have a preference to keep my distance.  I picked up the pace a bit and in no time I was back at the car.  It always seems quicker going back for some reason, doesn't it?  A total of four more kilometres to add to the day's total of 15 kilometres.

I hate to go straight home after a wonderful day spent in the wilderness.  I like to drag the adventure on as long as possible.  Instead of backtracking home the same way I came, I took the long way back through Grand River and instead of turning right onto Route 4, I turned left and made a little detour the pretty village of St. Peter's where I stopped for a coffee and a muffin before heading home along the Bras d'Or Lakes. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Not doing a Whole lot of Snowshoeing but I did Find a Shipwreck

So summer is long gone and winter is almost over here in Cape Breton.  Usually winter seems to drag on but since we didn't have a particularly bad one, it flew by quite quick.  I think I only shoveled three times.  We did, however, have a lengthy cold spell with temperatures going into the minus teens for a few weeks.  Occasionally, we got a break from that extreme cold to enjoy a few hours of above zero temperatures only for it to freeze over again and provide us with a lovely (and dangerous) coating of ice.

So what's new in my world?  Well, I will be writing a new column for my local newspaper with the first article being published this Saturday, which also happens to be my birthday!  It's a column focusing on the past, present and future of my local community.  I have lots of ideas but I'm also hoping the people of New Waterford and area will contact me with some ideas.  So if you live in the area and have a business or event you would like to promote, I'd be glad to write about it.

Another very interesting thing happened back in November.  A monster storm caused massive damage to Dominion Beach (again).  I didn't want to see the damage but I had to know just how bad it was.  It was bad.  Debris everywhere, sand dunes flattened, the boardwalk severely damaged.  I walked the entire length of the beach that day like I always do.  It was hard walking with the debris everywhere but I slowly made my way down the beach where I found something that had washed ashore in the storm.  I later found out it was a piece of a very old ship.  The brass nails are an indication that it is quite old and the shape of the wood matches that of an old ship.  I sent some pictures off the a couple of local museums and someone should be out to look at it in the spring.  It's currently covered in ice and snow but still visible. This winter, I also spotted more seals on the beach than usual and the foxes and eagles are still around, seemingly unbothered by the changes to their beach.

So besides a sick cat and an idea for a new blog project, not much else is new.  I've doing a lot of writing and working on creative projects instead of spending time outdoors as it's too icy to be walking most of the time.  The lack of snow certainly makes it hard to do any snowshoeing! 





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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Today I got to See an Ice Wall that was Created by an Ice Tsunami

I'm not usually one to follow the crowds but every once and a while, something will make the news and intrigue me enough to go check it out.  So when my dad called and asked if I would like to go for a drive to Irish Vale to see the Ice Wall, I jumped at the opportunity.

Now you are probably wondering "what is the Ice Wall".  If you live anywhere in Atlantic Canada, you probably heard about this phenomena on the evening news.  If you live anywhere else, you might have no idea what I'm talking about.

The Ice wall is basically....an ice wall.  It's a wall along the shore made up of ice that piled up.  At one point, the bay was frozen but a fluctuation in temperatures caused it to melt and break up and this, combined with some high winds and surf, pushed that ice to the shore where it piled up.  Actually it piled up to an impressive height as you can see in the pictures.
We arrived mid-afternoon expecting to see a few people there as it was a sunny, mild Sunday.  I was quite surprised to see that there was quite a lot of people.  Possibly close to a hundred or more.  Cars were lined up all along the highway.  We parked further down and found a path leading down onto the shoreline.  The well-beaten path in the snow was an indication of just how many people had gone through there in the week or so since the ice appeared.

Many of these people tere were parents with small children who were excitedly climbing the giant ice wall.  At one point dad asked me to climb to the top so he could get a picture.  I had good hiking boots on so I figured "why not, the kids are climbing up there just fine, so I can do it".  Not a chance.  While the ice looks like giant chunks of hard snow, it is in fact chunks of pure, slipper ice.  One step up was enough before I nearly fell.  I have no idea how those kids were running and jumping around without falling. 
We walked the entire length of the wall, which was more impressive in person than in the pictures I had been seeing on Facebook and Twitter all week.  Was it worth the drive?  It definitely was in my opinion.  Not only do I love a Sunday drive in the country, I love to see and experience new things I can take pictures of and write about.  If you don't get the chance to visit to ice wall this time around, apparently, it has happened before in that area.  About 20 years ago, an ice tsunami, which is what the media calls this phenomena, pushed ice on shore to form a wall just like the one that is in Irish Vale now.  

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Yes, You can Enjoy Las Vegas if you don't like Gambling

When my sister suggested we take a trip together somewhere warm, I was thinking more of Barbados or Saint Lucia.  I can't remember how the idea of heading to Las Vegas came about, but I was skeptical.  I don't gamble.  I don't party hard.  I don't drink much.  I don't particularly like dressing up in glamorous outfits and hitting the town.  I don't like dining in fancy restaurants.  And I I'm not one for extravagant shows. Nevertheless, we went ahead and booked a 7-night vacation at The Luxor right on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Luxur, Las Vegas
The first thing I noticed when we arrived at McCarran Airport was the sound of VLT machines.  I thought to myself "really, they wouldn't have gaming machines in the airport would they?" but that they did and that was very bizarre to me. My first taste of the strip was in the taxi that took us to our hotel and it was nothing like I expected.  I always thought of Vegas as this small city in the middle of the desert consisting of just one road, The Strip, which was one lane only and when you came to the end of it, you were back among the tumbleweed.  I had no idea it was about eight lanes across and was just over four miles long.  The other thing that hit me was the heat.  Boy, was it ever hot.
Las Vegas Boulevard AKA The Las Vegas Strip
To this day, if I close my eyes and put myself back there, I can still hear the sound of hundreds of VLT machines running all at once.  It's a sound that must have become engraved in my head because for the better part of a week, all I heard when I left my hotel room was that sound. That being said, I quickly realized that there was more to this city that just a street full of casinos and hotels.  Each one of those Casinos and hotels are different in their own way and offer unique attractions that keep non-gamblers preoccupied.  And The Strip is full of surprises at all hours of the day and night and every nook and crannie is filled with some sort of entertainment.

Even the hotel we were staying at had a number attractions and features. And can you guess what was one of the first things I did upon arrival at The Luxor?  I took a ride on the diagonal elevators, of course! Naturally, there is a casino at The Luxor, but we also had the option to enjoy shows and attractions such as Carrot Top, Criss Angel, Bodies...the Exhibition and
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition which are all still featured at the hotel to this day.  

It wasn't until I walked the length of The Strip for the first time that I realized there's so much more to do besides gambling and eating.  Speaking of eating, that first morning we were craving a delicious but cheap breakfast to get the day started.  We found a Denny's within walking distance of our hotel. Many people think Las Vegas is all glitz and glam and you have to fork over a small fortune in order to eat while visiting the city.  This isn't true.  Within walking distance of our hotel there were several food courts with familiar and affordable eateries such as MacDonalds and Subway.  I've heard that you can get deals on casino restaurants if you gamble enough but I didn't gamble enough to see if this is actually true.  


That morning, I wore what I thought were comfortable, durable walking sandals.  It was very hot that day and by the time we walked the four miles to the end of The Strip, I had to buy a new pair of shoes.  Thankfully, there was a store with affordable, decent shoes on the way back.  So if you plan to visit, keep this in mind; you will be doing a lot of walking so bring good shoes! 

Walking that stretch that morning was quite interesting. I think Las Vegas must be one of the only places around where you can spot people dressed in evening wear and full make-up cruising around in exotic sports cars at 9AM.  It took almost all day to make it back to the hotel because we stopped so much!  The Fountains at the Bellagio was one of my favourite attractions along The Strip.  I could sit there all day just watching those choreographed streams of water dance to the music. Oh and that fabulous pirate show that stopped everyone in their tracks in front of Treasure Island (I was sad to hear that this show no longer runs as of 2013), the volcano eruption that occurs in front of the Mirage, the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Visitors are free to enter the casinos and hotels along The Strip and many of them have shops, exhibits and various other attractions intended to draw people in to the gambling tables but are equally effective in entertaining non-gambling visitors.  
The Fountains at The Bellagio
One thing I didn't want to do while in Las Vegas was shopping.  I know I'm a minority on that front but, for me, shopping (even if it's among the infamous outlet malls of Las Vegas) is something I feel is a waste of time while traveling. I did hear that those outlet stores are great and I noticed there are quite a few gift shops along The Strip and luxury shops are in almost every hotel.  Whether you are looking for bargains or to go all out and drop lots of $$$ on that once-in-lifetime-purchase, I am confident you will find everything you are looking for.

I'm not really into extravagant shows either and some of the more extravagant ones were well beyond my budget! That being said, I wanted to do something while I was there so I looked around for an entertaining show we could enjoy one evening over a few drinks.  We found one that suited both our budgets are tastes; a stand-up comedy show performed by Vinnie Favorito with help from audience members with hilarious results. Many people assume that extravagant concerts are the only shows available but nothing could be further from the truth!  There are circus shows (I would have loved to have taken in a Cirque de Soleil show but didn't have time!), magic shows, dancing shows, burlesque shows, nostalgic shows and dinner theatres.

Gambling was at a minimum (yes I know, I'm not your typical Las Vegas tourist) but I did spend a couple of hours one evening playing the slot machines. I set a budget of 100 dollars, ended up spending 200 to win 300 only to lose it all on a max bet.  At least I can say I tried gambling in Vegas.

One of the stipulations of me agreeing to go to Las Vegas was that The Grand Canyon and some random driving in the desert be part of the deal.  And I mean why not; if you are going to be in the area where one of the world's top attractions is only a short drive away, why wouldn't you go see that attraction!  I pre-booked a day-tour with a local company called Pink Jeep Tours and I highly recommend booking with this company!  Our particular tour included pick up at our hotel, water, snacks, a lunch at a diner serving traditional Southwestern cuisine, a stop at the Hoover Dam, a stop at a remote look-off in the Grand Canyon away from other tourists (we had a choice to do a touristy thing but took a vote and the off-the-beaten track attraction won), a helicopter ride down into the canyon and a pontoon boat ride down the Colorado River.






The day after that fabulous Grand Canyon adventure, we rented a car and drove off into the desert. 
When people asked me what we were doing driving around in the dessert for several days, I was astounded that most people didn't even know about the world-class attractions that were within a few hours' drive of Las Vegas.

I didn't find it too difficult driving around the city (except for getting hopelessly lost trying to find our way out of the city) and once I found a road that looked like it went off into the great unknown, I just kept driving and it was smooth sailing from there.  For a little while anyway.  We had a GPS but it let us down almost immediately so I turned it off. We had no immediate plans that day and I had no idea what direction I was going or where I would end up and I didn't care.  A few wrong turns took us down some remote dead-end desert roads with stunning scenery.  This is why it's not always a bad idea to just get lost while exploring a new place.

We eventually ended up in an area of the desert knows for a high amount of UFO sightings. A big sign announcing we were about to turn onto the "Extraterrestrial Highway" was enough for me to know I was headed somewhere interesting.  I remember reading that the infamous Area 51 base is located somewhere along this highway and a truck stop/gas station with a sign
on the front stating that it was the last stop before Area 51 confirmed that I was in the right area.  This store sold maps to the location of the fabled base but I knew better; this was just a touristy marketing ploy.  They most likely wouldn't release exact directions to what is considered a top secret military facility that the government denied even existed for years.



Early that evening, we turned back towards Las Vegas so we wouldn't be driving in the middle of the dessert at night.  I didn't have much faith in the GPS but I set it to take us directly to the hotel without having to go down The Strip on a Friday night.  After getting lost several times (expected), we arrived back in the city right where I didn't want to end up; At the other end of The Strip in bumper to bumper traffic with our hotel at the opposite end.
The Strip on a Friday Night
The Valley of Fire State Park was one of the planned destinations for the next day.  Driving around aimlessly and exploring more of the dessert was also on the agenda.  It was a little chilly that day and despite it being the weekend, there was no one else around when we arrived at the park.  We paid the fee and drove along the two-lane road into scenery like no other we had seen in the area.  The dark grey ashphalt with a prominent yellow line contrasted starkly with the deep red hue of the terrain.  I think we only passed one other car the entire time we were in the park.  


Driving through the Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park was deserted the day we drove through.

I remember reading about Death Valley in an encyclopedia I found in my father's book collection. The mystery of the moving rocks at Racetrack Playa (which has since been solved) and the fact that the valley was the site of the highest temperature ever recorded on the planet intrigued me. On the last day we had the car rental, we drove the four hours to Death Valley.  It was a bit cool in Las Vegas that morning so we dressed in layers and left the top on our convertible up as we set off into the desert one last time.  We only stopped once outside of Las Vegas to pick up snacks and coffees for the road and didn't stop again until we reached the entrance to Death Valley National Park.  I assumed it would be around the same temperature as it was in Las Vegas so I wasn't prepared for the wave of heat that nearly knocked me down when I opened the car door.  I don't think I ever experienced temperatures like that before.  It was literally like walking into an oven.We got out and looked around at some of the tourist stops and look-offs but hiking or walking too far off the beaten track would have been dangerous in that heat.  Coming from Atlantic Canada, that's just something I am not accustomed to!  We drove for quite a while into the park and when it started getting late, we turned around and headed back towards the city.  I wanted to be out of the dark desert by nightfall but, as per usual when I am driving in a new place, I got lost and again ended up where I didn't want to. A couple of dead end roads, unfamiliar sites we didn't remember passing on the way there and a few circles around the same place and we were back in Sin City just in time to be once again thrown into the evening traffic jam at the opposite end of The Strip. 
Our last day was spent walking up and down Las Vegas Boulevard just taking in the excitement.  Of course, no trip to Las Vegas is complete without getting your picture taken in front of the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. I thought you just walk up to the sign and take a picture and it's no big deal.  I didn't realize it was such a big thing until we arrived at the sign and there was a lineup of people waiting.  Another surprise?  Apparently some people make a living just taking pictures of people posing under this iconic sign. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

I Seriously Think Travel May have Ruined my Life

I Think Travel May have Ruined my Life....but in a Very Good Way.  Or in a very bad way depending on how you look at the way I live my life and travel in general.

I've been thinking about travel a lot lately.  Well, more than usual because I'm always thinking about travel.  Maybe I've been thinking about it more lately because it seems like it's been forever since I went anywhere outside of Canada.  Many years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would go somewhere outside of my home country at least once a year. This year, I broke that promise.  I opted for a staycation due to a number of factors, including financial limitations, work obligations and the simple fact that we had a phenomenal summer here in Atlantic Canada and I wanted to enjoy every second of it!. The furthest I went was Newfoundland for a week.  If you are not up on your Canadian geography, Newfoundland is only an hour-long flight or 6-hour ferry ride away and is right next to my home province of Nova Scotia.

But now, as I sit here on a cold winter night and come to the realization that the last time I left my comfort zone and explored a different part of the world was in September of 2016 when I went to Scotland.  That's a long time ago.  At least it is to someone who has a travel addiction and has not fed that addiction in over two years!


I may not have traveled much lately but I certainly go on a lot of adventures even if they are within two hours of my house.  I had an incredible summer and found lots of new places on Cape Breton Island and explored some unfamiliar territory.  But now that the beach days and long summer nights are long gone and winter has set in, I am thinking about all the places I have yet to see in this world.  And when I get thinking about travel and the traveling I'm not doing, my mind shifts to the travel I already did and how those adventures shaped my life.  It also makes me realize how I feel a little bit sorry for the people around me who have never traveled, have no desire to travel and will never experience the benefits of immersing oneself into a new land and a new culture.  They have no idea why I am so crazy about packing a suitcase, jumping on a long-haul flight and traipsing around a place far, far away where I know no one and have no real reason to be there.  When my brain goes into overload thinking about these things, I also get an urge to try and persuade as many people as possible to join me on an adventure so I can show them what they are missing.  I imagine myself doing this in much the same annoying way they try to persuade me to grow up, give up traveling, have a normal life and settle down. 

Over and over again, I see my friends and family making comments on social media about how some places are so dangerous to travel to and how the world is such a scary place and blah blah blah.  They berate me with stories of how women are raped and murdered when traveling alone and how terrorist attacks are becoming more frequent.  The more I roll my eyes, the more persistent they become in their quest to change me into a domestic homebody who has no desire to go anywhere except to the grocery store. 

I cant think of any negative effects travel has had on me except that I miss it like crazy when I'm not doing it.  Travel has had profound positive effects on every aspect of my life.  It has broadened my way of thinking, it has made me smarter and it has made me look at the world in a whole new way.  It frustrates me to no end how no one else sees this.  All anyone sees is me going on vacation, wasting time and procrastinating the "adulting" stage by "running away from real life".  If they only knew the positive effects travel has actually had on my adult life!  The thing is, the things I see as positive effects on my life, are actually seen as negative things by the modern society that subconsciously limits us to a robotic life that is set up before we even begin living it. If I can change just one person's mind and make them see that they don't need to be trapped in that cycle.  If I can encourage just one person to buy a plane ticket to a far away land and have them see what they are missing and how travel can positively change their life, I've done my job.  

My first real big trip as an adult was the one I took with my sister to Las Vegas.  No one batted an eye at the announcement of this trip.  I presume it was because I wasn't going alone and I was traveling to a country deemed safe in most people's eyes.  However, upon our return, I got some real funny looks and comments when I told people about how we rented a car and drove around in the desert for several days.  I realized then and there that any travels taken off the well-beaten path in unconventional manners would be frowned upon by pretty much everyone. I also soon realized that being a woman who travels alone raises a lot of eyebrows.


The fact that I am a woman who travels alone to far away places is not the only thing that gets a negative reaction from people.  I live what I consider to be a very unconventional lifestyle compared to the majority of people.  I do my own thing.  And I do it at my own pace. And a lot of the things I do revolve around planning my next big trip.  For some bizarre reason, many people have a problem with this! I don't know if they are jealous or mad because I'm not joining the herd and carrying my weight the way I am supposed to in their eyes or if they just like to try to control others.  Perhaps they are miserable in their own lives and want me to join them, but who am I to judge. I don't see anything wrong with living a minimalist lifestyle.  I don't see anything wrong with cutting certain unnecessary items out of my budget to save for a trip.  I don't see anything wrong with not having fancy ornaments and material objects around my apartment.  I don't see anything wrong with living in a small apartment!  I don't see anything wrong with turning down invites to dinners and expensive outings that I don't like participating in anyway and I don't see a problem with spending some of my hard-earned cash on something I enjoy doing. But time and time again, I am faced with insulting questions and attempts to change my life around to suit others rather than continuing on in a way that's suitable to me.

When I announce that I am going on a trip, I get two different responses: 1) "Wow that sounds fantastic, enjoy! OR 2) "You are going away again.  Where do you get the money to go on these trips?  Don't you think you should be thinking about settling down?"  The majority are in the second group, unfortunately.  First of all, due to work obligations, I only get the chance to go away on a big trip once a year.  That's not a lot.  Second of all, I tried settling down, it's not for me. Maybe I need to be paired with someone who likes to travel and live a non-materialistic lifestyle rather than spend their life keeping up with the Jones'. These people are hard to find.  I work, my chores get done, I'm responsible. I just don't get what the problem is!

The most insulting is the questions about money.  The people around me seem to have this misconception about me and money.  Either they think I am rich or I go into debt using credit cards to travel.  The reality is neither is true.  The same people who ask me how I can afford to travel are the same people who shop for new clothes every other week, smoke cigarettes, go out to expensive restaurants and clubs every weekend, gamble and buy expensive electronics and knick knacks that they don't need.  I shop for clothes once a year and more than half that shopping is done in thrift shops.  When someone invites me to go shopping, I try to think of ways to play dead or disappear as I would rather shoot myself in the left foot than spend a sunny summer day in a mall dipping into my travel fund to buy things I don't need.  Speaking of the travel fund...that's another sore spot with many people.  They are appalled that I even have this!  To them it's appalling that I would have a fund put aside for travel but none put aside for my future kids' education (meanwhile, I don't have kids and don't plan on having any) or for a down-payment on a house (what do I need a house for when I'm alone and move around so much!) I don't smoke or drink excessively and my outings on the weekend involve hiking or snowshoeing or going to the beach and I bring a picnic. I might eat at a restaurant once or twice a year.  My one trip that I take each year might cost 2000 dollars at most and that is on the higher end.  Now, If I sit down and add up all the expenses that many of the people who question me have (and yes, in my frustration and confusion, I have sat down and done the calculations), they spend THOUSANDS more on material things than I do on experiences. No material thing has done for me what my travel experiences have.  I wouldn't trade those memories and experiences for anything! And anyway, after seeing how happy many people in this world are with so little, I realized long ago that money and materials are not the key to a peaceful life.


I feel that I have everything I need and at times, I feel like I actually might have too much.  I am constantly downsizing to have more space and less things to drag around with me.  I live in a small apartment that is the perfect size for me and it's nice.  At least to me it's nice. To others?  Not so much.  I have furniture but it's older and mismatched.  I have a bed but it's well-worn and has claw marks from where my beloved kitty scratches in the middle of the night for me to pick him up and put him in the bed to cuddle with me.  I have dishes and appliances but they are not fancy, modern shiny things.  They work and do the job I need them to do and that's fine with me! I don't have lots of ornaments and pictures and pretty things scattered about because I am trying to keep my life simple and as less cluttered as possible.

My cherished possessions are my cat, my family photo albums and cherished items that belonged to my mother who has passed away.  My laptop is pretty important too as it helps me to indulge in the things i love - writing, blogging, photography and travel planning.  But when certain people come to my house, they loudly and rudely proclaim their distaste at my lifestyle. They say things like "how can you live in such a small space?" or "you know you can get matching sheets and affordable modern furniture at Wal Mart" or how about "you certainly haven't honed in on your womanly domestic instincts".  Now, I have to mention...MY APARTMENT IS CLEAN AND UNCLUTTERED WITH WOOD FLOORS AND A LOVELY KITCHEN AND COSY LIVING AREA!!  In other woods, it's far from a dump!  I have a busy, active life.  I work hard and play just as hard.  I have more important things to worry about than whether my sheets match or my towels don't have a few frays in them.  The people who make these comments to me, on the other hand, have next to no hobbies, spend all their free time cleaning and watching TV and gossiping about how they don't like the way other people live their lives. Not that that's a problem for me, everyone has their own idea of fun and are free to live their life how they want.  I wonder if it occurs to these people that I am hurting no one by living my life this way and I never make insulting comments to them about their lives.

The people around me often criticize me for being frugal and saving money for travel. I don't have a whole lot of money as it is, so I like to save a little so I can do some of the things I enjoy.  Travel happens to be one of the things I enjoy.  Why would I go shopping, eat at a restaurant, go to a movie, go out drinking or go to a casino when I don't particularly enjoy doing those things. I do them from time to time in order to spend some time with friends (even though they rarely bend and do things I enjoy...I can just imagine the reaction I would get if I suggested to have a picnic in the park rather than go to a restaurant!) and show that I am willing to be flexible.  They laugh at me when I make my own coffee at home or take my own lunch to work rather than eating out.  They roll their eyes at me when I refuse to join them at the mall for the latest sale that "can't be missed" or when I use coupons when buying groceries.  They question my sanity when I say I don't subscribe to cable, satellite, Netflix or any other television service.  They call me a cheapskate, hippie and weirdo.  They think I'm downright nuts when I work every hour of overtime that is offered to me so I can bank a little more money for my next adventure. But I can see the jealousy written all over their faces when I tell them I just booked a sunny beach vacation in the dead cold of a Maritime winter.  All those extra savings allow me to travel this vast, beautiful world of ours that I just can't get enough of. 


Travel runs my life in many ways.  Every time I do go shopping for anything, I make sure to shop where I can get points towards travel with my credit card or Airmiles. At times, I eat less, drive less and work more...all for the sake of travel.

When trying to place an event in my life on a timeline, I often use a trip I took as the reference point.  That's how important travel is to me.  The trips I've taken have all had major impacts on my life and have become important milestones in my timeline.  When I'm not traveling, I'm thinking about travel, writing about travel, trying to come up with ways to travel and trying to convince others to travel more.

If you have never taken a trip outside your home country, I strongly urge you to do so ASAP.  I can't express enough how important it is for us to indulge in new cultures, have a change of scenery once and a while and see new places.  Getting out of the safe zone and venturing out into the big, bad world makes it seem a lot less big and bad.  But don't blame me if you get hooked.  It happens to most travelers who just can't get enough of the beauty of this planet and its people.

The travel bug has certainly messed with my head but in so many good ways!  It has turned my life upside down, changed my perspective, changed my view of the world and everything around me and has made me a better person in more ways than I can count.  I don't see any international trips in my immediate future except in my dreams where I will dream about the next time I roll out my trusted old suitcase and board a plane to yet another far away land. 













Thursday, January 24, 2019

Unforgettable Meals From the Road

One of life's greatest joys is eating so naturally one of the greatest joys of traveling is trying local dishes and enjoying a meal while indulging in another culture.  Some of my fondest travel memories come from meals I had on the road and the people I shared them with.  From the open-air restaurants of the Caribbean and Central America to the cozy pubs and eateries of rural Scotland, here are some of my most memorable meals from the road.

Somewhere outside of Las Vegas, Nevada
While in Las Vegas, I rented a car and took a 3-day road trip into the Mojave Desert and explored some of the more remote regions of Nevada, Arizona and California. While driving along a country road in the middle of the desert somewhere, I came across a diner standing alone among the cacti and Joshua Trees.  It looked like something you would see in one those old western movies, maybe the type of place Thelma and Louise would have stopped at.  I went in.  I don't even remember what the name of the place was or what I had to eat, but I remember the atmosphere.  I was greeted with an air of subtle weariness, perhaps at me being an outsider.  I remember the view - vast desert and distant mountain ranges.  Although I felt a tad uncomfortable in this remote place ( which came from a combination of the atmosphere and the fact that I was alone out there in an unfamiliar place, I will never forget that meal and that is why is ranks high on my list of most memorable ones on the road.

Les Isles de la Madeleine, Quebec
Like most Canadians, I love a heaping plate of greasy, cheese-and-gravy-soaked Poutine once and a while.  What most people don't know is "real" poutine (made with cheese curds instead of melted mozzarella cheese) is rarely served outside of French-speaking areas in the country.  That is why I had to try the dish while I was in Les Isles de la Madeleine, a group of islands belonging to the predominately French province of Quebec.  I took this trip with my mother as she always wanted to go there to see the place where he grandmother came from. We found a nice little place overlooking a beautiful seaside panorama and enjoyed the best plate of poutine I've ever had.  And yes, it was made with the cheese curds. 

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico 
I stayed at a very small boutique-type hotel that offered a free buffet at every meal and the food was surprisingly good.  That first morning, I wandered down to the open-air dining area and was astounded at the choices that were available!  The food was better than I imagined it would be and I soon learned that the Mexican food I eat in Canada is not real Mexican food at all.  But the food wasn't even the best part of that first meal; it was the friendly staff members who came and sat with me at my table.  They wanted to know everything about me.  Where was I from?  Is there snow there?  Do I know so-and-so from Winnipeg?  Even though they could barely speak English, they made an effort to make feel welcome and appreciated and I had no problem answering all of their questions as I had many of my own.  

Havana, Cuba
Before I left for Cuba, I was told by others that the food is downright disgusting.  I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and during the first few days, forced my way through a number of horrible meals (think dry bread, rancid dairy products, rotten fruit and tasteless other items) before deciding to try a meal at a restaurant off the resort.  I was in Havana with a group of other tourists and we decided to do lunch at a small restaurant .  Now when people tell me that the food in Cuba is disgusting, I tell them "no it's not! It's only disgusting in those cheap all-inclusives" because the meal I had in that restaurant was excellent in every which way possible.  Not only was I able to enjoy a delicious, fresh, homemade meal served by the most friendliest of staff, I got to enjoy this with a fantastic group of people from all over the world. 

Montezuma, Costa Rica
During the first leg of my travels in Costa Rica, I stayed at a lovely yoga retreat in the little surf town of Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula.  I can't pinpoint one particular meal during the whole week that was amazing because all the meals served were amazing and definitely among the best I've had in my entire life so far.  Fresh, organic produce and eggs taken directly from the nearby farm were used to prepare the five-course meals (appetizers, soup, salad, main course and dessert) and a softly-lit dining area overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a table big enough to seat two dozen people from all over the world made dining at this place an experience I will not soon forget.



La Fortuna, Costa Rica
During the second week of my adventure in Costa Rica, I spent time exploring the area of La Fortuna which included a day at the luxurious Tabacon Hot Springs Spa.  After a relaxing day spent soaking in the hot springs, I and the group of travelers I arrived there with were treated to a lovely meal at the on-site restaurant.  A huge buffet was served with an abundance of fresh, delicious items.  I think I heard about a dozen different languages around the table that night.  I think there was a representative for every continent except Antarctica.  To share a meal with so many people from so many different cultures is something I thoroughly enjoy while traveling and is an opportunity I never turn down. I love the storytelling and the mixing people from so vastly different backgrounds.  And the meal?  Phenomenal!

Derricks, Barbados
I found an excellent deal on a week-long apartment rental for my trip to Barbados and the rental came with the option to have meals served three times a day.  Every morning, afternoon and evening, the lady who ran the place prepared a homemade meal right in front of me.  I enjoyed these meals in the pretty outdoor dining area where I could watch the mischievous little green monkeys play in the nearby trees.  These meals were all made with the healthiest and freshest ingredients and were among the most delicious meals I've ever had. The best part about the meals was the fact that they were vegetarian and I had never heard of the recipes before so I got to try brand-new-to-me dishes.  Eating a meal each day in a home-like environment made it seem like I was visiting an old friend rather than traveling solo in a foreign country.

Pearson International Airport, Toronto
I know it seems odd that anyone could have a memorable meal in an airport let alone one of North America's biggest and busiest.  However, amidst the chaos that is Pearson International, I found a quiet little sandwich bar tucked away near my gate.  I grabbed the one thing that appealed to me in the display box which was a vegetarian sandwich, and took a seat at the back where I could watch everything going on outside the little peaceful oasis.  That sandwich was worth every cent of the 8 bucks I paid for it because it was one of the most delicious veggie sandwiches I ever had.  The coffee was good too and as I sat back, relaxed and prepared to indulge in my hot caffeinated drink, a young man with a guitar took a seat just outside the shop and, despite the noise and chaos around him, he started to play the sweetest music I ever heard.  You just never know what you'll see in the world's airports. 

Edinburgh, Scotland
Within hours of arriving in Edinburgh, I had already hit the streets.  I knew I only had three days in the city and wanted to make the most my time.  I was dead tired, jet-lagged and starving but I walked over twenty kilometers that first day, exploring every nook and cranny of the downtown area.  By evening, I had to find something to eat, something quick and something nutritious and filling.  Just around the corner from my hotel was a cozy little cafe.  I walked in and ordered a veggie sandwich.  The sandwich itself wasn't anything extraordinary, although it was quite good and definitely filled with veggies.  It was the atmosphere that encompassed my first real meal on European soil.  As I sat in a booth by the window that Friday night, the crowds were preparing for a night on the Royal Mile.  I got a real taste of the excitement that transpires when tens of thousands of locals and international tourists intermingle for a night on the town.  As the streets grew more crowded, a lone piper took up residence almost right in front of the cafe.  He may have thought he was playing for the enjoyment of all those people on the street but in my mind, but to me, it seemed like that delightful serenade was made for my ears only. 


Broadford, Scotland
They say the best way to get to know a place is to wander around on foot.  I guess you can say I got to know Broadford quite well.  I arrived to my bed and breakfast in the early evening and the only thing on my mind was food.  I neglected to pick something up on the road earlier and since it was getting late, it would be difficult to find something to eat.  Not having a car available (and not wanting to waste money calling a cab), I was left with the option of walking.  Of course, it being Scotland in September, I ended up wandering around aimlessly in rain, wind and cold.  I walked to the bottom of the hill where I had seen a few take away restaurants on the way in.  No lights, no cars in the parking lots, no staff around.  Closed for the evening.  I walked some more...and some more.  I got hopelessly turned around and ended up going in circles and had no idea where I was or how to get back.  Finally, I found something open.  A tiny pub. Upon opening the door, I felt like I was walking onto the set of Coronation Street.  A cozy atmosphere filled with friendly locals watching sports and gossiping and laughing and carrying on.  I was greeted with a hearty welcome from the friendly barmaid who was happy to make a meal for me even tough the kitchen was partially closed.  She must have felt sorry for the soggy, wayward hungry-looking tourist.  I took a seat at the bar and was welcomed into the group of patrons who were interested in finding out more about this lone traveler looking for a bite to eat on a stormy night.   I enjoyed my meal and a pint (which I didn't intend in having before I entered) and bid farewell before trekking back into the cold, wet night.  

Fort Augustus, Scotland
While I am used to traveling alone and therefore eating alone, while on the road, one of my most memorable meals was the one I enjoyed on my last evening touring the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.  I'd booked a last minute bus tour and ended up spending five spectacular days with about a dozen incredible people from all over the world. The last night of the tour was spent in a pretty little town not far from the banks of Lock Ness.  Upon arrival, we parted ways to check into our accommodations, which were scattered about the town, and agreed to meet in an hour by the canal for dinner.  A lady from the United States was staying in the same bed and breakfast as me so we walked together to find it.  Had I known she had as much of a bad sense of direction as I do, I would have known we were headed the wrong way.  We walked and walked and walked and turned around several times when she admitted she had no clue where she was and neither did I.  Then the rain and wind came.  By the time we found it, we were both soaking wet and hysterical from laughing so hard at our misadventure.  Fort Augustus was not particularly bustling on that wet, cold night so by the time we got back into town, our group had dispersed and almost everything was closed.  We again found ourselves wandering around in the rain until we found  a pizza shop that was still accepting diners. That night, as we sat eating pizza by a window overlooking a deserted street in a land foreign to us both, we talked about everything under the sun as if we were old friends who knew one another for years.  

Other notable meals include sharing my take-out meal with a hungry Cuban teenager on a beach in Varadero.  He insisted on teaching me some Spanish in exchange for hearing about my life in Canada.  Then there was that hunt for the perfect smoothie in Montezuma, Costa Rica.  I ended up finding one along with a life lesson in Pura Vida...a lesson I now live by each day. The ritual of enjoying a good meal with good people is something that has always come easy to me on the road.  Perhaps it's because I travel alone and that makes me easy to approach.  Each of the meals I reminisced about in this post are cherished memories I will never forget.  My biggest regret, as you might have noticed, is not taking enough pictures.  Sometimes I get so caught up in a good moment, I forget about the camera.





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