Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo (Part 1)

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite islands again. Isla Mujeres is a small, endearing and charming island right across the bay from the bustling city center that is Cancun. I’ve been coming here for about a decade, and each time I’m happy to discover that has somehow stayed exactly the same but has also developed some new and fun changes. If you are planning to check this place out (which you should, seriously it is beautiful) here are some tips to help you plan your trip and things to do while there…

Before you Leave

Join Islaholics on Facebook: Made up of a combination of new travelers, islanders, and people who are living the dream and have left their 9-5 in North America to live on the island, this group has all of the tips for whatever you are looking for. Great tips on food to eat, places to avoid, where to take your family, and good deals on places to stay. If you have any questions leading up to your trip, ask away on this group before Googling. The people are open, honest and trustworthy-I’ve never received a bad tip (although keep in mind the most important thing I have asked there is where to get the best mojito, btw).

Book Canada Transfers from the airport: Canada Transfers will pick you up at the airport, and drive you and your group in a private, air-conditioned SUV or van and drop you off at the Puerto Juarez Ferry, which is how you will get to Cancun. It is approximately $80 for a group of 1-6 people, and that is round trip. SO, they will pick you up at Gran Puerto Juarez on your way home and take you back to the airport. The best part? You can book your round-trip ferry ticket through their site as well to save money AND book yourself a cooler full of beer or coolers for your transport. Hot tip: Beers are $1 CAD.

Book your accommodations in advance: This is not the place where you just show up and hope for the best. The people are extremely helpful and certainly will do their best to assist you, however, Spanish is still the primary language there. Whatever you are into, Isla has options: two all-inclusive hotels, downtown hotels near the action, condos for families, or AirBNB’s for the traveler on a dime (me).

Once You Arrive

Get a frozen mojito from the Joint: Best mojito, hands down. Live music, yummy food, and a beautiful view of the bay while you’re there. It is down on Punta Sur (the South end of the island), but ask anyone and they will easily be able to help

Follow the Happy Hours: The island has a variety of happy hour’s starting as early as 9am-1am. Follow these around the island, and you are guaranteed to have a night to remember (or not, if that’s your thing).

Talk to the locals: The people on the island are among the most friendly and genuine people I have had the pleasure of meeting. The first time I went to the island, I was eight years old. People STILL remember me and my family by name, which is something I think is pretty special. Anything you need, reach out and ask. Maybe you’ll make a new friend

Eat some seafood: Yeah yeah, I know you might not be a “seafood person”. And that’s your loss. BUT, if you are, this island has so much to offer. There are a variety of places along the main drag where you can watch your food being caught in the bay, walked up the dock, and handed to the cook. All while you sip your mojito with your feet in the sand.

Visit Garrafon de Castilla: Now, I do not mean “Garrafon”. That is a multi-million dollar travel company that is too mainstream to be fun anymore. They also operate tours on the island, which are okay, but for me personally, Garrafon de Castilla is the only way to go. 70 pesos gets you in for the day to some of the coolest snorkeling you will ever see. A beautiful beach with excellent food and beautiful views is also on the menu, as well as some of the largest iguanas on the island. 70 pesos is approximately 5 Canadian dollars. A tour with Garrafon is around $90. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Next week I will be writing about more of my favourite things to do on the island. Thank you for reading!

XO

 

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Let’s Talk

Today, January 31, 2018, is Bell Let’s Talk Day, so let’s talk.

I’ve written about my anxiety in the past, and how it affects me in my day to day, but one of the primary reasons that I find value in this campaign is that we are ending this stigma surrounding mental health. We are saying that speaking out once, is simply not enough. We want people to be empowered by their mental illness, and seek help when they need it, and scream it from the rooftops because goddamnit, I’M WORTH IT.

So here goes.

There is a common saying in the world that goes something like, “the mouth that isn’t open never gets fed”. Which is fair enough. You need to go after the things that you want, ask for what you need, and be tenacious in pursuing what you want. However, what this saying neglects to recognize is that whether someone’s mouth is open or not, that does not negate the fact that they need to eat to survive.

Whether this person is capable of opening their mouth or not, whether they are actively pursuing that need to be fed, at the end of the day, everyone knows that they need to eat in order to continue living. I believe that the same thought process can be applied to mental health. Yes, there is definitely some responsibility on the people experiencing mental illness to speak up and ask for help. But there is also the responsibility of others in that person’s life to actively recognize that everyone, every single person, has that need that needs to be met. And they must act upon that knowledge and feed them. Ask how their day is, ask if they want to talk, ask if they can LISTEN. But we need to ask something.

I’ve been ashamed to talk about my experiences because they just didn’t seem valid compare to what others are going through. Maybe I’m just stressed, maybe I’m just having a bad day, maybe it’s just hormones. But maybe it’s not. Maybe there is something that I need help with, something that I can take active steps to mitigate or help myself in some way or ask for help from others to improve my quality of life. And why shouldn’t I take those steps? Just because I don’t perceive my mental illness to be as “bad” as others? That logic in itself is a stigma that needs to end.

Your feelings are valid. Your opinions are valid. Your instincts about what is going on with you are valid. And it’s about time we start acting on that.

A few months ago, I challenged myself to start talking more about my anxiety with the people that are important to me, mainly my family. This is not for the purpose of making anyone feel as though they failed me in some way, but because I owe it to them and to myself to talk about it.

I just started saying it. “My anxiety makes me feel (x) way in (y) situation”. “A trigger for me is (z)”. And honestly, this experience was extremely disappointing and hard for me. I have parents who are understanding and gracious and kind and SO SO amazing and I was used to them having all of the answers. But when I started saying these things, I knew I was making them uncomfortable because they didn’t know what to say. Every. Single. Time it was followed by an awkward silence before a grudging change of conversation.

And that’s tough. But that was the purpose of this mission I set out for myself, to normalize these feelings and to help myself come to terms with it. It has taken a while, but I am happy to report that those awkward pauses with my parents have become shorter and shorter. It’s not perfect, and that’s okay because that’s not what I expected. The main thing is that it’s happening. I am not alone, and neither are you, I promise. Like anything, change comes from perseverance and the belief that things can, and should, be better.

I encourage you, if you have thought about speaking about your experiences, do it. You honestly have no idea how your words may affect someone, and if you can help even one person feel a little more optimistic and hopeful, isn’t it worth it?

Let’s keep talking.

Regina Beach, Saskatchewan

Almost a full month since my last post-talk about lack of dedication, wow! 

I find this time of year is kind of difficult to take pictures because some days it’s warm, and everything is mucky and not quite frozen, but other days it’s freezing and it’s too cold to enjoy being outside taking pictures. 

The times I do see something worth photographing I am either:

A) on my way to work and probably already late and therefore don’t have time to stop and take a picture

OR

B) I do not have my camera and my iPhone camera just isn’t cutting it

ANYWAY

A few days ago I decided to stop complaining about my lack of things to take pictures of and just go out and make the best of what I have. It was freezing, but I think the pictures were worth it! 

Enjoy my little slice of Saskatchewan…

“Moo”ve Over, It’s Monday

Last week I woke up on Monday and decided I really didn’t feel like doing anything. 

It was such a beautiful day, the picturesque fall views taunting me from the window of my Netflix lair (aka my bedroom). 

Finally, around 4 o’clock I decided to give in and head outside to test out my new camera (Nikon D3400, I’m obsessed). So I took a drive and hit the first dirt road that caught my eye. After a short while, some cows in the field caught my eye. 

They were super photogenic, as far as cows goI mean, just look at them! So I snapped them for a while, getting closer and closer. 

Notice that red sign there? I didn’t. Not for a while, anyway. 

What that is, is a “DANGER: high voltage” sign-warning me that the fence I was currently half a foot away from was electric-and would have shocked me had I not noticed the sign last minute. 

So the point of this short blog is two fold: one, so you can laugh at me for being a moron. But secondly, to get out and actually accomplish something this Monday. You might get electrocuted by a fence, BUT, you also might get a few shots of something that makes your heart really happy. 


Cheers! 

Canmore: The New (Cheap) Banff

That title is misleading for a few reasons:

  1. Banff has and always will be its own magnificent destination. The shopping and the views are unparalleled and people travel from all over the world to visit
  2. Canmore isn’t actually cheap. In fact, by most people’s standards, it’s still fairly expensive. However, compared to Banff, it is cheap.

Anyway, while planning a trip to Calgary for a wedding, my boyfriend and I decided to make a trip out of it and head out to the mountains for a few days afterward. I have hostelled in Banff with friends before and it was cheap and so much fun. So I thought, we can do that!

I was wrong.

My first mistake was assuming that Banff would be similarly priced in October as it was in May four years previous. A hostel room with no TV or private bathroom started at $180/night. Are.you.joking.

Sharing a bunk bed in an eight-person dormitory was $70 PER PERSON.

AirBNB did not have anything under two hundred dollars per night,

I have to say, at this point, it really seemed like the deck was stacked against us and the Universe did not want us to go to Banff. Fortunately, we mutually agreed that the Universe was bullshit and that we should persevere and explore other options.

It was too cold too camp, so we decided to take a peek at what Canmore had to offer. And boy am I glad we decided to.  A mere ten-minute drive from Downtown Banff, and literally HALF the price. So, to be clear, still decently expensive. However, when we drove into the town I can honestly say it was 100% worth it. The views of the mountains are borderline more beautiful than the ones in Banff, there are tonnes of shopping places and restaurants as well if that is your thing.

A mere ten-minute drive from Downtown Banff, and literally HALF the price. So, to be clear, still decently expensive. However, when we drove into the town I can honestly say it was 100% worth it. The views of the mountains are borderline more beautiful than the ones in Banff, there are tonnes of shopping places and restaurants as well if that is your thing.

Here is a quick cheat-sheet of things to check out in Canmore for 48 hours:

Where to Eat:

Rose and Crown Pub (cheap/delicious drinks/food)

Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. -the perfect place to grab breakfast and coffee on your way out of town to hike!

The Green Chili – if you love Indian food, this place is for you. 10/10 would recommend the Coconut Curry and Butter Chicken

What To Do: There is SO much nature all around you while in Canmore that you would be silly to not take advantage of it. Lake Louise, Banff, and Moraine Lake are all within an hours drives and have many awesome hikes to do and sights to see. However, at night when you are exhausted from your day, Elevation Place in Canmore is a great place to check out. For a mere $6 you can work out, check out the pool/waterslide/hot tub/sauna, rock climb, or hit up a workout class! It is open late most evenings and you can buy a single day pass, or weekly/monthly if you are planning on staying longer.

If you love craft alcohol, the two breweries and single distillery in Canmore are must-sees! The food can be a little pricey, but the portions are huge!

Our time in Canmore was so much fun, and now we know how reasonably-priced it can be, we will be sure to stop here the next time we are mountain-bound!

 

6 Must-Have Items for Every First Time Backpacker

As a first-time backpacker, there is A LOT of information available to you when researching what to bring on your first adventure. On one hand, that is great! There is SO much to read, SO much to pack and SO much information. On the other hand…there is SO much information to sift through. What is actually worth your money? What is actually worth dragging across the world?

It can be very intimidating!

Therefore, I decided to make a list of things I will never backpack without again (hyperlinked for your convenience #yourewelcome); things that were totally worthwhile as a first-timer to this whole traveling thing.

  1. Osprey Backpack and DaypackThese come in a variety of sizes, and while I am too lazy to go and look precisely what mine is, I am 89% sure it is 50L (backpack and daypack combined). The best part? These count as carry-ons so when you have short connections you can simply sprint to your next gate instead of having to wait for your bag in the baggage carousel. Pro tip: Big one on the back and the little one in the front with all of your important shit in it that you can’t have anyone steal. Obviously, it would be very unfortunate if anything was stolen from you, however, some things (passport, credit card etc.) are more important.
  2. Packing Cubes-I got mine off of Amazon for about $25 and I was a little skeptical of the quality just because of the price- but they were 100% worth it! Basically, they help you separate your clothes however you would like, and make unpacking when you get to your variety of locations a breeze. They were also very useful when you were trying to find something (that really cute top that would be perfect to go out in but you can never find it when you need it).
  3. Eagle Creek Silicone BottlesThis specific set comes in a pack of four and is perfect for your shampoo, conditioner, lotion, aloe vera etc. because it is under the guidelines for airports as a lotion, liquid or gel for carry-ons. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “How is 3oz of shampoo going to last me a month?!?!?”. And the answer is, it won’t, dummy! That is why you can simply refill these bottles once you get there!
  4. Power Adapter/ConverterChances are, where ever you are traveling will not have the same plug-in as your home country. Therefore, having a handy 9-in-1 adapter that allows you to plug in and then change to the appropriate plugin is extremely handy! I would definitely recommend springing for the converter with a surge protector as well, as some countries (especially in South East Asia, I discovered) have surges quite often. So unless you enjoy the smell of burnt electronics in the morning and/or starting electrical fires, use the surge protector!
  5. RFID Card Protector Wallet- (no link because nothing I found was cute) This may seem like a very Grandma-y suggestion, however, I don’t think you wish to be a victim of identity theft or have your credit card stolen. So, therefore, one of these wallets is necessary. It is very common for criminals to scan your cards in the airport while you are busy looking like a lost little puppy, so don’t let them win! Have your Grandma wallet!
  6. Money BeltPick pocketing is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence in South East Asia and obviously should be avoided at all costs. I found I used my money belt on public transportation and in the airports the most. This is because I already had so much to look after (like my luggage) that having my money and cards out of plain sight provided me with some peace of mind.  Also, I took it upon myself to pass most of my time on trains and buses to pass the time by sleeping, so having my money hidden was easier than worrying about a purse!

I hope this list is useful to you as you travel! Every one is different in what they want/need to pack, this is simply a list of a few items I LOVED while I was away.

Feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments 🙂

7 Things I Learned to Appreciate While Travelling Asia

It is not a new concept that people (especially those of us from Western countries) tend to take things for granted. Now, while I could write this blog from a more serious perspective (i.e: government differences, freedom of speech, general safety etc.) I am choosing to write this from the perspective of what I know best: that of a culture-shocked, self-absorbed young adult (myself).

So here is a short list of things I learned to appreciate during my time in Asia, vis-a-vis experiences I had whilst in Asia, without these things I did not realize I took for granted.

1) Toilet paper: This is self-explanatory. Many toilets where we went did not have toilet paper and, unless you had enough foresight to bring the toilet roll from the last place you went that had it, you tended to be without more often than not. The uncomfortable substitute? Essentially a pressurized garden hose. Not fun.

2) Western toilets: AKA toilets that flush. Again, more than likely self-explanatory.

3) Air conditioning: Nothing makes you appreciate good air conditioning like not having it when it is 45 degrees Celsius with 95% humidity.

4) 7-11: Not just for snacks, either. Although they did come in handy when all you needed was a good grilled ham and cheese. Seeing those glowing orange, red and green lights also meant guaranteed, high-powered A/C. AND staff that didn’t even ask you to leave when you stood in the aforementioned A/C for an inappropriate amount of time (probably because they could see the tears of gratitude on your face).

5) English signs: I know, I know, I sound very privileged saying this. However, when menus came in Thai AND English, I was able to tell what kind of meat I was eating, instead of having to make an educated guess from the colour/shape.

6) Mosquitoes not carrying deadly diseases: I was truly grateful for every day I woke up without malaria/yellow fever/dengue fever symptoms. Now that I am back in Canada and the *only* thing I have to worry about is West Nile virus from those winged beasts, I almost feel lucky.

7) Body wash/deodorant/lotion without whitening agents: Backpacking means that all of your liquids/gels need to be under 100mL. Likely, this also means you will not have enough of said liquids/gels for your six week trip because you will be showering twice daily because you will be sweating from the time you open your eyes until you finally close your eyes at night. Therefore, you will inevitably have to take a trip to your local grocery store to purchase some body wash or sun screen! Initially, you think this is going to be a quick and easy adventure, however, you quickly learn that this is not the case and you are now on a quest.

After scanning aisles and aisles of products with names like “Whitest White” and “Snail White” and “EXTREME White”, you eventually seek the help of a pharmacist to escort you to the whitening free area of the store. There, alongside the other “tourist necessities” (peanut butter and SPF 75+ sunscreen, lol) was a single bottle of Dove “acid free” body wash. As you quickly grab the bottle and protect it as though it is your first-born child, you silently vow to never take such luxuries for granted ever again.