Friday, January 23, 2015

A Daytrip to Cayos Cochinos

Once in awhile you just need a vacation. (Even if you live at the beach.) This was one of those days!

Cayos Cochinos (Hog Islands) are a chain of islands and little cays located between the Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila and Guanaja) and the mainland of Honduras. These tiny islands are sparsely inhabited (the last census had the population pegged at 108), and drop-dead gorgeous. Only about an hour and a half by boat from Roatan, it makes for an easy day trip and a great way to get off the island for a bit. Yes, I see the irony of leaving one tropical island for another :)

Last week one of my friends had a birthday and organized a trip for 9 of us to head out to Cayos Cochinos for the day. Because seven of us are dive instructors, plus 1 divemaster and 1 advanced open water diver, we also loaded up the boat with tanks and our gear so that we could do a dive in the unspoiled reef near the big island.

We headed out early in the morning and were treated to a pod of dolphins following the boat about halfway to Cayos! They were sneaky ninjas though, and I didn't get a great photo. From there it was off to the island that has the marine park and research station on it to pay our park fees ($10/day) and take the obligatory "Cayos sign photo" that everyone does here.

After we had registered and paid our fees, we went out for a dive. It was amazing how different the reef is over there than Roatan despite it being so close. There was a lot more soft coral and it felt more lush that Roatan's reef, and definitely more similar to the south side sites than the north side ones. I was beyond thrilled to find a black & white crinoid on my dive, which I've been searching for on Roatan for almost 3 years with no luck.

After the dive, we busted into our enormous stash of booze and chips (I think we had 14 bags of chips for 9 people) and cruised over to a tiny cay called Chachauate, where there is a Garifuna village and some ladies who cook lunch for tourists. While pulling up to the island and getting off the boat we couldn't figure out why everyone was running up to us and trying to sell us earrings (if you are reading this because you'd like to go to Cayos, PLEASE do not buy anything made from turtles, flamingo tongues or coral from these kids. These are protected marine life. The wooden and coconut jewelry is ok to buy.) Then we looked around at each other and realized we totally looked like tourists with our cameras and backpacks - and technically we were! - but we were so used to living on Roatan and not being seen as a tourist anymore that it came as a bit of a surprise and we had a laugh at ourselves.

The kids on Chachauate love to play with visitors and will generally mob you once you step off the boat. They are adorable and I don't blame them for being excited to have new people to play with (on an island for 40 people, wouldn't you?) The kids only speak Spanish and Garifuna, so having a few words of basic Spanish is fun to be able to interact with them, but they mostly just want you to get in the water, carry them around in deeper parts, do swimming races and jump around with them.

We got lunch from one of the local ladies. She originally offered fried fish for $10 and lobster for $25 but there was no way we were paying gringo prices so we settled on everyone having the fish for $6.50 each. It came with a big plate of fried plantains for us all to share, a tomato-onion sauce and coconut rice & beans.

This dog decided he was going to be my best friend at lunch and I nearly took him back with me:

We spent a lot of time taking pics of the stunning surroundings!

After Chachauate, we started heading back to Roatan... with birthday champagne, of course!

We reached Roatan around sunset and the boat captain let us get in the water with some of the toys we brought. Here's my friend Ty killing it freeboarding:

Epic sunset as usual, to end the day.

Our trip to Cayos Cochinos was on a private charter that we organized ourselves, but there are tour companies on Roatan that regularly make Cayos trips. They cost $165-$180 per person and are a full day trip, with stops for snorkeling, fishing, Chachauate, etc. Lunch is always included as are marine park fees, and on some boats they will feed you breakfast as well. The tours normally don't do diving and need a minimum of 8 people to go (max 12-16 depending on the boat). It's a blast! Contact me if you'd like a recommendation.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me take more island 'vacations'. So there's that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Things I Love About My Favorite City: Kyoto, Japan

While I live a life many seem to envy here in the Caribbean, waking up to white sand beaches with turquoise water, and getting a suntan on the boat between scuba dives, only a few close friends know that my heart really lies in Japan.

wearing my hello kitty yukata at a ryokan (tradional inn)
An obsession since I was tiny, Japan embodies everything I love: efficiency, innovation, perfection, order, traditions and precision. A wide geographic range from snowy mountains in the north all the way down to tropical beaches in the south has always amazed me for such a small country. When I started taking Japanese language classes I admired the simplicity of the language structure (screw you, French and Spanish). Japan is also home to my favorite cuisine by far, and I have sushi tattoos to prove it!

kaiseki breakfast (fancy traditional meal)
When I finally visited Japan in 2009 after finding a miraculous $400 return ticket from Vancouver (!!!), I was worried that I had built it up so much in my mind that I would be disappointed when I got there and finally experienced it for myself. Luckily, it was better than I could have ever imagined. I fell in love with nearly everywhere in Japan, but my favorite city in Japan (and the world) is Kyoto.

Three things that I love about Kyoto:

1) Running into a geisha in a giant bamboo forest.

While wandering the streets in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, we stumbled upon a bamboo forest. Walking inside the forest through the path gave me an instant sense of calm and serenity (which was much needed, as I had just gotten lost for 2 hours trying to find my hostel). I turned around to take a photo, and realized that the photo I was taking was my exact desktop wallpaper at home - talk about deja vu! - and around the corner came a geisha walking with a companion. I couldn't believe it! She was so gracious, and let us take a picture with her. Still, 6 years later, this is one of my favorite travel memories.

2) Visiting one of the oldest Zen temples in Kyoto.

Kennin-ji was founded in 1202 and is still kickin' it. This temple was so beautiful and we were lucky enough to catch a traditional wedding procession moving through it with the bride, groom and wedding party in full regalia. We explored the meticulously kept grounds and ended off the visit by writing our wishes and prayers on a little piece of wood and hanging it on a wall with thousands of others. Mine was to return to Japan someday - hopefully that's still in the works!

3) Eating the best ramen in the world.

I don't know if it was the steaming bowl of dark soy broth, fatty cha-su pork, springy negi (green onion) and chewy noodles, or the company, or the view, that made this the best bowl of ramen I've ever eaten... but I don't care! Hiding out from the rain in a ramen-ya with my Japanese university roommate and her friend who came up to Kyoto to meet me and my travel buddies was one of my favorite times in Kyoto. I think I've eaten about 856 bowls of ramen since then, but this one is still #1.

This post has sent me into another Japan-frenzy and I'm putting email alerts on all the airlines! It's also a contest entry for Accor Hotels that sounds pretty awesome - a chance to win a nine-night European trip to London, Paris & Amsterdam, plus £1,000 (about $1,200) in spending money and a GoPro camera to capture everything. I've never been to Europe so this would be a great place to start! If you want to enter, create a blog post or video around the theme ‘Three things I love about my favourite city’ and notify Accor by sending a link to the entry either via a tweet to the @Accorhotels Twitter account including the hashtag #3cities or via email . Full contest details can be found here.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start practicing my nihongo (Japanese) again. So there's that.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tackling the Mountains: Ultimate Trips for Beginners

While beach vacations provide the perfect opportunity for relaxation, and city breaks allow you to take in a little culture and nightlife, there’s nothing quite like a trip to the mountains, particularly in the height of winter when the peaks are snowcapped and look spectacular. You don’t have to be an expert skier or hiker to enjoy the mountains either, with plenty of activities available for the whole family, regardless of your age or fitness.

The thrill of the mountains

Taking a vacation among the mountains has got to be one of the best ways to explore the States; unparalleled views, an activity for every season, and some truly fantastic photographic opportunities await you thousands of feet above sea level. A mountain vacation is a great way to reconnect as a family, and you’ll discover so much to see and do, as well as breathing some fresh air for a change. If you’re a little daunted by the prospect of heading into the hills for the first time, try booking with a specialist company such as Outdoor Traveler; your vacation will benefit from their expertise, and they’ll be able to match you with the right accommodation and itinerary to suit your family and budget.

Choosing your first mountain destination

There are literally hundreds of mountain ranges and resorts across the country, so how do you know which is right for you? Firstly, think about the activities you enjoy, or would like to try for the first time, as well as the types of accommodation you enjoying staying at, and the view you’d like to wake up to.

Ideal for those who love skiing, snowboarding and sampling the apr├Ęs ski, Breckenridge, Colorado is a fantastic mountain destination with bags of character. With over 25 acres of ski terrain, the mountain resort has plenty to explore, enabling you to get to grips with a number of slopes of varying difficulties. If skiing isn’t your thing, the resort and town also offer mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting, and boating, making it a great vacation destination for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors.

The Great Smoky Mountains, which border Tennessee and North Carolina, are home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and offer unrivalled forest walks, spectacular scenery and opportunities for wildlife watching. Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and cycling are all popular activities in the area. Accommodation is offered for every budget, from campsites and lodges to luxury hotels, ensuring you can relax in comfort after your adventures.

Located in Sierra Nevada and surrounded by striking mountainous landscape as far as the eye can see, Lake Tahoe is a great destination for those who aren’t sure what they’d like to try; fantastic for hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, cycling, horseback riding, boating and canoeing, and fishing, as well as some fantastic skiing in the winter months, Lake Tahoe is ideal for families taking their first steps into the Great Outdoors.

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Tackling the mountains is a fantastic way of getting back to nature, enjoying time as a family with little distraction, and discovering a little more about yourself and your limits. Mountain adventures can be adapted to suit any age and experience, providing vacation memories that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Day of 2014

Hello again from the Caribbean!

After a somewhat unintentional month-long blog hiatus, here I am. At first I was just feeling uninspired, with not much to say. Then I was feeling censored, as there were a lot of things happening here on Roatan safety and security-wise that people were asking me about, but I couldn't write about it on my blog. I'm sure many of you don't know this but there are plenty of islanders who have found out about my blog and read it. While I'm always happy to have new readers, I sometimes receive threatening messages if I post unsavory things about their island (despite facts being facts...) so I prefer not to address these issues on a public forum like my blog. I don't like the feeling of not being able to write about what I want to, but at this time on a small island where people know who I am, I am putting my personal safety first. Anyway, when I leave Roatan permanently I've got loads of great stories saved up for you all :)

High season on Roatan has finally started after one of the slowest seasons on record. I have to say, I am thankful that it has taken me 29 years to have to experience the feeling of having only $8 to my name and not getting paid for another week - I'm glad I have been so lucky in life - but I hope that never happens again! Hopefully that will be good inspiration for me to tuck some money away this high season. I am generally the absolute worst with money (which I still find shocking in a life that I try to control obsessively) but maybe 2015 will be the year that I get it. For now, things are rolling and very busy. I'm back in the water diving which I am happy about. I spotted a hammerhead shark yesterday which is my third in three years - I've had people tell me they've been diving 15+ years here without ever seeing a hammerhead, so I think I'm doing pretty good in the shark department.

I've been really enjoying reading everyone's 2014 recaps on Facebook and out in the blogosphere. When I watched my 'Facebook Year in Review' it seems that I didn't do much in 2014 other than eat, drink and dive. I actually think that's perfect. 2012 was a huge year when I finally made the move to Roatan, 2013 saw me ringing in the New Year on a megayacht traveling the Caribbean, and 2014 was the year I settled down. I'm okay with that. 2014 was the year I was mostly happy. That works for me.

I always feel like I don't have much to say about the holidays here. They're just another work day for me. We definitely don't get holidays off here! For a girl who used to set her Christmas tree up on November 1st every year and not take it down until February, this was a big leap. Some of my friends here have put on fantastic holiday parties, dinners, etc. and I am grateful they still invite me to this stuff even though I am always too broke or busy to host my own.

2015 is coming tomorrow, and for me it's a big, blank slate. I have no idea what I'm going to do next year. It might be another year on Roatan full of my favorite things (eating, drinking and diving!) or it may find me somewhere else doing something different. I don't know and I don't want to know yet. I do know January and February are going to be huge with a lot going on. I will be traveling somewhere around here for a visa run (probably Belize, Costa Rica or Grand Cayman), doing a housesitting stint for the cutest puppy ever, my 30th birthday party (ideas so far are a magician, fireworks and a massive pig roast...normal 30th birthday, right?) and two more things that I can't announce yet but are pretty damn awesome. After that, who knows? Every time I try to make plans here they seem to get thrown out the window, so 2015 will be the year of no plans. Let's see what happens.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me keep on eating, drinking and diving for another year. So there's that.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Ode to Rainy Season


Nope, not Christmas. Christmas as I used to know it barely exists for me anymore - there is no tree, no family and presents on Christmas morning, no hot chocolate and skating and snowmen. Christmas is just another day that I take people out diving (and I am totally okay with that). So, while that song might evoke images of Christmas in your mind, the most wonderful time of year on Roatan for me is rainy season.

I will take a moment here to be grateful that we have rainy season, not monsoon season like some other places. It does rain a lot, but not in catastrophic ways and we still get quite a few sunny days interspersed in there. Rainy season on Roatan also only lasts 3 months (compared to my Saskatchewan winters in Canada which can be up to 8 months of the year with snow and freezing temperatures).

We do feel terrible when tourists are here and have saved up all year to take their vacation and end up in the rain (although we would like to introduce you guys to a thing called Google, cause the yearly weather patterns here are no secret and you should probably look that kind of stuff up before you spend thousands of dollars on a vacation), most people who live here love rainy season!

Oh, rainy season, I love you so. Let me count the ways:

After 8 months of nearly dying from heatstroke every day, the cooler temperatures are more than welcome.

Even people who swear they love the heat need a respite sometimes from the intensely hot tropical weather we get here. I actually don't love the heat, which is why I try to spend the hot part of the daytime here underwater. I also leave during the hottest two months of the year (August and September) and head back to Canada because I literally cannot take the weather here during that time. So once November rolls around and it starts to rain and the temperature drops to a 'chilly' +25C/77F... I do my happy dance because I can sit at home and type a blog post like this without sweating to death. And sometimes I even get to wear pants. PANTS, people. It's exciting. Also, being able to drink hot tea and cook hot food? So lovely.

Rainy season = slow season.

Now, slow season sucks for reasons such as no one is making any money. But it's also a time for the people who live here to get to enjoy their island and all it has to offer without hordes of cruise shippers crawling all over everything. Prices are also cheaper in low season.

There is a totally legitimate excuse for sitting in your house and watching Netflix for 6 days straight.

No one likes going out when it's pouring (I feel like that's kind of a universal truth). So sometimes we do nothing but sit at home, read, check Facebook every 3 minutes and watch all the hundreds of movies we've all somehow accumulated from the DVD guy... and no one judges.

Less bug bites!

While there are actually more bugs around in rainy season, since you have pants on and are normally not sitting outside at the beach, you get bit less.

Cleaner ants AKA army ants AKA the best/worst thing ever.

These are huge black ants that descend on your home by the thousands all at once. It's super creepy to watch - they pour in around door and window frames, up through cracks in the floor, under the door. The first time they invaded my house I had a complete meltdown because Raid doesn't kill them and no matter how hard I swept them out, more kept coming back in waves. They were in my bed, in my dishes, everywhere! Finally I called an islander friend and managed to shriek out my problem to him, and he (bless his heart) told me to go outside and stand in the street for 5 minutes. Five minutes later he was there, put me on the back of his motorcycle and took me out for a beer. He told me the ants come in and clean your house and then leave in a couple hours. There is nothing to do but wait it out. They bite though, and hard, so if you ever see them go have a beer somewhere else while you wait. Two hours later, I returned to a spotless home - the ants eat EVERYTHING, like crumbs, spiders, other ants, flying bugs, cockroaches (!!), anything they can find. I didn't have to sweep for days! They always seem to come before a rain, and when I see my floor is full of crumbs I always wish for an invasion of ants to come clean it up.

Rain doesn't stop a dive.

High wind might get a dive canceled, but rain? Nope! I have people ask me all the time if you can still dive in the rain. Uh, you know you're going to get wet anyway right?

It's finally quiet.

I think my favorite part of rainy season is that I can actually sleep, enjoy Skype calls, read or watch a movie/TV peacefully or write without distraction. When it's not raining, my neighborhood is an absolute circus. Dogs yelping and howling for hours on end, gangs of tiny kids sent outside to run around and scream all day because their parents don't want to watch them, teenage boys running their no-muffler ATVs up and down the road as fast as they can, neighborhood basketball games outside my bedroom window with boys yelling obscenities you've never even heard of before, roosters crowing at all the wrong hours... the list goes on. (We won't get started on the guy who lives behind me with 4ft tall speakers outside who thinks everyone in a 1-mile radius wants to listen to him blasting reggaeton at 7:30am.) If you were picturing me living in a serene beachside condo, think again. So I love the rain because everyone is inside and I can get a little peace and quiet. It's such a treat once in awhile and I am always trying to savor it, because I know as soon as the rain stops everyone will come out to play again.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start exercising because I can't use the "it's too hot" excuse anymore. So there's that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Roatan Month 27 Roundup

It never ceases to amaze me how the monthly number just keeps growing and growing! 27 months on this island and counting...

I have been thinking for a few days what I was going to put in this little 'pre-roundup news' part that I usually do, but I can't come up with much. No news is good news I guess? I am feeling much better after my bout with dengue - thank you to all my readers and family & friends who were checking in on me! I'm ready to get diving again and cheeseburgers no longer make me gag, so I guess things are back to normal.

Well, that's the news! Shall we get on to the roundup? (You can see all the past roundups here.)

1. Gratuitous diving photo:

Well ladies and gentlemen, it's finally happened. I am completely out of diving photos and videos. I've been out of the water for almost six weeks, so this isn't a huge surprise. Here is a photo of a lovely evening at Half Moon Bay instead (that's sheets of rain on the right... which poured down on us shortly after this picture was taken):

2. Posts from the last month:

 3. Best thing I've found on the internet this month:

I am super in love with my recent discovery of Nettle's Tale Swimwear. Based out of one of my fave places to live, Vancouver BC, they have changed the game for women's swimwear.

Nettle's Tale Swimwear Inc. creates locally made, thoughtfully designed swimsuits for women from all walks of life. 20-somethings, 50-somethings, students or seniors, lean or athletic, pear-shaped or hourglass, petite or name it, we'll design a suit for it.

In our lookbook, you won't see airbrushed models. You'll see women who look like your friends. 
Our designs grow out of local stories. Each swimsuit is modelled by and named after the woman who inspired its design. As you shop, you can read a profile about each of these uniquely beautiful women. Connect with who she is and what makes her body unique. Every time her suit design is sold, 10% of the profits will go to a charitable cause she's passionate about.

If that's not just the best, I don't know what is. Check out their shop here. I am head over heels in love with the Britney Set... but what I'd love to get is a Rika Set! Next time I'm in Vancouver I will be looking these ladies up.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to justify buying a expensive high-quality swimsuit cause it's my work uniform, you guys. So there's that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

{GIVEAWAY} The Dayplanner to End All Dayplanners

Last year I won my first giveaway ever - I was the lucky recipient of a personalized dayplanner from Personal Planner in a contest hosted by the lovely Andi. When I posted about how much I loved my new planner, the company contacted me and offered a giveaway for my readers too! My friend Lise won and she loooooved hers just as much as I did.

Fast forward to this fall... it's 2015 dayplanner time! Take a look at my 2014 planner, then at my 2015 planner below and then make sure to check out the bottom of the post - I have a discount code AND a giveaway AND a contest to win a $600 airline gift card for you guys from the awesome people at Personal Planner.

All about creating my planner: what I love about Personal Planner is that it's even easier the second time around. When I started designing my 2015 planner, I simply signed into my account from last year and all my birthdays and anniversaries that I had added were already there, ready to be printed into my 2015 planner. I added a few more and set off to personalize! You get to choose SO many things, from the size of the planner to the weekly/day layout, to colors, headers, and more.

I chose new (less narcissistic?) photos for my 2015 planner covers. The front is my favorite thing in the world: SUSHI!

The back cover is a shot I took at West Bay Beach here on Roatan. I couldn't stray too far from my underwater theme.

Inside I went with a similar welcome page to last year's:

And I was happy to see a few more options for customizing the bottom of the pages - love that they added a 'This Week's Dinners' box! - and for keeping track of work hours and exercise on a daily basis. Hopefully I'll be using those two a lot!

My favorite part is always deciding what to put in the last 16 pages. I went with world maps, 2016/2017 overview and basic lined note pages:

I'm really pleased with the way this came out and am already itching for December 22 to get here so I can start using it. I am a total stationary/office stuff/organization nerd so yes, I get excited about using a new planner.

I have to say a special thanks to my girl Sarah for doing the 'bring Rika's planner to Roatan for her' duties this year (Amanda took care of it last year for me), and to Lisa at Personal Planner who was probably the most helpful person on the planet when the first planner they sent out got lost in the mail.

Congratulations to Jill on winning a free planner!
Thank you to all who entered, I loved your stories and your under-the-sea jokes. Check back next year to see what's happening for 2016 planners!
For those of you who order, win, or already have a planner, Personal Planner is also sponsoring an Instagram contest for a $600 American Airlines gift card. Just upload a pic of your planner and tag with #personalplanner - contest closes December 1st, 2014.

Many thanks to Personal Planner for hosting the giveaway and discount code. Lisa is the coolest customer service rep ever - after I bought my 2015 planner and contacted her to ask if they'd be interested in collaborating on a giveaway again, she generously gave me a credit for my 2016 planner and granted my request of a giveaway and a discount code (so everybody wins!). Awesome.

You can connect with Personal Planner on their website, Facebook, and Instagram!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start planning ALL the dinners in those cute little boxes. So there's that.