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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Ch Ch Changes…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (this is where you nod your head, yes) you may have read my itinerary post way back in January where I laid out a list of countries in Asia I plan to visit on my upcoming RTW trip. Although Asia is still in my plans, I have made a few changes in recent weeks. As I prepare for my trip different factors have come into play, money being one and my Dad’s upcoming 75th birthday being the other. I hate the idea of being half way around the world on his birthday and thoughts of flying home for the weekend to surprise him were squashed when I looked at the price of flights. So, I’ve come up with a compromise, Central & South Americas.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Living in Canada makes Central and South America very accessible and getting there is cheap! Flying from Calgary to Bangkok will cost $1,600-$2,200 however I can take a bus down to Mexico for $270, travel throughout Central & South Americas, take a bus home to surprise my Dad for his birthday and then fly from L.A. to New Zealand and on to Asia. It’s the perfect plan- okay maybe it’s not “perfect”, but it is better.

So here is my new itinerary…

After arriving in Morelia, MX by bus, I’ll be spending about a month traveling through southern Mexico before moving on to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama (I’m not sure about Belize). I’ll then fly to Bogota, Colombia and travel through Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil before making my way towards LA to catch a flight to New Zealand.

Depending on my funds at the time, I may spend up to 6 months working and traveling through New Zealand before flying to Asia where my original itinerary still stands. This is an open-ended RTW trip and to date I have roughly 30 countries on my list of places to go. I’ll be spending a lot of time in some countries and only a few weeks in others. But either way I’m going to be embarking on an amazing adventure. Is it August yet?

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Flamingo in Cayo Coco, Cuba

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Porcupine Hills- one of the many hunting sites in Alberta

Taking in Alberta’s enormous cattle ranches and hector upon hector of cornfields, it’s hard for me to grasp how richly the area is soaked in history. In fact, it never dawned on me at all when I first moved back here in 2003. (I was born in northern Alberta, but my family left when I was just 3.) As it turns out, the province has very strong Native American roots and bragging rights to the largest deposit of dinosaur remains in the world. Discovering these layers of history has become an intriguing way of learning about a world I thought I’d left behind at a very young age. The thrilling Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is just the beginning.

The aboriginal people of the North American Plains were experts in topography and the behaviour of buffalo, and their method of using both for their own survival was ingenious. For nearly 6,000 years, the native people chased the herds of buffalo throughout the Porcupine Hills, southern Alberta and beyond. Why? For food! But catching the ox-like animals, which travel in tight herds led by dominant females, wasn’t easy. Although buffalo have poor eyesight, they have an amazing sense of smell. This made hunting them a challenge; the clever method they developed explains the odd “head-smashed-in” name of the place.

A model of how camps were set-up

“Drive lanes” were decorated with stone cairns, and below the cliffs, camps buzzed with the sounds of boiling pits and the carving of weapons and other tools needed to prepare a buffalo to eat. Once the wind started to blow over the cliffs, towards the basin, it was time. The winds made it virtually impossible for the buffalo to smell the danger ahead, so the North American Plains people skillfully drove them right to the edge of the cliffs – and then off the sides, to their dramatic deaths.

I began my tour of the area with a short walk outside to the very cliff tops where herds of buffalo once met their dramatic endings. The wind up there was insane, and I was the only person out there at the time, which I loved.  After a few minutes of being whipped around by the powerful gusts, I walked back to the interpretative centre to walk through the exhibits. I was taking notes about Napi (more on that later) when Little Leaf, an anthropologist and former teacher, approached me. Within minutes, my experience at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump shot from a standard museum/art gallery type visit to an enthralling educational experience that lasted more than two hours.

During our time together, Little Leaf was kind enough to share some Blackfoot history he had recorded on a video. If you have some time, take a look. He’s a wonderful storyteller, and I could have listened to him for hours and hours. Before you click play, think of something Little Leaf said to me before filming: when talking about Native Americans “… It is more than feathers and beads”.

Little Leaf was an entertaining man who took time to speak with me about the Blackfoot people. He talked at length about the difference between today’s Native American children and their ancestors. I found it fascinating, and a little scary, that only 2-3% of modern Native American children know and practice their traditional beliefs. As time has progressed, more and more Native American children are forsaking their own customs in an effort to fit into the Western culture. The result? Native American languages and traditions are dying.  This cultural genocide is a horrifying thought. There are so few full-blooded Native Americans still around, and even less who know and speak their language and are familiar with their legends. Theirs is no longer a co-operative environment; things have become more individualistic, more Western. Oh, how I could talk and talk about this topic, but I think it’s best to leave it for another post.

In 1981, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump became a World Heritage Site, and its Interpretive Centre opened its doors in December 1986. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the centre is designed for visitors to start at the top and work their way back down, which I found an exciting break from the norm. After viewing the hunting sites outside, I hiked up to Level 1, where visitors learn about Napi, the mythical creator of the Blackfoot people. A series of boards illustrate the creation of life and the nature and habits of buffalo: “After Napi had the earth all made, he took up some mud and made the shape of a buffalo…”

An oversized tipi reigns over the second level, Napi’s People, which boasts various artifacts, like buffalo hide, which visitors are encouraged to touch. Level 3 brings visitors to the Hunt, where one learns about the drives, and Level 4 is Cultures in Contact. There, visitors learn about the Europeans’ affect on native buffalo culture when they arrived in the early 18th century, toting unforeseen wonders like guns and horses. It’s at that time in history that the traditions and culture of the North American Plains people began to change and, in my opinion, started to decline, as they strove to adapt to Western ways.

At the beginning of Level 5 is a small 80-seat theatre, which shows a 15 min re-enactment video about the hunts. (It’s actually suggested that visitors watch the video first, before beginning their tour, so they can picture how the hunts worked.) The remainder of Level 5 focuses on the archeological aspects of the site, with boards on more modern tools, maps and how discoveries were made.

Head-Smashed-In is not just another stop to make on your tourist list; in fact if you’re planning to visit for the sake of saying you were there, don’t bother. You’re cheating yourself if you do. This site is rich in Native American culture and has powerful spiritual ties to its people. If you plan on having an “experience,” you’ve picked the right spot! Go with excitement and an open mind. If Little Leaf is walking around, stop and talk with him, as he’s a wealth of knowledge. The purpose of the centre is to share knowledge and culture, and the staff are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Who knows, maybe you’ll encounter one of the spirits Little Leaf talked to me about!

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and The Interpretative Centre are located about 16kms northwest of Fort Macleod, Alberta.  Admission fees:  Adults $9, Seniors $8, Youth 7-17 $5, Family $22 and children under 7 are FREE.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Conrad (the name the government gave him) Little Leaf for speaking with me about the site and Blackfoot and Native culture. If you’d like to learn more about the current struggles of Native American people, refer to the Indian Act here: http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/I-5/.

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Illegally Leaving London


After 2 sparkling days in Paris, London left me slightly disappointed. I was staying at St. Christopher’s in Camden Town- which wasn’t bad, but the neighbourhood was dirty. In fact I felt like I needed a HAZMAT suite as I slide into a phone booth to phone home. After walking the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, Buckingham Palace looked like a big white box with a flag (sorry, I’m really not trying to be offensive). The best part about my time in London was that the Tube was under maintenance and major downtown lines were closed while I was there, which often rendered me completely lost!

After 2 days in London I was more than ready to board a plane and fly home. I was also seriously low on funds as the GBP is so damn expensive! On the day that I was to fly home I walked into the Camden Tube station and bought a 2 zone ticket. If you’re at all familiar with the London Tube, you’ll know that in order the get to Heathrow I needed a 6 zone ticket.

I sat on the train enjoying the scenery until we left the downtown core, then I was looking for cops at every station who would likely come aboard, discover my ticket was no good, and either kick me off or give me some insanely expensive ticket. It was a nervous ride to Heathrow, but when the train finally stopped I was relieved. I had made it all the way to the airport without incident. Until I reached the top of the stairs, saw the transit guys and the turnstiles.

Crap! I knew my ticket would just pop back out of the machine and I wouldn’t be able to pass. I had very little change in my pocket, and no way to pay for a proper ticket. I decided to hold back a little as it was busy and I didn’t want to have some huge embarrassing scene that would result in my crying, being ticketed or yelled at. So I walked towards a wall with my backpack and pretended to look for something while the crowd dissipated.

It was while standing at the wall that I notice a gate with a guard that’s used for passengers with large luggage. But he would stop me as well and ask to see my ticket. I had almost gathered my nerves when two women started asking the transit dude some questions. I hesitated for only a minute before swallowing hard, grabbing my pack and walking towards the gate. I smiled, looked straight ahead and walked right through without him noticing, and I kept walking! In fact I was too nervous to look back in case somebody had clued in!

Yep, I know what you’re thinking… “Oooo some rebel you are!” as you sarcastically whistle. But I’ll have you know that although I have never been inside some Turkish prison, I do have a problem with confrontation and sneaking past some transit dude who could cause some seriously embarrassing moments for me makes me a rebel. So raspberries to you!! ☺

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Whether you’re Irish or not, St. Patrick’s Day is fun for everyone. Saint Patrick is one of the most recognizable patron saints of Ireland. Although it began as a Catholic holiday, it is now a public holiday celebrated around the world. Saint Patrick’s Day gives us a reason to dress in green, drink copious amounts of alcohol and channel our inner Irishman/ Irishwoman. Whether you’re Irish or not! This morning my plan was simple. I would go to Crave Cupcakes to buy  some of their St. Paddy specials and then start a pub crawl when the pubs opened at 11am. Oh, how my plans changed!

Crave opened at 10am and I was one of the first to walk inside for some yummy St. Paddy Day treats- namely their Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Cream Cheese icing and some Cupcakes with Bailey’s icing (along with a few mini vanilla cupcakes with green icing). I know what you’re thinking, my poor teeth!  Normally I would agree, but these cupcakes weren’t for me, they were for complete strangers. My first cupcake went to a homeless woman near the Rose & Crown Pub.

This homeless woman blew me away. I loved seeing her face light up. When I asked to take her photo, I assured her that her face would not be shown.

It was great to see the look on her face when I offered the cupcake. It wasn’t a huge gesture, but it was my way of spreading a little St. Patrick’s Day Cheer.  My plan after that was to start my pub crawl at the Rose & Crown (1503 4th St SW, Calgary), then move on to Local 510, and possibly the Yardhouse and hand out cupcakes as I went along. If you haven’t guessed already, that didn’t happen! The rest of the cupcakes went inside the Rose & Crown Pub and stayed there.

Originally built as a funeral home in the 1920’s, the building (pictured left) was turned into the Rose & Crown Pub in 1986. As you can imagine, being a former funeral home, the Rose & Crown is know to be haunted, with faint images of a little boy showing up in photographs and staff or patrons having slight encounters in various parts of the building.

The Rose & Crown Pub has a warm, cozy feel to it; with its yellow walls and dark wood. There are 3 floors to choose from, with comfortable seats and attentive staff, and the best part of all? They offer FREE parking to their patrons!

When the doors opened at 11am, I was a little shy about being the first patron. You know, the loser who shows up early to the party. However within minutes of sitting down at the bar my nervousness was quickly squashed by the fun and friendly staff. As I sat there sipping my 1st pint of Guinness, watching the bartenders (Sam and Annie) gear up for a busy day, I decided that the Rose & Crown would become my new neighbourhood bar in Calgary.

Within a couple hours the bar was starting to hop with patrons. Beer was flowing from the taps, I was enjoying some nachos and Sam and Annie had scored some yummy cupcakes.  Although the pub wasn’t as busy as last year, there was still a great vibe. The place was a buzz with tons of people talking at once, Brent Tyler singing Irish tunes and staff walking around occasionally to offer free shots, t-shirts and silly Guinness hats.

My plan to go on a pub crawl was shot. I was in love with the Rose & Crown and I wasn’t moving from my chair (except to pee)! I sat there for 5 hours. I drank 4 pints of beer, ate some nachos, met some great people and found a place to hang out when I’m in the mood for a drink or some great pub food.

I may only be 1/4 Irish (Northern Irish at that!), but I can still channel my ancestors and celebrate. For me it’s a small connection to my family’s heritage- like boxing, oh how I love boxing… Plus we Irish (I know it’s horrible grammar, deal with it) know how to have a good time. We may get completely drunk, but we’ll have fun doing it! In fact, I think we’re the friendliest drunks around!

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