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On trying to blog while travelling and working full time

Turns out I was a bit delusional when I thought that I could spend the summer backpacking across Western Canada for work, and blog all the way. This was especially challenging because I thought that an iPad would be enough to write on every couple of days. It turns out that a lack of time, and no dependable WiFi connection, made this impossible. So I’ve just decided to put together a short post of pictures highlighting what I’ve been up to so far, and in the fall, when things have calmed down, I will be able to write longer posts about where I’ve been this summer. These pictures aren’t in chronological or geographical order because frankly, I’m just too lazy to sort through them.

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Reconnected with old students and ate a lot of fudge in Moosejaw, Sask.

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Discovered that Calgary is, in fact, a lovely city

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Spent enough time on the Prairies that I began to feel like a bit of a cowboy

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Participated in a full on Mantracker activity

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Went sailing off the coast of Victoria, BC

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Went for a drive in the countryside of Saskatchewan, and found an abandoned bus

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Went to see the giant dinosaur in Drumheller, AB

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Discovered that Canada is even more beautiful than I thought, in Drumheller, AB

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Got to spend a day (of work) swimming in a lazy river in Kelowna, BC’s H20 centre

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Met the beautiful Marshall from Walk Off the Earth

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Hiked around Lake Louise

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Got to spend a day (of work) playing on bouncy castles

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Wore my first ever cowboy hat at the Calgary Stampede


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The time we ate everything at the Calgary Stampede

I was so excited to go to the Calgary Stampede, really really excited. I planned my entire summer around it, and told everyone I was going. By the time it finally rolled around, I couldn’t handle the excitement!

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The day started off really well with a Stampede Breakfast – for two weeks, all around town, you can have a free pancake breakfast. We ended up at one place that made bacon pancakes, which was a bit of a dream come true.

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We got to the stampede, and I was really excited because the first sign that we saw was for all kinds of fried food – I would finally be able to try things that I had only heard about!

Highlights of the Stampede included: pretending to birth a calf, a pretty cool water show, the opening act to the rodeo (not really the rodeo itself, that was kind of sad and scary) and meeting Walk Off the Earth. Turns out that the Stampede is pretty much one big fair, and I probably wouldn’t plan on going again unless I was in Calgary at exactly the right time.

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Otherwise, the most exciting part of the stampede was the food. We decided to photo document our food journey. As a team, we ate pizza, poutine, mac and cheese, chicken on a stick, schnitzel, frozen yogurt with all the toppings, cotton candy, donuts, and fried snickers and mars bars. Not bad for a day’s work! Our biggest regret is that we weren’t able to try the fried butter.

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When splurging is worth it

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I’m traveling across Western Canada for work this summer – that post is slowly being written. In the meantime, I’m sitting having breakfast in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and I’m going to chat about splurging!

While all of my summer travels are expensed as work trips, I work for a non profit and I really believe that it’s important to spend my budget reasonably. Also, the less I spend, the more I can travel throughout the year! Since this is summertime and the weather is beautiful, I decided to travel mostly by bus. I flew from Vancouver to Calgary, then bussed from Calgary to Edmonton, and Edmonton to Saskatoon. I’m getting a ride from Saskatoon to Regina, and finally will be bussing from Regina to Winnipeg, before flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver in August.

Everywhere I go, I am taking public transit, staying in hostels or university dorms, and eating at people’s houses or cooking for myself. I did, however, budget for the entire meal allowance that I’m allowed, which gives me a lot of wiggle room, and brings us to the point of this blog post!

Yesterday, I took the bus from Banff to Edmonton, which took about 5 hours. Then, I waited in Edmonton for 6 hours before boarding a 7 hour bus to Saskatoon. I arrived this morning at 6:30, much too early to check in to my university accommodation. I decided to head out and by to find breakfast, but that’s also a bit tricky at 6am. The first place I saw was the Holiday Inn – their breakfast buffet is $15, and includes fruit, yogurt, cereal, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs Benedict 3 ways, and a pot of coffee right at the table. The table has its own tv (royal baby news on all the channels this morning), and power outlets.

Who could ask for more? So, while I usually try to spend under $10 when I have to pay for breakfast, often spending just $4 at Tim Hortons, today I decided that I deserve the extra bit of luxury.

I might – might – also go for a massage (12km mountain hike + 12 hour bus ride), but that’ll be with my own money, of course 🙂

When do you decide to splurge, and when do you decide to save?


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Which shoes to choose?

Lets face it. I have too many pairs of shoes. In fact, if you look at the very top of this page, you’ll see a page named ‘feet’ – this is because I like to take pictures of my feet in different places, but it has also shown me that I am always wearing different shoes. I may have a problem.

Today, however, I’ll make the most of the problem and run through a different variety of shoes and what they’re good for, when you’re travelling. Hopefully you can give me advice too, because I have yet to find the perfect shoe. (Christie over at ChristieThinks seems to be getting close!)

I want to start with an ode to my favourite shoes ever. I bought these at Old Navy, at the very last minute before leaving for my year abroad in Ecuador. If you are good friends with me in person, then I have told you about these shoes. They started to wear away at the sole after a year of wearing them everywhere around the world, and I gave them away. I still regret it. I have never stopped looking for their replacement, and still haven’t found their equivalent anywhere. Sigh.

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Converse

Not really ideal for much walking, but they do look fun and take up no room at all in your suitcase. The high-tops allow space for an insole, which helps give them more support. I do love my converse shoes, but I don’t really travel with them anymore.

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Toms

Kind of the same deal as converse – no real support, but they go with pretty much everything and are great to stuff into an already full bag, as they take up no space and weigh nothing. My man complaint is that they get VERY stinky, very quickly, and you can’t wear them extensively or they will wear out after a few weeks. I wore the light grey ones in the picture below for my entire week in San Francisco, and they were far from ideal – they killed my feet (although I did walk up to 10kms a day, so that’s my fault for not planning on better walking shoes), and they already smell too bad to wear anymore. From now on, I will keep them for shorter trips, and wear socks in them. I always bring the purple ones below when I travel for work, because they are great to wear inside at conferences and meetings.

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Rain Boots

Definitely one of my favourite types of footwear, but also completely impractical for travel. They make me feel invincible when I wear them, but they just take up so much room that unless you’re driving somewhere, you can’t really travel with them! Can someone invent roll-up, comfy rain boots with solid soles please?

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Winter Boots

Being from Quebec, I definitely know my way around winter boots. I went through the usual adolescent phase of refusing to wear them, but now I’m all about proper winter footwear. Problem is, they are also super annoying to carry around everywhere. I love my purple Sorels, but they live at my mum’s house because I don’t really need them in BC, nor do I want to take up valuable suitcase space for them! I also used to have a pair of Merrell boots which were beautiful, functional and warm, but the sole cracked after a few winters. Now, I make do with a pair of black Hush Puppy boots – they look good with pretty much everything, and while they are not very warm, they are exactly what I need for going to conferences in snowy places in the winter. The same problem remains though, that I have to wear them on the plane if I want to take them at all.

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Other impractical shoes

These include flip-flops, which I now only take on beach holidays, and slip-ons with absolutely no arch support, which I usually just wear around town when I’m at home. No sense bringing these travelling unless you’re not planning on doing much more than going to the beach.
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Big ol’ leather boots

Man, I love these boots. They are definitely my favourite style, and I can’t wait till autumn so that I can wear them again. The ones on top are my original, completely beaten up ones, that I still wear when it’s raining, or muddy, or anywhere that my shoes might get wet. They feel like slippers. The onesbelow are my ‘nice’ ones, that I’m (trying) to take care of.

I’ve been on a lot of trips with these boots – the only drawback is that the sole is a bit hard so my feet do hurt at the end of the day, but otherwise, if my trip consists mainly of city walking and no demanding terrain, I will continue to bring these with me. They just make me feel good! (And the ones cause the shoe-cleaning staff in airports to run after me)

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Actual, sensible walking shoes

That’s right, I actually do have some of these. Full on running shoes, that I never take anywhere unless I know that I’ll be out and about and running around, and unless I know that it’s a setting where I won’t care about how I look (Let’s be honest now. Style goes into almost every shoe decision that I make). The other shoes that I like for easy trails, and that are actually my favourite, are my Keen shoes – the blue ones below are a bit more city with less grip but tons of comfort and support (and the chickens approve), and my actual favourite, comfortable, tons of support, and grippy for easy to moderate trails, are my Keen Toyahs. Problem is? They are bulky and heavy, so not convenient to stuff in a backpack, and quite clunky, so they don’t go with everyday outfits.

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So, what’s the verdict?

The verdict is that I’m still trying to find the all around best travel shoes, and sandals! For this trip, I’ve decided to go with black Birkenstocks that go with everything, because I know that they offer comfort and adequate support for days of city walking and standing around, and I’ve just bought a pair of barefoot runners from Merrel (Pace Glove), based on the fact that they are light, squishable, offer moderate arch support, good enough traction, and that they are SUPER cute. (Seriously. I’m sad to say that looks have such a big part in this.)

I just finished the first day of my 4 week trip, and the Merrells remained comfy after walking all day. I’ll let you know how they fare on Banff’s trails, and during my Mantracker run in the Prairies.  Keep an eye out for pictures of my feet wearing them in different places across Canada 🙂



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In my bag: dry goods

 

Apparently, I haven’t posted in a month!

It all started with a monster university paper, which I left to the very last minute. It completely drained me of the will to write, and then work got really busy, and then I can keep making excuses, but the point is, it’s time for me to write again. And guess what? I’m going to write about packing… again!
This time, I thought I’d tell you about my favourite dry products. What’s the point? Well, it’s nice to be able to bring everything in a carry on, and it’s also nice not to worry about anything leaking in your bag. So, here’s a rundown of some of my favourite and not-so-favourite carry-on beauty bits. I’ve found that for any trip, all I need are the following 5 items, plus deodorant and contact solution.

1. Soap (obvi)

Any bar soap will do. I like the way this one smells. It’s that simple. I keep the cardboard box to carry it in between hostels.

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2. Shampoo

This is Lush’s Seanik shampoo bar, and I fell in love with it right away. I have short hair, and I’ve always struggled with shampoos that make my hair a bit too soft and a bit too limp, and then it just flops around all day. This shampoo has solved the problem – it contains sea salt, which appears to make my hair just messy enough to hold all day! Lush also has a bunch of different shampoos for whatever your needs are.

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3. Hair product

Speaking of short hair – this product has changed my life! It’s essentially rice powder, with a bunch of other things mixed in. Pretty simple – sprinkle it on, mess my hair around, and it holds all day. All I ever bring with me now.

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4. Laundry soap

The only way to travel for an extended period of time with a small amount of luggage is to do your own laundry. I love this soap, because it’s everything friendly, it’s canadian, and it has fun smells, like rootbeer float, pina colada, cupcake and key lime pie. These little bags are about $2 each at Ottawa’s amazing Terra 20, and are good for 2-8 loads. What more could you want! I haven’t tried it to hand-wash anything yet, but I’m sure that it’ll work just fine!
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5. Toothpaste

Now, this is an interesting one. Another great product from Lush, these Toothy Tabs come in many flavours and are the weirdest, freshest thing you’ll ever brush your teeth with. They are also very weird! The baking soda base has a bit of a salty taste, and honestly, it’s like having the full force of all the Lush store smells explode in your mouth all at once. My mouth has never felt cleaner than after using this toothpaste… But.

These toothy tabs are nice to have for a quick weekend getaway, something that just sits in the bottom of my quick escape bag, but I probably won’t buy them again. Sure, my mouth felt super clean right after I brushed my teeth, but in the morning, my mouth tasted weird. It also makes me gag in the morning, for reasons I don’t understand. $5’ll get you 40 tabs, which isn’t the best for my small budget. I also kind of got tired of the taste, and was left not wanting to brush my teeth.

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Bonus favourite dry product: Towtabs

These are AMAZING! These tiny little pucks, about the size of a peppermint candy, turn into a full sized cloth with just a drop of water.

I first bought them as a quick ‘why not’ purchase, to see if they actually worked, and they do! They really made me happy when I was in Africa – too often, there was no water in the house, and all it took was a capful of water to have a quick “sponge bath”. If you see these, grab them – you never know when you’ll need them!

What are your favourite travel products?


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Travel Tuesday

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to discover the world while staying at home.

The YMCA has a great program called the Youth Peace Network – every year, a dozen or so volunteers from around the world come and spend a summer in Vancouver to learn about Canada, and share their culture with us. I got to spend the last week with these wonderful people, from Kenya, Ukraine, Argentina, China, Brazil, Czech Republic, Zambia, Mexico, Senegal, Egypt, Belarus, Hong Kong and Colombia, and I’m excited to get to know them better as the summer progresses. I’ve learned a couple new words (my favourite so far is shlopentcy, Russian for flip flop), and made new friends that I will surely visit on my RTW trip!

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On making your favorite foreign dishes at home (don’t)

Hypothesis: I can make Mole Poblano at home

In 2003, I spent three months in Mexico, where one of the traditional dishes is Mole. When I first had it, I thought it was the worst thing ever, but it wasn’t long before it became my favourite meal. I’ve only ever had the real things once since coming back, when a friend brought some back from a trip to Mexico, so I decided that now was the time to make it myself. I made it once in Mexico, in preparation for the day of the dead festivities (it was a three day, multi-ingredient process), so I figured that I could fumble my way through making it here. I browsed the internet, used four different recipes to put together an ingredient list that resembled my days in Mexico, and got to work. Mole is not easy work!

This is what the mole looked like about half way through blending all the ingredients.

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Thank god I had made it before, otherwise I would have been REALLY concerned.

Anyway! I put it all through the food processor (if any of you ever attempt to make this at home, don’t believe them when they say that a blender will do. It won’t, and you’ll just have to wash extra dishes), and put it in the Crock Pot, as per Martha‘s instructions.

Result 

– It’s only the second time I’ve used my slow cooker, so maybe I just don’t know it well, but the edges kept burning, so my mole has an (unintentional) burny taste to it

– It’s lumpy – as fine a job as the food processor did, it can’t break up the nuts as well as a good old fashioned Mexican mill can

– It’s really sweet

– It’s not spicy enough (even though I used 12 peppers, of 4 different varieties)

– There’s a large pot of slightly off mole sitting in my fridge that I will likely not eat

Conclusion: I ain’t never making it again

Take it from me: if you want genuine, delicious Oaxacan mole, go to Oaxaca, or go to this website – Phil has offered me the BEST customer service that I have ever received, and I will be getting a few containers of genuine Oaxacan Mole Soledad in the mail in 2-4 weeks.

 


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Travel Tuesday – My 7 Super Shots

Last year, HostelBookers came up with a game called 7 Super Shots, in which they gave 7 travel photo categories.

Well, I missed the boat on the original game, but since this is Travel Photo Tuesday, I thought that I would play, albeit a little bit late!

  • A photo that…takes my breath away. I took this in Peru, in the Colca Valley – it was very early in the morning, and we were on our way to Colca Canyon to see the condors fly. The scenery and the mist (and the altitude!) took my breath away.

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  • A photo that…makes me laugh or smile. This picture was taken on Lake Nicaragua, on the ferry that took us to Ometepe Island. I talked the captain into letting me steer the boat – those are his sunglasses that I’m wearing, and the sign says ‘authorized personnel only’. One of my prouder moments!

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  • A photo that…makes me dream. Me: 21 years old, sand surfing in the peruvian desert, no responsibilities, still two months of travel ahead of me before heading back to real life. My dream right now is to get back to that state – planning a massive round the world trip!

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  • A photo that…makes me think. This is the Inti Raymi festival in Saqsaywaman, Peru. We decided to spend less time in Bolivia, to make sure that we wouldn’t miss it. As far as I know, it’ a re-enactment of an ancient royal event… although it all happened in Quichua, so I don’t actually know what happened. It makes me think about travel priorities – I still wish that I had spent time in Bolivia, but I’m also happy that I got to witness this event!

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  • A photo that…makes my mouth water. Ok, there are two of these, because the first picture is nothing special to look at. But you don’t understand. This is the best cheese sandwich you will ever have. In 2005, the bus ride from Quito to Canoa was 9 hours long, and about halfway into the journey, I would start thinking about this sandwich. Poor Marina had to listen to me go on about it for 5 hours. But she understood.
  • The second picture is from my first ever paid photography job. I took this picture for Taste, an excellent catering company based in Ottawa. This Burmese tomato salad tastes as amazing as it looks.

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  • A photo that…tells a story. Kids will be kids will be kids. I met these boys at an orphanage in Bamako, Mali. They were the ones who were too old to be adopted, and had been living there for most of their lives. Doesn’t matter – they were silly and hilarious and happy, like any other kid I’ve ever met.

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  • A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot). Come on, Nat Geo or Lonely Planet… I’m ready for you!

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Life at home

Since being in this job, I’ve spent most of my time on the road. The thing is, though, that when I’m on the road, it’s hard to keep track of office things – I get to spend time in person with my staff, and get to know the communities that my program works in, but then I don’t really spend time at the computer. This month is my busiest work month, so I’d already decided to stay home for a few weeks. I’m really lucky that I get to work from home, but I’ve been working most days for about 9 hours, and all on the computer. The work isn’t hard, and I don’t mind the hours, but it’s fiddly and annoying and makes my head hurt. I can’t wait until next month, when my job is to travel and hang out with kids all summer!

Anyway!

This morning, I was woken up by a phone call at 7, and I stared at a computer screen until 5pm. By the time everything was under control, my first thought was to go to bed, but I was feeling too restless. Based on the state of my kitchen, I knew that I wanted to get pizza for dinner, so I forced myself to get out of the house and go to the beach on the way to the pizza place. That’s right, I had to force myself out of the house. I’ve been inside for five days, and I always feel like the longer I spend time inside, the less I want to do anything.

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This is what happens when I bake while I work at home.

Well, I’m happy that I went out – a sunny day and the sound of the waves reset my brain to a more restful place, and I know what I’m doing tomorrow – more beach!

Here are some pictures of the place that I’m lucky to call home. I can’t believe that I forgot how nice it is to get out there.

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Travel Photo Tuesday

You know that awkward travel photo that didn’t work out the way you wanted it, but it ends up being one of your faves? Well, here’s one of mine.

This was on my last day in Mali – I was walking through the city with a friend when we saw these giant cows lying around, and I decided to pose next to them. Just as I was getting close, one got up, and scared the shit out of me! Look at how huge they are! Anyway – as it got up, I jumped and sort of ran away, and a couple of men behind me started laughing and teasing me about it. What you see in this picture is my reaction to them, and it always reminds me of how much people in Mali love to joke around and have fun.

This also gives you a good idea of what many street corners look like in downtown Bamako!

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