Where's Allie?

Lend me your eyes, I can change what you see

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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.


  • 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!


  • 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!


  • 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!


  • 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.



  • 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.


  • 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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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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Lost and found in Toronto

I was in Toronto this week for three days of meetings, and yesterday evening, I met a friend for dinner and offered to pay for our first round of drinks. As I reached into my purse, sure enough, my wallet was missing.

I’m not the type of person to freak out about this kind of thing, so I stayed pretty calm and pulled everything out of my bag and looked at the ground around me, just to be sure. My next step was to mentally retrace my steps:

– I took my wallet out at the office to take out a subway token

– I left the office, and took the subway

– I stood on the subway for 30 minutes.

– I walked West on Queen to University, waited there for my friend for 15 minutes, then continued on to my final stop, Queen and Spadina.

I called my boss, who was still at the office, because I figured that that was the most likely place for it to be (while fervently hoping that I hadn’t dropped it on the subway), but checked and found nothing.

I decided to retrace my steps back to the subway station. I knew that there was no way that it would just be sitting on the ground, but I felt better knowing that I had done everything I could. An hour later, I met up with my friend again – lucky for me, she paid for my dinner!

I started thinking about the next step – what did I need to do about the situation right now? Step 1 was to put a hold on my credit card and confirm that I could get a new debit card in the morning, and step two was to figure out how I could fly home next week without ID. I had no idea what to do – Air Canada tweeted back to me, which was really nice, but only to wish me luckWhen I was mugged in Peru, my situation was much worse, but at least I knew to go to the embassy and get myself a new passport. Does anyone know how to fly domestic with no ID?

Beyond that, there was nothing I could do until I got home, so there was nothing else that I needed to worry about, and I got on with my evening.

As  was lying in bed last night, I started trying to think about everything that was in my wallet, to figure out if i had anything irreplaceable. All I could think of was my credit and bank cards, a couple of gift certificates, and some cash. I was also thinking about all of lost receipts for my travel expenses.

I got up early this morning and went straight to the bank, where they gave me a new debit card after asking a series of very specific questions. I got to the office, and was still hopeful that someone had turned in my wallet. My plan of action was office -> subway lost and found -> Eaton Centre lost and found -> give up hope. My wallet hadn’t been turned in, but I was still hopeful. I went into a meeting, and by the time I came back at 11am, my wallet had been returned! Someone found it late last night, and put it in their desk. She was late coming into the office because of subway delays, but she had it!

Everything turned out really well, in the end! But I still wonder what I would have done to get home.

Just for fun (I’m currently sitting on a train), I decided to figure out what I would have lost, had I actually lost my wallet.

– Two credit cards and one bank card

– Health card + insurance information

– Driver’s license

– $310 in gift/cash cards

– $80 in cash (I never carry cash! This is the first time I’ve had any in months! Figures.)

– $150 in work expense receipts

– A bunch of loyalty cards

– An mystery 8Gb SD card containing 1500 photos, most of which I haven’t seen since I took them. Thanks to my misadventures, I discovered cool things!

This picture from a market in Mai

This picture from a market in Mali

Never before seen pictures of my adorbs nephew!

Never before seen pictures of my adorable nephew

Teaching my Katimakids how to bake bread!

Teaching my Katimakids how to bake bread

My pictures of Key West!

My pictures of Key West

Photos of me at Hopewell Rocks!

Photos of me at Hopewell Rocks


It’s Tuesday again! Photo time!

Did Tuesday take anyone else by surprise? How is it Tuesday again already?! I was hoping to put together at least one new FAQ post, but time just slipped away from me! In any case, here’s this week’s travel photo! 336335_10150849787900693_2001167490_o

I took this picture at an orphanage in Bamako. There were many rooms filled with babies, and one room for the older kids, who for one reason or another have not been adopted. How do you feel about this kind of picture? I’m always conflicted – these kids were super excited for me to take their picture, but is it the right thing to do? Ultimately, I feel ok with them as long as I don’t sell them for personal profit. I actually took these for a French man whose NGO represents the orphanage.


On learning languages

“Confidence is crucial to language learning. Be firmly convinced you are a linguistic genius.” – Lomb Kato

I’ve always spoken English and French, and it took me about a week in Mexico before I was able to convincingly string a couple of sentences together in Spanish – now I like to think that I am fluent. I love the quote above, because that’s how I perceive myself. Whether or not it’s true, it certainly helps!

My goal has always been to speak 7 languages – French, English, Spanish, German, Russian, Japanese and Mandarin, in case you’re curious. I also want to learn Arabic, Italian, Portuguese and Swahili. So 11, I guess! Now that I’ve read this article, I’m more confident than ever that it’s an easy feat to accomplish. At my core, I’m just a big nerd, and an ideal evening is spent online, learning words in a new language, and figuring out how to put those words into sentences. I usually sound like I know what I’m doing too, because I seem to be pretty good at picking up accents. Whether or not I’m saying the right thing is a different story… but laughter goes a long way in that department.

I did NOT take this picture. But one day (soon) I will go to where I can.

This morning, I had a Tibetan language lesson – I am a volunteer for the Tibetan Resettlement Project, and I couldn’t be more excited. The language lessons are an added, unexpected bonus.

I can now confidently tell you that Hello, how are you? No, I do not want tea, bring me water/beer/food. The weather is cold, the house is hot. I speak a little bit of Tibetan. See you later, goodbye.

Here it is, in my own phonetic version, if you too want to pretend that you speak Tibetan.

Tashi deleg*, kusu dépo yin pé? Cha min du. Tujézik nga la chu/chang/kala nanro na. Namshi tangmo duk, kangpa tsapo duk. Nga peukè nyung nyung chigiyuk. Jellyoong, ka le shu**.

At first, we all thought that we sounded a little rude, because no one really says please or thank you. Our teacher explained that in the Tibetan language, the sentiment is implied. By nature, you are expected to be polite and thankful.

*Tibetan language fun fact #1 – Tashi deleg means ‘good luck’

**Tibetan language fun fact #2 – Ka le shu means ‘stay peacefully’

***Blog fun fact: I could be lying. This is what I learned in one hour today. I could be wrong about everything.

If you want to read more about my linguistic prowess, make sure to check out this blog post, to learn all about buying a half kilo of bananas at any market in Mali.

But I did take this picture. They thought I was ridiculous 🙂

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Pascale – I have my plan A, now what’s my plan B?

Post number 4 from kickaction.ca’s HERstory blogging carnival! I met Pascale a few years ago, when we were both training for a CIDA internship. My internship in Mali was a bit hit and miss, but I think that her time in Bolivia was great!

1. If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?

I have my plan A, now what’s my plan B?

2. Where are you from? How has where you’re from shaped your life?
Saint-Alfred, en Beauce, Québec
3. Where do you live? How has where you live shaped your life?
Right now, I live in Québec city, but it’s temporary. I’m here for an internship. I’ve lived half my life in the countryside, which has made me quiet, introverted and close to nature. The other half of my life, I have spend moving every 8 moths or so. During my studies, I spent all my summers away from Quénec. My trips have made me more confident  and less ‘by the book’ than I would have been otherwise. South America, especially, taught me that stress does not make you happy. Also, the friendships that I developed with people that I have met throughout my travels have taught me to accept myself for who I am, and to be comfortable with myself.
4. What is your greatest achievement?
I’m proud of being financially independent from my parents, and to have been since university. It has given me a lot more freedom.
5. What is your greatest regret? Or what is your greatest fear?
I try not to have any regrets. When I make a decision, it is normally very thought out and I make sure to look at the good parts of it, without thinking about what I’m missing out on. However, I would have love to have been more of an extrovert. In high school, I was more reserved, and watched my friends do things without me. But that’s int the past, and I don’t want to look back with regret.
I’m scared of everything! I’m scared of being loney, of being useless, of putting myself out there, of becoming dependant on someone, of being rejected, etc. There is always a little something holding me back.

6. What would you tell a young girl who is struggling with something like her identity, bullying, not fitting in, etc.?
I would tell her to be strong. I know that it’s not easy, but she has to hold on. There are beautiful things in her future. She should find someone she trusts and talk to them. This person will be there for them and might be able to make things appear less scary. Don’t put pressure on youtself to be perfect – those who don’t accept her as she is do not deserve her time. She must be patient and gentle with herself. It takes time to find who you are, and she might need some time to explore that.

She does not deserve this bullying, and it is not her fault. I want her to remember that people who are different are usually the most interesting, those who have the best stories to tell and who are not scared to go off the beaten path. At the end of the day, these people have a strength that other don’t. She has more to offer than she’ll ever know. Her situation is not permanent, and she is not alone in this struggle.

7. What’s next?

I want to finish my masters, take a bike trip in the meantime, and find a job as I’m finishing school. Ideally, I would love to find a one or two year contract in another country. A husband and children are definitely something I want, but I’m not there yet. After all – what are the odds of meeting someone who will want to travel with me? Once my need to move around is under control, everything should fall it to place, or so my mum says! Hah!

I am enjoying the fact that I don’t have any real responsibilities or dependents, and I am using this time to explore all the opportunities that I have. Everything will happen in due time.


Wheresalex… been?




Turnipseed travel has just posted a link about Hilary Clinton, showing a picture of her in every country that she’s visited while in her role as secretary of state. Which got me thinking: if I can’t be travelling right now (Well, I went to Regina recently. But I don’t think that counts.), I can at least think about all the awesome adventures that I’ve had.

The other day, I was at dinner with friends, and there was a sort of name dropping happening, only they weren’t talking about people, they were talking about countries that they’ve been to. I don’t know if I’m the same – sometimes, I feel awkward mentioning that I’ve been places. I don’t want to sound braggy, or annoying. But not today! Today, I’m going to do exactly what Hillz did – I’m going to post a picture of myself in each country that I’ve visited. Because this is my blog, and if I can’t get braggy on here, where can I?!

**Note: to my past self, you, and your potential future children:

1. Smile more in your photos. Until I was about 17, I looked grumpy in most pictures. I want to reach back and slap my 11-year-old self. 

2. Make sure you take pictures of yourself. Selfies, or ask a stranger (make a friend!) I’m usually the one taking pictures, which means that I’m rarely in them.


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Happy endings

I got to spend my last night in Africa (for now) under the stars at my favourite little bar with my favourite new friends.

In my last post, I talked about a malian friend of mine. I had the pleasure of his company again tonight, and I got to hear more of his great wisdom (usually, he says things that I think of on a regular basis. It’s nice to be reminded that my vision is shared half a world away). Today’s lesson was to focus on what you’re living now, and enjoy each moment to it’s fullest – memories are what’ll stick with you, not possessions or money.

Lucky me, that I got to enjoy a great last night, great friends, great music, great last motorcycle ride under the stars. I’m leaving here richer than when I came.

Lucky me that I get to see you all again soon!

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Bamako is…

Bamako is the prevalent smell of garbage, the clouds of dust, the halo of flies over my food. Bamako is a village that got too big too soon, and still hasn’t caught up to it’s new body. It’s exhaust fumes, harried drivers, impatient honking. It’s not waiting your turn, it’s pushing ahead, it’s taking what you want and what you need, before you lose sight of it. Bamako is weaving a path between small rivers in the road, formed of human and animal waste. It’s stepping over open gutters and dead animals on the sidewalk. It’s catcalls on the side of the road and leering looks at every corner. Bamako is not knowing which smile or which handshake to trust.

Bamako is exhausting. It’s trying to speak Bambara, it’s trying to be friendly, it’s trying to fit in, it’s trying to make friends. It’s figuring out a place, trying to grasp customs that aren’t quite clear. It’s memorising landmarks and strange sounds, understanding age old traditions mingling with new technology. Bamako is trusting that everything will turn out ok.

Despite all of this, Bamako is the chatter of women and the laughter of children. It’s the smell of wood chips burning in stoves in front of every home, surrounded by men playing cards. Bamako is toddlers running after older siblings, women looking out for every child, strangers looking out for strangers. Bamako is the prayer call five times a day, the rooster crowing and the donkey braying. It’s side-stepping chickens and puddles, it’s staying out of the way of motorcycles and sotramas, it’s the constant beep of traffic. Bamako is sweet tea and sweet smiles, happy children and laughing mothers. Bamako is the smell of my bedroom after the nightly round of incense, and the quiet hum of my fan as I lie in my princess bed.

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Look both ways

We’ve all heard this talk about African time, and africans being relaxed and easy going, but the drivers of Bamako belie that saying. If being on a motorcycle makes me scared for my life, being in the front seat of a taxi makes me afraid for everyone else’s because I can clearly see the craziness of everything. Cars, taxis, sotramas (kind of half-way between a van and a truck, about the size of an ice cream truck, sotramas are the public buses of Bamako and hold up to 30 people), bicycles, donkeys and pedestrians are constantly dodging in and out of the road, in and out of the way. Once, a motorcycle almost hit my taxi, and today my taxi almost hit a small boy. Bamako is not a place where traffic lights or traffic cops are respected, and it isn’t a place where you cross the street without looking both ways about 20 times.

Today I went to the Lybia Sofitel Laico Amitié Hotel (not sure which it’s real name is, there’s also something in Arabic written on the front) to find out about getting a gym membership, and when I left it was about 4 pm – that’s usually rush hour at home, but here, rush hour seems to be every hour. I was waiting on the corner to get a taxi, and a bunch of them kept going past in the opposite direction. They would stop on their side of the road (across four lanes of traffic) and wave me over. Um, no thanks. So, I waited for quite a while, figuring that there was nowhere else I needed to be and hoping that the storm that was threatening wouldn’t break. A man came to stand next to me at the corner, I didn’t even notice him – in Bamako, there’s so much to focus on, it’s hard to notice everything. Then, a huge truck came rattling by, and the man, who was closer to the street than I was, suddenly stepped back and put an arm in front of me to usher me back, as close as I could go to the wall that was behind me. In doing so, that man saved my feet from the truck’s wheels. Then, he walked away without even looking at me.

Thanks, kind stranger!