Thursday, November 27, 2014

I Finally Used up Some of those AirMiles I've been Saving up and my Next Adventure is just Around the Corner!

I try to travel somewhere new every year and I haven’t gone anywhere outside of Canada since my trip to Costa Rica in April 2013. This past few weeks, the travel bug has been biting hard. My life currently meets all the criteria needed for an overdue international adventure; I’m laid off from my job and have some free time until at least January, I have more than enough Airmiles saved up to fly me almost anywhere in the world and the weather is starting to get cold here. Without hesitation, I started researching various destinations and for the deals to get me there as cheaply as possible.

I’ve been collecting Airmiles for more than a decade and, until recently, miles had no expiration date. When the company decided that miles would start coming with an expiration date, I knew I had to use them at the first opportunity I got or risk losing them.

Back in October, I won a blogging competition that saw me win a stay at a resort called La Francesca in Italy. Europe has been near the top of my travel bucket list for some time and I always thought if I went there, I would do a multi-country backpacking trip. However, since I had a free stay at that resort and all those Airmiles to cover my return flight, I was open to traveling to Italy and exploring that region for a week. I logged into my Airmiles account, searched for a flight into Florence (which was the closest airport to that resort) and discovered I had more than enough miles to go there. I promptly emailed the owner of La Francesca and told her of my plans. I even knew what day I would arrive and how long I would stay. Within a few hours, she sent an email with some information about the resort and surrounding area. In that email, she mentioned that many of the resorts services and the town’s attractions were closed for the season. That’s when it dawned on me; it’s the off-season (aka winter) in Italy. Why on earth would I spend those hard-earned miles to escape cold and snowy Canada only to arrive in cold and snowy Italy? I quickly shot that plan down and informed her that, perhaps, I would go there in the summer or fall of next year instead. And so the search for a warmer destination continued.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Caribbean but, after already being there several times, I thought I was done with that region for a while. However, two islands always stuck out to me as potential destinations to eventually travel to; St. Lucia and Barbados. I started with St. Lucia first. I had enough miles to get there and back but the prices for accommodations were outrages! I put St. Lucia on the backburner and researched Barbados so I could compare the two. I also did some research on other Caribbean destinations while I was at it. Turks and Caicos, The Cayman Islands, Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago all looked appealing but, in the end I narrowed it down to my first two choices. Barbados looked the most promising. There was a deal on how many Airmiles were needed to travel to the island and the prices for accommodations were much lower than in St. Lucia. Without giving it much more thought, I decided I would go to Barbados and got to work finalizing my trip.

Although it was a bit hard getting through to someone at the Airmiles booking center, the process was easy once I did get through. While my booking agent was finalizing my trip, he informed me that the promotion for Barbados that was allowing me to go there for so little miles was set to end in only a few hours. That just goes to show how quickly airfare prices can change.

With my flights booked and travel insurance secured, I got to work researching affordable accommodations in a nice area near a beach pretty. The island is not very big so I wasn’t concerned about which area I stayed in because it would be easy to get around to other areas. I searched all the usual sites like Expedia and Hotwire. I perused Trip Advisor for hotels with good reviews. I even searched for hostels and it was through a site called HostelBookers that I found the place I would call home for that week. I searched for accommodations in my price range for the days I was to be in Barbados and four options popped up. I researched all of them like I did on the other sites but one, in particular, stuck out from the rest. Angler Apartments, located in the Parish of Jamestown, is located very close to a beach, is in my price range, is close to various services and attractions and got mostly good reviews from previous travelers. I dug a little deeper and when I was satisfied that I had found the right place to stay, I booked it.

The next step was finding a comprehensive tour that would introduce me to some of the top sights around Barbados. I am not one to stay in all-inclusive resorts and remain on-site all week and I am not really one for guided tours either but, from time to time, I like to embark on tours to get a better feel for a place. I found the perfect tour while browsing Expedia. A local company called Glory Tours had a tour available on the day I wanted and at a price that seemed very reasonable considering what is included. I am to be picked up at my hotel to embark on an adventurous day filled with various activities including swimming and snorkeling with turtles, exploring caves, viewing local wildlife and seeing some of the scenic areas along the way.

So now I find myself spending my days leading up to my departure researching my destination and tying up loose ends. You know, stuff like alerting credit card companies that I will be out of the country, catching up on any work that needs to be done before I go, packing, printing off necessary documents and other typical things that need to be done before a trip. And I think I am going at just the right time; five centimeters of fresh snow just blanketed my neighborhood and the temperatures have taken quite a dip in the last week. The white sandy beaches of Barbados are starting to look more and more appealing with each passing day!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Hike To Oban Falls in Richmond County

The weather is staying fairly nice here in Cape Breton and that means I am still spending a lot of times outdoors. I’m certainly making up for the lack of hiking over the summer. Just this past weekend, I managed to knock another hiking trail off my hiking bucket list; Oban Falls.

I always knew there were waterfalls somewhere in the St. Peter’s area but I never knew where they were and never bothered to go looking for them. Until recently, much of my hiking was done in the Highlands area of the island and I am only lately becoming more familiar with the Richmond county area. So when a friend suggested we hike to Oban Falls, I jumped at the chance and we agreed on that upcoming Sunday because it was supposed to be sunny and fairly warm.

I made the two-hour drive to St. Peter’s and met up with the rest of the group who would be joining us on the hike. The trailhead to the falls is located about fifteen minutes from the village of St. Peter’s – about five minutes on the main highway and another ten minutes along a side road that eventually switches from pavement to gravel. Almost everyone else in the group had hiked Oban before so they knew what to expect. I was told two things before we arrived; 1) the trail would be wet and muddy due to recent rains and 2) a friendly dog who lives in the home near the trail would be joining us. Apparently she thinks it is her duty to guide hikers along that trail that she knows so well.
Before we even opened our car doors, the eager guide-dog was there to greet us. I liked the idea of having two fairly large dogs with us (one of the other hikers in our group brought along her dog as well) both for company and protection. After only traversing a few feet, I discovered that “wet and muddy” was an understatement. It’s so fun to watch the dogs trudging through the mud and bushes without a care in the world while we tried to avoid getting wet at all costs! The puddles were so large and deep that they completely blocked the trail and we had to either hang onto tree branches as we carefully made out way along the narrow edge or we had to leave the trail altogether and bushwhack our way around the swampy areas. At one point, I lost my grip on a tree branch I was using for support and found myself knee-deep in the water. It’s a good thing I brought along an extra pair of socks because my feet would have been frozen stiff by time we made it back to the car! The whole trail wasn’t like this and we came to a clearing near a foot bridge…which looked like an obstacle in itself. My trailmates insisted the flimsy looking bridge was completely safe and even ATV’s crossed over it with no problems. I still insisted that we cross it one at a time and when my turn came, I carefully but quickly made my way across.

Although the trail was a bit difficult, it wasn’t too long and soon we found ourselves at the top of the falls looking down a cliff. Upon closer inspection, I saw that there was a rope lying close to the ground and it was tried around trees all the way down to the bottom. One by one, others in the group began the descent. I wasn’t expecting any climbing to be involved in this hike and I debated for about thirty seconds whether I should attempt that slippery, muddy, dangerous looking descent. As usual, I erred on the side of danger, excitement and the prospect of trying something new. I grabbed the rope and carefully descended. It wasn’t dangerous at all except for that one tree that was attached to the rope but not quite attached to the ground.
Oban Falls was is quite a sight. The recent heavy rains ensured that plenty of water was gushing over the side and they were much taller than I thought they would be. We lingered for a bit, listening to the beautiful sounds and taking in the serene, natural surroundings. I love the sound of waterfalls…so peaceful and relaxing. Had it been warmer, I could have stayed there all day.

Going up the rope was a little harder than going down. Once we all made it back to the top, we took a little detour to a nearby lake that was in the area. No one seemed to know the name of this lake but agreed that it’s most likely called Oban Lake, which would make sense. We had to leave the main trail and trudge through a swampy area in order to access the lake. It’s a good thing everyone else had a good sense of direction because I would’ve never found my way back to that trail! On the way back, we made another little detour to the top of the falls and hiked along the river for a bit.

The sun was starting to descend in the sky as we reached that old rickety bridge and made our way through that puddle-laden section of trail and back to our vehicles.
During the drive back to St. Peter’s, I learned about some more great hiking trails in the area. Who knew such a little island could have so many trails and new places to be discovered. I’ve been exploring Cape Breton Island my whole life and I am still discovering new places all the time. It was almost dark when I made it back to my car. I changed into my dry shoes and settled in for a long but relaxing drive on Route 4 along the Bras d’Or Lakes. Another day lovely day spent in the woods, another trail crossed off my list!

Part 3 of the "My Favorite Places" Series

Wreck Cove General Store – I have made the trip from Lingan to Ingonish hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of times and have stopped at this store every single time. It’s tradition. The store has been there since I can remember and it hasn’t changed since the first time I stopped. That’s why I like it – it never changes. The outside is rugged and old-fashioned and so is the inside. When I walk in there, it’s like I’m walking into the past, into one of those old ma and pop stores I used to frequent when I was kid but have all since disappeared. Even if I don’t need to buy anything, I go in and look around and have a friendly chat with the cashier or walk around outside to stretch my legs. If that store were ever to close, the drive to Ingonish would never be the same again!

Kananaskis Country – As I was driving through the Rocky Mountains near the town of Canmore, I stopped to take a break and noticed a gravel road near a reservoir that looked like it went right up into the mountains. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I don’t pass up too many opportunities – especially ones that involve me driving up roads that I’ve never been on before. I didn’t know it at the time but I found out later that the area I drove into (and got lost in, of course) was known as Kananaskis Country. There was a maze of roads up there and it didn’t take long for me to get lost. But that was ok because the scenery was out-of-this-world, like nothing I had ever seen before. And there was no one else around! I didn’t see a single other human being during the many hours I wandered that remote region. The air was crisp, there wasn’t a breath of wind and the only sounds were of birds chirping and trees rustling. It was like I was the only person left on the planet.

The Fairy Hole – Hard to get to but well worth the trip! Tucked away in a far corner of the Bras d’Or area, at the end of a long dirt road is the fairly difficult trail leading to one of Cape Breton’s best kept secrets. The trick to getting the most out of a visit? Go when the tide is low. So that is what I did. I arrived at the trailhead late in the afternoon and made the hike down to a small, rocky beach. From there, I had to swim through some very rough waters filled with giant boulders to an entrance in the side of the cliff. I was tossed about and came out bruised and cut but made it through that entrance to be greeted by a site that was almost fairytale-like; a round pool of deep blue water protected by large rocks and cliffs so the raging waters of the bay could not disturb me. The most eerie thing about the swimming hole was how warm the water was for that time of year compared to the water raging just a few feet away. It was October, not a time of year that is great for swimming in Atlantic Canada. The other eerie thing was the deep, dark cave that lurked right above the swimming hole. I didn’t dare go in since the tide was coming up but it’s on my list! I did, however, enjoy the warm waters of that spectacular swimming hole for a couple of hours.
Bell Island – Another island within an island. Bell Island is located about a half-hour boat ride from Portugal Cove on the bigger island of Newfoundland. I decided, on the spur of the moment one day, to take a little day trip over to the little island I often admired from the shore at Topsail Beach. There was a small town with a museum and some resting areas but it was the leisurely drive on the one road that went completely around the island that really made the trip worthwhile. There were hardly any other cars around so it was like I had the entire island to myself as I drove the windy road and admired the surrounding view. I pulled over at a little park by the water with some trees and a little beach and just sat there in the sun until the last ferry crossing of the day took me back to the other side.

St. Anne’s Loop – There is an option to take the ferry at Englishtown to get across the bay to the North Shore but I almost always take the long way. Why do I chose to waste time and gas to go the long way around? Because I don’t see it as a waste of time or gas. This scenic loop takes me about forty-five minutes out of my way but it is worth every minute. The road is windy and almost free from potholes (which makes it very fun to drive!), it is almost always deserted (which means I have the road to myself to drive as slow or as fast as I please!), there is a quiet little picnic park to stop and rest and there are frequent views of the bay through the trees. When the moon is full, sometimes I drive to St. Anne’s just to go around that loop and back home again because there is just something about that road on a clear, moonlit night that makes it perfect for summer night cruise.

Fortress of Louisbourg – As a child, the Fortress of Louisbourg, a reconstructed 18th century fortress on Cape Breton Island, was like a giant playground. There were so many buildings and rooms to explore, places to hide and walls to climb. Today, it is still like that to me. Although I have explored those buildings and exhibits over and over again over the years, I still love to go to the fortress at least once a year to just wander those gravel streets and imagine what it must have been like to live in such an interesting time in history.
Under the Seal Island Bridge – Anyone who has driven on the Trans-Canada Highway through Cape Breton has gone over the Seal Island Bridge, that massive structure that makes it possible to pass that body of water that cuts between Kelly’s Mountain and Boularderie Island. Some people are afraid of crossing over it because it is so high and narrow and is said to sway on very windy days. Other people, like myself, love crossing it! Recently, I discovered something else to love about the bridge – that there is a way for me to get underneath it and experience it in a while new way. I love being able to crawl underneath the workings of the bridge for the simple fact that hundreds of people are driving right above me and have no idea that I am there. It’s also cool under there on hot days and the view is amazing!

California/Nevada Border – I’ve only been there once but there was just something about crossing over that state line that gave me a sense of achievement. As a child growing up in Canada, California was this magical place with beaches, sunshine, parties and happy people. This is what flashed across TV screens and was highlighted in books and magazines. I just always wanted to go to California and experience that for myself. I reached that point on that deserted, lonely, desert highway mid-day and stopped to take in the moment and, of course, get a picture of the sign saying I had reached the threshold of the two states. Crossing that state line fulfilled a childhood dream…even if I only went as far as Death Valley National Park!
That Long Sandy Beach in the Magdelan Islands – I always wanted to travel to the Magdelan Islands, the archipelago that lies between Prince Edward Island and Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the place my great-grandparents hailed from. I finally got that chance in 2009 and had no idea what to expect before I arrived. I was mesmerized by the scenery and relaxed way of life on the islands but I most intrigued by a sandy beach I discovered quite by accident. The main highway passing through the main island is lined by sandy beaches but driver’s are unable to see them because they are hidden behind giant sand dunes that line the highway. I noticed foot paths leading over the dunes in some places and decided to park the car and follow one over to the other side. I’ve been to the southern United States and the Caribbean and have yet to see a beach as spectacular as the one I found that day. Long with soft, white sand and warm, blue waters. The best part? It was completely and totally deserted!

The Beach in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico – To some people, a beach is a beach and they are all the same. To me, every beach I’ve ever visited had something unique and the beach lining the town of Playa Del Carmen was quite different from many of the beaches I have visited. During the day, locals and visitors congregated together on the beach which was lively with music, volleyball games and people out to enjoy the nice weather and relax. By night, it was something different. The long, sandy stretch was a welcome alternative to a night spent in a nightclub or hotel room watching TV. Each night during my visit, I took my place in the warm sand and listened to the sounds and smells around me. Gentle waves rolling ashore and Mexican music and the smell of freshly cooked local fare coming from the beachside restaurant behind me. I couldn’t imagine spending my evenings in the town any other way!









Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Long Drive in the Country, a Little Community Hall and some Live Music = A Perfect Evening

I’m always looking for new things to do around Cape Breton. Sometimes I just get in the car and go searching on my own, sometimes I hear about things going on via word of mouth or sometimes I search the internet to find out what is going on. At this point in my life, as long as it does not involve drinking until I pass out or frequenting bars, it’s something worth looking into. I’m well passed that stage in my life and now prefer low-key evenings strolling the beach, hiking a new trail, or taking in some live acoustic music. Just last week, as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, a post about a live music event coming up in Little Narrows caught my attention.

I clicked on the link about an event called “The Songbird Series”. Music lovers were being invited to attend a live event featuring Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter, Catherine MacLellan accompanied by Chris Gauthier. Live music and a long drive and an evening spent in the country for $15.00? Sounded like my kind of night! I purchased a ticket immediately.

You may or may not have heard of Catherine MacLellan but you most likely have heard of her father. Catherine in the daughter of legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Gene MacLellan who wrote and performed the iconic song “Snowbird”. Catherine released her first solo album in 2004 and has since released several more. During that time, she won a number of industry awards including Female Solo Recording of the Year, Folk Recording of the Year and SOCAN Songwriter of the Year.

Although the concert didn’t start until 7PM that evening and it was only an hour-and-a-half drive, I left at 4PM. Not because I am anal and afraid I will get tied up in traffic and be late and not because I thought I might get lost (I know Cape Breton Island like the back of my hand despite a recent episode that saw me hopelessly lost in the Mabou Highlands) but because I like to turn one event into an entire evening’s excursion. In other words, I grabbed a coffee for the road and took the longest possible route to the concert and took my time enjoying the leisurely drive through Bras d’Or. Little Narrows is an interesting little place and confusing too believe it or not! A ferry crossing splits the little community in two and I thought the Little Narrow’s Community Center was located on the Trans Canada 105 side of the ferry. I was wrong. After driving up and down the little strip between the turn off from the highway and the ferry looking for the hall, I finally asked a man who was parked in his truck waiting for the ferry where it was located. Sure enough, it was on the other side. Good thing I had the exact amount of change needed to board.

I was a couple of minutes late and the concert had just started when I entered the little community hall and I was very happy to see that it was a full house. I love it when Cape Bretoners come out to support events like this. I took a seat at the back and was instantly pleased with what I was hearing. Over the next two hours, Catherine wowed that sold-out crowd with a diverse set that included soulful tunes of real life events and upbeat rhythm and bluesy tracks. A ten-minute intermission brought me outdoors for some fresh air where I spoke with a woman who was quite surprised that I had made such a long trip by myself to see the show. I get this all the time. Not many young woman like to drive alone in the country by themselves but it’s something I do all the time without giving it a second thought!

With some interesting and sometimes sad, sometimes funny stories of her youth and personal life thrown in the mix, Catherine put on quite a show that closed only after she flawlessly performed her father’s famous song to a standing ovation and encore. The event went so well that the community center is thinking of hosting some more similar events in the new year. I will definitely be watching for that announcement!

I had no choice but to take a different route home than I had taken to get there because I used up all my change on the ferry crossing and could not cross back. I didn’t really pay attention to my gas gauge and was a little nervous that I might not have enough fuel to reach North Sydney and there were no stations along the way. I drove through Iona, Grand Narrows, Boisdale and other sleepy communities until I reached the highway 125 in North Sydney and promptly filled up. Another night on The Cape and Another successful Cape Breton music event. I think I’ll start attending more of these!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sure I'll Take a two-day Stay at a Resort in Italy...Now I just have to get Myself there!

I enter a lot of contests. Some of them are simple and only require a form to be filled out with my contact information; others are more challenging and require me to actually do something for my entry. I prefer these more challenging contests. Sometimes the challenge is to submit a photo and other times, the challenge is to submit something in writing. Recently I entered a travel blogging contest that offered a two-night stay at a resort in Italy as the prize. I composed my entry and hit submit and forgot all about until a few weeks later when I opened my inbox to see the headline “you won” on one my incoming emails.

“You won” is something I often see in my email and 99% percent of the time, it is one of those scam emails. But I always open them up just to be sure and scan them to make sure they are in fact scams. As always, I opened this one, scanned it and went back to the top to reread again slowly because something caught my eye. I recognized some things in the email and it all came back to me; this was about that contest I had entered a few weeks ago. I was being informed that I had won two free nights at a resort called La Francesca in Bonassola, Italy.

I’ve been thinking about doing a multi-country trip in Europe for some time now but never got around to it. After confirming my information and getting in contact with the resort owners, I really started putting a plan in motion. I even went as far as choosing the dates that I would be in Italy and corresponded with the owners of La Francesa to inform them of my plans. It wasn’t until I received an email back with a pile of information about the resort including the fact that many of their facilities were now closed because it was the off-season. Those two words “off-season” caused my plans to crumble. I had forgotten that it was almost winter in Europe. I emailed them back and informed them that I would not be going in December but rather next spring or summer when the weather was warmer and there was more to do….and proceeded to book a week-long vacation in Barbados instead! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Helpful Links for Travelers

From time-to-time, I like to do up a post of current and useful websites that are helpful to travelers and here are some of the ones I’ve found helpful recently.

CONTESTS – These websites often have travel-related contests to win free trips
http://www.Tribute.ca
http://www.Saveland.ca
http://www.contestcanada.net/category/travel-contests/
http://www.travelonion.com/contests
http://www.flyerlady.com/canada-contests

TRAVEL DEALS – Websites that can help save you some money on your next trip
http://www.travelocity.ca/p/vacation-packages
http://www.expedia.ca/p/vacation-packages
http://www.hostels.com/
http://www.hostelworld.com/Deals
http://www.kayak.com/sem/hotels/general?gclid=CPGrp_324cECFaxzMgodLV8Ahg

TRAVEL BLOGS – tips, stories and inspiration for your travels
http://travelskills.com/
http://www.earthxplorer.com/
http://www.johnnyjet.com/
http://skift.com/
http://landlopers.com/
http://www.motherofalltrips.com/
http://midliferoadtrip.tv/
http://myviewfromthemiddleseat.com/
http://ann-tran.com/
http://www.leeabbamonte.com/
http://www.tripit.com/blog/
http://www.smartertravel.com/
http://thepointsguy.com/
http://thetravelbite.com/
http://boardingarea.com/

NEW TRAVEL RESOURCES – Helpful sites to guide you in your trip planning and travels
http://www.trip.me/
https://roadtrippers.com/
http://govoluntouring.com/
http://www.fatwallet.com/
http://drungli.com/
http://www.dealchecker.co.uk/
http://milevalue.com/
http://www.lastminute.com/
http://www.vacationhomerentals.com/
http://www.oyster.com/
http://www.onefinestay.com/
http://www.travelfreak.net/travel-resources/
http://repairpal.com/
http://maphappy.org/
http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/
http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/
https://www.airbnb.ca/?locale=en
http://www.booking.com/
http://www.kayak.com/
http://www.momondo.com/
http://www.vayama.com/?utm_source=commj&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_content=textlink&utm_campaign=homepage&AID=10544707&PID=7403546&ref=commj&pdt=travelFREAK
http://www.skyscanner.ca/?utm_source=CJ_UK&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=7403546_Compare%20all%20cheap%20flights%20with%20Skyscanner_11145556
http://www.hostelworld.com/
http://www.seat61.com/
http://travelblogsuccess.com/?ref=85

TRAVEL NEWS – Stay up-to-date with what is happening in the world of travel
http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/travel/
http://www.canada.com/travel/news/index.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/

TRAVEL REWARD PRGRAMS – Earn rewards that can be used towards future travel
https://www.fairmont.com/fpc/
http://www.westjet.com/guest/en/rewards/index.shtml?icid=vu-rewardsen
https://www.airmiles.ca/arrow/Home
http://www4.aeroplan.com/language.do?lang=E
https://www.bestwestern.com/rewards/index.asp
https://lp31.marriottpremier.ca/?JOBNUM=VMR1207091&gclid=CP7Xm-Tl68ECFQqRaQodBBgANw
https://www.wyndhamrewards.com/trec/consumer/home.action
http://www.choicehotels.ca/en/choice-privileges
http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/index.html?language=en_US
https://www.deltahotels.com/Delta-Privilege/Member-Benefits
http://hhonors3.hilton.com/en/index.html

MONEY SAVING TOOLS – Find Travel deals
http://www.9flats.com/
http://www.lastminute.com/
http://www.seatguru.com/
http://www.wegolo.com/
http://www.budgettravel.com/
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/columns/frugal_traveler/index.html
http://www.whichbudget.com/

WOMEN’S SOLO TRAVEL – Helpful websites for adventurous solo-travel females
http://www.women-on-the-road.com/index.html#.VGPUpcmfYqc
http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/wandertips/solo/
http://www.journeywoman.com/SoloTravel/SoloIndex.htm
http://www.adventuredivas.com/
http://www.pinkpangea.com/
http://www.sololady.com/
http://www.ugogurl.com/index.html
http://www.womentravelblog.com/
http://www.womentraveltips.com/
https://www.women-traveling.com/

OTHER HELPFUL LINKS
http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english.html
http://www.etravelalerts.com/demo/alerts.asp
http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information
https://step.state.gov/step/
http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go/checklist.html
http://www.vp2go.com/
http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp
http://www.flightstats.com/go/Home/home.do
http://www.oanda.com/
http://www.bc.edu/offices/help/gethelp/techabroad/international-travel.html
http://travel.gc.ca/







Monday, November 10, 2014

From Canada to Florida: Top 3 Tourist Cities

Canada is a great place to explore but if you live there, you’ve probably already seen all there is to see or simply haven't had the urge to explore your homeland. I am from Florida and I know we are always getting visits from Canadians who are looking for a change of scenery and some even end up moving to Florida. If you’ve had Florida on your mind for some time, let’s discuss a few cities you should visit for a change of pace.

Orlando

While not the most famous city in Florida, Orlando is home to one of the most popular theme parks in the States and perhaps even the world. If you’re a young couple or have kids, this is a definite must-stop for you. With children, the go-to attraction is Disney World which includes the popular Magic Kingdom park that has rides and activities with some of the most beloved Disney characters. There are more rides and attractions than you can fit into a day so I always recommend a two-day stay. However, if you are looking for thrill and adrenaline, you will love Universal Orlando. This park consists of two parks with incredibly fun rides. If you’re into roller coasters then you are in for a treat with The Islands of Adventures Park. Some of the rides include the Dueling Dragons Roller Coaster and the most popular(and scary) Incredible Hulk ride. The Second of these parks is Universal Studios, which includes many movie-themed rides. There is the classic Simpsons 3D experience or the brand new Transformers ride that makes you feel like you are in the movie. One day per park is usually enough, however I recommend at least 3 days if you don't want to rush through it all.

Key West

This is the island located at the southernmost tip of Florida. It’s where key lime pie was invented so make sure you have one when you get there. If you are looking to experience something different yet laid back this is the place to be. You will enjoy an abundance of seafood and the nighttime shows that happen during sunset at Mallory Square. This is where the sunset celebrations take place and many street performers take stage all night. Make sure you try the Mojito’s served at the entrance. Other than that you can enjoy great activities like jet skiing, snorkeling and my personal favorite, parasailing. At night, there are a couple bars to go to and unwind. While it lacks a real beach, Annie’s beach is just a 20 minute drive north and it is beautiful if you want to catch some fun in the sun.

Miami

Miami is one of the most popular cities in the world and it’s largely due to the amazing night life. If you love nightlife and beaches, Miami is the stop for you. South beach is the most popular spot with many clubs and bars lining a strip that leads to the beach. The types of clubs you should visit will depend on your taste. Miami has no shortage of great pizza places, restaurants and entertainment. If nothing else, it is a great spot to have drinks and enjoy the nightlife. During the day you can enjoy the beach alongside your favorite bars. Before you leave Miami make sure to stop at Club LIV, one of the most popular spots in the city. You can also visit Bayside where you can take boat rides to learn more about the city and explore Celebrity Island. I recommend visitors spend at least a week in the area to get the most out of their trip.

According to Alik, who owns a moving company in South Florida “People from all over the world come here for vacation, and even end up taking up residency. We see it all the time.” This is largely due to these top 3 attractions that bring people to Florida. Many visitors from Canada either move to Florida or end up getting a vacation home, it’s a place that is truly hard to get tired of. Who wouldn't want to live in a place like this?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Guided Hike of the Acadian Hiking Trail in Cheticamp

I try to do as many hiking trails around Cape Breton as possible but there are still some trails that I haven’t done because it’s hard to find other hikers to join me on some of the longer hikes and I don’t want to go too far into the backcountry alone. One of the hiking trails that I’ve wanted to do for some time is the Acadian Trail in Cheticamp near the entrance to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park along the Cabot Trail. I finally had the chance to knock this trail off my hiking to-do list thanks to a guided hike that was hosted by Parks Canada during the Celtic Colours International Festival.
10:30 in the morning is not early for me but because it is a two-hour drive to Cheticamp from Lingan where I live, I was up before the sun came that morning and on the road early enough to take my time and enjoy the drive that took me along a part of the Cabot Trail where the fall colours were out in full bloom.

I arrived in the parking lot of the national park entrance and was greeted by two Parks Canada employees who were serving as guides for the day’s hike and a fairly large crowd of hikers from all over North America. We set out onto the trail which started out flat and easy but eventually started to climb toward the highest point of the trail at 365 metres. It was a beautiful day for a hike. Not too cold and not too warm. In fact, even that late in the fall, I was able to remove some layers and hike in only a t-shirt and not get a chill. The well-groomed trail passed through an area of colourful trees and foot bridges took us across a little brook. Steep cliffs lined the trail on one side and one could get a feel of just how steep they were by simply observing a part of a moose skeleton that lay at the bottom. The poor animal must have tried to descend that cliff and didn’t make it safely to the bottom. As steep as the trail was, it wasn’t nearly as hard as Franey Mountain, another trail in the Highlands known for its steep incline to the top.


After a steady climb, we eventually came to a clearing in some barren land where moose are known to graze. We didn’t see any moose that day but remnants of their recent passage was evident. The landscape was quite spectacular with a panoramic view of the tops of the nearby mountains, but nothing compared to what we were about to see at the very top of the trail.
After about 2 hours, we finally reached the top and the look-off that made that long hike all worth while. From that perch high up on that mountain, we had a clear view of the main highway, The Grande Falaise, the ocean, the tops of the surrounding mountains and the village of Cheticamp below. Two Bald Eagles appeared seemingly out of nowhere and put on quite a show for us, majestically soaring through the sky and dipping low enough for us to get a better view. We stayed there taking in that view and talking to one another about where we are from and about our lives in general. That is one of the best things about doing these guided hikes; I always meet so many wonderful and interesting people from all over the world who have similar interests as me.












Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Dream US-based Vacation with Relay Rides

The United States is probably one of the most diverse countries in the world and I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen much of the country on a number of past road trips. In 2009, I traveled to Las Vegas and did a little side road trip into the desert for a couple of days and visited the Grand Canyon. It was a memorable trip but I felt like it was rushed and I didn’t get to see as much of the area as I would’ve liked. That is why I’m choosing Las Vegas, Nevada as my dream US-based vacation through RelayRides . No, I am not particularly interested in gambling or partying it up on The Strip; I’m more interested in hopping in a car and driving off into the desert.

RelayRides is a peer-to-peer rental company that allows car owners to list their car for travelers to rent. This allows travelers to have a wide selection of vehicles to choose from at a lower cost than traditional car rental companies.

In my opinion, there is only one way to cruise the desert so that is why I would rent the Ford Mustang convertible. The last time I rented a car and drove off into the desert, I had a friend with me but this time I would like to do it solo. Just me and the open road…and that beautiful convertible. I would leave the city just as the sun is rising over the desert and drive off into the unknown. I would get lost a bit, drive down lonely side roads, explore the rugged and desolate backcountry, drive down the Extraterrestrial Highway, explore The Valley of Fire and eventually end up at the Grand Canyon. Last time I was at the Canyon, I saw a small portion of it. This time I would like to see much more of it. Not only would I drive around it and explore on my own but I would like to also embark on some guided tours that involve mule rides, hiking or camping in the Canyon. The other reason why I would love to do this trip is because it has special meaning to me. Right before my mom suddenly passed away, she was planning a similar trip of her own to the Grand Canyon area but she didn’t get to do it. When I was going through her belongings, I found the itinerary she had made of her proposed trip and vowed to do that trip in her honor. And if time allows, I may even take a trip down famous Route 66!

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!

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!





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