Monday, September 15, 2014

How Taking a Walk at Night Was a Revelation

The other night I felt like taking a walk.

I used to walk everywhere before I moved to Roatan. When I lived in Vancouver, one of the biggest cities in Canada, I regularly walked to/from work downtown to the neighborhood I lived in (Kitsilano). I walked home drunk by myself from downtown after going to the bar with friends. I walked to concerts, dinner dates and shopping. I never had a problem in 5 years of living there, and I never felt unsafe.

When I first moved to Roatan it was a bit of a shock to me that it was so unsafe for me to walk anywhere outside of the main street at night. I had enough close friends and acquaintances who had been robbed (sometimes at gunpoint) just walking home, that I decided it wasn't a risk I was willing to take. My friends who live in town still carry pepper spray or tasers when they walk on the main road at night! Even when I lived in town, I still sometimes took a taxi home at night because I lived a bit off the main road and wanted to be safe. A couple times people tried to rob me, but I don't ever carry anything on me besides a cheap phone and less then $25 so I never lost much. I have been around long enough on the island that most people know I'm not a tourist, and also I'm not tiny and walk assertively so I hardly ever have issues these days. That being said, I'm not going to purposely put myself in situations that I know aren't safe (hello, common sense) so I don't walk at night.

Now back in my sleepy hometown in Saskatchewan, I felt like going for a walk after dinner. I said to my mom that I wanted to go for a walk, and she said, "so...take a walk then!" and without thinking, I immediately responded, "but it's dark out".

In two years it has been so ingrained in my every day life that I can't walk around at night that I forgot it's completely safe to take an after dinner walk in a small city in Saskatchewan. Or a big city like Vancouver. Or anywhere in Canada, really.

I felt like a 16 year old with a brand new drivers license and a car... I could go walk anywhere I wanted! Even though it was 8:30pm! What freedom!

I bundled up (hey, it was 3C/37F out - I'm not used to these temperatures anymore!) and got ready to go.

As I set out for a walk through my quiet neighborhood, I thought about how wonderful it was that I could go for a walk. I thought about how lovely it was to be walking and not sweating and feeling like I'm about to die of heatstroke. And then I realized about 20 minutes in that I was CONSTANTLY looking over my shoulder and feeling a little anxious. I didn't see a single human being during my entire hour-long walk, but I couldn't shake the sense of uneasiness.

It was shocking to me that even though I am perfectly safe walking around in Canada, that after two years of knowing and being told it's not safe (in Roatan) that I couldn't fully enjoy a walk around my neighborhood here anymore without a nagging feeling that I was doing something I shouldn't and that I might be in danger. Clearly my brain was functioning on autopilot, and I'm glad I'm not immune to it sending out safety signals, but I can't help thinking what a shame it is.

This really got me thinking - do I want to live in a place that is so unsafe for me to walk around alone at night? This is not an exaggeration or 'crazy gringo talk' - it is a real and serious safety issue where I live in Honduras (for me and for people from won't see locals walking home outside of town either) and now it so it is entrenched in my brain that I can't walk around in Canada without feeling unsafe. I don't really like the idea that I have this paranoia even once I'm not there.

I wish things were different in Roatan but it's not my country to change. That's up to the islanders and their government to do something about this kind of stuff that affects their residents and visitors alike. All I can do is decide if I want to be a part of a place where this is the norm and isn't going to be different anytime in the near future. I guess being back in Canada has given me a fresh set of eyes on it as I never think about it while I'm there - it's just what you do and you don't really think twice about it. So I'll keep pondering that question... but in the meantime, I'm going for a walk.

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 figure out where my pepper spray is. So there's that.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Roatan Month 25 Roundup

Month 25 is coming to you live from CANADA!

I guess the post title is a little misleading, because I'm still hanging out in the great white north for a couple more weeks. (And it's literally the great white north right now... it's already snowing in some parts of Canada, and it looks like I may see some snow for the first time in over 3 years. Not that excited about it.) It has been wonderful eating all my favorite food - did you know there are bacon poutine chips now? - and seeing my friends and family.

Times have been a-changing in Roatan since I left a few weeks ago, and some new government regulations have thrown many long-stay visitors in Roatan through a loop. When you enter Honduras, you are usually granted a 90-day tourist visa. Most tourists wanting to stay longer were able to pay for visa extensions at local immigration offices without having to do 'visa runs'. Now the government has implemented fingerprint scanners at airports and your fingerprints will be scanned at entry and exit. Apparently the info will be shared with the US Department of Homeland Security, which the US expats are in an uproar about but I'm not exactly sure why. Anyway, visa extensions from within the country are no longer permitted and you must leave Honduras for at least 72 hours before re-entering to get a new visa. Overstaying your visa comes with some hefty fines... there is no 'official' number anywhere but I have heard of people 1-5 days over being charged around $160 and up. I guess this change is an attempt to look like they are beefing up security in the international eye, with all the bad press about Honduras lately. That being said, I can think of about thirty thousand other things this country could use before fingerprint scanners.

So, it seems that visa runs are now a thing, and with the cost hovering around the $500-$600 mark for getting off the island and out of the country for at least 4 days before coming back in, it is highly unlikely that budget travelers and those on retirement/limited income will be doing visa runs to continue to staying on Roatan (or anywhere else in Honduras, I guess, although I imagine visa runs could be significantly cheaper from the mainland).  Since I fall in those categories, I can't say with any confidence right now that I will be returning to Roatan once my next 90 days are up. Some people have already left. It's kind of unfortunate and unexpected news, and I have found myself wishing that I would have found out about this before I left... I think I would have probably just packed up my stuff and saved the cost of the return ticket. We'll see how it all plays out - the government doesn't exactly have a great track record of taking care of/being able to fix stuff, and I imagine with all the power outages frying the island's electronics that these fingerprint scanners will be by the wayside in short order.

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

1. Gratuitous diving photo:

teaching one of my open water students!

2. Posts from the last month:

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

Okay, to be honest, when I started reading this article about Google hacks I thought it was lame because I already knew the first few. By the end, I was all, "WTFFFF how did I not know about this until now??" Google has a timer and a tip calculator! Who knew? So I'm sharing the Google geekery...enjoy!

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 figure out what the hell I'm doing next if I leave Roatan. So there's that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Definitive Guide to an Incredible Weekend in Ucluelet, BC

I have mentioned a few times here on the blog that I am an island girl at heart - yes, I love my little rock in the Caribbean that I live on, but I was actually born on an island! Vancouver Island, to be exact. I'm currently in Canada for a 5-week break from Roatan, and when one of my best friends offered to have me come out to Vancouver Island and stay for a long weekend in Ucluelet, one of my fave little towns in Canada, I jumped at the chance.

Ucluelet (you-kloo-let), or more affectionately known locally as Ukee, is the up-and-coming little sister to Canada's most famous surf town - Tofino. The wild waves of the west coast draw surfers year-round to Tofino and Ukee, and the stunning combination of beach & forest scenery, rugged coastline, First Nations history and charming little towns keep visitors coming back. Ukee and Tofino are about 30ish minutes by car from each other, with Pacific Rim National Park and some great surf breaks in between.

I have visited Tofino & Ucluelet many times in the past and I love seeing these tiny towns grow. Independent shops and artisan restaurants keep popping up, while the two big luxury resorts (Wickanninish Inn in Tofino and Black Rock Resort in Ukee, which may be my two favorite resorts ever but are wayyyy out of my price range) are still going strong along with several established campgrounds and smaller bed & breakfasts to accommodate travelers of all budgets.

If you have a weekend (or a long weekend in my case... or longer!) to spend in Ucluelet, I'm going to let you in on my top picks for a fantastic trip:

How to Get There

From the mainland (Vancouver): to get to the island, most people use the BC Ferries system. You can reach Nanaimo by the Horseshoe Bay or Tsawassen ferry terminals. Crossing time is just under two hours. You can drive your car on-board the ferry or walk-on. If you drive on, once you arrive in Nanaimo, follow the signs to Port Alberni or Pacific Rim National Park. These will take you on a breathtaking ride straight to Ukee in about 3 hours. There are also various small-plane flights available to the Ukee airport (use airport code YAZ), but this is a significantly more expensive option.

On-island: follow driving directions above, or if you don't have a car, check out the Tofino Bus to get yourself around on the island. I had a great experience with them. From the Nanaimo ferry, it's $46 one way to Ucluelet. There are several other places the bus stops that are worth checking out, so if you have a few extra days make sure to explore Victoria, Parksville & Tofino!

Where to Stay

Reef Point Cottages: I have stayed at Reef Point Cottages a few times here and can recommend them. They have great little cabins for really affordable prices and are in a fantastic location. Most of them have BBQs and hot tubs, as well as kitchens so you can cut down on eating-out costs and make your own food. There's a grocery store and liquor nearby to stock up. One of the entrances to the Wild Pacific Trail is a short 5-minute walk away from the cottages (see 'Things to Do' below for more info on the trail). You might even get a visit from the resident deer as they make their way through the area.

Camping: there are tons of campgrounds all over Tofino & Ukee with varying levels of amenities. Check out Wya PointGreen PointLong Beach Golf Course Campground or Ucluelet Campground. I have stayed at two of these and thought they were great, and the other two come recommended by locals.

Things to Do

Surfing: probably the biggest reason most people visit Ukee (and Tofino) is for the surfing - this area is Canada's surf mecca. The second-most consistent place in the world for wave energy with a killer beach break as well as a few reef breaks, there are quite a few spots within a short drive to head out and get your surf on. I highly recommend going to see Andy Herridge at Wick'd Surf Camps to get set up. Check out my full review of my favorite day ever here. Andy does lessons, surf camps and guiding. He's an awesome instructor for those wanting to get their feet wet or a few tips to become a better surfer. Or if you are already a rockstar, Andy knows the best breaks and is an all-around badass surfer to head out with for a guided trip. He can also arrange surfing & yoga packages to get your zen on in and out of the waves. Send him an email at, give him a call at (250) 266-0338 or go visit him at 1559 Imperial Lane and he'll get you sorted.

Hiking/Nature Trails/Beach Walks: Ukee is home to the Wild Pacific Trail, which I have hiked and walked numerous times. Some trails are short and easy, others are longer and require good shoes. I've done the Lighthouse Loop in flip flops! Very family-friendly... I saw three year olds, elderly people and everyone in between walking the trail. Incredible viewpoints and benches are dotted regularly along the trail for those who want to stop and take a break or photos. There are maps at all the entrances so you know where you're going. Also, if you have a car and head towards Tofino, enter the Pacific Rim National Park and you'll find all kinds of massive beaches to walk along (Long Beach lives up to its name!) and trails to explore.

Ucluelet Aquarium: normally I am not a fan of aquariums and zoos, as I think creatures should live in their natural habitat and we need to go where they are if we want to see them. However, I love the Ucluelet Aquarium, because when they say they their mission is to raise awareness and promote respect for the ocean, they mean it. All specimens are returned to the wild!! How many aquariums can say that? The exhibits are well-presented with knowledgeable staff, and the location can't be beat - right in the heart of the tiny little downtown, so you can walk around and check out shops and restaurants afterward. It's kind of little compared to other aquariums I've seen so don't plan an entire day here - an hour is lots. Entrance is $14 for adults/$5 for kids.

Other things to check out: I haven't done it personally, but Ukee is a great starting point for all kinds of ocean adventures on the sea like deep-sea fishing & whale watching. Apparently you can also scuba dive in and around Ukee, but it's way too cold for me so I didn't try it! In the winter months, storm-watching is a popular activity here - make sure you get a room with a view of the ocean and enjoy a warm cup of tea while you watch the waves batter the shoreline.

Where to Eat

Zoe's Bakery and Cafe: I had heard all about Zoe's Bakery and Cafe from before it was even born (the owner, Zoe, is a good friend of my host in Ukee and he kept telling me about it as it developed) so I was super excited to see it in real life. It did not disappoint. An open bakery allows you to see all the behind-the-scenes baking going on by the girls in the cutest aprons in the world ("Made in Ukee with <3") while you order. Zoe used to be the pastry chef at a prominent Ukee resort, and her culinary skill and finesse shines through here. It was evident Ucluelet has welcomed her new business with open arms, as every time I went there was a (short) line basically non-stop. The offerings change daily, but I saw exquisitely decorated little pot-de-cremes, giant homemade peanut butter cups, cupcakes with perfectly piped frosting, cookies and tarts galore, as well as fruit & salad boxes to grab and go. A simple Drumroaster coffee menu was a refreshing change from cafes that seem to feel a need to have 28 different coffee options, and a rotating daily soup, sandwich & flatbread are up on the huge chalkboard menu (serious props to whoever did the hand-lettering on that board, it is intensely good). Big windows in the little seating area provide a view to the downtown harbor area. I tried the roasted pork loin sandwich (served on freshly baked bread with apricot mustard, homemade sprouts, pickled onions & mayo) for $8 and a rosemary, white bean & roasted garlic soup for $5.50 and it was the best soup & sandwich of MY LIFE you guys. I also devoured a raspberry chocolate bomb (around $4), which sounds crazy but was crazy good.  I also tried a few coffees and teas to keep warm on the drizzly days and they were delicious. So, basically, I want to live inside this bakery forever and ever.

Ukee Dogs: One of the quirkiest places I've ever seen, Ukee Dogs turned out to have amazing food! On the menu are Two Rivers nitrite-free and hormone-free hot dogs with all kinds of topping combinations. I had a Canuck Dog (cheddar, sauteed onions & bacon) for $6 and a cup of their creamy, delicious chanterelle mushroom & thyme soup ($3) with their homemade gingerale (it's on tap!) for $2.75. Laid-back staff and picnic tables outside with amazing mountain/ocean views are the cherry on the cake for this place. I can't wait to go back again and try their smoked salmon sliders.

Wya Point Cafe: Part of a First Nations-run campground, surf shop, and resort complex, the cafe is located behind an outdoor fire pit next to the surf shop. It's a little overpriced (not shocking, given that it's at a campground and is also the first stop on the highway heading back from the surfing beaches - everyone is hungry!) but the menu had some of the best options I saw in Ukee. I went for the Westcoast Veg burger with hand-cut fries and it was not really worth $12 but after a long afternoon surfing it hit the spot so I didn't care. Sitting and eating outside by the fire was kind of nice too, it made me miss camping! I've heard their poutine is pretty legendary... will definitely try that next time.

Have you been to Ucluelet? Anything I missed?

Although you guys always receive my honest opinion no matter who is taking care of the bill, the only company in this post that hosted me was Wick'd Surf Camps, and that was a favor to a friend, not for a blog review. I loved all these places and hope anyone heading to Ukee finds these recommendations helpful!

Guys, make sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram 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 saving to stay at Black Rock Resort next time I'm in Ukee. So there's that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Surfing in Ucluelet, BC with Wick'd Surf Camps

The last time I was on a surfboard was quite a few years ago. Some friends and I were camping in Tofino, on Vancouver Island (BC, Canada) and there were two guys who knew how to surf, plus me and another dude who had no idea what we were doing. We rented gear from a local surf shop and the guys who had surfed before told us they'd give us a lesson. Well, after 20 minutes of flailing around in the whitewash, the guys who knew what they were doing abandoned us in pursuit of bigger and better waves, and my buddy and I lasted about 30 more minutes and then decided we were tired of choking on seawater and getting smashed in the face with our boards. We went in to the beach and drank beer for the rest of the day. It was still a fun trip, but I didn't feel like I'd learned anything about surfing. A second trip to Tofino a year later produced similar results. After that, I went to Mazatlan in Mexico for a vacation and rented a surfboard for a day, but basically did a lot more flailing around and decided I just wasn't meant to surf.

Flash forward to last week, when I headed back to Vancouver Island to Tofino's little sister, Ucluelet (affectionately known as Ukee to the locals) to visit one of my best friends for a long weekend. He is a surfer, but I was happy to stay home and hang out in the hammock while he went out to catch some waves. Then he introduced me to his roommate, who happened to be the legendary Andy Herridge from Wick'd Surf Camps, a new-ish surf shop that is absolutely killin' it on the Tofino/Ukee surf scene. When Andy offered me a lesson, I jumped at the chance to head out with such a highly recommended instructor.

When the day and time of my lesson arrived, we headed down to his shop in downtown Ukee. Right away, I spotted brand-new wetsuits and surfboards - after working in some sketchy dive shops, one of the first things I check out in any shop is their rental gear fleet and what kind of shape it's in. Andy fitted me in a 4/3mm wetsuit and I felt a bit like the Michelin Man since I am used to heading into the ocean in not much more than a rash guard and shorts. He told me I wouldn't need a hood or gloves as the water was unseasonably warm (at 15C/59F... I am used to 28C/82F water!) I filled out the requisite paperwork, waited for the other students to get geared up and off we went to Wickaninnish Beach, but not before Andy offered us some of his homemade lemon/coconut energy balls. (And I can totally vouch for these being homemade, because I was staying at his house and saw all the ingredients!)

Once we arrived at the beach, we met around Andy's truck to get our Wick'd rash guards on. The beach is inside Pacific Rim National Park, and they have regulations that make surf shops and their students wear colored rash guards on top of their wetsuits (every shop has a different color) so students are easily identified. After that, Andy had us carry our boards to the beach and he started our lesson. One thing I've learned as a dive instructor is that just because someone is amazing at what they do, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be a good teacher of it. That's not the case at all with Andy - I saw him tailoring his instructions to each of the 4 students and using lots of different techniques to get his points across. He started with a thorough safety briefing about currents, diver etiquette and bailing off your board without giving yourself a black eye.

After we promised to make hilarious dismounts to keep Andy entertained, we moved onto our boards to learn paddling and 'pop-ups' (how to get up on your board to ride a wave) on the beach. Andy's energy level while giving group and one-on-one instructions was impressive and infectious. We were all giggling away and doing our best to mimic his 'surfer pose' every time he yelled it at us.

We practiced our paddling and pop-ups over and over until we were told to put our leashes on (how the surfboard stays attached to you - it goes around your ankle) and we headed into the whitewash. The first wave that broke over my face was shockingly cold, but I swear, right after that first wave I never felt cold the entire time we were out there. I'm sure it helped that it was a sunny day (I got a lovely burn on my face!) but learning to surf is such physical work that there is not much chance of getting cold, even in colder water.

Since our group was on the bigger side (4 students), Andy would help one person at a time while the others tried to get up on their boards and ride the whitewash in. Even though he was focusing on the person he was helping, I saw him keeping a close eye on the other students and calling out instructions if needed, or snapping a pic if someone got up on their board. He always had a thumbs up and a 'yeahhhhh buddy!!" for everyone.

I quickly got bored of trying to get up on the little whitewash waves (sorry Andy, it's my ADD) and snuck away into deeper water while Andy was helping one of the other ladies. He spotted me and I thought I was going to get told to come in, but he swam out and helped me get my board into even deeper water to catch a green wave - this is what they're called before they start cresting and turning into whitewash. I got up but lost my balance and ended up bailing, and Andy was right there to make sure I was okay and to offer suggestions on how to improve. I did get points for my excellent dismount though.

I have no idea how much time passed as I tried again and again to perfect getting up and riding a wave, all with Andy's encouraging shouts in my ears. The other students in the class were a blast and we were all laughing and bailing off our boards all over the place with each other.

At the end of the session we went in and took a rest on the beach while Andy headed out into the bigger waves for a quick rip to show us how the pros do it. I have seen him surfing a few times and he is amazing. We goofed off and watched from the shore, and then stole his camera for some selfies.

After we made the long walk back to the truck (carrying the surfboard after surfing is not nearly as easy or fun as it is beforehand) and stepped into Andy's post-surf 5-star service area, AKA the back of his truck. He's thought of everything - he has a solar shower hooked to the side of his truck to rinse off, and once your booties/feet are clean you move onto his 'no-sand-zone', which are carpets where you can stand/sit to take off your wetsuit. All your rental gear gets tossed into a box - he takes care of all the rinsing and drying back at the shop, where his ingenious 'drying room' ensures you never have to do the dreaded donning of a wet wetsuit or booties... trust me, it's awful. Then he handed all of us glasses of coconut water to rehydrate. Such thoughtful service! Coming from working at a luxury resort and a demanding valet dive shop in Roatan, it was really wonderful to be on the other end of high-level service.

I was physically wiped out for the rest of the day but couldn't stop talking about how much fun I had and thinking about when my next surf session would be. Later that night, Andy emailed us students all his pics from the day, posted some of them to the gallery on his website and even created a short video (I'm the very last student in the video with the glorious dismount!):

I can't speak highly enough of Andy and about what an awesome lesson I had with him. He's thought of everything and built his business from the ground-up exactly the way he wants it, and it works. He works two jobs and is crazy busy, yet still has an insanely high energy level, super positive attitude and really is able to let his passion for surfing and sharing surfing with his students shine through. Every time I got up on my board I saw Andy giving me a huge grin and a thumbs up and hollering, "yeahhhhh buddddyyyyyy weeeeeeeooooooooooo!" and that made the other 10 times I bailed totally worth it. All four of us managed to get up on our boards at least a few times, and that doesn't always happen when you're first learning how to surf. It was such a rad afternoon.

If you're looking to learn to surf in the Tofino or Ukee area, you need to go see Andy at Wick'd Surf Camps. He does private or group lessons for really reasonable prices (especially given all the extras that are included!) and can tailor it to beginners or more advanced surfers. There are also longer surf camps available for all ages. If you're already a surf god and just want a local guide, Andy also does guided surf trips and will show you best spots. And for those of you looking to get your zen on both in the waves and on land, there are surf & yoga packages available, which I will definitely be taking advantage of next time I'm in town.

I can't think of a more fun afternoon that I've had in quite a while. Andy made the day a blast but still informative and helpful, and I felt like I improved a lot in just a couple hours. I am itching to get back on a board and try to conquer some more waves! I can't wait until I can get back to Ukee and out in the water with Andy. Now I see how surfing can be just as addictive as diving.

Get hooked up with Wick'd Surf Camps:

You can check out Andy's website at (see if you can find me on the 'Gallery' page!). Get in touch with him by email at, by phone at (250) 266-0338 or stop by and see him at 1559 Imperial Lane. He's also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube. Make sure you let him know Rika sent you :)

I was a guest of Wick'd Surf Camps for my lesson, but it was as a favor to a friend, not in exchange for a post/review. Even when I tried to tip Andy afterward, he insisted on trying to give me a shirt for it. Such a solid dude. Anyway, even though you guys know that you always receive my honest opinion no matter who is taking care of the bill, I always like to be transparent about this kind of stuff.

A special thanks to one of my fave dudes on this planet, Ryan, for hosting me in Ukee, taking all the beach pics of the surf lesson, and for making me get my ass in gear to go take the lesson!

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 better at getting up on my board and shredding, dude. So there's that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Places I Could Visit Again and Again

For me, there have been some places where I've traveled that just got under my skin in the best possible way. Places where I could see myself living, or visiting over and over (or both, in the case of my current situation!) Here are 5 places I've been that I absolutely loved, and could travel there again and again:

1. Roatan, Honduras

Duhhhh :) Not only is Roatan now my personal "Cheers" (where everybody knows your name), I visited this little Caribbean island a few times before moving here, and I already know I'll visit again after I move away. I don't think I have to go too much into detail about this one - just read my blog! Roatan has everything I like in a destination: amazing scuba diving, cheap rum, hot weather, beautiful beaches, warm water, laid-back lifestyle and men who can dance. Not much more I could ask for!

2. Kyoto, Japan

I wish I could just pick every city I went to in Japan for this post, but I tried to only pick one city per country. Japan has been #1 in my heart since I traveled there in 2009. For years before I went, I was obsessed with everything Japanese. I took Japanese lessons, dabbled in Japanese cooking and even ikebana (flower-arranging) so when a friend found $400 return tickets from Vancouver, I threw down everything and jumped on a plane. Japan was everything I wanted it to be and more, but Kyoto totally stole my heart. From bumping into a geisha in the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, to the best ramen of my life, to late-night walks through Gion and streets that haven't changed since the 1700s, Kyoto was one of the most amazing places I've ever visited and the day I find another $400 ticket is the day I'm heading back.

3. Puerto Chicama, Peru

When I first arrived in Puerto Chicama, a tiny fishing village on Peru's coast, I had been battling parasites and food poisoning for two weeks and was in serious need of a place to recover. I was feeling ill and didn't want to take the 4 long bus rides we needed to get out to this little town, but my boyfriend at the time had read that Puerto Chicama had the longest left-hand break in the world and he wanted to go surfing. He had been taking care of me for weeks, so I sucked it up and rattled around on a bus until we got out to Puerto Chicama. What we found was a virtually unknown little village where we were two of just a handful of gringos who had heard about the place and made the trek out there. We stayed at a luxury surf resort (the only nice accommodation in the town) and I spent my days recovering in the eucalyptus steam room or sipping mate (tea) in cozy couches on the deck overlooking the few surfers enjoying world-class breaks with no one to fight over whose turn it was in the line up. Massive sand dunes and a crater-like landscape at the top of the neighboring cliffs made for amazing little daily jaunts to regain my strength, as well as checking out tiny local restaurants which served us $3 parihuela, a huge bowl of seafood soup that fed two, and cancha, which are like homemade corn nuts on steroids. To this date, I think it's the slowest, quietest place I've ever visited and I hope I see it again someday before the world gets wind of it.

4. Ambergris Cay, Belize

this is the only photo i can show you from ambergris cay. the rest are from the new years party we went to and are definitely not allowed to be online.

I only managed a short stop in San Pedro on Ambergris Cay while I was working on a megayacht, and I've wanted to go back ever since. We stopped here over New Years 2013 and I fell head over heels in love with the island. It has a lot of the same things I love about Roatan (great scuba diving, cheap rum, hot weather, beautiful beaches, warm water, laid-back lifestyle and men who can dance) plus lots of extras like using golf carts to get around, VEGETABLES, way more choices for shops/bars/restaurants, and English as an official language so everyone speaks it (you guys, I'm working on my Spanish but it's tiring sometimes to constantly have to try and work in a second language you're not very good at). I didn't get a chance to do much here other than get in a few dives, drinks on the beach and an epic New Years party at Fidos so I am excited to visit again and get to know the island a little better. Good news for me: direct flights from Roatan recently started, so hopefully I can take advantage of this soon!

5. Victoria, Canada

If I ever live in Canada again, it will probably be here. Victoria is a gorgeous city that I have visited more times than I can count. Located on stunning Vancouver Island, Victoria has big-city amenities with a super small-town feel and loads of charm. I can't get enough of downtown Victoria - it's right on the water and very walkable. From the best Indian restaurant I've ever eaten at to vegan cupcakes to farmers markets and craft beer galore, there is everything I want here. I love spending an afternoon on the trails and beach at Beacon Hill Park, or wandering around the little Chinatown, or sipping on a raspberry ale at the end of summer in my favorite patio in the world at Swans. Victoria reminds me a lot of Halifax and other east-coast cities with its harbor vibe and has tons of independent shops and restaurants downtown... it hasn't been taken over by chains and still maintains a lot of British style. It's worth the ferry ride from the mainland - if you get a chance, you need to visit Victoria!

This post is an entry for the Go There promotion hosted by! I was nominated by my girl Rachel over at Hippie in Heels, and in turn I've got to nominate 5 bloggers to participate - so Colleen Brynn Travels, 20 Years Hence, Alex in Wanderland, The Journey Itself and Bella Gypsy Sol, here ya go! - Top Destinations to Go There

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 return trips to all these places. So there's that.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Should Have Been a Mermaid

Hello everyone! I'm currently traveling on my way to Canada and taking a little break so you will find a few scheduled posts this week as I get busy stuffing my face with ALL the sushi and visiting with friends and family.

My lifetime love of the ocean made complete sense when I was 25 years old and saw the hospital I was born in. I was born on Vancouver Island and we moved away before I turned 2, so I didn't remember it. The day my aunt took me by the hospital I was born in, it all made sense. It was right beside the ocean with amazing views of the Pacific.

As I grew up, I hated sports but loved the water... you could find me swimming or synchronized swimming, and then when I was older, surfing and scuba diving. The ocean is now my 'office' as a dive instructor, and I couldn't be happier about that.

I am SO lucky to live on Roatan, where we have some of the most beautiful water - above and below the surface. When contacted me about their 'Depths of Perception' contest, I knew right away this was my kind of contest!

My entry is a photo from West Bay Beach, one of the most stunning beaches on Roatan. The water is warm, turquoise and has beautiful snorkeling right off the beach. It looks exactly like what everyone pictures when they think about the Caribbean! I managed to get a shot of one of the standup paddleboard employees as he got his workday started. I love the contrast between his shirt and the sea, and all the blues in the water and sky.

What do you think of my photo?

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 hopefully win this contest. So there's that.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Roatan Month 24 Roundup - Two Years!

Two years. TWO YEARS. I never thought I would be writing this post.

I remember thinking when I left Canada, “Well, if I make it even six months this will all have been worth it.” Now it’s two years later and I’m still here on Roatan - diving, drinking too much rum and enjoying the best sunsets in the world.

I am going to take a break from my traditional roundup posts for this once, since it’s a milestone. Instead of my usual roundup, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned from living on a tiny island in the Caribbean for the last two years.

You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. I’ve been wearing the same 10 shirts and 3 shorts for over a year now (I changed out my ‘wardrobe’ once since I’ve been here). And you know what? No one notices, or cares, including me. I don’t have a flat-screen TV or an office chair & desk, and my life still goes on every day. My 'stuff' has been in storage for two years and I've managed just fine without it.

The world won’t explode if you use dollar store shampoo. I’ve been very lucky that in the past, I had enough money to buy whatever kind of shampoo (and clothes, food, etc.) that I wanted without worrying about it. Now that I’m on an extremely strict budget and in a place with limited options, I’ve had to buy and use things I would never have dreamed of back in Canada. My hair gets just as clean with $1.50 shampoo as it did with my fancy $18 shampoo I used in Canada. This applies to an awful lot of things. It's been a good lesson to learn.

Patience, and more patience. This place pushes me to my limits constantly with ridiculous red tape, line ups that can go on for hours, and the constant “I’ll get to that when I feel like getting to it” attitude. However, I have learned to be more patient and find myself a little bewildered when I hear tourists getting in a huff about having to wait 5 minutes for something. Lady, just be glad you never have to go to the bank.

Trying new things never hurt anyone. I have done all kinds of things here outside of my comfort zone, from eating fried guatusa, to using bush medicine to cure ailments, to learning how to drive a boat. I have said ‘yes’ to many adventures just to see what would happen, and have had some incredible experiences (remember the megayacht I ran away on?) This island has been a great place for cultivating an adventurous spirit.

You can’t eat garbage and drink every day. I haven’t said too much about it on this blog, but I really struggled with my appearance the first year I was here. When I arrived on Roatan I had just had a really stressful year and had been working two full-time jobs for six months. I was way too skinny, but that’s how everyone first saw me here. After a year of too many baleadas and Salva Vidas (plus going from a dive instructor to a dive shop supervisor which had me sitting in an office all day) I had put on 25 pounds and EVERYONE felt the need to comment on it. Especially the islanders, except to them it was a good thing – they were really pleased that I wasn’t ‘skin and bone’ anymore. I didn’t feel good about myself though, and I’ve worked hard to lose 15 of those pounds and am now feeling happy and healthy again with my weight. It was a tough lesson but I had to learn how to take care of myself properly here and find a good balance.

You don’t need all that makeup. I’ve never been a girly-girl, or someone who enjoyed wearing a lot of makeup, but I used to wear some every day and worked in a corporate environment where you were expected to look ‘polished’. I wear zero makeup here (except maybe once every couple months when I’m going out on a Friday night) and people constantly think I’m younger than I actually am. I also feel like it’s more of a compliment now if someone thinks I look good, because this is what I actually look like!

A lot of us are really spoiled. Do you have water you can drink that comes out of your tap? Do you have power that doesn't go out every day? Do you have enough extra money to get a Starbucks every day? The people here have taught me humility. They go without so much that is a 'given' in many other countries, and they just deal with it as best they can. They don't complain about it on Twitter.

You can’t run away from yourself. All too often, I meet people here who ran away from problems they had in their home country before moving here, and then are shocked that they keep running into the same issues. Just FYI, you don’t magically become a different person simply because you moved to the beach.

I don’t know how much longer I will stay on Roatan, but I do know I’m incredibly proud of myself for reaching a goal I set for myself and then exceeding it. There was a big learning curve when I arrived, but I feel like I have finally hit my stride and know how to do what I need to do here. Two years is a big accomplishment and I know, despite whatever comes next, that I will always be able to look back on this and say that I did it.

You can read my previous monthly roundup posts here: Month 23, Month 22, Month 21, Month 20, Month 19, Month 18, Month 17, Month 16, Month 15, Month 14, Month 13, Month 12, Month 11, Month 10, Month 9, Month 8, Month 7, Month 6, Month 5, Month 4, Month 3, Month 2 and finally little old Month 1.

And last but not least, here’s some news for you – I’m going to Canada!! I’m leaving here August 23 and will be in Canada until September 26. So you’ll find posts for the next month will be Canada-based! I am super ready to EAT EVERYTHING and see my family and friends. Trying to co-ordinate some kind of epic summer meet-up somewhere with Colleen and Steph… any other Canadian bloggers around who want to get in on this?

Guys, make sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram 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 cheers to another two years of ridiculous adventures. So there's that.