Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One of my Articles has been Published

The article titled “Road Tripping in Nova Scotia”, takes reader’s along an area of Nova Scotia known for its history and coastal scenery. We passed through many places including Mahone Bay and Lunenburg and even found Oak Island, the small island known for its Money Pit where buried pirate treasure is said to be buried.

A teaser has already been posted online at http://www.readersdigest.ca/our-canada/our-travels-nova-scotia/ and the magazine should be available on shelves in the coming days or weeks if you are interested in having a peak!

Things to do in the Everest Region Besides Trekking

Mount Everest is one of the natural wonders of the world and stands 8848m (29,029 ft). Nepal might be a small dot on the world map, but Everest makes Nepal as one of the most important and recognized countries in the world. While Mount Everest is a favorite among mountaineers and trekkers, it is much more than just the pinnacle of the world to summit. With a variety of activities available, it is a great adventure spot for people of all backgrounds and interests. The The following are some of the most thrilling adventures you can enjoy without trekking in Everest region


a. Mountain flight
Though all of us dream about having adventures and setting records, summiting the highest peak on earth is not for everyone. Another way to allow everyone to experience the Himalayan giant is with a Mountain flight. Visitors can get an up close view of the enigmatic peak with flights that take off daily from the capital city. You can choose from a number of flights according to your budget and from your window seat, you can capture breathtaking Everest and its sister peaks in beautiful, panoramic photographs.

b. Locals
Even in such isolation and freezing temperature, there are people of Mongol origins still living in the Everest region. There is an abundance of Sherpas here who are world famous, elite mountaineers.
The Sherpas were originally a nomadic people who descended from Tibet. With the development of tourism in the Khumbu region, they settled down as trekkers, guides, porters and hotel owners. Sherpas worship nature and regard Everest as “mother of the earth” and Mt. Makalu as deity Shiva. There are monasteries or Gompas here as most Sherpas are Buddhists. They wear traditional silk or handmade woolen clothes, speak a south branch of Tibeto-Burman language and live in houses with sloping roofs. Sherpas are famous all over the world for being mountaineering experts as a result of their genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes.

c. Sagarmatha National Park
This national park of 1148 sq. km is an exquisite sight with dramatic mountains, glaciers and deep valleys dominated by the supreme Mt. Everest and was declared a world heritage site in 1979. The wildlife of the park includes the Snow leopard, red pandas, Black bear, Musk deer and smaller animals like the Tibetan water shrew, marmot, wooly hare and mice. There are around 152 species of birds, including the Himalayan Munal, Blood Pheasant, Red billed and yellow-billed Chough, 6 amphibians and 7 reptiles found in the protected area and its lakes. The area also has plenty of flora including oak, pine, rhododendron forests, lichens and mosses as the altitude increases. There are 20 villages with over six thousand Sherpa inhabitants. Their conservation oriented culture makes “Sustainable protection and management” the main motto of the national park, protecting the region while bettering the livelihood of the Sherpa community. The presence of Gokyo Lake, the Tengpoche monastery and other conservation areas along with different conservation programs add more importance to the already valuable, protected area.

d. Monasteries
During your stay in the Everest region, you will encounter two monasteries of high importance. The monastery located in the highest altitude is the Pongboche which is famous for housing the purported yeti scalp and hand. The other is the Tengboche monastery, which is the biggest in the region. It is constructed with stone masonry and has a large courtyard, storerooms and shrines of Manjushree, Maitreya, Shakyamani Buddha and other important deities of Buddhism. It was destroyed by earthquakes and fire at various times throughout history but the current monastery is an impressive structure adorned with mani walls, prayer flags, praying wheels and original teachings of the Buddha translated into Tibetan. Visiting the monasteries is a peaceful and spiritual experience.


e. Skydiving
This Everest experience is only for the people with a taste for real adventure. It involves a drop from an AS350 B3 helicopter at the height of 29000 ft to the highest drop zones in the world - Syangboche (12, 350 ft) and Amadablam Base Camp (15000 ft). It is one of the most thrilling aerial events in the world that includes a freefall, a breathtaking view of the Sherpa settlements and views of majestic Mount Everest towering in the backdrop. It is a yearly event held during the months of October-November and is a life-changing experience.

f. Tenzing Hillary Airport
Said to be the most dangerous airport in the world, the Tenzing Hillary airport in Lukla (2800m) was named as a tribute to the pioneer climbers and their contribution to the construction. The airstrip is only suitable for helicopters and small aircraft because there is no prospect for successful go-around due to high terrain beyond the northern end and a steeply angled drop at the southern end. With no landing aids and only Aerodrome flight information service, it will be a flight you will never forget. You approach from between the mountains to a sloped strip that is only long enough to stop the plane in time before hitting a cliff wall. It is a nerve-wrecking and heart-stopping experience, but that is exactly what Everest stands for – once in a lifetime experiences.


g. Everest Marathon
Listed in the Guinness book of records as the highest elevation marathon, the Everest marathon is a popular event among Everest mountaineers. This 42 km run over rough mountain trails starts from Gorak Shep and ends at the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar at 3446 m. It has been held 15 times in the last 22 years. It is a 26-day course for acclimatization and preparation with a 15-day trek under medical supervision to Gokyo RI (5483m) and Kala Patthar (5623m). All profits from the marathon are donated to a Everest Marathon Fund which utilizes the profit to conduct health and educational projects in rural Nepal and other causes all around the world.

With all these options available to quench your thirst for adventure in the Himalayan region, Everest is becoming a favorite vacation spot for those with time limitations and physical constraints that won’t allow them to scale the summit. One of these life changing events is sure to make it to the top of your bucket list.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Well, Once Again, It’s a Wrap for Celtic Colours until Next Year

When the first Celtic Colours International Festival was held in Cape Breton in 1997, I was only 17 and not really interested in such events. In my arrogant teenage mind, it was something that only “boring old people” would attend. I moved away to another province in 2000 and didn’t come back until 2011 so I didn’t pay much attention to the festival during that time. Cape Breton is where I was born and raised but moving back after no many years felt like moving to a foreign country. I didn’t know what people did for fun and all the friends I had growing up had moved away to Halifax or Out West to work in the oil fields. I started to look for social events to attend in order to keep myself busy and meet new people. It was in the summer of 2012 that I, once again, started hearing about the Celtic Colours Festival and this time around, it sounded like something that would be right up my alley. Concerts by well-known local musicians and world-renowned acts, cultural events, guided hikes and markets, meeting people from all over the world? Sounded like my kind of week!
That year, I attended a few cultural events but mostly followed the festival from afar. It wasn’t until the following year, when a friend offered me an extra ticket to see Ashley MacIsaac At the Joan Harriss Pavilion that I really started to get into the event. That memorable concert, along with the other events I took in that week, turned me into an devoted Celtic Colours fan.

Spring 2014 arrived and I was looking forward to the many events that would be happening on the island all summer but it was the annual Celtic Colours Festival, that takes place in October, that really had me hyped. That week finally arrived and I was ready to attend as many events as I possibly could. A few days before the festival got underway, I made a schedule with the help of the Celtic Colours International Festival website which had all the events listed with their dates and times along with a nifty schedule-maker tool. This tool allowed me to add all the events I wanted to attend to a sort of dayplanner that was than sent to my email account. The best thing about this scheduler was that it let me know if any of the events conflicted with other events so I could plan accordingly.

The prices for most events are very reasonable and many people who come from away try to attend as many of the concerts and events as possible. However, for me, I was unable to attend many of the concerts because I was laid off from my job only a few days before the festival began. Fortunately, there were plenty of free and very low-cost events happening throughout the week. This year, I took part in several of these events including The Whitney Pier Historical Walk and the Scottsville Celtic Walk. I tried to get to some of the farmers markets that took place around the island but there were scheduling conflicts. Besides, markets happen all season; I wanted to take part in the events that would only happen once. One of those one-time events I wanted to take part on was a free whale tour that was being offered by Oshan Whale Tour in Bay St. Lawrence. I called to reserve a spot but, as I suspected, they were booked to capacity. The owner took my name and number and told me that if anyone cancelled, she would call me but that call never came. I’m not even sure if the tour went ahead or not because the waters were choppy that day and the air was a bit chilly to be out on the water.

The first Celtic Colours event I attended was the Whitney Pier Historical Walk. Although I am quite familiar with Whitney Pier, I love history and learning more about my local area. And I did learn some things I didn’t know and got to walk a city trail that I didn’t even know existed. For example, I had no idea that the remnants of an entire Polish community in the area was still standing just as it did when it was first developed. Some of the old homes are still there and descendents of the original owners still live in some of them. Unfortunately, a monument that was placed there was burned by some vandals. Whether this is a throwback to some of the prejudice views of the past or just an act perpetrated by some bored and disrespectful kids is yet to be discovered but it is a senseless and hateful act nonetheless and one that I am now aware of thanks to that informative walk through one of Cape Breton’s most multicultural neighborhoods. I learned that once-upon-a-time, the Sydney Steel Plant had employees use different entrances to come to work based on their ethnic background. Something else I was not aware of. I pass through The Pier everyday on my way to Sydney but, that day, I got to experience a different side of it and see it from a new angle. The views of the harbour along that trail were quite scenic but one can still see some of the remnants of the old Steel Plant and the infamous Tar Ponds which became known as one of Canada’s worse environmental disasters.
A few days later, I attended another guided historical walk, The Scottsdale Celtic Walk. I had some trouble finding out where Scottsdale was located but I had a hunch it was in the Margaree area somewhere. I was right. It was near the far end of Lake Ainslie. However, even with my GPS and directions from a friend who was familiar with the area, I still managed to get a little lost and was a few minutes late. I eventually did make it to the meeting place at the Scottsville school of crafts where a friendly and accommodating lady was waiting for me to follow her to the where the hike was taking place and join the group mid-walk. Fortunately, I only missed the first few minutes.
The hike took place amidst the bright colours of the changing leaves the area is so known for in the fall and the scenic countryside that many of the Scots settled when they first came here because it looked so similar to the Highlands of Scotland. We walked along a remote, gravel road alongside the Southwest Margaree River with those colourful trees on both sides. Our guides for the walk, Geoffrey and Rebecca-Lynne, were dressed in traditional Scottish dress and even stopped along the way to sing us some traditional Gaelic songs. Gaelic is hardly spoken anywhere in the world anymore but Cape Breton is home to a fairly large population of Gaelic-speaking people. We stopped periodically to talk about the history of the area and the people who settled there. I like to think I know a lot about my ancestors and the land they settled many years ago but I learned some things I didn’t know like the background of some of the popular names in the area and the difference between the suffixes Mac and Mc. Many people think that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish but that is not always the case, so I learned that day! We walked for about an hour listening to some more of those beautiful Gaelic songs and interesting stories that were passed down from past generations.
The grand finale of the festival took place at Centre 200 in Sydney and I had the opportunity to attend that spectacular show which featured Natalie MacMaster and a host of other world-renowned musicians. She even brought along some members of her musical family which included her husband Donnell Leahy and three of her six children who are already superb dancers and fiddle players.

So there you have it. Even if you don’t have an ear for Celtic music, The Annual Celtic Colours International Festival has many activities that are suitable for everyone. One thing I noticed while attending these various events was that not very many Cape Bretoners seem to come out and participate as much as I thought they would. I would say a good 80% of the people I met throughout the week were from everywhere all over the world except here at home. I’m not sure why that is but I have made it my mission to tell anyone who will listen about this wonderful festival. Attending these cultural events is a great way to learn more about the local culture, a great way to meet new people, a great way to support a local event and the community as a whole and it’s lots of fun! So, my fellow Cape Bretoners, next year, get out there and support some homegrown talent and a world-renowned and internationally acclaimed festival that takes place in your own backyard. People from all over the world come to Cape Breton specifically for this festival every year so its about time us locals start seeing what all the fuss is about. And if you think Celtic Colours is just for “boring old people”, I suggest you spend an evening at the Festival Club that takes place every evening during the festival at the Gaelic College in St. Anne’s….I didn’t get a chance to get out there yet but I hear it’s quite the time!
*Next I will tell you about another fantastic festival event I attended, a guided hike of the Acadian hiking trail in Cheticamp.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hike Around Point Michaud Beach - Another Trail Knocked off my List

I certainly am doing a lot of catching up this fall…and by catching up, I am referring to hiking and being outdoors. You know how I didn’t get to do a lot of hiking this summer? Well, now that I am laid off from my job, I am taking advantage of the beautiful fall we are having here in Cape Breton to getting outdoors and exploring some new places and revisiting some old favorites.
I’ve been to Point Michaud Beach many times over the years but I’ve never had the chance to hike the area. Actually, I didn’t even know there was a hiking route in the area!

It was an early start to the morning the day I decided to do this hike. The drive from Lingan to Point Michaud is about two hours and there is always construction along route 4, which is the highway I usually take to get there. One of the most anticipated things about this day-trip was the opportunity to meet some new people. I’ve met a lot of new people this summer and this is a good thing for me because most of the people I’m meeting love the outdoors, nature and hiking like I do! And it’s very hard to meet people like that these days.
After meeting everyone at a pre-determined meeting spot, we drove to the Point Michaud area. We didn’t go directly to the beach parking lot like I thought we would; we, instead, went down a road just before the beach and parked at the end of it near a trail that ran along another beach.

Luckily, we are having a very nice fall here in Cape Breton. Lots of sun and warm temperatures which are quite abnormal for this time of year and quite welcome after the horrendous winter we had earlier this year. Perhaps it’s the fact that weather experts are predicting an even worse winter this time around is what has me darting outside at every opportunity I get. But even though the sun was shining when I left home and it was calling for fairly decent temperatures, I played it safe and dressed in layers. Needless to say, the top layer came off about five minutes into the hike. More came off as the afternoon went on and the temperatures rose.
The trail started off very easy on a sandy and grassy trail with the beach on one side and a swampy area on the other. The black flies and mosquitoes were particularly bad on that part of the trail. I could immediately see that this trail would be very diverse. The first section had a softer landscape and it was nice to hear the sound of the waves gently rolling ashore and the seabirds curiously swarming around us. There were deer prints on the trail and on the beach and some prints that I assume could only have been made by a coyote or very large dog. I’m leaning towards coyote because there were no human tracks accompanying these prints and we were quite far from any houses.
The trail continued to an area with more trees and high bushes. Various plant life was still thriving including Angelica and Rosebud. I didn’t know you could actually eat the Rosebud berries until one of my fellow hikers encouraged me to try one. We’d already had a frost a few days earlier so the bud tasted dry, bitter and seedy but she reassured me that they usually taste better and are very healthy.

As we started to come into a clearing, I noticed a cluster of trees to the right of the trail. A cluster of trees is usually not something out-of-the-ordinary but this cluster of trees was different. For one, they were all dead and two, they were all very short - much shorter than the other trees in the area. A fellow hiker, who was familiar with the trail, had already wandered into the little tree cluster, calling it The Little People Forest. This name suited it as I had to slump down in order to maneuver through the little trees and there were many little hiding places and overhangs that one could hide in. It looked and felt like something you would see in one those fantasy movies like The Lord of the Rings and my imagination suddenly began to run wild. I felt like a little kid again as I weaved in and out of the little spaces.
The next section of the trail was rockier and ran along a rugged coastline. One can see the damage that has been done in previous storms that have hit the area and there used to be old wharfs along the shore that have since been washed to sea. We walked along this area slowly, taken in the spectacular views of the ocean and surrounding coastline and enjoying the fresh ocean breeze complete with airborne ocean spray! At one point along that rocky section, I spotted a lone, dead tree seemingly darting out of the rocks. My hiking companions had already named it The Spirit Tree on previous hikes and, again, the name was suitable. I’m not sure why but it just looked like what I pictured an actual spirit tree would look like.
The hike ended up being a little longer than I thought it would be but that suited me fine. I was loving the fresh air and just being out there in nature. The wind picked up a bit later in the afternoon which made the flies retreat so the walk back was much more enjoyable in that sense. We’d gone in a complete loop and soon our car roofs were gleaming in the distance. Another hike done, another one crossed off that list. But the day wasn’t over yet!

While much of the group departed and headed home or to other engagements, the rest of us headed over to the Grand River area where there was a beach I didn’t even know existed. This hike wasn’t as long as the other one; it was more of a leisurely stroll along the water. We reached the far end of the beach and just sat by the river on the other side and listened to the natural sounds around us for a while; seabirds chirping, trees rustling, waves crashing onshore behind us and water trickling along in the river before us. It was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Friday, October 17, 2014

How my Outlook of the World Changed Through Travel

As a traveler who has been to other countries outside of my own and who has experienced various cultures, I feel I have a certain advantage over people who have never left Canada. No, I don’t think I am better than them or smarter than them. I just feel like I have learned some very important lessons about life while traveling in other parts of the world that help me to be more open-minded and aware of many things, both good and bad, that are happening outside of my country but affect everyone on the planet.

Before I started traveling, I thought the ways of my country were the right way. Canada is, after all, one of the more developed countries in the world, it’s free, people can do as they please as long as they are not hurting anyone, everyone is entitled to the same rights and we can come and go as we please. Before I started traveling, I thought many other countries were crime-ridden and impoverished with corrupt governments set on keeping the people poor and unable to defend themselves. I am not naïve; there are many places in the world that are like that and there are many places that are not like that. I noticed that some countries that do things a little differently than we do at home are better off in a lot of ways even though there is poverty and crime. Take Costa Rica for example. Their country’s slogan is “Pura Vida” which translates into “The Pure Life” in English.

As a child, educators and other adults in my life put it in my head that Central America was an impoverished place where people had no food or clean water and dressed in rags. The comparison that was always made was “you need to realize how lucky you are to be growing up in Canada and not in one of those countries “. My school would sponsor food drives and donation collections and people were always saying “we need to help those poor children”. I never had and still don’t have a problem helping people but it wasn’t until I started traveling on my own that I realized things are not as bad as I was led to believe. The focus was always on lack of food, lack of clothing and lack of material things. Let me explain before you label me a heartless, closed-minded, uninformed you-know-what…

When I traveled to Central America I noticed that while some people didn’t have a lot to eat, almost everyone had gardens and the ones who didn’t, had the generosity of neighbors. Everyone had clothing and everyone had some sort of roof over their head. While this may not seem like much to most Canadians, everyone I met was happy and welcoming. They also spent a lot of time with their friends ad family around large dinner tables and sitting on benches outdoors. It made me realize that having very little is a trade off for having something more…something that we seem to have less and less of in the more developed world.

My first experience with another culture was in Mexico. Before I arrived in the country, I was worried about some of the things that were going on. All over the news was accounts of armed gunmen shooting up villages, drug cartels killing innocent people and instilling terror into anyone who crossed their path and corrupt law enforcement and politicians. So of course, I developed a negative image of the country before I even arrived! These things were happening in Mexico at that time and still are but not to the extent that I was led to believe. My week-long trip to Mexico went without a hitch. I saw no crime, everyone was smiling and having a good time, I ventured off alone on public transportation to nearby towns and attractions and I met some of the friendliest people I had ever met. I am now fully aware of the purpose of sensationalism to capture the attention of news viewers and to instill a sense of panic in the public at large and eventually damage the reputation of an entire nation.
When I traveled to Cuba alone, my friends and family were mortified that I would think of going on a trip to a foreign country as dangerous as Cuba. They warned me of kidnappings, muggings and aggressive men and told me not to leave the resort. Even after I arrived, resort employees tried to convince me not to leave the resort and to avail of the activities and tours they had available on-site. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was just a ploy to get me to spend money on the resort. I left the resort and went to explore Varadero and the city of Havana on my own and experienced none of the things that people warned me about. No muggings, no kidnappings, no aggressive men. In fact, I experience more aggression from men at home than I do anywhere on any of my travels!

One such experience with an “aggressive man” occurred while I was sitting on the beach in Varadero at sunset. A young man made eye contact and started towards me and I immediately thought “oh here we go”. I immediately put my guard up and acted very coldly towards him. I don’t know if he picked up on it or not but if he did, he pursued my company anyway. He sat on the beach next to me and politely shook my hand and introduced himself. He could barely speak English but he continued to ask questions as best he could. I answered and soon we were having a full-blown conversation – via a mixture of broken Spanish and broken English and pictures drawn in the sand! He wanted to know what it was like in Canada and what I did there and I became just as interested in his life in Cuba which was very different but also very similar to my own. Not once did he make any inappropriate comments or passes at me and when it was time for me to leave, he gave me a quick hug and another handshake and we walked off in separate directions.

Cuba, in particular, was quite interesting when it came to differences from my own country. While most of my peers who have traveled to the country expressed pity at the “poor people who don’t have cell phones, laptops, ipods and Facebook”, I watched in awe at the interaction I witnessed between people on the streets of Varadero and Havana. People sitting on stoops talking with their neighbors and socializing in parks, children playing ball in the streets…and not a single person walked down the street typing away on their smart phone. As I passed people in the street, they looked me in the eyes, they said “hello”, they shook my hand, they engaged me in conversation, they made eye contact and some even embraced me. People were interacting with other people. I know this sounds strange that I would be surprised by this but this is something that I see less and less frequently at home where almost all communication is done via computer or Smartphone.

Although Cuba was quite intriguing in these respects, Costa Rica was even more so. In Cuba, the people have no choice but to not use the technologies we avail of in more developed countries. In Costa Rica, these items are widely available and permissible but, for the most part, the people choose not to use them.

As I wandered the streets of the capital city of San Jose, I hardly saw anyone using cell phones except people who were obviously conducting business. As in Cuba, many locals were interacting with one another in cafes, on the sidewalks and in parks. In Canada on nice, warm days, parks are almost empty these days. In San Jose, the parks were filled with people of all ages…and no they were not sitting on a bench with their laptops, surfing Facebook or chatting with people they never met before; they were hanging out in groups and interacting with real people and doing something that many people in my home country have forgot how to do; connecting with living, breathing people.

People back home are too caught up in their own little worlds and too busy looking down at their Smartphones to notice when a tourist needs directions or to give a smile and a nod to a passerby. I was astounded and pleasantly pleased to see that there are still places in the world where you will be greeted with a friendly gesture. While traveling, I’ve met locals who were simply interested in learning more about where I am from and in proudly showing me their worlds.

Strangely enough, I feel more comfortable when I am in foreign lands. I grew up in a small town and live in a remote area of Eastern Canada where old-fashioned ideals are still at the forefront. Anyone who is different from the normal standards that have been set generations ago are shunned and made fun of and if they do not live their life a certain way, they are constantly bombarded with unsolicited comments and suggestions on how to live. Ssadly for me, I am one of the rare ones who lives my life the way I want to live it. Some call me a weirdo. Some call me eccentric. Others just outright ignore my existence. A rare few admire me for being me. The people who look down on me are the ones who did everything “by the book”. They married their high school sweetheart right out of high school, had kids right away, mom stayed home and looked after the kids, dad went to work, both came home after work and ate supper and planted themselves in front of the TV set to watch other people live exciting lives in a box in their living room. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this way of living as long as the person living this life enjoys it. I do know people who are happy living like this. However, through in depth conversations with some of my friends and even people I don’t really know who seek my advice, many of these people are not happy and are spending their days wanting something more out of life. I know this because they tell me how they wish they could do what I do. They want to live free and do the things they have always wanted to do without having someone else dictate to them what they should be doing and judging them when they don’t. People send me random messages telling me how inspiring I am and how I should be proud of how independent and adventurous I was and how they wish they could do the same. A lot of factors have come into play to help me become the person that I am today. My upbringing is one important factor. My parents encouraged me to be myself, to follow my own path and to pursue the things I want out of life. I grew up in a free and nurturing environment that saw my family embarking on frequent adventures to local museums, beaches and on road trips all over North America. While my upbringing set the stage for my future, I believe my travels are what really set me in my ways!

Travel opened my eyes. I now realize that the world I know is quite different than the much of the world outside my country’s borders. Some things are worse; some things are better. But it’s those differences that make traveling to other countries so interesting and fulfilling. People told me that I would be shaken and appalled by some of the dire circumstances I would see but I wasn’t. Instead I was amazed. I met people who had next to nothing who were happier than some of the people I knew at home who at everything a person could ever want. I met people who had been through some very tough times and they managed to come out of it intact and continue on their journey without letting defeat set in.

Traveling in other parts of the world has helped me to become more aware of some of the things we should all be aware of even if it doesn’t directly affect us. We know that hunger affects many people around the world but how many of us give it much thought in our day-to-day life? Not many judging by how much food is wasted and how much we needlessly consume and by how overweight many of us are. But for me, my way of thinking has changed since I began traveling. I always eat everything on my plate and if I am unable to do that, I save the rest for another time, I offer it to someone else or I, at least, feed the birds. When we think of war, dangerous crime and corruption, we think “that will never happen here, it only happens in other countries and has nothing to do with me”. I, on the other hand, see that things matter tremendously and do affect me and my country. No one is immune to these things. I could wake up tomorrow and have all my rights taken away from me, be murdered just for believing in a certain thing or have a war being fought in my backyard. While these things are not likely to happen where I live, I am aware of the millions of people are going through similar things as I write this. My views on immigration and how much aid my country sends to help ailing nations has changed drastically since I started exploring the world. I’ve met people who have been through war and other atrocities and I have heard their stories. Years ago, I thought like many other people in Canada and was against letting so many immigrants in the country and sending money that should be spent on Canadians to people in foreign lands. Now I am proud that I live in a country that helps so many people from all over the world and providing the much-need aid that we do is beneficial to everyone in the end. After all, these people are not simply other people who live in another part of the world. They are our fellow humans our brothers and sisters. Travel has given me hope for the future…hope that everyone will begin to see the world I do and take examples from these faraway lands that are, in a lot of ways, better off than us. Maybe not in material possessions, but in passion, unity and hope.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day Hike Along the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail

I’m used to working all winter and having my summers off but this year, I worked all winter, had the spring off and got called for a job in June which meant I had to work through the summer. That also meant I didn’t have a lot of time to do two of my favorite activities; camping and hiking.
I didn’t get the opportunity to participate in a hike until the last week of summer. I received an invite a few days before to participate in a group hike of a trail I wanted to do for a long time, the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail. Lynne Doucette is an avid outdoor enthusiast, hiker and yoga instructor. When she is not exploring the beautiful island of Cape Breton in search of new trails to hike and beaches to comb, she teaches yoga in various rural communities around Cape Breton. She also loves to hike with friends and especially loves to show her favorite hiking spots to people who are interested in exploring new trails....like me that day. I was interested in hiking a trail I had heard about but had never hiked and I couldn't have asked for a better guide!
I arrived in Louisbourg to meet the rest of the group late that morning and after some introductions, we set out on the trail. It was warm when I left my house in Lingan that morning but, as per usual, Louisbourg was much colder and windier. The only thing missing was the fog bank that usually threatens the coast. Because it was colder than any of us had expected and because some members of the group had other engagements to tend to later that day, we agreed to hike for four hours; 2 hours into the trail and two hours back. The trail goes on and on for many miles and some have even said it goes all the way to Gabarus but anything beyond our set limits for the day would have to wait for another time.
This coastline has a lot of history attached to it. It once served as the battlegrounds between the French and the English and numerous ships are known to have gone down in the area. For decades, treasure hunters have searched the coast high and low. Many of these efforts turned up nothing while others have turned up more than anyone could imagine. The area is very rich with history and culture and one can learn more about the area by visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg, which is a recreation of a portion of the original fortress that once stood in the 18th century.

I was worried that the high winds might make the hike unbearably difficult but once we started moving, the air didn’t feel quite as cold. The trail started in an open area with scenery that included the lighthouse, large rocks, cliffs, barrens and a choppy ocean. Once we got into the more wooded area, the wind died down a bit. I could immediately see that the trail would be a diverse one. We made our way through the wooded area. I thought I knew a lot about the outdoors but I was learning so much more from my more knowledgeable hiking partners who knew every plant and berry! Others must have really liked that hike and possibly either hiked it often or hiked it all the way through because there was a makeshift campsite at one point along the trail.

There weren’t very many other hikers on the trail that day I presume due to the wind and chilled air. We hiked two hours and stopped to discuss whether we should turn around and head back like we had planned or keep going a bit more. We decided it was best, since the wind was picking up and it was starting to look like it might rain, to find a sheltered place to eat lunch before heading back.

We came to a rocky area where there were large boulders and cliff edges and set out to find one that was sheltered enough from the wind to allow us to eat our lunch without it being blown into the ocean. We found the perfect place right behind some large boulders on top of a cliff facing the water that was surprisingly very sheltered. I hadn’t gone for my weekly groceries yet that week so I didn’t have much of a lunch. I brought a bottle of water, some yogurt and a protein bar and usually that is all I need on any hike anyway. The others went all out and had lots of goodies, some of which they shared with the rest of the group. These goodies included healthy snacks of bread and cheese, blueberry muffins, dark chocolate and coffee but the best part of it was the experience; an outdoor café surrounded by spectacular scenery, pristine wilderness and the sounds of the ocean below all shared with some newfound friends who share the same love of the great outdoors as I do and whom I hope to share more of these outdoor adventures with in the near future!

We took our time eating our lunch and admiring that view before beginning the two-hour hike back. Coming around that sheltered little areas was a challenge as the wind must have shifted and was even more fierce than it was before we took shelter. Walking against that wind was quite hard but that natural, fresh air hitting my face and washing away the stress that accumulated through the long work week was something I welcomed and the bonus of having that cool, salty sea spray hit my bare skin made it that much more enjoyable.

Whenever I embark on a hike, it seems the trek back to the car is always quicker and this hike was no exception, unfortunately. When the parking lot came into view and I could see my black Sonata gleaming in the midday sun, I knew that that lovely afternoon on the trail was coming to an end. One more trail knocked off my hiking bucket list…and many more to come!





Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Labour Day Weekend Road Trip Through Annapolis Valley and the Bay Of Fundy - A Friendly Hostel, A Fancy Resort and an Unscheduled Detour into the Unknown

As the Labour Day long weekend approached, I knew I’d be going somewhere but the problem was I couldn’t decide where. The only thing I knew for sure was I had 3 days in which to get away from home and enjoy what might be the last road trip of the year. I thought about going to Moncton to visit family, I thought about returning to the South Shore, Halifax crossed my mind briefly and I even thought about staying closer to home and driving around the Cabot Trail. At one point, I settled on the Parsborro/Five Islands area and even booked a hostel. However, about a week before my departure, another option presented itself…one that I could not pass up!
I was having a coffee with my sister and telling her about my upcoming solo, long-weekend road trip when she mentioned that she had a voucher for a free night stay at Digby Pines Resort. I’d been to Digby when I was a child and remembered seeing that beautiful resort perched along the shoreline and always wanted to stay there. She offered me that voucher because it expired in the new year and she wouldn’t be able to use it. I pondered my options; I’d have to drive 7 hours there and back which meant a significant portion of my weekend would be spent in the car and I would have to cancel my reservation in Parsborro. On the other hand, I had not been to that area in a long time, I love to drive and I knew the drive through the Annapolis Valley would be a nice one and how could I pass up a free stay at one of Atlantic Canada’s best resorts? I took the voucher and the minute I made up my mind to go to Digby, I called and reserved a room. However, I didn’t end up canceling my room in Parsborro – I decided to go there as well.

I left on time Saturday morning and headed towards the Trans-Canada Highway. And by “on time” I mean the usual hour behind planned departure. I was well-rested this time and made a point to grab a coffee at the first coffee shop I saw to avoid a repeat of the last road trip that saw me taking a little nap at the wheel on a straight stretch near the Canso Causeway. It was almost dusk when I reached the turn off to Parsborro. I wasn’t too worried about driving in the dark except for the fact that I was told there were a lot of deer in the area. I assumed I wouldn’t see the scenery of the area until the next day when I backtracked my way back to the main highway but, on the contrary, I was able to see that beautiful area under the dim and colorful light of a spectacular sunset. Darkness fell fast and than all I could see was the road directly in front of me.

I arrived in Parsborro at around 9:30 tired and hungry. I immediately started looking for my hostel so I could unpack before seeking a place to grab a bite to eat. The town was only small so I figured the hostel shouldn’t be that hard to find, right? Wrong. It took me a good 45 minutes to find it. I drove around in circles trying to find anything that looked remotely like a hostel but always ended back in the same place. Even after speaking to the owner on the phone and acquiring very detailed directions, I had trouble finding it. Finally, I found it tucked away on a little side street in the same area I had been circling all along.
The owner of the hostel was waiting for me on the step to make sure I found the right place. Her friendly manner immediately made me feel at home. Sometimes I find myself nervous going to new places because I don’t know if the people will be friendly and inviting. There is nothing worse than going to a new place and feeling unwanted or like you are getting in the way but I certainly did not feel this way at Mad Hatter!

After a brief introduction, I took my belongings upstairs to my private room, unpacked the things I would need for bedtime and ducked out for a while in search of somewhere to grab a quick, but filling, bite to eat. Unfortunately, everything was closed except the Tim Horton’s donut shop on the main drag. I like some of the food at Tim’s but I was getting sick of it because I end up eating it so much on the road. However, I once again had to settle for a plain bagel with cream cheese and a chocolate chip muffin. I returned to an empty house except for my hostess who was relaxing in her living room. Apparently I was the only guest at the hostel that night and she was very eager to get to know her guest. Although I was tired, I didn’t realize that almost 2 hours had passed while we were chatting away about our mutual love of travel, the ability to be able to pick and go whenever we pleased, the dislike of having too many material items to tie us down and our past and future adventures around the world. I am fairly well-traveled but this woman is quite the seasoned adventurer with no plans on quitting anytime soon. I love to have in-depth conversations with people like this because it is hard to find others who have a love of travel and culture like I do. Most of the people I am surrounded by at home are happy to just live mediocre lives consisting of waking up, eating, working and sleeping. I crave more and know that there is more to life than this and I know I am, unfortunately, a minority in my way of living and thinking.

I slept like a baby that night. Every time I sleep in a different bed from my own, I am reminded how badly I need a new pillow. At home, I wake up with a sore back and neck. The morning I awoke at Mad Hatter, I was pain free, refreshed and energized to face the long day ahead of me. I wished I could have stayed longer and chatted with my hostess some more and see more of the attractions around that pretty little town but I only had two days to get to my final destination and back home in time for the start of another work week. I took a quick loop around the town to take some pictures and make mental notes of the things I would like to see and do the next time I came through there and settled myself into the car for the long haul ahead of me. It’s a seven-hour drive to Digby and I wanted to get there before nightfall.


According to my dad, I made that trip through the Annapolis Valley once as a child but to remember it was another story. I made the turn off the Trans-Canada highway onto highway 101 near Halifax and started my journey through an area that is said to be one of the most scenic in all of Canada. For the first little while, I traveled through a busy area with lots of traffic. The landscape gradually changed and the traffic became lighter as I drive into a more rural area. Lush green forest areas, rolling fields and scenic coastal areas unfolded in front of me. I was in a hurry to get to Digby but I couldn’t stop that nagging feeling deep down inside that was telling me I wanted to explore a bit of that backcountry so I turned onto an off-ramp that led to one of the prettiest two-lane highways I have driven on to date.

I drove along that stretch of highway for about a half hour, passing though vineyards, farmlands, apple orchards and fields. I came to an area that was particularly scenic and pulled over to take some pictures and just enjoy the serene surroundings. I don’t normally like to backtrack the same way I came but my GPS ran out of juice and there was no one around to ask for directions. I had no idea where that highway led or whether it might lead back to my original path so I turned around and headed back the way I came. I was an hour off-track but it was an hour well-spent.


The main highway was scenic too and I made mental notes of signs for towns located off the main highway to possibly visit on my way home the next day. Annapolis Royal, Kentville, Windsor and Wolfville. I made it to Digby around 5 O’clock that afternoon and promptly tried to located the Digby Pines resort so I could check in, unpack and set out to explore the town. It wasn’t too hard to find. I made a few wrong turns and even missed the resort altogether and ended up at the terminal for the ferry to Saint John, New Brunswick. I always thought The Pines was located in a very secluded area, away from everything else (much like The Keltic Lodge here in Cape Breton) but it was located right on a main road. The area was scenic, however, and the resort overlooked the bay and surrounding coastline.

Check in was quick and easy and once I settled into my room, I set out in search of a place to eat in the town of Digby. Unfortunately, that was not to be; a motorcycle rally was taking place in the town and that evening was the main event and all the roads leading to the prime areas of the town, including the downtown area, were blocked off to outside traffic. I drove around and finally found a Subway restaurant and had to settle for a veggie sub instead of a meal in one of the local restaurants like I had hoped. I drove around the areas that were open to the public and did a bit of exploring but in the end, it was the resort swimming pool that drew me back to homebase for the evening. The night air was a bit cool but once I was submerged in those clear waters under the night sky, I couldn’t have been more relaxed.

About an hour after I entered the pool, a light rain began to fall. I contemplated getting out and retreating to my room but I stayed there with that light, warm mist falling gently on my face as I relaxed in the warmth of the heated water. When I finally did have to get out, it was not pleasant; the air had turned cold and damp and the walk back to my room in my wet clothing was an uncomfortable one. I changed and came back downstairs to wander around the resort for a bit. There were a few restaurants, a café, some common areas and lounges. As I waked about, I started to hear very loud bangs coming from outside. I thought it was thunder but it sounded louder and like it was right outside the resort gates. Without thinking twice, I wandered outside (not thinking that I could be walking right into a dangerous situation) to check it out. The bangs got louder and more frequent as I walked towards the end of the parking lot but I still couldn’t see anything until I came to a clearing and noticed the sky lit up with various colors. I forgot about the motorcycle rally closing ceremonies that evening and was witnessing a very impressive fireworks display. I stood there in the open parking lot with a light rain falling and watched until the last firework lit up the night sky.




Once again, I slept like a baby. I awoke feeling refreshed and energized and this just solidified my theory that I need some new pillows on my bed at home. I was told that the resort was supposed to be haunted and although I am usually a little skeptical about such things, my computer did turn itself off at one point while I was getting ready. It never did that before and has not done it since so perhaps there’s some truth to that rumor.

A free buffet breakfast came with my stay and I am not one to turn down a free meal, especially at a resort like this. I fit as much as I could on my plate and retreated to a table near the window where the sun was shining in. I expected the food to be of high quality but I was unable to eat some of it. The scrambled eggs had little taste and were similar to the ones you buy in a package and just add water to and the bread products and sweets were a tad dry.

The town of Digby was like a ghost town that morning. The biker rally had wrapped up and I presumed everyone was still asleep and recovering from the events of the night before. This provided me with a good opportunity to take a quick tour of the downtown area, get some pictures and hit up a café where I could buy a coffee for the road. Taking pictures of the downtown area was fairly easy as there were barely any people or cars to get in the way of my camera. I walked the streets and looked at the little shops and watched the boats coming and going but was unable to locate a café that was open that early on a Sunday morning.

I set out toward home around 11:00 that morning. Although I had a long drive ahead of me and had to be home that night, I still made a point to stop at a few of the places I noticed on the way up. Annapolis Royal was one of the towns I wanted to visit so when I came upon the exit to the town, I left the highway. After getting a little lost, I found the downtown shopping area, parked the car and set out on foot. Almost everything was closed in this town too. I walked around the grounds adjacent to the National Historic Site, took some pictures and browsed the main street for a coffee shop. Again, none were open but I came across a clothing store with some dresses in the window display that caught my eye and this shop was open. A young woman from India greeted me at the door and after discovering what type of clothing I was interested in, she guided me to a rack filled with colorful, hand-made dresses of various styles. I would have bought every one of them of I could afford it, they were all so beautiful! I picked out a handful to try on and settled on the best three to buy. I went a little over budget but due to the quality and uniqueness of the dresses and the fact that they were just what I was looking for, I saw it as an investment. Their timeless designs will carry me through many seasons without falling apart or becoming out-dated. I was so impressed with the shop, the service and the items available that I promised the young woman that I would share her business with everyone I came into contact with…including my blog readers. The shop is located on the main street in downtown Annapolis Royal. Trust me; it is well worth a stop.



With the headache and crankiness of caffeine withdrawal setting in, I had no choice but to settle for a Tim Horton’s medium with milk. Not that there is anything wrong with Tim’s coffee, it’s just that when I am traveling, I like to sample local coffee shops rather than chain shops.

Despite stopping a few times along the way, I was still making good time. I arrived at the Halifax airport hoping to grab a Starbucks coffee near the main entrance but remembered how crazy the parking situation is there so I, again, settled for a Tim’s coffee. I drove for about an hour and stopped for gas. I also hoped to find something inexpensive and healthy to eat. No such luck. I ended up driving in that special part of the early evening when the sun is just perfectly set in the sky enough to prevent car sun visors from blocking it and to blind drivers head-on. Darkness had settled in when I reached Antigonish and was again faced with a deserted town that was virtually closed down. I heard Greco made good pizza and I was so hungry by that time that that is what I settled for; a slice of pep n’ cheese because there were no vegetarian slices available. I ate every bite because I was so famished but I am unable to see what the fuss is about because it was probably one of the worse slices of pizza I ever ate! I washed it down with a sugary apple fritter from the Tim Horton’s next door and silently berated myself for literally making myself feel ill by eating so many unhealthy items in one sitting.


I reached the Canso Causeway at about 10:00 that night and although I love long drives, I was happy to have reached that final leg of my journey. I was back on Cape Breton Island and there was just one long stretch left until I could rest in my warm bed. I always get a little mixed up at the round-about right after the causeway. There are three ways you can go; route 4 through St. Peters, the 105 Trans-Canada through Baddeck or the Ceilidh Trail through Judique and Port Hood. I always mess up and end up on the furthest exit onto route 4 so this time, I made sure I didn’t go too far over and exited onto the 105. Or at least I thought I did. I drove for about a half hour and started to notice things I had never noticed before on that well-traveled highway. A church I never noticed before. A grouping of houses that must have been built since the last time I passed through there. And there it was; a sign telling me I was on the Ceilidh Trail.

This route is very scenic and leads to some of the most beautiful areas of the island but I wasn’t looking for scenery, I was looking to get home. Had I kept traveling that route, I would have ended up in Inverness and other remote communities and it would have taken hours to get home. I had two options; turn around and go back to the Causeway and get back on the 105 or set my GPS to take me back to the 105 without backtracking. As it turned out, there was a route back to the 105 so I followed the instructions on the screen. The first road I turned onto was paved, which was a good sign. The screen on my GPS was telling me that after a few turns, I would be back on the 105. I didn’t say how long this would take or how many kilometers this detour was. It also didn’t tell me that every road after that first turn would be gravel…and, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. By now on, I will program my GPS to avoid gravel roads. But than again, I told myself that the last time I got lost while traveling in the Mojave Desert of Nevada.

About twenty minutes into my journey into the unknown backcountry (which I now guess was the Mabou Highlands area based on a map I looked at a few days after that ill-fated wrong turn), my GPS went black. Panic set in and I contemplated turning around and backtracking. I usually think things through and make fairly good decisions but that night I made the decision to keep going. And keep going I did – for another two hours on gravel roads, in the middle of nowhere, with no people, houses or other vehicles to be seen. Just me and two very large coyotes trotting along the road. Their size alone and the fact that they were obviously on the prowl for food had me thinking about what I would do if I ran out of gas or broke down in that desolate place. Would I get out and walk or would I stay in the car? Neither option was ideal. I glanced at my phone and noticed I had no signal. Had there been one, I might have dialed 911 to dispatch an RCMP cruiser or search and rescue team to escort me out of there. In my mind, I was lost and with every passing mile and every passing minute, I was getting more lost.

As I drove deeper into the backcountry, I felt as I was going deeper and deeper into the unknown. At one point, I reached the end of the road and could only turn right. I thought for sure I was nearing the turn off to the main highway but the road just kept going and going and going. By this time, I was so scared I started to cry. No joke. There were genuine tears. Not very many things scare me but the thought of being stuck out in that wilderness all night terrified me. Horrific scenes from various horror movies that involve lone women lost in the woods flooded my mind but just as all hope of finding my way out was about to be lost, my phone rang. I had service! This meant I was once again close to civilization. It was Dad calling to see where I was. My dad, the avid outdoorsman that he was, would surely get a kick out of me being lost and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of having something to poke fun at. I told him I had just reached the causeway and would be home in about two hours. Just a little white lie. Not long after I hung up the phone, a street light came into view followed by some houses and finally, a stop sign signifying the end of that impromptu journey into the unknown. I was back, safely, on the Trans-Canada Highway. I may not have been able to laugh at myself while it was happening, but I laugh at myself now thinking about how I got lost so close to home…on the island that I thought I knew like the back of my hand. Someday, I will recreate that wrong turn and see exactly where I was but I will make sure it is during daylight hours and that my GPS is fully charged!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

GUEST POST - Local Dishes you Must Try

Five ‘Must-Try’ Local Dishes from Popular Holiday Resorts
In most holiday resorts these days, you can get every kind of international cuisine you want but trying local dishes is all part of visiting a new country. The quality of local dishes is usually better as they tend to be created from fresh produce native to the area. If you are unsure of what dishes to try next time you are on holiday here are five of the best:

If you are travelling to Bodrum try Kuzu Guvec
Ok, so the name of this dish gives nothing away but this is a really delicious lamb casserole that you’ll probably find on pretty much every menu in Bodrum or on the Bodrum Peninsula. Lamb is the meat that is eaten most in Turkey and this tasty casserole also has plenty of aubergine in it. The sauce is tomato-based and full of local herbs. To make it even tastier, lots of restaurants also sprinkle the top with cheese to give it added richness (and calories!) Eat this with Turkish Pide bread (a traditional flatbread) to dip in and soak up the sauce.

If you are travelling to Mijas try Fritura Malaguena
Whilst dishes like paella and tapas are widely eaten throughout Spain, each province of Andalucia has its own dishes that are indigenous to that region. In Malaga and its surrounding towns and villages ‘Fritura Malaguena’ or mixed fried fish is a speciality. This dish consists of fish fried in a very light batter and either served as a snack, as part of a selection of tapas or as a main course. Another specialty is sardines and these are probably the best you will ever taste and the fish is particularly good with some lemon squeezed over it and some aioli on the side.

If you are travelling to the Algarve try Bacalhau
With the Algarve’s location on the coast of Portugal, it’s no surprise that one of the most eaten dishes is another seafood creation. Bacalhau is the iconic dish in Portugal and it is such an important national dish that it is sometimes even served for Christmas dinner! But what is it? In the simplest form it is salted and dried cod but there are over 1000 different ways of serving Bacalhau so the experience of eating it can vary greatly. Some of the most popular dishes are ‘Bacalhau com Todos’, which is boiled bacalhau with lots of veggies and a hardboiled egg with olive oil and garlic; ‘Bacalhau a Bras’, shredded bacalhau with onions, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs, sprinkled with parsley and black olives; or bacalhau com natas, bacalhau layered with onion, potato and cream and then oven baked.
If you are travelling to Lanzarote try Papas Arrugadas
This is more of an accompaniment than a meal but you will not be able to visit Lanzarote without sampling the delicious ‘Papas Arrugadas’ or ‘wrinkled potatoes’ because they are a favourite in the Canary Islands. These wrinkled potatoes are very simple to make with just small potatoes and coarse sea salt but they are so delicious they are often served as an appetizer in restaurants. You will sometimes get them with ‘Mojo Picon’ which is a sauce or dip made from peppers, garlic, cumin, olive oil and sherry vinegar. Delicious!
If you are traveling to Florida try Key Lime Pie
You would be mistaken for thinking that the only thing people enjoy in Florida is huge burgers or piles of pulled pork. Don’t get me wrong, these are available everywhere you look but there is much more to Floridian cuisine thanks to its influences from Latin American, Mexico and the Caribbean. There are lots of Cajun style dishes that are very tasty but you have to try the official pie of Florida; the Key lime pie. The pie originates from the Florida Keys and is made from small limes found on the islands known as key limes. The lime juice is combined with egg yolks and condensed milk which is whipped together and cooked in a pie crust. It is then topped with meringue. Be warned, this pie is addictive!
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