Tag Archives: vacation

Backpacking India: Halfway

February 11th was the halfway point in our trip. Two months in, two months to go. Feels like we’ve seen a lot already, but we still have moments when we have to remind ourselves in disbelief that we’re in India.

We’ve made a few stops in northern India and are starting to get a taste for the region. We had been told that there are a lot of differences between north and south. So far, we’re finding some of them to be true and others not. The weather is different, the food, and our fellow travelers, but we’re not finding the touts and scammers to be more aggressive as we’d been warned.

India - Fatehpur Sikri

Agra was chillingly cold weather (at least it felt like that to us), but now we’re in the desert and it’s getting hotter fast (it’s dry and 33 degrees). I’m glad I didn’t buy a second sweater. It’s still reasonable at night and in the shade, which we’re very thankful for. But you really can’t do anything in the middle of the day.

Hindi is widely spoken amongst locals and that will likely be the case until we’re in West Bangal. So we’re finally taking the time to learn the basics. So far we have hello/goodbye, 1 to 5, OK, and thank you. Generally everyone is appreciative and actually seems to understand what we’re saying. Somehow it seems that people’s English is better too, probably because there are more foreign tourists.

India - Jaipur

The food has changed – more wheat, meat, and dairy; less rice and fresh fruit juice. We’re happy that it’s still easy to find vegetarian food, but are having to be more vigilant about paneer. We’ve sampled a bunch of new kinds of deep fried bread and sugary sweets. Our favourite new kind of food is anything done in the tandoor oven, like tikki vegetables, kebabs, and naan. Tandoori is not just for carnivores in India.

India - Taj Mahal

A lot more foreign tourists visit northern India, especially on short term trips (less than one month). This tends to change the dynamic of restaurants, activities, and sites. People are willing to spend more money because they are constantly converting to their home currency. There are more coach tour buses and quick ways to “experience” quintessential Indian things. But we’re generally on a different path (sometimes literally) than these folks except for some of the big, must-see sites.

India - Jaisalmer haircut

Our bodies and our belongings are managing to hang in. No more stomach issues (knock on wood), but we keep catching colds. I think I’m on my third and this one really knocked me out. Our skin is getting brown, or at least the tops of our feet and back of our necks. After a few weeks of looking pretty shaggy, Chris got a haircut at a roadside barber. Our clothes have mostly survived hand washing, wringing, and sun drying. Chris got his sandals sown up the other day where they were beginning to tear. We’re starting to take bets on which items won’t make it home – odds on favorites include Chris’s underwear and Emily’s sandals.

India - Jaisalmer

A few people have asked what our travel plans are for the remaining time. We have sketched out a plan to March 9 and then have some things we want to see with no specific dates. Our friend Dan is probably going to join us for 2 weeks which might alter our course slightly. This might not mean much if you don’t know India, but here is goes:

Jodhpur
Pushkar
Udaipur
Bundi
Varanasi for the Holi colour festival
Darjeeling
Sikkim
Sangilila trekking
Kolkata
Corbett National Park
Rishikesh
Amritsar
Delhi

Backpacking India: Arambol, Goa

India - Arambol hula hoop

This week we finally hit the beaches of India. Our first stop was at the North end of the state of Goa, Arambol. Goa has a reputation that has changed over the years since it became popular with foreigners 20-30 years ago. We had heard that it used to be this untouched gem of beautiful beach that hippies had discovered and made their haven. But the word got out. Personally, I wasn’t expecting much because I heard it lost its charm. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Yes, there are tons of foreigners, many of which are visiting from Russia, and the beach is lined with restaurants and shops selling only what they think we want (french fries, pancakes, sarongs, flip flops, and techno beats). But we were very happy to take advantage of the expansive clean white beaches, cheap hut accommodation, and health-conscious food (organic, vegan, even raw) in a pretty hassle-free environment.

India - Arambol beach hut

We stayed at the Laughing Buddha restaurant and beach huts. Our room was the cheapest we’ve had by far – probably because it’s constructed at the beginning of every season from bamboo with fabric featuring Buddha and Hindu gods decorating the interior walls. There is no insulation, so you hear pretty much everything around you: dogs, neighbours, restaurant kitchen, temple bells, music at your place’s restaurant, music from next door, music from down the beach … you get the idea. But you expect this from a hut on the beach that cost $9/night. What we didn’t expect was our own washroom with running water, mosquito net, fan, electricity, and a front porch with table and chairs. We were very happy that it cooled down at night (we even needed blankets), because it got pretty hot in there in the middle of the day.

India - Arambol town market

India - Arambol beach

We didn’t do much other than read, swim, eat, and catch up on emails. Chris went for a run, we took a yoga class, and walked up and down the beach, which was especially nice at sunset. It was a nice change of pace from Hampi and some of our previous destinations.

India - Arambol Emily and chris

India - Arambol raw thali

What we didn’t spend on accommodation we definitely spent on food in Arambol. I figure this Goan subculture must support an economy of organic farms (and hula hoop manufacturers) in the region. The most novel was the raw food and vegan desserts. Some of the main courses left us a little disappointed – guess our tastebuds are accustomed to the spicy flavours of Indian food.

India -Arambol feet

We’re off to Gokarna next for 5 more days of beach relaxation. It’s India’s Republic Day on Monday so we’re excited to see how they celebrate.

India - Arambol sunset

India - Arambol

El Salvador Resort Vacation

Beach Chairs at Sunset
El Salvador is a slice of paradise. The weather is perfect, the water is warm, the food is good, and the locals are friendly. The tourism industry is still developing but it gives the country an authentic flavour.

Every winter my Dad escapes the cold clutches of Winnipeg and organizes a group trip somewhere warm. This year it was El Salvador and Emily and I decided to join them. All-inclusive resorts are not our preferred way to travel, but we thought it would be good to spend some time with my parents and El Salvador seemed more adventurous than the normal Mexico, Cuba, Dominican destinations.

The Surprise
Turtle Family
My mother didn’t know we were coming. I didn’t know my sisters were coming. My dad had a web of secrets he managed to keep until we all arrived in Toronto the night before our flight to El Salvador. I was shocked when I bumped into Kelsey and Matt in the hotel lobby a few hours before my parents arrived. We schemed and joked about how to surprise Mom.

We managed to sneak into her hotel room and hide in the bed and behind the window curtains. When Mom came in, she dropped her bags and left before we could get out of our hiding places. I was still under the bed covers when I heard Matt whisper, “I think she left”. I was about to chase her down in the hallway when I heard the door opening again. This time Mom entered, heard us giggling, and called out: “Hello? Is there someone in my room?”.

Mom might hate surprises, but we enjoyed the look on her face when she realized that we were having a big family vacation.

The Resort
Poolside Lounging
We stayed at the Royal Decameron Salinitas, one of the few all-inclusive resorts in El Salvador. It sprawls along the Pacific Ocean with several pools and restaurants. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The rooms were all beautiful with ocean views.

In the morning, I would get up early and go running. The security guards at the front gate had no problem letting me in and out, and I never worried about my safety. Even at 7 am, it was hot and humid and I was soaked in sweat by the end of my runs.

The spa at the resort was surprisingly good and well-priced. We had massages and also tried the Temazcal, a free 30 minute spiritual ritual inside a Mayan sweat lodge.

One interesting thing about this resort is that the majority of the guests were from other Central American countries (especially on the weekend). There were a sizable group of Canadians, but we were definitely outnumbered by families from Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and even El Salvador. As a result, most of the entertainment was in Spanish and a lot of the staff only spoke Spanish. The tours were geared at Canadians with English/French speaking guides, but on the resort there was no forgetting you were in a Latin American country. I liked that.

The Food
El Salvador BreakfastThe food on the resort was good, but it was difficult keeping to a vegan diet. Luckily I’m willing to be flexible when I’m on vacation, so I ate vegetarian instead. I just couldn’t resist the fresh papusas, stuffed with a refried beans and cheese. Every meal had fresh fruit and vegetables, salsa, corn tortillas, and some kind of bean dish (although you had to watch out for random bits of meat). The one thing I couldn’t find was fresh mango or coconut.

Beach Day and Boogieboarding
Waves Collage
The beach in front of the resort is protected by a large breakwater, so there aren’t any large waves. The resort has another property 30 minutes away (accessible by a bus shuttle) with a long sandy beach. We spent one day there catching waves in the ocean, boogieboarding, playing ping-pong, and relaxing. If I wasn’t worried about burning in the sun, I could have spent all day in the ocean.

Volcano Hike
Cerro Verde Panorama
The best excursion we did was a day long hike of the Santa Ana volcano in Cerro Verde National Park. The hike started in a forested jungle and ended along the crater of Santa Ana with a view down to the pool at the bottom. The 8 km hike with 420 meters of elevation gain took us 4 1/2 hours including a 30 minute break at the top for lunch (map and elevation profile). For Emily and I it was a nice, light hike. For my parents it pushed their physical limits a bit, although they never struggled.

Ziplining
Zipline RockstarWe went ziplining at the nearby Apaneca Canopy tours. I was impressed with how well run it was. They had 14 lines, starting with small ones (around 20 meters) to get used to the harnesses, and ending with long runs (280 meters) that went over a valley with a coffee plantation. The staff was good at keeping everyone moving and ensuring we were safe and having fun.

Cultural Tour
Amongst the Beans Ahuachapán Tour
We took a bus trip and cultural tour down the Ruta de las Flores to check out some of the towns. We stopped at a market, a coffee mill, furniture factory, chocolate store, and a geothermal power plant. It was good to see some of the smaller villages, but I would have liked more unstructured time in town and less guided elements. The geothermal plant was interesting, but I didn’t need a 2 hour tour.

Photo Highlights
Full photo set on Flickr
Ready to Jet Canadian Eye Mask Hotel Room First Run Water Aerobics Sunset Kiss Coffee Beans Bean Roaster Village People Floppy Hard Hat Transit Bus Ready To Zip Apaneca Ziplining Zipline Disembark Coffee Cherries Porters in Paradise Izalco Horsey Walking Stick Mom Mom and Dad Hike Me and Izalco At the Santa Ana Peak Santa Ana Jump Forced March Agave Parents Tight Squeeze Ping Pong Showdown Shuffleboard Ladies Iguana Sweaty Runner Temazcal Playing in the Pool Beach Sunset El Salvador 2014 Sunset Tree Sad to Leave, Happy to Return

Eating Vegan in Newfoundland

Only Good Vegan Food in Western Newfoundland
Before leaving on our trip, Emily loaded up our suitcases with vegan staples – almond milk, chia seeds, trail mix, Lara bars, dehydrated camping meals, and vitamin B12 supplements. I made fun of her for worrying more about food in Newfoundland than she did when we travelled to Peru or Vietnam. Turns out she was right to worry. Vegetarian cuisine, never mind vegan, is almost non-existent in Western Newfoundland.

Vegetarian Chili?We survived by choosing accommodations with kitchens and cooking our own meals. We tried to eat out as much as we could, but only found vegan food twice. Java Jacks in Rocky Harbour had vegan cakes, pictured above, that were amazing. All the food was fresh and flavourful. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for our meal at the Lighkeepers Restaurant. They served us reheated frozen vegetables that were soggy and tasteless and a vegetarian chili that was mostly rice with 5 kidney beans, tomato sauce, and only a few vegetables.

We had a bit more luck shopping at grocery stores. The Foodlands in Deer Lake and St. Anthony are well stocked with basics. We bought vegetables, almond milk, granola, chickpeas, coconut milk, rice pasta, peanut butter, and bread. Inside Gros Morne Park there is only convenience stores, but you can still get some fresh vegetables, pasta, cereal, and canned beans.
Berry Hill Campground CookingRoasted Yams on the Fire

Vacation to Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Sunset Panorama
Emily and I are back from our great Newfie adventure. 9 days exploring the other side of Canada and dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Parts of Newfoundland looked a lot like BC, with the ocean shoreline and deep mountain fjords, but the skyline felt bigger. The weather was also colder, the mountains smaller, there’s a lot less people, and hardly any vegan food. I think we made the most of our trip. We saw an iceberg and a moose, picked fresh dewberries, visited a viking settlement, hiked their biggest mountain, skinny dipped in the ocean, and listened to Newfie speak whenever we could. We spent most of our time in Gros Morne National Park but also drove up the top of the Great Northern Peninsula where there were icebergs and lots of whales.

Whale Rocking Iceberg
My biggest tip to someone looking to do a similar trip: bring binoculars!

Top Activities

  • Hiking the Green Gardens Trail in Gros Morne. We did this as a day hike, but I regret not doing an overnight hike. It was a gorgeous area.
  • Waiting for the sun to set from Cape Onion.
  • Seeing whales from the top of the Santana Trail in St. Anthony.
  • Skinny dipping in the Atlantic Ocean. It was cold but it felt good after hiking in the sun.
  • Watching an amusing play at the Woody Point Heritage Theatre – Sherlock Holmes and the Nazi of Bonne Bay.
  • The 360° view from the top of the Lookout Trail in Gros Morne.

Ready to Ascend Ocean Skinny Dipping Red Chair Lookout I'm a Viking

We also did two boat tours – one from St. Anthony and one in the Western Brook Pond. I wasn’t overly thrilled with either. Seeing an iceberg up close in St. Anthony was cool, but the whales were just as easily spotted from land as from the boat. The Western Brook Pond area is too similar to the BC coast to really get excited about.

Newfoundland Travel ExpensesCost
9 days in Newfoundland cost more than a week in Hawaii. Luckily I had a free Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Deer Lake, which saved us $950. Our rental car cost over $700 plus $115 in gas, but it was a necessary expense. We logged over 1200 km driving. There was a Japanese pair staying with us in Woody Point who were trying (with limited success) to explore Gros Morne car-free. They were very grateful when we took them site seeing for a day.
View from the Discovery Centre

Accommodation in Newfoundland wasn’t cheap, but it was offset by the 3 nights we spent camping in the park and our cheap food costs. We only stayed in places with kitchens so we could cook our own meals. We spent $210 on on activities, with the boat trips ($65 each) being the most expensive. Our 7-day pass for Gros Morne ($44) was the best value considering how much hiking we did. The theatre show was $23 and well worth it.

Pictures
Full Set on Flickr
Newfoundland Panorama
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A Relaxing but Adventurous Vacation in Kauai, Hawaii

kauai_view
For our latest vacation, we spent a week on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It was our first trip to Hawaii and we wanted to have a relaxing but fun-filled holiday. Kauai was a perfect island for us – a lush tropical paradise with plenty of adventure to be found.

Top Activities
Emily and I must suffer from ADHD because there is only so much lying around we can handle. We like to explore and experience new places. Our week in Hawaii was still relaxing and we spent lots of time lounging on the beach, but we also did something adventurous everyday. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Hidden Valley kayak adventure with a short trek to a jungle swimming hole.
  • Hiking in the Waimea Canyon. We only hiked the first mile of the Pihea trail because of flash flood warnings, but the limited views we had were awesome.
  • Swimming and snorkelling along the coast. There were lots of colourful fish, but sadly a lot of dead coral too. We rented gear for the week and explored several beaches.
  • Taste of Kauai horseback ride through the mountains along the Kuilau Ridge Trail.
  • Couples massage at the Grand Hyatt spa. Simply luxurious.
  • Stand-up paddle boarding along the Wailua River. Fun, except for the motorboats.

Kayaking the Huleia Tarzan Pihea Trail Emily Snorkelling Paddle-boarding on the Wailua River Smiling Horse Beach Towers Sandstone Cliff Jump

Favourite Beaches
Kauai is dotted with beaches all along the coast, some of which are good for snorkelling (with protective reefs) and some that are more suited to surfing (with hard breaking waves). We mostly stuck to the snorkelling beaches, but the all the beaches were good if you just wanted to relax and enjoy the sun. We were lucky that the large winter surf along the north shore had just ended when we arrived in April, so we were able to snorkel on both the north and south shores. Kauai.com has good descriptions on all the beaches and Kauai Explorer has an Ocean Report detailing the surf conditions around the island.

  • Poipu – Great snorkelling, nice spot for suntanning, and close to amenities.
  • Hideaway – Secluded little gem with amazing snorkelling.
  • Anini – Long beach on the north shore with good snorkelling.
  • Shipwreck – Great spot to sit and listen to the surf or explore the sandstone cliffs.

Beer on the Beach Dipping Your Feet In Lounging at the beach Walking Hanalei Beach

Accommodation
We stayed in an airbnb property in Kapaa. Kapaa is a great home base to explore Kauai. There are good restaurants and grocery stores in town and it is equidistant to the beaches on the north and south shores. My only complaint was there were few sidewalks, which left me running on the road. The vacation property we stayed in had a spectacular view of the valley, lots of privacy, and a full kitchen for us to cook in.
Magic Sunrise Vacation Property Lanai Our Airbnb Bedroom Sunset on the Lanai

Hawaii Travel ExpensesCost
Hawaii is not cheap. We ended up spending $2,177.40 per person for our 1-week trip to Kauai. Our flights cost $680 each and we spent $115/night for our accommodation. We spent over $500 each on activities, with most of that going to our fancy couples massage ($215), horseback riding ($155), and the guided kayak adventure ($123). Public transit is almost non-existent, so we had to rent a car to get around the island but it didn’t cost that much.
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Shuswap Lake Houseboat

Shuswap Hot Tub
To celebrate our crew of friends getting older (Dan’s 30th and Erica’s “29th”), we spent the Labour Day long weekend partying on a houseboat crammed with 24 people. We had good food, lots of alcohol, swimming in the lake, a glow-stick dance party with a piñata, and bonfires on the beach. It was a party weekend, but our boat was pretty tame compared to the craziness we witnessed on other boats that docked on the beach each night.

Loading up the boat and sleeping in the cubbyhole.
Lake Mara Wheelbarrow Loading Cubby Hole Accomadations

When it was sunny out, there was lots of deck space to lounge.
Sunny Morning Deck Chairs Relaxing Morning
Decktop Relaxing Captain Christina

Beaching the boat was tricky the first time, but we got the hang of it.
Beaching Knot Tying Driving the Stake

How not to land a boat (some drunken neighbours arrive).
How Not to Land a Boat

The lake had the warmest water I’ve found in BC.
Pineapple Toss Houseboat Leap Lake Floaties

Good food and lots of booze.
Vegetable BBQHouseboat Alcohol

More photos on Flickr. Videos of the fun we had with the boat’s slide below.
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