A family vacation to Costa Rica

The world is definitely a surreal place right now, and being on vacation in a foreign country a seven-hour flight away from home during a world health crisis is definitely the most conflicting experience I have ever had.

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A frangipani tree blooming (and a sweet reminding me of Bali)

Now, to be fair, the trip didn’t begin with such a sense of tension.

Our March family trip to Costa Rica had been booked in November 2019, an amazing gift from my generous mum and her partner, Orville.

I knew that I would have the month of March completely free so I decided to extend the trip by one week and do some solo exploring once my family went home, so my return flight was booked separately.

Near the end of the first week of March of 2020, the number of cases of covid-19 in Canada was less than 40, and the only travel advisories were regarding avoiding non-essential travel to China, Italy, and Iran.

We felt confident we would do all that we could to remain safe as informed & proactive travellers. We armed ourselves with plenty of soap, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and an added air of caution about not touching anything or anyone unnecessary, and we headed to the airport for a red-eye flight.

We arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica on March 6, 2020 at about 7am, and drove to our resort, still sleepy and adjusting to the time and temperature, and folded ourselves into the shaded hammocks by the pool. When we left Calgary, it had been about -4 degrees Celsius. In Costa Rica it was +34.

Hammocks are one of the greatest inventions of all time, by the way.

Pina coladas aren’t too shabby, either… 😉

We stayed in the area of Guanacaste, at Playa Hermosa on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, where it is nearing the end of the dry season. Aside from the hibiscus bushes, palm trees and manicured gardens trimming the edges of the resort property, the view of the hills and landscape around us was primarily brown; almost entirely scratchy bare-branched trees and dry grass. We were informed that they even have forest fires occur at this time of year and there were some hazing smoky days while we were there, strangely reminding me of summertime back home.

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The local fruit stands were always full of delicious choices, and we loved the local mango and pineapple, and even tried new-to-us fruit like purple starfruit!

Our first adventure was on Saturday, when we had a tour booked to Monteverde and the Selvatura Adventure Park for ziplining. On the way, our amazing driver and tour guide Harold pointed out some beautiful photo op spots and promised to stop on the way home, in addition to finding a little spot in a town on the way to get a snack of delicious chicken skewers and grilled corn on the cob.

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As a bonus to the day we got to watch dozens of shimmering emerald and sapphire feather humming birds flutter around feeders at the edge of the bridges trail. If you were patient enough and stood at a feeder with your fingers balanced between a couple spouts, there was a chance a tiny jewel-tone humming bird would use your hand as a landing place! I couldn’t believe the magnificent rush of joy when one bird’s micro feet perched on my knuckles as it drank out of the feeder! It felt like such a gift. 🙂

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We spent almost 90 minutes walking back and forth across the cloud forest through numerous suspended bridges, marvelling at the view and the height we got up to, occasionally hearing the whiz of zipline travellers passing through the canopy on either side of us. It was misty and surprisingly cool up in the mountains, and even rained while we ate lunch before heading out to zip line. (We agreed we would all highly recommend bringing something with long sleeves, and windbreakers/rain jackets just to be safe!)

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After some hot Costa Rican coffee to warm us up we then geared up for ziplining. I still marvel at my fearless mum and Orville suiting up for this thrill seeker activity!

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There were 13 lines and a lot of hiking in between platforms, so this trip is not for the mobility-challenged adventurer! A few of the lines were short and quick in little zigzags through the canopy, but a couple were much longer and even required pairing up with a zip line buddy to get across with your combined weight.

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I was the odd man out in our group so I spent two of the long trips across clipped to one of our guides. This is the first zip line I have done where we were given gloves and were taught how to keep from spinning by holding an ‘okay’ sign with our dominant hand up above and behind us and brake ourselves by pressing the thick reinforced leather palm of the gloves onto the wire.

I have always thought the best lines are the longer lines where you actually have time to look out at the view and down at the tree tops below. The whir of the trolley rolling over the cable and the wind in your face became this wonderful humming underscore to a view that was hundreds of shades of green and gilded with trailing mist and clouds. Disappearing through the low mist on one particular line made it feel like we were entering some mystical place for a few seconds.

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By the end we really wanted to go back to the beginning and go through it again! We left absolutely delighted and still felt like we were flying as we stopped for photos to admire the mountain and valley view, complete with a rainbow to frame the scene.

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It was an incredible day, and we thought Harold was such a great tour guide we made sure to book him for an adventure later in the week.

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I relished the quiet early mornings at the main pool, as the daily blaring party music had not yet been turned on and all you could hear was the bird calls and bubbling water jets of the pool. This was a great time to see flocks of lime green parakeets flitter around the treeline, and see pretty little kiskadees swooping around the pool.

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Seriously, the birds here are all beautiful. Even the scavenger black birds (aka ‘great-tailed grackles’) had tails that looked like swooping black ink brushstrokes, and the white-throated magpie jays (looking like a sophisticated version of the blue jays we see in Canada), had beautiful crests of feathers on their heads that somehow made them look like royalty.

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The beach at Hermosa has dark sand (it looks lighter in photos) and boy oh boy is it HOT! Thankfully, the granules are fine and smooth and once you are in the water it’s heaven. If you are lucky, you’ll catch pelicans corkscrew-diving to catch fish, and a couple times we were stunned to see the shining white diamond bellies of stingrays doing full twists and flips out of the water!

The beach has these great bending tree branches that offer sandy shade and are perfect to hang your stuff on, towels to dry, and even better to secure hammocks to dangle above the lapping waves as the tide swept in each afternoon.

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There were kayaks available through our resort so of course at my first opportunity I took one out and spent about an hour following the shoreline all the way to the other end of the shore and back. The rip tides of the Pacific Coast are strong so you boat and swim with caution. My habit is always to stay along the shoreline to be safe in case a storm or wind picks up and I need to paddle in to shore.

I actually ended up joining in to play beach volleyball after kayaking, which if anyone had offered it up before as an activity I would have thought “no way- it’s way too hot” (35 degrees and all, in full sun)! Somehow the time flew and I played for over an hour with a combo of locals, tourists and the activity staff and we had an amazing time, cheered on by my mum and Orville and other folks enjoying the shade and lounge chairs along the tree line!

I love travelling with my family. On our stay-in days at the resort we had a great rhythm of meals, pool time, beach time, sunset watching, and card games. Naps were often added bonuses, and then we felt extra rested and relaxed when we went out on our exciting exploration days.

Sunsets here are beautiful, with a perfect gradation of pastels in peach to yellow to rose to periwinkle. And the vast sky sure showed off a great deal of stars after dark!!

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We could hear the howler monkeys call out from the treetops in the evenings and occasionally could see them jump and swing from branch to branch high up in the hills. Once we even saw them down at the beach make their way over our heads!

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photo compliments of Orville

I was always on the lookout for wildlife and I regularly amused my family when I took to calling out “monkey monkey monkey!” before I was certain of what it actually was, and in two cases it turned out I was pointing out racoons and coati (a similar type of animal with a longer nose) that were regularly seen in the area. We also came across loads of iguanas here ranging in sizes from small to very large, and tiny lizards that clung to walls like magnetic decorations.

Also, many stray cats seemed to live on the resort property and were always around at meals. We named them as we saw them, and somehow the theme for naming them all became: nuts. We saw ‘Cashew’ and ‘Pistachio’ regularly, and ‘Peanut’ often joined us at the pool, hanging out in the shade under our chairs.

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Another regular sighting during meals were the magpie jays. These birds were so bold they would swoop down through the windows or down from the rafters in the restaurant and confidently perch on the back of an empty nearby chair, landing on a table the moment people stepped away. We saw them steal sugar packets, bread slices, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and even a huge pineapple wedge right out of someone’s drink.

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Our next adventure away from the resort was a beach and snorkel adventure, and we were told that Playa Conchal was the place to go. A whiter, shell beach was about an hour drive south of us, and then we actually had to walk in from the beach town Brasilito that is the closest place accessible by road.

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We were told that we could rent flippers and any necessary snorkel gear on the beach once we got there, which was great because though we all brought our own masks, we did not pack flippers. If you have ever done that you’d know it dictates a much larger piece of luggage!

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It turned out there was no place to rent snorkels but it was just as well. This month had apparently been particularly windy for Costa Rica, which was a blessing for us with the heat, but it made for choppy, murky, and cloudy water.

Staying somewhat close to shore we bobbed and kicked our way through the silt and sand curling around the black rocks and saw a couple of small schools of fish swim by, and then one zebra-striped angel fish gliding along the swirls of the sand on the bottom. And that was sort of it. I imagine you need to either be on the Caribbean coast or take a boat further out to islands off the coast to really get to prime snorkelling areas. Next time, we decided. 🙂

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We dried off in the partial shade of the beach trees and drank from coconuts we bought from a wandering seller.

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On the way home, our driver Luiz stopped on the side of the road to show us a cashew tree, one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Each flower produces one cashew nut that needs to be dried and roasted in order to be eaten. The fruit that grows above the nut is also edible and often made into jams and chutneys. Raw, this ‘cashew apple’ tastes like a chalky, sweet and tart and soft red pepper.

The activities team at the resort had many events planned during the day and I was asked to join into the foosball competition one afternoon while everyone else was having a nap. I love foosball so I was happy to join in. I ended up winning the tournament and I was awarded a beautiful bottle of sparkling peach wine, which we ended up enjoying on our last night all together on our balcony at sunset.

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Our third booked adventure was aimed to check three boxes: waterfalls, sloths, and toucans. (Yes, those very specific things! We even told Harold that we weren’t going home until we saw all three, and we were only very slightly joking.)

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We left early in the morning to get to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, which was only a 45-minute drive from us, and gets busier as the day goes on. The water was beautiful and we soaked and swam and floated, snapping a few photos in the morning sunshine (it was already 32 degrees at 9am), and then ventured back to the van headed towards the jungle again in hopes of catching sight of some more wildlife.

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Costa Rica has a strong “no animal selfies” policy as they want to protect their wildlife and don’t want any unnecessary impact on animals and wildlife, so we jokingly took photos of toy/stuffed/souvenir gift sloths when we came across them (and we came across them a lot).

We arrived at Bijagua Ranas, a Frog observation site in the Alajuela area and were showed around by our volunteer tour guide Stéphanie. She pointed out all sorts of local flowers and plant life as we walked through the lush grenery. My favourite was the ‘maraca’ plant that holds water and a liquid between its petals that is a natural bug repellant and actually smelled wonderful in a sort of citrusy way. (Somehow I did not get my own photo so this reference photo will have to do.)

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maraca (yellow heliconia)

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Stéphanie showed us a bright green bump on the underside of a leaf, and then she washed her hands and picked up the hiding frog, setting him gently back on the leaves so we could see him stretch out and move and it was amazing!

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As we wandered the winding pathway we kept our eyes up to the treetops and caught sight of howler and capuchin monkeys swinging in the trees, and then one sloth, then another, and by the end of the afternoon we had seen a total of six sloths up in the trees!

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another shot captured by Orville on his amazing zoom lens camera

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Cute capuchin monkey! (Orville’s photo, again!)

This area is actually along a travel route the sloths take to get from one jungle area further north to another jungle further south and east of us, so there are both two-toed and three-toed sloths that regularly pass through the area.

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The first sloth was a ball of grey-brown fur high up in a tree, likely sound asleep, hard to see in a photo even with a good zoom because he was tucked into the shade and was similar in colour to the branches he was wrapped around. We learned that sloths go higher up to sleep safely, and also will climb further up in trees when it rains.

The most exciting sight was a mama sloth and her baby hanging upside down and eating leaves only about 10-15 feet above us.

Photo courtesy of Orville

And before we left we even were able to see a toucan way up in a treetop before making our way back to the van to head home! All boxes checked! 🙂

Zoom in camera for the win!

 

Lunch was delicious local food at a local restaurant (which they call ‘Soda’s in Costa Rica). We were given the option of chicken or fish, plantain, queso fresco, pasta and beans and rice and veggies!

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There was a butterfly enclosure attached to the restaurant so we were delighted to watch several kinds of butterflies flutter between tropical flowers and bushes and occasionally land on the slices of pineapple set out for them.

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We had another beach day where my mum and sister and I went out kayaking, which was a blast! I was really surprised more people don’t take this opportunity to use the freely available kayaks at the resorts here, because it was easy and relaxing!

Shade was a vital part of beach time because the sand is so hot, so we would chase the shadows created by the trees along the shoreline as the sun moved across the sky (even if that meant changing hammocks! 😉

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well, I don’t hate it. 😉

On this day, we enjoyed an iced snow cone made by a local walking up and down the beach pushing a cart that had a huge ice chunk inside. He would shave the ice into a cup, and then mix it with powdered milk, cherry syrup, coconut cream, and sweetened condensed milk! (Garnished with a wafer cookie and a marshmallow).

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Unlike anything I have ever had before!

On Saturday night we went for dinner at the beachside restaurant of Aquasport, and it was one of the best meals of the trip. We shared easily the most delicious onion rings we have ever eaten and then all had different dinners, from Mahi Mahi Chaufa rice to Tuna Poke, all the while listening to live music and watching a group of kids enjoying the huge tree swing in the middle of the restaurant’s courtyard. Carly and mum had a bit of a swing before we walked back to our hotel along the shore, enjoying the smell of a couple bonfires locals had going on the beach, and the vast clear sky of stars.

 

 

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Last sunset together in Costa Rica (photo courtesy of my sister)

As I bid my family farewell on Monday morning, they jokingly threatened to kidnap me and bring me back on their (likely) full flight home. I was definitely a little bit nervous to stay another week solo with everything escalating and I promised to keep in touch and stay informed about airlines and airports and border closures and look into the possibility of getting an earlier flight back just to be safe.  Until then, I would get as much sun and beach time as possible before heading back to winter and self-isolation!

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From the mountain to the seaside

Week three in Bali began on Sunday afternoon when we checked out of The Firefly Resort and Rachel, Kaska, and I hopped into a taxi with our good pal Ketut and headed out to hike Mount Batur at sunrise in the northern part of Bali.

On our way just had to stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and wander about.

A rice season here takes about 3-5 months and because weather is pretty consistent year round, every area is on a different planting/harvesting schedule. At one end of the terraces there were young seedlings freshly planted, but the area we were in had been harvested recently and was drying up.

As we got further and further north, rice fields turned into mandarin orange orchards, and we drove past fields of tomatoes and onions and cabbage.
The mineral-rich volcanic soil closer to the mountainous north is excellent for growing all sorts of things.

Seriously, it feels like they can grow anything in Bali!

We started driving by numerous beautiful  fruit stands and had to stop.

We picked up 2kg worth of mangos, about a dozen mandarin oranges, and a big bunch of mangostines.

We had the most hilarious time trying to find yet another accommodation; the Triangle House hotel was another tucked away secret, apparently, as the google maps location was incorrect and the property was so small and so low (and surrounded by tall bamboo fencing) that we drove right past it. Twice.

When we finally found it and saw our accommodation in real life, I was reminded of Swedish design. If the palm-leaf roofs were wood shingles instead, it would have completed the look as if we were staying in a cedar sauna house.

The hotel has only been open since December and everything was in pristine condition. This was already the most charming place I had stayed in so far.

These buildings contained only a bed, a side table, and two shelves. There were hooks outside to dry clothes/towels, and shared washrooms/showers behind. They put a soft, freshly washed duvet on the bed just after we arrived, and for the first time in Bali we didn’t even think about air conditioning. It was actually slightly cool in the evening… perhaps thanks to the elevation and mountain air.

Because originally, Rachel had booked the hotel for a solo trip up here, the booking was only for one person. Instead of booking another hotel somewhere for Kaska and I, we hoped we would be able to convince them to let us stay here and just pay them extra. (When I had tried to book another room in advance they were all full up- which was no surprise, it turns out they only had 4 rooms!)

English was not a strength for any of the staff there, but we got by with some charades and exaggerated gestures, and they seemed to be fine with having three girls share a room- and they even moved us to a slightly larger building.

I had been connected with Dewa, a local driver and guide who was friends with one of my best friends back home. They had met when she was here on a yoga retreat, and when I told him we wanted to climb Mount Batur he suggested that night as the weather was supposed to be perfect. He was taking two other Canadians up and asked if we wanted to join them. We had originally planned to go on the Monday night but at that point hadn’t secured a guide so we took him up on his offer.

(When you climb Mount Batur you need a guide. If you read any stories or blogs about people attempting to climb it solo, you will see how much hassle/issues they have with the locals. It’s considered extremely disrespectful to the local people, and particularly if you do a sunrise hike and go up in complete darkness, it can be dangerous. )

The total cost was 900,000 Indonesian Rupiah, which works out to about $90 Canadian. Between the 5 of us it only cost $18 each, which was a full $50 cheaper than what I found online when I was researching my trip before Christmas. Clearly it is best to wait until you get here to book a guide and you will get a much better deal!!

We went to bed at about 8pm, as our alarms would be going off at 3am that morning. Headlamps, water bottles, and running shoes at the ready, we awoke to our earliest morning yet, and headed out the door to meet Dewa at the gate.

The hike started shortly after 3:30am and we were moving at a very speedy pace. It may have had something to do with the other two Canadians being trail runners and they seemed to be racing to get to the top. I was the slowest of the group as it felt like the humidity in the air cancelled out any of my athleticism, and the struggle to breathe was actually worrying. Dewa suggested regular 20 second breaks, and I took them often, immediately turning back to look up at the stars.

The sky took the little that was left of my breath away. The canopy of bright stars were clearer and more plentiful than I have seen in years. I was awestruck.

My friends were happy to pause and we all marvelled at the view (while I tried not to pass out).

We still reached the top in about 90 minutes, climbing 700 meters over 4 km. The average group takes 1.5-2 hours to get to the top.

We were one of the first groups up there and we added our up-until-then seemingly laughable warm outer layers to counteract the cool mountaintop weather‘s effect on our sweaty bodies.

We were told that once there was a bit more light we could wander further along the ridge above the crater where steam still pours out.

(Mount Batur is actually a volcano, and another volcano in Indonesia did erupt within the last two weeks, causing a tsunami in Indonesian islands further north of Bali. No big deal.)

The sunrise was absolutely incredible. We took countless photos, including the ‘vital’ though obviously cliché yoga pose silhouettes.

It was so much fun, and we snuck further along the ridge so we could get some photos without having to dodge and deke around other people to get a good shot.

We came across the steam curling up off the mountain and it was like walking past a nordic spa and facial steam. And it was so warm!

It turns out our guided hike included breakfast: our guides cooked us eggs using only the steam on the mountain, and served them to us with sticky coconut rice. It was delicious.

Just as we were finishing up, about 15 monkeys came up out of the forest and hung out, waiting for leftover food. It was hilarious to turn around and see a monkey peeling and eating an egg like he had just come on the hike with us.

The hike down was hot but only about an hour, so we arrived back at Triangle House just after 8am and took showers.

Best mango ever

We looked over photos while we drank strong black tea with raw sugar and were just dividing up a mango when our hosts asked if we wanted the complimentary breakfast that came with the room. The options were: banana pancakes with honey or chocolate, toast with various spreads, or a “jaffle”: a soft-cooked egg inside two pieces of bread toasted in a round sandwich press. The other two had banana pancakes and I had a jaffle.

We all felt deserving of a late morning nap, and then at about noon we went out to the garden to have a tea when it started to rain. A lot.

I didn’t have my phone with me to document it but let me tell you, as we sat there the wall of water between us and our bedroom became an opaque silver curtain, and it just wouldn’t stop.

As the rain pounded down in monsoon-like fashion, we sat and sipped 2nd and 3rd cups of tea, watching geometric rivers form in between the raised paving stone pathways around the garden and hotel buildings.

The owner of the hotel went out during this time and returned with beautiful multi-coloured umbrellas and brought them over to us, insisting we use them for the rest of our stay.

We befriended the owners’ 3-year old as he played in the rain and made faces at us. It was that evening that another little boy joined him and by the time we were heading to bed they were hanging off our table and making faces and playing monsters & zombies and being silly with us.

When the rain finally let up (after several games of Crazy Eights and multiple cups of tea), we took the umbrellas and wandered over to the lake, in search of the famous Hot Springs and some dinner.

We didn’t feel inclined to jump in any of the pools (starting at $19 to get in), and went for food instead. We found ourselves on the very edge of the lake at the quietest restaurant I have ever been to (we actually thought it was closed when they waved us over) and while we waited for our food we watched locals setting out fishnets along the shoreline.

I had chicken saté there, and I’m pretty sure that the sauce was the best I’ve ever had in my life.

We got a ride back to Ubud the next morning by a friend of the hotel owner and from there I was heading to a hostel for the night and Rachel and Kashka were catching the shuttle to meet our fellow yogis Ange and Aneta in Kuta before their flights home.

The women’s dorm I had all to myself!

The view from my room

I got to enjoy one night in Ubud wandering charming streets, perusing unique souvenirs (like cool multicoloured travel/camping hammocks!) and finished the evening with some live music and great food!

Pad Thai!!

An early morning shuttle pickup mean that once again I was up before the sun, and then off to Padangbai to catch a fast boat that would be a 75 minute ride across to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok.

Along the port for the fast boat to Gili, there were locals selling Bintang beer, Pringles and Dorito chips, and fresh fruit.
Verbatim, a woman selling snacks:
“Something something chips? Yes? Pring-less? Doreet-as? Doreet-as?”

We moved along the shoreline of the mainland of Bali and as we passed by the coastal town of Candidasa I noticed how black the shoreline is. Volcanic sand. 🙂

The highlight of this voyage was not only the discovery that I could hang out on the roof of the boat and listen to tunes cranked by the crew on their stereo, but the pod of dolphins that appeared out of nowhere and leapt across the waves along the side of the boat for several minutes! There were at least 12 of them!! (No video or photos as this moment was too magical to look through a lens for!)

The boat ended up being about 90% full and most people were headed to Gili Trawlangan – the biggest and liveliest of the islands where people go to party. 

Then there is the middle island, Gili Mano, which is apparently the quietest and most romantic. Not ideal for a solo traveller… unless maybe you are learning to love yourself…

I was headed to Gili Air, which is apparently the best of both worlds. Chill and relaxed, with some nice shops, yoga studios, dive/snorkel clubs, and restaurants to enjoy.

But really, I was going for some quality ocean time.

Swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking were on the top of my list.

The island also had many charming pathways and inviting entrances to all the home stays, hotels, and resorts here.

No vehicles or motorbikes are allowed on the island so it’s quite quiet. Occasionally, you will hear the sound of a horse and cart go by only because the horses wear bells that jingle as they prance and their hooves click on some of the paved roads.

VIDEO TO COME

The central mosque on the island

Most of the people on the islands are Muslim so there are no temples like in Bali.  Every day we could hear the morning and evening calls to prayer at dawn and dusk at the large central mosque.

Because flowers aren’t used in daily offerings, this means that the beautiful frangipani trees are always blooming with plenty of flowers that I can pick and put in my hair…

Gili Air is also called Rock Island because of all the coral that washes up on shore here.

In the low season, on a rainy afternoon, this island felt very *quiet*.

Barren, practically.

I learned that there was a huge earthquake in Lombok only four months ago, and it impacted the Gili islands greatly. Several shops and restaurants are still closed and you can see some places where entire buildings came down. The beautiful beach was lined with empty restaurant loungers and tables and hammocks. Beach umbrellas were closed, chair cushions were stacked, and my footprints were the only set on the beach.

I was glad to have my umbrella because at any given moment a heavy downpour was ready in the next set of clouds, and I made good use of it, and often found myself tiptoeing through puddles and pathways that were quiet as the rain poured down and everyone took cover.

I found a sweet little restaurant called Musa and I decided to try their vegan carrot cake. I picked the most comfortable looking spot in the restaurant; a beautiful big swing with comfortable cushions.

My server, Ending, [yes that is his name] suggested that next time I come, I try the treehouse. Because this restaurant has a treehouse.

The carrot cake was some of the best I’ve ever had. I swore I would come back the next day and try something else.

The first morning here looked like we were getting a bit of sun, and a storm was forecast for the afternoon. So I decided to sign up for a snorkelling adventure that morning! I brought my own full face mask which I was eager to try out. The trip promised sea turtles, underwater statues, and lots of fish! We took off at about 9:30 AM and went to our first location, just off the east shore of Gili Mano. I decided to put my $12 waterproof phone case to the test and try to capture the stunning under-the-sea sights I so often discover but can never share.

Not only was I delighted to discover the case worked, but I caught the absolute highlight of the day: a stunning, graceful sea turtles gliding by.

The downside, was the jellyfish. Tiny, aggressive, though almost invisible little demons. I was wearing a T-shirt, as I often do to snorkel in order to not burn my back. There was a point where I was sure I had trapped about six angry creatures inside the shirt so they could just keep stinging away to their hearts content. I ripped it off and tossed it up into the boat for the remainder of the day.

Sadly, by the time we got to our third spot, the jellyfish were so bad that no one had any interest in staying in the water and we all turned around simultaneously and beat our guide back to the boat. In the end it was probably for the best, as the aforementioned storm came up and it started to rain just as we began our return to Gili Air.

Back in Bali I was always catching incredible sunrises. Well, here: it was all about the sunsets.

Oh the sunsets on this island!!

The Friday night I was here I glimpsed the sun going down through the palm trees and I booked it over to the west beach to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen.

Even the locals seem to come to the beach at this time to sit and watch the sun go down. Some people stood in the shallows casually tossing fishing lines out into the water although they didn’t seem to be expecting anything at the other end. Some smoked cigarettes or sat in the sand drinking bottles of Bintang.

A further highlight to the evening was a beachside barbecue at one of the resorts nearby. The Oasis Resort had a huge screen set up and as I walked by the staff said “yes? You stay for movie night and dinner?”

I couldn’t resist.

The options for dinner were: locally caught tuna, saté chicken, prawns, or tofu/tempeh skewers and an all-you/can-eat buffet for $10.

When I mentioned I couldn’t decide between the tuna and chicken saté, they said they could give me a deal and I got both! A beautiful tuna steak seared on the barbecue, and two delicious saté chicken skewers.

The film was Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, and though I had seen it already, I grabbed a lounge chair and settled in to indulge in this beachside movie night with the soothing waves lapping the shore on my right. About ten minutes into the movie the staff brought out individual coconut bowls of popcorn for each of us! So awesome.

Oh yeah, and the sunset.

Breakfast fresh fruit

The next day I woke up to sunshine and heat and no sign of a storm or any rain at all! I was headed to the beach for a kayak, and then discovered they don’t rent kayaks until the afternoon as the tide is too low to get out there. They suggested I return just before sunset.

There are lots of yoga studios on the island, as well as diving training pools and shops, restaurants, and spa services everywhere you looked.

Oh, the flowers on this island!

Stunning mural at a local yoga studio

Back at Musa, I finished reading my ‘vacation novel’, a birthday gift from my friend Allison, while enjoying a cold fresh young coconut, in the treehouse. 😎

After exploring the island (you can wander across the entire thing back and forth in less than an hour), I found a lovely restaurant that was part of a resort.

I decided to splurge and booked a villa there for my last night. When I was looking at the website I knew they had me at ‘private pool’. With the stormy weather we had been having I hadn’t done nearly as much swimming as I had wanted on the island, and the pool was saltwater so I felt like that was a proper nod to the ocean (and definitely better: sans jellyfish)!

When I arrived at my new hotel in the early afternoon I was handed a fresh watermelon juice and my bag was carried to my villa through a shaded canopy walkway made of bougainvillea branches.

And oh, the pool. ❤️

One look at this place and I was tempted to stay longer on this island…

Everyone here is so friendly and I can see why people stay longer on the islands and really get to know the locals.

My hotel lent out free bikes so it was easy to get around the island last couple of days and do a bit of speedier exploring. I shared a pizza with a couple Canadians at a beach-side bar, took some photos for other solo travellers on the water swings, and was invited to come listen to a jam session with some of the locals at one of the restaurants later that evening.

Not my bike…. “bike in a palm tree” art installation?

Vegan strawberry coconut cheesecake at Musa

My last evening on Gili Air, I headed over to the beach and the hotel that rented kayaks. Pink Coco is the name of the hotel  and everything is magenta, from the beach chairs and the umbrella to the Instagram-worthy swing in the water, the hotel front, and the pool. $15 for an hour was just perfect for my final night, and I definitely had the best view of the sunset.

(My first ever kayak at sunset. Not too shabby.)

Indonesia, you raise the bar for sunsets to a whole other level. 😍

I was very sad to leave this magical place but was looking forward to heading back to Ubud for another yoga retreat week!

Goodnight, private pool. ❤️

March 2018: A Much Needed Tropical Trip

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I decided in January that I was overdue for a tropical vacation, and after one of the snowiest, coldest winters I have experienced in my entire life in Calgary, I needed OUT!

I decided to try somewhere new for a seven-day escape.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult to convince my mom to join me. 🙂

Our route to Belize from Calgary made for a long day; three flights, three airlines, and an arrival 12 hours after first take off. We left for the airport at 3:30am, and were on the plane at 6:00am headed for Texas. From Houston we flew to Belize City. From there we walked to the local airline and flew 45 minutes (with one stopover) to arrive at the south end of the Belizean peninsula: Placencia.

We stepped off the plane along with one other gentleman who was greeted by a big enthusiastic group of American ex-pats. My mum said “well, you folks seem like a lot of fun! Can we come home with you?” to which one gentleman replied “Sure! Welcome to Belize! Wanna beer?” and preceeded to walk straight over to his golf cart and crack two Belekin Beers and hand them to us without waiting for a reply.

He introduced himself as Eugene, and he and his wife own the Pickled Parrot in Placencia, a bar ‘with the best burgers in town’! He invited us to the bar that evening for dinner and live music by a buddy of his visiting from the U.S.

We arrived at the Serenade Hotel and met the hotel manager Anna, who became our go-to lady for all things local. She showed us to our room that came complete with microwave, mini fridge, and air conditioner. The A/C was quite the pleasant surprise as in previous vacations we were used to having only a ceiling fan (if we were lucky).

The humidity and warm evening was perfect for a little exploring, and after spraying our ankles with Deep Woods Off (in perhaps a too-optimistic, attempted defense of the inevitable sand-flea bites), we took off down the boardwalk behind the hotel. This pathway is poured concrete faux-finished to look like wood, and goes all through Placencia to the south end at the pier.

Lots of local artists carve conch shells, calabash and coconut shells, and natural wood into jewelry, serving dishes, and beautiful art.

The forecast here was 28 degrees celcius. Every day. (The LOW was 23 or 24 degrees.) Magical. We never needed a sweater in the evening and the days were sunny at best and partially cloudy at ‘worst’- in the way you actually don’t mind when a few clouds roll over and give you a little reprieve from the heat.

We found the Pickled Parrot and were welcomed first by Eugene’s two dogs and later a cat as we found a seat at a picnic table on the side of the bar. This place was busy! We had our first pina coladas of the trip and ordered burgers, fries, and onion rings.

The Belizean dollar is worth half the American Dollar, so our original thought of a $20 burger being a bit pricey turned into the realization that it was closer to $12 CAD which was totally reasonable. The Pickled Parrot is cash only, and we were told that it is pretty common for places in town to only accept cash (both American and Belizean currency.)

The music was great, the burgers were excellent, and Eugene made us feel very welcome, introducing us to some regulars sitting nearby who quickly gave us the rundown of must-see and must-do things for our week on the peninsula.

We were walking back to our hotel when the sound of drumming pulled us further up the boardwalk and we found ourselves at the Tipsy Tuna and a performance of drumming that we later learned was Garifuna (also spelled Garafina) traditional music, and dancing. It was mostly kids, dressed in traditional Garifuna costume, and tourists and locals were enjoying the rhythm on the dance floor. Although we were too tired to join in, we couldn’t help but bounce along to the music. This is a weekly event at the Tipsy Tuna, so we felt fortunate to catch it on our first night in town.

One of the things we always love about the Caribbean is that the sound of the waves and the wind in the palm trees feel like they immediately lower our heart rates. ❤️

We also noticed that over the week we were there, our walking pace definitely slowed.

Plancencia has some of the nicest people I have met in the Caribbean, and people always said hello and good morning and good night as you passed on the boardwalk or on the main road. It felt even safer than Nassau!

Our first morning found us over at a tiny little building that was no more than a counter that seats about 5 people, a stove with two burners, a sink , and a fridge. And the best burritos I have ever had for $4 each! Anna told us they had the best fresh juice in town, and we ordered orange and watermelon to go with our breakfast. (This was another place that only took cash- and exact change only!)

We were anxious to get to the beach, and as we were told the ocean side of the peninsula was too hard to swim at due to all the seaweed, we headed down to the south end next to the pier and found a good patch of sand to throw down our towels and summer dresses and we leapt into the water.

To give you an idea of the ocean here, these are views of the Belizeans shoreline from the tiny plane we took to and from Placencia.

I’m pretty sure the ocean around Belize is more shallow for further out than anywhere I have been in the Caribbean, and the temperature reflected that. It was practically warm! We were slightly constrained as to how far out we could swim as the boats coming in and out of the harbor are constant (and the harbor master on the pier will yell at you, we quickly learned!).

There wasn’t much to see using our snorkels in this spot, but we had been assured by Anna that the real beautiful water and snorkeling was out off the mainland at reefs. It requires the hiring of a boat, and she knew just who to call. She phoned her friend Rudy as we chatted with her at the hotel and told him “Get over here right away! I know I know, but you are only five minutes away, so you can spare a little time to come and talk to these ladies!”

Rudy and Rudy Jr. arrived and we were informed that Rudy Jr is a certified boat operator who can take us out for either a half-day or full-day excursion. We opted for a full day trip which would include lunch and a stop on an island that had a natural pool and hammocks. We booked for the next day.

Rudy & Rudy Jr.

After a full lazy afternoon of sunbathing and swimming in looped repetition, we decided to try the Tipsy Tuna for dinner, and ordered wings and conch fritters and iced tea. We shared a big table with a couple from Lake Tahoe who were quick to chat us up and tell us about their road trip adventures exploring Belize and Venezuela over the past 12 days; this was the end of their trip. Theresa and Joey had two days in Placencia, and were considering taking a boat out to go snorkeling, so we suggested they join us the next day, hoping our guides would have room for two more.

Friday morning we got all our snorkeling gear together (yes, we bring our own snorkeling gear) and headed to the meeting spot for our day on the water. Our plans were quickly kai-boshed as the wind was strong that day and the ocean was choppy with white caps. We all agreed that the 30-minute ride out would be too rough and likely the water cloudy from all the waves, so we post-poned until Monday, as the Rudy’s were already booked Saturday and Sunday.

We decided to have another lazy beach day, and wandered along the main street and stopped into the Above Grounds coffee shop – which truly felt like a treehouse – and was a perfect spot to have an iced latte and enjoy the breeze. (They also make delicious baked goods and sell local coffee you can take home as a souvenir.)

Most of the houses in Placencia are on stilts, and we learned that the reasoning behind this was three-fold:

1) The higher you go, the better ocean breeze you get, and since most people cannot afford air conditioning, opening windows and letting the wind blow through was the best way to stay cool.

2) When they get sudden heavy rainstorms there is often flooding, so having your home off the ground means less damage/stress when this happens several times a year.

3) Sand fleas (or ‘no-see-ums’) and other bugs are only active a few feet off the ground so to be a floor above them makes it easier to avoid bug bites.

Friday night we went to Nic’s Restaurant, another recommended spot. We arrived to a pretty full, tiny wrap-around porch where we took a seat at a small table so close to the couple next to us we joked we were joining them for dinner. We ended up ordering a Greek Pizza and Caesar salad to share, and learned that our almost-table-mates ordered a similar meal; they got a Cobb salad and a Belezean Pizza (think: Hawaiian pizza with jalapeno peppers and red onions).

Pete and Sandy were from Missouri and were back in Belize after 12 years, and had just spent one week on a sailboat cruise swimming and snorkeling out along the islands and reefs off the Belizean coast. They were lovely company and we had a great time getting to know them as we ate our respective meals, and then ended up exchanging pizza slices! How often do you share/swap your meal with people at another table?! The magic of Belize. 🙂

We had been told about Taste Belize Tours  and as soon as we saw “Chocolate Waterfall Tour”, we knew what our Saturday plans were. Our tour guide/tour company owner was Lyra, a born-and-raised Belizean who was raised on a cacao farm outside Toledo Belize, and had gone to university in the US to get her doctorate in Anthropology and Food Studies. She was full of information about Belize’s history, the various cultural influences, the indigenous people, and I was lucky enough to sit in the front seat (or, alternatively, be unlucky enough to have the worst motion sickness in the group). There were 12 of us total; my mum and I, a couple from Ontario, and two American couples who were on vacation together with their 3 kids.

It was a two-hour drive to the chocolate farm and along the way we drove past more and less touristy areas, through the a Garifuna town of Barranco- the birthplace of the most famous Belizean musician Andy Palacio. We went past many tiny villages, saw several banana plantations, and drove past large sections of land that are currently being developed into resorts. There is a big boom in real estate in Belize right now, in Placencia specifically.

We also drove through the tropical part of Belize and then suddenly, like a switch had been hit, we were driving through a savanah with dry grasses and tropical pine trees. Apparently the soil quality changes over a few meters to make this huge environment change. And we also found out that we were visiting in the dry season, which meant that many plants were blooming that don’t normally have flowers, like the “Buttercup Flower” tree.

We were greeted at the Ixcacao Farm by Juan, who owns the land and factory with his wife, Abalina.

Juan showed us the cacao tree and we learned about the process of growing cacao in Belize, and things like how succeptible the cacao plants are to disease and fungus, how they require mixed sunlight and shade to prorperly mature and thrive, and how, like coffee and grapes used for wine, the soil and area and local plants influence the final flavor of the cacao.

Two varieties of cacao plants:

Also growing on their property were the calabash tree, which has these beautiful round fruits that are the traditional container (the shell is cut in half and dried) to drink hot chocolate. We also saw these shells carved and decorated as souvenirs you could purchase at various places in Belize.

We went upstairs to a beautiful patio and sat down to try traditional Mayan hot chocolate. When it was poured, it looked like a cloudy caramel-coloured coffee.

There is no milk or cream products in any traditional mayan chocolate, so the ingredients that make up hot chocolate is ground cacao nibs and hot water. It was slightly bitter and tasted like a watered down version of a dark chocolate hot drink without any sugar.

We were instructed to add a tiny pinch of crushed chili powder. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of ‘chili hot chocolate’ that I have known previously, the point is not to make the drink spicy. There is a reaction in the chemical compounds between chilis and cacao that cuts the bitterness so the cacao flavor can be deeper. It was remarkable.

After that we added a tiny bit of cinnamon; this is another ‘classic’ addition to Mayan hot chocolate but is also not traditional, as cinnamon is not naturally found in central American and was introduced by Indian/Middle Eastern influences.

Lastly we were offered sugar to add but we didn’t feel like it needed it.

Juan then opened up a cacao pod to show us the wet seeds and then took us step by step through the entire process of making chocolate.

He let us try the wet seeds straight from the pod and the exterior was a soft, slightly stringy, and sweet coating that tasted somewhat like soursop, or sort of a combo of sweet melon, citrus, and pineapple. And if you bit right through the cacao seed it was bright purple and had not even a hint of chocolate flavor!

They harvest the pods by hand, cut them open and scoop out the wet seeds, letting the sugars in the juice of the pulp ferment, and then they take that liquid to make chocolate liquer, and dry and then roast the remaining seeds.

Dried and roasted seeds:

We were given the roasted seeds and asked to shell them to collect caco nibs that we would then grind to make our own chocolate.

Shelled cacao nibs:

The two granite pieces on the table in front of us were over 150 years old and had matching granite grinding stones that they had used before the factory acquired machinery that could grind large quantities of beans 24 hours a day and increase their output exponentially. (We were informed that 32 cacao beans are required to make one ounce of chocolate. No wonder high quality chocolate is expensive!)

We got a chance to grind the cacao seeds ourselves, and it is hard work! Lyra told us that Abalina ground all the cacao seeds by hand for the first 5 years they owned this farm, which is one of the reasons she is called The Chocolate Queen. (She must have amazing biceps!)

Juan finished grinding the chocolate at a speed that made it look like his arms would fall off, and the emulsification of the cacao seeds and the cacao butter in them was so creamy, it almost looked like it could be scooped up and dropped in a swirl like thick Nutella icing.

We got to try samples of the many kinds of finished chocolate they produced, including orange, ginger, coconut, sea salt, cardamom, and milk chocolate.

We learned about the European discovery of adding powdered milk to chocolate to make it creamier, but that other stabilizing ingredients have to be added when milk is added, which is why the percentage of cacao drops so significantly when it is processed into chocolate products. (And how a Hershey or Nestle milk ‘chocolate’ bar contains less than 10% actual chocolate; artificial flavor and colour has to be added because the finished product no longer tastes or looks like chocolate!)

And then there was the lunch that was included with the tour. This was definitely one of the highlights of our vacation!!

Lunch was created by none other that Abalina; the Chocolate Queen herself. It was a phenomenal spread of the best food we had the entire trip, including chocolate chicken, hearts of palm, cooked greens, beans, tortillas, zucchini and squash, coconut rice, and fried plantain.

As we were leaving we heard a little tune playing on repeat and slowly getting louder. The source of it turned out to be a small truck that was driving by. My mom joked “it’s the local ice-cream truck” and we all chuckled because it had a similar sound. Lyra then looked over at the truck and said “Yes it is, actually!”

We could see a bunch of coolers in the bed of the truck as it went past, and she told us that many of the people in rural Belize do not have refrigeration so this man drives through all the villages and sells ice cream!

On the way back to Placencia, Lyra stopped on the side of the road and introduced us to a group of women who sold palm leaf woven products like baskets and trivets and art. They were kind enough to show us their kitchen where they were making green corn soup and smoking/drying chilis.

A few details-

Drying chilis:

Most rural buildings have these palm-branch roofs:

We loved the way this hinge had been attached to their shutter:

Baskets and trivets and placemats:

These girls were shy to talk to me but were happy to pose for a picture.

On to the waterfall!!

The Coxcomb Ridge is the largest collection of foothills through Belize and we drove up the side of the ridge to spend the afternoon on a private property at a set of three gorgeous jungle waterfalls.

You turn off the main road at the fake Mayan pyramid along the main highway, and you find yourself at a small gate where a man who doesn’t speak a word of English meets you and you hand him $20 per person and he will open the gate so you can drive up to the waterfall.

The Maya King Waterfall:

We drove through a rain storm on the way to the farm, another downfall happened while we were having lunch, but by the time we arrived at the waterfall the weather was perfect and we proceeded to swim in all three pools, sit under the waterfalls, and even try out the natural stone slide in the lower pool area.

Have you heard of the trend at some Asian spas where you can pay for a fish pedicure; tiny fish nibble off the dead skin from your feet? Well in the pools of this waterfall, you get that for free! #notjoking

We got back to the hotel just in time to change for dinner, as we met our Lake Tahoe friends at RumFish at 6pm! Both Mum and I couldn’t resist the special; sesame crusted tuna that had been caught that day! It was absolutely delicious, and we paired it with watermelon mojitos. Dessert was key lime pie and banana crème brulee.

Sunday morning we got a surprise phone call from the Rudys and were told that their day had opened up and the weather was PERFECT for snorkeling, so we dropped our plans to explore up the peninsula and the recommended Turtle Bay beach and Restaurant, and loaded up to take a boat out for the day.

We stopped at three different locations out on the reef, and Rudy Jr let me try my hand at spear-gun fishing. 😁😳

He and his dad went fishing while my mom and I explored the reefs and discovered jellyfish, many varieties of Parrot fish, Angel fish, grouper, conch, and even a couple of medium-sized Nurse Sharks sleeping in a cave of coral!

We arrived at Lark Cay and pulled up to this sweet island with a man-made natural pool on one side, hammocks, and a perfect place to lie in the sun and dry off.

You can actually rent a cabin on this island for $20 USD a night!

The Rudys had caught a grouper, a snapper, a jack fish, a pompineau, and conch for lunch, and proceeded to fillet and cook them up with okra, purple yams, plantain, tomatoes, pineapple, potatoes, shallots, and cilantro in a coconut and spiced broth. We drank water from coconuts they cut down for us while we waited for lunch, enjoyed some iced fruit punch, and then ate this amazing lunch. We even got to take home the leftovers for dinner that night!

By the time we took the boat back the wind had picked up and the water was choppier, so it was perfect timing to head home and apply after-sun aloe vera lotion….

Note to self for next time, bring way more sunscreen, and make sure it is waterproof! We were two cooked Canadians after that day.

Sunday night we stopped for dessert at the gelato place and heard amazing jazz music coming from Chachi’s, the bar upstairs. We made our way up there and got to watch the last hour of a phenomenal 8-piece band jamming out. Soprano and alto sax, flute, 2 guitars, piano, bass, and drums. It was phenomenal! We ended up meeting one of the owners of the bar on our last night there as he and a buddy practiced in the open area downstairs for a gig they had later that week. A couple of music majors from the US decided to come to Placencia, open a pizza restaurant that had a good space for live music.

Monday we enjoyed a shady beach day. Swimming in the salt water felt good on our more-than-sunkissed skin, but we hid under palm trees for most of the day, chasing the shadows as they inched over.

Tuesday we were brave enough to venture out in the sun again and for our last day we decided that some kayaking was in order. The ocean side of the peninsula was a bit rough when we went to pick up the kayak from the handsome Frenchman who ran Awesome Adventures rentals on the beach, so he suggested we start on the lagoon side (a 5 minute walk across the road to the other side of the peninsula).

We slathered on the last of our sunscreen and set about exploring the lagoon side of Placencia. A quieter side, there were properties on either side of us, as many long islands are inhabited in the lagoon. Sorry, no photos until the second half of the afternoon; we were too busy kayaking. 🙂

The water’s edge wherever it is left wild is like what I imagine mangroves to be. Viny roots with big tough leaves bend in and out of the water, and we moved out to the south end and into the open ocean water quite easily.

We pulled our kayak up on the shore at the pier and went for a swim before heading back around to the ocean side to complete our loop.


As we came into shore I realized our mistake in not returning to the lagoon. As I mentioned before, the west shoreline is covered in thick seaweed which makes it less than ideal for swimming, but it also happened to be covered in plastic garbage. Pop bottle and water bottle lids, straws, plastic juice containers and broken pieces of every colour man-made garbage you can imagine. We were told that “it is not normally like this”; apparently a recent flash flood in Guatemala washed all their garbage into their rivers and therefore into the ocean. It made my heart hurt to see this, as I have never seen such litter on such a grand scale, especially in such a beautiful, natural place.

(I took these photos later that day, when the waves weren’t as high and most of the garbage was held against the shore by the seaweed.)

We had an audience as we paddled up to the shoreline as a group of volunteers had just arrived that day to clean up the shoreline. As my mom stepped out of the kayak I realized what was coming and braced myself for the incoming wave. Let me tell you, there was a collective gasp and grimace on all the faces of the volunteers as garbage and seaweed washed up my shirt and across my back, not once, but twice before I could step out of the kayak properly. If that doesn’t make one seriously consider changing their plastic consumption, I’m not sure what else will. Imagining the wildlife affected and how this isn’t even the worst situation that exists in the world, it just makes my heart hurt.

After rinsing off (!) and some lunch, we took some fresh pineapple and made ourselves pina coladas, and headed to the beach at the pier for a final afternoon of swimming and sunning.

Our last treat that afternoon was finally trying Bakerman John’s famous cinnamon buns! Delicious.

When we walked by the “garbaged beach” later that night we saw bags piled and only seaweed along the water’s edge.

Our last dinner was pizza at Chachi’s, and a shot of homemade bitters with the owners! We then got to hang out while 2 of them practiced for a gig later that week. One played the cajon (box drum), and the other, a Charinga; a Peruvian ukulele! It was a perfect way to relax on our last night in this totally chill place.

The flight on the tiny plane to Belize City gave us great departing views of this tropical place.

So long Placencia!

And then I went to Italy… Sardegna, to be exact.

The alternate name for this post could also be: A heckuva lot of beach photos … 😁

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Helloooo, Italy.

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The opportunity came up for me to volunteer at another workaway in an Italian town I had never heard of: Cala Gonone.

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I received the request in mid-August to come stay in Sardegna for the end of September; the two weeks after I was to fly back home.

Sometimes you feel the need to jump at an opportunity that might be once in a lifetime, so I jumped.

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I’m lucky to have a good friend who is a travel agent so she organized it all for me. 😊

Buongiorno, Olbia!

I arrived at the Olbia airport to meet my lovely only-Italian-speaking airbnb host Monica, and another guest arriving that same day from Berlin: Lou, a German online photo-editor who was in Sardegna for a two-week vacation, and one week of that would be rock climbing in Cala Gonone!

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The next morning, after a brief exploration of the old part of Olbia with Lou and a proper Italian cappuccino, of course, I made my way back to the airport (with a free bus ride 😁 because I think the bus driver was mad I wanted to pay with cash instead of a ticket and refused my money- whoops! 😳).

I purchased a ticket for the Deplano bus from the airport to Cala Gonone. It’s a €16 trip from the Olbia airport and took about 2 hours.

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And the entire trip I was in absolute awe of my surroundings.
The drive was an adventure all its own, worth every penny, and I’m not surprised that people can take a bus around the entire island like a tour. The scenery is gorgeous!!

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Not sure if you can see them, but there is a pile o’ sheep on that hill.

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I arrived in Cala Gonone and my host Claudio introduced me to his  parents who had come over for a visit. His mother only speaks Italian but his dad speaks Italian and French so he and I could communicate well! 🙂

The garden and apartment are beautiful, and there are fruit trees and fresh herbs and olive trees surrounding us.

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Possibly one of the most delightfully surprising discoveries of my trip was the lemon tree in the next door neighbors’ yard. We were grateful to pick one or two almost every day, and by far, they were the most flavourful, delicious lemons I have tasted in my entire life.

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I also met the adorable pets of household: Flora, Claudio’s dog, and Leo, his cat.

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I didn’t have much time to relax or even unpack, as almost immediately after my arrival, Claudio took me to the final evening of a festival in the local town of Dorgali.

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Sardinians are very proud of their culture and traditions and it was amazing to see everyone celebrate it together.

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Right away we came across a group of guys playing live local music. And they just didn’t stop!

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The launeddas (triple pipe) was the most impressive, and it reminded me of a bagpipe with one pipe playing constant sound like a drone.
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Live traditional Sardegnian music within 24 hours of arriving in Italy? Incredible!



Claudio knew all the locations of various traditional food and historical displays, and we spent the evening walking all over the town from one place to the next!

There was free wine all over the place- all private collections by owners of the shops/homes along the street. And just try saying no to Italians. I dare you. 😜

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Many people opened the main floor of their homes and set up food or art or historical artifacts from the region and invited everyone in!

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We watched women make cheese tarts with fresh mint (even the  pastry was made by hand) and cook them in a traditional wood burning oven.

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Claudio showed me where they were roasting traditional pork (porchetta) outside around an open fire and we watched a man throw pottery, handing off completed pieces to the young boy standing next to him…

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We watched some women dancing and more launeddas (a group performance this time), saw original (ancient) and traditional handmade clothing of the area, tried many versions of local cheese (picorino) and I had my first taste of pane carasau (a light crisp flat bread that is served at every meal; farmers used to bring it out to the fields because it was light and lasted a long time), we perused  local artwork, and drank lots of wine…

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There were some festival contests in the street, too, like “guess how much the cow weighs and if you guess right, you win the cow”, and “guess how high this cheese is hanging off the ground and you can win it”.

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Yep. 🙂
I have been told that there is not much produce-style agriculture in the area, other than wine. Lots of sheep, though. 🙂 (approximately 3 million sheep, actually)
I also had a seada, which is a baked cheese pastry served with honey. The cheese is local new/young locally made pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and it’s actually a dessert! It was absolutely delicious.

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I felt like the only non-Italiano speaking person in the whole village, but apparently this festival brings in all sorts of tourists.
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My fellow workawayer and roommate for my two weeks here was Ravit, from Israel. She is a photographer and anthropologist and has fallen in love with the island here and is taking some tour groups around in October.

 


The food here is very good and quite inexpensive. Ravit and I often made meals together, and we only shared two meals with Claudio in his house upstairs.

 

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Ravit made amazing tuna cakes and tahini dressing!

One afternoon Claudio made us risotto with onions and zucchini, and another day his mom and dad came over for a visit and his mom made us all culugiones (which are Sardinian ravioli) and breaded aubergines. The culugiones reminded me of the love child of manicotti and perogies, served with tomato sauce and cheese on top. Sooo good!

 

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Just a typical street sign with a painting underneath it. 😉

The town of Cala Gonone is a tourist hotspot on the island and is very busy in the summer months and then closes up at the end of September, so shops and restaurants are becoming quieter and quieter and one by one closing up for the ‘winter’ season.

 

 

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Cork and leather purses. Beautiful.

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Masks like the ones worn in Carnivale in the new year.

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Our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the beach as well as the restaurants and shops, and it’s also easy to walk down to the port and take a boat to get to the beaches further south on the island that are not accessible by the road.

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Alternatively, to get to these beaches, you can rent a kayak.

 

😁

😎

So of course I did.
Twice.

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Cala Luna
is the first popular beach south of Cala Gonone, and it took me only an hour and ten minutes to get there, and it was over some of the most incredible blue water I have ever seen!

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There are also caves here if you want some shade. Enormous, wonderful caves.

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The second time I was headed to Cala Luna but decided to stop at the little beach just before. You can only access it by boat or hiking, so it was pretty quiet with only a few people there, and the swimming is perfection.

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These beaches are excellent spots to bring a picnic, but to kayak there and back was the best excuse to warrant going for gelato back in town, or better yet, go for pizza. The pizza here is just the way I like it: fire burning oven-cooked, thin crust style. And inexpensive! A marguerita pizza is only €5 or €6! (And they are not small!)

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The town of Cala Gonone may get busy in the summer and cater to tourists, but it doesn’t feel commercial like other beach-towns I have been to before.

There were still many (mostly German) tourists, and I met up again with my new friend Lou partway through her climbing week.

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Now I have a friend to visit in Berlin!

One day Claudio picked us some cactus fruit on his way back from work and prepared them for us.

img_5876Ravit has has them often because they are all over in Israel, but I had never tried a “prickly pear”!

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You have to wear gloves to handle them because they have tiny needles you can barely see and are painful and irritating if you get them stuck in your fingertips. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and soft and full of giant seeds you swallow whole (I can assure you from personal experience don’t even attempt to bite!).

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Another fruit I discovered was the corbezzolo ‘berries’ that happened to grow in Claudio’s garden. They look almost like a lycee and are ripe when they turn red. They are squishy and the pokey-looking exterior is actually soft. They are like nothing I have ever had. Not too sweet, with a slight citrus-crossed-with-fig flavour, and the texture of a strawberry. (How’s that for a description?)
The workaway jobs at the apartment have been mostly painting. Some simple things like refreshing the white paint on exterior garden walls, while others are tougher like sanding off years of old paint from metal benches and lots of detail-work like adding Greece-inspired blue trim around the garden, and faux-finishing furniture to look antiqued.

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It seems I was destined to paint blue this summer, be it called “Picasso”, “Sky” or “Sea Breeze”.

 

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This was the beauty of mixing an exterior wall paint to match the bright blue furniture inside.

What’s amazing is that every day our schedule was entirely affected by  how much it looks like ‘beach weather’. For example, on particularly nice days we would  work for a couple hours in the morning, and then go to the beach at the heat of the day, go swimming, sunbathe, and then come back home and finish the day’s work. This is possibly the dream kind of job, really.

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One afternoon we went out to the countryside property of Claudio’s family and helped organize wood for the winter. The work was removing giant nails and screws and fencing wire from old boards and fence posts and chopping various lengths of wood that were piled all around the garage there, all while taking turns playing soccer with Flora.

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But the view here? Woooo!

Every day there were beautiful skies, gorgeous sunsets, and stunning sunrises. Great photo ops for this beach-lover.

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Buongiorno, Olbia!

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On the last full day in Sardegna Ravit and I joined Claudio and his parents to harvest all the grapes from their vineyard!

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Thank goodness it’s a tiny vineyard. 😁😳

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Afterwards we went to his parent’s home in Nuoro where they have an entire room and basement to make wine.

We had a delicious pasta lunch, including some of their home made wine.
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First they washed all the equipment with a high pressure hose, and we set up the grinder on top of the juice barrel and stainless steel ramp/trough from the front garden into the basement window. Then Claudio and Ravit dumped the 18 cassettes of grapes onto the trough and Claudio’s dad and I used pieces of wood to push the grapes through the grinder (grapes and stems, but no leaves).

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Once they are all through the grinder, Claudio raked them out evenly, and put weight on them to create the juice.

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Claudio says that he has been helping his parents make this wine every year as long as he can remember.

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One thing I have never heard of before is using the same grapes to make both white and red wine!
Claudio’s family immediately drains 20% of the juice from the large barrel of grapes within the hour of macerating them. They make the vino bianco from this.
Then they wait 5 or 6 days for the grapes to sit in the barrel and then drain all the juice then, and then they will use a press to squeeze the remaining juice and flavour from the pulp and wood left in the barrel, and add that to the dark juice and make the vino rosso.
I then learned that the rest of the grape fibre/wood/skins is what is  used to make grappa.

We got to try some of the grape juice after the ‘vino bianco’ was drawn. It tasted unlike any grape juice I have ever had.

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It doesn’t quite look like white wine to me yet…
I stayed overnight in Nuoro before taking the Deplano bus back to Olbia for my flight to Paris. (Being October 2, we were now in the ‘winter season’ and the bus didn’t run to Cala Gonone any more.)
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It was only an €8 ticket from Nuoro, and just less than 2 hours drive. Before checking in for my flight I even had time to get a pizza at the outdoor restaurant next to the airport. 🙂

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An easy flight back to Paris for one night, and the inspiration to leave my luggage at the airport for the night so I wouldn’t have to lug it around the metro with less than 24 hours on the city. For €18, I could leave it at the security baggage check at Terminal 2, and I felt like a genius. 😎

I then made my way to the Eiffel Tower where I caught a gorgeous sunset and snapped a couple photos before heading to my friend Hugo’s apartment where I got to enjoy a visit with him before we both crashed for the night.

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The next morning we headed off at the same time- Hugo to work, and me back to the airport.

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I savoured one last croissant and café crème before boarding my flight home!

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And thus ends my unforgettable summer travel of 2016! ❤️

…Okay, a few more beach photos because I can’t help it. 😁

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 Okay, and a video.


 😘

So many adventures in the Vienne Valley…

On weekends we occasionally hear a scream or sharp yell that echoes across the valley as numerous thrill-seekers take their turn and jump off the viaduct. 

Have I mentioned that there is bungee jumping off the viaduct in our little village? Because there is. Along with a ropes course through the trees along either side, and two long zip lines that cross the Vienne River. 


I have no interest in bungee-jumping, myself, but I love ziplining and the ropes course looks like it would make for a fun afternoon on a future weekend. 🙂

What I have done is gone kayaking down the Vienne River. It’s gorgeous and a bit challenging because the river is actually shallow enough to create tiny ‘rapids’ where the water has to maneuver over rocks. 


Craig joined me on my first voyage from L’Isle Jourdain downstream to Moussac, and it was his first time trying kayaking ever! 


Apart from a couple of tricky moments getting caught in the rocks (no danger here- we could easily step out and adjust if we needed to because the water is only a foot or two deep), it was gorgeous and peaceful. We even kayaked past a herd of cows hanging out in the shallow shoreline.


It was an excellent hour on the river and I plan to go again on the longer stretch of L’Isle Jourdain to Queaux, a two-hour trip.


We took a day to check out LaRoche Posay, just over an hour away from us and where the famous natural healing spring water Spa is. I was also informed that cancer patients receive three weeks’ stay free at the spa to make use of the healing and relaxing spring water benefits, on the French government’s dime. Amazing.  
Craig and Sini and I drove there one Thursday, with my purpose to get a massage at the spa, and theirs to go for a picnic lunch and explore the town. 
The spa is almost hidden, in a low, dark wood, unassuming building shaded by trees (and behind a small, rustic mini-golf course), and I was about to ask for directions when I came upon the sliding glass front doors. 

Inside is calm and elegant, and I was given my robe and towel and  a tour of the building and amenities. The sauna, steam room, and pool are all included with the price of any service at the spa, or €35 if you just want to swim and steam. 🙂
The pool is lit with LED lights along the edges and changes from turquoise to blue to purple to green in a cycle, and has programmable jets at one end and in the middle. (I felt that when the pool was purple it looked the most magical.) 😉  



I snapped a couple of photos before seeing a sign that asks that phones are not allowed.
There was a little cafe where complimentary herbal tea and flower-infused water was available, an outdoor patio with giant bean-bag cushions, lounge chairs, cocoon baskets and even a couple pool-side beds to spend hours in.


I had a relaxation massage, and both preceded and followed it with time in the eucalyptus-infused steam room, and then enjoyed some tea and some sun on the outdoor patio. 

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Hilariously, I had to wait for a swim because just as I was about to get in, an aquafit class started: the pool became packed with seniors and a cheery but extremely loud instructor started yelled instructions to them and counting off moves. “Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Encore! Un! Deux! Trois! Quatre! Cinq! Six! Sept! Huit! Une fois de plus! Un! Deux! …” 

An hour later the pool was a relaxing space again, and I went for a swim, followed by a soak in their luxurious hot tub. It was divine!
I met up with Sini and Craig and we discovered a small market in the town centre and tried the local macarons (coconut, almond, and chocolate), before heading home.


On our way to LaRoche Posay I had noticed a beautiful set of buildings as we passed through La Puye, and on the way back we stopped in. It turns out that an ancient monastery is now the set of buildings for the local retirement home and we went exploring in the huge elegant church on the grounds there. 




The lady who showed us the church was very kind and barely spoke one word of English so I got to practice as the translator between the four of us. I told her where we were all from and she said she had a nephew living in Manitoba (of all places! small world), so she asked about the  forest fires we had in Alberta in June this year and how much she would like to visit Canada.




The drive to and from LaRoche Posay was so beautiful, I would be happy to go again any time, even if we weren’t headed to the spa…. But that pool…. 🙂

Corinne and Gilles wanted to have friends over for a party and show them the progress this summer, so we went in search of some wildflowers to decorate the house. We have seen loads along the tiny roads nearby all summer, but after a couple of really hot weeks many had dried up and we had to venture off our normal routes a bit to find them all. 

Craig looking way to serious as our ‘bouquet-holder’.

 
What we also discovered was an amazing amount of *blackberries*. 

It turns out that blackberry bushes make great natural fences along farms and they aren’t really harvested for sale or anything, and we discovered two fantastic spots that I plan to return to over the next couple of weeks!! 

These are the sweetest blackberries I have ever tasted!

Back at the house we set up for the party! We used sheets and pillows to organize the back yard in the Moroccan-style, bright-colours that I know Corinne plans to design the final courtyard with cheerful fabrics, lots of cushions, and many comfortable places to sit. 

Inside, the living room looked like a completely different space from when I first arrived, with all new insulated, plastered, and painted walls, new furniture, and most importantly, neither tools nor stepladders nor paint cans nor piles of wood lying around! 🙂

Here are the ‘Before’ photos of the living room and backyard and upstairs “winter garden”:

Living Room BEFORE/In process

Backyard IN PROCESS

With a new floor and new wall, the soon-to-be “winter garden” as a storage/workspace.


‘After’ photos below, along with some details: sangria dispenser, decanters, food, and our wildflowers! Outside looked like a different country, the living room finally looked like a living room, (with room again for the guitars, piano, and sound system) and upstairs the ‘winter garden’ looked comfy and inviting!

It was so cool to see this space with all the updates and improvements so far. With music, great food, friends, and a rainstorm that held off until the night was winding down, it was like a great send off to Craig and Sini, who left the next day, and it means I will help at other places in the village for the next couple of weeks while Corinne and Gilles take a vacation!

Sini, me, Craig, and Viktor!

Bahamas 2016; New Providence Revisited!

A return trip to Nassau was in order after our dream of a vacation last March. We booked our stays again with Airbnb: one week again at Sarah and Derek’s, and a second week with Shaun and Christine.

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We arrived to windy and cloudy weather, and a rainstorm that started late in the evening and woke us up with it’s heavy hitting raindrops throughout the night! We woke to cloudy skies and wind, but the smell of the sea and warm breezes just can’t be beat!

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Breakfast on the patio was yet again delicious as always, and we did meet some of the other guests in the house, though there were fewer than the previous year by half!

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Like last year, we made dinner one night for Sarah and Derek: my dad’s famous Caesar salad and my mom’s famous Lemon Meringue Pie! Without an electric mixer, that meringue was truly made with love. Hand whipping egg whites to create meringue takes tenacity and strong wrists! 😀

 

We had our favourite spots we planned to see, but also had a few new locations on our to do list, including an organic farm/market/restaurant, the Primeval Forest, The Island House, sea kayaking, and a sailing cruise. We did however, make sure we touched the ocean every day.

 

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Walking back from Love Beach.

With windy and slightly rainy weather, we booked our exploration to ‘inside’ sights in our first week. We re-visited the National Art Gallery, which was showcasing the life’s work of Brent Malone, a Bahamain artist, and it was a real assortment from sketches to prints to sculpture to paint, from abstract to realism and everything in between. It could have been a collection of different artists, his work was so varied. I think our favourite pieces were his more recent work with Junkanoo as the subject matter. You could hear the drums and cowbells!  🙂

We took the bus most places (#10 and #12 travelled most of the length of West Bay street), but often we chose to walk because the weather was nice enough and we had the time! The funny thing? There are no sidewalks. No one walks on New Providence. They drive or take the bus. (There are very few cyclists, even.) This meant taking your life into your hands when traffic got busy, as there is barely any room on either side of the road for any sort of pedestrian traffic.

Bus drivers overall were very kind. We often noticed they drove out of their way to drop someone off or pick someone up, and no one on the bus seemed to mind. We were often driven off the main road closer to our destination simply because the driver knew where we were headed and said “Well, wouldn’t want to walk that far!” and would drive an extra 5 minutes out of their way. We even had one bus driver offer to take us the extra distance to Jaws Beach (not on the normal bus route, but sometimes alright if you gave the bus driver an extra $5), and then he asked us what time we wanted to be picked up and he came back to get us!

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A very quiet Jaws Beach

Goodfellow farms was amazing! It is owned by a Canadian family and they use Aquaponics to grow their food. They keep Tilapia fish in several giant tanks, and the water is used to fertilize lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, tomatoes, strawberries, and I’m sure much more. Then the water, cleaned by the plants growing in it, is recycled in the tilapia tanks.

We had some of the best food on our trip in the restaurant on the grounds there (I don’t normally gush about vegetables, but OH, the salad!!). They also have a small store with specialty foods, and locally made ice cream.

The Primeval Forest was actually ridiculous to get to. We were told we could walk from the organic farm to the entrance, (“about 5 km”), but it turned out these directions were beyond optimistic, and when we asked to confirm the walking route on our map with the folks at the restaurant, they gawked and told us we would need a car for sure, and called us a taxi.

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The forest was fascinating, with very strict instructions to”stay on the steel-reinforced pathway unless you want to chance falling into a sinkhole”. There was also a type of tree there that was supposedly 10 times worse than poison ivy or poison oak, which made our wander through even more trepidatious. With a  $10 entrance fee, it is an interesting way to spend 30-45 minutes seeing the last un-touched area and oldest trees of the Bahamas, but not  a vital must-see.

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It felt like a place Tarzan would be very comfortable in.

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We also checked out the caves– a step off the main road and 5-10 minutes tops to explore. Free, and easy to check out if you are interested in seeing where the pirates liked to hide on the island back in the day.

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A highlight of our trip was definitely the All-Day Sailing Cruise we took with Barefoot Sailing Tours. It was something my mom wanted to book last year but I wasn’t interested. Boy was I glad she convinced me this year!

The weather was perfect for our travels over to Rose Island, with 3 hours of sailing, and 3 hours at the island to swim snorkel and tan, and a bbq lunch on the boat made by the captain himself.

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The water was straight out of a travel magazine, and we couldn’t believe its beauty even as we swam. The snorkelling was fantastic, and we saw everything from (small!) Barracuda to parrot fish to baby squid.

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Our sailboat is on the right!

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We thought that we had planned well with regularly re-applying sunscreen, but we got cooked that day! Happily ‘sail-boat-cooked’. 🙂

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Our second week had calmer weather days, and the temperature jumped and we spent almost every day at the beach. We learned in our first week that no amount of 100% Deet bug spray kept away the no-see-ums (aka sand fleas) that like to hang out in the sand and LOVE to bite us, and keeping off the sand was vital to our happiness. (In fact, we are now educated that we should likely start taking Benadryl several days before our trip to get our immune systems boosted against the allergic reactions we have to the bites.)

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We frequented the beach by Sandyport Resort, where we would make good use of the beach chairs and umbrellas they so generously supply. 🙂 The restaurant there, The Blue Sail, makes excellent pizzas.

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I don’t recall finding this out last year but ALL beaches in the Bahamas are public. There is no such thing as a private beach; the law states that 30m up from the high water mark is public beach on every single one of the 700+ islands. Even the beach at Atlantis is free to the public, whether you are staying at the resort or not (though we hear it is always crowded).

 

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The Island House is a dreamy resort that is not on the beach and it doesn’t matter. Our friend Sarah suggested we go see a movie in their 40-seat theatre on one of the stormier days, and we felt like we had stumbled on a movie set; it was such an out-of-this-world hotel.

It was definitely a ‘happy place’ of ours for the trip, and we saw two movies there and tried out the restaurant Mahogany House for lunch on our last day in the Bahamas.

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Deluxe and comfortable seats, with tables to hold your wine or beer as you watch and leather footstools to be extra comfortable.

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My mother, the model/movie star.

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I could get used to this! 😉

Unless I win the lottery or marry a millionaire, I will never be able to afford to stay here, but I will pay it a day-visit whenever I am in Nassau!

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Speaking of food, we, of course, had to have another freshly made conch salad, this time, complete with a grapefruit Radler beer, at Dino’s. Now, we learned a very important new tip: if we wanted to see our lunch without having to wait 40-80 minutes (the epitome of island time, people, island time!): Call ahead and order in advance. Then when you arrive your order goes to the front of the line (and you wait 15-20 minutes instead of an hour)!

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We also splurged on the insanely classy Sapodilla restaurant, with the most elegant atmosphere (and menu) of our entire vacation.

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Live piano was being played in the lounge throughout our entire dinner, and we were even offered a ride to and from the restaurant when we made our reservation. We were also asked if it was a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, etc) so they could plan accordingly for our arrival.

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They made Caesar salad at the table, and it was just like Dad’s!

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Seriously, go to this restaurant. It is spectacular.

(Expert tip: don’t order water; order Persecco: they cost the same.)

 

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We did revisit the fish fry and Sonja’s bbq Jerk truck, and Twin Brother’s and their fabulous pina colada/daquiri slush on a couple of our evenings, as well. We love our Bahamian food. 🙂

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We spent as much time on or in the water as possible, and were able to rent a kayak and explore the west end of the island via the ocean, and it felt like a private island as we paddled along! It was peaceful and gorgeous!

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It was also cool to learn the names of the creatures that we came across, as our host Shaun was an avid diver and had these great snorkelling cards to identify fish and wildlife in the waters around New Providence.

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Until next time, Nassau… 🙂

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A Staycation for the summer

Last summer I did not do any travelling, as much I hoped I would be, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t get to enjoy many opportunities for adventure and entertainment in my hometown and the nearby area.

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Summer is the best time of year in Calgary so I was happy to be home.

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June brought the Cirque Du Soleil show “Kurios: Cabinet of Kuriosities” to Calgary, and with the steam-punk look that is trending right now, I was looking forward to getting tickets for my family. We got phenomenal seats, and enjoyed one of the best touring Cirque shows I have ever seen.

One thing I missed last summer and was thrilled to get to do again was sign up for a beach volleyball team. The Calgary Sport and Social Club has games almost every night of the week in the summer, from volleyball to soccer to ultimate frisbee to badminton. It was excellent. I always sign up for the singles team which ends up leading to meeting new people and new friendships, and sometimes, we end up playing together so well we sign up as a team the following season. I have no photos, however, so you’ll have to believe me on this one. 🙂

We also got a lot of barbecuing in this summer, which is definitely my favourite way to cook.

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Grilled veggies and chicken with only spices and olive oil. Perfection.

Even walking along the river pathways in town was a regular evening activity in the beautiful summer weather.

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This is the pathway by Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Market.

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The next thing I did was take my kayak out of storage for the first time in three years. I didn’t have anyone to kayak with so I didn’t stray far from home. I spent many days of my summer on the Glenmore Reservoir and wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Next summer I hope to do some river kayaking but hopefully I’ll have company.

 

I got to work on the Calgary Grandstand Show a the Calgary Stampede for a few days, and if you have ever been to Calgary in July, or live here, you know that the first ten days of the month every year are a big crazy busy mess of international tourists, western gear like boots and cowboy hats, and free pancake breakfasts every day of the week.

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I never had this view before: from the stage!

The grandstand show has over 100 performers from age 6, up.

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A pancake breakfast seems like the closest thing to a “Canadian” meal I can think of, or at least a “Calgarian” tradition that I think is unique to Calgary. You can truly find several free breakfasts all over the city every day of stampede, and likely even the week before it begins. They usually include pancakes, bacon or sausage, sometimes eggs, sometimes hashbrowns. It’s a great way to celebrate community. I moved downtown this summer and got to attend a local breakfast that included live music, good food, and running into old friends that I now know are neighbors!

For the first time, Slide The City came to Calgary. It is three large slip-and-slides set up on a street and you can buy a one-slide, three-slide, or unlimited-slides pass, and you get an inner tube to ride down. I bought a pass and met up with a good friend on the day to try it out. It was a two day event, and we went on the second day. Weather was perfect. We had a great time and I’d happily pay for unlimited slides next time. There’s an art to going fast, and avoiding bad collisions with other, less successful sliders.

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Going to the Calgary Folk Festival is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I was sad to miss it in 2014. I tell people that if I am in town for this weekend of the year, I am unavailable unless they come down to Prince’s Island Park. I volunteer all four days, and plan my schedule to catch as many different artists as possible. There are multiple stages and dozens of artists. My favourite parts of the day are the ‘workshops’; where several artists perform together. Every year I discover new groups and musicians that I love.

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And the following weekend: another festival!

Something I haven’t attended since I was in university is the South Country Fair.

It’s located in Fort Macleod (about 90 minutes south of Calgary) and the best way to experience it is to camp there.

We drove down on the Friday morning in grey cloudy rain-stormy weather. It was a damp set up of our campsite, with nothing more than our tent and our car nestled between dozens of other tents, trailers, and vehicles. I have never seen closer, cosier camping than at this festival. It’s at a park, not an official campground, so there are no designated spots. Bring your earplugs if you want to guarantee sleep…

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Oh yes, it’s a cozy camping experience. It was very community-building! 🙂

There was live music Friday night, all afternoon and evening Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon. The weather cleared up by Friday night and the last band started playing after midnight, so we understood why no events really got started until noon on Saturday and Sunday.

The other crazy thing is, the site is on a riverbed and the acoustics are crazy good, so we heard the music at our tent almost as clearly as on the field directly in front of it.

There were people attending that didn’t even leave their campsites because they could hear the music from their campfire. There were lots of families and little kids, and it really felt just like we went camping with a huge group of friends and some of them play music. We will definitely be doing it again!

 

We even tried out hooping, and it turns out my mom is a natural! It took me several tries, but once I got the hang of it, we got a good core workout for a little while!

My hiking partner and I had very different schedules this summer and she only had weekends free to hike with me, while I had booked up my weekends with travel and festivals.

We did get one hike in on a hot and sunny afternoon in August. We went out to Running Rain Lake, which is in Kananaskis, about a ten minute drive past the very popular Ptarmigan Cirque and Pocaterra Tarn hikes.

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I love the mountains, and don’t even have to be hiking them to enjoy them.

I took a drive out to Canmore with one of my best friends, got some coffee, and wandered the pathways in town, exploring the local shops and then just sitting by the river appreciating how incredible nature is.

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At the end of the summer, okay, truly this was in the fall, I spend a weekend at a cabin with friends just north of Calgary on Burnt Stick Lake.

I always thought that beautiful cottage locations were only found in BC or Ontario, but to my delight this is a hidden gem less than two hours away from home.

We did everything from roast hot dogs and make s’mores, to setting off fireworks on the shore and playing cards by a roaring fireplace. It was just one night away but it reminds me how much I love the idea of owning a cottage property in my future.

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Other local autumn-season things included my first experience at the Calgary International Film Festival! I saw the intense and incredible story of Room, the heart-stopping thrilling mountain-climbing story of Meru, and the charming tale of Brooklyn. I highly recommend all three!

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Overall it was an excellent summer at home, appreciating the best of my city and events nearby! Hopefully my next summer entry will again be across the pond!