Incredible Ireland

When my close friend from McGill Brianna Miller was named to the 2017 World Cup Squad, I knew I had to go. She would be playing alongside many of my other friends and past teammates in the most important tournament in women’s rugby…that seemed like a once in a lifetime travel opportunity I couldn’t pass up. To make matters even better, the tournament would be held in Ireland!

I played in my own semi-final rugby match on Saturday afternoon before rushing home to shower and hop in an uber to the airport. I flew overnight with a quick stop in Iceland before landing in Dublin at 10AM. I headed straight to our Airbnb to meet up with my travel compadres—Elai, Bryce, Steph, and Lauren. We did not waste any time heading to Dublin’s infamous Temple Bar for a pre-game Guiness; when in Rome!

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Afterwards, we made our way to UCD for Canada’s second pool game against Wales. The game was a low-scoring nail-biter, but Canada was able to come away with a 15-0 win. Following the game, we headed to an organized dinner/drinks event for all the Canadian supporters at a local pub. Running off the excitement of being in Ireland with friends, we made our way to Temple Bar for a late night out full of live music and beer.

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The next morning we eventually got out of bed to begin our first day of exploring. We had a delicious brunch on our way downtown before heading to our next destination, St Patricks Cathedral. After wandering around the beautiful church, we headed towards the nearby Guiness Storehouse. We did a self-guided tour through the massive five-storey building before reaching the Gravity Bar on the top floor, where we enjoyed a pint with a 360 view of Dublin. I am not sure if it was all in my head, but I genuinely enjoyed the dark beer far more than I expected to.

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Our next stop was a family and friends event for Team Canada held at the Canadian ambassador’s residence. We were running late so we decided it was necessary to get a cab; unfortunately for us, there were none in sight. Our only alternative mode of transportation was a horse-drawn carriage, so we did what we had to do. Also unfortunately for us, the horse or his driver had no sweet clue where we needed to go and they dropped us off further away from tour destination than we started. All in all, a huge scam that cost us way too much time and money, but a great story! The event featured a lovely spread of food and wine, but most importantly it was great to see and chat with all the girls we know on the team.

After the event, we enjoyed a traditional Irish meal at Dublin’s oldest pub; I indulged in bangers n’ mash, while others got Irish stew! Continuing on that theme, we headed for a nearby pub to hear more traditional Irish music. The music setup resembled 15 friends in a living room jamming out to whatever song came to mind next. Based on the photos on the wall, it seemed the group was comprised of resident musicians that play at this bar quite regularly.

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Elai, Steph, Lauren and I got up bright and early the next day to pick up our rental car and head for the countryside. Steph bravely volunteered to be the primary driver for our excursion and she adjusted to the wrong side of the road like a pro! Our first stop was a short jaunt in the beautifully green Wicklow National Park.

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Next up was Kilkenny, known as the medieval town for its many medieval buildings still intact. We wandered through the beautiful cobblestone streets, grabbed lunch at a cute café, and stopped in for a visit at Kilkenny Castle.

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Our final stop of the day was Cork. Cork is known within Ireland as one of the rougher parts of the country, but it made sense logistically to make our way further West before another big day of driving. We checked into our Airbnb and headed into town for dinner. We could see evidence of the city’s rough reputation on the first part of our walk, but the city centre was actually quite nice. We had a lovely dinner at Gallagher’s Gastropub that was made even better by amazing (non-Irish) live music.

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The next morning we set off for Blarney Castle before leaving Cork, famous for the Blarney Stone. Legend goes that if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you will be blessed with eloquence. Of course, we could not resist missing out on this endowment, and we waited patiently in the long line for 10 seconds of glory to kiss the same stone as countless other tourists. The castle was quite beautiful, but the huge grounds were equally so, with massive gardens and greenery.

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Most of Miller’s family had already made their trip to the Cliffs of Moher and they had unlucky foggy weather. It rained heavily for most of our road trip from Cork to the Cliffs of Moher, which was not looking good for us either. Luckily, just as we drove into the parking lot, the clouds parted and the fog disappeared for a relatively clear visit to the Cliffs! The Cliffs of Moher is a natural wonder that is 100% worth the hype; no matter how many tourists crowd this iconic site, its breathtaking beauty cannot even be captured on camera. The other thing that can’t be captured is the terrifying experience of walking so close to an unfenced edge up all that way! I could have happily spent a whole day walking this beautiful coastline.

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Next and last stop of the day was Galway, a quick one hour drive from the cliffs. Galway is known for being a cultural hub with many great restaurants and bars. The town was certainly lively for a Wednesday night by the time we got downtown. We enjoyed yet another great meal and got our first taste of delicious Irish seafood! We definitely wished we had more time in the charming city as we walked around the bustling Latin Quarter. Unfortunately we were limited by the World Cup schedule and had to return to Dublin early the next day to catch our next match.

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We dropped our rental car and headed straight for the field to see Canada face off against number 2 ranked New Zealand. Unfortunately, New Zealand came out strong and Canada did not show up which ultimately resulted in a big win for NZ. This loss disqualified them from the semi-final rounds and put them into the consolation side where they will play for fifth. We stayed to watch the England vs USA game and enjoy the beautiful sunny weather.

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When we got back into Dublin, we went to Trinity College to stroll around and take in the iconic beauty of the campus. Afterwards, we headed to our final Airbnb conveniently located steps from Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, and loads of great restaurants. After a quick power nap, I headed out for a final stroll of the beautiful streets of Dublin before my last dinner. We enjoyed an awesome meal of seafood before heading to meet Bryce at a nearby bar. Bryce’s former teammate (born and raised in Dublin) organized a pub crawl through four of the favourite local spots—far from Temple Bar! We had an awesome last night dancing to throwback tunes until 230AM, when I said goodbye to Lauren and Steph who are in Ireland for another week.

Not even a late night of partying could keep me from enjoying one final good meal at a well-known baker/breakfast spot! After a great breaky, ELai and I parted ways and I headed for the airport. Overall the trip was short and sweet and definitely left me wanting more of Ireland! Ire’ll be back!

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Marvellous Mauritius

Our time in Mauritius was divided–we had 1 day before leaving for Madagascar and 3 days after. We arrived in Mauritius quite late at night and got in a cab towards a hotel we had booked on Expedia near the entrance of the national park I wanted to hike in the following day. As we got further into the journey, the cab driver got more and more concerned, as the hotel was much further than he expected and the route was getting more and more unfamiliar, rainy, and rough. Eventually we got 3km from the hotel when the google maps route brought us to the beginning of a washed out 4WD track. It became clear that the cab driver was not willing to take his new car up this road and we were not walking 3km in the rain at 11pm so we were forced to backtrack all the way back past the airport to a more accessible resort on the beach in Blue Bay. 

We woke up and explored the resort we had taken refuge in, after enjoying our first big American breakfast buffet in a long time. We spent all morning on the beach that looked out over the gorgeous turquoise blue bay.

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Just 10 ft from the shore, the snorkelling was on par with some of the spots I went to at the Great Barrier Reef! It took us 2 drink orders with super long awkward waits for no bill to realize we were at an all inclusive, which certainly altered our consumption for the rest of the day. In the afternoon we went on the resort boat to the middle of the bay for more snorkelling and were again blown away by the sheer number of fish surrounding the boat the moment we hit the water. Though not underwater, the coolest thing I saw was a school of jumping fish, skipping 2 ft out of the water in synchro for more than 100m.

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We snuck in a couple games of bocce ball over the course of the day after getting hooked in Rodrigues. I allowed Nick to win our best of 3 tournament so that he will continue to play with me in the future. As dinner was not yet served before our airport taxi was due, we had no choice but to indulge in the resort crepe bar for dinner–oops!

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Returning to Mauritius after Madagascar was pure luxury. We arrived in the morning and headed straight for our beach villa to reunite with the family. The villa turned out to be unbelievably nice and perfectly situation on the beach in Trou-Aux-Biche, complete with a private pool!

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We spent the afternoon in the sun and enjoying the beautiful villa. We walked on the beach into town for lunch; unfortunately I got sick from the fish I ate at lunch and had to sleep off the bug for the remainder of the day. All I can say is, better there than anywhere else we had stayed–I had the luxury of recovering in my to-die-for king size bed.

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I woke up feeling better and we soaked in the last couple hours at our dream vacation home before our taxi arrived at 12 to take us to Curepipe. Nick’s grandfather lived in Mauritius for over 20 years before moving to Rodrigues and still has an apartment in Curepipe–one of the larger mainland towns on the island. The apartment itself is like a museum with loads of trinkets and antiques!

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In the afternoon we explored the local market and then headed up to Trou-Aux-Cerfs, the local crater site. To me, what makes the landscape of Mauritius so beautiful and unique is the gorgeous green mountains all over the island. Despite being one of the most densely populated islands on earth for its size, the massive sugar cane fields still make the whole island very green and lush.

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Nick’s cousins flew out early on our last day on the island and our flight was not until 1030PM so we had one last day to explore! It was finally time for me to get my redemption from Night 1 and visit my National Park. We did a 2 hour hike with a stope for picnic lunch at a nice river and continued on a scenic drive past Le Morne–a world renowned kitesurfing spot!

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The next stop was Mauritius’ famous Chamarel Waterfall that has been all over my pinterest for ages. It was just as beautiful in real life!

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Next door to the waterfall is the 7 Coloured Earth, which reminded me of Caledon badlands. The colours were created through the transition of basaltic acid to clay minerals.

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And that marked the last hours of our incredible vacation. I can say with certainty that I will also be returning to Mauritius…with a diving license! I’m so thankful to have had such a good excuse to come to part of the world and spend it with such lovely company. Until next time!

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Making Friends with Lemurs in Madagascar!

We arrived in the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo (Tana as the locals say) around 10pm and were greeted by our driver Jonathan. When compared with Mauritius, the 2nd most developed country in Africa after Seychelles, you can feel the difference the moment you walk off the plane. This feeling was heightened as we drove into Tana, a developing city that can look sketchy in broad daylight and worse in the dark. Luckily $40 goes a long way for a night in Madagascar and we felt completely at ease once we arrived at our very nice hotel. Madagascar is ranked 26/53 out of African nations on the Human Development Index in the “low human development” group, behind places like Tanzania and Nigeria and just ahead of Rwanda and Uganda. 

Our driver picked us up the next morning around 9am and we hit the road. Getting out of Tana was a long, enlightening 2 hour ordeal. For a Sunday morning, it felt as though all 1.5 million residents of the city were out roaming the narrow streets. It definitely felt quite crowded and the standard of living was visibly quite low, with a long stretch of plastic tents along the river serving as the city’s “low-income housing.” Once we got out of the city, we stopped for gas and I realized across the street some young kids were playing rugby! Our driver said it was quickly becoming one of the most popular sports; this is made possible by the small amount of equipment required to play, making it relatively low cost. 

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We stopped for lunch at a small “hotely” (fast casual restaurant) along the way and spent a whopping $6 to feed three! Our introduction to Malagasy nature took place at a reserve established by a Frenchman to preserve many of Madagascars most endangered species. This allowed us to see species we would not otherwise see based on the limited geographical area we could cover in 5 days. By far the best part was feeding chameleons grasshoppers on a stick from a distance and watching their tongue stretch out around 2 ft to retrieve their snack. Let me tell you, if humans could do that Casey and I would have fought a lot more at the dinner table.

We arrived at our hotel in Andasibe National Park in the late afternoon–a quaint bungalow in the rainforest. We had some time to relax before our night walk with a local guide. We saw around 4 different types of night lemurs, chameleons, frogs, and to my dismay a big snake. Our biggest surprise was the amazing smell of all the eucalyptus trees lining the road! It blew us away how strong the smell was just passing them. Afterwards we ate dinner at a local restaurant where I had Zebu–the Malagasy version of our common cow.

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The next morning we were up bright and early for our trek through the National Park. Andasibe is most famous for being home to Indri–the largest species of lemur–however, it is a haven of biodiversity for many of Madagsdcar’s endemic species. Depending on the source, 80-90% of species in Madagascar are ONLY found in Madagascar. On our 3 hour walk we certainly didn’t even begin to see the tip of the iceberg. Try and spot the animal in this picture!

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It is completely beyond me how our guide was able to spot this leaf-tailed gecko perfectly camouflaged against this thin tree. Our first lemur experience was with common brown lemurs when a family of 5-6 leaped down to surround us! At this point, this was quite a thrill.

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We continued on our mission to find Indri; they are not only the biggest species but also the loudest. Out guide had an audio recording of their call on his phone which he used to try and find them. Sure enough, they replied louder than ever and we were able to trace the family shortly after. Watching the lemurs jump between trees was, without a doubt, the coolest part. They are extremely mobile, as if they have lemur fitbits counting their leaps!

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Another very cool insect we saw on our journey was the widely-studied giraffe weevil, characterized by it’s long neck. The neck is used by males to fight for the right to mate with a female and by women to roll a leaf tube nest for their egg; how typical! 

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After the national park, we visited Vakona Island–a small lemur reserve for those that weren’t as lucky as us in Andasibe (true wilderness). It also gave us the chance to get up close and personal with the lemurs as we fed them their all-time favourite snack, bananas!

We then hit the road for a couple of hours to reach the Eastern town of Manambato. The last stretch of the drive to the coast was a pretty treacherous 4WD track that few normal cars would survive. I had gathered from my research on Madagascar that renting a car was widely considered to be unsafe. That sentiment was confirmed at every step of our journey and the public bus system (“taxi brousse”) looked no better! We finally reached our destination and boarded a boat for the last leg of our journey to the Palmarium Reserve, our hotel on a remote island for the next 2 nights. 2017-03-20_10-16-25_863

We were welcomed with drinks in the lovely main lodge and shown to our private cabin overlooking the lake. It was not long until we had company! The island is home to 7 species of lemurs that have become quite friendly with humans over years of stealing bananas! We enjoyed a lovely first dinner with our guide; for our first night, we were the only guests at the hotel, so we had the place to ourselves.

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We had an eventful breakfast with countless attempts by the resident lemurs to steal a slice of our breakfast. They are quite relentless creatures. This was quite novel and hilarious for us, but we could tell it was a tiresome uphill battle for the staff trying to chase them away. Afterwards, we set out on a 2hr tour of the reserve.We began with the many species of palm and trees growing on the island–cinnamon tree, eucalyptus, aloe,  and cacoa to name a few. Next, we said hello to the resident turtles that unfortunately don’t stand a chance in the race for any fresh fruit.

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Of course, we spent the majority of time playing with lemurs! We saw a number of species we had not already had a chance too, including the Coquerel’s sifaka–the species of Zaboomafoo, my childhood TV lemur idol! This lemur is special because, unlike other lemurs, it jumps on its two hind feet when travelling on the ground rather than walking on all fours. It is also more comfortable with the ground than most lemurs; generally speaking, they act as if the ground is hot molten lava and avoid it at all costs.

We got a chance to get really up close and personal with the indri and even stole a kiss!

The last really cool plant we saw was a carnivorous plant called a Pitcher Plant based on on its shape. The plant produces a sweet liquid that sits in the base of the “pitcher,” insects are then lured inside the tube by the scent and trapped in the sticky liquid!

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We spent the afternoon by the water reading in the sun and taking a dip in the lake. We did get period rainfall quite often, as we were still in the tail end of rainy season. It really wasn’t bad, as it was usually brief and followed by hours of clear skys! It turns out the lemurs weren’t the only hungry animals on the island, as Nick woke up in the night to loud noises of geckos/lizards breaking into some German candy in our bags. Afraid to wake me and sound the alarms he waited until morning to inspect and they had actually ripped a hole through the mesh in his bag, broken through plastic, and devoured 3 kinder bars and a pack of gummies! We had one last breakfast with the lemurs bright and early and paid of food/drink tab ($130 for 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 bottle of wine, and a couple of drinks)!

Our last days was spent mostly on the road back to Tana, as it took us around 7 hours of driving to return. I think under-developed infrastructure is one of the most challenging constraints of travelling in a developing country (especially on a time constraint); though the road we were mainly on was 2 years old, the condition was so-so and the route is very indirect. Not to mention, the largest storm in the last 15 years had torn through the country a week and a half prior to our arrival. Small landslides and fallen trees blocking half the road periodically were the most visible sign of the damage; however, we had met a couple of European volunteers in a small village who were there for the storm and said that they had never feared for their life before in the same way. Luckily, the drive is quite scenic–especially in the highlands closer to Tana. There are many rice plantations amongst the lush greenery.

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We ate our last dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was excellent and prepared for our 430AM pickup to return to Mauritius.

Without a doubt, Madagascar is a country I must return to. It is simply not possible to skim the surface in 5 days. I am keen to come back and hike in Tsingy de Bemaraha, as well as see the Baoabs on the West Coast! Most importantly, Madagascar gave me a much needed dose of culture shock after I had been feeling like it had been too long since I had left the comforts of Western civilization. I think it is very healthy to see firsthand how the less fortunate (more than) half of our global civilization lives; unfortunately, it can be easy to forgot how lucky we really are no matter how hard we try. If you do not see first-hand how other people are living their daily life, it is difficult to truly appreciate how good we have it. Some elements of standard to living missing in Madagascar are very obvious–no shoes, primitive shelters, masses of people doing laundry in the brown river based on a lack of running water. Some are less blatant: when we were driving, there seemed to be a lot of children in school uniform walking on the road around 12:30 on a weekday so I asked our guide what the hours of school were; he explained that in the countryside, there are not enough schools and children often walk hours to reach their school, so children attend either a morning or afternoon session of school while children in the city are attending school for a full day–talk about an unfair advantage. Not only do these experiences instill gratitude, they also inspire action to close these significant opportunity gaps. As a very small initial step, I finally used an amazing platform I’ve been meaning to try for a very long time Kiva. Kiva is a non-profit micro-lending platform where users can lend borrowers in developing countries money to start businesses, go to school, etc. and get paid back in the time specified on the loan. Myself and 2 others financed Domoina from Madagascar’s $200 micro-loan to purchase inventory for her small business.

Until next time Madagascar!

Relaxing in Rodrigues

After a 30 hour trek beginning Thursday evening, we arrived on Saturday afternoon in Rodrigues–the small Mauritiuan island of ~30,000 people where Nick’s grandfather Hans lives. We were greeted by his grandfather and uncle, who drove us to Hans’ beautiful home on the top of the mountain. We got settled in and enjoyed a lovely welcome dinner with Nick’s family–his grandfather, sister in from London, and aunt, uncle, and cousins from Frankfurt.

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The next day was slated to be a recovery day by the pool to soak up the sun. Unfortunately I soaked in a little too much despite copious amounts of sunscreen. It is hard to take things like sun in moderation after being deprived all winter long! Rodrigues is quite mountainous and rocky; there are beaches, however, most are not as big as other tropical islands. There is little man-made intervention to cultivate beaches where they are not naturally occurring, as tourism has not yet taken off like it has in Mauritius. With a view like ours, swimming in the pool is not too shabby!

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In the afternoon, we headed into the village to watch a ceremony commemorating Mauritius’s 49th anniversary of independence from Britain. Though Mauritius was most recently controlled by Britain, France also had control at one point. Mauritian people mostly speak French and Creole–a localized spinoff of French. To my own surprise, I spoke more French on this trip than I spoke in my four years living in Montreal! Also to my surprise, I got by! I am actually inspired to continue practicing, as I realize its usefulness for travel more and more (I hear you dad, you told me so).

The next morning we headed to the island’s tortoise sanctuary. All of the native tortoises on Rodrigues became extinct when humans first arrived and began developing their habitats and enjoying turtle soup a little too much. The sanctuary was created to reintroduce the two native species of tortoise to Rodrigues and is now home to over 600 turtles!

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They are very gentle and enjoy humans rubbing their head and neck quite a lot. The oldest tortoise was 80 years old and it only seemed fitting that Nick’s grandfather get a picture given his upcoming 80th birthday later in the week. 

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We enjoyed a nice lunch at the restaurant on-site and set out on a scenic drive to a new bridge used for zip line with the end goal of finding a place to swim in the ocean.

2017-03-13_05-43-12_738We quickly learned that car mishaps are far more enjoyable in Rodrigues than in Canada! We nearly got the car stuck on a “backroad” composed of two concrete tracks and were forced against our will to spend a couple minutes waiting on this hillside with an ok view.

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Next, we got a flat tire on the way to the beach and were again “forced” to go for a group swim in the ocean next to the road as the tire was switched out. A horrible life!

On Tuesday we set out early for Coco island–not far off the coast of Rodrigues. The island has been protected as a bird sanctuary for reasons I’m not sure of, as the tour was in French ha. We enjoyed a sunny day on the white sandy beach and in the warm Indian Ocean nonetheless. I still owe Hans (Nick’s Opa) a bottle of champagne for my last place finish in our game of beach bocce ball. 

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We enjoyed a nice breakfast in town on Wednesday morning at a small cafe owned by a German expat. Afterwards, we explored the local market, which sells mostly produce, meat, fish, and souvenirs. We caught some rays by the pool in the afternoon before heading to Zumba! Nicks Aunt Susan had taken the class the week prior with a local friend of Hans’ and insisted we tried. I was even able to drag Nick along, as we had listened to our favourite podcast (How I Built This) on the inception of Zumba a few weeks ago. The class was packed full of locals and seeing Nick shake his butt on the big stage to Latin music was priceless. We enjoyed a nice dinner out in the evening; Nick and I both learned to never order crab when you are very hungry–too much work. 

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Thursday was spent preparing for Hans’ 80th birthday bash. I must say, I could have gotten used to doing more chores for my parents growing up if I could do them outside in a bikini, and some even in the pool!

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We had around 35 guests in total arrive for a great night of eating, drinking, and dancing. There was an amazing live band that began the night with jazz and transitioned into classic country later on. All in all, the party was a wild success and I certainly hope be partying that hard at 80!

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For our final day in Rodrigues, we chose Trou D’argent, the islands most beautiful beach. It was as picturesque as promised and offered sizeable waves for us to play in. The bay is far less sheltered than other beaches in Rodrigues, with no coral reef protecting it, and we quickly realized the strength of the current when we put our head up from snorkelling and had drifted 40m. We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch on the beach before heading back to the house to pack for the airport.

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I loved Rodrigues for its stunning beauty that is relatively untouched by tourism. I can count on 2 hands the number of tourists we saw from western countries–there were a number of tourists from Mauritius and Reunion. In Rodrigues, people are certainly operating on island time–shops closed by 4, and always on Sundays. Most of all the island was made special by our stay at Hans’ beautiful local home with great company! 

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Fun in Fernie

After a long Christmas season at work, I headed West for a slice of (real) winter and a visit with one of my oldest friends–Jessica! Nick and I flew into Calgary Thursday night after work, picked up our rental car, and headed to my other longtime family friend Mark Taylor’s apartment, or “Maison de Mark” as he calls it for Airbnb guests. We were up by 8 with ambitious plans to get in a half-day at the slopes in Fernie after our 3 hour drive SouthWest from Calgary. We were able to reach our goal, landing in Fernie at Jessica and Matt’s awesome hill-side pad around 11:30AM and heading for the hill by noon!

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I had originally planned on bringing skis for the trip based on my fond memories skiing through the tree trails of Fernie on previous trips; however, I was forced to opt for snowboarding after not finding any ski boots. By the second run they had “accidentally” taken us down a double black diamond and any “confidence” we had garnered on our Blue Mountain test run the weekend before was sufficiently shattered. It wasn’t long before beer o’ clock struck and we happily took a break at Lost Boys–a mountain-top bar with a killer view. We left with some liquid courage to replace the real stuff and got a couple more long leg-burning runs in before the hill closed at 4PM.

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That night we went out for an awesome supper at the Brick House and were joined by Mark and his girlfriend Hilary, as well as a friend of Mark’s from Lindsay and his girlfriend. Regrettably, we did not take the opportunity to capture this reunion of our childhood friend-group on film, as we were too busy chatting and later dancing down the street at the Northern. The bar was hosting a DJ whose “thing” is to wear ski goggles while mixing…very Fernie.

The next day we had an earlier start on the hill after a recovery meal at Big Bang Bagels downtown. The conditions were even better on Saturday with really nice groomed powder for the better part of the day. The scariest part of snowboarding at this massive hill for me was taking some of the cat tracks–very narrow trails that run across the mountain to connect lifts and runs, but usually border on cliffs or worse, black diamonds! Inevitable, we accidentally ended up on a couple more black diamonds throughout the days–with Jessica losing both skis on one, but it’s all a part of the experience right?

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After a solid day at the slopes, Nick and I headed for Lake Louise where we had 1 night booked prior to our early cross-country ski departure. We stayed at a rustic mountain lodge in Banff National Park and enjoyed an awesome dinner and breakfast the next morning despite the fact that we almost had to sleep in the car because I booked the room for Sunday instead of Saturday (oops).

The next morning we were up bright and early to set off on our adventure to Skoki Lodge! By 830, we had checked in and picked up our rental back-country skis and skins (fur pelts for the bottom of your skis to give you better traction for the uphill battle we were about to endure). With an hour to kill, we headed to Lake Louise for a quick look around. On our way up to the Lake, we were extremely puzzled by a number of people walking down the road with shovels. We were able to catch the beginning of a cross-country ski race, get a coffee, and check out the ongoing ice sculpture competition! What we realized on our way out of the park was those people carrying shovels were building part of the x-country ski trail across the road at 3 different points of the race…oh, and they were re-building it every time a car inevitably drove over it!

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We eventually made our way to the parking lot for Skoki Lodge, where a driver shuttled us to the trailhead in order to save us from the 4km uphill. On the shuttle, we met most of our fellow guests; 1 guy from Alberta was snowshoeing in with downhill skis on his back, and 2 girls in med school who seemed to be off to a rough start, as one had two different sized skis after accidentally grabbing one of her husband’s.

A night at Skoki was my Christmas present to Nick and came recommended to me by Jessica as one of the “must-do” trips on every ski-bums list. It is a luxurious (but rustic) lodge in the middle of Banff National Park that is only accessible by 11km cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile (for lodge staff). The lodge has no electricity or running water and has outhouses for bathrooms. Prince William and Kate visited Skoki in 2011; however they arrived by helicopter–full bathroom in tow.

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Quite honestly, the 11km cross-country ski-in did not scare us one bit…far less than it should have; we completely under-estimated the 1600ft rise in elevation from Trailhead to peak elevation. It was very physically challenging but a super BEAUTIFUL ski into the lodge, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous!

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The skins–which neither of us had heard of before–proved to be vital going uphill as much as they were going downhill. Uphill they allow you to remain going straight, rather than “pizzaing” or side-stepping, and downhill they slow you down enough to get some semblance of control. I still managed to completely take Nick out on 2 different downhill portions of our journey in.

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Finally, after 3.5 hours of gruelling uphill, we arrived at Skoki for an amazing lunch spread of homemade biscuits, soup, and divine cheese.

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Doing sports outside your domain is certainly humbling–there was a couple in their 60s that skied in for lunch and back out in the same day! For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed by the fire, played rummy cup, and went for a walk around the area. The lodge consists of one main cabin–with around 5 rooms upstairs, and several smaller guest cabins around the property.

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By 6PM, all 7 guests had arrived and gathered in the common area by the fire where we got to know each other a bit before our communal dinner. One of the things I had read the most about was how amazing the food at Skoki was, so I could not wait for dinner! At 7PM, Katie (the owner) brought out the delicious spread of lamb, vegetable, and fettucine; each dish, as well as the dessert was to-die-for! After dinner, we relaxed by the fire a bit more before heading to our very comfy bed.

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The next morning we indulged in a delicious breakfast consisting of two rounds! The first was fresh fruit, homemade oatmeal and granola, and yogurt. While the second was eggs, chicken sausages, and orange pancakes–so yummy! We didn’t waste much time before getting back on the trail, knowing we had a full day ahead. The first third of the trail was pretty tough and mostly uphill until the peak elevation point, but after that we were laughing (and falling a lot) going mostly downhill. On the bigger downhills we mostly opted to slide down with our bums on the back of the skis, as it seemed safer than toppling over from an upright position.

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Once we began to cross paths with other skiers going into Skoki, we felt it was our duty to put the skins back on for the safety of all other skiers. The second half of the trail is quite a bit narrower and windier and skins were the only thing that could slow the wrecking balls that we turned into. When we got to the trailhead we began to realize that 4km stretch we had been shuttled up going in, we would have to ski-out to the parking lot. The trail is officially part of Lake Louise ski resort and is a marked blue trail (FOR DOWNHILL SKIERS). Needless to say, it was a fun ride to the car. As a reward for all of our hard work, we treated ourselves to a swim at the Banff Hot Springs before our long car ride back to Fernie! Once we arrived, we headed out to Nevados for a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas with Jess & Matt.

We got a pretty full last-day in on the hill Tuesday. Jess and Matt decided to head up to Polar Peak at the end of the day–Fernie’s highest chair where the only way down is a double black diamond or a skinny cat track along the top of a cliff. We happily parted ways and met them back at the house.

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Jess and I headed into town to browse a bunch of the super-cute local shops before she taught spin in the evening. With plans to go to a wizard-themed party, Nick and I headed to the nearby bargain shops, as he was dead-set on dressing up. We were all quite convinced he would be the only one dressed up and we could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, when you have a bunch of 20-somethings living in a small town like Fernie doing almost nothing but skiing, people have time to get quite creative for things like wizard parties. There were around 200 people at the party, with about 60% in costume; the host of the party even set up a fortune telling/tarrot card reading/palm reading booth under her stairs. A successful last night in Fernie to say the least!

We set out the next morning for Calgary to leave room for unforeseen delays and ended up with a couple of hours to check out the downtown. We headed to 17th street as per my friend Meredith’s recommendation and enjoyed a nice lunch and a bit of window-shopping. Later on we met up with Mere–a high school friend–for a quick drink before heading to the airport!

And now I am ready for a vacation from my action-packed vacation!

All About Amsterdam

My job makes it tough to take the frequent extended vacations I had gotten used to as a student. But I refuse to let something like a “job” get in the way of my globetrotting. As a result, I decided to celebrate my 23rd birthday in style–a quick weekend getaway to Amsterdam. I snuck out of work a little early Thursday to meet Nick for our 5:30PM flight; a short 7 hours later, we woke up in Europe.

Amsterdam is world-renowned for being one of the most progressive cities in the world; that was evident as soon as we strolled up to the cab stand where the only taxis in sight were Teslas. We cabbed to our Airbnb to get oriented but headed on foot to De Pijp for a bite to eat before we were able to check-in. Our walk towards the city followed 1 of Amsterdam’s many gorgeous canals lined by the city’s infamous houseboats. Once we had entered De Pijp, one of Amsterdam’s up-and-coming yuppie neighbourhoods, it wasn’t long until we stumbled upon one of the cafes Elai’s friend had recommended to me–Coconuts & Coffee. It was just what the doctor ordered after a long (semi-sleepless) night of travelling–a stunning 3 story open-concept loft with delicious food and coffee.

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With full stomachs, we headed to the nearest bike rental shop so that we could fit in with the locals. Amsterdam is rated the 2nd most bike-friendly city in the world next to Copenhagen, with bike lanes as the bare minimum and bike highways, stop lights, and multi-storey bike parking lots as the norm. One tour guide stated that their are 1.3M bikes in Amsterdam, with only 800,000 people living in the city.

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Our first stop of the day was the eclectic Albert Cuyp Market in De Pijp; it seemed that their were lots of markets all around the city, but apparently this one is renowned as the largest daytime market in Europe. Some stalls were simply an extension of the store behind them, which was a little strange for something like pharmacies. The row houses that lined the street of the market are especially beautiful.

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Next, we headed to the area where all of Amsterdam’s most well-known museums are situated around the iconinc Iamsterdam sign–which was being absolutely mauled by the masses I may add. I am certain that anyone with a photo in front of that sign with no other people in the frame either had an AK47 or were there at 5:15AM. Based on crowds and lineups, we opted to go for the modern art Museum–the Stedelijk. As with most modern art, some is downright strange (to the untrained eye) and some is pretty cool.

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My favourite part about Amsterdam had to be simply biking across the countless bridges and around the winding streets that line the canals. Around every corner, there is another beautiful view.

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To my dismay, my aging body called for an afternoon nap if I was going to last til all hours of the morning so we headed back to check into our Airbnb–a super cute little apartment in a quiet residential area. Not only is airbnb the cheapest option going for anything more than a hostel, it was a great way to get a more local feel for the city!

We headed back into the city on bike for our 8PM dinner reservation at Supper Club. For once in my life, I lowered my 4 star Yelp rating standards to see what all the hype was about; the reviews online were extremely polarized–people either said it was amazing or the weirdest thing they had ever been a part of. My personal opinion–it was both, but well worth checking out. The weird factor was evident from the moment we walked in the door and were greeted by a drag queen wearing a wig with a baby’s head on top. We enjoyed a cocktail in the lounge downstairs before heading to our bed at 8.

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Yes I said bed, you can choose to reserve a bed along the walls or a table in the middle of the room. We enjoyed a delicious 5-course meal as we sat back on our beds and enjoyed the infamous entertainment. I could easily see how the quasi-cabaret show sparked controversial reviews; it was certainly up there on the strangest things I’ve ever seen, but the entire experience was so cool, we loved it.

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After the show finished, they took away the tables and folded up the beds to convert the room into a night club. Nicks sister Josie flew in from London to meet us for the weekend, so she joined us right at the bar to dance the night away. I must say, biking home from the bar at the end of the night was the perfect cool-down.

Despite the late light out, we didn’t want to waste the day away in bed so we were on our bikes by 930 AM headed towards central station to meet Josie. We headed into Jordaan for brunch–another up and coming yuppie neighbourhood. After a delicious breaky, we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather on a cruise of the Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. There are a ton of cruise companies but I had read about one specifically online that I wanted to try–Friendship Cruises–and it did not disappoint.

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The vessel was a retired Holland America Cruiseship lifeboat, complete with a bar on-board (very important). Touring the maze-like canals of Amsterdam is simply a must-do if you’re in the city. Around every corner there is a post-card perfect view… or a very low bridge that you must duck your head under to avoid concussion.

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Post-cruise, it was time for a snack and we had been dying to try some of the Dutch cheese shops on every corner. We wasted no time grabbing a couple blocks of cheese, some crackers, and heading for Vondelpark–Amsterdam’s largest and most popular park–to enjoy the beautiful weather some more.

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For our last night in the city, we attempted to go to a spot I had read about online that turned out to be a stone’s throw from the airbnb. The restaurant is in a greenhouse in a park and all the produce used is grown in-house. Unfortunately, it is a popular spot and we were unable to get in, but even seeing it was cool!

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We headed to another spot closer to the airbnb and out of the city centre, filled with mostly locals, and enjoyed a lovely final dinner. Afterwards, we headed into De Pijp to a low-key bar to try out some local beers before calling it a night.

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Morning came too soon and before we knew, we had to part with our beloved bikes and soak in every last second of the city on a long walk to central station to head to the airport. All in all, it was an amazing quick getaway which I plan to do more of–life is too short to let being time-poor get in the way of seeing the world.

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Playing in P.E.I.

Now that I am an adult with limited amounts of vacation, my travel addiction has been curbed…slightly. In reality, it has simply forced me to be more strategic. I am taking a week off for my rugby National Championships this week, so I decided to piggyback a quick long-weekend getaway on the front-end to maximize my time off.

Nick and I flew into Charlottetown late Wednesday night; our ignorance about the size of the island was highlighted the second we walked out of the airport to find not a cab in sight. Unsurprisingly, Uber also turned up no results. The cab driver that arrived after a few phone calls informed us that the entire island is home to only 150K people, with Charlottetown itself having only 35,000 residents. The first stop of Day 1 the next morning was the Wood Islands lighthouse, where we stopped for a quick tour of one of the last lighthouses open to the public. After that, we headed to Red Point Provincial Park. The sun graced us with its presence, so we took advantage and chilled out on the beach before hitting the cliffs for a little free form rock climbing.

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Our last stop of Day 1 was Basin Head Provincial Park. Unlike most PEI beaches, Basin Head is a white sand beach and it is famous for its “singing sands,” that squeak as you walk on it. It’s also a popular stop for adrenaline junkies looking for a quick rush jumping off the bridge that links the two areas of the beach. Our visit was cut short by some light rain, and we made moves towards our airbnb for the next two nights. Luckily, it was every bit as cute as it looked online–an adorable bunkie situated on the shoreline of Campbell’s Cove.

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The next morning we were up bright and early for Deep Sea Fishing with Captain Jeff–a minor celebrity in the world of tuna fishing. The outing started with a nice cruise along the north shore and past the East Point Lighthouse to check out the local porpoises! After that we were able to try our luck at fishing; I narrowly avoided being the ninth person in 15 years of his business to catch nothing on a trip. Eventually I was successful at reeling in a small fish, only to realize this meant I had to take it off the hook..with my bare hands–bitter-sweet victory.

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We made an impromptu decision to scrap one of our beach stops in favour of a local distillery (it was raining, don’t judge). The distillery is the only retailer in Canada licensed to make and sell moonshine, which we got a taste of! P.E.I. had the longest period of prohibition in Canada by far (1901-48), so making moonshine was a family affair for generations. We got a really informative little tour from the owner, who explained the process for making moonshine and other hard liquors.

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We stopped at Rick’s Fish & Chips in Saint Peter’s Bay for their Food Network famous fish & chips. I also had my own agenda on the trip: eat as many variations of seafood possible in four days. Our final stop of the day was Greenwich National Park, where we pulled out our raincoats and umbrella to braved the elements. We went on a really nice nature walk along the bay that was filled with a grid of buoys; we later learned each buoy was tied to a mussel trap. Inspired, I ordered mussels for dinner at a favourite local restaurant in Souris–21 Breakwater–and boy were they delicious!

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The next morning we departed our beautiful spot on the beach and headed west along the north coast for a day of beach-hopping with our best weather yet! After our first walk on the beach, we headed to Dalvay by the Sea–a National Historic Site of Canada. The beautiful mansion currently operates as a 5-star hotel and restaurant under a public-private partnership. The 120-year-old home is fit for a queen, making it unsurprising that the property was a stop on the Royal Family’s tour of Canada in 2011. We couldn’t help but stay for lunch at this scenic spot.

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After lunch, we made our way to Brackley beach and eventually to Cavendish Beach. Cavendish gets a bit of a bad rap from locals since it has become quite touristy over the years. Once we arrived, it was easy to see why it was so popular; despite having the most people, it was definitely the most beautiful beach we visited. We hung out on the beach for a bit before putting on our runners and hitting the trails. First we did a short walk through “duneland” that ended at the beautiful red cliffs P.E.I. is famous for. Our second walk was through the forest to a peaceful open field that surrounded a small lake not far inland from the shoreline.

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After working up quite an appetite, we headed to the famous New Glasgow Lobster Suppers–a family business since 1958. Patrons can choose 1lb, 1.5lb, or 2lb lobster servings that come accompanied with essentially all you can eat soup, salad, rolls, mussels (served in a bucket), and dessert. Needless to say, we were in paradise.

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We headed for Charlottetown for our final day on the island. It was quite rainy all day so we spent most of the day indoors (eating). We stopped in at the COWs factory location for a self-guided tour and to browse their famous t-shirt selection. We headed to lunch at the Gahan House–inside one of many historic buildings that make up downtown Charlottetown. This bar/restaurant doubled as a micro-brewery for the PEI Brewing Company. Inspired, we decided to head to their large-scale brewery for a very informative tour in the afternoon. The tour covered the history of the brewery as well as a detailed explanation of the beer-making process and, of course, a few sneaky samples. We enjoyed a delicious final meal downtown before calling it a night at our beautiful 19th Century Victorian B&B.

P.E.I(‘ll be back).

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Visiting Victoria

To prepare for a jam-packed summer of rugby, I decided to go on a ‘rugby-oriented vacation’ to the lovely Victoria, BC–our nation’s unofficial rugby capital. I reached out to my friends on the island, got a 2 week pass with one of their local club teams, and booked my ticket! I flew in Friday after work to Seattle to meet the team at their hostel; we got up early the next morn, enjoyed a killer breakfast at none other than Pike Place Market, and headed to the pitch. I had played with 4 of the girls on various different teams before in years past, but as per usual in the rugby world, it didn’t take long to feel like I had played with everyone for years. We played an awesome game against a strong Seattle side that resulted in a big W and dethroning the first place team in the league.

We headed back to the island on bus to Van, and then by ferry to Vic. Nearly the whole team headed straight for the infamous ferry buffet to get our post-game meal in, while taking in the scenery from the best seats in the house. Some of the girls invited me to play on their 7s team tomorrow for a casual exhibition tourney that almost everyone was playing in; I happily obliged considering the goal of my trip was to get as much rugby in as possible. The tournament ended up being stacked FULL of super high calibre players and teams–the Canada “B” team, Aptoella Angels–mostly current Canada 15s girls, and UVic to name a few. This is simply another Sunday in Victoria–super-casual, national level rugby.

Sunday afternoon, I headed into town with Zoe–my good friend from exchange in Australia–to see Parliament, as she is currently working there for the Minister of Agriculture. It is a truly beautiful old building that looks out over the harbour. Afterwards we checked out the BC Museum next door, which had some pretty cool exhibits on the BC history.

    
On Monday, I headed into Vancouver with a friend from McGill. We drove onto the ferry and into Kitsilano for lunch with another McGillian once we got into the city. It was my first time in the city since I was very young, and boy, was it beautiful. Our friend invited us to stay the night at his parent’s home in West Van and we couldn’t resist. I checked out Gas Town and Stanley Park before calling it a day. Before heading back to Vic the following day, I made a quick pit stop at our YVR Amazon building. I connected with a few of my colleagues at the site and checked out the many differences between our building and theirs. I got back to the island just in time for practice that evening; man, it is a nice feeling being able to run around outside in shorts in the middle of February. 

Wednesday morning, I had brunch with some old teammates that are part of the centralized 7s program in Victoria. Nadia and I headed for a walk on Dallas Road afterwards–a beautiful road in Victoria along the ocean looking into the mountains. The only downside being it CANNOT be captured on camera. We also hit up the Oak Bay marina to see seals and I checked out the Floating Village downtown before heading to a skills session with all of the long-listed Canada girls living in Victoria.

  
 My friend was gracious enough to lend me her car (and her dog) while at work on Friday so that I could do a couple nearby hikes. The first was Mt Finlayson–the harder and longer of the two–with a stunning view of the surrounding ocean and mountains. The second hike was to the old train trussel in Goldstream Provincial Park; as the name suggests, at the top of the climb train tracks jut out of the forrest on stilts 100 ft in the air. In the forest below, there was also a beautiful waterfall…let’s just say it’s easy to see how the hashtag #beautifulbc came to be. There is certainly no shortage of outdoor activities. Thursday night, we had another club practice and I ordered myself a pair of shoulder pads from an inspiring entrepreneur on the National Team who has her own rugby apparel business–Aptoella.


 I spent my last full free day in Vic exploring the downtown core a little bit more. I checked out the plethora of cute little hipster West Coast shops and cafes. I did some afternoon yoga with a girl from the team and was confronted again with my love/hate relationship with yoga. I met up with Zoe for dinner at a well-known restaurant that certainly lived up to the hype.

My last day on the island was obviously spent playing rugby; we played Seattle again and were able to snag another big W on home field–an awesome end to my rugby-oriented vacation! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sold that the West Coast is the Best Coast.

Seeing Seattle

I arrived in Seattle around midday after an early flight out of TO. My friend Zoe from exchange was coming down from Victoria to meet me at my hostel around 7:30 so I had the afternoon to kill before she arrived. I decided I would head to Fremont–a quirky neighborhood of Seattle located just outside the city limits. I opted for the hour long walk to get there since it was not raining, for once! The route took me along the scenic west shore of Union Lake, where tons of sailboats were out taking advantage of the nice weather. Finally, I crossed the colourful Fremont Bridge which is preceded by a sign that welcomes visitors and residents to “The Centre of the Universe.” I have yet to reach any concrete conclusion as to how this nickname arose.

I headed straight for the Fremont Sunday Flea Market which I had read about. The market was full of unique vendors selling everything from jewelry to vintage furniture. The people-watching was also a highlight of the market.


After I was done browsing, I wandered around Fremont and visited many of it’s many peculiar landmarks: the troll under the bridge, a massive Lenin statue a past resident had brought back from Poland, and a Soviet Era Rocket to name a few. The neighborhood is a also a hub for cute shopping, great restaurants, and microbreweries!  

I planned my walk back to the hostel through Kerry Park–one of the more famous views of the city, and it did not disappoint. The clear skies allowed for a perfect view of the sunset over the Seattle skyline and mountainous backdrop that is hard to appreciate from the city centre.


Zoe arrived by ferry right on time and, in typical West Coast style, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Local 360–a farm-to-table joint near our hostel. We proceeded to plan out a very full next day in the city with the help of our bartender before calling it a night.
The first stop on our itinerary was a tour of the iconic Pike Place Market—conveniently located steps away from our Hostel. I am so glad we got a tour because what could seem like a tourist attraction, is actually a historical landmark that has stayed very true to its roots for all these years. Started in 1907, it is the oldest continuously operating public farmers market in the U.S. The number one rule of the market is that you must be the producer of what you sell; the concept originated in the early 1900s to cut out the middle man and pass the savings along to farmers and consumers. There are a few exceptions to the rule, in order to create year-long diversity that does not limit the market and its consumers to seasonal produce. We were there early enough to see the market coming to life; vendors are allowed into the market to setup in order of seniority–with the oldest vendor at 50 years of market tenure.


We visited the famous fish-throwing stall, whose unconventional practices have inspired a management philosophy adopted around the world–even my mom’s old company Teva. The four tenets of the philosophy are:

  1. choosing one’s attitude,
  2. playing at work,
  3. making someone’s day, and
  4. being present.


One of the last stops on the tour was the famous Gum Wall. Although the City recently scraped all of the gum off to assess if the nation’s grossest tourist attraction had been causing damage to the underlying walls, it was back in almost full force.


The only chains you will ever see are ones that originated in the market–like Starbucks, where I enjoyed an exclusive Pike Place Roast after the tour. We also hit up Beecher’s, an amazing cheese shop which has become recently famous after being dubbed Oprah’s favourite Mac & Cheese. After agreeing with Oprah, we headed to the Beneath the Streets tour. The tour took us below street level in Pioneer Square to what was ground level in the early 1900s, before the City of Seattle decided to systematically raise the streets. This decision was made to combat a number of problems associated with being located at sea level. We also explored many of the underground establishments that turned into speakeasies in prohibition, and some that remain as fully-functioning businesses today.


We spent the afternoon exploring Capitol Hill, a trendy area where many of the Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing Yuppies reside. We wandered around before settling on Capitol Cider Co.–a board game bar–for dinner and drinks.

Zoe had to head back to Victoria early the next morning; after she left, I headed to the new Starbucks Roastery & Reserve. It is a truly beautiful space where they actually manufacture all of the Reserve Roasts on-site, in gorgeous brass equipment. I headed to the “Experience Bar” to get my coffee fix. I opted for the Siphon flight; my barista performed what looked like a science experiment in front of me, before pouring my two tasting pots of coffee.

  

In the afternoon I met up with friends from work for lunch and then we headed to the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum had an extensive and stunning collection of Chihuly’s best work.


The next two days were spent on the “primary purpose” of my trip–work. It was super cool to see our HQ, which spans a number of city blocks. Corporate employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work, a perk that wouldn’t work as well in a massive warehouse. Despite the lure of working in a cushy office with more regular hours and my dog at work, operations still seems more exciting at the moment! I also did 2 drop-in classes at a well-known Seattle Crossfit gym–Belltown Crossfit, owned by one of the orginal Crossfit girls Nadia Shatila. It was by far the most beautiful Crossfit gym I’ve ever stepped foot in, with exposed brick walls, brown leather med balls, dark wood, and an in-gym whiskey bar!


Next stop, Portland. Sea(ttle) you later!

Kicking it in Cabo

After a very hectic and stressful last couple months at work, I could hardly wait to get to Cabo and kick up my feet for a week. I met my mom, Jess, Sue, Casey, and her friends who had arrived a couple days earlier on NYE. I was greeted with a welcome margarita and all the discomfort of a twelve hour travel day was washed away. We dined at Panchos—one of our Mexican go-tos—for my first meal; following supper, the party animals of the group (Jess, myself, and ‘the moms’) went for a night on the town. We started at Happy Endings—a total hole-in-the-wall good for cheap drinks—where ‘the moms’ ran away from the jello shooter girl for the better party of our stay. We finished off the night at La Vaquita (the cow), an interesting newcomer to the Cabo nightlife scene; as the name suggests, it’s completely decked out in cow-themed décor including cow print walls and large hanging cows. Here, we danced the night away to some awesome throwbacks and, Sue’s favourite, Bollywood hits.

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The first day consisted mostly of soaking in the sun, a long and competitive girls vs. boys beach volleyball game, and happy hour at Mango Deck—an iconic Cabo beach bar. We made fun of the guys we were playing against for wearing water shoes to protect from the hot and coarse sand; however, they got the last laugh when walking in the sand became unbearable for the next three days for us. We ate dinner in the marina area which, for future visits I would tend to avoid. Though it is a nice atmosphere, the food is generally over-priced and average in quality.

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The next morning, I joined Casey and her Crossfit-crazed friends to work out at NorCal Crossfit’s new Cabo location. I convinced Jessica, and ‘the moms’ that we ought to head out to Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach to watch a perfect sunset from the Sky Pool. We enjoyed a delicious supper at The Bistro afterwards; at the end of our meal, a sales rep approached the table proposing enticing offers to attend a timeshare presentation the following day. Of course, I jumped at the chance to earn $400 resort credit and 2 whale watching tickets, even if it meant (attempting to) pose as a 30 year old—the minimum required age to attend the presentations. Sue—or “Zoo” as the sales rep pronounced it—signed up as well to boost the pot to $800!!

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The following morning I put on my best “mom” outfit—flowy harem pants, Sue’s top, and my mom’s sunglasses—for my upcoming acting gig. We headed out to Pueblo Bonito where I was quickly denied access when my “I forgot my ID” excuse did not hold up. Sue stepped up and took one for the team and attended the presentation alone while we lounged by the resort pool and explored the private beach. The moms enjoyed massages with Sue’s winnings and we ate and drank away the rest of the credit.

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We started the Evans’ last day off with breakfast at the Office—our longtime fav beach brunch. After our meal, we did some quick haggling with the beach vendors. Casey, Jess, and I got sunglasses and I relived my childhood by getting some braids because ‘When in Rome.’

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Our last deal was with a water taxi operator to take us to Lovers Beach for the afternoon. The boat toured us around to the sea lions, Lands End, and the iconic El Arco. Once on Lovers Beach, we walked over to the other side—Divorce Beach—where Jessica and Sue soon had four iguanas perched on their body; I dodged this bullet by performing a tuck and roll down a nearby hill (running away and completely eating it).

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The next morning we bid the Evans’ goodbye and prepared for our afternoon excursion to go whale-watching. While I was initially very excited about this, my excitement became clouded by fear as my mother bombarded me with information about a fatal freak accident the year prior, where a breaching whale landed on a boat of snorkelers in Cabo. I pushed on and took my seat in the small inflatable 20-person dingy—about 1/10 the size of a whale if I had to guess. We set out towards the Pacific side, going further and further from shore when we started to have whale sightings. We saw many tails and bodies grazing the surface, but the highlight of the tour was certainly the 360 degree breach we were able to witness. Though I was filled with anxiety the entire 2 hours (thanks Mom), seeing an animal of that size jump completely out of the water was a pretty amazing feat of nature to see. For dinner, we headed to another one of our Cabo favs—Salvatore’s—to indulge in their signature lasagna!

The following morning my mom and I set out to hike Mt. Solmar. I had done some research about the hike on tripadvisor; the consensus among reviewers was that it was a stunning hike and you better find this infamous “Enrique” to open the gate past some aggressive dogs. Sure enough, we followed the instructions and found Enrique at the gate of his dog compound. After some metaphysical rambling about the energy of the mountain, he assured us that the dogs were ‘in balance’ and wouldn’t hurt us (despite their rough appearance).

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We followed him through the property, while 10-12 barking dogs ran and jumped around us and mom nearly cried, until we arrived at the base of the hike. One review I had read mentioned following a set of posts to the top and so we did. It turned out that we had definitely gone ‘off the beaten path’ and were forced to do some scrambling, which I didn’t mind. The amazing 360 view at the top made the trek totally worth it. The peak is the highest point in the chain of rock formations that leads to Land’s End, and it is possible to continue hiking all the way to Divorce Beach. Thankfully, a couple we met at the top helped show us to the actual trail for a much smoother descent.

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That afternoon, our tanning session was interrupted by a sea turtle that came ashore to lay her eggs! I watched every minute of the nearly two hour ordeal, in which the turtle dug and abandoned two holes and, finally, laid 121 eggs on her third attempt. A conservationist was on the scene to collect the eggs and take them to a hatchery to prevent them from being crushed on the busy beach. The mother turtle’s return to the ocean after “burying her eggs” (which had already been removed) was heartwarming and met with cheers from a large audience of passersby. For dinner, my mom and I tried out a stellar newcomer to the Cabo restaurant scene, Roasted.

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The following day, most of Casey’s friends headed back to NYC and just four of us remained. We worked on our tan for the better part of the day and Casey and I rekindled our tennis rivalry in the afternoon. I did some Yelp resto research and got us a reservation at a highly rated new restaurant Templo. It turned out to be a great find, as the food and service were amazing and the location was such that we never would have stumbled upon it. Casey’s NYC roomie departed the following morning and shortly after we set out on a walk up to Pedregral—a swanky gated community on the mountain with beautiful homes overlooking the ocean. A number of celebs are said to have homes in the hills of Pedregal and it was easy to see why. On our final evening, we celebrated Casey’s birthday at Peacocks—another one of our go-to restos that has stood the test of time (and Yelp).

On our final morning, we indulged in one last walk on the beach before an excruciating 24 hour journey home. I have been asked by my publisher to refrain from commenting any further on the matter, in an effort to protect my reputation as an author. All in all, a fantastic week in Cabo for some much needed R&R. Until next time, adios amigos!

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