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! 


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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Waterfalls, Scenic Detours and a Biking Adventure

When I heard that there is a waterfall in New Harris, Cape Breton, just a few kilometres from the Trans Canada Highway, I told myself I would find it before summer's end.  When I heard that the road leading to the waterfall was a wood road leading through a forested area along the water, I decided I would ride my bike to the trail leading to the falls.  I am currently on the lookout for new places to explore with my bike since I now have a bike rack on my car.

I did end up making it to that trail  and to the waterfalls but not with my bike.  I drove to New Harris and as far as the road would go, looking for a trail that could potentially lead to a waterfall.  I heard it was on the right side near the bridge going toward Camp Carter.  I reached the bridge but saw nothing that even remotely looked like a trail so I stopped at some picnic tables near Camp Carter and ate lunch while enjoying the beautiful fall colours that surrounded me.

I continued on to the end of that road, admiring the colourful landscape.  When the road ended and my car could not continue on the narrow ATV trail ahead, I turned back and resumed my search for the trail to the waterfall.  As I drove over the bridge (which I assumed must have been in the vicinity of the waterfall as it went over a river), I noticed some flattened grass near the ditch on the other side.  I got out to investigate and discovered that it was a trail that led along the river and likely to a waterfall. An easy ten-minute hike through some trees brought me to what I was looking for.

 I don't know what the official name of these fall is, but I've heard people call them Camp Carter Falls or simply the waterfalls at Camp Carter.  The trail came out at the top of the falls where I could hear the water rushing and see the spray.  However, I couldn't get a good view of them from that angle so I made my way to the bottom.  Not as easy as it sounds.  A rope was involved.  And some mud and slippery rocks and a steep embankment.  But the view of the falls at the bottom made it worth it.  I rested for a bit and took in those natural surroundings with the changing leaves, the thunderous roar of tons of water coming down into the river below and the felling of cool water lightly spraying my face.  When it started to get dark, I went back up the rope (it was much easier going up!) and headed back to the car.

Instead of taking the 125 all the way home, I made a detour I hadn't taken in many years.  I took the turn-off to Black Rock for a change of scenery and out of curiosity as I forgot what was down there.  I saw some new houses, some very nice ones too and a splendid view of the Bird Islands and then it was back to the TCH and onto the 125...the route home.

 Later that week, I embarked on another late fall adventure, one that I didn't think I would get to do once the weather turned cold.  A few days before I embarked on a bike ride to the Sand Lake/Port Morien area, I was monitoring the weather for possible warm breaks that would allow me to go on a few late-season bike adventures.  A break came on a sunny Wednesday with temperatures predicted to reach the high teens by midday.  I got my gear ready and put my bike on the car rack and off I went.

I made the 40-minute drive to Marconi Towers Rd, and parked on the gravel area near the community mailbox.  It rained periodically on the drive from New Waterford but by the time I got the bike off the rack and was ready to go, the clouds had cleared and the sun was out.

I avoided the main road at first and turned onto Marconi Towers Rd. toward the old wood road leading to Sand Lake.  The wind had died down which made the drive through that rural area that much more enjoyable.  The trees were at their autumn height; bright leaves in shades of yellow, orange and red.  And there was no one else around.  No cars, no people, not even any other bikers.  Just me...until I reached the hill approaching the lake and that is where I came across the orange"construction ahead" signs. It was too late to turn around so I waited until the flag person waved me along and I reluctantly passed dangerously close to moving machinery and endured the deafening sound of their workings until I reached the lake path on the other side.  I drove until I reached a quiet spot where I could rest and take in the views .

I only drove along this lake a few times never actually stopped and took a good look at it.  It's strange how I will travel all the way to Ingonish to enjoy Warren Lake, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive away, but this beautiful lake has always been here and it's only a half-hour drive away...and I never think of going there.

I intended to reach to turn around and head back to the car the same way but I kept going instead.  It was so warm and I was loving the fall breeze on my face as I cruised those back roads.  I eventually ended up back on the highway and turned towards Port Morien and that is where I ended up.

It was late in the afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky when I reached the look off at Port Morien.  I got off the bike and walked down the stairs to the little beach and sat and enjoyed the view of the fishing docks and calm waters of the bay. I could have stayed there all evening but I was not equipped for safe bicycling at night.  I reluctantly headed back to the car.  I took the same way back down the highway, onto the gravel road along the lake, past the construction crew and back to my car.  The sun was starting to go down by that time but rush hour had already gone by so I was in for a relaxing evening n my drive home.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Yoga, Hikes and Bikes

I've been doing yoga for about 5 years now.  However, I can barely be considered an actual yogi and my yoga "practice" wouldn't even be considered a practice by most yogis.  Basically, I open my iPhone yoga app each morning and follow along, Mimicking poses that I have no idea how to do properly.  I've never done yoga with a group before, never taken a single course nor did I see it necessary to watch videos to learn proper technique.  I thought the app was perfectly fine at teaching me how to do yoga.  That is until I actually took the step to further my "practice" after a friend of mine, who is a yoga teacher, persuaded me to sit in on one of her classes.

I drove the hour and a half to St. Peter's to arrive for the 10:00 class.  About 15 other students were already there setting out their mats. I felt a little like a fish out of water but soon adjusted and felt comfortable once I realized no one was paying any attention to me or what I was doing or how I was doing it.

I know now that I'd been doing yoga wrong all along.  Well, not wrong.  I was told my form was good and I learned the flow pretty quick.  However, when I had been doing it at home using an app with stationary pictures showing poses, I missed out on proper breathing and transitioning techniques.  That one hour-long class changed my whole outlook on yoga.  It had always been beneficial for me (even though I was going about it all wrong - I was at least getting some stretching and relaxation benefits out of it) but now I have the courage to take some more classes and the knowledge to improve my own practice.  I understand now that yoga has multiple benefits that go beyond stretching and relaxing and I am noticing a huge difference when I do yoga now. I felt like a million bucks after that class and I was ready for a long hike along Murray's Beach just outside St. Peters.

I hiked Murray's beach before but on this day, I hiked in the opposite direction.  My friend and I parked near the beach and had our lunch before setting out along the rocky shoreline.  I didn't walk far before almost killing myself.  I wasn't paying attention to my footing on the slippery rocks and nearly fell flat on my back.  Had I not caught myself, I would have hit my head and possibly broken a bone.  I did get wet but fortunately it wasn't that cold out.

We walked for a while along the rocky beach before switching over to a path through the woods.  This made for easier walking but the flies, even at that time of year, were really bad!  I ended up with about a dozen bites on my exposed legs and arms. We reached a point where we decided to turn around as it was getting late.  But first, we sat on the beach and drank some tea and ate some snacks while watching the little ripples on the big lake gently come ashore.

We didn't go through the woods on the way back so we ended up having to maneuver around some fallen trees on the thin strip of beach that we missed when we took the shortcut through the woods.

We arrived back at the cars in the late afternoon just in time to see two deer saunter into the field for a snack.  It was almost dark when I started the long drive home but I was ok with that.  I love a night time drive along route 4, along the Bras d'Or Lakes on that windy country road through some of Cape Breton's most beautiful little communities.

Biking is another one of my summer pastimes and this summer I added a new feature to my car; a bike rack.  Normally, I just drive my bike around my neighborhood or around the nearby town but now I can go anywhere with it.  I didn't get a chance to go biking much during August because it was so hot and all I wanted to do was go to the beach.  However, once Mid-September rolled around, I wanted to be on that bike all the time.  The municipality recently completed a multi-use trail that runs from the airport in Gardiner Mines all the way to the Mayflower Mall area in Sydney - about 25 kilometres return.  I drove to the airport one fine day and parked my car near the trailhead and headed out.  It was chilly but nice and I did the entire trail and back in a little over two hours. The trail is very well-maintained, wide and safe compared to some of the roads I usually drive on.  It was nice to drive somewhere different and not have to deal with traffic.   

By this time, it was starting to get darker earlier so I switched my evening walks at Dominion Beach to late-afternoon walks.  That will continue now until spring.  October and November are what I call hiking and biking season.  However, a few road trips are usually reserved for this time of year, particularly my yearly trip around the Cabot Trail to see the spectacular fall colors.

I embarked on a trip around the trail on a fine day that was predicted to remain fairly sunny and warm until at least the evening.  I started the trail at the Red Barn just past Baddeck with the intention of going through Margaree and onto Cheticamp and finally Ingonish.  I took my time going through the Margaree Valley as this is where the fall colours are usually at their best.

I stopped at Lake O'Law first and if the success of the day was to be based on the events that transpired in that provincial park, it would not have been a good day.  I got out of the car and made my way to the women's bathroom (which was an old wooden outhouse).  Everything seemed fine.  Someone else had just exited the same bathroom a few minutes earlier and when I opened and closed the door, everything seemed fine. Until.....I tried to reopen it to exit and the lock jammed from the outside.  Because I am severely claustrophobic, I instantly panicked at the thought of being enclosed in a small space especially a smelly, remote outhouse.  First I screamed "help" over and over.  When no help came, I started punching the door and frantically tried to loosen the lock.  When that didn't work, I started kicking the door in an attempt to literally knock it down.  I think I would have succeeded if not for a distant voice yelling "hang on, I'm coming".  I froze and listened for footsteps until, finally, the door opened.  A woman stood on the other side with a worried look on her face which surely had to be a mask for the laughter she must have been stifling.

Had I been locked in an outhouse all day, I would not have been able to continue on with the wonderful day I ended up having.  Besides enjoying the spectacular fall colours of the Margaree Valley, I went on to visit many of my favourite places along the Cabot Trail and beyond.  I made a little detour off the trail to visit a few of my favourite beaches; Inverness Beach, Chimney Corner and Whale Cove.

I grabbed a coffee in Cheticamp and drove along the Cabot Trail until I reached The Lone Shieling. I love this trail.  It's only short but it's one of my favorite nature walks; tall trees, peace and quiet with a stream running through. On this day, I was the only person there and it was wonderful.  I took my time walking along that trail, taking in every sight and sound.

I drove almost straight to Ingonish after my little hike at the Lone Shieling.  I wanted to make it there before dark and before the Bean Barn, my favourite cafe, closed.  Eating a huge slice of their carrot cake and taking a small coffee with me to Ingonish Beach has become a little tradition for me over the years. After I made some quick stops at some of my favourite places along the way (Black Brook, Warren Lake, Broad Cove), I just barely made it to the Bean Barn.  The place was empty so I sat in my regular spot and ate my cake before hearing to my spot at Ingonish Beach.  I sat in the cool sand near the surf and didn't get up again until the sun disappeared into the horizon.  I took my time going home.  Knowing this was likely my last road trip of the season, I wanted to stretch it out as much as possible even if it meant driving at night in moose country and getting home close to midnight.   

Friday, November 23, 2018

A New Trail, an Old Trail and some Big Waves

I may not have traveled all that far this summer, but I certainly had the opportunity to do a lot of new things.  In particular, I got to hike a few new trails and explore some new places I had never explored before.  One of the new trails I hiked was at the Ben Eoin Provincial Park.  I actually didn't even know there was a trail there.  I'd been to the park many times but I guess I never noticed the sign pointing to the trail leading up the mountain.

I arrived at the  park in mid-afternoon and ate my lunch before heading up the hill.  It was a beautiful afternoon for that late in September.  There was hardly any wind, it was sunny and the air was just right - not too hot and not too cold, just comfortable. Perfect hiking conditions.  I was the only person there that day and I found that both strange and disturbing considering it was the weekend and the weather was so fantastic.  I can't get my head around the fact that so many people would rather spend such a splendid day in a mall buying material things they don't need when they could be outdoors enjoying the spectacular beaches, trails and natural surroundings of one of the world's most beautiful islands.

With my lunch done and all ready to hit the trail, I made my way up the mountain, not having any idea how far the trail went or how long it would take to get up the hill and back down.  The trail was quite steep for a while until it leveled out.  I swam, walked and biked all summer so I'm quite fit.  The only thing bothered by the incline was my bad knee which seems to act up going up hill and even more so going down hill.

The trail isn't very long but it's nice.  Tall trees with sunlight coming through made it look almost like an enchanted forest.  And the views!  Spectacular!  A clear straight view down to the Bras d'Or Lakes and there happened to be a sailboat right in the middle when I arrived at the top. I lingered for a short while before heading down, which was more difficult on my knee than going up.  I made it safely though.  Instead of driving back the same way I came, I went through Northside East Bay and onto Eskasoni and eventually arriving in Iona and Grand Narrows.

I stopped to rest and enjoy the view from the Highland Village parking lot before continuing on my way.  While driving along the road leading through Boisedale, I came across another road that I thought ended up in George's River.  I had heard about such a road so I took it and got to see an area of the island I don't recall ever seeing before.  And yes, it did end up in George's River and eventually back to the 105 and the route home.

The next day, I ventured to the other side of the island and ended up in Louisbourg at Kennington Cove Beach.  Weather warnings were posted warning the public that the surf around the island would be high that weekend.  Louisbourg is the perfect place to safely enjoy high surf.  And yes, the waves at the beach were very high!  And the water was still warm too.  Not that I went swimming but I couldn't help but put my toes in the water for what just might be the last time this season.  

That evening, I took a sunset stroll to the old fort near the Lingan Wind Farm.  I miscalculated the time it would take to get in and out and ended up walking out of there through some thick forest at night.  It was just starting to get dark when I arrived at the shore and I lost track of time while taking pictures and looking for deer in the field.  It seemed like it took three times longer to walk out than it did to walk in.  Every few feet I would hear something move in the woods and wonder if it was something that could have me for me lunch or just a branch moving in the wind. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hiking New and Old Territory - Cape Perce and Morrison Beach

Quite a few years ago, I hiked a trail in Donkin, Cape Breton.  It was a rather short trail that started near Schooner Pond and went up a hill to reveal a magnificent view of the ocean and nearby cliffs.  What I didn't know at the time was the trail doesn't end at the top of that hill like I thought it did.  I learned years later from fellow hikers that it keeps going to a lovely spot called Cape Perce; a clearing high above the raging waters of the Atlantic, overlooking Flint Island.

Upon realizing that beautiful trail keeps going beyond the spot where I turned around that day many years ago, I picked a day that looked like the weather would stay nice long enough for me to make the two-to-three-hour-long hike.   

The drive from New Waterford to Donkin is about 30 minutes.  I parked on the old wood road running between the beach and the pond and made my way to the trail going up the hill.  The first difference I noticed since the last time I had hiked there was the noise coming from the nearby Donkin Mine which had just started operations a few years earlier.  Thankfully, the seas were high that day and the wind was brisk so the sound of waves crashing ashore and trees rustling in the wind soon drowned out the mechanical sounds coming from the coal mine nearby.   

I soon made it to the top of the hill, the spot where I had turned back the last time.  I continued walking on the fairly decent path that was carved out along the cliffs.  At times, it winded a little closer that I would have liked.  Atone point, I did get down on my belly and stealthily inched toward the edge to peak down to the rocky beach below.  It was quite a drop.  The realization that erosion could very well be occurring at that very spot caused me to quickly back up and keep my distance from the edge for the rest of the trek. 

As I walked, some ships that were headed out to sea followed me along the shore.  A giant cargo ship that looked to be overflowing with cargo and a cruise ship filled with passengers stopping by my fair island for the day.  I always wonder why people come to Cape Breton via cruise ship to only spend a few hours in port when it takes at least a week to see everything the little island has to offer.  How to choose between the Cabot Trail, Baddeck and The Fortress of Louisbourg?  And even if you do manage to see one, you barely have any time to enjoy it before you are shuffled back on board the ship to race to the next port.

The weather started to change as I pressed on.  I had no idea where the trail ended or how long it would take to reach the end.  A light drizzle came and went and the clouds grew darker.  I soon reached a clearing where I could see another clearing across a little cove.  There was what looked like a flag pole at the edge.  I knew that was Cape Perce as I had been told to look for the flag pole at the clearing.  I stopped for a bit to rest and take some pictures and watch some seals bobbing in the waves and cormorants drying their wings on some rocks.  As I looked out to sea, I wondered if Hilton, the tagged great white shark who had pinged this area as his location only a few days earlier, was lurking nearby.  I wondered if those seals knew about Hilton.  I rested for  but while enjoying the view and a cold beer before continuing.

I made it to Cape Perce just as the rain got heavier and the wind shifted.  The blanket wasn't laid out long; only long enough for me to eat the snacks I had packed and take a few pictures.  I had hoped to stay longer but the rain and sudden wind and cold made me decide to head back to the car. Another trail knocked off my list of Cape Breton trails to-do list.

Later that same week, I headed to another one of my favourite area's of the island; Framboise.  I met some friends and hiked Morrison Beach.  I hiked Morrison before but it had been a few years since I was there last.  It's a beautiful, remote, rugged beach.

It takes just over an hour to reach Morrison Beach from my house in New Waterford.  I took my time going through the little coastal communities of Forchu and Gabarus and made my way to the bottom of the gravel road leading to the beach.  I parked and ate my lunch while I waited for my friends to show up.

We walked to the right of the beach first and right to the river where we were unable to cross.  Had it been warmer, I would have found a way across but we turned around instead and walked back.  The weather was quite nice that day; a little cool but warm enough to take my shoes off and even dip them in the ocean at one point.  It takes about two hours to walk the whole beach and back but longer if you stop to take pictures and admire the beauty, which I always do. 

Upon returning to the car, we drove to the bottom of Crooked Lake Road and had some tea and snacks while watching the waves crash onto the beach.  A quick stroll up the hill to get a better view was done quickly only because the mosquitoes were so bad! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Summer Goes by Quick when It's a Good One

The weather on Cape Breton Island, where I'm enjoying my staycation this summer, is still quite nice after the prolonged and record-breaking heat wave of mid-July to late August.  Everyone around me complained non-stop about the heat but it didn't stop me.  While many took to spending hot afternoons in air-conditioned malls and supermarkets, I continued to do what I love to do best during the summer months...enjoying summer!  We have long winters and summer is a long time coming when we are in the midst of winter.  When the snow melts and the temperatures rise, I take advantage of every moment I can to get outside and enjoy nature.

I planned to do some traveling this summer with possible trips to Alberta and Iceland but I was having such a good summer here in Cape Breton that I decided to stay put and put the bigger trips on hold until maybe the late fall or perhaps next year.  So far, I've done some new things this year.  I recently purchased a bike rack for the car and took my bike on a journey further away than usual.  I drove to the old rail-bed in the Gardiner where some windmills now take up some space in some woods there.  A road is there now and bikers have been using it. It wasn't very long but it was a very peaceful journey through a wooded area that is surprisingly quiet despite being close to a highway.  I peddled right to the end where the brook is and stopped for a break.

Before the weather turned unbearably hot for hiking, I did get out for one hike along the beaches of Forchu with a few friends.  It was a long hike but the air was cool and a refreshing ocean mist dusted my face for much of the day.  We went so far and reached a raging brook.  After contemplating the tides and weighing the pros and cons, we took our shoes off and crossed.  Not my first choice when dealing with tides but I later found out that the option to take another trail back to the highway was available if it came to that.

As we walked, I noticed some seabirds growing agitated.  Their agitation grew the further we went but I couldn't figure out why. When we walked onto a little rock causeway that led to an island that appears during low tide, the birds became frantic and that's when it occurred to me that there were nests in the area.  Sure enough, I looked only a few feet away from where I stood frozen after my realization.  Three little eggs were nestled into some grass and there were more all over the area.  We quickly and carefully left the area and they stopped following us.

We crossed over the banks of the beach onto the river side and took out a couple of beers to enjoy in the cool breeze.   A relaxing hour of just sitting and staring at the water, sky and trees mixed with a rock-skipping competition and walking-stick-balancing competition.  After the long walk back to the car, a late lunch and hot tea was enjoyed at a look-off in Forchu.  I couldn't believe I had not known of that look-off before but it looked like many people were aware of it; a tattered Cape Breton Flag lay balancing on some rocks and someone had made some little ornaments to line the top of the driveway.

I stuck around home the next evening and took in the fireworks for Coal Dust Days in New Waterford.  I desperately wanted to master the art of photographing fireworks (just one of many things I want to master taking pictures of...lightning, full moons and waterfalls are some others) and I think I finally got it!

More adventures came not long after that lovely hike in Framboise but this time I got to enjoy them with my sister who has not been home from Calgary since the summer of 2016.  A drive to Louisbourg was the first thing she wanted to do after a much-needed rest after her flight.  Of course she wanted to visit all the usual spots around the town; the lighthouse, wharf area and Fortress entrance area to get a view of the stately site.

The next day brought a trip to Nyanza to spend a few hours at the Big Spruce Brewery. I had no idea what to order as I am no expert at craft beer but when I saw someone in line ahead of me order a pink beer, I knew I had to inquire. The Silver Tart, as it's called, is a sour raspberry wheat beer and, as I soon found out, it's delicious.  The skies opened up as we sat under our giant umbrella near the edge of the forest.  But we didn't care while we sipped our refreshing beverages and listened to a talented young man sing and play guitar for us and about a dozen other patrons. On the way home that evening, we stopped in Baddeck to have a look at the boats and yachts in the harbour.  A very large super-yacht took up much of the wharf and had a familiar name on it; Casino Royale.  A google search revealed that it was a charter/rental and it could be mine for $225,000 a week.

The very next day, I had a day trip planned with a friend of mine to go swimming and taking pictures in the western part of the island near Inverness, Margaree and Cheticamp. That morning, the weather forecast didn't look too promising with some rain and possible thunderstorms predicted for that region of the island.  We went anyway.  When we arrived at Margaree Harbour, the clouds looked to be over Cheticamp and slowly heading toward Inverness.  So we headed to Inverness first.  My logic was to beat the rain and get a swim in at Inverness Beach and than by the time we headed back toward Cheticamp, the rain would be headed toward Margaree.  my plan almost worked.

Upon arrival to Inverness Beach, I changed into my swimsuit and raced toward the surf to get a swim in before the sky opened.  I swam for close to an hour before the rain drops started.  I kept swimming.  The raindrops got bigger and bigger and heavier and than, all of a sudden, we were in a monsoon.  I didn't even bother racing back to the car.  There was no chance that I or my belongings would be dry again that day. The good thing was the rain kept going the other way and by the time we made it to Cheticamp, the sun was coming out and the clouds were moving west.  After some picture-taking at Grande Falaise (where I think I finally mastered spider webs), we stopped at Wabo's Pizza for slices and deep-fried cheesecake.  We ate outside since the weather had turned nice again but I didn't realize I didn't have napkins until I was half-way through the messy cheesecake.  My friend had quite the laugh watching me quite literally get the gooey stuff all over me and my face!

That evening turned out much better than expected after the adverse weather of earlier in the day; It turned warm, calm and there was a most spectacular sunset.  The earlier part of the evening was spent with our feet in the water at Chimney Corner, taking pictures of the clear water and rippling sand.  When the flies became too much, we drove ten minutes to Margaree Harbour Beach and took some pictures of the setting sun.

An impromptu trip around the Cabot Trail happened the day before my sister was due to head back out west.  It was a quick trip around but a good one.  We got to take in some views, went on a little hike and I now know where the trail-head to Pollett's Cove is.

This summer was a bit different for me because I stayed closer to home more often than I usually do and that wasn't a bad thing.  Watching a meteor shower at Dominion Beach, following newly-hatched, endangered piping plovers while they got big and learned to fly, enjoying a beer in the evenings on my back step while listening to relaxing music (mostly from the CD I recently bought and love - Buena Vista Social Club - a band from Cuba etc), fireworks, Bayside ice creams, sunsets at the lighthouse....I didn't travel far this summer but it was, no doubt, an eventful one.  I can't say I was bored for a second. 

I always try to make it to Baddeck a few times every summer and this year, I planned my main trip to the pretty village around Festiville Baddeck which is a festival held the first Monday of July and August.  I left home early to get there in time to take a little side trip to Kidston Island where I swam and hiked for a few hours before heading to the main street to check out the vendors and enjoy some live music.  Before heading home, I sat and enjoyed a sample serving of Spruce Beer.

Just as quickly as the hot weather arrived, it turned cold again but only for a few days before the heat made it's return.  Ipersonally loved the hot weather we had.  I spent more time swimming this year than any other because the water was absolutely beautiful.  I haven't been doing as much camping lately as I usually do so when the weather turned hot again, I jumped on the opportunity to book a campsite at my home-away-from-home at Broad Cove Campground near Ingonish.  I've been booking lot 87 for many years (almost 20 now that I think about it!) but this year was the first year it wasn't available.  Someone else had it booked during the dates I wanted.  I booked lot 91 instead.  It looked nice in the pictures online and when I arrived, I was quite pleased with the site.  It was very large, it had enough trees to hang my clothesline and solar lights and there was plenty of grass to put my tent on. I booked two nights and other than a little sprinkle of rain the first day, the weather was fantastic.  I didn't do a whole lot of hiking or swimming; my intention for that trip was to relax.  I spent a lot of time walking the beaches, watching the sunset at The Point with my evening coffee from the Bean Barn, reading under candlelight and enjoying a beer in the evenings while watching the night sky. 

When the muggy, hot days turned cold, I had a hard time adjusting as I must have been used to the extreme heat.  Dominion Beach turned bad too for a few days.  Lots of seaweed, crabs and even lobsters crawling around in shallow water.  I thought swimming was done for the season but than, just like that, it cleared up and the beach was back better than it was before.  The beach was quite crowded right up to the day before the local newspaper ran an article about how a tagged Great White Shark named "Hilton" was spotted not far off the coast of Point Michaud.  The very next day, the beach was deserted. This did not deter me from continuing to swim very day until the third week of September.  

Every Labour Day weekend I head to Margaree.  Actually, it's Cap Lemoine but I call it Margaree because it's close enough.  This Labour Day weekend was no exception.  I packed up my car and headed to the Western part of the island hoping for sunshine and warm enough weather to get a late season swim in. That first day was perfect.  Warm air plus warm water at Chimney Corner and Inverness Beach meant I got a lot of swimming in that afternoon.  That evening, I enjoyed supper at a new-to-me restaurant in Cheticamp.  The restaurant has been there for years but because the word "seafood" is in the title, I never gave it a second look.  Seafood Stop is situated right before you enter the main part of the town.  It's fairly small but nice inside.  I was anxious to see the menu because I wasn't sure what I would order if only seafood dishes were available.  Fortunately, there were many non-fish options available.  I played it healthy and ordered a Caesar salad and garlic bread.  It was delicious.  I had no idea what I was missing all these years .  The only complaint I had was it was too cold because the air-conditioning was on high despite it being cool outside that evening.

The next day, supper was had at a more familiar place; Wabo's.  I had my usual, the Lasagna.  However, I skipped the deep-fried cheesecake.  It's something I try to only have once a year at most.  I was awake very early the next morning to drive my friend to catch a bus to Halifax.  An early-morning stop at the Dancing Goat was part of that early-morning journey.  I stopped in Baddeck for breakfast and a short walk around the pretty little town before heading home. 

I camped during the first week of September (and froze) and again the second week (which was surprisingly warmer).  I camped in Baddeck with a friend in her pop-up trailer.  We chose Baddeck Cabot Trail Campground.  I stayed there at as child when it was the KOA.  I don't remember what it was like back than but it's pretty nice now!  Heated pool, a cozy lodge and grassy lots.  I enjoyed my first campfire of the season that night and I was also was spooked by a large animal as I walked in a wooded area after dark.  Not sure what it was.  Left the area quickly before I could find out. 

The very next week, I got another night of camping in.  I love sleeping in a tent and try to do so as much as possible when the weather allows.  This time, I roughed it in a remote area of Richmond County instead of staying on a campground.  My dad and I had been planning a trip like this for a while and finally got it together this year and set up camp at the bottom of Ferguson Road near Framboise.  It was a the perfect spot right on the beach surrounded by rugged coastline and forest.  After a couple of beer around a campfire, I stared at the night sky filled with stars and fell asleep to the sound of waves pounding ashore and coyotes howling nearby.  Despite it being late in the season, the temperature was just right; not too hot nor too cold.  A long hike along Ferguson Beach and a trip to St. Peter's for coffee and sightseeing completed the trip.

Summer is now gone for another year.  Swimming and camping season may be ending but hiking, biking and kayaking season is in full force!


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