ValPARADISEo

This post is only about 4 years overdue…. what can I say? Life happened and I got distracted living in the moment.

I have to say though, in retrospect, the things that stick out are still really vivid and I think those are the important things, the ones worth mentioning.

For instance, the fellow in the first picture below, Cuelli Mangui. He is an absolutely amazing artist. I still follow him, every time I look at the pieces that I bought from him, I am reminded of this trip.

I remember the walking tour, I do love a good walking tour. Our tour guide was dressed like Where’s Waldo, and he showed us all the most fantastic examples of the incredible street art that Valpo is known for.

I also really remember the alfajores, caramel between two shortcake like cookies, dipped in chocolate, and the empanadas we got from this elderly man in a tiny shop this was part of his home, up this steep side street (ok that’s the majority of Valpo streets), while on our walking tour. We had to knock and call his name, and then he came and opened up to share the deliciousness. 😀

I remember loving the funiculars. I mean, come on, the word FUN is right in the name.

I remember the ancient, sprawling old home that we stayed in, inhabited by one old man with a love of music, and being struck by the thought of everything he had seen and done in his life, and all the moments that house had seen over the years.  I remember eating sushi on the floor on our last night there because it was all that we could do to go and grab take-out from around the block after hoofing it up and down the hills of Valpo for 2 days.

I remember drinking fluffy water, I remember laughing, and I remember making the best memories with my dear friend Ellen on this trip.

 

image
With artist, Cuelli Mangui

 

image
Overlooking Valpo
image
One of the amazing murals of street art we saw, and our guide, not Waldo

 

 

image
The jumbled tangle of staircases and electrical wires that is Valpo.

 

image
Fishing boats in the harbour
image
Just a couple tourists in hats
image
Ellen, wonderful travel buddy, posing with the cobbled streets and colourful houses
Advertisements

The Best of Mexico 2019

A brief summary – will try to flush this out with pictures and details soon.

Towns (in order of favourite)

San Cristobal de las Casas

Campeche

Guanajato

Puebla

Oaxaca City

Mazatlan

CDMX

Guadalajara

San Jose Del Pacifico

San Miguel de Allende

Ruins

Yaxchilan

Edzna

Palenque

Monte Alban

Waterfalls

El Chiflon – Chiapas

Cascadas El Aguacero – Chiapas near Tuxtla

Hierve el Agua – Oaxaca

 

Strongly Disliked

Puerto Vallarta

Pretty much anywhere touristy (Sayulita, Acapulco, Tulum area)

 

Favourite Overnights

San Carlos Beach Camp

Renee’s place near Puerto Escondido

Sandy’s Place in Michoacan – Rancho Buganvillea

Los Organos in Jalisco

Any of the beaches we stayed at down the West Coast of the mainland.

 

Kootenay Hikes of 2018

Summer 2018 was an adventurous one…until the smoke rolled in, too thick to enjoy hiking in, let alone see any views from the top. Summer 2019 has been super gorgeous, but hikes I have done amount to ZERO owing to being away/working/in a wedding in June, on-call 24/7 in Telegraph Creek for most of July, and studying/recovering from gum surgery for August. Sigh. The West Coast Trail hike in September is really gonna kick my behind! >.<

Without further ado, here are the hikes of 2018, all highly recommended.

Jumbo Wild

4×4 to trailhead – ideally, yes
Time – roughly 5 hours roundtrip, depending on how long you hang out at the top
Dog-friendly – yes. I took my 2 small min-pins, they had a blast. We didn’t see any wildlife, but there is a strong likelihood of running in to some – take bear spray!

This hike was absolutely gorgeous. We saw 6 other people total, 3 of whom were under the age of 5. There is a cabin at the top so you could camp overnight. You can catch this trail from Argenta, BC, or coming from Panorama side on Toby Creek FSR as well. The trail up from Argenta had some areas of deadfall, most of which weren’t too bad to climb over/push out of the way, one of which was extensive and we were lucky we didn’t lose the trail. This was the beginning of July 2018, I don’t know what trail conditions are like this summer.

Idaho Peak

4×4 to trailhead – 100% recommended, 100% did this road in my Hyundai Elantra GT and did not break it. White knuckles at some points though….
Time – 1-2 hours roundtrip. The actual hike itself is really easy and not that long. From the parking area to the left, you hike to the lookout tower along a path lined with wildflowers and views. This could not be a more rewarding hike for very little actual physical effort.

Plus, you can stop in the old ghost town of Sandon, BC on your way up. Lots of interesting history and a ton of old Vancouver city buses parked up here.

Wilson Creek Falls

Just north of New Denver, a fairly easy 2.2km round-trip hike (some steep-ish switchbacks down to the river at the end), yielding a gorgeous view of the waterfall. Doggo friendly, accessible without 4WD (but maybe not advisable if you love your car a lot). Again, high reward for not too much effort (my kind of hiking). Super cold waters!

Buchanan Lookout

4×4 to trailhead – again 100% recommend, 100% did this in the ol’ low to the ground hatchback, trusty steed that she is. There are a few hiking trails around the lookout, some of which are not that long (1hr or less depending on your speed), and you can see into the old fire lookout, which is interesting. Spectacular views. Tons of bugs.

Mt Crawford/Plaid Lake

4×4 to trailhead – absolutely yes. The last little bit of the ‘road’ to the actual trailhead is super steep and unless you bring a 4-wheeler, or a very strong constitution and engine, I think you’re better off to park in the large open area just before the really steep part starts. We got tricked and parked even further down and ended up walking 2km to the trailhead. We also saw someone in a Honda Ridgeline-ish vehicle attempt the last part of the road up and they were burning out their vehicle preeeeetttyyy good.

Other than the road to the trailhead… the trail itself is really lovely. It’s mostly along a ridge so it’s scenic most of the way. Dogs – leashed – as there are steep drop-offs a lot of the way. You can hike up to the summit (steep and scrambly, but beautiful views) or down to the lake, or both if you have the time. Total hike time – most of the day as we added 4km on the FSR with the whole parking sitch.

Island Lake

Lovely views. It was really smokey when we were here in August so we just did the loop around the lake, but there are a ton of trails around here. Watch out for moose! We saw 2 in the lodge parking lot…

That’s a wee summary of the best.

Newfoundland Like Understand – A quick guide to 10 days on the rock.

Growing up, the most I knew about Newfoundland is that you pronounce it like understand, and that it runs a quirky half hour ahead of the rest of Canada on Newfoundland Standard Time. As an adult, Newfoundland has been on my radar for a few years, since I was living in New Brunswick going to nursing school. The unique landscape (there are 3 distinctly different geological zones), the friendly people with awesome accents, the tradition of fiddle music, jigs and reels, that are sure to get even the stodgiest of old feet a tappin’, and the fantastic wildlife – think puffins right up close, heaps of whales just off shore and right around your boat, seals, and many other birds – is more than enough of a draw. Mix in a wealth of history that includes Vikings and towns with whimsical sounding names like Gaff Topsail, Happy Adventure, Goobies, Little’s Hearts Ease, and Come by Chance to name a few, and you have the recipe for a fantastic adventure.

IMG_20170810_231731_921.jpg
Gorgeous Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park

Where: St. John’s, Avalon Peninsula, Trinity, Elliston/Bonavista, Twillingate, Terra Nova National Park, Gros Morne National Park, Burlington with ma mama!

20170803_161942
Beach at St Vincent’s
IMG_20170802_202718_762
Cape Spear

When: August 1st-11th, 2017

How: rental car. There is basically no other way to see things in a timely fashion as public transport is limited and hitchhiking, sketchy. If you want to maximize your time even more, you can fly within the province. Although it is not a big province, the roads are atrocious (see note below), and if you want to do Labrador too, your options are fly or ferry across.

Budget: Apart from the rental car which will run you around $900 minimum for a 10 day excursion, it is quite affordable. There are very nicely run hostels which will keep you well under $50 a night and if fish and chips is your jam, then supper will run around $10. Many places offer breakfast included. When we went, all the National Parks and monuments were free, so that made things cheaper, but even so, most attractions are not terribly costly.

20170810_102748.jpg
Windswept coastline of Gros Morne

Best sights

1. The puffins in Elliston – there is a huge colony here and if you are very patient and still, they will come right up and investigate you.
Elliston also bills itself as “the root cellar capital of the world” and has a touching sealers memorial. Nearby Bonavista has a terrific ice cream shop, Sweet Rock, a number of tasty restaurants, and Cape Bonavista is a beautiful viewpoint for whale watching, puffin watching, and sunset watching.

Heads up – there are 2 roads that lead to Elliston, both the #238. The one from Bonavista is quite decent, the other, off the 230 …. awful! It’s more roundabout to go through Bonavista, but the better road is worth it.

 

IMG_20170805_162003_143
Puffins up close and personal

IMG_20170805_163333_980

2. Gros Morne National Park– this will go down as one of my absolute favourite places I have ever visited because of the natural beauty and the variety of scenery. I strongly suggest taking the boat trip on Western Brook Pond; book in advance, dress warmly, and enjoy the entertainment!At least two nights are recommended here. Parks Canada provides several excellent and free guided walks.

IMG_20170812_002826_307.jpg
There are lots of gorgeous hikes to do in Gros Morne

3. Terra Nova National Park – a beautiful park with coastal and inland elements. Lovely lookouts, lakes to swim in (although they seem to call them ponds in Newfoundland), hikes, and animal sightings. I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem. One to two nights here is good.

 

4. Trinity and the Skerwink Trail
An adorable village with a few great coffee shops in the area, ice cream, entertainment, and a beautiful and not too difficult coastal hike – what’s not to like?! One night and 2 days is enough here.

IMG_20170805_000652_620
Rising Tide Theatre
20170804_162831
Looking out over Trinity
20170805_102547
Skerwink Trail

5. Avalon Peninsula – a hidden wonder, so close to St Johns. The roads are awful, but there are some really wonderful sights and tiny shops. Highlights: Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve (a UNESCO site), whale watching in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (we used Gatherall’s tour company and were satisfied), and the beach at St. Vincent’s where whales come up extremely close to shore due to the drop-off beach.
Two nights in the area recommended to deal with the roads as well as the variability of the animals.

IMG_20170805_004023_122.jpg
Gannet colony at Cape St. Mary’s

Best Accommodations

Truth be told, I loved nearly ALL the places we stayed. Great breakfasts, very clean, extremely welcoming, unique, and well-situated could describe all of them. I often use a mix of booking.com, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and researching the internet and booking directly with the accommodation. In recent trips, I’ve heard some sketchy things about booking’s practices and I don’t like that they siphon off 30% so I prefer to book directly where possible. Newfoundland is actually one of the few remaining places where a number of places are not on commercial accommodation websites such as booking and many B&B’s can be found through a google search. There are so many cute B&B’s, hospitable and enjoyable hostels and Airbnb’s, and lovely inns that it seems silly to stay anywhere big or commercial.
Without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order:

  1. A saltbox house Airbnb – the owner of this particular house has now retired, but I would recommend staying in a “saltbox” in one of the small villages if possible. These creaky old queens often painted in bright colours invoke the ghosts of fishermen past and make you yearn for a simple and cozy life.
  2. Lilac Inn B&B – Glovertown – proximal to Terra Nova National Park and the delicious restaurant at the Inn at Happy Adventure.
    The proprietors of this charming B&B, a 1919 Victorian build formerly owned by a sea captain, are Keith, a Brit transplanted to Canada, and the elusive Eileen, who we heard about but never did actually see. Not to worry, Keith could charm the socks onto and back off of a donkey and kept us all well-entertained over breakfast, which was very tasty. The rooms are wonderfully decorated, clean, and very comfortable. Rooms (3 in total), run $110-128 Cdn per night, which I can assure you was worth it. Keith also went out of his way to secure us a dinner reservation at the nearby Inn at Happy Adventure (see below).
  3. HI Skerwink Hostel – Trinity
    WOW. Now THIS is how a hostel should be done! HI hostels are often well-done but this one is one of the best I have ever stayed at in my >10 years of hostelling in over 30 countries. Clean, great common area, tasty breakfast, well-appointed kitchen, passionate and helpful staff, and they have recycling and a garden! It is located just up the street from the beautiful Skerwink Trail. You can also camp here for $15/night.
  4. Hi Tides Hostel – Twillingate
    Also a WOW hostel. Tastefully decorated, clean, small, with yummy, make and serve yourself berry pancakes available for breakfast, located right on the shore in beautiful Twillingate. Proprietors Joelle and Mandy are friendly locals who are also big on promoting and participating in the local arts scene.I should also say that Twillingate was an enjoyable visit although it poured the first day we were there, which completely nixed any outdoor activities. However, we got our toes tapping at one of the local pubs with musician Mike Sixonate, I took a yoga class with the wonderful Nina, and we visited a couple local museums which were quaint but interesting. This is also the jumping off point for Fogo and Change Islands, which have some beautiful scenery as well as one of my favourite artists, Adam Young. (I should also note that I was very impressed with all the amazing artists of all types that Newfoundland has! See more HERE).
  5. Ome – Burlington
    If you want a beautiful, quiet, taste of small-town Newfoundland, the gorgeous ‘glamping’ tents of Ome are exactly what you’re looking for. The brainchild of comedian Shaun Majumder, a Burlington native, it was created to enrich the local economy. The little touches are beautifully quaint and you will feel nothing but welcomed here. You can borrow kayaks, go for hikes, and generally relax and soak in nature. We had the most stunning sunset, one of the best I’ve ever seen, PLUS a rainbow at the SAME TIME here!!I’d recommend bringing your own snacks because there is not a whole lot on offer in the nearby vicinity and chances are you might not want to leave the comfort and charm of your little tent!20170808_141149IMG_20170809_223212_941
  6. Sugar Hill Inn – Norris Point (Gros Morne National Park)
    Fantastically helpful staff and clean, well-appointed rooms. A good breakfast was included. Honestly, I often shy away from eating at the on-site restaurant (I think I feel that they don’t try as hard or something?!), but I am quite glad we ate here. Though on the pricier side of things, our meals were very tasty, and we felt very spoiled by the attentive staff. Best of all though? Complimentary, self-serve laundry!!

Recommended eats

St John’s has a remarkably delectable and varied culinary scene. We were pleasantly surprised by all that was on offer. Of course, there are local delights, heavily featuring fresh seafood, such as cod tongue, which we left for the more adventurous traveller, but there are also a number of other taste sensations.

1. The Inn at Happy Adventure – located near Terra Nova National Park and featuring a beautiful view out over the cove, this restaurant specializes in delicious, locally caught seafood. YUM!

2. India Gate – Duckworth St, St. John’s
Quite tasty Indian food, although a bit pricey. Very friendly staff.

3. Mohamed Ali’s – St John’s
I quite enjoyed their falafel. This place was started by two Palestinian refugee brother-in-laws. Reasonably priced.

4. Sweet Rock Ice Cream – locations in Trinity and Bonavista.
It’s ice cream. Do I really need to say more?

Consider Avoiding

  1. Auk Island Winery in Twillingate. It saddens me to say this, because I love wine and want to give kudos and support to endeavours that bolster the local economy but this felt commercial, impersonal, and almost tacky. There was a nominal tasting fee, which was not waived with purchase of a bottle as the majority of wineries do, and maybe I’m ruined by BC wines, but none of the wines really stood out to me. They have an extensive list of all berry-based wines, and I wonder if maybe they ought to just concentrate on really perfecting a smaller selection. Twillingate is well worth a visit, but I would recommend skipping the winery.
  2. Rising Tide Theatre – not an avoid so much as a pick your show carefully. This is an institution in Trinity, open since the 1970’s and the theatre is adorable. In the show that we saw, the actors were quite good, but the story, which was basically a life story of a famous NL musician called Harry Hibbs, seemed to drag and a couple theatregoers left during admission. At almost $30 a ticket, I have to say, I expected more.

My biggest caution to you: THE ROADS!! The potholes are legen-wait for it-dary. Indeed, a 2012 CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) poll found that 5/10 of the worst roads in Canada are located in Newfoundland. Even the TCH (Trans-Canada Hwy, aka Hwy 1) has potholes. Potholes! In a highway! That cause you to have to brake suddenly so as not to ruin your rental car! Ugh. Nevermind the other main roads (ie the main road around the Avalon Peninsula), and just forget about the smaller roads. Go slow. Be alert. Don’t drive at night, if possible (this also helps you to avoid moose, which cause an inordinate number of accidents every year). And even if it just looks like a wee, small one, I guarantee you, it’s not! It will grow exponentially in the split second it takes you to approach it, and it will be at least 2 feet deep to boot. If there was ever a vacation to splurge out on a fancy sports car…. this is not it! Go for the SUV, it is best on these roads. Consider yourself sufficiently warned. 😉

Also, though you may be going in summer months, pack a hat, pack gloves, pack a warm coat, and some warm layers. Although we had days in shorts and t-shirts, the weather is changeable and always cools off at night.

Finally, the Newfie souvenirs are among some of the nicest I’ve come across. Beautiful art work, warm woolly socks and gloves, pottery, and much more are among some of what’s on offer. Budget to bring a few things back for sure.

Any questions? Send me a message or comment below!

Havasupai Hike

A dream come true!

With the advent of Instagram, so many more amazing places have come to the forefront of my travel world. Havasupai Falls is one of the most photogenic and magical looking places to flash across my screen recently and I knew I had to visit.

beginning hike
Shiny, clean faces, setting out for our big hike in! The hike follows the trail you can kind of see snaking down the canyon to the right.

Getting There:

Unfortunately, it is SUPER hard to get a reservation to visit Havasupai. Prior to this year, the only way to get a reservation was by telephone. They opened an online reservation system this year, however, after just a short while, it was put on hold due to overwhelming requests. In February, I called the four different numbers I could find listed for the reservation office, the camping office, and so on probably twenty to thirty times and it rang endlessly or cut out until finally someone answered and I was told no reservations available for April and no waiting list.

The conundrum: go now with a tour company at a higher cost (individually, it would have cost us less than $200) or wait until next year and call like crazy when the reservation line opened up in January. We decided to take the chance we had and go for a tour group. We selected BG Wild, a company started last year by a fellow by the name of Mike Bennett who had been taking groups of friends down to the canyon for many years and decided to make a business out of it.

We couldn’t have been happier with our decision. The group was professional to deal with, the price was fair, the food was plentiful and delicious, and our guide was super fun and helpful (although I did tell him to turn the sass down by 50% at one point :P). Not having to pack in our food or fight to get a reservation was worth the extra money for sure. We also had an awesome massage therapist, Casey, who came along with the group, offering 15mins free and then booking longer massages at cost, and she also taught us morning yoga right in front of the falls (heaven!). Side note: you have to bring your own mat, but honestly, the sand and dirt in front of the falls is soft enough that as long as you only want to do standing poses, you don’t need a mat.

You can fly into either Las Vegas or Phoenix, both are around a 3.5hr drive from the Hualapai Hilltop hike departure point. From there, it’s a 10 mile hike downhill into the oasis of Havasupai. You can also take a helicopter ($85 one way including one bag on your lap, tourists only start going on a first come first serve basis after the locals have been flown in/out as needed), or you pay $75 to have your bag flown in while you hike. Personally, we enjoyed the challenge and reward of knowing we hiked ourselves and our stuff in on our own.

Packing List:

The lighter the better! Here is what I took for 4 days:
-1x MEC quick dry shorts
-1x Inner Fire black leggings for evening/sleeping and I hiked back in them on the last day
-2x Acuarela Swimwear bikinis (amazing one-of-a-kind, handmade bikinis!)
-2x sport tanks with built in bras (Lululemon and Popflex)
-2x long-sleeve base layers for wearing over top in evenings/at night (MEC and Lululemon)
-1x lightweight Lululemon jacket for evening
-3x socks
-3x quick dry undies from Naja
ballcap
-1x flipflops and 1x sneakers (hiking boots really not necessary unless you need the ankle support)

-1x Enlightened Equipment down sleeping quilt
-1x sleeping mat with built in pillow (was not happy with this!)
-1x 2-person tent
-1x quick dry towel

-comb, mini-toothpaste sachets, toothbrush/floss, sunscreen, mini-deodorant, face and body lotion, mascara (yep, splurge), headlamp, waterbottle, camera, and mini-cam. I was able to use my camera case on day-hikes to carry lipchap, sunscreen, etc.

My friend Linda packed down a hammock and slept in that for a couple of the nights and said it was pretty good. Definitely a way to save weight. She also packed down the dehydrated soap sheets to use for hair washing, which was awesome. I was super pleased with my choices in packing apart from the sleeping mat which was both heavier than it could have been and not very comfortable.
Once you’re down there camping, you can swim daily to keep clean, and everything is a little dusty and dirty, but you’re camping, and so is everyone else, so it doesn’t matter. Being light on weight when you are hiking the 10 miles UPHILL to get out, even if that meant being a little smelly, was worth it.

The Itinerary:

If you can spend at least 2 full days down at the falls, that is ideal. Weekdays are obviously less crowded than weekends. Leaving Hilltop by 8 or 9am would be best, as you avoid the heat of the day (the hike took us about 3.5 or 4 hours from hilltop to tent site with a stop to check in and a stop for a fry bread with cinnamon sugar…yum), and you also get to spend more time at the falls that day after you set up camp.

Our second day down there, we hiked down to Mooney Falls (at the end of the campground) and Beaver Falls, 6 miles roundtrip, including quite a scramble down the side of the canyon to get to the base of Mooney Falls (well worth it). If you continue down the trail from Beaver Falls, you will reach the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon. I think it’s a further 5 miles from Beaver Falls though! The hike down to Beaver Falls feels like you are in Jurassic Park. There is lush, verdant forest and bush with a river running through the middle, and red rock canyon cliffs on either side. It is SO pretty!

The second day down there, we checked out an abandoned mine filled with quartz that’s just behind Havasu, and then most of the group hiked up to Hidden Falls and 50-Foot Falls, then attended a sweat lodge and smudge ceremony, put on by one of the amazing Supai village residents. My legs were SO sore from hiking in flip flops the day before, so I opted to mostly rest by Havasu, enjoy the view, and have another delicious fry bread.

That night, I believe our campsite was the only one that had an amazing song and dance performance put on by a few of the residents of Supai. It was really wonderful.

The next morning, those leaving on the helicopter woke up somewhere around 4 or 5am to hike up to the Supai village to get in line for the helicopter. The rest of us departed two by two between the hours of about 6 and 8AM. The hike out was HARD; our packs felt heavier, we were sad to be leaving, and the ‘slight’ downhill we had on the way in felt like a much steeper incline on the way out. Plus, you end with the 1 mile switchbacks straight back up the Canyon wall. But it felt so amazing to know we did it! And boy did we carb load when we got back to Vegas! 😉

Thanks again to BG Wild, Daniel our guide, Josh, who did set-up, and the amazing group of hikers we got to know!

The Pictures:

beaver falls
Hanging out at Beaver Falls. Some brave folks went jumping off it!
havasu
There she is! The famous Havasu Falls
hike in 2
The hike in. We are still quite clean. Recommendation: no tank top for the long hike! My pack rubbed my shoulders raw.
hike in 3
Nearly to the campground, walking along the river.
mooney hike
The scramble down the side of the canyon to get to the base of Mooney Falls
mooney
Lush and lovely! Just after Mooney Falls
to beaver 2
Shoutout to Acuarela Swimwear for my sweet elephant suit! This is the hike from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls – you cross the river a fair few times.
to beaver
The beautiful valley through which the river and the falls run.