Tortugas, Tacos and Total Bliss

We recently escaped from the dreary rain of Victoria to the brilliant sun of Mexico – namely to the Yucatan. Not only did we get some serious sun and sand, we had a few other surprises come our way, which tends to happen on our trips. It might be a simple language barrier, a missed turn, or getting locked out of the villa the first night… whatever the case, the unfamiliar and unexpected is exactly the reason I love to travel.

And travel we did. After 12 hours of assorted trains, planes and automobiles and a stop at the Mega in Playa del Carmen for groceries, we finally made it to our sweet, sweet condo overlooking Half-Moon Bay in Akumal Norte (about an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Cancun). Akumal translates to ‘place of the turtles’ in the Mayan language. Seems fitting, given the amount of tortugas we saw (but did not touch, because we didn’t really want to get arrested – or lose a finger). Of course, it was pretty much dark when we arrived at the condo, so we could scarcely make out what awaited us view-wise. But the next morning we woke up to luminescent turquoise water and sweeping views of a curving bay, giving way to a brilliant, glaring white shore. Yep, it’s what we signed up for.


Urchinville, USA
Warning! This relatively calm, beautiful bay is not as tranquil as it seems. Take the first day we step into the water, clad in our reef shoes, essential for the rocky terrain. Fortunately, most of the time the water is quite clear so you can spot where the spiny black sea urchins are. Until you don’t, and you step on one. Case in point: Cam. We’re in the water no more than 15 minutes, when he simply brushes by one and howls with pain. Losing his balance with the shock of it, he almost falls ass-over-tea-kettle in a whole big patch of ’em. I look at the injury and see it’s just a little blue spot, kind of like an ink stain, near his ankle. But it was enough to become a running joke of sorts from then on.

Losing Keys on Day Three
You’ll notice that a lot of the glitches that happen on our vacations are courtesy of my (most excellent) travel partner. Me? I just go with the flow. Anyway, this particular incident is no exception. After the traumatizing urchin episode on Day Two, we decide to brave the waters once again, this time for some snorkelling. Despite minor annoyances, such as his mask filling with water every five seconds (turns out it was because he hadn’t shaved – don’t ask), and the snorkel bag riding up his back (we had to take it to store said reef shoes, because we didn’t want to step on more urchins…), Cam trudged on like the true trooper he is.

All is well until we surface after some pretty decent snorkelling to get our surroundings. Cam grabs the sealed valuables case – that annoyingly kept riding up the cord around his neck and whacking him in the face – which stored our condo keys. As he does, the latch flips open, revealing – nothing. To this day, we’re still not sure whether the keys fell out at that moment or while we were swimming. It doesn’t matter – they’re gone. After searching the area to no avail, I helpfully offer, “Oh well, we’ll just get another set of keys.” Cam counters with, “That’s great, but one of the keys just happens to be the safe key.” Let’s just say that images of spending the rest of our stay waiting for someone to come and drill the safe open motivated me to seek help – fast.

(When I asked Hector, one of the resident concierges, for another safe key, he asked, “Where did you lose them?” To which I replied, “At the bottom of the ocean.” He shook his head and silently handed me another key. I’d rather not guess as to what he was thinking.)

What Time is it, Akumal?
You may recognize this title to an older blog post of mine from Sayulita, back in ’12. Technically, we knew that Cancun was two hours ahead, which means Akumal would be the same, being just down the coast. Well, technically yes, but not when we got there. Our many digital devices told us that the local time was only one hour ahead. Temporarily confused, we manually change said devices to two hours forward. Then, through a series of confusing two-hours-ahead-and-one-hour-back-incidents (including my iPhone waking me up at what it thought was 7 am, but it was actually 6 am and pitch-black), we took a time risk and made a reservation at a local fancy place on the beach for 6:30 pm. We arrived for dinner at what we thought was 6:30. The waiter greeted us and then nervously explained that it is actually 7:30. I was so unconvinced (and embarrassed) about this that he had to help us change the iPhone setting. Doh!

The full moon in full view by 7:30 pm.

Emergency Cashola in Chemuyil
The great thing about Mexicans is they are incredibly helpful. Yes, I know I am speaking from a tourist perspective, but I think it’s an inherent trait. Case in point: we’re in Akumal Playa (the beach ‘town’ – a few kms from where we were staying), when we discover it’s time to replenish the peso supply. Yet all ATMs in Akumal are closed. We’re talking about five of them. Closed. No service. We ask another one of our condo concierges named Alfredo – ‘Freddie’ for short – what to do. He tells us there’s an ATM close by in a teeny town called Chemuyil that we could go to. He asks us if we have a car. We say no. “Take mine!” he exclaims, reaching in his pocket for the keys. We contemplate this for a moment, and after he gives us painstaking directions of the take the first left at the halfway tree, then follow the road until you get to the scarecrow at the Anderson farm variety – we say no. Instead, we ask “Can you take us?” Freddie nods, closes his notebook and says “Let’s go right now!” So off we go, do a few loop-de-loops to the highway, zoom past several Pemex’s, and then finally pull up at a dusty, worn grocery off some random side street, complete with ATM. And it was open. Now that’s helpful.

Adios, Akumal
We had pretty much the perfect last day in Akumal. We went back to Akumal bay, where it was slightly less crowded (the first time was over Easter weekend – you can just imagine in a Catholic country). We swam past yet more tortugas to the small and largely unvisited reef. We bobbed under the ropes and discovered a bounty of fish: schools, angels, parrots, whistling needlefish (well it looks like they are), brightly coloured sea fans and huge coral heads. Add that to our turtles (complete with clingy remoras, as pictured on header of this post) and a rare stingray sighting, and we were sufficiently suffonsified.

Two hours later, we lunched at one of our fave places – aptly named Turtle Bay Bakery – where I had the BEST blackened fish tacos EVER. The day gets better: as we head back to the Akumal Norte area on our rusty yet trusty bikes, we discover that the tiny, hole-in-the-wall eatery we’ve been wanting to try but is never open, is actually open! In true carpe diem style, we order dinner for six hours in the future (to which we later bike back to pick up, natch).

Shar with Ol’Rust Bucket – literally. Note the painting of the local fauna imbibing in refreshments of the Mexican beach kind.IMG_2225
Once back at the complex, we received more good news. Hector informed us that someone found our keys, washed ashore four days after we lost them, at the complex next door. They figured the plastic ID tag kept them afloat. We were amazed, and Cam was (rightly) relieved. We left Akumal the next day with a clear conscience and a couple of Sols to refresh our sun-drenched souls.


– S

Stay tuned for more funnage in Part 2 of our Mex vacay: Island of the Women.

Categories: Beach, Dining, Mexico, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Those Who Find You: A Tribute

Ah, Christmastime. Although we were in Bali well before Christmas, there were signs of it popping up here and there: a fake tree in the local Hardy’s Supermarket/Mall, a smattering of wreaths and lights adorning stalls. At the (many) airports heading home, trees and baubles surrounded every shop entrance. Flying into our home airport was a bit surreal – Canadians take this North Pole stuff seriously.

When we finally turned into our own little dead-end street, we saw that it had exploded with lights (we had some work to do to catch up). It was a bit weird; so familiar but we weren’t quite ready to embrace it. Yes, we knew it was coming, but when you’re frolicking around in a land of blazing sun and sand, you really don’t think much about it.

So I can’t say I’m deep into the Christmas spirit this year. That said, I do know what I am thankful for: families of all varieties.

There’s no question that I’m grateful for the family I was born into – as wacky as it is. I love them very much and appreciated every day I have with them, but here I’m referring the Balinese family we’ve adopted (or perhaps more correctly, they’ve adopted us).

We’ve been to Bali quite a few times now (five for me; six for Cam), and when you go back to the same place enough times, you’re bound to make connections – wherever you’re from, whomever you are.

Tandjung Sari at twilight. Just go.


I’ve mentioned before how welcoming the Balinese are – and the Wawo-Runtu family, who founded and still run the sublime Tandjung Sari hotel on an amazing property in Sanur – is no exception. They’re a large bunch – a blended family extraordinare. (We kid them about being a Balinese Brady Bunch.) They’ve all received us with genuine curiosity, open arms, and two or three kisses on the cheek. This reception is a big part of the reason we keep coming back.

Yes, Bali is our home away from home, the place we think about often and fantasize about in the cold, dark, rainy days of a Canadian winter. We crave its colourful, mystifying chaos. It’s where we become accustomed to sweating constantly, needing three showers a day, and epic humidity.

After a breath of frangipani and incense, feeling the sun on my face, hearing the constant swish-shish of sweeping, the ‘ting’ of a bike bell along the boardwalk, stepping over the ubiquitous sidewalk offerings, almost bumping into mini-shrines and dodging stray dogs and cats – it’s like coming home. Actually, that is the coming home.

Here are two people who have made it so for us.

Me and Avi, with duelling cameras.


Avi is general manager of Tandjung Sari; he’s the first person from the family that we met. He’s married to Wita, who’s father, Wija Wawo-Runtu, started the hotel. They are our age, and from there the similarities are endless (such as Cam and Wita having a birthday within one day of each other).

Me between two Sagittarians: pre-birthday dinner drinks at the fancy Legian on Seminyak Beach.

me cam and wita 2

Apparently we’re not the only ones who wish we were back there; as much of their job involves entertaining guests, both Avi & Wita relish the chance to hang out with people more ‘their age’. Our relationship with these guys has grown since the beginning; each time we go back we learn new things about ourselves, share funny family stories, indulge in our love for good food and even better company – such as good friends do.

Cam & Wita, toasting to their birthdays. Yes, Cam’s drink is wrapped in a bag.


Cam & Avi: two great minds (and they have fun haggling over the bill)!


Me & Wita goofing around at TS.


I have fond memories of Wita coming down to join us every twilight at our bungalow’s porch for a couple of drinks when Avi was working late: the two of us shrieking as we dodged swooping bats; playing Bowie on the stereo; listening to Wita’s tales of living abroad and her brushes with famous people.

And then there’s us tucking into an enormous plate of kambing kare nasi goreng (lamb curry), homemade dinners at Tatie’s (Wita’s mom) or parties at one of her half-sister’s breathtaking open-air pavilion-style houses. And jazz on the beach, where Avi had the kitchen and the outdoor barbecue time our dinners perfectly. The time when Wita had extra bottles of water delivered to our bungalow when I was sick. It’s both of them going out of their way to make our stay as comfortable, happy and special as possible. Well, like family.

A Balinese tree ornament.


For me, this Christmas is not about presents, or lights, or the big turkey dinner. It’s about family; it’s about remembering and appreciating your loved ones. There’s no denying the spirit of family this time of year brings, be it good or bad. For us – both near and abroad – it’s good.

Time to say goodbye – we’re smiling through our tears.


Here’s to second families… ’til we meet again.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gili T and Me

The second half of our first week in Indonesia began with a one-hour jaunt via fast boat to a remote island off the northwest coast of Lombok called Gili Trawangan – the largest of a trio of islands that includes Gili Meno and Gili Air (they’re collectively referred to simply as The Gilis). It’s an idyllic place of white sand and turquoise water, sunsets and incredible off-shore snorkelling. Just what we ordered.

The first step’s a doozy
The fun started before we even got there. We rose early (which wasn’t a problem, as our local rooster would typically start crowing around 3:30 AM anyway), and met our driver at Bintang Market near Ubud. We then set off on the 1.5 hour journey to Padangbai harbour to catch the fast boat to the Gili Islands. We get there, and as is typical in Indonesia, there’s a lot of waiting around and then suddenly a burst of activity. Sure enough, right at 9 AM, without a word the boat guys started walking down to the jetty. Wiley travellers that we are, followed. Turns out it was one of those deals where you get on a boat through the cabin of another boat. We do that and find ourselves on the foredeck of our boat.

However, we quickly realized that we have to walk the entire length of the boat on a very narrow edge to enter the cabin at the back. We’re talking about a 3-inch toehold here. A Dutch woman in front of us almost fainted when presented with this marine circus act and implored us to go ahead of her (old Dutch saying: “Send the Canadians in first”). So, laden down with heavy backpacks and snorkelling gear we inched our way along, desperately hanging on to the slippery overhead rails, trying to save several thousand dollars worth of electronics from having to swim for it. We finally made it to the aft deck and laughed giddily, hoping we wouldn’t have to do that again when we docked. Of course we did.

Entrance to the ‘harbour’ on Gili T.


One of our first glimpses of the place. Not a bad start.


Me & Audrey ready for the beach.


No paved roads = no scooters. Nice.


There’s no motorized traffic on Gili T. Which means you walk, ride a bike, or hop on a cidomo (pronounced “CHI-domo”) – which is basically a horse-drawn rickshaw. Now that’s fun.

View from inside the cidomo on the crowded main street of Gili T.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Times have really changed on Gili T. Yet despite the influx of tourists and commercialism, the island still retains its laid-back, old-world style. Take for instance, our residence for three days: a lovely villa with plunge pool and lots of privacy (in spite of the ubiquitous full/dark/half-moon parties). We stayed in Villa Emas (house of gold). ‘Nuff said.

Flash-back to 18 years ago. Ko-ko-mo, or any resort for that matter, simply didn’t exist. Yet Sunset Bungalows, the place Cam stayed when he first landed there, lives on. No website for these guys.


It’s still in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cracked twigs, lots of garbage, and a few emaciated kucings, all thriving, thanks to the relentless, blazing sun. Oh, and the toilet is still outdoors. Yet with a front row seat to a world-class sunset, at the time Cam thought he was in heaven (until he got massively burned snorkelling one day and tried to sleep… with no air conditioning… but plenty of mozzies.)


Local kucing. It may look cranky, but it was really very sweet – weighed about a pound with a meow 10 times as big as its body.

Braving mud pies for pizza
One night after torrential afternoon rains and an epic nap, Cam insisted we try a highly recommended restaurant by TripAdvisor called Il Pirata. “OK,” I said, “Where is it?” He’s all, “Down one of the side streets.” Great! There’s only about a million of those. Should be no problem to find.

Off we go, trudging through the muddy and puddle-ridden main street of Gili T (there’s no drainage system… other than gravity). We walked to where we thought the turn off was. It looked dubious. We walked back. Then we walked forward again. I’m getting pretty irritated at this point, mainly because I just had to fetch my flip-flop from a huge mud (or something?) pile and now it’s squashing between my toes. Then Cam comes up with an idea: Google Maps! No way that’s gonna work, we thought. But we pulled it up on my iPhone and it worked. After we entered the name Il Pirata, The Google tells us the correct turn – which we passed like five times.

However, we’re still faced with a long, very dark alleyway of sorts, complete with a huge puddle spanning the entire width of the lane. Great! We brave it anyway, clinging onto the side fence and various branches that line the ‘road’, stepping tentatively on sand bags lining the submerged ‘sidewalk’. All the while I’m thinking This better be worth it. Just when we’re about to give up, Google Maps announces: “You have arrived at your destination.” I was amazed. This place was indeed the definition of a hole in the wall, hidden yet glorious – at least the pizzas were. Was it worth it? Hells yeah.

Sorry… what time does the boat leave?


On our last day we had plenty of time to catch our fast boat at noon. Or so we thought. So, we leisurely packed, had breakfast and checked out. We made our way to the lobby to talk to Usman, our fave Ko-ko-mo guy. We were in no hurry because we only needed to be down at the harbour by 11:45. Usman called us a cidomo at half-past, which, after 15 minutes, still hadn’t shown up. By that time I’m getting antsy, so Usman calls the boat company and we discover that the boat is leaving basically right that minute. Ahhhh! I try to stay calm, all the while hopping from foot to foot as our cidomo finally arrives. We threw our baggage and ourselves in the cart and frantically waved goodbye to the amazing Ko-ko-mo staff.

Chickens, kucings, and Shar’s temper: oh my!
Off we went at an alarming gallop, and then are suddenly faced with construction, blocking the street from anything bigger than a bike or a pedestrian. The driver started to make a turn for the detour when we shouted, “No! Stop!” We’re not doing that again – it’ll only add another 10 minutes of sheer anxiety. Instead, we jumped out of the cidomo, Cam threw the driver some rupiah and off we go running through the mud-soaked street to the harbour, splashing and laughing, dodging kucings (a couple of which stopped so suddenly they looked as if they were prostrating to a deity), chickens, bikes, and annoying tourists. Actually, I had to yell “Move it!” once because the tourists were just standing there gaping at the scene. (Cam, who was behind me, later said the guy I shouted at had a seriously shocked expression on his face.)

We stumbled onto the beach, just barely making the boat. Then we proceeded to do the entrance-from-water, inch-along-side-of-boat deal once again. I was more than happy to oblige.

Our good friend Usman from Ko-ko-mo, who helpfully informed us we were about to miss our boat back to Bali. 


Thanks, Usman!

Us at a breathtaking Gili T sunset bar. A view like this – and everyone was looking at their phones.


Up next – postcard from our home away from home: Sanur.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Colours of Sayulita

So, this is our fifth visit to Sayulita, and I’ve managed to blog about it pretty much every trip. If not, I’ve taken the liberty to borrow from past treks; call it creative license. Anyway, since I’ve written so much about Sayulita already, I can’t very well stop now, can I?

Given the latter statement, you might be thinking, what on earth can she say about Sayulita that she hasn’t covered before? I feel you, but I’ve got a new angle: this time, it’s about a vibrancy of colour – something that Sayulita has in abundance.

This is the deal: every time I go to Mexico, I am amazed with the range of colours – such a change from the winter greys, browns and greens where I hail from. There’s so much variety, so much liveliness, if you will, that my eyes almost ache with the assault of it. Sayulita is no different. Yes, it has the typical greens and blues, but add to that add the shock of tan/white sand, contrasted by bright pink, purple and orange flowers, frangipani, and terra cotta stone, set off by absurdly-bright colours of nearby casas.

Take our beloved Casa Mariluna, for instance. Of course the azure sky is there to help.

mex casa turret

Then there’s the palm-tree pink at sunset.


We were up really early one morning – the moon actually woke us up because it was so bright. Here’s a shot from the top floor bathroom turret (pictured above). Yes, that’s the moon… not the sun.


The blue morning ocean, in soothing shadows.


And then there’s the we-bought-tag-end-paint-on-sale hotel in Sayulita’s town square.


And of course, the Golden Hour – twilight, my favourite time. Check out the Rasta pouring out his beer.

Sayulita at twilight.

One morning we decided to go on a hilltop hike to check out an incredible view of Sayulita proper. This here is the colour of sweat (and yes, I’m still learning the art of the selfie). Ok, it was probably 31 degrees celsius at 9:30 am – best I could do under the circumstances.


Shot of Sayulita’s south end from our high vantage point.


After admiring the view, we carefully zigged and zagged down through the high neighbourhood streets, full of casas of all colours, shapes and sizes. The classic white framed by pink rhodo-type bush seems to be a popular choice down south.


And, naturally, yellow – evoking that sunlight-and-goodness feeling pursued with a sort of madness by us Northerners.



I’ve been asked where I get my creative inspiration from. That’s a hard one. While there’s lots of colourful man-made architecture – which Mexico embraces to no end – there’s nothing that moves me more than seeing the true colours of nature. Maybe because it’s not forced; it’s just there in all its majesty.


And its beauty is unrivaled.


– S

Categories: Beach, Mexico, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments


OK, so apparently an update is desperately needed – all the people I haven’t talked to since we returned from Maui think that it rained the whole time we were there! Definitely not the case, as a day after my first post, the sun came out and Maui shined. Oh, how it shined.

Now, I can’t really remember the sequence of events that happened after the rain stopped, but here are some pretty cool things. First, though, I do want to mention this little hidey-hole of a spot – actually it’s a van – that contains yes, probably the best fish tacos I’ve ever had (I know I’ve said that before, but this time it is really true). It’s worth the sometimes 45-minute wait at lunch.

Horhito’s – glamourously located next to a 76 gas station in Kihei (“Come Get Hooked!” is right – we went back a couple of times)


After the severe tropical rain fest of the first couple of days, we resumed our regularly-scheduled program of sunshine and kisses. We were itching to get into the water and experience the amazing sea life Maui is so famous for. So off we went, fins and goggles in hand, to one of the most recommended snorkeling spots in Kihei. However, conditions were sketchy – the surf was way up. Nevertheless, we proceeded to enter the water backwards, only to get swept along by the tidal break, falling into the water and me ripping my knees on hidden (and very sharp) black lava rocks. Thankfully, I didn’t notice until we battled our way against the current, past the rocky point to Kam 2. After getting tossed back onto shore, we called it a day and set up camp on the beach, where I attended to my bloody cuts with bandages and settled in to soak up the sun. I got rewarded with a burn, and an attractive X on my knee. I do realize this looks like something out of a medical journal.

Can you spot the X?


Since the main reason we traveled to Maui was to attend our friend’s wedding, we figured we should go and check it out. Whales breached in front of the Molokini crater as about 30 of us witnessed a traditional Hawaiian ceremony.

A gorgeous morning at Makena beach


By noon, we were at our fave beach in Wailea with a couple of beverages and the latest Reacher novel. With (yet more) whales breaching in the distance for entertainment, it so did not suck.

beers on beach

As we were staying in a residential area in south Kihei, we developed the happy-hour habit of wandering around our ‘hood at sunset.

Um, yeah… that’s a pretty nice view.

hood sunset2

We did a day trip to another one of the airport beaches described here. Down a dodgy old road off the highway, we parked in a man-size pothole and made our way on foot to the beach through a billy-goat trail and past a beach creature napping on the grass (complete with mini dog and a trailer). We emerged from the bushes to find gorgeous silky sand, picture-postcard turquoise water (see top pic of this post), and of course more beach creatures, this time sans clothes. Oh, and this sign in the distance, which I did actually take as a ‘sign’, seeing it’s the name of our cat we left behind.

A tribute to you, Billie. (It’s a little weird, but definitely cool.)

billie sign

After quite a few snorkelling expeditions around the island, I despaired I would never see a green sea turtle – in the water. Sure enough, on our last attempt at Ulua beach, I bobbed to the surface at one point and asked Cam, “So where do you suppose the turtles hang out?” He shrugged and told me later that he was thinking: does she think I come from a long line of Turtleologists or something?!?. About three seconds later, he noticed another snorkeler gesticulating towards the water, stuck his head under and then quickly surfaced to say something like “Thrs turtloe umber view”. He pulled me under, pointing… and there was my famous Maui turtle! It swam along gracefully and we followed it for some time. It turned out to be a huge specimen, and almost fluorescent in appearance. I was ecstatic.

Ah, beaches, beaches. There are waaaayyyy too many on this lustrous island to hit just in a week. But we sure did our best. Mahalo, Maui.


– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Hawaii, Sunset, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maui: Our First Wet and Wicked Days

So, we’re in Maui. We decided to come here after much twisting of rubber arms for our friends’ wedding. But, they’re not just any friends. They’re about the best neighbours one can ever have, so we thought we would return the favour by attending their nuptials. Plus, we really wanted to come to Maui – there was that.

We arrived to grey skies, which by yesterday graduated to full-on rain, the socked-in, all-day kind. Sometimes it was ‘light’ showers; sometimes a torrential downpour. In any case, it’s been pretty wet. Nevertheless, we’ve made the best of it, touring around the isle and even sneaking in some snorkeling up north at Honalua Bay (pictured above). The conditions were pretty good, albeit a bit rough. Visibility was decent considering it was the afternoon and we chewed up a bunch of time prior trying to find a place recommended for its amazingly fresh mahi-mahi tacos. We found it after taking a bit of an involuntary tour of Lahaina, but it was definitely worth the confusion of going down the wrong Lower Honoapiilani Road at first.

Our south Kihei cottage’s welcome sign
cottage sign

The next day we woke up to yet more rain, so after taking our time getting organized, we decided to drive down to swanky Shops at Wailea for some $10 iced Americanos, and then up north to seek out better weather (we got ‘showers’ instead of rain). We had noticed when we flew in some people running about on beaches down below, pointing at planes, so we made a note to check them out ourselves. Sure enough, today was that day. But, more about that later.

First, we had to eat. Upon reading many reviews of ‘must-eat-at’ places, Mama’s Fish House in Paia on the north end was at the top of almost every list. Founded in 1973, this place looked like it hadn’t changed a whit since. The name ‘Mama’ has a particular affinity for me, so it was perhaps a bit destined that we try it.

Set beach-side on Maui’s dramatic north coast, with a view that you could feast on while – um – feasting – this is the kind of place famous people go. Seriously, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if I had spotted Don Draper slurping down a whiskey sour in a giant bamboo tumbler at the main bar (this place has two). Picture a super-kitchy and dimly-lit teak-wooded place, complete with cheesy but classic Hawaiian tunes, amidst hanging shell necklaces intertwined on lamps, tiki torches lining the lawn. Well, this place was no ordinary fish house.

And the prices sure weren’t. You see, they have a very simple payment system. What you do is go to the ATM, withdraw all the money in all of your bank accounts, bring it in a wheelbarrow to the restaurant, hand it over, and they will give you amazing food and outstanding service in return. It actually seemed like a fair system, and we didn’t drink any booze – YMMV.

Mama’s sign

Macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi stuffed with crab and lobster ($52 – outstanding)
macadamia mahimahia

A selection of carefully-chosen condiments for my curry fish trio of Ahi Tuna, Mahi-mahi, and Ono (from left: fresh house chili sauce, local banana, macadamia nuts, and Mama’s homemade mango chutney)

Me and Mr. Tiki on Mama’s grounds (he seems happy with this relationship)
me and mr tiki

It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. However, after that epic meal, we really, really needed to go for a walk. Enter the aforementioned airport beaches. First, it required a drive through the charming town of Paia on the Hana highway. Paia feels like you’re in a time warp, like stepping into a Hawaiian spaghetti-western, with a watering hole, local bank, ice cream parlour, and several many touristy shops. For you BCers, think of it as a tropical Fort Langley.

Anyway, we made for Baldwin Beach, carefully avoiding parking lot puddles the size of small swimming pools (yes it was still raining). Grabbing the umbrella, we trooped out onto the impossibly-beautiful honey sand beach and watched the local boogie boarders/body surfers navigate the waters.

At the park looking back toward the highway
north maui

This guy seems to know what he’s doing


Surfers laughing together after one particularly crazy wave (the guy in the middle hurt his shoulder and we figure the one on the left must have lost a tooth)

And so concludes our first couple of days here. There’s lots more I could tell you, such as when the cottage owner’s friend’s dog hijacked our pool right before we got a decent swim in – but this post is already waaay too long. The rain’s supposed to clear up soonish (already by the time I publish this post), and believe me, we will seize the opportunity by the snorkel. Stay tuned.

– S

Categories: Beach, Hawaii, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Travel Highlights of 2013

It’s the last day of the year and, once again, I find myself apologizing for not writing in an awfully long time. Yeah, I have great excuses: courses, work, and a bit of travel. However, the looming year end has persuaded me to write something – anything. So, it’s time for my travel highlights for 2013. (This is admittedly nothing particularly original on my part – see Best Travel Moments of 2012 for last year’s wrap-up.)

Mexico de Mayo
We kinda lucked out last May – so much so that we dubbed the month Mexico de Mayo. Turns out that months after we booked the first Mexico trip to Sayulita, Cam’s employer awarded him a bonus trip to the other coast of Mexico – the Mayan Riviera. And it happened to take place 10 days after the first trip.

Trip 1: Sayulita
My absolute favourite time of the day anywhere is twilight. And although twilight in Sayulita didn’t actually happen until like 8:00 pm in May, that only meant more sun, more swimming, more time to savour the good life. So when happy hour rolled around, I could usually be found hanging on the edge of the pool, taking in Sayulita’s astounding beauty. (Not to mention it was so damn hot, I didn’t really want to be anywhere else.) You can read more about the trip here.

shar casa pool

Trip 2: Mayan Riviera
Although the Mayan Riviera is undoubtedly beautiful, the area isn’t new to us (we’ve been to Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel). But the Rosewood Mayakoba Resort definitely was a novel experience. Lush and plush, no expense was spared in this gem of a spot right on the beach, with its own private lagoon. I’ll spare you the details, but definitely worth mentioning was our room – more like a mini villa – situated on a strip of sifted-flour sand at the end of the complex, with just palm trees and a resident Mexican coati to keep us company. And let’s not forget our private plunge pool (see below) – that, despite its beckoning on a typical tropical day – was not nearly cool enough for us sweltering Canadians!

plunge pool

Iguana on the Cliffs of Tulum
Ok, this post is definitely setting a strong pool theme, so let’s move on to a different body of water: the ocean. But not just any ocean; the intoxicating aquamarine beauty of the Caribbean. No one can resist it, really, not even a local iguana striking a pose on the cliffs of the Mayan ruins of Tulum.

iguana in tulum

More water: right after this tour, we cooled off with a little cave diving in one of the mere 10,000 systems believed to exist in the Yucatan. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the adventure, but think very underground, very low, very narrow, very dark and very quiet. Off we went in our crocs and snorkel gear.

Salt Spring Island for Canada Day and…
…our 10th wedding anniversary. Back to one of our treasured places in the world – practically in our own backyard. We spent the three-day weekend basking in the sun, driving around in our li’l baby blue, and feasting on jumbo shrimp caught that very afternoon. Bonus start came when our B&B host friend Cap’n Dan happened to be piloting the ferry from Victoria. The moment we parked in our lane, an announcement came over the speaker to the effect of: would Cam & Shari please make their way up to the captain’s deck for an important message? From that point on, our 30-minute ride was from the captain’s quarters, high, high above, with a prominent view of our destination route. Then, upon docking at Salt Spring, our car row got to offload first. It helps to know the right people.

ssi shelf

One of the decorative shelves at our fave B&B.

Another SSI highlight – of the culinary kind this time: tracking down our pottery friends whom we’ve been buying from every summer. Sadly, for practical reasons they packed in the pottery, and instead opened a new bakery called Bite Me. These were the best (and biggest) darn ice-cream sangys we’ve ever had.

ssi ice cream sangy

Note the evil grin on the oatmeal one. Bite me, indeed.

Picking up a New Addition to the Family
Post-Canada Day, we took a quick trip across the city to pick up Billie (after Billie Holiday), our beautiful red-headed, green-eyed girl. We got her through an animal shelter, who rescued her and her five kittens from an SPCA in the States. Her kittens had been adopted out, and now it was her turn. We were only too happy to bring her into our home and our hearts. Needless to say, she’s settled in quite nicely. A recent visit to her foster family’s website revealed a strong resemblance of one of her male kittens to his mom. Awwwwwww!!

little billie.

More cats – but twice three times as large
Ok, we are definitely moving away from the water theme, with our annual August jaunt to the heart of the Canadian prairies: Brandon, Manitoba. Home to the in-laws, and some of the biggest cats in Canada. Yup, no question – these barnyard beauties are as cuddly as they are huge. Meet Casey (top) and Callie (the calico). Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a mouse or similar rodent to be found on the 66 acres that is their home. Good kitties, they is.

big cats

Cleveland – A little work, a little ball, and a whole lotta of Rock & Roll
September found me at a content marketing conference in none other than Cleveland, Ohio, along with three of my colleagues (the crazy one madly waving his arms is actually my boss). Although we were there technically for work, there were plenty of moments to discover the city of Cleveland itself, which frankly, I hadn’t thought of much before I packed my bags. This pic was by far one of my favourite moments – en route to an Indians game, via lively 5th Street and in 36 degree C heat with not a breeze to be had. Other highlights were an opening bash at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and an 80s party at the House of Blues. Oh, and the best damn stuffed snapper I’ve ever tasted. Practically in the Midwest, no less.


bowlin shoes

Decked out in our bowling shoes, ready to hit the lanes.

Maple Ridge Sisterhood
Back to my sister Karen’s place, not only to say goodbye to one of her great friends – note her Death Party in this post – but for a permanent change. Namely, a tattoo. But not just any tattoo, and not just one. We both decided to get a Celtic sisterhood insignia combined with an infinity symbol marked on our skin. And yeah, it hurt – especially on a place with very little skin and a whole lot of nerve endings (that’s my wrist and her ankle). But, it was worth every hot-fire-poker-dragging-across-skin minute. And, Karen didn’t mind me crushing her poor hand, so that’s OK.


I love you infinity times, Karen.

Bonus Highlight: Snow Love
Technically, this still counts as traveling. It was the morning of my last day at work before the two-week holiday closure. We woke to a dusting of snow – nothing to be alarmed about, but enough to make a few people decide to take an early vacation. This is Victoria, after all. This very cool design was actually done by tire tracks just outside our house.

snow love

‘Tis the season of love.

– S

Categories: Beach, Gulf Islands, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

La Dolce Vita in Sayulita

So, I know I haven’t written in… well, ages. Seems I’ve used that line fairly recently, but that’s because I hadn’t really been anywhere.

That confessed, I’m happy to report that after five dreary months in the soggy, freezing climate that is Victoria (the rest of our beloved country has had it much worse, so I will stop complaining), we finally found the sun. It took us only 4,402 kilometres to get to it, but I’m not going to get wrapped up in data. The point is, we found our sun. And it was right here the whole time. In Sayulita.

mex sun

OK, that pic is not really the sun (which is doing its duty by scorching us daily – but I’m not complaining). It’s one of the many, many stunning art features of the rather amazing villa we rented in the north end of town – the quiet part of town. Admittedly, it’s a wee big for us, what with three bedrooms and four full bathrooms (including a pool bathroom – genius idea – noted for future palace). We tried our best to get friends to come and stay with us, but no one bit. Crazy people.

mex mariluna

I adore the design of this place: open air, simple and elegant. Did I mention it’s surrounded by water? Two water features, a pool, and the ocean just steps below.

mex casa

Enter the turret. It’s actually home of two of the bathrooms. Nothing like showering while peering out from domed windows.

mex casa turret

The pool shot. ‘Nuff said.

mex casa pool

And then…

mex sunset

The other night we had a local chef come to our villa to cook us a traditional Mexican feast of homemade guacamole, mahi-mahi with a sesame seed crust and mango sauce, sautéed veggies, and fresh fruit garnished with coconut shavings for dessert. A lovely light dinner, perfect for these hot nights.

mex guac

Yesterday we went on a jungle walk to one of the many secluded beaches around Sayulita – three miles of sand… and us.

mex playa

We walked a little farther and spotted the residence of a former president of Mexico:

mex president

Looking for graveyard quiet?

mex muertos

Oh, Sayulita – how I missed you. It’s good to be back.


– S

Categories: Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Best Travel Moments of 2012

2012 challenged me. This year, I ‘let go’.

I left my old job of almost ten years and got a new and exciting placement three months later. Meanwhile, our 15-year-old cat passed away. Thing is: we ‘rented’ a cat shortly thereafter, which turned into a full-on adoption – that is, she adopted us.

And of course, we traveled. It was a bit different this year: we traded our usual summertime island jaunts for a longer stay in Asia, and I also traveled for work, which I hadn’t done for ages. Nonetheless, it was still varied, fun, crazy and challenging. But mostly fun. Of course, when it comes to the way we travel, I would expect nothing less. So here it is: my favourite travel moments from 2012.

February – Celebrating my birthday in Sayulita, Mexico.
Nothing beats the February blues and turning another year older than soaking up the sun on a beach – any beach, really. As long as it’s warm. Here I am sipping a ‘coco loco’ in Sayulita. Moments later, the Candyman appeared with his huge wheelbarrow stacked to the gills with – you guessed it – candy. I even got my very own spectacular sunset. It really was the perfect day.

shar and bday drink

April – San Jose to see Coldplay – twice!
We went to see one of our fave bands twice in one of our favourite places – California. Although it was my first time in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised by all the city had to offer – namely pretty, tree-lined streets, the ridiculously expensive Santana Row, incredible food, and any kind of tequila you can possibly imagine. Oh, and Coldplay was pretty damn awesome, too. First night was up in the stands, but close to the stage; the second night was even closer – four rows out on the floor.

First Night: Chris Martin up-close with bassist Guy Berryman.


Second night view from fourth row floor. See if you can spot Chris Martin in all that confetti!


September – Maple Ridge.
I know I said in a previous post that I didn’t consider heading to the mainland Vancouver – namely Maple Ridge – as really traveling. What the hell was I thinking? This is as much as traveling as it gets – a 40-minute drive to the ferry, a 1.5 hour ferry ride, followed by a 1.5 hour drive to MR – and this isn’t counting side-trips to Starbucks (one must fuel up for such a journey), or my sis Karen’s fave clothing store Sweet Orange. However arduous the journey, trips to MR always include fun and relaxation in the form of martinis, junk food, wine, hanging with the kids, playing with their cat, watching cheesy movies, and of course more wine. This trip in particular was to celebrate my bro-in-law’s birthday, complete with a cocktail party and some of their best – and wackiest – friends. Simply put, I absolutely loved it – almost as much as I love them.

Me, sister Karen, and her daughter Emma (the awesome Emu).

shar kar em

October – Las Vegas.
Although Metric at the House of Blues was amazing, probably the biggest highlight of this trip was our hotel room. For more pics and a detailed description, check out my first post on this epic trip. The room was beyond luxurious; by far the best upgrade I’ve ever received. For the first time in our traveling lives, we actually clocked some quality time in the hotel room. Who could blame us?

A shot from our conference room (seriously) looking out to the full-on living room suite. 

vegas suite1

October – NYC.
Less than a week before Hurricane Sandy, I went to NYC on business for a social media conference. Little did I know the place would be almost torn to shreds in a matter of days. Happily oblivious to that fact, I wandered the (very) crowded streets of Manhattan, taking in every smell, sound and funny catcall (at one point I was mistaken for Jennifer Aniston – to my delight the guy yelled it to the passing crowd). Additional favourite moments were spotting Snopp Dogg (twice), hugging Cookie Monster in Times Square, wandering beautiful Bryant Park and swilling double martinis in Hell’s Kitchen. (For the record, the Empire State Building is an absolute rip-off – v. expensive for a so-so experience. I’ve heard a night visit is far better.)

Fall on the streets of New York City.

new york fall

Downtown view from Empire State Building.

new york from empire

November – Bali.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to traveling first class. Especially when going halfway around the world, as we do to Bali. Then there was Ubud, a town up in Bali’s rice fields. This picture was taken at by far my favourite moment – the rain pouring down and me sheltered on the deck with everything I needed: a beer, a good book, and something amazing to gaze out on.

shar chillin

I couldn’t get enough of Bali’s bright, fragrant flowers and intricate woodwork. Also, I really loved the fact that I never once had to turn the hot water on for an entire three weeks.

bali flowers and pool

December – back to Maple Ridge.
With yet another few weeks off of work for the holidays (yes, it’s true – please don’t cry), I took the opportunity to spend some quality time at my sis’ again in MR for a few days before the Christmas craziness. It was nothing short of awesome. We did a lot of the aforementioned, with the addition of watching classic Christmas movies, admiring of tree ornaments, and actual buying at Sweet Orange (I acquired a little Xmas present to me – ok, I may have a slight addiction to clothes), plus a few socials, including a “Death Party”. This took place, fittingly, on December 21, which you’ll recall was to be our last day on Earth. It was actually a friend’s birthday, with the added cool twist of a death theme. Dress code was anything black (she wore her wedding dress spray-painted black). Along with a few questionable and amusing characters, there was a humongous tray of THE most amazing mac and cheese, a coffin filled with beer, rented slushy machines – one filled with bellini mix, the other lime and vodka – and a tarot card reader. A party the next day boasted 40 adults and 40 kids, a zillion appys, an open bar and even an official wine tasting. I was in heaven.

Me, my niece Alex, and their cat Tuna. Note the horrified expression on the poor kitty’s face.

me aly tuna

I’m sure 2013’s jaunts around the globe will be nothing short of memorable. Autumn in Italy, anyone?

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, British Columbia, California, Glamorous, Mexico, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sanur: Home and Away

Well, it’s been a while now since we returned from our favourite place in the world (that would be Bali, for those of you not paying attention) – and let’s just say it’s a bit of an adjustment. But I don’t want to waste your precious reading time lamenting about being back in chilly Canada. This is a postcard about our home-away-from-home: sleepy Sanur.

After dusty, scorching Seminyak and the serene lushness of Ubud, we departed for the golden sands of the southeast coast. Sanur is where we first experienced the magic of Bali, where we discovered a peaceful bungalow-style hotel on the beach, where we made lifelong friends and are always treated like family. With fond memories in tow, we were anxious to get there and start creating new ones.

Once we turned off the main street (Danau Tramblingan) and into the Tandjung Sari driveway, I exhaled deeply. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I enter these grounds. It’s like I’ve closed the door on an all-too-busy, crazy, rushed world, retreating into a hidden paradise. The long, narrow, two-laned driveway is lined with palms in the middle and high hedges on either side, only hinting at the bungalows behind it. It’s as if I’ve entered a home in a village, going back into another quiet, simpler time. It’s a feeling of arriving at a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before; someplace safe, warm and welcoming.

As usual, we were greeted warmly by the staff in the receiving area: a huge, open-air pavilion that was once part of a Balinese royal house. Three ceremonial beats on a large gong announced our arrival, and we were given cold towels by a fresh-faced Balinese woman. Happily signing in, we started what was to be a two-week-long reunion with all our old friends and the Tandjung Sari family. Indeed, several times a day we were welcomed with a chorus of exclamations, handshaking, kissing on each cheek (often three times), and lots of Apa kabar (what’s the news?). To which we’d reply: baik, baik (very good – especially since we were there).

The Tandjung Sari beachfront at twilight.

bali hotel twilight

We had booked one of the new garden bungalows (they hadn’t built new ones since the ’90s, so this was pretty special). Bright and spacious, the bungalow boasted beautifully blue tiled floors depicting Balinese themes of animals and birds; industrial-strength air conditioning; a welcome bowl of island fruit adorned with frangipani; a separate room with wash area complete with skylights; and yes… the classic outdoor shower. This time we even got an outdoor bathtub – an essential tool for the cooling-down process, especially after scorching beach days, and yes, our dreaded morning runs along the boardwalk. (This we endeavoured – and succeeded – to do every morning, despite any late activities the night before. It was really the only sane time to do it – that is, if you didn’t want to faint of heat stroke while dodging bikes, scooters, sketchy gangs and, God forbid, the razor-sharp women hawkers who hang around outside the Circle K, just waiting for the next victim to drag down a crowded and confusing alley of shops.)

Outdoor bathtub – Cam’s favourite place to cool off while reading the latest Jack Reacher and sipping a cold Bir Bintang.

bali tub

Shortly after our arrival, I really began to relax. Translation: lots of spa treatments. Fresh fruit peel facial and rose petal face masks, a dual manicure and pedicure (to the tune of $15 Cdn – absurdly cheap compared to the $70 – before tax and tip – jobby I had at home).

And then there was the massage. Not just an ordinary one – it was a Javanese massage. Picture a 4-foot-ish Javanese ibu knocking on your bungalow door with just a sarong and some oil. You dress down to your skivvies, lie on your bed and proceed to get worked over by her magic fingers both back and front. Modesty goes out the window as she transforms your entire body into a lump of jelly and goodness. Her touch is utterly perfect: not too gentle that you can’t feel anything, but not too strong that it starts to get stressful. Perfect for us picky North Americans. Again, absurdly cheap: $20. For an hour and a half. ‘Nuff said.

Then there was the fresh fruit every morning at breakfast: pineapple, papaya, watermelon, even passionfruit or banana juice if you so desired. Not to mention perfectly-baked buttermilk biscuits and Tandjung Sari’s famous croissants: fresh from the oven, with a rewarding puff of steam when you break one open. Everyone swears they are better than what you find in Paris, and we can’t disagree.

Shar on bike along Sanur’s beach boardwalk.

bali shar bike

Our resident family of ginger kucings.

bali kitties

Our third and last week in Bali – what we referred to as our “bonus week” – was spent pretty much planted on the beach, where our biggest decision of the day (aside from what to have for lunch or dinner), was if we should go for a swim in the pool or float on our backs in the 27 degree Indian Ocean.

However, we did manage a day trip to east Bali – to a series of pretty, small fishing villages lining the coast and stemming south from the town of Amed – satisfied our snorkelling urge. The quality was outstanding, with the best part not having to rent a boat to get to the reef. All we did was park on the road, cut through the grounds of an obscure homestay on the beach, step out onto the black sand and put our flippers in the water. A push off the rock and we were transported to a world of angel and Nemo fish, bright blue coral, sea turtles and eels. We let the current take us deeper into the relatively garbage-free water (a treat compared to, say, what we experienced in Nusa Dua) – swimming through warm, cool, and then almost too hot patches – down to a sunken Japanese shipwreck (there are doubts about its provenance, but it was cool nonetheless). We emerged two hours later, and with salt water crust in our hair and cracked lips, rinsed off underneath a rustic communal shower before wolfing down our picnic lunch. Hours later I felt the ill-effects of the classic too-long-in-the-water-without-protection nasty burn, but it was sooooo worth it.

A young woman dances the traditional Balinese legong

bali legong

After the ‘cool’ mountain air of Ubud (28 degrees as opposed to 32 – it makes a difference, believe me) we were once again cozily-wrapped in the hot and humid, even with the ocean breeze. But the warmth of the island doesn’t just come from the elements. It’s in the people, too: their gentle and welcoming nature, their stunning smiles, their genuine interest. During our time in Sanur, a series of invites ensued: drink gatherings, birthday outings (including Cam’s), legong dance performances, art exhibitions, dinners at our friend’s house… so much that we barely had a night to ourselves during our whole two-week stay.

But that’s what I love so much about the Balinese: they are eager to include you and have you take part in their customs (and to practice their English while they’re at it). Just take the wedding we went to in Ubud. It’s just what they do, who they are. And that’s what keeps us coming back.

The full moon and me.

bali shar moon

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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