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The French Airport Passport Challenge (Pt 2)

The first part of my harrowing passport tale took readers through the odd and at times utterly scary moments I experienced while trying to travel from France to England on my Barbadian passport.

That airport experience – and others – led me to realise that passports are not created equal, especially as things are drastically different when I’ve used my British one in the past.

When I left off, I’d just managed to cross the final barrier before being spit out into the busy Charles de Gaulle airport. My next task seemed simple: Ignore the men with machine guns and find my way to the check-in area. Though I had hours to spare and Parisian exploration was suggested, my paranoia heightened. My interest was in the destination . . . end.

After making it to the terminal I rid myself of the “suspicious” makeup brushes. I wasn’t about to go through a strip search in the next wave for some perfect contours.

My pseudo-zen was short-lived. Sniffer dogs and their beefy, no-nonsense looking handlers entered the terminal. I paid little attention, until a dog took way too much interest in my bag. My stomach catapulted from my body and landed on the floor.

Stepford smile!

The dog was called away, but during their up and down trek, both dogs stopped at my bag multiple times. This made one security guard stop for a closer look once, but luckily all was well. Until . . .

Time to check-in.

I would show my passport, then my ticket, and voila, onward to the departure lounge.

Wrong again.

Instead of heading straight to the counters, there was a pre-check of passports. The male and female security personnel were friendly enough. The woman took my passport, peered at me, then my passport again and asked, “What is your business in England?”

With a bright smile, I informed her I was going to live as I was a citizen. For a reason I couldn’t get yet, she didn’t like this answer and asked me for proof. I showed her my expired British one, and as she started to shake her head, I wondered briefly if I was going to be stuck in France till ‘Wheneverary’.

She questioned me about why I didn’t use my British passport to travel. In this moment I tried to keep my head as the answer seemed obvious enough, “Because it’s expired and I’ll renew when there.” She didn’t like this answer either and explained that they preferred if British citizens travelled on British passports. Who are they?

In this moment the Caribbean woman in me tried to take hold, but I managed to keep most of the edge out of my voice as I explained how expiration works . . . again. None of this mattered. I was told to wait on the side while her colleague made a call.

“We have to make sure it is okay to let you through.” she said to me.

Stepford smile baby. Stepford smile.

Final part: Visas, weird questions, and how many checkpoints are there?

Remote working may not be for you

Social media is full of remote workers exploring and discovering the world, while still managing to rake in sizable incomes but, is being a digital nomad really all it’s cracked up to be?

Will you really be able to relax in a pool while creating websites in Bali one week, and hop over to Germany’s Oktoberfest for a well-deserved beer the next?

Is remote employment the never-ending – work hard and play harder existence that many public highlight reels would suggest?

Those questions really boil down to a simple one – is remote working actually fun?

Before I get into the details, note that remote working doesn’t mean you have to be Instagram’s poster child for some travel network. You can work remotely from your hometown, population ten, if that’s what you want.

Most remote employment opportunities just require you to have a decent computer and an internet connection. Some will ask that you come in at times, but this isn’t a general rule. The idea of freedom and working from home – or anywhere really, has opened doors for people worldwide.

For women, it provides great opportunities as now the housewife or stay-at-home mum can have a job on the side, or the ‘9-5er’ can earn extra income, without having to do much but log on and get to work.

A few truths: It can be a hassle navigating freelance sites, trying to figure out the best way forward for your remote business, which jobs to take, and how much to charge. Basically, all the small print that social media doesn’t share, as it excites to the point that many want to be as free as the people in the pictures. Witnessing the glamour can make it hard to think about the work that comes with it.

My need for work freedom came well before Instagram made it visually enticing, and it truly wasn’t always pretty. As a contract/freelance worker for over five years, after being a journalist for many years prior to that, I can tell you that as with any job, remote work has its ups and downs.

Unless you’re already established in the field you choose and can immediately get new work, or are graced by a lovely bit of luck, it’ll take a little time to build a loyal client list. Even then, depending on your field you may get mainly one-off jobs.

In these cases it’s best to try to find contract work, which means you’ll be in the money while the contract lasts. In my opinion, as a freelancer or contract worker you need to always keep looking for that next job opportunity, even if you’ve already built up a lucrative base.

Why?

Things happen: companies change, contacts move on, and clients can decide to go in another direction. Being prepared can stave off financially lean months. Bonus though? The more you get out there and provide quality work, the better your chances of being discovered and sought after for your services.

Here’s the verdict: Yes, remote working can open a new world that can be pretty fun, just expect the actual work that goes with it.

 

Hameln- Travels to a fairy tale town

In Germany, there is a REAL town of Hameln, the setting of the fairy-tale, the Pied Piper, which just so happens to be one of my most memorable fairy tales as a child. I was always an avid reader as a child and I truly loved that tale.

As the story goes, in 1284, the town of Hameln was overrun with rats, so as a solution, they hired a rat-catcher to lure the rats away from the village. This man wore colorful “pied” clothing and walked through the village, playing his flute, luring the rats away with his song. He was successful, but the mayor refused to pay him for his services, cheating him out of the promised reward. A year later, the pied piper returned while the adults were in church and in revenge, played his magic flute and lured the children of the village away, never to be seen again.

In one version of the tale, it is said that the children were lured into a mountain cave. Another version has a different ending: the children were led to a river, where they drowned.

Dark, right? Despite that, I always wondered what it would be like to be in a real fairy-tale town and as an adult, my dream came true.

I visited the town of Hameln, in Germany!

As I walked through the streets of the town; my eyes wide like an excited child’s, as I took everything in, I was in awe of the dreamy feeling the town manifested.

From the cobblestone streets, the buildings …everything looked as if I were staring at a storybook page … except I was there…in real life and I imagined what it was like back in that time of the fairy-tale, and I started thinking about the different people who like me had walked up and down these narrow streets, centuries before.

Many other tourists and locals walked past me on the streets, taking photos and looking at the famous architecture. The houses were still in pristine condition and I wondered what the interior looked like, whether they were even more beautiful on the inside and when were they all built.

In a prominent position in the town square, a statue caught my attention, and lo and behold!

It was him, the Pied Piper!

I tried to hold in my excitement as I examined the statue that stood proudly on a fountain, but like the true tourist I was, I could not help but to take as many photos as possible, needing to document this amazing discovery.

Near to the statue, is a famous church in the town square with an inscription on the stained glass window which states:

In the year 1284 after the birth of Christ
From Hameln were led away
One hundred thirty children, born at this place
Led away by a piper into a mountain.”

The inscription was made to remember the terrible tragedy, I realised and as I continued my exploration, I found that near the statue, was the Pied Piper House, which also bore an inscription about the incident. For me, it was blatant proof that this “fairy-tale” was actually real!

Something that I had believed was the imaginings of a wonderful writer may indeed be based on a real life story, which only made me love the town even more.

Hameln became famous centuries ago due to the fairy-tale and today there are museums, cafes and souvenir shops in the town square, which boost tourism even more. Every day, the locals put on an open-air play depicting the Pied Piper tale with colorful costumes and it is a one of a kind, amazing experience.

Another attraction is the “glockenspiel” which is a large clock at the top of the church that plays a mechanical ballet, three times a day. The bronze doors of the clock open and show figurines of the Piper, rats and children while the chimes play the Pied Piper song.

I highly recommend visiting Hameln for a truly unforgettable historic experience. Every step I took through the Altstadt (Old town) was a step back in time, into the storybook that forever exists in my mind.

It was more amazing and picturesque than I ever believed it could be. Now I want to explore other fairy-tale towns and walk through old castles and feed my inner child some magical adventures!

The french airport passport challenge (Pt 1)

I’m about to be very dramatic. It can’t be helped really, as I found out the hard way that having a Caribbean passport in some countries, doesn’t give you a leg up at customs.

This stage-play unfolded as I made my way from Barbados to England. New country, new life, new terrifying experiences.

Okay, let me back up and bring you up to speed. In late March I decided to quit procrastinating about moving to jolly old England, and just do it. What resulted was a flurry of activity, saving and absolute madness – but sure enough I was on a plane to Martinique by August. I can almost hear you ask – Martinique? Thought you said England? That brings me to part two of this backstory.

I’m a lover of deals and in this case, all I had to do for a cheaper fare was find my butt in two other airports before ever setting eyes on balls of fluff – sheep – from above the British countryside. Caught up? Okay, moving on.

After nearly missing my connecting flight in Martinique, as Air Antilles was late, I enjoyed a welcome respite on my XL Airways flight to France. So innocent then, I believed transitioning from flight to customs would be a breeze.

Wrong.

In the past while I’ve travelled on my British passport, I’ve never had any problems and gave no thought that it could be different on the Barbadian blue.

After heading into the security check line for what would be my first challenge, I took my passport out and shuffled on until it was my turn.

The officer took a long, puzzled look at my Barbadian passport, then me, before inquiring about my business in France. I chirpily explained I wasn’t staying and would be leaving in a few hours. He continued to stare at the passport, before asking me where Barbados was, and wondering aloud if I would need a visa to continue. Nonetheless, I managed to pass the inquisition and was promptly off to baggage claim.

Note, I had one piece of carryon luggage and my handbag . . . that’s it. As I approached baggage, I saw people flashing passports and rolling on through. From the looks of it most were British or European (EU) and I figured it’d be the same for me, so I flashed mine like I was on a cop show.

Denied.

This massive officer stopped me in my tracks and carted me over for a more intense check. To be fair, the guy who unpacked everything was pretty nice, even with the added difficulty of the language barrier, since I did not speak French nor did he speak English.

He did a thorough check and all was well, until he came to my makeup brushes. The moment he took them out I knew I’d have another problem. Following a discussion – in French – with his colleague, he went over to the X-ray machine to check my brushes one by one. So I’m standing there, praying to the makeup gods that the manufacturers didn’t have any suspicious-looking substances in the handles for better balance or whatever. I look serene as ever, while in my head I’m like – it’s okay, YOU’RE OKAY!  and explosions of fear are detonating within my stomach.

He didn’t find anything, and after making a bad joke that he didn’t understand, I hurriedly repacked and trotted off – finally -into the main airport area where I almost ended up being lost in translation.

Part 2: Nosey sniffer dogs, men with guns, and you just might have to stay in France.

 

 

 

Sooke, BC will fuel your adventurous spirit

Just 38 kilometers north of British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, the district municipality of Sooke rests quietly in splendor. Offering the perfect blend of a relaxing getaway, an ocean adventure, and rugged vistas, Sooke presents a distinct personality from her larger, more famous neighbor.

Once you’ve gone to Sooke, leaving her is not that simple anymore, and you’re certainly never going to forget her. As former Torontonian Bob Iles (captain and wildlife tour guide) explains, he travelled to Sooke for a fishing vacation and never left. Once he arrived, he knew he was home.

From Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on BC Ferries, to the pristine vistas on the drive, to the gem that is Sooke, this became a labour of love.

BC Ferries

John and I arrived 30 minutes early for the reservation and were onboard the Coastal Celebration at precisely 11:00 a.m. Whether you’re a local or tourist, the BC Ferries experience is a must. The Pacific Buffet lunch wouldn’t look out of place in a high-end restaurant, offering seafood, beef and vegetarian main courses, along with a dessert bar too tempting to pass up. It’s also not uncommon to spot killer whale pods and other wildlife while eating your meal.

Fun Fact: Did you know that BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the world, providing year-round vehicle and passenger service on 25 routes to 47 terminals, with a fleet of 35?

Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina

Once arriving at the Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina, John and I were able to see the beautiful suite. The room was a penthouse overlooking the 114-slip marina. Featuring two decks, a propane barbecue, a dream kitchen and his and hers bathrooms, the suite was well-appointed. From the living room, a panoramic view showed off the scenery. Just steps away at the marina were crabs, a large starfish, and a seal. (What a perfect oceanside getaway for fishing, whale watching or outdoor adventuring!)

John and I were also treated to a complimentary basket with gourmet cheeses, bread and a good bottle of red wine. It was hard not to feel right at home on the patio overlooking the boat launch, beaches, and the beautiful sunset.

Serious Coffee

John and I had a morning coffee fix at Serious Coffee in the village before kayaking.  Also offering tea and an assortment of food, the friendly staff was welcoming and offered two Americanos, which tasted great and helped kicked start the day.

Kayaking

There is a first time for everything and on Monday, for me, it was kayaking. Considering someone wasn’t exactly an Olympic swimmer there was a sliver (or maybe a thick wedge) of doubt that maybe someone wouldn’t agree to participate in this endeavor. I won’t give away names here but her first name is Christine.

Before venturing out, Allen, the owner and instructor from West Coast Outdoor Adventure, reassured me by telling stories of people who have never kayaked before, then tried it for the first time and enjoyed it.

He then provided John and I with a rental, foot-powered Hobie kayak for two. It was easy to use, allowing John to take photos. Of the photos taken was an eagle perched on a pole, holding still long enough for a photo. Shortly after leaving the marina a seal popped its head out and kept doing so at different stages of the self-guided tour of the coastline. John and I also stopped for geese swimming across the path. The water was calm and in some areas with low tide, the kayak was stuck in long grass once or twice but using the paddle easily freed it.

Kayaking for the first time was enjoyable and I look forward to trying it again.

Wildlife Boat Tour

As mentioned, Bob was the tour guide, bringing at least 18 years of fishing experience and knowledge of Sooke waters, which is crucial for year-round fishing. The harbour tour was 90 minutes on Bob’s craft, and it sported new twin Suzuki engines. Even at a good speed, the engines were quiet enough to imagine sneaking up on the fish with a net in hand.

Next up was a tour of the harbour. From getting up close to the T’Sou-ke Nation oyster farm for some great snapshots, to some beautiful homes that were carved out of the mountainside, there were a lot of interesting things to see.

John and I learned how oysters are farmed, spotted sea lions basking in the sun, and learned about salmon and the ecosystem. Bob also mentioned how a seal recently gave birth right on the marina.

Sooke Brewing Company

After the boat tour, John and I checked out the local brewery, sampling some of their brews. With plenty of room to enjoy a social evening, Sooke Brewing Company owners have lived in Sooke for generations.

Stickleback Eatery

Stickleback Eatery is located on picturesque Cooper’s Cove. With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking an extensive patio built on the water, owner Scott Taylor knew it wasn’t enough. So, he and his wife, Leah, hired Justin, the best chef he could find. They wanted a chef that could think outside the box and create meals on demand and that’s exactly the kind of chef they have now.

John and I ordered cauliflower bites and seafood appetizers, which were delicious. For the main course, I had fish and chips and John had the salmon.

Scott explained that Stickleback was named after a fish to honour the T’Sou-ke First Nation Territories. In their native tongue, Sooke means Stickleback. His passion for food was evident.

The atmosphere was memorable, offering a cozy environment and excellent menu at affordable prices.

Sooke Potholes Regional Park

As John and I began the one-hour hike in Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, the trail led high above the rushing waters of the Sooke River. The vista was pristine, and waterfalls and enticing pools lulled the senses into a time warp, rendering everything else irrelevant. The view from the top was breathtaking.

Hiking and running are popular and accessible to the Galloping Goose trail, popular with visitors and loved by the locals year-round. The potholes are unique geological formations – deep pools in the river rock that offer some of the best freshwater swimming in the region.

The Sooke River is the second largest on southern Vancouver Island and is home to a salmon run every fall.

Sooke is a welcoming ocean getaway from your daily grind. Spend it fishing, hiking or boating and you’ll find yourself hooked like John and me.

With notes from John Moe

 

Tastes to try in Colombia

Showing up in Medellin, Colombia, an adventurous traveller best be ready to get a good taste of local flavours. From its traditional recipes to its fresh, tropical fruits, Medellin doesn’t come up short when it comes to offering visitors delicious flavours. When I first visited the city in the spring of 2016, I fell in love with the flavour of a crunchy, beef empanada with a cold, refreshing beer on a hot afternoon. Now, two years later, I live in the South American city and my list of favourite foods and drinks has grown. Below, my recommendations on the most mouth-watering menu picks that a tourist simply can’t miss out on.

Trout: For me, you can’t go wrong with an order of trout in one of Medellin’s traditional restaurants. Always one of my go-to choices, the trout here is fresh and filling and in a region of the world that skews towards rich, red meat mains, trout is a great lighter option when the appetite isn’t raging.

Buñuelos: To a Canadian, these spherical, doughy treats look like Colombia’s answer to the timbit. These deep-fried desserts are a great morning treat with a cup of coffee or, when peckish, they make for a great on-the-go snack. The region where I live – Sabaneta – is known for having giant buñuelos. Just don’t make a habit of these treats… they don’t exactly score a lot of health points.

Aguardiente: Don’t dare leave Medellin without having a proper night out with friends and shots of aguardiente. This local spirit tastes a lot like black liquorice and will be found in every single bar. Those from Medellin will say it’s supposed to be shared with friends so make this known to pals ahead of time.

Empanadas: For me, empanadas are the perfect snack after my morning Spanish class. The novelty from two years ago never quite wore off…

Guanabana: Personally, I feel this spiky, green fruit looks more like an alien than the delicious fruit that it is. Guanabanas are large, nearly watermelon-sized fruits that are delicious in juices or smoothies. Flavour-wise they taste tart but slightly coconutty at the same time.

Chicharron: Boarding the return flight home from Medellin without having tried chicharron would be a terrible mistake. This fried pork belly delight graces the menus of most authentic Colombian restaurants. Bacon lovers won’t know what hit them.

Limonada de coco: In my opinion, this is the best beverage on the menu. Period. On a hot day, it’s a refreshing drink to sip on and it’s worth the extra pesos. When done right, a limonada de coco is creamy like a milkshake with the zesty, tartness of lemonade.

Advice for first-time solo travel

Lining up a travel buddy isn’t always a feasible option when planning that dream adventure. There’s certainly no shortage of countries to explore and sights to see but finding the ideal person to share those experiences with requires compatible schedules and travel styles and a shared interest on the same destination. That can prove to be difficult. For many (like myself) it can be easier to just set out alone. Travelling on the lonesome – be it for an extended period or a one-week vacation – can be a great way to go. That said, before landing in the destination, there are a few things to keep in mind. As someone who’s giving the whole solo wandering a shot this year, I have some recommendations from my first few months abroad.

Become a “yes” person. Be open minded to all offers and invites that arise. Even if something doesn’t seem interesting right away, taking part in that activity can prove just the opposite. Accepting new offers is often just the thing to enrich travel experiences and hey, they might uncover an unexplored passion. However, becoming a “yes” person shouldn’t mean following along without thinking independently. Rather, it means being unbiased and truly considering the offers instead of automatically shooting something down just to watch Netflix.

Know when it’s better to branch off alone. Yes, solo travellers should consider new opportunities but at the same time, knowing when to branch off from the crowd is key. Say, for instance, the group dynamic doesn’t exactly fit your vibe or the itinerary conflicts with your schedule. Go your own way. Sometimes following the crowd is only going to damper your mood. Early in my travels, I made hiking plans with a woman whose demeanor was… less than friendly. On the day of our hike, her messages seemed unhelpful and abrupt. When she failed to find me at our meeting spot and suggested I instead make my way to the trail, I changed course. I hit a different trail alone enjoying incredible views, a satisfying workout and a hot bowl of fresh trout soup by the river afterwards. In this case, it was wise to change my plans when I felt uncomfortable.

Trust that you are, in fact, capable. Before I left, I read a book of essays by female travellers in Latin America. The common theme seemed to be that everyone felt intimidated until they recognized that they were capable of more than they thought. Travelling means getting outside that well-established comfort zone – especially if doing it alone. Like the female writers I read, I too underestimated myself. At first, it was daunting to do anything alone. Slowly, I came out of my shell. Now, I’m writing this after having spent the past few days in the coffee region alone. I toured a coffee farm, I saw a cloud forest, I cooked a meal and kicked back in a cabin alone and I travelled the nine hours back alone. When travelling solo, trust that you are, in fact, a capable human.

Don’t be attached to items or itineraries. Letting schedules and material objects hold little to no importance will grant freedom. Not being attached to things like a weekend itinerary or perfectly coordinated wardrobe enables travellers to better fall into a go-with-the-flow way of thinking. Recently, my mini four-day vacation turned into a nearly three-week road trip. I wore the same outfits over and over and I unexpectedly got to enjoy parts of the country I hadn’t planned on seeing. It has been one of the highlights of 2018 so far. I’m so glad I tossed out the original plan.

Accept cultural differences. Though it may be hard, don’t use cultural standards from home to judge those who you meet abroad. In the long run, accepting culture shock is going to be easier than fighting it. Keep personal values close of course, just don’t expect others to think in the same ways. Now that I’m travelling, I have to accept that opinions are going to be much different in Colombia than in Toronto. I wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Spend time doing what you actually want to do. One of the beauties of travelling alone is that there’s no need to compromise with travel buddies with differing interests. When experiencing a new place, solo venturers are spoiled by getting to do exactly what they want to do and when they want to do it. If afforded this type of freedom, take advantage. Pay attention to personal interests and spend time doing those things. Don’t let travel blogs or opinions of fellow travellers on what visitors are “supposed to do” cloud that vision.

GTHA Transit Wants & Woes

A transit strike is looming that may impact the GTHA. Metrolinx shared that the strike involves CP labour unions and may commence as early as Monday. The action by the union may impact GO Transit rail services.

Metrolinx made a statement on the impending transit troubles promising that services will not be disrupted:

“While we are hopeful that an agreement can be reached, we have plans in place to ensure customers can continue to travel safely and as easily as possible if a strike occurs. Our plans have been adjusted since our last communication to customers in April and no train services need to be cancelled. In the event of a CP labour disruption, we are now able to operate trains into Hamilton GO Centre.”

The reason that a CP strike may still impact GO Transit service is that many tracks that are used by Metrolinx for these services, are owned by alternate rail companies, such as CP. A strike means less CP staff available to operate the traffic switches and signals, leading to delays and suspended services.

The unions, which include the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have carried on talks with railway management.

A spokesperson for Teamsters Canada stated that the union would likely reject any offer and that they will request immediate resuming of negotiation to reach a deal before a strike ensues.

If the unions decide to strike, members must give 72 hours notice, as CBC indicates.

GTHA Transit efficiency is always a focus, whether good or bad, in this city. Even without a looming strike posing a threat to service, it’s clear that Toronto and GTA transit could be made more efficient. The upcoming election has the big four political parties making promises to do just that. The PC, Liberal and NDP parties are all pro-relief line plan. The line is to be built from the Danforth directly to downtown and relieve overcrowding on the Yonge/University Line. The Green Party is also making transit a focus, but in Scarborough.

Strike or not, Canada’s most densely populated region needs politicians and transit services always looking to the future for betterment of the transit network already in place. Hopefully negotiations and elections lead to reaching this common goal quicker.

A Great Algonquin Portage

We arrived at Algonquin just as a dark wall of ominous clouds blanketed the park. “Is this foreshadowing?” I thought to myself.

It was my first time visiting this provincial gem. My boyfriend and friends surprised me with the long weekend getaway for my 23rd birthday and I was relieved to ditch the city for some nature-induced fun. What I didn’t know, was that another surprise awaited me at the entry of the park. We weren’t just camping…we were tackling a great Algonquin portage!

Portaging entails carrying your canoe across the land between lakes until you find a marked campsite that suits your liking. I predicted portaging with my boyfriend, who is an extremely ambitious camper, would entail a weekend of intense physical activity, refined outdoorsmanship and throbbing muscle cramps. Sure it wouldn’t be the weekend of suntanning, swimming and relaxation that I had anticipated, but it was an adventure.

Meeting the gray skies, we quickly unpacked our cars and loaded our waterproof bags into three canoes. In the final moments of sunshine, we paddled around the small lakes searching for the perfect campsite. Note to self #1: Never expect perfection while camping.

After an hour-long search that was decorated with spats of rain, we pulled up to a small, hilly island. We docked our canoes and scoped out the plot. It was spacious enough for three tents and even had a pre-built fire pit. “Guys! Come here!” my friend suddenly shouted. We all rushed over to see an aged memorial plaque for a young girl who died on the island years prior. “Nope!” one of my friends said, completely spooked out. We hopped back into our canoes and begged our biceps to paddle on. As we departed, in some sick joke mastered by the universe, a little red shoe floated between our boats. Note to self #2: Stop watching horror movies.

We passed site after site. That one is too bare…that one is too small…that one isn’t marked…until a loud boom echoed across the lake. Have you ever watched that scene from The Notebook when Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are passionately proclaiming their love for one another while sitting in a rowboat in a torrential downpour? Now imagine that, minus the charming words.

We could barely see each other as we headed for land to escape any potential lightning. When it slightly let up, we caught sight of flames flickering on the shore. An older couple made their way out to the opening. “Are you guys OK?” they shouted. It’s funny how pickiness tends to wear off in moments of desperation. Attempting to seek shelter, even for only a few minutes, my friend shouted back, “Hey, do you guys have room for a couple more people over there?” For a moment, all we could hear were the pellets of rain slamming our tin canoes as the couple stood still on the shore. Finally, the man put his hands up to his mouth and shouted a half-assed, “Ha-ha!” that reverberated across the open water and into my nightmares for the remainder of our stay.

Although miserable, tired and drenched, we eventually found a marked spot that was, ironically, almost perfect for our weekend. After setting up our tents, we spent the remainder of the drier days exploring the island, cooking delicious meals and laughing around the fire. Note to self #3: Never turn down a surprise camping trip.

To this day, my boyfriend tells people, “Yeah, it was raining. But the only thing filling up the canoe was Courtney’s tears.” Which isn’t true, of course, but it is funny. And if the outcome of an adventure is a funny story, then, in my opinion, it was an adventure well-lived.

 

Reflection: A birthday abroad

Earlier this spring, I turned 27 and for the first time in my life, I celebrated my birthday outside of Canada’s borders and thousands of kilometres away from the place I call home. My birthday came just weeks after I left Toronto to pursue a year of working and travelling in South America.

They say when it comes to birthdays, there are two types of people: those who love it and those who hate it. I’m the latter. Not dissimilar to New Year’s, birthdays, I feel, are a time for reflection and goal setting. A marker of another year past and a new age just starting, birthdays can be anxiety filled and stressful. For some, it’s a dreaded time of year when worries about getting old are at their strongest. Aging, for me, is not of a particular concern. Rather, I’m faced with asking myself the tough questions. Am I where I want to be in life at this moment? Did I make the most of the year that just passed? Is there anything I’d like to change going forward? Am I wiser or just older now? As the questions continue to pop into my mind, it’s no wonder that my anxiety levels rise.

This year though, that changed. Having set foot in Colombia in the last days of February with a teeny wardrobe squeezed into a pack and an even smaller Spanish vocabulary, I set out to live my day-to-day quite differently. Turning up in a new country where little was familiar, I set a precedent to go with the flow as much as possible because, well, given the circumstances, there just didn’t seem to be another option. Plus, having put myself far outside of my comfort zone, little seemed in my control. Worrying wasn’t going to change that. As such, when my birthday neared, I learned to give up my panic routine. I ended up booking a stay in a hostel high in the mountains an hour outside of the city where strong rays of sunshine made for the perfect day of poolside lounging next to a yard of mango trees and avocados.  

There were some things I learned during that weekend when I finally learned to just chill out and take things as they come. Below, are just a few.

Expectation management is key.

Manage expectations and everything becomes easier. In years past, my birthday bash often had to be just so. I needed every one of my friends to show up and have a great time. I wanted a new outfit and freshly done hair. The night couldn’t end too early and oftentimes, my party had at least two locations. This year though, I couldn’t have any of that. I was without my cluster of friends for one, and secondly, I wasn’t even familiar with my new home. So, I booked the mini getaway determined to have fun during my lowest key birthday yet. I went with one close friend and fussed about none of the details. We enjoyed wine, homemade tacos and a tuk-tuk ride up the mountain. I had a great time. I guess simple is better and giving up control makes for a more enjoyable experience.

Sometimes, you just can’t plan for all the details.

I went with the flow and enjoyed a low-key weekend in a tranquil spot and met a lovely group of people also exploring the area. I chose not to fuss over every single detail and things turned out for the best. You can’t plan every single thing to a tee so it’s best not to try and just enjoy things as they happen. That goes for things like a birthday party but it also applies to travel, work or entering a new phase in life.

You heard it before… don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’m not the best Spanish speaker or salsa dancer but on the night when I turned 27, I did both. I joined the party going on a the pool soon after midnight again, determined just to have a good time and be in the moment. I doubt anyone noticed my amateur dance steps and as for the Spanish, I managed to get my points across through broken phrases. Others were encouraging, not judgmental and it was certainly better than hanging back and being a wallflower all night. I didn’t take myself seriously and it was for the best. Duly noted for my year of travels ahead…

Worrying just makes the problem bigger.

As mentioned, with so much out of my control this year, I just gave up the stressing altogether. I did myself a major favour. Instead of entertaining that birag of self-reflection questions, I opted not to bother. In doing so, the pressure came off and I had a surprisingly awesome time. The lead-up to my birthday was a much less stressful event than it had been in years past. I realized that worrying is a problem in and of itself and I had the power to quash that all along.