Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

How my Outlook of the World Changed Through Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day Hike Along the Louisbourg Lighthouse Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

GUEST POST - Local Dishes you Must Try

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Like many of you who read this blog you have a passion for traveling to places that make your friends and co-workers jealous. Being a teacher I have two passions in life; my students and their learning experience and my time off in July and August. There’s no question I do my very best to take full advantage of my eight weeks off in the summer. Hiking, golfing but more importantly seeing as much of the world as possible. During my last trip I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Myanmar (Burma) a place I have had my eye on for some time. Although we didn’t stay in Myanmar for long, the impression its people and culture left on me is something I will always remember. Myanmar was the tipping point in pursuing a dream that I have had for some time - starting a charity before I turned thirty. I never dreamed that my love for sport (Soccer/Football), travel and my passion for children would blend in the way it has. After coming home from traveling to south east Asia, my girlfriend (now fiancé) started The Ball is Round Society, in which we fundraise to buy soccer balls and then pass those balls onto people who are traveling themselves and want to do a little bit of good on their trip but don’t know how to get involved in a larger NGO or simply don’t have time on their trip to do so. Because soccer/football is such a global sport you will never have trouble finding children who are playing the game somewhere, unfortunately they don’t always have a proper ball to play with. Our goal is slowly, but surely, growing and connecting with travelers who want to help bring a little bit of change to the world through sport.
It was on a humid day with almost unbearable heat in the heart of Myanmar that my girlfriend and I found ourselves riding rented bicycles through the countryside surrounded by farmers fields. There was monastery after monastery scattered in the fields and we passed by the occasional roadside stand. Our journey started out with an eager search for a Geocache hidden inside one of the many monasteries located in the area. Without a GPS to help us locate the correct monastery, we found ourselves riding around hoping we would find what we were looking for with just the simple directions given to us by the woman who rented us the bikes. After going to the wrong monastery a second time, one of the monks politely pointed across the field. With a new light of excitement we hopped on our bikes and took off down the road. There weren’t any real roads to speak of so we had to keep our eyes on the building in the distance leaving us to guess which little dirt goat path was the right one. Eventually, we make a turn and are taken down a path that leads through farming villages and small cinder block buildings that look like they were constructed in one afternoon. After realizing this path wasn’t going to take us where we wanted to go we found ourselves in front of a one-room school with dozens of curious faces staring at us with curiosity. Although this wasn’t the monastery we were looking for, happening upon that school did allow us to do something we always do when traveling and that is to pass on a little bit of goodwill by handing out a soccer ball to the children. This brought much more unexpected attention and soon enough the teacher was at the door wondering where all her students had run off to. Without any need to explain, I presented the ball to one of the students and they all gathered for a picture while the teacher expressed her gratitude with a smile, she corralled her students back to where they needed to be and we were off again.
We made out way back to the main road in another attempt to find our Geocache. Looking for this Geocache led us on an unplanned adventure. The monk that set up this Geocache was friendly and excited to have foreign guests. We shared some tea and cookies and had our picture taken with our host. He was very interested to hear about us and where we were from. Upon telling him we were from Canada, our new friend decided he was going to practice his French with us which turned out to be better than I would have expected from a monk in the middle of central Myanmar.
There was a guest book filled with comments from travelers from all over which gave us a sense of how popular this Geocache was. He gave us a postcard with his mailing address so we could stay in touch. I have always wanted to incorporate something like this into a language arts project to also my students how we communicated long before things like email and phones ever existed.
One thing I have learned while traveling, whether it is in my own backyard or on the other side of the world, is that some times the things you are looking for lead you to find something much greater and more significant. Myanmar was full of great stories and many of those stories came from people we met along the way. Myanmar has many gems worth seeing including Inle Lake and the cave of Pindaya.

If you are interested in finding this geocache the link in below

If you are interested in learning more about The Ball is Round Society please don’t hesitate to checkout our website, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
• Twitter - @TBR_Society
• Facebook –

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Spring Road Trip, Some Damn Good Music and a Leisurely Stroll Around Downtown Halifax

I was just recently unemployed so a road trip was almost certainly out-of-the-question this past May long weekend. I say almost because with enough arm-twisting and coaxing from the right person, I can be persuaded to do anything that involves a car, the open road and a night or more away from home.

I had many excuses to say no when my sister asked me to accompany her to a concert in Halifax. The fact that I was short on cash was just one of the excuses I came up with. In the end, the prospect of a spring road trip before starting my new job that following Monday was enough to get me to finally give in and start packing my bags for a weekend in the “big city”. I had no idea what was in store for me until the last minute. All I knew was there would be several bands playing at a small club called Michael's Bar & Grill. She had everything taken care of including the tickets and the hotel. All I had to do was be ready and waiting at my door when she arrived to pick me up that morning.

The drive to Halifax was like any other long drive. This was the first time I made a long trip in a vehicle as a passenger so I was able to notice a lot of things I never noticed before on the way up. One thing I noticed, despite all the talk about the dangers of texting and driving, is a lot of drivers still text and drive and there was a close call with one of these texting drivers near one of the turn offs into the city.

We checked into our hotel and relaxed for a bit before heading out. There was a very nice bar attached to it and we stopped there for a few drinks before hailing a cab to the show.

Michael's Bar & Grill wasn’t very far at all but our chatty cab driver had some advice for us before we got out. “Your going to Michael's eh? Better watch out for stray bullets”. Apparently there had been a shooting there in the past. Way to instill paranoia into a couple of young girls heading out for a night on the town to enjoy some live music.

The venue itself looked small and deserted from the outside. Even after we entered, it seemed this way. However, that small bar extended into a large back room where many people were gathered in front of a stage. I’d never heard of any of the bands that were playing but my sister did and she assured me that they were all good. Head of the Herd from Vancouver headlined the show with guests The Balconies and The Damn Truth taking the stage first. All the bands pulled off stellar sets and each one had a unique sound. I was quite surprised by the quality of the music considering I thought I was going to see some unknown local bands but soon discovered that these were well-seasoned, professional musicians from all over Canada.

We stayed behind for a while after the show chatting with some people we met at the bar and just hanging out on the outside deck finishing off our drinks before heading back to the hotel. A visit with a friend and a long drive home awaited us the next day so sleep was definitely in order.

After getting a little lost, as per usual on any road trip I go on, we made our way to Clayton Park to meet our friend and her baby. We started off with breakfast followed by a relaxing afternoon in the public gardens and a walk downtown. It had been years since I wandered around in downtown Halifax and it was only slightly different than I remembered.

The drive back was much the same as the drive there and, like any time spent on the road, I was in my element. It was the 5-hour closure to a great mini-vacation before heading back to work at my new job that started the next day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Songs that Take me Back

Many things bring back memories but for me, the one thing that can conjure up any memory, good or bad, is music. Every good relationship I’ve been in has a theme song. Some of those theme songs came about from a specific moment in the relationship or is just a song that reminds me of that person. Every bad breakup also has a song (unfortunately, one particular song, which happens to be one of the favorite songs of all time, reminds of a person I’d rather forget!) and hearing that song brings me back to some not-so-great times or, occasionally reminds me a rare good moment I had with that person. There are songs that remind me of my childhood friends, people who passed away, people who moved away, moments I never want to forget and moments I wish never happened but can laugh at now. There are also those songs that remind me of memorable things that have happened on the road or while traveling abroad and it is those songs that set the backdrop for some interesting, sometimes funny and always unforgettable moments where a song united people from different backgrounds and cultures in a moment of togetherness even when language wasn’t a common factor.

I can trace the correlation of music and travel back to my grade school years when my class would pile into an old school bus and travel to various places around Cape Breton for field trips. All the way to our destination, we sang songs at the top of our lungs. Even the bus driver would join in. Road trips with my parents were much the same thing until I hit my teenage years and music took on a different form. It was no longer “cool” to sing along to campfire-like songs in the car; My Walkman (yes, Walkman – it was the 90’s) became my sanctuary on those long trips and I often retreated into my own little world as I watched the world go by through the car window. Back than, it was MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, C+C Music Factory and Technotronic that played on that early 90’s version of the modern Ipod. My parents hated this because they saw it as me removing myself from their circle and being anti-social. I saw it as me discovering my own taste in music and setting my own background soundtrack to the memories that were being made.

As I got older, I did start leaving the portable music players at home and chose instead to listen to the radio. By that time, I had developed a taste in music that was similar to that of my mother’s. Dwight Yoakam, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Garrison Brothers, The BeeGees, Sheryl Crow and pretty much anything that had real instruments and people who could actually sing and write good lyrics. I remember one particular week many moons ago, my mother had developed an obsession with the song “All you Ever do is Bring me Down” by The Mavericks and she played it over and over again at top volume while we drove around town, bonding over our Tim Horton’s tea. “Streets of Bakersfield” by Dwight Yoakam was another song that always brings back memories of my mother behind the wheel, music cranked and singing at the top of her lungs. Over-synthesized pop music, rap and needless screaming were never really pleasing to her sensitive ears nor to mine! When I acquired my first car, the first thing I did was make a bunch mix tapes and CD’s. At first, they were thrown together messes filled with timeless favorites and one-hit-wonders that I would get sick of after a week. Over time, I perfected the art of creating what I call The Ultimate Road Tripping Playlist…and it hasn’t changed much since I first created it except now it is on my Ipod instead of a cassette tape or CD. Hotel California, Tequila Sunrise, pretty much anything by Bon Jovi, The Cult and Pearl Jam. Of course, Johnny Cash’s epic road tripping anthem, “I’ve Been Everywhere” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” are mainstays on that list.

When it comes to memories made on the road, there are many and each and every one of them can be paired with a song that brings me back to the very day when the event occurred. I remember the day I got my first car quite well. My parents surprised me with a white 1989 Honda Accord a couple of weeks before graduation. Mom went out that morning to run errands and when she came home, she yelled into the house for me to help her carry groceries in. There was nothing unusual about this as I always helped with the groceries but when I went outside, there she was standing next to that beautiful car, holding the keys out to me. “Wanna take it for a spin?” she asked with a huge grin on her face. I must have looked dumfounded or confused because she added “it’s yours by the way. Here’s the keys.” That was the defining moment in my future desire to always be out on the open road. I grabbed some tapes from my bedroom and jumped in the car to embark on my first solo mission behind the wheel…in my very own car. I still remember the song that was playing when I pulled out of the driveway; Ozzy Osbourne’s “Perry Mason”. Mom warned me not to go into the city because I was not used to the roads. I guess she assumed I would stay around town and close to home but to me “don’t go to the city” meant I could go anywhere except the city…so I drove to St. Peter’s, 2.5 hours away. Technically I didn’t disobey her. A few months later, I furnished that car with a brand new, state-of-the-art sound system with amps, subwoofers and a CD player….top of the line in those days! That faithful little Honda was my sanctuary for 6 road-trip filled years. I figured I had put that poor car through enough when the odometer reached 425 000.

The summer before I moved away for college, I took one last trip around The Cabot Trail. I was on my way home after a wonderful weekend spent in my favorite haunts. I got to the Red Barn just outside of Baddeck and was about to turn onto the highway 105 to head home when I noticed the evening sky starting to turn a fiery red – an indication that there would be a spectacular sunset. I also remembered that the moon would be full that evening and these were my two criteria for a perfect night spent by the ocean. Being the restless soul that I was (and still am), I turned that car around and headed back in the direction of Inverness Beach. Actually, it was more like the car turned itself around…like it knew I was meant to be there at that moment in time. Although that was almost 15 years ago, I still remember the song that was playing on the radio when I found myself back on that lonely country road; “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter. That entire weekend was an unforgettable one but that impromptu detour back to the coast made it simply magical. I parked the car near the sand dunes at the end of one of the side roads that lead to that long, sandy stretch of beach, got out, stretched out on a blanket in the sand, watched the last of the suns rays sink into the Atlantic Ocean and waited for the moon to rise into the sky above with the sounds of some young people singing and playing guitars a short distance away. Over the course of my life, I have had many such unplanned and unforgettable moments and I feel fortunate to have those memories and to be able to remember the songs that bring me back to those special moments frozen in time. Someday, I may forget those memories and I can only hope that the sound of a particular song will bring me back. I believe music has that much power. I’ve experienced that power many times.

When I moved to Newfoundland at the young age of nineteen, my car came with me and those road trips continued except they were with different people in a different landscape. I will never forget the emotions that were stirring in me the day I left Cape Breton, my family and friends behind me and boarded the Joseph and Clara Smallwood to cross the gulf to my new home. I was sad to leave but excited at the new prospects ahead of me. As I stood on the outside deck of that ferry and watched my hometown get smaller and smaller and the waters around me become dark and rough as we crossed into the open ocean, loneliness swept over me. I stood there alone for what seemed like a long time until I heard the faint sounds of music coming from the inside lounge. The house band was getting ready to start their set. While they tuned their guitars and tested their mics, I heard another sound coming from above me in the shadows of the upper deck. It sounded like a harmonica. It was a harmonica. I followed the sounds until I noticed a shadow on a bench in a far corner of the upper deck. That young man hammered out a tune on that harmonica like a pro. Turns out he was a pro and that night that started out as a routine sail across the Gulf of St. Lawrence ended up being one that I will never forget. I traveled on that ferry many times over the years and that house band never sounded better than they did that night when that lone harmonica player joined forces to create a powerhouse of sound. To this day, I consider that night the beginning of my independence…a proper send off into adulthood.
Not long after settling in my new surroundings, I developed a whole new circle of friends who also shared my love of the road and my love of music. One of the first trips I took outside the city of St. John’s was a camping trip to Northern Bay Sands. It was on that trip that I first heard the song that would become one of my favorites of all time, “Bad Timing” by Blue Rodeo. Every time I hear that song, I am taken back to that memorable little road trip. Unfortunately, the song came to remind me of a person I didn’t particularly want to be reminded of and I didn’t listen to it for a number of years. Strange how a song can evoke so many emotions and either pick us up or knock us down.

I eventually sold that old Honda and didn’t bother buying another car because I didn’t really need one in the city. Whenever I wanted to go on a road trip, I rented a car for the weekend but I also started acquiring a taste for traveling to places far away from home. My first real trip on my own outside of Canada was a trip to Las Vegas. At the time, the song “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga was immensely popular (coincidentally fitting considering I was in Vegas) and was heard coming from every casino, bar and car stereo on The Strip. Now every time I hear that song, I am reminded of that memorable week. During that same week, I took a side trip from Vegas to Death Valley. I rented a car and since I was on a huge Alice in Chains kick at the time, I had a playlist with just that bands songs on it and the song “Down in a Hole” is the one I remember playing as I drove through that desolate stretch of lonely desert.
In late 2010, I mistakenly got in contact with an old flame. I say mistakenly because I dumped him years before for many valid reasons I won’t get into. He sent me an email out-of-the-blue asking me out for a coffee. I saw no harm in having a coffee because, as far as I knew, he was in a steady relationship so there were no worries in him trying to get back with me. Well, I was wrong. Over that coffee, he told me it was over between them and he was interested in maybe trying with me again. I was reluctant and stuck with a firm “no” but still accepted the invitation to go on a trip to Mexico that Spring because we agreed to remain good friends and what’s wrong with going on a trip with a friend especially if they are offering to foot the bill. It was on that trip that I realized he had not changed one bit. In fact, he was worse than ever! The trip was a disaster and in the background of every moment spent arguing and babysitting him while he got plastered to the point of oblivion, the song “We no Speak Americano” by Yolanda be Cool was blaring through the speakers in the common area. I’m not sure why the staff had such an obsession with that particular song but even when I hear it today, I have flashbacks to that ill-fated week in Playa Del Carmen.

My trip to Cuba the following year was on much better terms. For one, I was traveling alone and not with a drunken idiot set on ruining a beautiful week in paradise. The only problem? I had the song “Mambo #5” by Lou Bega stuck in my head for weeks after I returned home! For some reason, this song was played over and over again at the resort disco. Perhaps the staff thought the patrons too drunk to notice that the playlist only consisted of that one song and it was upbeat enough to keep people drinking and dancing throughout the evening.
And than there was Costa Rica, my most recent big trip…and most memorable one. A week spent at a yoga retreat in paradise. I took this trip at a somewhat stressful time in my life. I was about to be unemployed and undecided about what to do with my life in terms of staying in Atlantic Canada or moving away again to find better-paying opportunities out west. The moment I walked into that yoga retreat, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. A saltwater infinity pool overlooking the spectacular coastline, a bed facing glass doors overlooking the Pacific Ocean, delicious and homemade organic meals three times a day and the most soothing music I had ever heard setting the mood for the week. But there is another musical memory that stands out on that trip and I still smile to myself when I am taken back to that moment. I was too tired to walk back to the retreat after an evening spent wandering the little surf village of Montezuma so I hailed a cab. It was evident that my driver couldn’t speak a word of English as we both struggled to communicate. After some pointing and hand gestures and broken words in English and Spanish, he understood where I wanted to go. We started the short journey up that steep hill to Anamaya Yoga Retreat in silence until he turned on the radio. One might assume that a Spanish song would be playing on a local station in a Spanish-speaking country but it was an English song by a British artist that I was quite familiar with. My driver recognized it too and that man who could not speak a word of English only a few minutes earlier began to sing along to George Michael’s “Freedom 90” at the top of his lungs….in clear, unbroken English!

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