Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Roatan Month 33 Roundup


Trying to get back into the habit of my monthly roundups! I also posted more than once this month, so there's actually something to put in the roundup.

I've had a crazy month since I last posted. I had a visit from Alex in Wanderland, and it was a serious 'full circle' moment for me. I remember when I first found her blog - I was sitting at my desk in Vancouver four years ago looking up everything I could about Roatan, and found her posts about a trip there. I didn't know that there were people who were long-term travelers, or who even wrote about it! The more I read on her site, the more I realized that this was something I could do too. I didn't have to sit at a desk and do a job that I hated! (It's still such a huge thing for me now when people tell me that I inspired them to do their own cubicle throwdown and create a new life or adventure for themselves - it makes me feel AMAZING that I can be a small part of that for someone!) It was a big moment of realization and Alex was an inspiration for me and a great source of support over the last few years, so it was pretty fun to get to hang out in person. You never really know if you're going to connect with someone you only know online, but we had a blast - my stomach hurt for days afterward from laughing so much! Lots of tidbits to come from our adventures in the next few posts. I can't wait till our next meetup!

What else has gone on? I took a weeklong vacation/visa run to Belize, which I'll go into detail about in some upcoming posts, but the short version is that I loved it just as much as my last trip there. And for those of you who know where I spend most of my day when I'm here on the island, there are some major changes in that department - hopefully involving getting some more time underwater.

Let's do the roundup!

1. Gratuitous diving photo:

YAY! I actually have one! Alex and I managed to sneak in a couple dives between eating delicious food, working on our sites, chatting, laughing at hilarious Insta accounts and watching Netflix documentaries (we're basically party animals). Here's a photo of us at Mary's Place, one of Roatan's premier dive sites. Many thanks to Barefoot Divers for taking us out, and to my good friend Ana for the photo.



2. Posts from the last month:

More than one! Go me!


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

Here's a little-known fact about me - I absolutely ADORE stop-motion shorts. I recently re-discovered one of my old favorites, Pes, who has come out with some fantastic new ones. 'Western Spaghetti' is seriously just SO good, and you should watch it. I can (and have) watched this all day!!




You can see all my roundup posts by clicking on the 'roundup' tag below!

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 post more than once a month. So there's that.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Don't Judge A Package Vacation Until You've Done One



When I was growing up, I watched as my friends’ families faithfully went on charter vacations to exotic-sounding locations like Puerta Vallarta and Cancun every spring break. They would come back with cornrows in their hair, stories of snorkeling with tropical fish, and tan lines in the middle of the cold Canadian winter. I never thought much of it, as my family wasn’t very interested that type of vacation.

When I got older and started traveling solo and with friends, my backpacker buddies and I often made fun of the people at the big all-inclusive resorts as they got yet another daiquiri with their magical wristbands all day. We figured it must be very boring and that people who took these vacations weren’t interested in seeing anything that location had to offer.

My perceptions all changed the summer a friend of mine suggested taking a package vacation after we had finished a long, hard summer of work on a university break. At first, I scoffed, but then realized that I was way too tired to put together my own trip itinerary, and we had limited time left before we had to go back to school. I decided to give it a try on a Caribbean trip.

Photo by Artur S / CC BY
I finally understood why people chose these vacations – they’re so easy! We just picked the destination we wanted, decided what type of hotel we wanted, and all the details were taken care of for us by Expedia. Gone were the hours of trying to choose the best flight times & connections, and the miniscule differences between different hotels. Everything was taken care of for us from start to finish with a few clicks. We were on our way to CUBA!

When the departure day finally arrived, once we got to our airport, everything was taken care of – since we were on a charter, there was no waiting in line to check in as it’s only the people on that flight (and not a bunch of other flights on the airline leaving around the same time) checking in. On the plane we were served champagne and a full breakfast for free! I still haven’t had that on any other airline I’ve been on. Once we arrived at the airport in Cuba, there was no struggling to find a local taxi that wouldn’t rip us off – we got straight on a bus that took us to the hotel. At the hotel, mojitos were waiting for us and we were taken to our room. We were given our magical wristbands, and we definitely made good use of them at the bar. We spent seven days exploring the beach and taking in several activities that our activity coordinator had on offer – there was an amazing day on a catamaran cruise to a secluded island where we were treated to lobster lunch, and another day of horseback riding on the beach. In between these, we actually had a blast at the hotel with something new on offer every day, such as Spanish lessons, salsa dancing and Cuban cooking classes.

Photo by Balint / CC BY
To anyone thinking that they are too cool for a package vacation – don’t knock it till you try it! It can be just as fun and adventurous as self-planned travel, and there are so many options available that your trip will be what you make of it. If you want to veg out by a pool all day and drink your weight in margaritas, you can totally do it. Or, if you want an easy home base to jump off from, and not have to worry about figuring out countless flight/hotel/transport details, it’s also great for that. There are many choices with regards to destinations and itineraries, so there is something for everyone. For me, it was the perfect, easy trip after a few crazy backpacking trips and was a fantastic way to relax and recharge.


This post was brought to you in affiliation with Expedia.


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 post more than once a month. So there's that.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Planning a Dive Vacation in Lanzarote


When to go?

Lanzarote is a popular tourist destination in Europe. Many holidaymakers flock to this island for a fun-filled holiday, especially during the peak holiday season. The peak season is between November and April and between July and August. The months of May, June, September and October are the best months to travel to this island in the Canaries. The weather on the island is great and you can find fantastic deals on flights to Lanzarote. Off season deals on hotels can also be found during this time.

Where are the scuba dive sites?

With over 100 dive sites, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The main dive areas include Archipielago Chinijo, Coasta Noreste, Puerto del Carmen and Playa Blanca. Some popular dive sites around Playa Blanca include the Flamingo Wall, Twin Pipes, Las Lenguas, Colardas and the Wrecks. The Veril de las Agujas (Cliff of Needles) in Archipielago Chinijo offers many picturesque areas to dive in. The Lobster Cliff located in the far south is famous for its rocks formation, abundance of fish and lobsters.

Located around the coast of Lanzarote are several old wrecks. The eight wrecks around the area of Los Erizos have a wide array of marine life, including emperor fish, sardines, arrow crabs and Turkish wrasse. You will need to dive several times to explore the entire area.

If you fancy a night dive, do not miss the Harbor Wall. Start from the bay of Playa de La Barrilla, where divers gradually descend to a depth of about 12 meters. You will get a spectacular view of the marine life, but remember to take all necessary precaution when you’re night diving.

What are the highlights?

Lanzarote’s volcanic underwater topography is a unique characteristic, which distinguishes it from other Canary Islands. With good visibility of up to 20 meters all year round, and warm water temperature of 24C in summer, you can come into close encounters with over 500 species of fish, including rays, moray eels, angel sharks, and groupers.

There are also numerous underwater volcanic caves to explore. Swim inside the caves and you’ll soon find yourself escorted by schools of fish. Also hiding inside these underwater caves are the canary star, the tree coral, the ballan wrasse and shrimp.

The reefs are swarming with Lanzarote’s colorful and diverse marine life. Look out for sea horses, red coral and octopus, and don't forget your camera!

Lanzarote is an underwater paradise for scuba diving. The huge range of shallow seabed, amazing landscape of underwater volcanoes, warm water temperature throughout the year, and good visibility, will make your dive vacation in Lanzarote memorable. Enjoy your underwater adventure and happy diving!

Image by winterriot used under the Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Being a Tourist on Another Island is Weird


"No thanks, I'm not a tourist." 

The words fly out of my mouth on auto-pilot, as the shaggy beach vendor registers a look of bewilderment on his face and his shell necklaces clack around in his hands. He cocks his head, studying me for a second, and finally shakes his head and decides to move on.

I know what he's thinking. Of course you're a tourist, lady! You're white and I've never seen you before, you clearly don't live here so you are a tourist. And you know what? He's right.

I wasn't on Roatan during this exchange, although you can hear me uttering that phrase once in awhile on the island I call home. I recently visited Ambergris Caye in Belize which is very similar to Roatan in a lot of ways, and it was strange to be treated as a tourist in a place so close to home. When you are used to life on a Caribbean island, it can be easy to assume that you can transition from one to another very easily. I was quickly reminded here on Ambergris Caye that I am a tourist here, whether I like it or not!

Can you tell the difference?

Did you guess correctly? Ambergris Caye is on the left, and Roatan is on the right!

Here are the top 5 ways that the locals in San Pedro could tell I was from an island... but not theirs:

1. I greeted people I passed and when I entered a business - but not with the right words.

On Roatan we say 'good morning' in the morning, but 'good afternoon' has a pretty short window before being taken over by 'good evening' in the late afternoon until it gets dark, then it turns into 'good night'. I said 'good evening' at 3pm here and got some weird stares and watch checking.

2. I could order fry jacks - but I didn't eat them the right way.

Fry jacks are the same as flitters on Roatan - basically delicious fried pieces of dough, usually served with breakfast. When I got mine, I dipped them in my refried beans as I usually do, and was promptly schooled by the waiter that I should be drizzling them with honey, or cutting them open and stuffing them with the other items on my plate! Oops.

3. I talked to people in creole - but they couldn't quite understand me.

I quickly discovered that Bay Island Creole is not the same at Belizean Kriol. Like, at all. I was talking to a lady in a bar and we switched to creole and while we could make out each other's main points, the accent and grammar was tricky for each other to understand easily. Not the same thing...ya dun know!

4. I knew to look behind me before turning a corner or crossing the street - but I didn't know I could go before the vehicles.

On Roatan you better make damn sure someone has made eye contact with you and waved you across before you cross the street, or you're gonna end up as a road pancake. In San Pedro there are a few taxi vans, a few pick up trucks, a few motorcycles and everything else is golf carts. Everyone stopped to let me across the street and I frantically tried to make eye contact with the drivers but they seemed to be ignoring me and waiting for me to go across, so I went for it, and no one ran me over. Success.

5. I got excited to find fresh veggies - but didn't know what they were.

New to me on this trip: chaya, coco yam, and some sort of green and yellow plum that I forgot the name of. Anyone who lives on an island in the Caribbean knows how exciting it is to see fresh green veggies!!

So while I managed to escape the typical tourist behavior we all love to hate, I still didn't quite blend in. I absolutely LOVED San Pedro though, so I'll work on these for my next visit!



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 post more than once a month. So there's that.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

What To Do On Roatan: 1-Day Itinerary


Whether you're on the island on a cruise ship call, or simply using it as a jumping-off point for further travel (full disclosure: when I first came here, I was supposed to fly into Roatan for a day and then move on to Utila to do my dive courses... it took me TWO YEARS to make it to Utila!), you can still experience a lot in a day on Roatan. Read on to see my recommendations if you have just a little time on this beautiful island...

The first decision you need to make if you only have one day is: topside or bottomside. Roatan is a scuba diving mecca and it's worth spending your day underwater here if that's what you're interested in. For those of you keen on staying dry, don't worry, I have something special for you too!

source


Get Wet

They don't call it a drinking island with a diving problem for nothin'! Roatan has a stunning section of the Meso-American Reef System, and with the protection of the Roatan Marine Park and all of its supporters, we have a beautiful healthy reef with plenty to see in all underwater departments: marine animals, hard & soft coral, wrecks and more! Spending your one day on the island underwater will leave you satisfied.

There are dive shops everywhere on the island, and many have packages that cater specifically to cruise ship divers. Most shops do three 1-tank dives each day - two in the morning and one after lunch, so you can choose the dives that fit best for you (bonus: those who like to sleep in can get in on the second morning dive while still getting some zzzzz's first!). You have the choice of picking a dive shop on the north or south side of the island... the topography and marine life are a little different on each side. Head to the north side if you're into pelagics like turtles, rays & sharks or you want swimthroughs or gently sloping walls. Head to the south side if you're into macro stuff like seahorses and nudibranchs, or you're a shear vertical wall aficionado. As dive shop owners, management and staff change frequently here, feel free to send me an email if you'd like my current list of recommended shops.

If you are new to diving: every shop offers a Discover Scuba Diving experience for non-certified newbies, no experience necessary! It will usually entail heading to the shop first thing in the morning to complete paperwork, do some basic dive theory with an instructor, shallow water practice for a couple basic skills like clearing your mask of water, and taking your regulator in and out, and then you get to go on a real dive on the reef with your instructor, to a max depth of 40ft! The reef on Roatan starts very shallow, so there is TONS to see at that depth. Usually you'll be finished around lunch time, and can choose to do an additional dive on the afternoon boat if you love it. Good news: if you decide diving is for you, these dives can count towards your certification. Ask your instructor.

If you're already a certified diver: you're gonna LOVE diving on Roatan. Warm water, little to no current, incredible viz plus valet set-up and break-down at almost every shop - Roatan is truly an easy and enjoyable place to dive. With plenty of sites suitable for both beginner and advanced divers, there's something for everyone. Dive guides strictly adhere to Marine Park regulations, so keep your hands and fins up and off the reef, and save your spear and reef gloves for another destination. Most groups are 6 divers or less per divemaster and bottom times, depending on air consumption, range from 50-60 minutes per dive at most shops.

I think the ideal day would entail the two morning dives, and then lunch and a local beer (Imperial is my fave) or two at a beachside bar & restaurant, where you can talk about everything you saw and do some suntanning in the afternoon to even out your wetsuit tan lines.

Insider tips: if you've only got one day, I really recommend making a reservation with your chosen dive shop beforehand as some of them do fill up quickly. Don't forget to tip your divemaster or instructor! If you've got non-diving traveling companions, most shops will take snorkelers along for $15-$30 per trip. Don't worry about which dive site the shop is going to - they are all fantastic and all on the outside of the reef. Boat rides are usually short 2-15 minutes to the sites (exciting for those who get seasick, I'm sure!) and not all boats have swim platforms, so if you have mobility issues or special needs, make sure you check with the shop first.

Stay Dry

While the majority of activities on Roatan are water-based, landlubbers have options too! I have three different recommendations for a dry day on the island.

If you've got energy to burn: those of you looking for a little excitement can head to any of the ziplining parks in the morning, enjoy a lunch at a beachside restaurant and then spend the afternoon horseback riding.

If you're feeling a little more chill: Roatan has lots of day spas to take advantage of, or yoga classes! It's also not strange here in the slightest to spend the afternoon leisurely enjoying some drinks at a beachside bar, if that's your thing.

If you want the bigger picture: Roatan's towns are small, but spread out all over the island. A full-day island tour in a car is really the only way to see the most you can out of the island in a day. Tours run anywhere from $80-$120 for the day (not per person) and you can head all the way from one side of the island to the other. The western side of the island is bustling and very busy with tourists, the eastern side is quieter and gives you a better idea of how locals actually live. The driver can take you to great spots for snorkeling, lunch at the legendary Cal's Cantina, a stop at the Garifuna village of Punta Gorda, and more.

Insider tips: I absolutely do not recommend renting a car, ATV or scooter. There is no beachside road to putt-putt along slowly and enjoy the scenery - there is only one road and it's the main 'highway' which is full of potholes, insane drivers, animals & kids that run into the road, and lots of curves and hills. There also isn't much in the way of beautiful scenery on the road anyway, and driving off of it if you don't know where you're going isn't recommended. I have seen way too many tourists get into some pretty horrific accidents here. Just hire a driver, it's worth it.


What would you do with one day on Roatan? Stay tuned for more Roatan itineraries... 



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 post more than once a month. So there's that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Roatan Visa Runs: Miami Beach


I have written at length both on the blog and responding to tons emails asking me about the 'new' visa regulations on Roatan. Unfortunately unless you go for your residency, it has come down to doing visa runs, which are not cheap around here. I said I would do one and if they hadn't figured anything out by then I was leaving, but we all know how many times I've said I was going to leave the island and never did it! So as I'm gearing up for visa run #2, let me tell you about the first one I did. I'll continue this series as long as I keep doing these runs (which I imagine won't be much longer given the cost and inconvenience).

Visa Run #1: Miami Beach

Not exactly where you'd picture doing a cheap visa run, right? Well, there are ways this one can be done pretty cheaply from Roatan, if you're willing to put up with a little inconvenience (and you have a friend to stay with!)

Flights

There are insanely cheap Spirit Airlines flights that run from San Pedro Sula on the mainland to Ft. Lauderdale. I got a ticket for $180 round trip! But as many Americans know, Spirit is garbage and will nickel-and-dime you anywhere they can. Starting with $30 for regular-sized carry-on luggage, the fees go up from there. I was carrying a lot of bags because I was bringing stuff back for a friend who runs a hotel so she covered my baggage charges which was great. And if I wasn't bringing that stuff, I would have made do with the little backpack carry-on that Spirit allows for free, rather than paying all the fees for suitcases. It's only 4 days!

To get from Roatan to San Pedro Sula, you can get flights on SOSA or CM Airlines for around $100-$150 return. I had a way to get a free flight one way, and I paid $77 for a flight back. So my total for flights was around $260, but if you take luggage and have to pay both ways to San Pedro Sula, yours will be more. You can also take the public ferry from Roatan to the mainland ($25 each way) and then a bus to San Pedro Sula but that was just way too much of a headache for me and I think you only save about $50 off of flying, so I flew.

Okay, now - the reason these Spirit flights are SO cheap is because they're at 2am at a shitty airport. And the connecting flights come in at 4pm and go out the next morning at 8am, so you have a loooooonnng wait overnight both ways for these flights, in an uncomfortable airport with few options (especially on the way back to Roatan, where you get kicked out of the secure area and have to wait outside security with everything closed from 1am until your flight goes back to Roatan at 8am). Remember I said you'd have to put up with a little inconvenience?

Transportation

I tried to book a GO Shuttle from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to Miami Beach for $25 online but the website was absolute garbage and wouldn't let me. When you exit the airport, you can just walk outside to the GO Shuttle kiosk and tell them when you want to go. Just sit on the bench and the guy will put you on the next available bus. I got lucky and ended up getting to share a private car for the same price - and my car buddy ended up being from Honduras, of all places! I got dropped off right at the door of the apartment I was staying at, which was super easy.

Accommodation

So this is where I saved huge, and someone else replicating this visa run might have to pay a little more. I have a friend who has an apartment in Miami Beach and she let me stay for free, so my accommodation costs were zero (minus some heavy housecleaning I did for her as a thank-you!). I felt very lucky to be staying at such a beautiful apartment in an amazing location and did NOT want to leave - would you?




There are inexpensive options for accommodation if you don't have fancy friends like mine (ha!), even in Miami Beach - check out Air BnB ... there are some rooms in South Beach for a little as $30/night! (If you don't yet have an Air BnB account - sign up here! Using that link means both you and I get $25 in travel credit for no extra cost... yay!) There are also hostel options - SoBe Hostel is in an amazing location right in South Beach and dorm beds go for around $20-30/night.

Entertainment

I didn't do much for 'entertainment' in Miami Beach, mostly because after coming from a little island my form of entertainment is going to McDonalds, eating sushi and seeing a movie (it would make you sad how much joy those three things gave me). Also, fancy macarons.




I also had a lot of shopping to do for my friend's hotel, and a little bit for myself too! I had four days that were mostly filled with shopping on Lincoln Road, walking around and eating everything.


I even got a day at IKEA which was magical! I love IKEA!


I also took some time out to just lay around and watch movies, write and relax.


And of course, I spent some time hanging out by THAT POOL.


I also spent a lot of time at the nearby Fresh Market and Whole Foods, where I bought ALL THE DELICIOUS THINGS.



I rode a bike around the beach at sunset which was the best $7 I spent...



I got to spend my last day hanging with my buddy Sam, who I met on Roatan when she was doing her divemaster and instructor courses. We went to the beach in South Beach - American snacks included:



After a day of shopping, eating Cuban sandwiches (yum! and so proud that I could order and chat to the lady in Spanish like the rest of the customers), and walking around Lincoln Road, Sam and I headed to Ft. Lauderdale so I could have a mini-reunion with a few more lovelies - some of the family from the yacht I ran away on in 2012, and my girl Dana from Our Wanderlust.

On the way to Ft. Lauderdale we were drinking fancy mineral waters from Whole Foods and had a guy yell at us from the next car over at a stop light, "MUCHO DRINKING LADY!!" - he thought we were just casually drinking entire bottles of wine in the car! I haven't laughed that hard in ages.


We went out to my favorite area of Ft. Lauderdale - my old stomping grounds of Las Olas - and had a fabulous dinner at The Royal Pig Pub followed by me dragging everyone to the best damn frozen yogurt shop ever, and finally to the place I lived in Ft. Lauderdale 3 years ago while I did my yacht crew courses - I had left a bunch of shit at the house and lo and behold - it was still there! Yay! After that Sam was kind enough to drop me off at the airport to save me another cab fare.


All in all this was a really fun visa run, mostly because I got to go to 'the real world', stock up on things I had run out of here (I think the majority of my spending was at CVS), stay in a lovely apartment and eat all the things I can't get here. The total cost of the flight and transportation were around $300 - accommodation on top of that (if I had to pay for it) would have run about another $150-200 for 4 nights, and eating/entertainment/shopping will obviously vary based on what you eat and buy - mine was a LOT but I had planned for that, and saved money by not having to pay for a hotel. The flights were totally miserable though, and I'm not sure I'd do this one regularly with those Spirit flights unless absolutely necessary.

Stay tuned for Visa Run #2, coming to you at the beginning of May! Want to guess where?


None of the links in this post are affiliate or something that I received compensation for, except the sweet Air BnB hookup I mentioned above where we both get $25 credits if you sign up through my link. Just giving you guys all the info!


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 post more than once a month. So there's that.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Roatan Month 28-32 Roundup


Poor, poor little roundups. Totally neglected the last 5 months! I actually haven't been posting much, as many of you have noticed, so you guys didn't miss out on much. Anyway, let's get a coffee and catch up, shall we?

1. Gratuitous diving ocean photo:

This is the same as month 27. I have no more diving photos! I stopped working as a dive instructor around the same time (by choice, for all of you who have been asking), so I guess this isn't very surprising. I am still trying to keep it ocean-themed at least... so here is a photo of me in the water in South Beach, Miami a few months ago - which is a hint for an upcoming post:



2. Posts from the last 5 months:


That's all I managed to get out in the last 5 months. Sorry dudes.


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

Is it weird that I want a Jibo like RIGHT NOW? I would love a little robot pet who can order takeout for me. Sold.





You can always see all my roundup posts by clicking on the 'roundup' tag below!

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 try to post more than once a month. So there's that.