Discovering Bonaire at Buddy Dive Resort

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Bon Bini Na Bonaire (Welcome to Bonaire)!

Welcome to Bonaire!

Thanks to a surprise flight change by Insel Air, we (okay, I) was giddily bouncing around the Flamingo International Airport by 8 in the morning. We had just spent a glorious week on Curacao, but were SO excited to see what Bonaire had in store for us. The smallest of the three islands known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire), Bonaire is actually an Antilles of the Netherlands, rather than a country of its own. With under 20,000 permanent resident, and the cutest little airport you’ll ever see, we had a feeling we were about to fall in love.


We were picked up at the airport by an employee of Caribe Car Rental, with whom we had rented a small car for the week. We were in and out of the rental office with great ease and were on our way to soak up the island sun!

The only problem was…it wasn’t even 8:30 in the morning yet, and we weren’t expected to check into our Resort until 3:00 that afternoon. We decided to give early check-in a shot.


It didn’t work out. They were unable to check us in until the pre-determined 3:00. So, tired and weary, we decided to hang out in our rental car in the resort parking lot. That decision served us well, as soon after we had hooked up to the resort wifi and reclined our seats, a down pour ensued. It was more of a ferocious rain than any we had experienced while on Curacao, lasting a solid 30 minutes or more. It was just fine by us to wait it out in our Kia. We napped, planned, and soaked up the wifi until we decided to go and find a bite to eat.

As it was a Sunday, and New Years Eve, the centre of Kralendijk was pretty quiet, with the majority of the shops and restaurants closed. We came across Boudoir, a cute little cafe with outdoor seating. We ordered two different styles of club sandwiches, both described as “toast towers,” one with chicken, egg, bacon, tomato, cucumber and mayo, and the other with smoked salmon and homemade egg salad. They were A LOT to handle, but were so delicious. We decided if we came back later in the week we could easily split one sandwich between the two of us!


We were also lucky enough to be informed of what the Dutch enjoy as a New Years treat each year, oliebollen. The AirBnb hosts that we would later be staying with on Bonaire had sent us an email encouraging us to try this traditional dish. We were grateful for that tip as we would have otherwise never noticed or indulged in this delicious, deep-fried, doughy, apple-filled tradition.


We spent some time after our brunch wandering around the downtown area of Kralendijk. As mentioned, it was very quiet, as Sunday’s are traditionally family-days on Bonaire and limited businesses are open.

After the fairly short tour of the quaint and colourful downtown and boardwalk area, we headed back to Buddy Dive Resort to check out the property’s on-site dive shop, where we had a dive booked for the following day. By this time, it was close to 2:00, which is when Buddy Dive does their mandatory orientation talk with future divers. Because Bonaire’s surrounding water is a protected National Marine Park, this orientation is required before divers enter the water. We were carefully instructed on the importance of caring for the marine life found right off the shores of this beautiful island. The overall message is to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles.

One thing that surprised us was that even though we had “booked-in” for a one-tank boat dive via the Buddy Dive website/email, we were told when we got there that we better go and look at the board to see if there was room for us on a boat the next day. Apparently, booking online isn’t a guarantee for the time you want. This information was a bit unsettling as we were only staying at the resort for two nights and would have limited opportunities to do a dive with them. I can see how this system would be sufficient for many guests of Buddy Dive Resort, who likely are staying for a minimum of a week. These guests would enjoy the flexibility of being able to sign-up for boat dives at their leisure, up to three days in advance. For us, it caused a moment of panic, but we were lucky to snag the last two spots of the limited number of dive boats that would head out on New Years Day.

The next morning, we were very excited to do the required “check-dive” on the Buddy House Reef. This dive allows divers to check their tanks and weights before heading off to do shore-dives on their own, and is recommended for divers before going on a boat-dive trip or going solo shore diving. I was very nervous about diving without a dive-master guide, but Travis was more confident, and with a rented dive-computer to let us know our time under the water, we geared up on the docks of Buddy Dive and splashed our way down the steps into our first solo dive.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a small turtle as soon as we descended along the wall of the reef. I wish I would have waited there and spent some more time watching it, but we had a plan to swim along the reef for a certain number of minutes before turning back, and I didn’t want to mess with the plan.


It was pretty invigorating to come up from our first solo dive with just the right amount of time logged, and more than enough air left over. We knew from that moment that we were going to love diving in Bonaire.

Later that afternoon, we boarded one of Buddy Dive’s five dive boats (we were lucky to secure the last two spots on the boat the day before). We had a group of about 10 divers and only one dive master, who was very quiet and I never did catch his name. Luckily, the boat captain was the one who did our dive briefing, and he did enough talking for everyone on the boat! He did a fantastic job of giving us not only a thorough description of our dive plan, but also shared with us the interesting history behind the dive site he chose for us, Carl’s Hill. We both really appreciate receiving as much information about our dive plan as we can, so for us this is always what makes a dive company stand out.

After another exciting dive where we got to hang around with several lion fish, a lobster, a weary puffer fish, and so many more beautiful fish of the sea, we hit the streets of Bonaire again so that I would have an opportunity to take some photos before the sun set on yet another fantastic day in paradise.

We wandered around until dark, then began attempting to find a place for dinner. Our first few stops in the downtown area where quite full, so we continued on walking down Kaya Grandi to the Japanese Fusion Restaurant, Osaka. We ordered a variety of rolls and each one seemed better than the last! It was a deliciously fresh meal and we were happy with our last-minute choice. We finished off the night with another walk back down Kaya Grandi and a stop at GIO’s Gelateria and Caffe for some mouth-watering gelato.

The morning of our third day, we wanted to soak up as much of the resort lifestyle as we could, as we were due to check out at noon. We were up early to return our gear to the onsite rental shop at 8 am (we didn’t return from the boat until just before 5, when the rental shop closes down, and we knew we wouldn’t be penalized if we decided to return it in the morning). After our panged goodbye to the Buddy Dive Shop, we spent some time lounging around our room, grateful for the comfortable space we had enjoyed for the last two nights. Once we’d had enough lounging inside, we moved outdoors. We decided to check out the resort’s second pool area for what was left of our morning. Have I mentioned how amazing the lounge chairs are at this resort? It might seem silly, but they were one of the highlights of the resort for me!


We soaked up every last sandy moment we could before checking out of Buddy Dive Resort. We prepared a quick lunch in our kitchenette before checking out just a couple of minutes past noon. Our next stop was an Airbnb we had booked months in advance…


Stay tuned to read about the rest of our week in Diver’s Paradise!




Isle de Ometepe

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After crossing the Nicaraguan border from Costa Rica, we headed straight to Isle de Ometepe (Ometepe Island). This island is in the countries biggest body of water, Lake Nicaragua, and is formed of two large volcanoes connected by a flat and narrow piece of land.

We had our taxi ($35) drop us off right at the ferry yard in San Jorge, and had time to buy some snacks and use the washroom after purchasing our ferry passes ($10). When we got to the ferry there were only seats left below the deck. The seats were long benches like pews in a church, and the ride was very rough. I spent the 30 minutes ride with my head between my knees hoping that I wouldn’t get sick to my stomach. I made it!


We didn’t have solid plans for once we arrived to the island. I had read about San Jose Del Sur, Moyogalpo, and Merida and thought we would see what the first two areas were like before deciding wether we wanted to head to the much quieter and secluded area of Merida.

It must have been the fatigue, but for some reason when we got to the island and found out there was a “chicken bus” immediately leaving for Merida, we jumped on ($2) without much thought or consideration. At the time I don’t think we realized that it would be a two hour bus ride and that about half the trip would be on unpaved road. It was a very long drive but at least we were happy to have some snacks and cool drinks that we had picked up before the bus left the docks.

When we finally made it to Merida it was very easy to find the hostel I had read about online, Hacienda Merida. It was easy because there was essentially nothing around except one little restaurant, a school, a little shop or two, and some hostels and small hotels. We were very secluded.

We were happy, however, to get a private room  for $25 a night, and to be able to enjoy a dinner prepared for us right at the hostel just in time to enjoy the sun setting over beautiful Lake Nicaragua. It was a nice ending to a very long day.




Our next mistake on Ometepe came the next morning. We were up early to get ready to take the chicken bus back towards town, but during breakfast we decided we would rent bikes from the little shop up the road. These bikes were far from state-of-the-art. And the roads? Oh, the roads. They were rough, to say the least. Here’s a look:


It was impossible to avoid these large rocks, and therefore the ride was very bumpy. It didn’t take long for the journey to become uncomfortable. It did, however, take a long time to get where we were going. We stopped briefly to look at some petroglyphs, which was mediocrely interesting, and then a couple of more times just to give our bodies a break and get some water. After two hot, sweaty, and painful hours, we finally reached our destination- Ojo de Agua natural springs pool.

We spent a couple of hours here splashing in the cool water. There was a rope swing and a slack line over the water. The pools were refreshing, but the cement bottom was rough and definitely had some algae on it. We ate lunch at the on-site restaurant. It was a plain and simple meal, as good as it seemed to get for our short visit to this island.


We certainly weren’t looking forward to our return trip, but didn’t have much of an option so set off back on the road. The journey back was no better than the ride there. It ended up taking us 6 hours for the whole journey.

When we got back to Hacienda Merida we took a bit of time to relax and enjoy the many hammocks around the hostel. We tried to go out in the kayaks that the Hostel has, but were told it was too windy. We decided to have an early dinner, and shortly after the lake became a bit calmer. We quickly grabbed a two-person kayak and headed out towards the sunset. Being on the water, looking out over Ometepe, and watching the sunset was our favourite experience from our time on the Island.


That night was our last night on Ometepe. The next morning we were up early again to catch the 8:30 (8:50) bus back to the ferry. That was another interesting experience but luckily we had made it almost back to the docks before the bus broke down for the final time, and were easily able to walk the rest of the way. We caught the 12:00 ferry and waved good-bye to this unique little island.



Crossing the Border Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

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We were unable to book transportation into Nicaragua at our hostel in Costa Rica because the shuttle service needed a minimum of four passengers before it would operate. Because we wanted to get on with the next chapter of our travel, we decided to chance public transportation on our own.

Foolowing the instructions from the receptionist at our hostel, which I finally asked her to write down after getting her to confirm twice, we left our hostel in Arenal at 5:30 in the morning (sorry to our dorm mates). We went to the Super Mega grocery store in town, and just down the street we found the bus stop. We had a bit of a wait here, and at 6:30 we caught a bus to Tonque ($2 per person). It was only about a 15 minute ride. When we got off the bus in Tonque, we crossed the street and waited at another bus stop for the 7:15 bus which would take us to the Penas Blancas border crossing ($8 per person).


We got off the first bus where the person is on their bike, and this picture is taken from the bus stop where we were waiting for the 7:15 bus to Penas Blancas border crossing. 

This was a very long journey. The bus seats were hard plastic and the bus ride was 5 hours long. We had one bathroom break at a road side stop where there was also food available.

When we got to the border crossing we were a bit overwhelmed. We gathered our packs and followed the crowd of people going to pay their exit fees. There were lots of people trying to tell us where to go and I am not sure if they were all trustworthy. We kept our heads down and made it to the lineups where we paid an $8 exit fee per person. Now we had to try and figure out what was next. We headed back across the road and finally decided to go into the building and fill out our paper work, then get in line.

From here we walked across the border and were bombarded by people wanting to help us. One man just wouldn’t leave us alone and insisted on staying by our side. We had to pay our entrance fee of $13 per person at a small hut, and then take a piece of paper into another building that was almost like airport security. Finally, escorted by our “helper” we were outside again and being put into a cab. He wanted a lot of money from us, and we eventually settled on a much smaller price for his “help” then he originally demanded. I am not sure how to avoid these people, but if you can it will save you a few bucks and a lot of hassle.

Once we were in our taxi we were able to settle down from the excitement/anxiety of crossing the border. We paid $35 to be driven to the San Jorge ferry docks. We found the ticket office there and paid $10 for our tickets. We had a bit of time to get a snack while we waited for the ferry.



It was a short but tumultuous ferry ride over. We were seated in the lower part of the boat and it was a head-between-your-legs kind of trip. Once we got across we almost immediately caught a bus ($1) which would take us around the island to the small town of Merida.

Overall, the process of crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was quite smooth. It certainly cost a fraction of what it would have to pay a travel agency to escort us across. If you are for comfort and ease, don’t go this route. If you are more interested in getting to Nicaragua on the cheap- try it! I feel like if we can do it, anyone can! Good luck.

Pin for later!


Tourist Adventures in Arenal, Costa Rica

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We flew into the Arenal National Park area of Costa Rica from Bocas Del Toro, Panama via Nature Air. The travel time was a little over 5 hours, partly because our flight out of Bocas was over an hour late. We thought the plane we boarded in Bocas was small, but after a brief stopover in San Jose, we boarded an even smaller plane for the final lag of the journey! It was a shakey flight but we made it safe and sound. From the Arenal airport we took a taxi ($15US) to our hostel- Arenal Backpackers Resort.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we checked into the hostel ($15/p.p for a bed in a shared dorm). Luckily we were close enough to the downtown area that we could walk into the center and stroll around. We settled in for supper at Lava Lounge Bar and Grill where we enjoyed a Santa Fe Wrap and a pasta dish, as well as a pitcher of Sangria.

When we got back to the hostel we booked our tours for the next day ($300 US) through the reception and hung out in the lobby which had a very comfortable atmosphere, complete with bar tables and couch-style loungers. Arenal Backpackers Resort has a restaurant and bar which offers up tasty treats and delicious drinks.

The next morning we were up early to get the shuttle from our hotel to join our Pure Trek Canyoning tour.

The shuttles dropped us off so we could board the back of the trucks pictured above. It was a bumpy but fun ride up the volcano. Once we got to the top we were outfitted with the safety equipment we required and taught everything we needed to know in order to have a safe morning on canyoning. And before we knew it- we were doing it! The tour took us down 3 waterfalls and one rock wall. There was also one point where we had to do a Monkey Drop, which was a zip-line through the air followed by a quick, yet controlled, drop to the ground.



Once we had made our way through the rainforest we were transported back into Arenal where we enjoyed a lunch prepared by Pure Trek staff. At that time we were able to purchase a CD with all of the pictures from the morning ($25US). Then we were dropped off back at our Hostel.

We had just enough time to enjoy a relaxing few moments in the hammocks at Arenal Backpackers before being picked up for our second adventure of the day.

This time, we were off for a zip-lining adventure with a tour company I cannot remember the name of. We did 12 zip-lines, with one of them being almost 1000 m long, and very high up over a waterfall. It was terrifying, yet exhilarating, like all good adventure is.


After just one full day of adventure we had to get ready to move on the next morning. We were heading to Nicaragua, and unfortunately were unable to book transportation due to their requirement of having at least 4 people booked. We were ready for an early morning adventure trying to find our way into Nicaragua using Public Transit!

Check out a video of our zip-line adventures here, and a video of canyoning here.







Discovering Bocas Del Toro

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After crossing the border from Costa Rica to Panama, we were picked up by a tour company booked through Gecko Trail and continued on our way to Bocas Del Toro. We had a short wait in a small port town, and then were loaded onto a boat and off we went to the Islands themselves! We were lucky to have smooth waters for our transfer to the Islands, which took around 40 minutes.




We arrived at Bocas Del Toro’s main Island without any booked accommodations so we set off to find our home away from home first thing.

Not surprisingly, it was hard to find accommodations. We ended up staying in Hostel Heike, which was one of the hostels we had looked into before arriving. As far as hostels go, this one was just fine. The only availabilities were two beds in a ten-bed dorm, and while it was fine, we did try to find different accommodations for our second night, but didn’t have any luck.  Hostel Heike was a very busy place and there were always a lot of guests trying to use the very tiny kitchen, including in the morning when we tried to make our “complimentary breakfast” which meant a big batch of pancake mix that you made yourself whenever you could get a turn.

Overall, for $15 it was a good place to stay and was on par for most of the hostels we’d experienced in Central America.


The view from the top bunk



On the third day we were able to find accommodations at Isla Chica, which was a bit more expensive but we had a private room with AC and our own bathroom. It felt like paradise.



What did we do in Bocas?

We went diving!

Travis was already PADI certified prior to this trip, so I had some catching up to do! Before leaving home, I completed part of the course by signing up for PADI Open Water Diver online.  I did some research using Trip Advisor and by sifting through numerous blogs, and decided to contact La Buga Dive and Surf. Because their responses were both timely and friendly, I felt confident in booking with La Buga to get my PADI certification.


La Buga’s Dive Boat


I spent the morning of our first day learning and reviewing in a “classroom setting” (aka sitting on the dock outside of the dive shop) and then we did two dives our first day. My instructor was the owner, Tony, and it was a wonderful experience. I was quite nervous the first time we went under water, and to be honest I only lasted a few moments before going back to the surface. Once I was back above the water, Tony joined me and was both reassuring and comforting. He offered a few extra tips, and then we were able to go back down and complete the first several tasks necessary for certification.

La Buga has a huge boat for going to and from dive sights (the the photo above), and all the staff were there to assure you were safe and having a great time. I would highly recommend diving with La Buga Dive Shop while you are in Bocas, and if you aren’t already, it’s a great place to become PADI certified. After three dives on the second day, I was a certified Open Water Diver!



Now I am a PADI certified Open Water Diver!!

Where we ate:


Excellent breakfast and coffee selections


We stopped here for snacks and ice cream


A great meal at El Ultimo Refugio


La Bugita is the restaurant attached to La Buga. It has great meal options for any time of day.


Great Tacos!

We also took a tour to Starfish Beach (we paid to go on a private boat). It was later in the afternoon on the day we went, and we completely missed the crowds, but unfortunately we missed the Starfish as well! We only saw one, which was still pretty cool.


We actually ended up leaving Bocas for a couple of nights to visit another area of Panama, and then returning for a couple of days before flying back to Costa Rica right from Bocas Airport. We had a great exploring other parts of Panama, but to be honest I think we both would have been happy to stay longer and enjoy more of what the Bocas Del Toro Islands have to offer! It’s already on our list of places to return…someday!


Reasons to Love Waterton Lakes National Park

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Last June (2015) we took our first trip to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada. We loved it so much we ended up going back again this summer. Here’s what brought us back a second time, and why we are sure to return again in the near future:

1. The Views from the Townsite:


The town of Waterton itself is uniquely beautiful, the way it is nestled into the mountains that have been sculpted by years of ice, wind, and water. It is a small townsite and is easy to walk the entire town to catch the views from every angle.

2. The Campsites


Our first time here, we stay right in the Park, at the beautiful Crandell Mountain Campground. It is a beautiful campsite, and since we were there in early June, we had it almost to ourselves. The downside would be that there are no showers at this campground, but you can drive the 5 minutes into the townsite and use the showers at the Townsite Campground.

We went in July (busy season) this summer, and because camping at Crandell cannot be booked ahead of time, when we arrived there later at night, they were full. We were very lucky to find a campsite at Waterton Springs Campground, which is just a five minute drive outside the park. We had opportunities to camp inside the park after our first night, but we were very happy with what Waterton Springs Campground had to offer, so we decided to stay there for all five nights.

3. Hiking

I am not sure how many trips to Waterton Lakes National Park it would take to accomplish even half of the hikes that they have to offer. Here are a few of the highlights of the ones we have enjoyed:

Crypt Lake Trail-

This is a day hike (6 hours). You have to take a boat to the trail head, and wait for the boat return once you have finished. It is 17 km long and is considered a Double Black Diamond trail. We would definitely agree that it is a difficult hike- lots of elevation gain, but mostly the intense travers along the narrow ledge had are hearts seriously pounding.

Red Rock Canyon Parkway-

This is a short 20 minute hike that allows for views of this beautiful red rock canyon (just like the name says)!

Blakiston Falls-

Another gentle hike, this one is 2 km and takes about 45 minutes. It offers several lookout points to admire the Blakiston Falls.


The Bear’s Hump-

A short, but strenuous, climb that offers beautiful views of the Waterton Townsite.

4. It’s an International Peace Park

We were able to cross International Waters upon the M.V. International, which is the oldest boat still operating in Canada. Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company offers a 2 hour scenic tour. You are able to disembark the M.V. International when it arrives at the Ghost Haunt port. If you do disembark, you will find yourself in Glacier National Park, Montana. Here you have several options for hiking.  After passing through border customs (and receiving an awesome stamp in our passports!) we chose to take the Ghost Haunt Overlook Trail. It was a fairly intense climb, but not overly difficult. Unfortunately, the weather turned on us and rather than enjoying a second hike, we huddled into a gazebo to hide from the hail storm.

5. Other Activities

Like Geocaching!

 And Watching the Buffalo Roam

…and Eating!


6. It can be a Starting Point for Continued Adventures

We had our motorcycles with us and it was just a few hours drive down into Montana and the Eastern entrance of Glacier National Park. There, we experienced the gorgeous Going to the Sun Road.

Overall, Waterton Lakes National Park has stolen a special place in our hearts. Even on a busy July weekend when the park was near capacity, it was still a peaceful and friendly place to be. The quiet beauty beckons us to keep coming back again and again. Until next time…







What I’m Packing for 3 Weeks in Central America

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We are one week away from taking off for what will be my first back-packing adventure. It will also be my first time traveling for this lengthy amount of time (no, my time in Kiev doesn’t count- I lived there, I wasn’t traveling). So, I’ve been doing more than my share of research (aka Pinteresting) about how to pack efficiently. I am a notorious over-packer, and I’ve never been ashamed of it:


I couldn’t have said it better

I have gladly paid the “over-weight” charge at airlines time and time again. However, this time is different. This time, there will be no wheels. Only my back. And the only thing that might be worse than not having the perfect outfit or accessory is having to hike for 20 minutes to get to your eco-hostel with sore shoulders and the weight of the world on your back (I imagine it would be worse, anyways). 

So, after literally hours of research, planning, shopping, and preparing, here’s the breakdown of what I am packing (and what I am leaving behind):

My Carry-On

I know, it’s not pretty, but such is life when you’re about to become a backpacker. Even though it is not a classy or stylish shoulder bag, my carry-on is actually pretty cool. It’s a packable back-pack that is full size, but folds down into a built in pouch with a zipper. I will use it as my day pack while we are traveling as well. Apparently everything should serve more than one purpose if it is worth taking!

I am also sticking a small tote inside the backpack. I will put my cross-body purse and only the things I actually want to access during my flight in the tote, and then the backpack can go in the over-head storage compartment. More leg-room for me!


One pouch filled with essentials after an entire day of traveling:

  • deodorant
  • a travel-sized toothbrush and “Toothy Tabs” which are an amazing product from Lush that are actual little tablets you use in lieu of paste. They are great for traveling!
  • lip balm
  • moisturizer

Another pouch is the Travel Safe Kit by Saje Natural Wellness. In this kit is:

  • Restoral Skin Ointment
  • Safe Hands sanitizing lotion
  • Arrive Revived mist and roll on
  • Eater’s Digest roll on
  • Sleep Well roll on (I will add this in- to help in those non-private rooms)

Other items I will carry on include:

  • 2 books
  • a journal and a pen
  • a vapour water bottle (so compact when it’s empty)
  • our Canon Power Shot S200 and case
  • our Olympus Tough Stylus waterpoof camera and case
  • chewing gum (for take off and landing)
  • a neck pillow- it is the tiny blue pouch you see in the picture. It is an Aeros inflateable pillow.
  • sleepy mask
  • ear plugs
  • ear buds
  • compression socks
  • power bank portable battery charger
  • infinity  scarf
  • iPad, iPhone, and charger
  • passport wallet
  • our trip itinerary (made by moi)

There are a few items that are not pictured that I will also include in my carry-on:

  • a change of clothes (just in case my pack doesn’t make it at the same time as us)
  • my make-up pouch
  • a small collection of jewellery
  • a few snacks

Now, that’s everything in my carry-on. Which will eventually have to be in my pack. I just put it all in, and it seems heavy. Uh-oh.

My Pack

Here’s the pack I chose, again, after much research and even a return. It is the Osprey Ariel 65L:


The perfect bag for me! Photo from

I love this pack because it included the #1 thing that I wanted in a pack; a zipper on the front so that I don’t have to get at everything from the top. It has a J-zip all along the front panel, which is awesome for easy access and organization. It also has a zippered opening at the bottom. Another feature I like is the comfortable hip-belt that has built in storage right there, for easy access to things like your camera. I also purchased the Osprey Raincover (mostly for a couple of boat rides that I read will get you and your gear soaked) and the Airporter Travel Cover, which is a must to control all of those straps when you check your pack. I can’t wait to test this bag out! Stay tuned for a review.

Most of the things inside my pack will be organized into my Lug packing cubes. These are essentials for me every time I travel.



Here’s my clothing breakdown:

  • 4 tank-tops
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 2 pairs of capris
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 bunnyhug
  • 1 lightweight, packable rain jacket
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 long-sleeved button-up shirt
  • 6 pairs of underwear
  • 3 bras – one strapless, one sports bra, one regular
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of pajamas- T-shirt and shorts
  • 3 bathing suits (I know, but they all have different purposes…)
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • one pair of nice strappy sandals
  • 1 pair of Keen hiking shoes
  • 1 pair of Vibram 5-Toe shoes

I know it seems silly to be bringing two pair of such similar shoes. I bought the hiking shoes several months ago, and at the time didn’t think the toe-shoes were right for me. Then, after more research I realized if we wanted to go canyoning we would need something better suited for going in and out of water. That’s where the Vibram’s come in. They have great grips but are also more of a water shoe.I am still taking the Keen’s because I will wear them on days with long walks or hikes, and if we decide to go for a run. If I love the Vibram’s when we go canyoning, I will know for the future that they can also serve as my hiking shoes.

Technology/Toiletries and Extras




In my Grid-It organizer by Cocoon:

  • camera charger and extra battery
  • USB charger hub
  • travel alarm clock (because I’m paranoid of our phones/iPads letting us down and missing an important wake-up call)
  • padlock for locking the zippers on my pack when it’s out of my sight
  • charger for iPad

Inside the small black pouch are items for my eyes and ears:

  • contact case and solution
  • extra contact lenses
  • glasses in their case
  • Q-tips
  • travel patches for motion sickness (they stick behind my ear)

Inside the larger clear case are items for showering and after-the-shower:

  • the world’s greatest razor which has allowed me to live a shaving-cream free life since high school: the Schick Intuition razor. Seriously, you should definitely try this product, for travel and for everyday!
  • one extra razor blade for my Intuition (just in case)
  • along with the world’s greatest razor I am bringing the world’s greatest shampoo! Lush’s solid shampoo bars are eco-friendly, and oh-so luxuriously made with essential oil and other natural products. They are good for up to 80 washes, and with their compact-size that fits into a Lush tin, they are perfect for travel.
  • moisturizer- I decided to take just a tiny bit as most days I would be slathering myself in sunscreen anyways
  • an extra tube of toothpaste (remember the Toothy Tabs from my carry-on?)
  • small bottle of perfume

Inside the clear/green case are my makeup essentials:

  • liquid foundation
  • concealer
  • brow shadow and brush
  • eye shadow
  • eye liner
  • mascara (one waterproof and one regular)
  • lip gloss

We bought a pre-packaged Medical Kit. Inside is:

  • bandages of different shapes, sizes, and functions
  • anti-septic wipes
  • mini-roll of duct tap
  • A wide array of medications to treat pain, inflammation, and common allergies.
  • a small set of tweezers
  • we also added our own Pepto Bismol, Advil, and Imodium tablets

Other items shown:

  • Beau & Ro clutch/belt bag
  • sunglasses
  • ZipLoc bag filled with sunscreen and high concentration DEET bug spray
  • my very own prescription diving goggles
  • small pouch for hair ties and a few pieces of jewelry

Other items not shown:

  • extra ZipLoc bags- for anything and everything
  • zip-ties for fascining zippers together on day pack or back pack if we are travelling by bus or other times when they may be out of our sight or we may be catching some shut-eye in public
  • flashlight and headlamps
  • aloe vera soothing cream (in case of sun burn)

Well, I’m sure that’s not quite everything, and in the next 6 days this list will likely change, but for now, this is it! Stay tuned for updates on what worked, what didn’t, and what we wished we had (or didn’t have)!


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One Week in Istanbul, Turkey

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This is a blog post that I wrote in 2013 after first moving to Kiev, Ukraine. We had a break from work near the end of October and decided to go to Istanbul for the week. This was basically my first time going on a trip outside of Canada and the US, and my first time traveling without any family. Luckily, Britt had a little bit of experience traveling around Europe, but for the most part this was a very new experience.

Britt and I arrived in Istanbul on Sunday, October 20th. We had an early morning flight from Kiev which went pretty well considering we are both pretty big babies when it comes to flying. We maneuvered our way from the airport to our hostel quite easily using the metro, with only one setback as we missed our first stop and had to get off, go back, and correct ourselves. It was no big deal though, it just gave us something to laugh about! We made it to our hostel which was right near the metro and next door to a Starbucks, which was pretty exciting for Britt as we don’t have a Starbucks in Kiev.

This was my first hostel experience, and while I won’t say it will be my last, I am not so sure it will be something I am eager to do again. I think our hostel was clean, but it was very old and kind of gave me the heeby geebies. I am all up for roughing it, but more so in a tent with my own sleeping bags and pillows than in an uncomfortable old bed that we have to ask to have the sheets changed on because we’re not convinced they are clean. Anyways, we decided we were comfortable enough that we would stay, and we set off with our map in the general direction of Taxim Square where we were promised lots of shops and interesting sights along the way.

Just a few flights of winding stairs up to our floor at the hostel

Our room in the hostel

It was so refreshing to get to the sea line and be able to look out across the water. In Kiev, I’ve begun to feel a bit chlosterphobic out among the tall, tall buildings. It’s kind of like after being in BC for awhile. It is so beautiful and I absolutely love the trees and mountains, but after awhile I just want to be able to SEE! I guess I am just a true Saskatchewan girl, and I really do want to watch my dog run away for days and days.

 We walked across a bridge filled with people fishing over the side, we ate lunch in a Turkish restaurant, and we wandered up and down cobblestone streets.

One thing that we immediately noticed was all of the cats! They are literally everywhere! There are obviously stray cats and dogs in Kiev, but not like this! We could not believe how many there were, and how tame they were. Cats were everywhere, including hanging around the tables outside of restaurants. This is a good time to mention that Britt is actually afraid of cats, so needless to say we mostly spent the rest of the week dining indoors! We had to Google it when we got back to our hostel the first night, because it was just so strange to see so many cats. Turns out cats are highly tolerated and even respected within Islamic societies because of the prophet Mohammad’s love of them. It has kind of become folklore the way people will tell stories about Mohammed and cats. Most of the cats we saw were well taken care of, you can see many shops that have little food and water dishes out front for them. We read a saying, “if you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” It’s pretty cool to see how the city kind of networks together to take care of its collection of cats.


Anyways, we enjoyed walking down the long cobblestone street that is lined with all types of shops, including some we’ve been deprived of, like The Body Shop and Sephora. It was a very long walk, I think over an hour there, and well over an hour back because of all the shopping. We went back to our neighbourhood for a delicious dinner of hummus, pita bread, chicken curry and more. Then we headed back to our hostel. We were exhausted and ready for an early night!


The next morning we decided to get all of our shopping out of our system, so we headed to a mall! It was huge, with some of the highlights being H&M, IKEA, Zara, and Mudo. Again, we came home played out after a long and successful day in the mall.


We decided to hang out at the hostel for a bit, and then had a place in mind for dinner and were looking forward to another early night in. Because there are SO many restaurants everywhere, the waiters stand on the sidewalk and try to entice you to come in by being charming and adorable (sidetrack- if Ukraine has the most beautiful women, then Turkey has the most gorgeous men!) but it’s a lot to handle, especially for two Canadians who would never want to offend anyone, so we literally walked up the streets saying, “hi, hi, hi, hi, no thank you, hi…” Totally Night at the Roxbury.

So that night when we left the hostel I said to Britt, “get your game face on,” the plan was made, we were just going to go straight to our destination and not be swayed. About ten steps out of our hostel Brittany was having a full conversation with a local. He totally sucked us in with the line, “are you lost?” A special note here, this was not exactly a young man, and not one of the better looking ones, either.

Okay, Mom, Grandma, and any aunties, etc, you should probably stop reading now. Just a warning! But I know you won’t now, so get ready! This man told us he could recommend a restaurant to us. A really great restaurant that is was near the Blue Mosque, only two minutes away from where we were. For some reason our game plan went out the window and before I knew it we were wandering around with Omar, who was almost acting as a tour guide. Eventually we learned that he is a shop owner in a nearby market. So, naturally we ended up in the market checking out his carpets. Then, it turned out he was coming with us to dinner, not just showing us a place. I do not know why we continued to go along with this. I just kept looking at Brittany but she seemed totally fine, so I thought I’d just go along with it as well.

We found ourselves in this tiny little deserted restaurant sitting with this strange man and not really trying to make conversation. Brittany didn’t take my bate when I threw out my secret code words, “Britt, are you feeling okay?” So we stuck with it and picked something off the not-so-appealing menu. I think he lost hope in us when we wouldn’t order a drink and then said we also weren’t interested in smoking the water pipe after dinner with him. Luckily he ended up leaving without even finishing his beer. So Britt and I were left waiting for our food, and it ended up that he didn’t even order Britt what she wanted, but got her the most expensive thing on the menu.

Nothing like drumming up a bit of business for your buddies! Anyways, we ate super fast and got out of there as quickly as we could! So, being kind of kidnapped was a fun experience on our second day in Istanbul. Just kidding. Obviously, if Britt or I had ever felt like there was a real risk to our safety, we would not have gone along with it. We realize that it was still not the best choice, and after that definitely became a little more hardened to any advances that men would make at us. And we were always looking over our shoulder for Omar! Lesson learned.

To end off the night on a better note, we stopped at McDonalds to get ice cream, and were very excited to see that they served Smarties (Bonibon) McFlurry’s, which they don’t in Kiev.

Tuesday we had a really low-key and lovely day. Our motivation to leave our room was pretty much that the free breakfast ended at 10:30 and we wanted to get up to the rooftop before it was gone. The main office and lounge is at the top of a five story building, and the rooftop breakfast area has a gorgeous view overlooking the sea. It was so nice to sit up there at any time of the day, especially with the sun was shining down on us.

After breakfast we headed down to the seawall for a beautiful run along the water. The sun shone on us the whole time, so it was a really awesome run.

When we got back we took our time getting ready, then headed out towards the Grand Bizzare. We had lunch before going in, which was probably the best lunch of the trip…I had pizza and Britt had some kind of a wrap thing. Very good, anyways! The Grand Bizzare was absolutely huge, and we kind of just wandered around for a bit and then found our way out again. Britt decided she wanted to have a nap, so I went up to the rooftop of our hostel and she went back to the room. After a couple of hours I decided I should maybe go and check on her, since the plan was to only have a 20 minute nap. It was fine though, she just had a much longer nap which was obviously needed. We headed back out and did a bit of shopping and then found a great restaurant to have dinner. We sat on low couches with tons of cushions and ate our salads and our dip plate with flatbread. We also decided to carve out a plan for the rest of the week to ensure we didn’t miss anything that we were really wanting to do.

Our coworker and friend, Sean (also a Canadian) and his bf who was visiting from Toronto flew into Istanbul on Tuesday, so Wednesday we were excited to meet up and spend most of the day together. It was a pretty packed day. We went to the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace Museum, and to the Spice Market. These places were really beautiful and I still have  a hard time comprehending just how old things in Europe really are. The grandness and beauty of such places really takes your breath away, along with standing amongst things that people hundreds and hundreds of years ago built together themselves.

Britt and I did some more shopping later that afternoon, and then hung out at Starbucks in the early evening. We met up with the guys later in the evening and went out for dinner at a Thai restaurant the guys had come across. It was a really great meal. I had fried bananas and ice cream for dessert, which was so amazing! We laughed away the night, while sipping (or maybe chugging) back bottles of wine until we all decided we better make our way home.

We had a bit of a slow start on Thursday morning, which may have had something to do with the aforementioned wine. Despite this we still had a productive day. We went to the brilliant Haiga Sofia Museum which has a really rich history of being turned from a Greek Orthodox church to a mosque and now to a museum. It’s construction started in 537 and lasted several years,at which time it was opened as a church. In 1453 the area was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who then turned it into a mosque. All Christian relics were removed and any of the mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary, Saints, or angels were removed or plastered over. Islamic features took their places. It stayed this way until1931 when it was closed from public use. It re-opened four years later as a museum. Some of the original tile has been scrapped clean and you can see some of the original Christian mosaics coming through again. The tile work and grandness of this building left us in awe.


For the afternoon, we took a ferry across the straight to the side of Istanbul which is on the Asian continent. We pretty much just ate and hung out at Starbucks over there, but now I can say I’ve been to three continents, so that’s cool. I guess Istanbul is like the Lloydminister of Turkey! We also got to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the ferry ride back over to Europe. Well, I did anyways. Britt took a nap! Sensing a theme?


I think we absolutely saved the best for last. Friday, we got up just in time to get the continental breakfast, went for a gorgeous run through a small park and along the sea wall, and then went to a hamam.

I have to admit, when I first read about Turkish baths in the guidebook my reaction was, oh hell no! But the more we talked about it the more I thought it would be worth a try. So that afternoon we headed down the street to the nearest bath.

It was this super old building, and once inside, you go and change and then walk into this amazing sauna-like room with the highest ceilings and tonnes of little tiny round windows in the curved ceiling. In the center of the room was a big marble slab, and that’s where you laid down to relax and eventually be bathed. You just lay there and sweat until it is your turn, and one of the women call you over. Basically it’s like a massage, but with an exfoliater glove and lots of bubbles! When you are done you have to sit by a little sink and they dump water over you and wash your hair. Then you get to go sit in a jacuzzi.

At this point, a lady came to get me to take me to get a pedicure. After the pedi I went for my oil massage. Up until this point I was able to get away with keeping my two-piece bathing suit on, unlike all the other woman who changed into the black bottoms they supply you with, and nothing else. However, when I got to the massage table the woman pointed at my top and before I could even say “no” she undid the halter and yanked my top down around my waist. Eep! I don’t think it was hard for anyone to tell that there were two North Americans in amongst the Europeans that day! Even in the buff, it was a truly relaxing and renewing experience, and we left feeling pampered and refreshed.

Back to food… I wanted to have one more pizza before we left, so we went back to the restaurant we had eaten at the first night and had a late lunch. We spent the next few hours lounging about, Britt in our room and me up on the rooftop. The hostel owner is a really cool older Turkish man, who is very kind, funny, and easy going. He was fun to sit around and visit with, and he liked to talk about Turkey and tell us cool things about it. His name was Dodo and he kept us quite entertained!


The pizza I had for lunch hadn’t been what I was hoping for, so later that evening when we went to a restaurant that had been recommended to us by coworkers, I tried the pizza from there, and it was SO good! It’s a place we probably should have gone to earlier in the week, because the owner is really cool and we had a lot of fun there.

I even got to try Raki that night, which is a Turkish unsweetened, anise flavoured alcoholic drink that’s really popular in Turkey as a before-meal drink. It smelt like black liquorice and reminded me of zambooka. It is the national drink of Turkey and you either chase it with water or pour water into it and it turns milky. It was so gross!


As we got our bags all packed up that night, I felt like I had done pretty much all I had wanted to do while in Istanbul. We had a busy but relaxing week in a beautiful city filled with history, culture, and beauty. I will miss the friendliness of the people, the sea and the sunshine, the beautiful call to prayer that rang out over the city several times a day from the mosques, the laid back lifestyle, the food, and the cats! What an amazing week.