Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why I Took "Ride an Elephant" Off my Bucket List - And Why You Should Too

I have always wanted to ride an elephant. I think it stems from when I was a little girl - I have a vague memory of the circus coming to my hometown and people riding the elephant there.  I was too young and not big enough to be allowed to ride, so my young self vowed to perch on an elephant when I grew up.  The goal made it to my travel bucket list (#36. Ride an elephant) and I have been waiting for my chance to check it off, complete with accompanying glorious photographs and an adorable tale.

Riding an elephant looks glamorous and fun - but it isn't worth it.

I had no idea what life for a commercial elephant is really like.  I did watch the movie "Water for Elephants" and saw the scene where the circus owner whips the elephant, nay BEATS it, into submission so that it won't be rowdy for circus patrons.  That scene made me bawl - I cried and cried at the injustice of it.  I knew, of course, it was a movie scene and that that particular elephant hadn't been harmed, but I was crying for all the elephants out there who HAD been abused by circus owners.

The movie "Water for Elephants" hinted at the abuse these noble creatures suffer.

But I didn't put two and two together that although circus practices may have changed (and truth be told, they probably haven't), other establishments might be treating elephants the same way, just in a different setting.  Them I read an article that changed my whole perspective.  You can find it here. If you don't want to go to the site, I will summarize the article as best I can here without plagiarizing it.

Basically, the article focused on elephant trekking outfits in Thailand - the kind of places where you show up, pay your money, and get to ride an elephant around the jungle for half an hour to a full day, depending on the package you buy.  I have friends who have done this, and I was envious of their seemingly amazing adventure.  However, all is not what it seems, and too many travelers and tourists arrive at these place misinformed, not realizing they are contributing to a major animal abuse problem.

Elephants are intelligent yet wild creatures.  No real, free, healthy elephant would actually bend down and allow a human to climb onto its back and lead it on a trail ride through the jungle.  Elephants are independent and occasionally violent and grumpy - they often view humans as a threat (and after reading that article, we definitely ARE!).  In order to 'train' elephants to accept human riders and follow lead ropes and guides, wild elephants are stolen from their mothers at young ages, caged, and beaten and humiliated into submission.

A baby elephant, torn from its mother and frightened, suffers abuse to break its spirit.

Methods of 'training' include prodding and beating with bullhooks and bamboo sticks spiked with nails, tied down to concrete flooring, starvation, living in their own filth, isolation, and sleep deprivation, just to name a few tactics.  They are kept in conditions such as these until their wild spirit is crushed, and they are terrified of humans to the point where they will do whatever is asked of them.

 A bullhook, the type used to prod and beat elephants while they are being 'trained'.

Once 'trained', their lives do not get easier.  They are made to trek all day, with heavy weights upon their backs (chairs called Howdahs and then the rider in them).  Their spines are not designed to carry loads, and over time these beautiful creatures suffer spinal damage.  The Howdahs rub against their skin and cause blisters that often get infections.  The feet of the elephants are also damaged from the incessant trekking, causing cracking and infections.  I highly doubt sick elephants get the loving and tender care they require, either.

The sole of an elephant's foot after years of trekking with humans.

I encourage you to read the article in full - it talks about living conditions, how babies are treated, and more. It also talks about solutions.  The first and most obvious way of helping is to avoid attending these businesses, and to spread the word so that others do not contribute to the industry as well.  If you DO still want an up-close and personal encounter with an elephant, there are elephant sanctuaries that allow you to feed, bathe, and generally hang out with elephants - without riding them or causing harm.  For example, Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary not only rescues abused elephants, they are also purchasing land for wild elephants to live on in safety.  Find out more at their site here.

Elephants suffer psychological and physical abuse, for the pleasure of tourists.

Therefore, I have vowed to change my bucket list item from "Ride an Elephant" to "Volunteer to Help an Elephant". I want to give it a bath, not break its back.  Please say you'll vow to make a change too!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Visit to Versailles: Paris' Golden Palace

There are literally hundreds of amazing things to see and do in the vibrant city of Paris, France - the Eiffel Tower, cruising the Seine River, wine tastings, explore the Louvre, and so much more.  But visitors to Paris must also remember to take at least one day and get OUT of the city to stroll the grounds and palace of historical Versailles.  This beautiful feat of architecture is dripping with gold and sprinkled with opulence.

Enjoying the brightness of the stunning Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.

When I say, 'take a day' that's exactly what I mean - due to the location of Versailles, visitors must factor in travel time to and from the landmark.  You also want to give yourself ample time to explore: Versailles is equally fascinating both inside and outside, so don't cheat yourself and cut one short.

If you don't know why Versailles is significant, I'll explain it to you here.  Built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge in 1624, Versailles grew to become the center of power (and gilded playground) for Paris royalty and their doting courtiers by 1682.  Over time, and four major construction movements, the palace grew in size and in lavishness.  Walls and ceilings were covered in gold foil, massive paintings were commissioned, ornate furniture was carved - all to demonstrate the wealth and power of the French monarchy. Huge parties and events were held on the grounds. However, by the time Louis XVI was in power, this excessive spending and demonstration of wealth became the monarchy's downfall, and the king and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were taken from Versailles and eventually executed during the French Revolution. Most of Versailles was looted - what is on display today are mainly replicas.

An intricately carved portrait of... um... one of the Louis.

The Palace of Versailles is located in the suburb of Versailles (formerly the village of Versailles), about 20 kilometers southwest of the capital.  The easiest way to arrive, if not traveling to Versailles in a tour bus as I did back in 2010 with my Junior High Travel Club group, is to access Versailles by Metro.  You are looking for the RER-C Line (the yellow line) and are headed to the station Versailles-Rive Gauche, which is a five minute walk to the palace.  The cost for the Metro ride to Versailles is about 10 Euro.

Tickets to explore Versailles vary on what you want to see and how you want to see it.  You can see just the palace, or the palace and the Trianon estate, or even buy a 2-day passport.  It is free to just roam the manicured lawns and gardens.  The website for Versailles has all of the options listed clearly for you.  It is recommened that you buy tickets in advance, as this will reduce your time waiting in line to enter. (Not eliminate, just reduce - you will join the ticket holders' line instead of the slower purchasing line).  And get there early - Versailles is a popular destination!

One of the courtyards in Versailles - love the gold-foiled designs!

Guided tours are available, but not necessary if you are capable of reading up on the history on your own.  When I explored Versailles in 2010, we did have a guided tour, which I actually enjoyed greatly.  Our tour guide was an eccentric Frenchman who must have learned his English from old gangster movies, because that's exactly what his accent sounded like. I felt like I was touring the palace in the 1930s, and all my guide was missing was a Tommy gun.  He was full of great information, and had some fun facts that my Junior High students loved.  Kudos to that man for making a group of 23 Junior Highs enjoy a history tour!

Not that the kids wouldn't have enjoyed it anyway - the palace is truly a spectacle of wealth and power.  Even the front gates are covered in gold foil!

The golden gates of Versailles - now that's wealth!

Marie Antoinette's public bedroom was a favorite among the kids for two reasons: they really loved the extravagant bed, and were titillatingly horrified by the story that went with it.  The bed was huge, with giant ostrich feathers donning the tops of the posts.  The kids thought the feathers were meant to show how rich Marie Antoinette was, but the guide made them all giggle when he stated that the feathers were actually meant to catch dust falling from above - they were giant ostrich feather 'Swiffers'!

Marie Antoinette's 'public' bed in Versailles.

Then he turned their giggles to gasps when he told the story of why it was called Marie Antoinette's 'public' bed - behind a concealed door in the room lay her true, private bedroom.  In the days of the monarchy, the courtiers watched the royals do everything... EVERYTHING. They watched them eat, they watched them read, they watched them go to sleep.  Poor Marie Antoinette had people stand behind a guard rail erected at the end of her bed while she did a bedtime ritual, watching her every move.  Even worse, she had a public audience of courtiers while she gave birth to her children in that same bed.  In that moment, my students decided being a royal sucked.

A portrait of Marie Antoinette and her children that hangs in Versailles.

Another highlight was the spectacular Hall of Mirrors.  This was the receiving room for the many kings and queens who lived in the palace.  Visiting dignitaries would have to walk the long length of the hall to approach the monarchy of France, seated at the opposite end on a high dais.  It was designed to make the dignitary uncomfortable and intimidated, and the royalty to seem unattainable and distant.  To get the full effect of the Hall of Mirrors, I do recommend going early when the palace is still relatively empty. By the time we got there, the Hall was full of tourists, and you could barely see the mirrors on the sides.

The Hall of Mirrors (taken at an angle as to avoid the many heads of tourists!)

Finally, we had the chance to walk the palace grounds and gardens.  The manicured lawns give one the feeling that they are Alice, lost in Wonderland.  I could imagine courtiers in billowing gowns weaving through the maze-like shrubs, and boats flitting about on the man-made lake.  I really enjoyed the gardens.

The grounds and lake of Versailles

Alice in Wonderland, or Versailles? You decide!

We did not have the chance to visit the Trianon Palaces or Marie Antoinette's estate, although I really would have liked to.  If anyone has seen these aspects of Versailles, please tell me, what were they like and are they worth the visit? If so, perhaps I'll have a chance to visit again and do the complete tour of Versailles!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Top 5 Things to do on Mexico's Isla Mujeres

Spring break has come and gone here in chilly Canada, bringing with it 20 more centimeters of snow (Spring, what IS your problem?).  As I gaze longingly out the front window at the piles of snow on my front lawn, with a wee little baby in my arms and spit-up on my shirt, I am remembering fondly one sizzling Spring Break back in 2011 when I journeyed to Mexico for an escape from the cold.

One of the activities that I was able to participate in while I was there was going on a catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun, where I had a quite disastrous snorkeling experience.  Despite the snorkeling fiasco, I did enjoy strolling the streets of the quaint island, doing a little shopping, and meeting some fun locals.

A friendly beach scene from Isla Mujeres.

Isla Mujeres means "Island of Women" in Spanish, due to its history with the original Mayan civilization that lived in the area.  The island was sacred to them for childbirth and related medicine, and so the Mayans sculpted several idols in honor of the female goddesses in their religion.  When the Spanish arrived, all they knew was that this island was littered with female statues, and so named it "Island of Women".  Today it is basically a commercial shopping center, heavy on the tourist traps, full of color, music, energy, and activities.

There are a few ways to access the island.  The first and most common is by ferry.  The boats run from Puerto Juarez, Punta Sam, or Gran Puerto to Isla Mujeres several times a day, with Gran Puerto being the newest and most popular.  It is relatively inexpensive at 70 Pesos for a ride there and back.  For ferry schedules and updated fees, you can check out this website, as I don't feel the need to post a plethora of ferry departure and arrival times here.   You can also go out to the island with a group, as I did on my catamaran cruise, or rent your own boat and head out.  Once there, many visitors rent a golf cart from one of the various rental services on the island and truck around that way.  Costs vary for the cart rentals, but the average is about 450 - 550 pesos a day.

Arriving at Isla Mujeres via catamaran.

The island is popular with tourists during the day, but does tend to quiet down in the evening, so if you are looking for a wild time, go back to mainland Cancun and hit up the clubs there.  Isla Mujeres is a day-trip haven, with lots of incredible things to do.  I was only there for one afternoon, and my afternoon was filled with the catamaran/snorkeling activity, so I would definitely like to go back and experience some of the other things the island has to offer.  (And I want to get PADI certified first, as you can imagine after reading my to-do list.)

These are my top 5 things to see and do on Isla Mujeres (some of which I have done, most of which I have not):

1. Snorkeling

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I just stated above that I had a disastrous snorkeling experience when I visited the island last time.  But that's not to say every day will be cold and windy with treacherous waves that cause you to lose your brand-new underwater camera to the ocean depths.  In fact, Isla Mujeres has some amazing snorkeling locales that can't be missed - just go at your own pace, without a tour group.  That way you can choose which date and what time of day to go, and avoid the type of experience I had.

Snorkeling one of the amazing reefs at Isla Mujeres. Image via

For a controlled and safe snorkel, try Garrafon Park.  It is well-known for its coral reef, which blocks the incoming tide to make for a very calm and colorful snorkel.  The park also offers ziplines, dolphin swims, and more.  To simply enjoy the park, go snorkeling in the peaceful coral reef, and snooze in their beach-side hammocks will cost you 79 USD.  If you want to go swimming with dolphins, naturally, the fee increases.

For a more natural (yet unpredictable) snorkel, you can choose from Manchones Reef, Cuevnoes Reef, and Banderas Reef, all just off the coast of the island. Manchones Reef features the Bay Cross (Cruz de la Bahia), a sculpture which honors the men and women lost at sea.

The Bay Cross at Isla Mujeres.  Image via.

Another (creepy) place to try your hand at snorkeling, not that I would go mind you, is the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks.  It is what it sounds like.  The story goes that a young lobster diver followed some sharks into a cave, because he noticed they went in but never came out (I think this guy was a few chips short of a  chocolate cookie).  He dove over 65 feet and came up inside a sea cave where he found the sharks, sleeping with their eyes open.

Maybe don't go there.  Or if you do, and get eaten, don't say I told you to go there. Legal disclaimer!

2. Scuba Diving

And this is why I want to get PADI certified before I return to Isla Mujeres.  Just off the coast, in Manchones Reef, is the world's largest underwater museum, MUSA, which stands for Museo Subacuatico de Arte designed by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. It is unreal and I just can't wait to be zipping around the submerged sculptures and statues in my scuba gear.

Diving in Isla Mujeres' Underwater Museum.  Image via.

The project has a practical application: its purpose is to increase tourism to the Manchones Reef without impacting it environmentally. The goal is to have the majority of tourists all visiting the MUSA, and leaving the rest of the reef alone. The secondary goal is to have the actual sculptures become part of a new, artificial reef.  The cement used to build the statues is made of a special, porous substance that promotes the growth of microscopic organisms. Smart, I say. And what an experience!  Costs to visit the museum range from $39 USD (for a snorkel only) to $95 USD (dive lesson, tank dive, and reef dive). So technically, one could learn to scuba dive while there, and not have to learn beforehand (but it would be cheaper to learn beforehand...).

3. Tortugranja Turtle Farm

Sea turtles love Isla Mujeres, but due to their endangered species status, are now protected at the Tortugranja Turtle Farm, which is open to the public.  It is located in Sac Bajo, north of Playa Paraiso, and costs $3 per person, which is insanely cheap.  Inside, it is a government-run turtle hatchery.  You can see the entire turtle life cycle while there, from the leathery eggs, to baby turtles, to full grown specimens.  Apparently you are not welcome to touch the turtles, but once a year the hatchery will allow visitors to assist in the annual turtle release at the end of the summer season.

Baby turtles enjoying the safety of Tortugranja in Isla Mujeres. Image via

4. Wacky Houses

There are two 'houses' of note on Isla Mujeres.  The first is the Joysxee Floating Bottle Island.  Yup, the name is an apt description.  This 'island' is made, literally, of 150,000 floating plastic bottles, built by Richard Sowa.  Not only that, but everything else in and on the house is made from recycled materials. You can tour the house and meet "Richie" himself, all for the price of a small donation (or a large donation, depending on your financial situation!).  The place looks a little junky, but I'm sure there are interesting stories about each and every room.

The Floating Bottle House of Isla Mujeres.  Image via

Another fun house is the Crayola House, a super-colorful, vibrant, and eccentric building.  It is a private home, and not currently open for tours (maybe there's nothing to see on the inside).  But you can park your golf cart, get out, and go explore the exterior murals and take colorful and vibrant photographs!

The colorful Crayola house of Isla Mujeres. Image via.

5. Beaches and Shopping

Onto the more generic, less specific activities, and the only ones on this list that I have done personally.  There are a few beautiful beaches on Isla Mujeres, the most popular being Playa Norte.  Another popular site is Playa Tiburon, also known as Shark Beach because of the sharks that are kept penned near the beach (with questionable animal rights according to many reviews I read).  I have been to Shark Beach, where you can jump into one of the pens and swim with the sharks for the hefty price of $1.00.  I didn't have the guts, but my friend Martel did.

A friend swimming with a nurse shark at Shark Beach.

I enjoyed the shopping opportunities on Isla Mujeres. I am also a sucker for 'touristy' kiosks and local vendors, like the two gentlemen who dove for conch shells just off the beach and sold them at a table set up right on the sand.  Maybe they planted the conch shells in the water to make it seem like they were fresh, maybe not, but I thought it was cool.  One of them drilled a hole in the end of my shell and taught me how to blow it like a horn.  Unfortunately, I never quite caught on and only ended up nearly giving myself a brain aneurysm trying to make it work.

Another favorite store was at the end of one of the main streets - I can't remember how I got there or what it was called, as I spent the better part of an hour walking the streets getting lost.  It sold mainly women's clothing, and I fell in love with a beautiful black summer halter dress.  There were about five gentlemen behind the till, all laughing, lounging casually and drinking tequila. We bartered in a friendly manner for awhile and I managed to get a pretty good deal on my dress.  To celebrate, the men made me down a couple of shots of tequila - a specialty almond tequila that was very smooth, didn't burn, and left an amazing almond aftertaste.  It was one of the best shopping transactions I've ever done!

Ships at dock on Isla Mujeres.

I have a two-month-old baby currently pooping in her swing chair beside me (this post has been written to the musical sounds of a baby grunting in concentration and the occasional rumble from down below) so I can't just up and book a flight to Isla Mujeres.  If this snow doesn't stop soon, though, I'll be extremely tempted!  If so, does anyone have any other 'must-see' items on Isla Mujeres that I have missed? Please comment below!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Travelers vs Tourists: Why I am SO SICK of this Debate

I do not rant on my blog.  I try to always keep things upbeat, positive, and hopefully, inspirational.  But I feel the desperate need to weigh on in this subject - the silly debate between what makes a tourist and what makes a traveler.  I have read about it on several blogs, seen people comment on Twitter, and even heard about it on television via travel shows and channels. So many backpackers and 'new nomads' bragging about selling their home, staying in hostels and cheap hotels, 'getting down' with the culture, making fun of people who do quick trips, stay in resorts, and visit the standard sights a location has to offer.  People who claim to be 'travelers' and not 'tourists', as if being a tourist was a disgraceful occupation. People who believe that because they do things differently, they are a superior breed of explorers.  Usually I just ignore these people.

Recently the proverbial straw broke the camel's back, and now I have something to say.

I personally have no immediate travel plans, what with a seven week old baby on my hands.  But recently Avy, my wee daughter, and I have been researching a trip to Paris, just because.  Mostly it is Avy's fault - that girl has a severe case of wanderlust.  It's exhausting, really.  Maybe a trip to Paris for her third birthday will calm that girl down.

The beautiful Eiffel Tower - worth at least one visit in your lifetime.

Anyway, we have been watching clips on YouTube of things to see and do in Paris, beyond the obvious, and we stumbled upon Anthony Bourdain in "The Layover" discussing his take on Paris.  And I snapped.  He is just the type of person I am talking about in my introductory paragraph - in this episode he literally sat there and made fun of people who choose to stand in line to go up the Eiffel Tower to see the amazing view of Paris it has to offer. He also recommended people "walk past" Notre Dame Cathedral, yet ignore the history to be found inside because the line-up was inconvenient and oh-so-mundane.  He instead told potential visitors to Paris to find a nice restaurant, sit and get drunk, and then have sex with a "French person".  His words.

The majestic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

My first rant is aimed directly at Anthony Bourdain.  How dare you, Anthony Bourdain?!  You, who are sitting in Paris FOR FREE because you are on a travel show, bashing some of Paris' most beloved landmarks.  You, who have probably been to Paris 50 times, for free, and have probably already been up the Eiffel Tower and combed through Notre Dame.  It's no big deal for you to tell people to waste $3000 for a flight and hotel just to sit around and get bombed on a street corner.  I'm sure people can't do that at home for much cheaper.  I'm sure I would love to sit on an eight-hour flight to another continent just to chase around some Parisian 'tail'.  Anthony Bourdain thinks he is a TRAVELER - he gets to travel all the time, he's a seasoned veteran, he knows the ropes... but honestly, I think he is a just a cocky, spoiled travel snob and I sincerely hope no one actually takes his travel 'advice' seriously.

That's right, Bourdain. Eat your noodles, and I'll go see what a city has to offer beyond a hangover in the morning.

When I take Avy to Paris, and I will someday, we are standing in line for the Eiffel Tower elevator, we are exploring the Notre Dame catacombs, we will take the Seine boat tour... and we'll be happy and proud to do so.  And here's the thing - that makes us both travelers AND tourists.

There is no distinction.  To all you travel snobs out there touting your badge as "TRAVELER" and bashing tourists - give it up.  Of course, there are those people who fly all the way to a destination, then never leave their hotel, eat food at the buffet from their home country, and are generally rude and obnoxious.  Those aren't "tourists" - they're just close-minded vacationers.  They came to that destination for the temperature change, and whatever.  More power to them. Despite their strange behavior, they are STILL both travelers and tourists.  They're just bad ones.

Here is what a traveler is: someone who travels.  Here is what a tourist is: someone who is new to an area and is experiencing it for the first time (or second or third).  Therefore, if you are in a new location during your travels, you are still a tourist. Do you have a home in that location? No? You are a tourist.  Do you pay taxes, hold a job, have a kid in a local school, speak the language fluently, have childhood memories of growing up there, or have family buried in the local cemetery? No? Then dang, you must be a tourist.  You got there on your TRAVELS, but you are a TOURIST, no matter your choice of hotel or transportation or size of suitcase or state of cleanliness.

Really? Because every blog I've been to where people claim to be 'travelers' is LOADED with pictures.

I won't belabor this point anymore.  I just had to put it out there.  I'm sick of people acting superior and labeling themselves travelers - just stop.  No one cares but you.  Get over yourself, ignore Bourdain, and go stand in line to see something spectacular if that's what you want to do.  It's lined up for a reason.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Animals of Mexico - in a Resort, That Is

What do you focus on when traveling?  The culture?  The food?  The people?

Typically, I focus mainly on exploring and learning about the people of an area, the sights and attractions, and the natural landscapes.  I am not really a huge 'foodie', nor am I a big museum person, which is odd, because I love museums. When traveling, though, I feel that time crunch and museums don't usually fit into my itinerary.  I also tend to skip over the fauna of a region - I take note of the local wildlife, but don't make a huge point of searching it out.

Visiting a Clydesdale horse outside of Red Deer, Alberta.

When in Mexico last May, I wasn't given much of a choice.  There were animals EVERYWHERE, even in our resort, and I found myself really enjoying them.  We didn't go to a zoo or anything, but did have fun encountering some of these cutie-pies:

White-Nosed Coati

While the employees of our resort viewed these creatures as more of a rodent or pest, I myself found them to be adorable.  I debated catching one and taking it home, but my husband forbade me.  (He has to do that with a lot of animals...) The coati lived in the trees and forested areas that surrounded the resorts, and every now and then we'd see one crossing the trolley path on its way to forage for food.  Each time, I would frantically fumble with my camera, hoping to get a good shot.  I'd be frustrated when the picture turned out blurry.

Then we went to eat at one of the resort's snack shops.  Apparently, this snack shop was set in an
ideal location, because all of the white-nosed coatis seemed to live there.  It began with one cute little guy, boldly approaching our table at the snack shop for some tasty tidbits.  At first we all oohed and aahed at his fuzzy, round body and striped tail, but politely obeyed the sign that stated we were NOT to feed the animals.  Then a man at the table next to us 'accidentally on-purpose' dropped some food, and the coati was on it like white on rice.

A brave white-nosed coati ventures into the snack shop in Mexico.

Out of the blue, white-nosed coatis flooded from the trees - we could not believe our eyes.  They just kept pouring out.  Soon everyone was chucking fries and bits of hamburger bun to the animals - to heck with the signs!  It was obvious we were not the first to feed the creatures, and they were ready for it! I probably could have taken one home - the resort owners probably wouldn't miss one little coati!  Just kidding, customs people...

And the coatis come rushing at the promise of food...

Parrots

Another fun encounter with wildlife we had at the resort occurred when we decided to take a quick dip in the pool before dinner one day.  We hadn't planned on it, but it was so hot outside and my husband desperately needed to cool down.  We kept our swim short, but then as we were leaving the pool area, I was drawn to a large crowd encircling a table with some toys on it.

My husband and I shuffled to the front of the crowd (I'm good at doing that without making people mad) and saw that everyone was enraptured by a man holding a trained parrot.  Two other parrots waited politely for their turn to perform on wooden stands set to the side.

These smart parrots sure put on a great show in our Mexican resort!

The parrots were so smart!  They were able to hold a conversation with the man, sort colored blocks into containers, and much more.  We ended up being late for dinner, despite trying to keep the swim short, because we stayed for the whole show.  Smart birds!

Iguanas

Of course, there were iguanas everywhere on the resort.  I assumed they were wild and just were so plentiful because of the lack of predators on the resort.  However, I was proved wrong when I crossed what could only be described as an 'iguana feeding station'.  The resort makes sure their iguanas are well fed, apparently!  About a gazillion iguanas scuttled around this station, grabbing treats, fighting with each other for morsels, and some even laying possessively in the food dishes.  It was *almost* a little icky, the amount of iguanas there were.  You literally had to watch your step as you moved through the area, careful not to squish one amongst the many.

Iguanas, iguanas, everywhere!

There were many other different species of birds and fish on the resort, but I would be unable to name them here.  I know these animals do not represent all of the wildlife in Mexico, but these were the ones that I was able to have close encounters with.  Maybe next time we should hit the zoo, just so I can see what else Mexico has to offer in the animal category!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Life's New Journey: Motherhood!

I know this is officially a travel blog. I promise I'm not going to turn "Down the Wrabbit Hole" into a parenthood-oriented play-by-play of my child's growth and development.  (Not that those blogs aren't great, because trust me, as of late I've been reading a lot of them!)  However, I cannot resist the temptation - nay, the DUTY - to introduce my beautiful, big-eyed, intelligent, and breath-taking offspring to my readers. (And yes, she's just that perfect.)

Meet my beautiful baby Avy!

So, without further ado, please welcome little Avy to the world!  She was born mid-January, and since then, time has flown by!  I can't believe it is already February!  But I also can't think of a better way to spend that time than with my little newborn girl (well, maybe with my little newborn girl on a Costa Rican beach...)

Avy snuggling peacefully with her Mommy.

Avy has completely changed my life already.  I am now on maternity leave, and it feels odd to not be working.  I've been a workin' girl since I was 14 and have never NOT had a job.  Avy is now my job, I understand that, but it still does feel weird to not have to change out of my PJs should I chose to do so. My husband is now our sole breadwinner, and that has put some pressure on him.  He's handling it fabulously, I may say.  And he's a champion diaper changer as well!

She is a Flames fan, just like her Daddy.  They haven't lost since she was born!

In the future, we hope to continue our travels around the world, one destination at a time, but right now, our journey in life has taken a whole new spin.  And just like every journey I go on, I plan on enjoying this one to the fullest!

On a new journey - but just around the block for now!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Travel 2014: From Passports to Pampers

Is there travel after babies?

I have found myself asking that repeatedly over the last few months as I ponder the biggest change my life will ever have - a change that is hypothetically only 5 days away.  As excited as I am to have Peanut in my arms, I am daunted by the immensely challenging task of becoming a parent. Will I instill positive values and work ethic in my child? Will I be able to protect her while at the same time encouraging her to spread her wings and make her own choices and mistakes?  Will I become one of those dreaded 'helicopter parents' who thinks her own child does no wrong?  (Probably not on that one - I'm a teacher and I have experienced 'reality' when it comes to what kids will tell their parents and what actually happened.) Will I drop Peanut on her head or accidentally let her roll off the change table?  These are all things I ponder.

Can't wait for the arrival of little Peanut! Photo by Jill Stadnyk Photography.

I also ponder if I will be able to continue my own personal journeys in life.  I am thrilled at becoming a mother, don't get me wrong.  My husband and I tried for FOUR YEARS to conceive, and our baby is already super spoiled, loved, and appreciated.  At the same time, I don't want to put ALL of my own desires and dreams on hold either.  Is it possible to combine my love of travel, exploration, and experiencing the new and mysterious with the joy and terror of raising a family?

I'm sure the answer is yes.  I've been reading lots of travel blogs that feature families traveling the world, some even in true 'nomadic' fashion.  While I've never been drawn to the nomadic lifestyle, I am encouraged by the tales of families hiking through jungles and clamoring up ruins - combining great family values with a love of travel.  I believe this creates wisdom and compassion in children: travel is essential in creating well-rounded, socially aware, and open-minded kids.

Family travel helps kids become globally aware citizens.  Photo via.

With that being said: is there travel after babies FOR ME specifically in the year 2014?  I certainly hope so.  I do not plan on trading in my passport for Pampers full-time.

#1. Kerala, India
I have entered a travel competition to win a trip to Kerala, India for a blogging conference (along with a kick-butt train ride through the area of Kerala) via the "Kerala Blog Express" website.  So far, I have not yet cracked the Top 25, but if you readers would be so kind, hit up this link and go vote for me via Facebook. You'd make Travel Dream #1 come true for me!

#2.  Costa Rica
My husband and I have been talking about the possibility of going to Costa Rica later in the year, when the baby is a bit older, if financially feasible. His parents own a house in Guanacaste, and so this would make our trip 'do-able' with a young child and limited financial resources.  I think I'll start saving now!

#3.  My Backyard: Alberta
I live in Alberta, which is arguably one of Canada's most beautiful provinces. (I know every person in Canada thinks their own province is the best, but Alberta has EVERYTHING: mountains, prairies, Badlands, Boreal forests, tundra, etc.)  My husband and I plan to take advantage of living in such a spectacular province by traveling around locally, finding hidden gems in our own backyard so to speak.  Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Columbia Ice Fields, Jasper, Drumheller, the Crowsnest Pass - all of these places have amazing things to offer.  Day trips, weekend trips, and even the occasional camping / hotel trip are in the works.

These are the only things we have discussed thus far.  Usually in my life, a trip pops up out of nowhere at least once a year, so who knows what 2014 will bring?

The new addition is due January 7 - whether or not she is punctual is up to her! Photo by Jill Stadnyk Photography.

All I know is that I'm about to begin an amazing journey that will last a lifetime - becoming a parent - and everything on top of that is just icing on the cake!  Happy 2014, everyone - may you experience every adventure in your life to the absolute fullest!

For more articles regarding the "Travel 2014" Link Up, visit "Adventures of a London Kiwi"!