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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.  

Naked sex resort? No thanks

I’m definitely one lucky woman. I have traveled to a few continents over the years and my adventures are always memorable for one reason or another, but nothing will ever compare to the twilight-zone of an experience I had when I spent 4 days in Jamaica this past January.

I was sent on assignment, intending to learn about a new culture, enjoy some sun and sand, and perhaps gain a window into the world of nudists and swingers, at a well-known clothing optional resort in Negril.

I walked into Hedonism II wanting to love the experience and feeling that I would be somewhat sheltered from the exhibitionist lifestyle this destination was known for. Little did I know that I was in the world of the swinger and I, as a media member, was the outsider.  The resort made this clear by setting rules including the one that said I, as a “prude” staying on the Prude side, could not venture to the Naked side of the resort unless I disrobed.

I was completely fine with staying put. What was left out of the description to me from the beginning was that the same rule was not in place for the Naked side guests. They were given free reign of the entire resort and were welcome to carry on as they pleased on every square acre of the land. Oh! Did they ever.

During those 4 days, I saw things I cannot erase from my mind. Despite trying, images of all-aged naked men advancing towards fully-clothed me, attempting to ignite some “connection,” could not be unseen and the attempts kept on over the entire stay- lucky me.

To each their own, but  I spent my days at the resort flanking myself with the more youthful media members, who were also feeling like bait in a tank of hungry sharks.

We managed to enjoy spa treatments that were heavenly and this was actually the only time I disrobed. Our group also had a fantastic time on the party catamaran and amazing nights at the various themed parties. Luaus on the beach, leather and lace soirees as well as toga shindigs made us feel like we were a little more included, because at these events the majority of attendees were actually somewhat clothed.

Eventually the shock of all aged naked people wore off, but the sheer discomfort instilled with the advances, propositions and exhibitionist acts all around us did not. Couples would subtly leave their hotel room doors open and carry on having sex so anyone walking by could see. We all became used to being asked to join in.  “No thanks! I’m good!” I tried not to look in these doors, but it was always like road kill . I couldn’t avoid looking.

It was as if no rules applied on this plot of land. People were having sex anywhere they pleased, except at the buffet because that was unsanitary, but it was apparently sanitary for couples and strangers to get their rocks off in a pool I wished I could have gone swimming in. I didn’t even dare to dip in my big toe.

I guess I am a bit of a prude, and have no problem admitting that. I’m certainly not sitting in judgement over those guests who admitted to me they return to Hedo II again and again because of the freedom they feel to be themselves there. Clearly this resort is meant for a specific type of person:  exhibitionists, swingers and nudists. Everyone who fell under these categories, that I spoke to, raved about their experience at Hedonism II. I have complete respect for those who enjoy that lifestyle. It’s just not for me. I guess I’ll stick to the family-friendly resorts. They are more my speed.

London Calling

Over a decade ago I packed up my things at my childhood home and moved to London, U.K.  It was a sudden decision and one that my family-especially my parents- were surprised by. Up until that point I had always lived in Ottawa and never thought I’d leave. I had a happy childhood and a great group of friends, but after finishing my post-secondary education, relationships changed and I was looking for adventure.

Newly out of teacher’s college, I found opportunities were scarce in Ontario, but the U.K. was looking for new teachers. So I jumped at the opportunity, signed a contract and boarded a plane within three weeks to the city I would call home for 8 months.

Those 8 months were the most challenging and exciting of my life. I was enthralled with British culture up until heading there, mainly because of my mother and her love for British dramas and the royal family. I had fond memories of a childhood visit and at 24, I felt like I was once again a wide-eyed child, but this time could appreciate it fully. The busy city streets and vibrant red double-decker buses, the vintage-style cabs lined up at Charing Cross Station, the cobblestone streets and quirky fashion, and sights like the London Eye and the Thames, all fascinated me on my first journey through the core of the city.

The central portion of London proper had an entirely different vibe than the area that I ended up finding a flat-share in. It did not take long for the novelty and excitement to ware off and for me to get saturated in the day-to-day responsibilities. I lived with two Londoners in Hither Green- at the time, a “dodgy area,” as they say there. I taught in an even dodgier area on an estate in Abbeywood.

The novelty of being in a city I had grown up fascinated by quickly fizzled, and days swiftly passed. I enjoyed a romantic relationship with a homegrown Brit, finally became used to the food and cultural differences, and became comfortable in my role as a nursery teacher.

That’s not to say the transition wasn’t rocky. I experienced severe homesickness and talked to my parents daily for the first month, caught a terrible flu that I just couldn’t shake for well over that same month, was mugged twice-once at gun point – and hated not having my usual drip coffee to sip every morning before work.

The 8 months came and went and I was asked to stay on at the school for another year. I initially said yes, but then retracted. I realized that I had experienced all of London 20 times over and a number of the other British regions– – Cornwall was my favourite.

But with that trip to Cornwall came the starting point to the end of my relationship. My partner at the time was so immersed in his own life and family, and proved to not be very interested in mine. My father offered to fly him to Toronto for my brother’s wedding, and when he said no, I knew that the relationship would not work. The distance from my family made me appreciate them all even more, and if my boyfriend at the time couldn’t, it was time to go home, just as I had planned all along.

Eleven years later, whenever I am asked about the most interesting experience of my life, or the one that made the biggest impact, I always think back to those days in London. I was once a quiet and meek woman, nervous to go shopping at the mall on my own. That experience caused me to cross the pond solo to take on a city that is 10 times the size of Ottawa. Naturally, my next move was to Toronto.

Women taking over business travel

I am not a techie, but over the years I have learned how to incorporate basic technology into my day-to-day activities because it is imperative for communication and the work that I do.

 Statistics indicate that business travel and face-to-face meetings are still the preferred choice for many companies despite the technologies that exist to cut down on the travel.  Statistics from reports indicate that there were 514 million business trips taken last year by Americans alone which infused $424 billion into the US economy.

As the tide changes and women are taking on more prominent roles in various male-dominated businesses it’s easy to understand why many who prefer face-to-face meetings are women. Women are more focused on building strong bonds with business partners and bringing personable aspects to networking. Women thrive on connections. Men are typically more focused on getting the job done and keeping business, business.

Women and millennials now dominate business travel. Research conducted by the Upside Business Travel, in Washington, has determined that half of all North American business travelers are women and are much younger than men doing the same-  half of business travelers are less than 45.

Additionally, young millennials and women are learning to find more enjoyment while on their travels and are far more likely to mix business and pleasure by combining a work trip with leisure activities. They are taking more control regarding the business agenda and budget during their travels. Mixing business with leisure results in better productivity.

Jay Walker, CEO of Upside Business Travel, explains the growing trend in business travel:

“In the past, companies had very rigid guidelines for employee travel, but now we can see employees pushing back and asking for a budget, they’re saying ‘maybe I’ll book an Airbnb instead of a hotel, they’re saying ‘just tell me how much I need to spend, and I’ll decide how to spend it.'”

As the older male CEO’s and executives move towards retirement, it’s fantastic to see women stepping into those vacant roles and inspiring new, more balanced, methods for getting the job done.

Open letter by a former seafood-hater

It’s embarrassing to admit, but the first time I had sushi I hid it in my purse when no one was looking.

Late in high school, I finally decided to give this raw cuisine a try after hearing my gaggle of best friends rave about California rolls and fresh maki. At that point, I’d never eaten sushi or shellfish of any kind. I sat in the restaurant waiting for my meal to arrive. One bite and I’d be in their sushi-loving club… or so I thought. When my fishy meal came, I could barely tolerate the sight of it. The slabs of slippery, raw salmon on my plate before made me gag. Their texture made my stomach churn. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t a cultured eater at all. I didn’t even know how to use chopsticks. While there way no way I’d be feasting on this seafood dish, I was faced with an even bigger dilemma: all-you-can-eat sushi spots charge extra for that which you do not devour. So, I did something that only a picky eater could understand: I scooped up fistfuls of cold, gooey fish, stuffed them into my purse and left. I must have reeked of fish on the bus ride home.

A few years on, I was living in Toronto still successfully avoiding seafood (and especially the raw kind) when I started dating a man with a Portuguese background and an affinity for shrimp, lobster and, you guessed it, sushi. This person introduced me to the world of seafood, in gradual steps – first serving me the cooked kind. In time, I grew to love a plate of shrimp with a beer or a Friday night out eating lobster. Eventually, I tried a less offensive sushi meal and learned it wasn’t so bad at all.

Learning to love a type of food that I had previously dismissed came in handy when I traveled to new spots, like Brazil, for instance. This nation with its Portuguese roots was obsessed with all the foods which that past boyfriend of mine loved. I’ll never forget the day when, sunbathing alone by the ocean, I managed to order a small bowl of freshly-caught shrimp from a fisherman walking along the beach. My delight of being able to order this snack despite the language barrier quickly waned when I realized the shrimp came with the heads still attached. The freshly-peppered morsels caught just that day were a treat too good to pass up as I sunned myself on the beach though. So, without a second-thought, I removed the heads, doused the rest in lime and enjoyed the perfect Brazilian lunch.

Seafood and sushi are now favourite foods of mine. I’m glad I learned to become open-minded rather than dismissive of these dishes. That goes especially when travelling to places where these sorts of foods are the region’s pride and joy. I’ve found that being open to them while away from home has enriched vacation experiences. I gobbled mini octopus in Cuba on a white sandy beach with my brother. I munched on barbecued conch at a Bahamian cocktail party. I swallowed back ice-cold, butter-flavoured oysters in Boston after a long day spent reporting on the Boston Marathon. I fueled a Cape Cod relay race with a lobster roll and when I visited Nova Scotia, armed with a bib, ample napkins and tools for the occasion, I learned to crack my first lobster. More recently, in Vancouver, I sat by a sunny street and ordered a plate of sushi because you just can’t go to the west coast city without doing so. After I finished, I ordered an extra serving of two pieces of salmon sushi. My favourite.

The girl who once hid raw fish in her purse to avoid eating it has grown to be much more adventurous with fresh ocean foods. The menu items that once caused me to grimace have become a routine part of my diet – and a luxury when travelling. And so, I write this as a sort of open letter to the picky eaters out there because these are the ones I hope to convince to say yes to new flavours. Though it cost me a purse, my introduction to seafood has allowed me to better experience tastes from abroad.

Traveling to Egypt? What to know

This past month, my husband and I went to Egypt for a quick getaway. It was a beautiful experience. The desert sand between my toes, the beaming sun on my face after a long, treacherous Canadian winter, and the beautiful landmarks visible from almost anywhere on the streets are just a few of the things that have me yearning to go back. In the middle of the trip were a few other moments I wish we were prepared for. Its not easy to anticipate everything in a foreign country but hopefully this post can help  others when planning.

Expect to tip

Unfortunately, political turmoil and a national revolution has a way of taking a toll on a country’s tourism industry. Despite everyone’s concern, it is safe! But locals have become increasingly more aggressive towards foreigners. They will open a door for you and ask for a tip in return. It’s important to be extra wary of locals when visiting popular tourist destinations such as the Pyramids of Giza. Whether it’s camel owners looking for riders or tour guides waiting in front of the gates for solo travelers– everyone is unfortunately out to get what’s in your wallet.  

Everything is dirt cheap

Otherwise, don’t worry about running out of money while in Egypt. Food, souvenirs, and even tourist destinations such as the entrance into the Pyramids of Giza, are low in expense- the cost of visiting Egypt is significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the world. My husband and I very comfortably feasted for less than $10, sometimes eating falafels for a mere 25 cents!

Be careful though. Its easy to lose track of  money when casually throwing Egyptian pounds at everyone and everything. Little things like water bottles, a key chain here, a perfume there can leave travelers without notes in a blink of an eye. Exchange more money than needed, because ATM fees are expensive, and currency exchanges  can be rather shady. If you find yourself with money left at the end of your trip – donate it! It is not difficult to find someone who is in need of money in a developing country.

Value for money 

Just because things are cheap, doesn’t mean paying full price. I love the smell of essence and using oil -based perfumes so when I walked into the ‘Perfume Palace’, I knew I was about to do some damage to my bank account. Unfortunately, locals see foreigners as an opportunity to make significant profit. They will ask double the price for something shoppers are interested in buying. So even if it sounds ridiculous, if an item is 100 EGP, start bargaining at 50 EGP. Be firm – even if  it’s not half the price,  a discount will be given.

Make time for an authentic experience

One thing my husband and I strive for during vacations is authenticity. The last thing I want to do in a country like Egypt is go to an Italian restaurant. It just doesn’t make sense.  Each day try to do something unconventional and out of the norm from the average tourist. Although it is daunting to venture out independently in a foreign country, it is important to do so in order to get the full experience.  

Be wary of culture

Egypt is an Arab country with a Muslim majority population. Do some research before a trip! It is easy to stand out if wearing anything revealing. Although headscarves and long skirts are not mandatory like they are in other Arab countries, do try to cover shoulders and avoid wearing anything too short. Planning is also difficult. Egyptians go with the flow and maintaining a schedule is not part of their norm. This may also be due to the fact that traffic makes it almost impossible to get somewhere on time. Expect a 10 minute taxi ride to take up to half an hour. The roads are all one way but patience is key when in Egypt – speed limits and traffic lights do not exist here!  

Befriend an Egyptian

Feeling overwhelmed? Make a friend! Having someone during your outings who knows the language and culture can be a lot more comforting than venturing out alone. My husband and I were happy to meet a tour guide who ended up showing us around Cairo for two days and quickly became a friend. . Whether it was blasting Arabic music during the car ride, or stopping for sugar cane juice on the way to the museum, Halla was an amazing part of a great trip.

Research and be safe, but happy Egyptian travels! It’s a remarkable country.

Port St. Charles Barbados

I travel quite often to Barbados as I’m building an arts and cultural centre there.  I’m planning on moving with my family to the island in the fall. So I know the island quite well, and one of my favourite areas on the island is the north west coast. The beaches are less crowded than the south coast; the hotels and houses are luxuriant, and restaurants in Speighstown and Holetown are fantastic.

I believe the island of Barbados is one of the best in the Caribbean. It is below the hurricane belt, and after the devastating hurricanes in 2017, this is a very important issue – especially for those looking to buy a retirement property! But the island also has a long British history, the people are gentle, well educated – but in a relaxed way. The island has a high education standard, has a public library system, and is one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean.

One of my favourite places to stay is at Port St. Charles – a collection of luxury condos on the north end of Speighstown. With a beautiful white sand beach that connects all the way into Speightstown, a marina (with the largest boats I have ever seen), two pools and a yacht club offering some of the islands best dining the resort feels like a second home. It is as safe place – and while their are security guards that walk the grounds I’m not sure if they are truly needed. I like to sleep with my windows open and listen to the whistling frogs at night. And I’ve never felt any worry over doing it.  Most of the staff have worked there for years, and they all genuinely care about the place.

I’ve stayed in a number of different suites on the property, but find that the units facing west are best as they catch the afternoon sun on the deck, making it quick to dry out wet bathing suits.

I should declare that I’m a bit biased as I have a friend who owns one of the better units. It is  close to the yacht club – north end of the property. It has a private dipping pool and a great outdoor dining area. Three large bedrooms, two of them have views of the marina and a full kitchen and laundry. I can imagine myself there now having breakfast on the deck, coffee in hand and watching a sea turtle poke it’s head out of the water. 

If you don’t feel like cooking dinner in the condo, the Yacht club is a two minute walk, and a great place to relax in the afternoon. There is a pool next to the cocktail bar and a deck with ladder if you prefer swimming in the ocean. Sir Richard Branson was there one afternoon (alas I missed meeting him), but you never know who you’ll meet at the cocktail bar! 

Or if you feel like listening to live calypso and watching the sun set, drop into the Beach Shack in Speightstown it is just a 10 minute walk (along the beach).

In the morning between 10:30 and 11:00am the turtles swim up the coast and go into the channel that flows into the Marina. If walk up to the north end of the beach, take goggles and you can swim with them.

I’d also recommend heading over to meet the Warren family at St. Nicholas Abbey – Simon Warren is a gracious host who often leads the tours.  I met Simon and his family at Port St Charles Yacht club during a Sunday brunch (not to be missed) and had a nice chat with Simon’s mother Anna, she is a beautiful and interesting woman. I left thinking she was someone I’d like to know better.   The Warrens did a beautiful restoration of the old rum plantation. The guided tour of the Great House is definitely worth doing, and if you can get there when the distillery and sugar mill are running do take that tour as well. You can spend 2-3 hours there and have lunch at their outdoor cafe – the view of the jungle is gorgeous. And don’t forget to take your camera – from the red footed tortoise, to their Guinea fowl there is something to see around every corner!

If you are looking to take in Barbados, the north west coast is the place to go, and Port St. Charles will not disappoint!

Portugal travel tips: consider camping

From the stunning coastlines to the lush vineyards of the north, Portugal’s allure is one of a kind. I remember the overwhelming feeling when two of my best gal pals and I decided on this destination for a three-week trip in 2016- there was so much to see in so little time.

I wanted to visit the rolling hills of Sintra, the vibrant city of Lisbon and the cliff-lined Algarve coast, but there was plenty of natural beauty between the nation’s major hubs, and it was calling to me. An agreement was made to skip the headache of booking hostels and the group opted for a more rugged experience. Sleeping bags, cooking supplies and a three-person tent were packed  and plans were set to jump from campsite to campsite along the Alentejo Coast.

To this day,  adventures camping through Portugal are some of my fondest travel memories. Those looking for a journey on a budget, or merely for the chance to get outside and indulge in nature, consider camping along this country’s coast for the perfect cure to onset of wanderlust.

Cost

Camping is a much cheaper alternative to staying in hotels, Airbnbs and even backpacker hostels. On average, I spent about €5 ($7.75 CAD) per night, with some sites costing as little as €2 ($3.10 CAD). Sometimes, this charge was applied to each person, but more commonly, it was applied to each tent, and because the group decided to snuggle up in one, the overall accommodation costs were extremely low.

Most campsites along the Alentejo Coast are located in small towns, so food and alcohol were generally cheaper as well. I remember one night sitting around a picnic bench, listening to the ocean, and sipping on a €0.50 glass of local wine that was filled to the brim- and this was a common occurrence.

It’s worthwhile to dig through travel forums to find campsites and wild spots in an area of interest, or check out iOverlander and FurgoVW for mapped areas throughout Western Europe. In Algarve territory, be aware that wild camping is officially banned.

Environment

Coming from Canada, where there are  some of the most lush campsites in the world, setting up a tent in the often sparse landscapes of Portugal was a bit of an adjustment. But, where Portugal’s coast lacks in trees, it makes up for in ocean.

The Alentejo Coast is a string of sandy coves woven through steep and rocky ocean-side ridges. This stunning scenery is usually only a short walk from  campsites, or, if wild camping,  the ocean is right at your tent door! There’s nothing better than waking up to the soundtrack of the sea.

Some of the Alentejo Coast  is populated with oak, olive and other native plant species- Over 100 kilometres of the coast is part of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, a preserved slice of land that’s home to plenty of unique animal and plant species. Unlike Canada there are no black bears or big cats roaming around these parts. There are very few dangerous animals in Portugal, especially along the coast, which is yet another reason why camping here has such a draw.

Site Quality

Campground quality can be a hit or a miss, and the group definitely experienced some rougher plots of land. However, more often than not, all were pleasantly surprised with the location and perks that the accommodations had to offer.

Most campgrounds along the coast are equipped with amenities that are suited for a resort- clean showers, outdoor pools, laundry rooms, on-site restaurants, grocery stores, barbecue stations and even widespread WiFi access. Some of the grounds are so clean and comfortable, that it’s not uncommon for families to park their camper vans or trailers and stay for months at a time. The parks can get quite full in peak season, but luckily, our group was travelling at the end of September and missed the summer rush.

A few coastal spots  are world renowned for their waves and are popular with surf camps and retreats. The grounds stayed on in Sagres, for example, had a surf camp on site and offered lessons to interested visitors.

People

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of camping through Portugal was the many faces  that I met along the way. As most small-town campgrounds are frequented by Portuguese families, I had the opportunity to spend time with the locals and learn about their culture firsthand. Friendly residents and fellow campers brought the group to their favourite beach spots, as well as to local gatherings. They cooked the meanest salted cod (or baccalau) I’ve ever tasted in my life!

There’s something about being in the great outdoors, especially in a country as beautiful as Portugal, that sparks the most basic instinct to bask in the joy of company. The intimate, yet open spirit of camping is one that brings people closer together and it’s an experience that the hostel-jumping trend of travelling often seems to miss. So, on the next trip to Portugal, (or anywhere for that matter) plan  a different kind of adventure- one that allows travelers to see a destination in its purest state.