Gulf Islands

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.

cleveland

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.

tattoo2

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

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

10 Weird and Wonderful Things about Saltspring

Normally this time of year finds us on the deck of a B&B on heavenly Saltspring Island, sipping wine and watching the sunset over Vesuvius Bay, a mere 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver Island. Regrettably, we had to forgo our annual jaunt this summer for many reasons, the biggest one being that we need to save vacation days for Bali (three weeks!) in the fall. C’est la vie. Summer in the city ain’t so bad.

Saltspring is artist’s haven nestled within the southern Gulf Islands, about halfway between Nanaimo and Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia (and our home). As noted on the official Saltspring website,”there are over ten thousand human residents on Salt Spring Island, several thousand sheep and a sizeable deer population.” That pretty much sums it up.

With its close proximity to Victoria, Saltspring makes a great scenic getaway. (A perfect little day trip, too, if you’re so inclined.) We’ve been going there together for years, starting with the summer we got engaged on the island’s ocean-side campground (more about that shortly).

So, I’m going to tell you about some of the Saltspring things we’ll be missing this year, including the brilliant weirdness it has to offer.

1. Ruckle Park
The camping here is breathtaking. Picture a wide-open field perched on top of a cliff, where you can sit back and watch the sailboats, ferries, and big ships go by. Walk along the rocky beach below, feeling the hot stones on your feet as you explore the tidal pools teeming with starfish and crab. The first time I camped here, I fell in love with it. The next time was with my true love, complete with a proposal setting of sea, stars, and a bottle of Wolf Blass Black Label.

2. Saturday Hippie Market
Famous for its patchouli-scented weirdness, this weekly seasonal market offers everything from dog treats to homemade jams and jellies, colourful pottery, hemp clothing, jewlery, and, uh, ‘rarities’ like utensil wind chimes. You can sample local island delicacies such as chocolate and goat cheeses, all while perusing fresh local produce and to-die-for-breads. Watch for six-year-olds playing the violin – or autoharp, or recorder, or whatever – right in the middle of it all.

3. Wineries
There are several wineries on the island, our faves being Garry Oaks and a relatively new one called Mistaken Identity. Garry Oaks is known for its Fetish, a tasty blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Take a stroll through the lush vineyards at either one – you can practically pluck the grapes off the vine yourself. But don’t – think of the wine!

4. A Mix of Hippie Cool and Upscale Eateries. And Just Plain, Good-old Seaside Eats.
I can’t say enough about SSI’s choice of resos. It’s got upscale European, such as the English tudor-style Hastings House and House Piccolo, tried-and-true Moby’s Pub overlooking the marina, and the local favourite Seaside Kitchen. On the latter, you almost have to be local to find the entrance and the washrooms (watch out that someone from the kitchen doesn’t walk in on you!). It’s also got the best view of ferry-watching that side of the island.

Hands-down, our casual fave is the Tree House Cafe – a funky, outdoor establishment framed by – you guessed it – trees. It’s kinda like dining à la Swiss Family Robinson. This gem of a place offers big and bold breakfasts complete with thick multigrain toast and homemade berry jam. It’s the perfect setting for a hangover-style brunch, or for evening drinks with live folk music as accompaniment. Also a prime spot for people watching: one time we witnessed a guy getting pooped on by the many little birdies inhabiting the trees.

5. Hidden Watering Holes
It seems there’s one around every corner of the island. Whenever we camped on Ruckle, we would stop by a particular one en route to the Fulford ferry terminal to cool off (it’s always sunny on Saltspring – I think it’s almost an island “rule”). Locals and tourists alike swarm this tiny beach, stretching their towels on every bit of available sand. The lake is not too cold, not too deep – just right with a small dock that’s perfect for sunbathing when you just can’t stand the dogs anymore. As long as you don’t mind the kids diving off and splashing everywhere about every five minutes, that is.

One early trip we stumbled upon what we fondly nicknamed “Bits and Bites Bongo Beach” – a long, narrow, tree-lined path opened up to reveal dreadlocked bongo players and, well, hirsute women. Did I mentioned they’re naked?

Above all though, the warmest swimming beach on the island is Vesuvius Bay. I swear we see the same old leathery guy swimming laps in the ocean back and forth every time we stay there.

6. Pixie Pies – and Other Random Roadside Stands
Dotted all over the island are roadside stands with a variety of offerings via the honour system: produce, flowers, lemonade, jams, cookies, and pies. The first time I saw this little cupboard containing the mini-est of pies, I was charmed – but I didn’t have any change. Every time I’ve gone back – armed with coins – the box has been empty. Those pixies are a fickle lot. So, while I’ve thus far never got to try a Pixie Pie, this image will stay with me forever.

7. Long & Winding Roads…
And lots of hills. Saltspring is a perfect setting to learn how to drive a standard (I just had to sneak a pic of the car in there). Imagine the bottom of a very steep hill, my foot on the gas and popping the clutch. A squeal of tires and I was off. We laughed until we cried (and I tried not to wet myself in the process).

8. Famous Local Residents
Saltspring is a home to such celebs as BTO’s Randy Bachman and the artist Robert Bateman, both of whom have residences there. I’ve never seen either of them – then again, that may be the point.

9. The Seafood and the Sea
You can’t beat prawns caught fresh off the boat. Or smoked salmon and crab cakes from a funny little fisherman’s hut called The Fishery, just north of the main town, Ganges. All amazing paired with a glass of cold Pinot Gris on the deck overlooking Ganges Harbour, or the wide-open ocean off Ruckle Park, Fernwood, or Vesuvius Bay.

10. That Laid-back, Small Town Feel
What I love most about Saltspring, though, is the people. They all seem to support each other: such as the local cheese factory displaying their culinary delights on another local artist’s ceramic dish. Best of all, even as a tourist, they remember you (hard not to when we keep coming back every year, I suppose). Case in point: every time we go to market, we stop by our favourite pottery stand to say hi to Annie. One time we picked out some dishes and then shopped around while she wrapped it up. It was only when we got back to Victoria and unwrapped the goods did we notice that she snuck in an extra little nut bowl with a note saying “Happy 4th Anniversary.” Then there was the time when Dan, our B&B host and a captain on the ferry that runs from Vesuvius to Crofton, greeted us over the boat’s loudspeaker with “Welcome back, Cam and Shari” while we were sunning on the B&B deck. Now that’s what I call the personal touch.

– S

Categories: Beach, British Columbia, Dining, Gulf Islands, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.