Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 352: Wedding Bells

Nearly one year after we left the country to travel, we took a big step on another huge adventure and got married. The day was exactly what we wanted: a casual outdoor ceremony and reception, with a long afternoon including lounging at the dock and a firepit. We made all of the food ourselves (with a huge thanks to our family members) and it was delicious!

The small dock ceremony was special to us for a few reasons.
1) We had our dear friend Alex officiating. He is a childhood friend of Alex and a university friend of Erin's and it was at his wedding that we met. Alex did a beautiful job tying our lives together through a well-prepared speech that was so personal to us.
2) We had guests warm a stone for us, with all of their wishes and advice and lay the stones on the dock to create the altar on which we would stand to be wed.
3) Erin walked up the aisle to one of our favourite songs, 7th Fret Over Andres by Woodpigeon, a song that's very meaningful to us written by a Calgarian band.
4) Erin's ring is comprised of the two sapphires we bought in Madagascar and Craig carried and kept safe since October. For a reminder of that story, visit our Madagascar entries.

To see pictures from the day, a list of charities from our registry, and the recipes from our wedding lunch, please visit

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Day 317: A Canadian Homecoming

There was no better way to return to Canada than to fly into the nation's capital, Ottawa. The tiny international airport boasted an unlimited number of Canada flags, signposts in French and English, and it even smelled like home! The customs official who greeted us was overwhelmingly friendly, gathering all of the necessary information in that Canadian way that made it feel more like a conversation with an old friend than a stiff bureaucratic exchange. He genuinely seemed excited for us and gladly stamped the last pages of our passports. Waiting on the other side of security were Craig's brother and sister-in-law, smiling away to welcome us to Canadian soil.

We - and our bags - had made it home safely. We'd somehow managed to carry our two Concho y Toro wine glasses successfully since April, through three countries and eleven flights! We stopped quickly at the grocery store, where we ran around excited to be reunited with all of our favourite foods, then cheersed a terrific journey.

The next few days that followed included a plethora of catch-ups with family and friends, a visit to the wedding venue to see it for the first time, and many heartwarming glances at the many flags that adorned every street corner. In Ottawa we passed by the parliament buildings, walked across the bridge into Quebec to see the view looking back across the river, and played trivia with Craig's old team.

Our days were riddled with moments where we tried to adjust to a North American life again. The waitresses brought us water - for free - and it was from the tap! We couldn't help but fill up our water bottles lest we leave such a precious resource behind. Public toilets were clean and they flushed, though it was hard to get rid of the habit of tossing the tp into the bin rather than the bowl. And we immediately felt disconnected by our lack of cell phone or constant availability to data. Things seemed to move much faster and our days were suddenly much fuller than before. And one of the biggest challenges was the lack of one-on-one time we had...although great to be surrounded by so many friends and family members, it easily became overwhelming.

We headed on to Toronto and were greeted by more friends and family members. In amongst the time-consuming wedding planning, we managed to squeeze in a few social gatherings and tourist outings. We watched the Jays demolish the Yankees at the Dome and traipsed around a very busy Toronto Zoo with Erin's nieces. It was so good to be home. Sometimes being a tourist in your own town is just as fulfilling as being on the road!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Day 316: Race You Back Home

Our final video perfectly encompasses how we feel about returning home. We're excited to see our family and friends, eat whatever we want, be reunited with "new" clothing, and, of course, get married. It's also a chance to reset our "normal" life by finding a new apartment and looking for new jobs.

But leaving life on the road will certainly be a challenge. Finding a way to keep the adventure going while we work full-time will have to be a priority. We'll try our best to keep the memories fresh so that we can incorporate what we've learned into our daily lives.

Set to music by Elizabeth and the Catapults, we'll take you through our journey by including one picture from every single place we visited on the trip. But it's balanced, as our feelings are, with our desire to come home. We hope you enjoy it!

Days 306-315: Popoyo Pacific

After ten glorious days on Little Corn Island, we took an interesting "ferry transfer" back to Big Corn. Blanketed by a plastic sheet to help impede the pounding rain, we felt just like sardines squished into a tin can. From there, a flight back to the mainland, followed by a long taxi ride, took us to our hostel, and the Pacific side of the country. A quick glance at "Melting Elephant" ensured us this would be nothing close to ordinary. Its Flinstonesque vibe seemed fun until we had a look inside our Water Tower room. A tiny window was the only thing to let in a breeze, so we were forced to pay the extra for air conditioning. The poorly outfitted room was upgraded by the king-sized bed, so we figured we wouldn't be too hard done by for our remaining ten days.

The week and a half consisted of apartment searching, wedding planning, job applications, and a few swims a day in the rough waves. Popoyo Beach is surfer paradise, so we saw lots of tricks and lots of wipe-outs. Our favourite time of day was sunset, when the water came in close, and the breeze strengthened.

Unable to avoid spending a night in Managua, we hitched a ride back to the capital city with the hostel owner. We spent our last afternoon working further on our many return-to-home tasks. Our emotions exhausted from it being the last night of the trip, we focused as best we could, and headed to bed early to get in a few hours sleep before our early flight back to Canada.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Days 301-305: Exploring a New World

Photo by Albert Kok (*Note: any underwater pictures are just representations of what we saw taken by other people)

Little Corn Island has much more to do other than just lying on the beach or taking a casual swim. After a relaxing Day 300, we were ready to continue the adventure on number three hundred and one. We woke with the sun, grabbed our beach gear, and hit the road. After walking nearly the entire way around the island, to our favourite beach spot by the incredibly expensive Yemaya Resort.

This would be our second time snorkeling on the island, and really, Erin's second time snorkeling ever. She'd tried it a few times prior but never with much success. We'd since met many people who have the same problem she does, starting to hyperventilate when she tries breathing while looking underwater. Intent on conquering this obstacle, we'd rented gear our third day on Little Corn. We followed the 7-Step Program we'd developed and within no time, we were snorkeling together panic-free! If you also have trouble snorkeling, here are some tips:

Find a shallow, sandy area with calm water. It doesn't even matter if there are fish. The important thing is that the water is calm.

Leave the flippers behind to start. Make yourself feel as comfortable as possible by only changing one variable at a time.

Step 1: Use the mask without the Snorkel
First, get used to swimming under water with the goggles on. For Erin, this wasn't new, but if you're used to blowing out through your nose while you snorkel, you need to practice exhaling through your mouth.

Step 2: Practice breathing through the snorkel on land.
This might sound silly, but if you're a nose-breather, this takes some getting used to. Practice deep, calming breaths.

Step 3: Add the Snorkel
Just like in Step 1, take a deep breath above the water, then put your face in and breathe out. The brain has trouble breathing in while seeing that you're under water; it's clearly an illogical thing to do. So the panicky part will always be on the breath in. If you need to, lift your head up to breathe in, then look in the water to exhale. This is why it's helpful if you're in shallow water so you can easily stand up.

Step 4: Swim and Snorkel
When you're ready, breathe in and out with your face under the water. If this is still difficult for you, find something to focus on, like a fish or a shell, to distract your brain.

Step 5: Get Prepared for Waves
The hardest step: intentionally put water in your snorkel and practice blowing hard to get it out. It's handy to have a sympathetic yet slightly mean fiancé on hand to shovel water in your snorkel so you're forced to practice.

Step 6: Add flippers
Now that you're a breathing pro, add in the flippers. You'll have more speed and less flexibility. Get used to them before you move into choppier water.

Step 7: Find a Deep Reef
You're ready to move to a more interesting beach with things to see. Try to find reefs with extra depth so you can go vertical if you need to without damaging coral. The calmer the water, the better, until you're more comfortable.

With these relaxing conditions it took us less than half an hour to be on the other side of the island with a few waves and lots of stuff to see. We snorkeled at three different beaches and loved them all. The first, at the rocky outcropping, had tons of fish and a wall which we could snorkel along. We had not heeded our own advice here; the water was very shallow above the reef and this led to an exciting and scary moment when Craig discovered a stingray a few feet from us with a 1.5 m wide wingspan!

At the second beach, just on the north side of the rocky outcropping, Erin spotted a much smaller ray burrowed under the sand. The water was deeper and calmer here and quite enjoyable.

The third beach on Day One of snorkeling was in front of Yemaya resort. The water here was especially blue. We swam over a reef with bigger fish and found ourselves in deeper water. Hoping to see a turtle, we pressed onwards. Erin was enjoying watching some fish when Craig, who had ventured further, swam up to her quickly. She could tell something was up. "OK," he said excitedly, "Do you want to see a shark? "

Photo by Todd Barrow
Feeling adventurous, she agreed, and he led her back to where he'd been. It was the first time she'd seen a shark in the wild and Erin was super proud of herself for doing it intentionally! The nurse shark was ~8 feet long, and resting under a rock. Craig had almost swam into the shadowy figure as the water had gotten shallow by that point before spotting it.

So after such a successful first day in fins, we were excited for a second day out. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily the night before so it was cloudier and the waves had picked up strength. We tired quickly and were disappointed that the nurse shark was not in its hiding spot. After swims at a few different beaches, the highlights of the day did not surpass a massive bright orange starfish, and some large parrotfish.

Photo by Kevin Bryant

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Days 297-300: Paradise You Say? We're All Ears

Free drinks on the flight is always a good start.
On our tiny plane bound for Big Corn Island, beer or rum and coke were the only two options available from the cart. This paved the way to the next ten days of rest and relaxation.

Awaiting our arrival was a teenager from our family run hostel with a wheelbarrow. Little Corn Island has no roads and no motorized vehicles; thus, we slowly made our way across the island to our home for the next nine nights, the ripples of the calm sea lazily rolling up the beach 6 feet from our doorstep.

At only 2.9 sq km it is possible to circumnavigate Little Corn in under 2 hours. Protected by a reef a hundred meters from shore, very few places on the island receive anything that could honestly be called a wave. This all combines for a marvellously relaxing island paradise. We strolled the endless beaches and found some good sandy spots for swims. Our definition of a crowded beach became anything with 4 or more other people on it.

We may have had fish tacos multiple times a day...
Our time was spent lying on deserted beaches, sitting on our splendid porch as the sea breeze kept us cool, and eating delicious (albeit expensive) food. We justified it all with our regular cheer of "Proneymooning!" and combined Day 300 Celebration. The most ambitious thing we did all week was compete in the island's trivia competition, where we held the lead going into the finals, before crumbling to a disastrous 4th place after the music round.

We took some time to be productive, as well, sifting through our library of nearly 20,000 pictures and videos to work on the South America, and the upcoming Trip Finale videos. 

Happy Hour was our busiest time of the day.

We could not imagine a more relaxing experience. Although we had noticed various establishments (including our hostel) advertising wifi, we were able to go nearly the whole time on the island without it. Instead, we tried to figure out which day it was while we basked in the sun and sipped rum from a coconut. The island was a very friendly and social place; no two people passed without saying hello, be it travellers or locals. Our prime location on the beach meant that we met everyone on the island as anyone who wanted to walk the length of the beach had to walk right by our doorstep.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day 296: Las Isletas de Granada

Just south-east of Granada, scattered throughout Lake Nicaragua, are roughly 365 volcanic islands. We thought this would be a nice place to go for the day, to get away from the heat of the city, and enjoy some wildlife viewing opportunities. After shopping around a bit, we avoided the tour companies boasting photos of tourists petting monkeys (shame on you!), and chose one that sounded a little more eco-friendly. Being on the last of our pennies, we discussed at length the trip with the tour operator to ensure we knew what we were getting.

Turns out, we didn't discuss enough. What we thought was a day trip in a boat to explore the islands and look for birdlife and monkeys turned out to be a boat transfer to their private island where we were dumped for the day and abandoned along with our cook. The boatman came and went so secretively that we were confused when we saw two more women on the island that had not previously been there. Sadly no one ever came to clean the pool which looked like a '90s Nickelodeon gameshow had been filmed in it before our arrival.

Without any information about the lake (currents, etc), no lifejackets, and the rum we had brought with us, we decided to stay ashore and safely swing in the hammocks. Eventually we were collected and taken around the small islands as the sun went down over the verdant slopes of the volcano. In a rush (we suppose), the boatman skipped our stop at the thermal waters at the base of the volcano without saying a word to us.

Needless to say our experience was not what we had hoped or paid for. That being said we did enjoy our time in the hammocks (though we had to be careful as the birds above us seemed intent on carpet bombing the island), and the boat ride, what little we got, we beautiful.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Days 293-295: Granada

Nicaragua hit us with a wave of heat and humidity. Though still in a Spanish-speaking country, it was clear that we were on a new continent. The outlets were back to normal and the stop signs read "Alto" instead of "Pare." We had a feeling that the vocabulary we'd become comfortable with the past four months might lead us astray.

But our status in the travelling hierarchy hadn't changed. Knowing how exhausted we'd be after our long-haul flight, and because it looked to be a reasonable price, we'd booked ourselves an airport transfer through our hostel. Though a luxiourous decision for us, we still knew our place among the travel circuit when our driver led us past all the shiny, logo-adorned vehicles to a rusted-out sedan. The hour-long drive took us through dry brushland and alongside run-down villages. We hadn't seen this kind of poverty since India.

After 27 hours of travel, we dropped our stuff and went right back out to find lunch in order to celebrate Erin exploring her 30th country. Right away, it seemed that we'd enjoy Nica thanks to its ridiculously cheap rum, affection for mojitos, and the plethora of new dips and sauces to garnish our refreshing change of food. When Erin asked if the restaurant had corn or flour tortilla shells the server looked surprised and answered, "Only corn, of course!"

At first impression, Nicaraguans, or at least Granadians, were a gentler, more reserved folk than what we were used to. We greeted everyone on the street as normal, and got some raised eyebrows and an occasional response in return. They clearly weren't as used to Spanish-speaking tourists and were quick to change to English that rivaled our second-language skills. Our habit of starting off in Spanish and switching to English only when necessary began to wane after just a few days.

The tourist population was different more than just in their language skills. The long-term travellers were gone and replaced with vacationners or those on month-long Central American trips who generally didn't need to competitively compare experiences. Everyone was friendly in a relaxed, "I'm on holiday" sort of mood. It was a crowd we felt comfortable with: adventurous enough to choose Nicaragua, but relaxed enough to just be happy with themselves and the experiences of others.

Granada itself was a pretty city with beautifully restored churches and buildings of all colours. It was nice for wandering in other than the oppressive heat and humidity. Our hostel had a lovely sitting area in a middle courtyard but the air still felt stifled with a lack of breeze. We took a day to relax and cool off at the nearby hotel pool, Craig went to a trivia night at the local pub, and we tried to get caught up on the hockey playoffs. In the early mornings and evenings, we explored the streets, went up the church tower and walked down to the beach of Lake Nicaragua.

We also experienced one downside to travel in Central America. There is a bed bug epidemic right now and Craig found a couple in his sheets early our third morning. The owner responded quickly and fumigated our room and our bags for us, but it added a level of stress as we frantically hung up all of our belongings in the sun mere hours before the airport as we didn't have time to wash and dry them. If our friend Adrian from our Uganda trip is reading this, Central America is the place to go if you want to collect bed bug species!

It was also on our third day that we realized we'd been living in the wrong time zone. Something to do with Daylight Savings...or a weird Central American time zone thing...we're still not sure. We've switched time zones so many times in the last two weeks that we're completely confused. At any rate, it made a lot more sense when we finally realized this. It explained why the sun seemed to be setting later than it should and why places were never open in the morning when they said they'd be. We think we're on track now for the rest of the trip!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day 292: Tips for Long-Haul Travel

When Mary, our friend and Kenyan safari partner, announced that she loved long-haul flights, we were more than surprised. Neither of us sleep well on planes, we're both tall, so leg room is left to be desired, and it's just overall tiring. But the longer we've been away, the longer our flights and bus rides seem to get, and with it, our tolerance has also stretched. We've come to see the bright side of long travel days and get excited about plane trips. As you embark on your own trip, here are a few of our tips to help put the 'joy' back in 'journey'.

Now, we'd better start by clarifying what exactly "Long-Haul" travel means. We're reluctant to define it by a number of hours because circumstance lends so much to its meaning. Our 31 hour bus ride from Ushuaia to Trelew in Argentina was arguably better and easier than some of the 4 hour bus trips we did in Africa. It's necessary to think through the situation and know if you can handle it before committing to any sort of trip. Will you be adequately comfortable sitting in a squishy, hot, dusty bus next to a stranger, with someone else's bags under your feet and your neighbour's baby on your lap for 8 hours? If not, you might need to break the journey into two (or 4!) parts. (We finally had to admit to ourselves that we weren't going to be able to do an 8 hour drive hanging onto the back of a truck in Uganda (top right).

Bus Rides
* Know your Route
Research ahead of time to know which side of the bus will have better views. It made our 9 hour bus ride from Santiago to Mendoza exciting because we were keeping track of our location on Google Maps and knew to look out for Acongagua (on the left), the tallest mountain in South America. From Puerto Natales to El Calafate, sit on the left again to enjoy views of the mountains and valleys.

Equally important is which side of the bus the sun will be shining on. Even our nice South American buses had their internal temperature soar well above 30 on sunny days. This meant that if your seat was on the sunny side that you would keep the curtains closed and not see anything much of the time.

*Choose Carefully
Always pick the seat with access to the window. You'll find that many locals prefer to have the windows shut...they're a lot more used to the heat than you are.

In Argentina and Chile, the front seats on the double decker buses are so awesome...wide views out the front and extra leg room (sometimes). You'll need to reserve these seats ahead of time. If these seats are full, take the ones on the right side of the bus directly after the stairs (about mid-bus). They'll also have more leg room and no one in front of you will be reclining into your space (front of the bus, top right; mid-bus, left).

*Bring your own TP
No matter where you are in the world, bus bathrooms never seem to have any toilet paper, and there likely won't be any in bus rest-stops if you're travelling outside of North America or Europe. And even then...

These are essentials for us now on long-haul flights:
- water, water, and more water (if you're allowed)
- comfortable clothes with an extra pair of socks/leg warmers
- toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste
- a couple of cleansing face wipes
- change of shirt, socks and underwear
- deodorant
- buff to use as a face mask
- earplugs and melatonin
- snacks

Erin finds it much easier to sleep on a plane if you feel fresh and keep some kind of normal night-time routine. After they serve you dinner (preferably with one glass of red wine to help you relax) and you're ready to 'go to bed', get up and brush your teeth and wash your face with your cleansing wipe. Layer up in your fleece, take off your shoes and put on your extra socks. Get as cosy as you can. Take a melatonin, pop in your earplugs and pull down your mask. Don't fret about actually sleeping...let the goal be to rest. If you actually sleep, all the better.

Craig's strategy is to stay up all night watching movies. When asked if he would like red or white wine Craig will always ask for one of each.

*Avoid Jet-Lag
To cut down on jet lag, drink lots of water before, during, and after the flight. Physical exercise is meant to help adjust the body to your new time zone. Whenever possible, try to schedule your arrival for evening time. Even if it's day-time for you at home, you'll be tired from travelling so sleeping will be easier. If you're arriving first thing in the morning, like we did for Paris and Buenos Aires, resist the urge to lie in bed all day. It'll just make you feel worse. Get outside, get some sun, see a few things, then take an afternoon nap, if needed.

*Make the Most of Layovers

It's important to move as much as you can to stretch your legs and minimize jet lag, so walking the airport is always a good pastime. Airports for us have come to provide more comforts of home than the country itself does. In Africa and India, we took the opportunity to load up on salads and fresh veggies because we knew everything would be treated properly. In Qatar, we could find drinks with soya milk for Erin, and in Singapore, we even did some shopping. Then, of course, our recent layover in Houston was the best...a soya chai latte and a $2 heap of bacon made for a great start to the day. Filling our water bottles with tap water was an even bigger treat!

*Bring your own Snacks
For the food restricted traveller, always bring your own snacks. Even if you've requested a special meal, bring enough to feed yourself. On almost every single flight we've taken, Erin has not been given the special meal she ordered. Instead, she usually gets a shrug, sometimes an apology, and one rare time a flight attendant gave her a piece of fruit from her own packed lunch. Always call the airline ahead of time to request the meal, then confirm when you check-in, and try to confirm with the attendants at the gate before boarding the plane as well.

Most importantly, try to be flexible.
Things won't always go as planned!