A Travellerspoint blog

COVID-19: Emergency Return Home from International Travel

Returning to Canada during an International Emergency

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The day after I arrived in Chicago, the US declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suffice it to say, my timing was terrible. I immediately started questioning whether to cut my trip short, or stay the full two and a half weeks. I erred on the side of caution and very quickly contacted my airline. Although it took a while to get through, they were very accommodating and actually changed my ticket with no additional fee. If you're uncertain about change/cancelation policies, call the airlines because many airlines are making exceptions due to this extreme situation e.g. Porter was offering free changes even on restrictive basic fares. If you have issues which you can't resolve through the airline or insurance, you can try the government's transport dispute resolution services: https://rppa-appr.ca/eng/file-air-travel-complaint.

I found it interesting that Illinois shut down restaurants and bars earlier than Ontario, but that the federal reaction in Canada was much swifter. It turned out that the Prime Minister's wife was diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus so maybe that contributed to the thorough response. In any case, Justin Trudeau held press conferences stating that Canadians abroad needed to come home immediately. There was a later announcement that borders were closing between the US and Canada for non-essential travel. And the policies are morphing rapidly - in fact, initially travellers returning home were just asked to stay home for 14 days and now they're legally required to do so. In any case, this is an awful time to be stranded abroad regardless of whether you're somewhere you'd like to be or not.

For anyone still abroad, you need to act now. And when you make it back, remember that you must self-isolate for 14 days. This is a legal obligation, not a casual demand. This means that you can't even leave your house or apartment for walks and certainly not for grocery store runs. In fact, there are multiple delivery services and even community organizations that are available to pick up groceries, medicine, etc. for people in self-isolation.

I also suggest signing up for the government's Canadians abroad registry (https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/registration) - in fact, this is a helpful thing to do before any trip, regardless of whether there's a global pandemic or not. I feel strongly about purchasing travel insurance for each trip too, whether it's the US or any other country, you'll find yourself in a nightmarish scenario if you aren't adequately prepared and supported.

"Eligible Canadians currently outside Canada and needing help to return home can contact the nearest Government of Canada office or Global Affairs Canada’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email sos@international.gc.ca." And Trudeau has even announced loans of up to $5000, although I'm not sure whether that's only for travelers without insurance. He's also announced funding to support Canadians struggling financially during this crisis (see: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2020/03/introduces-canada-emergency-response-benefit-to-help-workers-and-businesses.html).

In terms of your travel journey, be aware that if you're symptomatic Trudeau had announced they won't let you in. That being said, it really disappointed me that when I left Midway Airport in Chicago on March 17 there were multiple passengers milling about the airport coughing freely (i.e. not into their elbows, or even their hands). So, I 100% suggest bringing hand sanitizer, a mask, bags to store dirty/clean items, bring contained snacks, and even gloves, if possible. When I arrived at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, I was happy that they were being more diligent - I was asked twice by officials whether I was symptomatic (thank goodness I wasn't!), and had to fill out an online declaration before they provided me with a handout loaded with information about who to call in case of emergency. In Ontario, you can do an online assessment (https://covid-19.ontario.ca/self-assessment/#q0) and if needed, call Public Health Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your doctor's office. Of course, if your symptoms are severe and you're having extreme shortness of breath, fever, and a persistent dry cough then you may need to consider going to an ER.

It's so important right now to wash your hands thoroughly, maintain distance, and as much as possible just stay home and stay safe. Although it's not a good time to travel, it's a great time to work on your bucket list. Be creative and immerse yourself while picturing your trip: for example, make a good Turkish meal, listen to some Turkish music, and plot your next trip to Turkey! Take care, and get home safely!

Posted by madrugada 20:33 Archived in USA Tagged toronto chicago canada pandemic united_states coronavirus covid emergency_travel return_to_canada reentry Comments (0)

Feliz Navidad Mexico

All-Inclusive Time in Cancun

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Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Beach/Resort
- Day 2: Day trip to town
- Day 3: Day trip to Tulum or Chichen Itza
- Day 4: Beach/Resort
- Day 5: Beach/Resort

Where to Stay
- RIU Palace Peninsula (roughly $350 CAD/night)

Where to Eat
- Resort restaurants

What to Bring
- bug spray, sunscreen, dressy and casual clothing, swimsuit, flip flops, hat, sunglasses, umbrella, hiking boots (if you choose to do a day trip), medicine (e.g. for GI distress)

My Travel Diary
The December holiday season is magical: regardless of your religious leanings, it’s a time for celebration and togetherness with loved ones. In that vein, my boyfriend and I decided to take our final trip of 2019 and enjoy pre-Christmas festivities in Cancun, Mexico. We had already traveled to Mexico in February 2019, but hadn’t made it as far south as Cancun. Another thing we hadn’t done? Stay in an all-inclusive resort. To be honest, all-inclusives aren’t my go-to for a vacation. I feel guilty about the amount of consumption and waste, and also strange not having planned out a daily itinerary. I’m always the planner, but my boyfriend is always the driver and this time he really wanted a relaxing vacation, that is to say: he was sick of being my chauffeur. In spite of my concerns, and the short time frame, I was really excited to visit Mexico again – especially just before Christmas – so we booked our trip on the Friday and left on the Monday.

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We stayed at the RIU Palace Peninsula because my boyfriend had been there before and really enjoyed the staff, hotel room, views and - most importantly - the food. One bite of the fresh papaya, and I agreed with his assessment. My love of quesadillas, as usual, got the better of me and my waist… cheesey as that sounds. I also enjoyed the hotel’s entertainment: from a Mexican fiesta to a foam party.

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The other guests weren’t particularly participatory, but that didn’t affect our interactions. In fact, we both won prizes… likely because there were no other competitors. We were able to wander over to the neighbouring RIU Caribe and access their amenities too, which we both appreciated. If I were to go back, I would stay at the RIU Palace Peninsula again though because I preferred the aesthetic and also the food. One complaint about both RIUs is that the beach wasn’t too appealing given the copious quantities of seaweed, and my sighting of a sting ray. Instead, a lot of my time was spent participating in the hotel’s activities and reading on the beach. In fact, it basically went from a romantic getaway with my boyfriend to becoming a romantic getaway with Michelle Obama.

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I was glad to have casual and fancy clothes because the days were full of beachy reading and walks, and the nights involved classy dinners. Regardless of the level of formality, all my clothes had excellent elastic bands to match the food portions. After dinner, we often wandered to the beach to watch the moonlight reflect off the ocean’s waves. One night we rested on beach recliners, but that idea promptly came back to bite us in the ass when I realized that we were covered in ants. I suppose you can’t have beauty without pain. Apparently, I also can’t escape bugs – no matter where we stay or go.

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We ended up staying in the hotel’s vicinity every day, which was a shame because I have wanted to see Chichen Itza and Tulum since I lived in Mexico in 2008. The day trips were a bit pricey, and neither of us wanted to spend that many hours in a car given how short our trip was. It didn't help that I had just suffered serious motion sickness trauma coming back from Hawaii. So instead of spending any more hours traveling down rough roads, we appreciated the Mayan ruins from 300-600 AD that we were able to walk to from our hotel. The ruins were one of eight pre-Hispanic settlements in that area, created because they were along a trade route.

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Although it was a quick and easy trip, we both found it recharging. I felt more motivated to further immerse myself in Spanish media, including movies and music; and my boyfriend was ready to return to work energized and enthusiastic. I was also inspired to sing “Feliz Navidad” on a daily basis, which may or may not have been appreciated by friends and family. Although disappointed with my lyrical choices, they were really pleased with the Mexican culinary treats they received as Christmas gifts. Mexican cuisine never disappoints – unless it results in Montezuma’s Revenge.
Fortunately, our holiday trip to Cancun (unlike the Costa Rican getaway) didn’t involve any bathroom disasters. And regardless of how naughty or nice I was in 2019, I benefited from Santa’s great gifts: the wonderful partner I have, and the beautiful opportunities we’ve been given. This was a fitting final trip for 2019 because it was a perfect balance between my past (living in Mexico) and our future (wherever that may be). In sum, I hope 2020 is full of plentiful beaches and burritos for all.

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Posted by madrugada 18:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged beach vacation mexico cancun all_inclusive relaxing_getaway sand_and_sea Comments (0)

Hawaiian Island Hopping

Aloha Oahu and the Big Island!

Sample Itinerary for 5 days on Oahu and 5 days on the Big Island

Day 1: Arrive in Honolulu, Oahu
- Walk around Waikiki and down Ala Wai blvd.
- Swim at Ala Moana Beach

Day 2: Honolulu
- Hike Diamond Head
- Explore historical sites: King Kamehameha’s statue, Iolani Palace, the State Capitol and Kawaiaha’o Church
- Swim and dine at Waikiki

Day 3: Honolulu and the East Coast
- Hanauma Bay
- Makapu’u hike
- Waimanalo (for lunch)
- Pearl Harbour
- Dinner in Waikiki

Day 4: North Shore and Polynesian Cultural Center
- Haleiwa (for breakfast)
- Laniakea Beach (check out the turtles!)
- Waimea Beach
- Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay Resort
- Polynesian Cultural Center (including the lu’au buffet dinner)

Day 5: Kane’ohe area and Honolulu
- Byodo-In Temple
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike
- Pali Lookout
- Ala Moana Beach to watch sunset
- Fly to the Big Island

Day 6: Kona on the Big Island
- Walk around town
- Swim at Magic Sands Beach

Day 7: Kona's Surrounding Sites
- Snorkel at Two Step Beach
- Visit Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park
- Check out Kealakekua Bay

Day 8: Drive east to Hilo
- Manini'owali Beach/Kua Bay
- Lunch in Waimea
- Chasing waterfalls: Akaka, Umauma, Rainbow

Day 9: Volcanoes
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Day 10: Back west to Kona and fly home
- Botanical World Adventures near Hilo
- Maunakea
- Mountain Thunder Coffee Company near Kona
- Stroll around Kona and watch sunset at Magic Sands Beach

Where to Stay
- Honolulu, Oahu: Wyndham Vacation Resorts Royal Garden at Waikiki
- Kona, Big Island: Airbnb

Where to Eat
Oahu
- Nanding’s Bakery near Diamond Head – the best macadamia nut cookie you’ll ever have
- Duke’s Waikiki Restaurant - great salad buffet, and right on the beach
- World Famous Hawaii HotDogs beside the State Supreme Court - hot dogs pair well with lilikoi (passionfruit) soda
- Hawaiian Island Café in Waimanalo - the gorg sandwich is amazing!
- Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa – mocha freeze was a great way to wake up
- Koa Pancake House in Kane’ohe – excellent macadamia nut sauce on the pancakes

Big Island
- Fish Hopper Restaurant in Kona -- beautiful view of the water, and tasty breakfast
- Annie's Burgers in Kealakekua -- award-winning burgers
- Humpy's in Kona -- good food, better view of the beach volleyball court right next door
- Waimea Coffee Company -- good caffeinated beverages
- Cafe Pesto -- best restaurant in Hilo, hands-down
- Papa Pa'aluo Bakery -- amazing apple bran muffins
- Island Ono Loa Grill in Kona -- creative burgers

What to Bring
- Sunscreen, dressy and casual clothing, swimsuit, flip flops, hat, sunglasses, umbrella, hiking boots/running shoes, USD cash, assistive devices, etc.

My Travel Diary
Departing from Chicago for Oahu, the Hawaiian island with roughly two-thirds of the state’s population, we had to fly through Oakland. When we arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city, we were both exhausted from our 10+ hours of flying so we promptly picked up our Alamo rental car and headed straight to the Wyndham Vacation Resorts Royal Garden at Waikiki. Unfortunately, the parking there was pricey, so instead we parked about 20 minutes away where the street parking was free and available. As it turns out there is free parking right beside the hotel on Ala Wai blvd., but it’s rarely available since it’s such a hot commodity. Tiredness aside, we were both really happy to feel the Hawaiian heat (yes, even at night you could feel it!).

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Since we were in Hawaii for such a short time and had decided to explore two islands, our itinerary was packed. This approach is not for everyone, and if/when we go back we'll likely try for a longer trip so that we can spend more time relaxing, and also budget time for more islands: Kauai and Maui. Back to Oahu! As soon as we woke up on our first day in Honolulu, I was already pushing us both out the door to hike Diamond Head. In my rush, I forgot to bring cash – big mistake! You can’t enter Diamond Head, whether you’re walking, running, or driving, without cash. Our delay had a plus side though: it meant more time to savor the baked treats we’d purchased at Nanding’s Bakery. Once we finally got our cash (we only needed $1 USD per person to walk in!) and made it back to Diamond Head, it was already packed. We still managed to find a free parking spot on the way in, and save ourselves slightly more cash… to later spend on cookies, clearly. When you arrive at the base of the trail, you’ll notice some explanatory signs. That’s where I learned that Diamond Head was named such by explorers in the 1700s who thought the calcite crystals there were actually diamonds, but in Hawaiian it’s known as Le’ahi because its profile resembles the ahi fish.

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The trail is open every day from 6 am to 6 pm, although you can’t enter after 4:30 pm. It’s only a 1.3-kilometre hike to the summit, but you’re climbing up 560 feet. The hike itself wouldn’t have been too challenging compared to what I’ve done in the past, but compounded with the lack of sleep, my underlying conditions, and heat, it caused my body to react in strange ways. I felt lightheaded, heavy chested, and nauseous to the point where I made it about 10 minutes from the top and had to turn around. I get really upset when I set goals that I don’t reach. My boyfriend kept going and showed me photos, but that’s just not the same. It seems that I turned around at a popular spot because I ended up hiking down with some other Canadians (whose accents were just as absent as mine). When I reached the bottom, I purchased one of the many pineapple products available to drown my sorrows. I also took a look in the mirror, and realized that I resembled the lobster from the Little Mermaid. Not a good look.

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Keeping with the diamond theme, we drove by the Diamond Head Lighthouse, which was first built in 1899 and later rebuilt in 1917. After our brief drive southeast, we returned to Honolulu to see King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani’s respective statues, Iolani Palace, the State Capitol and Kawaiaha’o Church. The church was the first built on Oahu, in the early to mid 1800s and continues to use Hawaiian in parts of its service. It’s made of coral rock, which I found really visually appealing. The most beautiful building though, to me, was the Iolani Palace. Surprisingly, it was only finished in the late 1800s but the site had already served as residence to multiple Hawaiian kings (in another building that was later demolished), and was considered a site of worship prior to that. The last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani, was actually imprisoned there for months after her ousting from the throne. There’s a lot to explore at the palace, and it’s open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 3:30 pm with admission set at $20 USD using an audio guide, which is available in nine languages.

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Right behind the palace are huge, graceful banyan trees, a statue of Queen Liliuokalani and the Hawaiian State Capitol building, which is open to public visits. I’d recommend taking a tour if you’re interested in architecture – particularly if you like Bauhaus or 1960s architecture.

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While you’re in the area it’s worth paying homage to King Kamehameha who united the islands we now call Hawaii in the early 1800s. His bronze statue stands tall at 18-feet in front of Aliiolani Hale (Hawaiian Supreme Court Building). History doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think it’s a crucial part in understanding the current societies you’re visiting. In any case, all of these sites were in short walking distance to each other, so the only real challenge was finding parking. The consistent issue on all of our road trips – unless we’re headed to rural areas, like the Maritimes, or small-town Georgia – was definitely the availability and cost of parking.

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Honolulu has a number of beautiful beaches, including Waikiki. Our favourite spots were: the beach that Maita’i Catamaran launches from and Ala Moana Beach. Both had beautiful views, but the Ala Moana Beach definitely had less available space when evening came as it turned into a prop for engagement photos. In fact, the one evening it looked like a factory farm of engagement photos as about six couples were lined up in a row taking up most of the shoreline for their “unique” photoshoots.

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I understand the hesitation in visiting Waikiki because of all the crowds, but I actually enjoyed the strip. Then again, I like Vegas, so what do I know? As we were walking toward Waikiki for the first time, we were caught off guard by the number of SWAT team vehicles and men with machine guns hanging out in front of a hotel. What further confounded us, was that tourists were still freely milling about… If there were an emergency, wouldn’t the area be cordoned off? Or are Hawaiians just that laid back? As it happens, we had accidentally walked onto the set of Hawaii Five-O. Feeling pretty VIP after that, we got ourselves a fancy corner seat at Duke’s Waikiki and ate our hearts out with my boyfriend’s Hawaiian friend. After the feast, we took a stroll past the Moana Hotel, which was Waikiki’s first hotel (opened in 1901), and savoured all the Christmas festivities in the outdoor malls and streets. The beauty of a busy area like Waikiki is that there are always events happening – from live quilting lessons to matcha tastings in the Japanese Market to ukulele concerts on the streets. From the get-go, Honolulu had me feeling all the aloha.

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Honolulu was great, but our favourite moments were in the southeast and north of the island. We were happy to explore the more rural areas of Oahu. We drove east along the H1 exploring all the stops we could along the way, including a seaside park where my boyfriend tested his Tarzan skills by climbing a tree. We also drove past Hanauma Bay, Halona Blow Hole, and Sandy Beach Park. Parking was fairly tough along the way because there was so much tourism. We were still able to stop a few times to take brief strolls by the water and climb the chunky rocks. The most stunning views, hands-down, were at Makapu’u Point. We arrived on a beautiful day, so we could see 26 miles across the Kaiwi Channel to the island of Moloka’i. Roughly 20 000 years ago, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, and Kaho’dawe were a single island when sea level was lower. Nowadays humpback whales are able to swim through the channel between November and April. Anyway, the hike itself was about 1.5 miles with no shade, restrooms or water but it was paved which means it’s still a good place to visit on a rainy day. Apparently the trail (before it was paved) was made in 1909 for mules/horses to reach the previous lighthouse property. As is the norm, the lighthouse was automated in the 1970s meaning that the families who lived there had to leave. It’s amazing when you think about how the places you visit have shifted in time and place – from the geological changes, to the human footprints.

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Driving around Oahu was breathtaking, from the seaside views to the journey through the Ko’olau Mountain Range which stood like noble green gatekeepers bowing for us to travel through. I also enjoyed our drive through the interior, past the Dole pineapple plantation (which was closed, unfortunately!) up to Haleiwa. Driving around listening to local radio was fascinating – from all the casual conversation about Filipinos (I'm not sure why?) to the ongoing pop music obsession with “Hot Girl Bummer”. It felt like the whole island was a tight community, which wouldn’t be surprising given the size. Although, when we delved a bit deeper we found out that there is some resentment toward perceived foreigners; so, when we saw the Hawaiian flags flying upside down, we came to understood it’s a form of visual protest.

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The North Shore is a very different vibe. It was even more relaxed, if that’s humanly possible. We loved watching the massive waves crashing into the land, but unfortunately didn’t have many opportunities to hike because of the windy, rainy weather. We stopped briefly at Laniakea Beach where we sought out giant turtles. Sadly, we saw none but later on the Big Island my boyfriend was lucky enough to swim with one at the Magic Sands Beach. Next, we jumped out at Kawela Bay Beach Park to visit the secluded beach and incidentally stumbled upon huge banyan trees that were used in scenes from the TV show “Lost”. Right next door is the Turtle Bay Resort where “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was filmed, so we continued our Hollywood tour. To be honest, it didn’t seem worth the cost to stay there so I’m glad we just paparazzi’d and left. The natural beauty is so bountiful that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars to stay at an exclusive resort in order to soak up the scenery.

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Some of the strangest experiences we had on this entire trip were at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Laie on the northeast coast of Oahu. The city’s history is interesting because it was a sanctuary for fugitives until the early 1800s. Since the 1860s it’s become the Hawaiian Mecca for Mormons. Unbeknownst to me when I purchased our tickets, the PCC is owned and operated by the Mormon Church. They've stated that the profits all go to daily operations and the student-employees from Brigham Young University (the campus is right next door). I wasn’t aware of any of this when I purchased tickets – all I knew was that the prices were high ($123 USD each), but the reviews were excellent. When we first arrived, we felt like we’d hit Polynesian Disneyworld – cultural presentations, activities, and a lu’au! We set out to learn more about Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) before the 4pm lu’au began. We started at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which was an eye-opener into the traumatic effects of concussions on these football players, including suicide. We then moved onto lighter things, by engaging in a ukulele lesson. I’ve been meaning to learn to play for years, so I really appreciated the introductory lesson. I’ve committed to buying one before 2021. There were plentiful activities, including a canoe ride through the grounds where we learned about patterns of migration through the islands and started learning some local lingo. I’m a much better linguist than spear thrower, as we learned in Tonga. We also tragically learned that I’m unable to board a Tongan outrigger canoe without dropping my phone in the murky Polynesian lagoon. A man reached in quickly and grabbed it for me but it was soaked by that point. I can’t pretend that I didn’t mope about it; all my photos were on there, not to mention my point of contact with others around the world through social media, etc. We still continued on our canoe ride but it all felt like a blur until we hit the lu’au where I was given a real orchid lei, which made me feel ok… until I started having terrible allergic reactions to it! It turns out a small percentage of the population has allergies to orchid sap. Count me in.

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The most enjoyable games at the PCC were definitely from the Maori area. We played Maui Matau, which is a stick game requiring rapid hand-eye coordination and an astute ability to predict others’ behaviour. We also really enjoyed the Titi Torea game. After I deemed myself the big winner, we agreed to get matching Fiji warrior (temporary) tattoos. We also ate some celebratory Tahitian coconut bread, which was made in the ground. Surprisingly, it was even better than the lu'au food - although that's not saying much. I was fairly disappointed by the lu'au meal, but the people were very helpful – bringing me rice in a Ziploc bag to help my battered, drowned phone recover. The show itself was wonderful. We learned all about Queen Lili’uokalani, the last ruling monarch and only sovereign queen of Hawaii (who also happened to be a skilled composer!). She ruled until 1893 when the US overthrew the monarchy, and she was then placed under house arrest. This gave us greater context for why there’s still ongoing contempt of “foreign interference” for some people there.

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Speaking of interference, it became clear fairly early on that the cultures being shared were more than just Polynesian when all the staff there kept asking if we’d yet visited the Brigham Young University campus, or seen the Mormon temple. While staff were wandering the audience at shows trying to convince people to go on a Hawaiian mission settlement tour, we just didn’t engage. We just consistently shut down any of the missionary talk, in favour of questions about the Polynesian islands instead. It’s neither here nor there really because the place was fascinating, but if you’re not interested in supporting the Mormon church then you should probably be aware of who’s running PCC. We were happy to enjoy the PCC in our way, sticking to ourselves, and enjoying the entertainment. We had a lot of fun watching the Huki Canoe Celebration, which showed clothing and dances from all the islands. Later, we appreciated the skills it took to perform the Ha: Breath of Life show. All the seats had fairly good views, but you’d probably need to reach out in advance if you have accessibility needs. The show had incredible pyro displays, like men even sitting on fire! The music was great too. Although I was irritated at myself for breaking my phone, it probably made me more present in enjoying the shows. There’s often a silver lining to frustrating situations…

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The next day we explored the area around Kane’ohe, including the Byodo-In Temple. It’s located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains. The Temple was established in 1968 to commemorate 100 years since the Japanese landed in Hawaii, and it’s modeled after the 950-year-old original temple in Uji, Japan. Unlike the PCC, there was no one actively trying to convince you about anything regarding their religion, so I felt more comfortable initiating engagement with an elderly gentleman who prays there. I had used the last of my cash to get us into the temple grounds, so we couldn’t make any purchases in the restaurant on the grounds, but we built up a bit of an appetite walking the grounds (and by that, I mean following the black swans around).

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We were relieved to find out there was no cost to do the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, although I hadn’t expected it to be as rugged as it was. It had started drizzling by the time we arrived, so I was confused about whether to put on sunscreen, bug spray (not necessary on Oahu), or take an umbrella. It ended up being an uncomfortable, but beautiful hike. It was very steep at the beginning with no clear path, and the drizzle had made the path slippery. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long but the skies broke open with fury. We beat the windy assault to make it all the way to the top. We were then blown away by the rich colours of the water, grass, and sky. Once we made it to the top, the challenge felt worth it: my concerns about what happened at Diamond Head, the lack of infrastructure, the bad weather – it drifted away with the waves. The reason it’s called the “pillbox” hike is because at the top there’s a concrete pillbox, which soldiers used to hide in to watch for incoming enemies during the war. I'm not sure how anyone could focus on approaching enemies with such gorgeous views.

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I found myself inappropriately dressed when we stopped at the Pali Lookout. Due to high winds, my loose t-shirt became a liability. Every two minutes the wind would hit and my hair would attack my face, while the t-shirt would fly up like it was trying to escape this world. Suffice it to say, the pretty views couldn’t keep me away from the car for very long. The expensive parking also helped keep me anchored to my car seat because we decided to leave almost as soon as we came. The only photos we got were utterly ridiculous, but we still enjoyed ourselves regardless. If you have accessibility issues, Pali is a good option because you can just park and then the views are a couple of minutes away (on paved ground), there’s no hiking required.

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Before leaving Oahu, I’d recommend taking time to pay respects at the Pearl Harbour Visitor Center, which also serves as a memorial site. I will warn that it can be tricky to secure tickets because it’s done online and it’s a matter of first come first serve. The moral of the story: check early and be vigilant! There are multiple options, and we chose the free one – the USS Arizona Memorial. It entailed a 75 minute program with film and boat trip to the memorial. The memorial itself was built on top of the shipwreck of the USS Arizona, which made it eerie but meaningful. It’s simple and calming: white rectangular blocks with wide slits on top and at both sides, where it also sags; it’s higher on both ends to represent victory sandwiching the sagging defeat of lives lost in the middle. It was powerful visiting the memorial for many reasons, including the constant stream of leaking oil which reminds us of the ongoing impact of the previous devastation. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many survivors of the attacks on Pearl Harbour on that fateful day of December 7, 1941, felt guilt in the aftermath because I think that's a common response to tragedy; I was surprised that many of them have been cremated with their lost brethren. It turned out that a number of ships were destroyed that day, and over 2400 people were killed – many of whom remain lost in the waters below. The site also served to educate people by explaining the history of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and how it led to America’s involvement in World War II. In fact, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour to reduce any potential challenges to their own intentions of taking over Southeast Asia, e.g. The Philippines. Of course, there are many theories about how things played out – many centered on the fact that Japanese planes (forming the largest aircraft carrier strike ever up until 1941) were able to attack in spite of active Hawaiian radar monitoring the airs, and also sail their fleet over 4 000 miles undetected. In some ways visiting Pearl Harbour becomes an academic exercise in studying political and military strategy, historical context, and current culture; but, it’s still a site of great loss and conduct should reflect that.

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For me, it’s important to reflect on how the tragedy impacts our individual and collective actions nowadays. How do we memorialize? How do we identify as communities and nations? How do we protect our most vulnerable? And how do we come to share the narrative of caring, in spite of political difference? Overall, Oahu felt like paradise. We were able to learn about Hawaiian history and current culture, explore incredible hikes and take in beautiful scenery, eat all the macadamia nuts we never knew we needed, and soak up the sun. I kept wondering why we don’t live there, but then I realized the fatal flaw: the sense of isolation would surround me. It was hard for me living on an island on the west coast of Canada, and I was relatively close to the mainland (I could do a day trip, if needed!) – knowing myself, I don’t think I could handle being such a distant flight away from family and friends. Travel helps you push yourself, but also makes you realize your limits.

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Travel between Hawaiian islands isn't as cheap as I expected, but the diversity of experiences is great. As soon as we arrived on the Big Island, we realized that it would be a much more rural experience than Oahu. The lack of light meant that it was slightly challenging finding our Airbnb, but once we did arrive we were happy with how private and spacious it seemed. At the end of the day, each couple is different but I like to have as much alone time as possible with my boyfriend on our trips given that we're already in a long-distance relationship which means limited face-to-face. It's been wonderful traveling with him because we like to do similar things: physical activity, cultural exercises, and delicious dining. As usual, we started our time in Kona at a restaurant. We chose Fishhopper because they had a nice view of the water and a good selection of food. The guava jam turned out to be terrific! I love visiting tropical destinations because the food reminds me of my family, and the meals we would have when visiting them in South Africa. Travel is always about taste.

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Kona is the big city on the Big Island apparently, but its population only sits at about 15 000 people according to locals we spoke with and it can't compare in size to Honolulu which is home to around 70% of Hawaii's total population. Thinking Honolulu is like all of Hawaii would be a problem though. It's like considering Toronto representative of Ontario, or Canada - it's not, in the slightest. We really enjoyed Honolulu, but we were also happy to see the smaller towns and more recent volcanic scenery. That being said, my boyfriend loves the beach. So when our local host suggested Magic Sands Beach, we were happy to follow his advice. We had a lot of fun frolicking in the waves, but I don't enjoy turning into a prune quite so much. Unfortunately, my aversion to wrinkles meant that I missed the giant sea turtle that was swimming by us in search of Nemo. One girl screamed and ran out of the water. According to my boyfriend, the turtle was giant and looked prehistoric, so I can understand why she ran for land. I wouldn't be interested in coming face to face with Jurassic World either.

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The other beach we enjoyed was called Two Step, although it's more of a snorkeling spot than anything else. My boyfriend actually borrowed snorkel gear from our hosts and so he was able to see the underwater world surrounding us. Instead, I observed the social dynamics surrounding me. Suffice it to say, there was blood, gore, and drama. Literally, there was a woman with a bloody hand. It turned out she had stuck her hand flat onto a sea urchin, and it was full of black spikes and dropping blood. Let this be a lesson to anyone who's visiting that area, please be aware of where you stick your hands. In fact, that's a good life lesson overall! Just south of that site is Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, which was a place of refuge and royal grounds. It also functions as a cemetery of sorts as 23 chiefs are buried there. Hawaiian islands have been populated since around 900 - 1100 CE and people continued back and forthing to Tahiti til the 1400s when chiefdoms flourished on the islands. We continued our history tour by visiting Kealakekua Bay where James Cook first had contact with Hawaiians in 1779. After all the learning, we had to do some eating so we conducted a burger tour around Kona. As a former vegetarian, I have to admit that burgers were one of the few things I missed, and I definitely made up for lost time while in Hawaii.

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We went north of Kona to visit Kua Bay and Manini'owali White-Sands Beach. I was really touched seeing a woman use her hands and arms to move herself to avoid the waves because she had no control of her feet and legs. It was great that she was able to enjoy that beach on her own terms. Traveling in spite of chronic illness or accessibility needs can be challenging, but it's so important to remember that modifying an experience doesn't diminish it. I lose sight of that myself sometimes, like when I can't complete a hike (i.e. Diamond Head) I get really angry at my limitations but in those moments I forget my abilities. Anyway, we continued east to Waimea where we had a coffee stop before continuing east to get to the Umauma Falls near Hilo. The area wasn't well-maintained, but you still have to pay an admission fee. I enjoyed the scenery so much that we kept chasing waterfalls. We were going against destiny though, and the rains started coming down hard to halt us. We made it to Akaka Falls, but couldn't get out of the car due to the rain storms. We shouldn't have been surprised though because Hilo is on the wetter side of the Big Island, and we were visiting during the wet season. The only thing dry was our sense of humour.

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I found Hilo very troubling. It had more dilapidated buildings, and a very visible problem with drug-use and lack of shelter. Hawaii is a study in contrasts: some of the most gorgeous scenery (and beautiful houses) I've ever been privileged enough to visit, but also some deep poverty. It turns out that much of the poverty is concentrated in the Hilo area. There is an active campaign to prevent drug abuse with slogans like "smoke salmon, not drugs". I can't really comment further given that I'm not part of the community. I can say that I felt very lucky to be visiting and I tried to really make the most of it, and support local businesses all over. I also loved the scenery close to Hilo, which included black sands beaches, waterfalls, and botanic gardens. Waterfalls really ground me: I find peace watching their powerful fall. My favourite waterfalls in the area were probably Rainbow Falls. The waterfalls were supercharged, but there weren't too many colours - just murky brown. I loved the shrubbery and trees though. It all felt like we had walked into a magical kingdom; all that was missing were the talking animals.

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Our day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park continued in the otherworldly vein. The rock formations, and colours were so unbelievable they felt like they were literally out of this world. The park has over 150 miles of trails and you can go as high as the Kilauea Summit (at 4000 feet). We started at the most popular trail: Kilauea Iki Crater. It was about 4 miles and took just over 2 hours with photo stops, of course. We actually did it "backwards" because we ascended the 400 feet on the stairs rather than the graded slopes. If you're interested in doing it that way, you start by going left from the parking lot instead of right. We had beautiful solitude for the first quarter of our hike with views of the lava fields from the rainforest. The lava spewed in 1959, but some areas still seem fresher than others. It was amazing to see how the ground has cracked yet vegetation has sprouted from it. The Kilauea caldera was beside us and includes lava flows from 1924 (and even before) until 1982. We couldn't really see it from our hike, but drove by later on the Crater Rim Drive and saw all the steam vents. It felt like the earth was opening up to prove its power. There's an angry boiling world below us, and occasionally the cracks reveal its potency. Honestly, the black cracked ground reminded me of Toronto's roads: although, I'm not sure which actually has more potholes.

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We drove down Chain of Craters road about 20 miles to get to the Holei Sea Arch, which reminded us of the Hopewell Rocks we saw months before in New Brunswick. It costs $25 USD to enter the park, and it's all well worth it because the parking is included as well as a useful map, and the roads are well-maintained. The lava flow sites from the 1970s along the way and the 1.4 mile hike at Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs allowed us to really get a feel for how the area has changed over time. You can also look to the mountains and see the black, brown, green, and grey which is like a map for how lava flows have changed the landscape over time. If we had been there 30 years before or if we visit again 30 years from now, it'll be a different outlook altogether. The petroglyphs highlighted how cultures preserve themselves and their legacies over time. In the etchings we saw people and tiny circles, which indicated where placenta and umbilical cords were buried to represent birth and life. It's interesting how many cultures use imagery to represent their most sacred stories. It's amazing how the images weren't covered in lava flows when just 1 mile west all the lava from the 1970s covered the grounds. The most recent eruption was in 2018 and drastically changed the landscape of the park - shutting down the lava tube and museum. It also ended up destroying 700 homes nearby, creating a new black sand beach too. Most importantly, the visitor center is still open. We found many useful resources there. They also confirmed that there are no longer dangerous sulfur dioxide gases in the environment. I wonder if all of the 400 national parks in Hawaii are as well-run.

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Although we both preferred Oahu, we really did appreciate the geology and also the flora on the Big Island. On our last day there we visited Botanical World Adventures where I spotted the incredible Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree. I've never seen such a colourful tree in my life; it almost looked like an homage to the 80s with its green and orange neon hues. The grounds were really large so we were also able to admire all kinds of flowers and trees. We also saw more waterfalls. I'm starting to think Hawaii may be called the Rainbow Nation because there are so many waterfalls that play backdrop to the rainbows above them. Even the spiders in Hawaii were colourful; which made it easier to spot them, and then promptly run in the opposite direction. Apparently the huge spider with yellow markings that we saw a few times wasn't actually poisonous, but still scary for me. I really appreciated that Hawaii brings paradise without the trouble: no bears or giant cats to beware of, and even the snakes and spiders are generally fine. This was a far cry from our recent trip to Costa Rica where every day I learned about a new predator: from jaguars to tiny bullet ants, whose bite makes you feel like you've been shot.

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There's an incredible amount of spirituality and symbolism on the Big Island. We happened to visit while there were protests around the mountain, Maunakea. I had heard about the protests and seen the signs as we drove through Oahu and the Big Island saying "Ku Kia'i Mauna/We are Maunakea". I had even followed the movement online. I still didn't really grasp the full significance of more development on this sacred site until we drove by and saw it. It's a huge area, and just driving through you feel the weight of its significance. In fact, it's earth's tallest mountain - yes, it's taller than Everest - but so much of it is submerged below water that you wouldn't realize its height from base to summit. It's also already home to thirteen telescopes (built on the mountain), and even an army base. This wasn't supposed to happen though. As the land is very meaningful to Native Hawaiians - it's considered the center of the universe - it was supposed to be held "in trust" for them after Hawaii's Queen was overthrown. The land was later leased to the University of Hawaii which was supposed to request approval before developing it, but instead they went ahead and built multiple observatories. It's a familiar narrative: colonized peoples losing sacred lands to development. It's an ongoing struggle in Canada too - especially when there's discussion about more pipeline development. In this case, there's an alternative option for development. Apparently the project could be built in Spain with similar scientific results.

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On a less political note, after our Costa Rican adventure we both became curious to learn more about coffee so when we returned to Kona we visited the Mountain Thunder Coffee Company. We learned about the history of Kona coffee, and also enjoyed plentiful taste tests. Their grounds weren't as large as I anticipated, and each tree only produces about 1 to 1.5 pounds of roasted coffee per annum so surrounding farms actually bring their crops too. I also hadn't realized how much of the raw coffee beans aren't even viable. In order to sort the beans, they first look at size and weight before moving on to colour. The tour consisted of us and one other couple: the other man and I ended up throwing a lot of questions at the very knowledgeable guide. We even got into a discussion about insurance policies for business near volcanoes. Interesting stuff! The guide's mom is Japanese, so she also made a point of telling us about how the Kona coffee industry wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for hardworking Japanese people who committed to it flourishing. Hawaii's largest ethnic group is people of Asian descent, even greater than people of Native Hawaiian background, so I wasn't surprised to learn about the influence of the Japanese community on the Big Island.

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Before leaving the Big Island, we made sure to spend more time strolling by the water and soaking up the sun (away from the coffee plantation's cloud forest base). We also had to have another burger because they had just been so delicious everywhere we went! We followed that up with a dole whip, which is an absolute must if you're in Hawaii. I hadn't ever tried pineapple flavoured soft serve ice cream before, but I really hope I get to try it again one day! I'm glad our final memories in Hawaii were so peaceful and happy because our return flight was an absolute nightmare. You have to take the bad with the good, I guess. We flew without interruption to Seattle, but then returning to Chicago we hit scary windstorms. In fact, a number of flights had been grounded and I'm not sure why ours wasn't. A high wind warning was in effect, and it seems really irresponsible for them to have continued flying even though they already had that information before taking off in Seattle. The wind gusts got up to 60 miles per hour, which caused turbulence like I've never experienced. Even once the plane had landed, the winds were so bad that the plane was being rocked side to side. I got through three airline sickness bags, and felt absolutely humiliated when I even ended up throwing up on myself a bit too. Thankfully, my boyfriend was really supportive and quick-thinking. He asked the flight attendants for a cloth for my head, and also some water so that I wouldn't get too dehydrated. He also got them to bring a wheelchair because I actually lost feeling in my feet. I've had motion sickness my entire life, and it can legitimately be debilitating but this quite possibly was the worst experience with it that I've ever had - I had even take tablets before the flight, as always! I was incredibly disappointed to find out that there was no first aid area in the airport where I could lie down in the dark - instead we were told to just sit in a boarding area until I felt well enough to leave, at which point an attendant could come wheel me out. After some sips of Gatorade, and many dirty looks (no, motion sickness is not contagious!), we were finally able to leave the airport. Worst ending to the best vacation. All I can say is, what a trip!

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Posted by madrugada 11:27 Archived in USA Tagged beaches ocean hiking scenery palm_trees paradise wilderness tropical forest beauty oahu hawaii coffee botanical_gardens honolulu waikiki pineapple big_island aloha island_hopping rainbow_eucalyptus romantic_getaway lush_greenery Comments (0)

Colourful Costa Rica

Driving from Liberia through Central Costa Rica down the Western Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio

all seasons in one day

Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Fly into Liberia
- Day 2: Liberia to Arenal/La Fortuna, stopping at Rincón de la Vieja for hiking en route
- Day 3: Explore Arenal/La Fortuna - I recommend checking out Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
- Day 4: Arenal/La Fortuna to Monteverde where you can stroll and eat well at El Trapiche tours
- Day 5: Monteverde (check out the Selvatura bridges before you leave) to Jacó
- Day 6: Jacó to Manuel Antonio - enjoy the local beach
- Day 7: Manuel Antonio - spend the day at the national park
- Day 8: Manuel Antonio to Cañas - appreciate the art, wildlife, and food
- Day 9: Cañas to Liberia, and fly away home

Where to Stay
- Hotel Javy in Liberia -- although I wouldn't necessarily recommend staying in Liberia overnight
- Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience in Arenal/La Fortuna -- amazing accommodation and facilities, including games area, multiple pools and delicious breakfast buffets - just watch out for the ants!
- Belcruz B&B in Monteverde -- as long as you're ok with rustic lodgings
- Rancho Capulin -- near the Rio Tarcoles crocodiles, and fairly close to Jacó; make sure to request the Mirador if you want a stunning sunset from high above the trees
- Hotel Costa Verde near the Manuel Antonio National Park and close to Quepos -- Area D is isolated from the complex, but has beautiful views since you're surrounded by nature
- Hotel Hacienda la Pacifica near Cañas -- former presidential retreat that's still secluded, but in need of some repairs

Where to Eat
- Maria Juana Restaurant in Liberia -- cool outdoor setting and hearty pasta
- Casa de Calá in Liberia for drinks
- Casa la Fortuna Restaurant in La Fortuna -- not the best beef, but an adorable setting with cute hammocks and tasty smoothies
- Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience in La Fortuna -- phenomenal breakfast buffet, and delicious dinner
- Sabor Tico in Santa Elena (near Monteverde) for a regional tortilla aliñada as a snack
- Soda Angel in Manuel Antonio -- cheapest and tastiest food you'll find
- Aguas Azules in Manuel Antonio -- nice, sit-down dinner place
- El Wagon and El Avion in Manuel Antonio -- affiliated with the Hotel Costa Verde, so you can request a shuttle
- Hotel Hacienda la Pacifica in Cañas for another great breakfast and dinner combo - it's also worth stopping in town for a leche dormida since that's the famous local drink

What to Bring
- Bug spray (I cannot emphasize this enough!), sunscreen, clothing for all weather (e.g. waterproof jacket, tank tops, swimsuit, etc.), hiking boots, assistive devices (and make sure to confirm accessibility of sites before you go), flip flops, hat, sunglasses, umbrella, pocket tissues, useful medicines (e.g. for bug reactions, etc.), an SUV (if you choose to drive), US and/or Costa Rican cash (this was very useful), a water bottle (most areas had potable water), and Spanish-English help through an app or pocket translator

My Travel Diary
When I first started planning our three months of travel in 2019, I knew that Costa Rica would likely be the pinnacle. I've always been curious to see the eco-tourism haven of Central America. As such, it was no surprise that when we arrived in Liberia we were met with a smaller city than anticipated and a tremendous amount of greenery. Due to its wild nature, there's a huge emphasis on conservation, and also environmental consciousness. This flies in the face of much of what is shared on social media, so it's no surprise that the airport has actual posters instructing tourists not to disturb wildlife for pictures - "sloths are not made for selfies". What if selfies were made for sloths though? Anyway, we had decided (as per usual) to rent a car, so once we had picked up our Mitsubishi Outlander from Sixt we began on the real adventure, i.e. where to park, and how not to disappear into potholes. Liberia has a unique parking system in that you need to go into an official vendor, like a pharmacy, to purchase time and a specific parking spot. There are no parking meters on the street, and not even some of the locals I spoke to could really identify how the system works. It was still cheaper than having our car stolen and replaced, so I happily paid the pharmacist. Liberia actually seemed very safe and liveable - I'm fluent in Spanish though, so I'm not sure how challenging it might be if you're not - but it's just not an ideal tourist destination either way. Apart from the downtown square and imposing white church, there wasn't much else to explore. We did enjoy watching the birds all line up on cables taking in the striking sunset - it felt like the rom-com version of Hitchcock's "The Birds".

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I very quickly learned that my favourite thing about Costa Rica was actually one specific bird: el gallo, a.k.a. the rooster. Although it wasn't the bird itself that I loved as much as their famous local breakfast dish: gallo pinto. I happily devoured the rice, beans, and special spices every morning (and even a few evenings, where I could find it). Our first morning in Liberia I ate a tremendous amount at the hotel, which prepared me well for our long hike ahead in Rincon de la Vieja. There were a number of accommodations near the volcano park, which were pricier than the hotel we stayed at in Liberia - but you're paying for the adventure retreat instead of the discounted city lodgings.

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Rincon de la Vieja is a fairly short drive from Liberia and well worth visiting. There are two main entrances and areas to explore: Sector Santa Maria, and Sector Pailas. We chose the road less traveled (and also less paved), by visiting Sector Santa Maria. The road was actually just a gathering of huge rocks assembled in a fairly straight line, basically a miniature Stone Henge. If we didn't have an SUV, there's zero chance that we would have attempted that drive. Once you actually reach the ranger's station though, you realize that it'll likely have been worth the ups and downs. The ranger was a kind older gentleman who told us we were lucky that it was a fairly dry day (just spitting rain), but didn't go into much detail beyond that. About 15 minutes into our hike, we questioned his judgement when we ran into a river. Yes, there was a literal river for us to cross at the beginning of our hike. My boyfriend and I chose to cross the river at different spots: with rocks submerged but closer together vs. rocks above the water but farther apart. Thankfully, we were calm as the current and managed to cross safely. Since we were basically river otters after that experience, the next two rivers didn't faze us - it also helped that there were cables strung across to assist with balance. With or without the cables, I felt like a brilliant explorer mapping out my rocky route across the rivers. My bravery came into question every time I heard a sound though: was that a puma? or a snake? or a scorpion? Usually it was just me scaring myself by stepping on a stick. For someone who is actually more terrified of bugs than animals, Costa Rica is a tough destination. I won't sugarcoat it: I had a very hard time managing my insect anxiety because they are everywhere - whether you're indoors or outdoors, they'll find you (dead or alive).

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The Santa Maria sector of the park is open daily at 8 am and you have to come prepared to pay a cash entrance fee of $15 USD per person. Although I've read reviews suggesting sandals I would argue that's totally misguided - if you're crossing rivers, you want tread, and I'd prefer to have waterproof boots on instead. Unless, of course, you plan to step in the rivers. My boyfriend, for example, decided to jump right into a river in order to reach some isolated hot springs. I was more hesitant. Once I finally caved and stepped in, I was eaten alive within seconds. I panicked and ran out of the river without ever making it to the hot springs, instead I had little bloody bug bites all over my legs and a weird red worm on my toe. I guess what they say is true: you can’t step in the same river twice. The river my boyfriend entered definitely treated him differently than me. For my boyfriend, the hot springs were the highlight of our trip, but my experience wasn’t so hot.

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The (live) volcano itself can't be seen from Sector Santa Maria; however, you do get to explore multiple waterfalls: bosque encantado, and the morpho waterfalls. In addition to the hot springs, there are also cold water pots and an old sugar cane processing plant. All in all, we spent about 3.5 hours hiking in the area, and ran into 4 people. If you're afraid of being alone in the woods, this is definitely the wrong part of the park for you.

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It took us about three and a half hours to drive to La Fortuna (the town beside the volcano, Arenal). Weather in Costa Rica is really unpredictable and, on our drive, it alternated between gorgeous skies and windy/rainy storms. There's a gorgeous lookout en route and we were mesmerized by the volcano itself. It's an active volcano, which last erupted in 2010. At 1633 metres high with a 140 metre diameter crater, it literally looks like a picture-perfect conic volcano. The prettiest conehead you'll ever see! From our hotel, we had a lovely view of it, made even better by the fact that we were spying on it from our thermal hot springs. In fact, our hotel had so many amenities that our first day there we spent most of the time hiding from the rain by playing pool, darts, Foosball and other games in the bar area. Finally, we decided to brave the rains and head off to the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. To be honest, we weren’t that brave – the whole park was paved, resulting in less mud and discomfort than even walking around our own hotel’s trails. It was also fairly empty, likely due to the rains and the late hour of our arrival. We got there at about 2:30pm and it closes at 3:50pm.

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The views were spectacular because it wasn’t just the forest – it was also the volcano. The sights became more interactive as we had to follow the path and explore the 22 bridges; the highest (#9 puente la catarata) was 148 feet tall. I’m good at dispute resolution, but I can’t imagine building bridges like that. I also can’t imagine crossing those bridges daily because even an hour of it made me nauseous from the swinging motion. This discomfort was amplified by an allergic reaction to a bug bite. I’m awfully afraid of bugs, which, unlike my Spanish fluency, was not an asset in the wilderness of Costa Rica. This trip actually helped me realize that I need help addressing some of my anxieties. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being afraid of bugs, but there is something wrong with negative thought patterns that spiral into obsessive behaviour. I had to separate fact from fiction when I saw bugs and remember that Aragog, the giant spider from Harry Potter, is not real and does not vacation in Costa Rica.

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Apart from the bugs, the weather was also a nuisance at times. I was really glad to have a raincoat with me for our time in Monteverde and La Fortuna. I was also happy that we rented an SUV for our drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde given the prevalence of potholes that sucked you in like the Bermuda Triangle. They were buffered on both sides by ditches as deep as black holes. To make the drives even more like a video game, my boyfriend (the driver) had to keep his eyes open for loose cattle, and overzealous dump trucks on these narrow, eroded roads. Another obstacle was the constant stream of cyclists that appeared around every corner. The cattle on roads was a constant theme on this trip. In fact, I’m surprised we never saw a cow-on-car collision – that would have been mooving, in all the wrong ways.

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In Monteverde, apart from the cloud forest, we really enjoyed visiting El Trapiche tours. We caught their last tour of the day at 3pm, which was fortunate because I definitely needed a mid-day snack. They supplied plentiful amounts of coffee, sugarcane and chocolate while also providing the added bonus of an informative tour of their stunning grounds. The wildest part was probably the moment when we watched a mother sloth feed her young in a tree, while we took an ox-ride down below. Our ox rode us down a path of enlightenment as we learned everything there is to know about coffee. My favourite fact was that in Costa Rica they only produce high-quality Arabica, since they actually made it illegal to grow poor quality coffee. I wish we could make it illegal to sell bad quality coffee in Canada, although that would likely undermine Tim Hortons’ entire business model. Anyway, it turns out all the volcanoes have made the soil rich in minerals, and led to an appropriate level of acidity. I’m glad the coffee isn’t as bitter as my views of politics, or we wouldn’t have enjoyed it much. We also got to see the trees that grow coffee berries/beans, and learn that the caffeine is more potent once they’re roasted. In fact, we learned all about coffee processing: peeling, sorting and roasting. In addition to coffee, we learned about cacoa, which grows in pods on trees. Once the pod is broken you see that it’s full of seeds. We got to try them raw, but also processed. My boyfriend even got to work off some of the calories by riding a bike that ground up cacao. I made him pay 35$ USD to ride a bike, but he loved it. Although he enjoyed the tour, we did not appreciate the fact that the bathroom door broke. Fortunately, neither of us was in the bathroom when the door jammed; unfortunately, we were both desperate to get in. As they say, travelling definitely brings couples closer together – especially when both people are locked out.

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Anyway, we survived a number of other disasters that day and still managed to enjoy our time at the Selvatura hanging bridges. The grounds were muddy, but they didn’t cloud our views of the lush green forests. We even spotted some wildlife from our bird’s eye view (including many types of birds). The most gorgeous views appeared seemingly out of nowhere on our drive southwest. We even stopped a few times to take photos and just stand hand-in-hand soaking up our moments together.

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Our romantic journey continued when we arrived at Rancho Capulin (bed and breakfast), our gorgeous jungle habitat for one night. The hosts are a lovely couple who moved there from France about a decade ago. They also happen to be the parents of one of my childhood friends, so our stay was not without nostalgia. It was heartwarming hearing about how their kids are doing, and also listening to their story of adapting to this new country and building both a home and business there. It’s inspiring when you see people pursuing their passions, and creating their communities. Life isn’t prescribed, no matter what social norms may exist.

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Rancho Capulin is right beside the Tarcoles River, so on our way to Manuel Antonio we managed to cross the famous Crocodile Bridge and peer down at a tremendous number of man-eaters. I like swimming, but you couldn’t pay me to plunge into those waters. We bypassed Jacó because we were more interested in arriving safely in sunlight at our Manuel Antonio hotel. Our hotel room was in an isolated part of the hotel complex, which meant additional privacy and also stunning views of the water, wildlife and jungle from our balcony. I basically felt like we became Tarzan and Jane, or Romeo and Juliet – but without the problematic underpinnings.

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Manuel Antonio has a fair number of restaurants, and also a few beaches to explore – in addition to the obvious draw, the national park. My main advice in that region is not to trust the many scammers that hang out in the parking lots, and near the park’s entrance. They will tell you they work for the government, that you need to pay them to enter the park, that there are limited spots available daily, and a number of other bold-faced lies. For better or worse, I’m a very blunt person. I was very clear with these men that their behaviour was manipulative, and that I wouldn’t give them a dime (or the Costa Rican equivalent). Needless to say, we were slightly concerned with parking our car around these men after my honest diatribe and so we mainly chose to walk – accepting instead the narrow, windy roads and lack of sidewalk. Espadilla (public) beach wasn’t far, so the walk didn’t inconvenience us.

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I also enjoyed looking down on the beach from our hotel’s helipad structure. The view from above allowed us to really soak up all the scenery, and also stay dry under the umbrellas. I couldn’t really complain about the constant drizzle though given that we made the decision to travel during the rainy season. I did try singing: “rain, rain, go away, come again another day”, but apparently my Canadian lullabies don’t translate into impacting Costa Rican weather conditions.

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The Manuel Antonio National Park is closed on Mondays, and open all other days from 7 am to 4 pm. Tickets are purchased near the entrance at the Coopealianza where it’s definitely preferable to pay the $16 USD entrance fee with cash, although they will accept credit card too for an additional fee. To save some money (and help the environment) take your water bottle with you - the park has potable water, like much of Costa Rica apparently. The park is quite large (1950 hectares), but the paths are manageable and you can see most of it within a few hours (depending on your pace, of course). Although we weren’t heading to Jurassic Park, it definitely felt wild. We saw so many animals and insects, even without having hired a guide. It wasn’t hard to spot most of the animals: from agouti to deer. The birds could be a bit trickier, but the tremendous number of guided groups made it easier because they would crowd near a spot in the forest and point their cameras in whatever direction we needed to follow. We walked all through the park, and my boyfriend even swam through parts of it. While he turned into a merman, I chose to binge on ice cream. My gluttony was punished very quickly, as I got pooed on by a monkey while walking back to the beach. Thankfully, the monkey didn’t aim at my ice cream, but it definitely splashed its lunch all over my bare shoulder. The monkey mafia targeted me again later because when we got back to the hotel, a monkey in a nearby tree ripped off some bark and whipped it at me. I’m not sure what I did to deserve that kind of violent crap, but they weren’t monkeying around with their attacks.

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It was hardest leaving our hotel room in Manuel Antonio because rain or shine, we couldn’t stop staring out into the beauty surrounding us. In fact, in a flash rainstorm, I stood on the balcony in solidarity with the toucans, monkeys, taipirs, and agoutis hiding in the jungle in front of me. I’m glad to have had the chance to see the world they still live in, and hope not to contribute to its demise. No matter how much I hate bugs, I recognize that they have as much of a right to exist as me. It’s a shared world, and without those bugs these animals couldn’t feed themselves. Life lesson from a trip to Costa Rica, or from the Lion King? Not sure, but it’s an important one either way.

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Our final stop on this Costa Rican journey was near Cañas, which is about an hour outside of Liberia. We decided last minute to stay at a hacienda there built in the 19th century by a former president of Costa Rica. It was definitely a rustic retreat: as we pulled up, we were greeted by deer. We also played hosts, as our room was visited by cockroaches and lizards. The nearby town of Cañas made for a nice visit because of its beautiful cathedral decorated with mosaic tiles. While there it’s worth trying a leche dormida, their local specialty drink. We couldn’t find an open restaurant so we spent the evening back at our hotel grounds, eating at the delicious on-site restaurant and strolling like president and first gentleman around the large grounds.

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The hotel’s neighbour is actually el centro de rescate las pumas – a conservation site for rescued animals. The entry was $12 USD and we appreciated that most of the money seemed to go toward saving and treating animals in need. Each animal had a troubled past, from the two jaguars who were rescued when their mother was poached to pumas who had been kept in chicken coops as pets. It was hard seeing the animals caged, but it seemed (and we really hope) that they're treated ethically. Most encouraging was seeing all of the children visiting and learning about the plentiful environment around them, and the importance of respecting and preserving it.

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Like those children, I think this trip was an opportunity for me to recognize the importance of my role in environmental protection too. I can choose whether to spend my money on visiting (and petting) animals in captivity for entertainment, or those that have been rescued and are being sheltered for their protection. Overall, travel creates a large carbon footprint, so it’s important to act on ways to offset that. Even at home, it’s also crucial to consider how best to reduce waste and improve recycling. I have a lot of room for growth, but I really am inspired by Costa Rica’s progress. That being said, I won’t miss its monkeys.

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Posted by madrugada 10:04 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged landscapes beaches animals chocolate rainforest rivers monteverde ocean wildlife costa_rica coffee crocodiles liberia roadtrip greenery environment central_america arenal jungles rincon_de_la_vieja la_fortuna manuel_antonio cloud_forests jaco sugarcane romantic_getaway bilingual_travel hanging_bridges _pura_vida tarcoles spanish_speaking_country cattle_traffic Comments (2)

Know Northern Ontario

Driving from Toronto to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

all seasons in one day

Sample Itinerary
- Day 1: Drive from Toronto to Sudbury (with stops in Barrie and Parry Sound for stretching and petrol)
--> In Sudbury see: the Big Nickel, Dynamic Earth, Lake Ramsay, and Lake Laurentian Conservation Area

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- Day 2: Drive from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie (a.k.a. "The Soo")
--> Stop at: Webbwood where Canada elected its first female mayor; Chutes Provincial Park for hiking; Blind River for petrol; St. Joseph Island to explore the shops and marina in Richards Landing; Echo Bay to see the world's largest loonie; and then drive onward to the Soo where you can watch sunset from the boardwalk

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- Day 3: Agawa Canyon Tour Train
--> Depart from and return to Sault Ste. Marie

- Day 4: Explore the Soo then drive to Manitoulin Island
--> Visit the Sault Ste. Marie Locks and wander nearby Whitefish, North and South St. Mary's Islands then walk back to the Mill Market Wednesday and Saturday Farmer's Market; drive to the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site or the Bushplane Museum in the Soo; drive south to Bruce Mines to see their art, copper mining museum, or take a rest stop in Espanola en route to Manitoulin Island

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- Day 5: Explore Manitoulin Island
--> See Macleans Mountain Lookout then go west toward Kagawong stopping for a hike at the Cup and Saucer Hiking Trail before continuing to the Bridal Veil Falls, and Gore Bay (you can detour to two lookouts just east of town: Hindman Park Lookout and Harold Noble Memorial Park East Bluff Lookout), or continue to Mudge Bay for a serene sunset

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- Day 6: Drive from Manitoulin Island to Toronto
--> Stop at Ten Mile Point for a scenic view, have breakfast in Manitowaning and check out their harbour, then head to South Baymouth to catch the ferry (book well in advance) to Tobermory, drive back through Wiarton, Flesherton, Mono, and Orangeville before hitting the 410 in Brampton and switching to the 427 in Etobicoke to return to Toronto

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Where to Stay
- Day's Inn in Sault Ste. Marie for a budget hotel
(full disclosure: if I went back I'd try to stay at the Delta waterfront hotel, as it's also walking distance to the Agawa Canyon train but seemed nicer)
- Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Center in Little Current on Manitoulin Island

Where to Eat
- Gloria's Restaurant in Sudbury
- Solo Trattoria fine Italian dining in Sault Ste. Marie
- Shabby Motley in Sault Ste. Marie for tea and pastries (e.g. maple bacon vegan cupcake)
- North 46 Restaurant in Little Current, Manitoulin Island
- Trufood Cafe near Lion's Head (south of Tobermory) for a sandwich, but not their cookies

What to Bring
- Hiking: whistle, water bottle (and snacks), season-appropriate outerwear (e.g. hiking boots, rain jacket, etc.), toilet paper, bug spray, sunscreen, phone, ID, keys, Swiss Army knife
- Road tripping: extra windshield washer fluid, spare tire (if possible), towels and blankets, flashlight, water (and snacks), hard copy maps, reflective road signs/gear, GPS, car manual, license/insurance/car ownership papers, sunglasses

Agawa Canyon Tour Train Description and Tips
Northern Ontario is a hidden gem, not only for its culture, but also for its nature. A highlight from my trip was definitely the train ride I took to the Agawa Canyon. Although I didn't enjoy waking up at 6:30 am while on vacation, I was thrilled to travel 228 miles (round trip) through pristine forests, past clear waterfalls, and directly into a colourful canyon. As someone who gets motion sick, I was a bit nervous about the trip but because I made it there for 7:15 am I had some choice in where I sat. I faced forward on car 5, and had an empty seat beside me while I sat opposite two lovely American sisters from Indiana. Our car seemed to be the most comfortable with its cushy red-velvet seats, so I'd request it if possible.

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The dining car was #9, and walking there was a slight challenge as the ride could be bumpy at times. You'll want to walk over at some point though because you get a refreshment/food voucher when you purchase your ticket. There isn't much selection so it's a good idea to take your own food, if you're a picky eater. Anyway, we arrived at Mile 114 (the canyon) just before noon and were allotted 1.5 hours to explore. One of the sisters and I promptly set off to explore the waterfalls: Bridal Veil Falls (quite different to the Bridal Veil Falls on Manitoulin Island), and Black Beaver Falls. We also climbed over 350 stairs to get to the lookout. It was a spectacular view, and also an amazing opportunity to realize how out of shape I am. The view was breathtaking though, so maybe that was a factor.

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The train ride is narrated, and they also provide you with a supplementary guidebook/pamphlet. I learned about how the Soo is the 3rd largest steel producer in the world, and also facts about the history of the Ojibwe people in the area, and the geology of the region (i.e. how it was created through faulting 1.2 billion years ago and then ice ages affected the canyon's width). My favourite spots on the journey were: Bellevue Valley (miles 19-20); Achigan Lake (miles 43-45); Ogidaki Lake (mile 48); Trout Lake (mile 57); Mekatina Lake (mile 62); Mongoose Lake (mile 75.5); Regent Lake (mile 89); and, the Montreal River Trestle standing at 130 ft above a dam providing the Soo with energy (mile 92). On the trip, you'll also learn more about the Group of Seven who sometimes painted there between 1918 and 1923. Make sure to visit their paintings set up near the train station at mile 114.

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I will say that the highlight for me was definitely the climb but for people who aren't able to hike, it's likely still a nice trip to take because the views on the train trip are stunning and at mile 114 you can happily picnic beside the river/waterfalls for the hour and a half stop. It's a long day though because you leave early in the morning and only return back to the Soo around 5:30 pm. If you're sitting with great conversationalists (which fortunately I was), it goes by quickly. In addition, you can also take a few quick strolls on the train so that your knees and back don't feel too stiff after all the sitting sandwiching the quick burst of hiking. In spite of my achy body, the trip was well-worth the $123 (CAD) cost. It was also worth paying the extra money to go during peak time, i.e. fall.

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My Travel Diary
Whenever I've traveled or lived abroad and people find out I'm from Canada, their assumption is that I live in Toronto. This is a massive assumption, given the sheer size of the country. In fact, Canada is the second largest country (by landmass) in the world - second only to Russia, which didn't even need to participate in a doping scheme to win first place in this case. It always pains me to confirm their assumption - yes, I live in Toronto. The reason why I get frustrated is because there's so much more to Canada than Toronto. Having traveled to eight provinces to visit tiny towns and larger cities, I can genuinely say that there is considerable cultural difference even though we all identify as "Canadian". In spite of my awareness of the misplaced assumption about Toronto representing Canada, it's taken me a long time to realize my implicit bias that Toronto represented the province of Ontario. The first step to overcoming a bias is to recognize its existence. The next step is to take action. To conquer my assumptions about Ontario, to learn more about Indigenous cultures within this land from Indigenous peoples, and to enjoy the fall colours (especially in the Agawa Canyon) in the process, I chose to partake in a solo journey northbound from Toronto.

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My first step was renting my favourite car: the Nissan Qashqai. Fortunately, Enterprise Rent-A-Car put one aside for me and I was able to pick it up seamlessly. The only hiccup was that my father accompanied me, which meant a 45 minute delay to examine every inch and crevice of the vehicle. He came equipped with an endless barrage of questions: "Is there sufficient windshield washer fluid? Is there an extra tire? Can I get fries with that?" Finally I'd had enough and I thanked him for his concerns (some of which were genuinely helpful), and told him that I didn't want my solo roadtrip to be around a rental car parking lot. I finally set off, but I actually stopped about an hour and a half after leaving Toronto because I needed a stretch and a break from all the traffic. After some back bends in the Barrie OnRoute parking lot, I continued to Parry Sound where I filled up the car. It was just under two hours from there to Sudbury. Along the way, I had the pleasure of seeing the changing colours of the forests' leaves, being passed by a Cadillac going around 180 km/hr, passing a trailer with a helicopter on it, and spotting ads for a company that advertised its bug and bear removal services - two-for-one deal!

In Sudbury, I stayed with a friend from Toronto, his wife, and their newborn. They, like many young couples, had decided to leave Toronto for greener and more affordable pastures. One of their favourite spots is Lake Ramsay, which I enjoyed walking around. In the summer, Sudbury would be a great city for canoeing or kayaking, but when it drops below 25 degrees Celsius water sports basically turn into winter sports (in my opinion). My friends also suggested I explore the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, which seemed gorgeous, but which I was too nervous to explore alone. To be honest, one of the challenges of a solo road trip is determining your own limits. In my case, I get nervous hiking alone because I start worrying about wildlife encounters, including dangerous humans lurking in the woods. This trip helped me realize that that's OK - I have every right to hike in some places, and not others. I also have to be more understanding of my own anxieties: sometimes a thought can be altered before it turns into a scary feeling, but other times that scary feeling is perfectly normal and should not ignored. Although I've traveled alone all over the world, I still felt very nervous at times driving and hiking alone in Northern Ontario. I realized that an important step is feeling prepared: keeping my phone, Swiss Army knife, and ID on me really calmed me. Another tip for anyone with chronic illness, like me, is writing down your conditions, prescriptions and doctor's contact information on a piece of paper. In my case, I did experience some health concerns on the road, but it never progressed, and knowing that my information was on me at all times made me feel better in spite of the scares.

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The best thing to do in Sudbury is to explore Dynamic Earth. I happened to visit during the annual Vale Open House, which meant that entrance was free and there was a special mining tour involving mine rescue demonstrations. Before entering the site, I stopped for an obligatory picture beside the Big Nickel - a 30 ft replica of a nickel from 1951 that happens to be the world's biggest coin. I can add this to my "world's largest" site visits across Canada: the dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta; the hockey stick in Duncan, British Columbia; the big apple in Colborne, Ontario; the big loonie in Echo Bay, Ontario (which I also saw on this road trip); and the large lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick. I guess my motto should be: go big, then go home.

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After taking my picture with the Big Nickel, I explored Dynamic Earth to learn more about mining in the Sudbury region. Westerners started mining the area in the 1800s; however, the nickel, silver and other minerals were being used by Indigenous people in the area for thousands of years before that. There is still a large Indigenous population in the Sudbury area. In fact, according to a 2016 census by Statistics Canada, they found that 9.5% of the population in Greater Sudbury self-identified as Indigenous, while Manitoulin District came in at 40.6%; compare those numbers to the percentage in Ontario overall - 3%. As an immigrant to Canada who's grown up mainly in the suburban Toronto area, I never knew any Indigenous people (or at least anyone who disclosed their identity), and I knew very little about Indigenous cultures. This is not something I'm proud of. In fact, one of my hopes for this trip was to listen and learn from the people I met up north because I should know more; I think everyone in Canada has an obligation to better understand the history and the current realities Indigenous communities face here. Particularly in this current climate, where many of the mainstream media mentions of Indigenous cultures are tied to pipeline politics, it's important to not only inform yourself of those issues but also understand how much more those communities and cultures experience and stand for. I tried to make a concerted effort on this trip to be open, but not overstep. For example, I never showed up unannounced on a reserve, but I did choose to stay in a hotel on Manitoulin Island owned and operated by six First Nations: Sheshegwaning, M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Wikwemikong, Whitefish River First Nation, and Sagamok. Travel is an opportunity to learn, and it's also a chance to choose to support specific causes or communities.

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Back to mining... Although I had visited East Coulee, Alberta where I learned about coal mining and also saw Canada's last standing wooden tipple (built in 1937), I'm still fairly ignorant to the process and its intricate ties to local communities' economies. Dynamic Earth was the best place to go digging for more information. I set off on a journey to the center of the earth - or at least 70 ft. below ground. I was very underdressed - not in a black tie formal way, but moreso in that I should have been wearing a jersey and jacket. It turned out that it was freezing underground, and the humidity was over 95%. We were informed that the world's deepest mine is 4km underground at which point the temperature is more like 70 degrees Celsius. I'm not sure which is better: a pervasive damp cold, or a boiling heat? I had no choice in the matter, so I danced my way through the tour trying to avoid turning into an ice sculpture. I learned that labour laws weren't so great in the 1880s (who would have thought?) which meant that boys as young as 12 were working underground, and earning far less than their adult counterparts who walked away with 2$/day (and worked 7 days a week). In the 1950s the mining technology was revolutionized, but still very dangerous; although apparently nothing was as scary as seeing a woman underground. I suppose not much has really changed though - many men are still afraid of female gold diggers. Bad puns aside, we were told that women were just generally considered bad luck, so it took a lot of change management for women to finally be accepted as miners starting in the 1970s. Nowadays there are numerous female miners in Sudbury's 600+ km of mining tunnels. There are also some very brave women who volunteer to do mine rescues. Although there are very few incidents each year, considering there are over 4000 miners, there have been fires underground. One of the underground fires was so intense that it's been raging for 30 years and all the rescue folks could do was contain the fire and evacuate the miners. The volunteers performed a demonstration for us where they used fake smoke to show us how useless flashlights are, and how important infrared/night googles are instead. I also had the honour of putting out a fake fire using a laser fire extinguisher. I think the volunteer was embarrassed on my behalf when I confidently held the fire extinguisher backwards. You live and you learn; or maybe, you live because you learn? Either way, if I took nothing else from this trip it's that I now know how to use a fire extinguisher.

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As you drive north of Sudbury, things change. I started seeing more anti-sex trafficking signs, hotlines for malnourished mothers to call, and also ice-fishing ads. Although there are serious social issues in Toronto, I have a feeling that northern communities are affected in different ways given that they're smaller and more isolated. I passed through some small towns that were sad to see, comprised mainly of: abandoned buildings, methadone clinics, and junkyards. I also stopped in some thriving towns though, like Richards Landing on St. Joseph Island, which had a beautiful marina and lots of people milling about. Note: there was also an exceptionally clean and free public washroom in Richards Landing right across from their touching memorial to fallen soldiers from the area.

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One of the joys of a road trip by yourself is that you can do whatever you want. I took full advantage of this, and did a lot of detouring. The most beautiful and surprising stop was definitely Chutes Provincial Park, which I hadn't even heard of before this trip. It turns out to have stunning waterfalls and a long, empty beach. I felt really brave wandering through there by myself. I stood alone near the top of the waterfalls, feeling like the most powerful woman in the world just because I had made it that far on my journey.

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My sense of empowerment quickly turned to a feeling of bemusement when I detoured off highway 17 to 17B in search of the world's biggest loonie. This huge loonie proudly stood there, off the side of the highway, straddled by a bakery named "Lucy Loo's" and a very long explanatory plaque throwing shade at Sudbury's Big Nickel. I found Northern Ontario to be very quirky - particularly in its street names, e.g. Seldom Seen rd. and Boozeneck rd. I also found it tricky to navigate at times because Google Maps lost reception multiple times, and in other instances it just flat out misdirected me. Before leaving for my destinations, I would always eyeball the map to have an idea of where I was going but it may be helpful to also have a hardcopy map on the seat beside you (if you're alone) so that you can pull over and reference that in times of need. Fortunately I wasn't in a hurry, and had flexible plans, so I was never too inconvenienced by the subpar virtual assistance but it's something to be aware of when you're planning a trip like this.

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I don't think I would go back to Sault Ste. Marie, unless I had a particular reason to be there. The city seems poorly planned: why build a half-empty mall on the waterfront blocking the views of the water, but not offering views to it? Why not encourage more businesses to stay downtown, rather than the current hodgepodge of abandoned buildings, methadone clinic, dance studio and restaurants? It's definitely possible to take a nice short stroll along the boardwalk from the Roberta Bondar Pavilion, but it's a missed opportunity not to have more parkland beside the water. The most beautiful area to wander had to be the small islands across from the Sault Ste. Marie Locks: Whitefish, North and South St. Mary's Islands. Apparently the Batchewana First Nations is working with Métis populations and the Canadian government to revitalize Whitefish Island National Historic Site so visitors gain a better understanding of its historical and geographical importance. After chatting with some locals downtown, I realized that the city itself is undergoing a revitalization. I was told that there's been a push to retain young people in the city, and try to make the downtown streets attractive to residents and tourists alike. One of the women explained to me that it's also important to consider the economic context there: the now-closed pulp mill used to be a significant source of revenue, as did the steel mill which has suffered from random closures (although it's supposedly open and fully-functioning now). I think more and more communities across Canada will be faced with the reality of economic/labour transitions, and two key strategies will need to be investments in other industries, and securing local advocates who want to back reform.

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On the theme of business initiatives, one of the locals I chatted with suggested I visit the Mill Market farmer's market on Saturday morning where I enjoyed a voipulla Finnish sweet butter bun. For reference, it's very close to the Sault Ste. Marie Locks, which were completed in 1895. At the time, it was the world's largest lock and the first to use electric power. It now runs mid-May to mid-October, and is a useful channel for the many boaters who want to visit northern Ontario and Michigan and Lake Superior or Lake Huron. I didn't spend much time in that area, as I was interested in visiting the sites around town participating in the Fall Rendezvous, like the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site. The event included historic reenactments, candy cannons, and Indigenous craft tables. I started my time there chatting with a man who was pretending to be an army engineer. He clarified how tense the ambiance there would have been during the War of 1812 given the proximity to the US (and he also explained that's why there was a fort on St. Joseph Island). It was kind of amazing hearing his perspectives on the war given that it ties back into what I learned in New Orleans when we visited Chalmette Battlefield. At the time, I found out that the Battle of 1815 only happened because news of the War of 1812 peace treaty hadn't traveled fast enough.

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Speaking of battle, I chatted next with a mid 1800s surgeon who talked about blood letting (they used to slit patients' wrists to draw pints of blood to cure them), amputations and how the steel industry developed so that barbers and surgeons could have the tools they needed for their trades. In this case, my experiences at the Surgeons' Hall Museums in Edinburgh came in handy because I already had some background on early surgical techniques. The volunteer was curious to hear about the exhibits there, and told me he would consider visiting (if possible). I moved on quickly to learn more about voyageurs and coureurs des bois - the people who came from Europe with supplies, and the middlemen who worked with those Europeans to trade with Indigenous peoples. I then left those volunteers to chat with a Métis woman and her friend who was a local historian. They talked to me about how different the land looked as settlement patterns changed, like how Métis people had ribbon lots of land which the government appropriated and then forced them to buy back (even though many couldn't afford it) so that they could redraw the city into a European grid design. They also talked a lot about identity, and how challenging it is to find your community. The Métis woman told me how proud she is to live in the Soo, an historic Métis community. At that point a French-speaking woman joined the conversation and told me she feels like there are still major challenges there in terms of "othering". In her case, she's been yelled at (to speak in English) while having conversations with her husband in French. This paralleled a conversation I had with an Indigenous woman there who told me that she had faced discrimination just for being Indigenous. It's frustrating when people look for an excuse to exclude others, rather than create a sense of community comprised of unique voices.

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I appreciated the conversations, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to work with my hands and just listen. I was fortunate to be able to make a moose hide braided bracelet, and also some porcupine quill crafts while there. The people teaching me were Ojibwe from Manitoulin Island. One of the people was a college lecturer who had a clear and kind voice. She talked to me about how they would traditionally use moose brains to soften the hide and make it more flexible when weaving bracelets. She also talked to me about how proud she is to share her culture with her students. She said it's encouraging when people come to places like Sault Ste. Marie and interact with contemporary First Nations communities, and hear their stories. I appreciated our conversations, and their humility. I feel it's a stark contrast to the arrogance I often see (and sometimes embody) in Toronto where you're rewarded for speaking loudly and brashly, rather than listening. One of the women I spoke with pointed out how much some people love to categorize and label everything, which can lead to dangerous questions of blood quantum rather than an emphasis on compassion and community. We need to become better at turning strangers into friends.

Driving through different neighbourhoods was insightful. For example, as I drove through the Garden River First Nation en route to the Soo, I paid attention to their signs: campaigning for a local election, honouring the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, and asserting their right to their lands through graffiti on a train track stating in bold font: "This is Indian Land". It's not surprising given that the Sault Ste. Marie area has been inhabited by First Nations people, specifically Ojibwe, for millennia (and still is). I found it interesting driving through the small towns like Bruce Mines too. I wish I had had more time to explore the different places, and get to know more residents.

On my trip back down south, I decided to stay on Manitoulin Island. The Island is home to six different Anishinaabe First Nations, and I wish I had been able to see more cultural sites - from theater, to art galleries. There just wasn't enough time to see what the island has to offer given how large it is: it's the largest freshwater island in the world, to the point where it even has 100 lakes of its own! I managed to explore its scenic sides by visiting lookouts like Macleans Mountain Lookout, Ten Mile Point, Hindman Park Lookout and Harold Noble Memorial Park (East Bluff Lookout). I also appreciated watching the second set of Bridal Veil Falls on this trip. It was an easy walk from the parking lot to the waterfalls, and I enjoyed witnessing their soft unified fall to the waters below. I found more still waters when I sat on a dock in Mudge Bay watching the sunset gracefully fall into the lake.

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Although there's a lot of natural beauty, I'd imagine there's a serious need for resilience in the north given the harsher terrain, climate and isolation. It can be hard at times not to romanticize regions like the north, but that can serve to undermine the gravity of their problems - especially when it comes to access to education, jobs, medicine, and safe standards of living. When you're alone on a trip like this you can't help but get lost in your thoughts, so I decided that I should listen to local radio stations to better inform those thoughts. On Manitoulin Island, I appreciated that a local radio station announced birthdays on the island and I listened carefully to the DJ's commentaries about religion and culture. The only people that I actually chatted with on the island were at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Center. They suggested places for me to explore, and told me about some of the local cultural events. Unfortunately, almost everywhere I went was closed: from galleries to restaurants, my timing was off. Fortunately, I was on time for my ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory. The journey was awful because of the harsh winds and strong rain, but we made it to land in just under two hours and I magically managed to avoid sea sickness.

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I stretched out my drive back to Toronto from Tobermory by visiting places like Wiarton (where the groundhog that predicts spring comes from), Flesherton, Mono, and Orangeville. Who wouldn't want to experience Mono, right? Maybe one day the town will go viral. Anyway, I really did fall for Northern Ontario on this autumnal road trip. Fall is a beautiful time to wind your way through rural Ontario because many towns are hosting their fall fairs - so if you're into pie and apple cider, it's basically Christmas. And staring down into a canyon bursting with orange, red, yellow and green genuinely lifts your spirit. You forget the stress, congestion and pollution that looms over a place like Toronto, and remember what it means to breathe in life. This journey was emotional for me: I explored an unknown area on my own, and I struggled at times with my fears and health issues. I felt a certain amount of pride knowing that I set this goal of exploring the north as a solo female traveler with chronic health conditions, and managed to keep an open heart and mind while up there. I'm glad to have seen a different side of Ontario, and gained more context politically for what people are advocating for in terms of education, environmental protection, healthcare and social justice in northern areas. What struck me when I returned to Toronto was actually how hard it was to return the rental car - a sign that the trip was truly finished. I've realized since then that the trip isn't finished. When people ask me why I went up north by myself, I reopen those experiences and tap back into those memories letting them come rushing out like the beautiful waterfalls that I visited.

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Posted by madrugada 20:58 Archived in Canada Tagged waterfalls trains road_trip nature hiking fall ferries fall_colors tugboat sudbury island_time agawa_canyon agawa_canyon_tour_train northern_ontario sault_ste_marie the_soo dynamic_earth mining_towns manitoulin_island little_current scenic_road_trip indigenous_culture canyon_climb bridal_veil_falls Comments (2)

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