More to come!

Homeward bound!

Homeward bound!

Just a mere three days into my first backpacking adventure, I knew I wanted to start a blog. My initial, and sole purpose for this blog was to document my adventures (for my own memory!). However, once the idea of actually starting a blog popped into my mind, I found myself thinking of things all the time that I would like to share – for those who are interested of course.

I have an excitement and hunger for exploring, learning, sweaty work outs, health food, cooking, soaking up the sun, water, sharing a laugh with friends, reminiscing with family and growing as a human being. Hence, ‘Life by James’ (James just being a nickname that has stuck for years!). Anything in my life that I am passionate about will likely make it to this page, and of course my travel adventures.

Posts to follow shortly. Enjoy.

J

Antigua has a fantastic private hospital.

Unfortunately that’s one of the few statements I can say about the beautiful historic city. Antigua was a few day stop over as we made our way from Semuc Champey down to El Tunco, El Salvador.

The group I was traveling with seemed to have drank the river water in Semuc and was dropping like flies. Luckily, I didn’t get sick. I recommend the Private Hospital there though if you need any care! We showed up later in the evening, knocked on a sketchy door and entered a clean and quite facility. We seemed to be the only people there. After a quick doctor check up, a large scary needle and a shockingly small payment – we were back on our way to the hostel.

The sick one was still well enough for snap chat yarns!

The sick one was still well enough for snap chat yarns!

It did smell weird...

It did smell weird… 

 

I highly recommend El Hostel as well. They were a fantastic Bed & Breakfast style hostel. We were able to do laundry and sort our selves. Felt good to have a few down days.

Although I would have loved to do some of the volcano hikes. I didn’t pack the appropriate clothing, nothing warm at all in fact. Bring your sweaters, it gets cool at night! You could see a few volcano’s from the city though, Fuego Volcano actually erupts every twenty minutes or so, you can watch from the cobblestone streets!

 

I did make it to the Chocolate museum though – YUM! They even had a gluten free brownie – double YUM!

I can not wait to go back to Antigua, one day. It truly was a beautiful city. I also met lots of travelers there who were taking English courses. They offer one on one sessions, for a few weeks, at a great price. I certainly have kept it in mind for my next adventure.

The cloud blocked my photo moment!

The cloud blocked my photo moment!

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Beautiful BC for Easter weekend <3

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My soul absolutely sings when I get out on the highway, YYC in the rearview mirror and the mountains straight ahead. Although I love Calgary, and would certainly say I call it home here, BC will always have my heart. It also helps that the drive through the mountains, Rogers Pass and into the Okanagan is one of my favourites.

I head to Vernon, BC, every few months. This time though, returning to the house I grew up in as my mom is back in the Okanagan. It felt great to be back in the house! The four days went by so quick. Lots of great family time, laughs with friends, hugs from their munchkins and of course a few nights on town.

The trip wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t make it out to the country for some fresh air as well. Went to visit friends and their babies at Route 6 Campground – highly recommend it! Owned by a fantastic family I know.

I decided to finally check out Revelstoke Ski Mountain on my way back to Calgary. I lucked out, it was perfect spring skiing conditions. Sun shinning, fresh snow, groomed runs and a mountain to myself. I can see why this mountain is for the experienced, you find yourself cliff side 80% of the runs. Solo board trips are beginning to be my favourite activity! Too bad this was my last ride of the season, great way to end it though!

Driving home I took several stops to photos. Since my backpacking adventure I have learnt to take a moment to appreciate my journey. Certainly not taking Canada for granted anymore.

J

Semuc Champey, where soul searching is conquered.

I decided at 6 a.m. it was time to move on, to the water taxi back to the mainland and onwards it was. This is where I learnt how incredibly freeing it is to be a solo traveler, although I do wish I had said good-bye to a few people.

Heading to Flores, I was planning on seeing Tikal the next day. I wasn’t sold on it though. I was going because it was the ‘sight to see’. It seemed there was another plan for me though. The bus stopped for two girls hitchhiking and they turned out to be the two awesome girls I met in Caye Caulker. I quickly learnt they were heading to Semuc Champey, after a night in Flores as well – that instantly sounded much more appealing! Trust your intuition and follow where your soul goes, you wont be disappointed.

Flores, Guatemala

Flores, Guatemala

Flores is this adorable little island town, or the ‘old’ part of the city is on an island rather. It felt very calm and homely compared to Belize. We ended up staying at the Aurora Hostel – it wasn’t top rated but we wanted something cheap for the night and it was actually pretty nice. Quiet, private washrooms, really cool rooftop area! I did hear from other travellers though that one of their favourite hostels was Hostel Los Amigos in Flores. Perhaps we missed out there.

Lake life, Flores.

Lake life, Flores.

Here is the first (and last time) I got ripped off by a local shuttle bus driver! He sold the three of us bus tickets to Semuc Champey for the next morning. Now he also talked me into buying a ticket from Semuc Champey to Antigua. As this was my plan, and I thought why not – he is offering me a cheaper price. There was a poster in the Hostel lobby showing shuttle prices from all over, one of which was Semuc Champey to Antigua. He also added one night free at the hostel I was heading too. Anyways, I learnt later that I paid way too much, and the hostel I went too wouldn’t take his note as a comp for my stay (shocking, right? Sounds brutally obvious talking about it now) and I hardly got my bus out of Semuc at the end of the trip anyways. Just buy your bus tickets as you go, unless there with a larger company I would say!

Anyways, off on an eight-hour bus ride adventure to Semuc Champey. When I jumped on the bus, I believed it was around four hours. I think someone told me it was only 300 Kilometres. Turns out its closer to 8 hours because of the roads, oh the roads! The roads a filled with potholes and drivers on a mission! The drive through Guatemala was beautiful though. Lush, vibrant green rolling hills. The last bit seemed to have taken the longest, as it was all unpaved down a windy canyon. It was clear we were headed for more remote land than I anticipated – after all, I decided to make the journey the day prior, no time to research.

Bus ride views.

Bus ride views.

When we got to Lanquin, we were bombarded with young children yelling in the vehicle offering hostel accommodations and transportations. It was a quick change of pace form our quiet bus ride. We finally sorted out who was taking us to El Portal hostel. We had to transfer here to small, tiny, trucks as they were the only vehicles that could handle the rest of the road terrain. There was six of us, and of course us girls voted to pile in the back of the truck – open to the adventure right! We had a blast trying to talk Spanish to locals hitching a ride and high-fiving backpackers as they pass in similar trucks. But after thirty minutes, 11 whole kilometres, of this we were excited to stand on solid ground.

The hostel was amazing. It was eco friendly, cute little bunks, no power in the rooms – in fact the generator was only turned on from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. for power in the . Best of all, no cell phone service! The moisture was so intense that it almost ate my cell phone though. I was tempted to buy a bag of rice for all my electronics. A few cell phones did die, and a friends eReader.

El Portel

I would recommend going to this hostel because you can walk up to the pools, caves and jump off the bridge! If you stay in Lanquin you have to take the trucks back and forth.

We decided to do the pools our selves, without the tour guides – and that was a good call! We hit the pools first thing in the morning, almost had the whole place all to our selves. I am almost certain this was the most beautiful place I have ever been. The water is crystal clear, and the trees lush green, amazing viewpoints from the hiking trails. I could go on and on! Catching some sun rays in the water that morning, while the little minnows bit at my feet was a highlight from my whole trip. I think I could have day dreamed here for days…

The cave journey that afternoon was quite the change of events. A group of around 15 of us head into this cave with our bathing suits on, runners for our feet and candle stick in hand for light and one guide who only spoke Spanish. Needless to say I was feeling anxious. I did find a limit of my own – must be in control of my own safety and wellbeing! To sum it up, I had a few tears of joy when I made it back into the open air.

Fake smiles!

Fake smiles!

Much better!

 

After tubing down the river from the caves, I was still holding onto some negative energy. I had to shake it off. What better way than to jump off a bridge that’s 50 feet (12 meters)!

Jump it off.

After two nights it was time for me to head onto Antigua… after the eight hour delay due to a local protest. The locals barely let us through. They parted ways ever so slightly, I thought the bus was going to run them over. They would have defended themselves I am sure, as they made their machetes and machine guns very visible.

It was this bus ride that I decided every experience was one to take note on, even in the most uncomfortable seats possible. I had been meeting the most amazing people all the way through, and this was no exception. The poor Kiwi sitting next to me had a seat made for a child, a child that had the short end of the stick at that. She was lovely though! We ended up traveling for about a week together. After a very short time on the bus it was clear we must have met in another life. Great vibes. Lots of yarns.

Photo 2015-02-20, 5 44 27 PM Sleeping hutCouldn't find more peace & quiet.

Semuc Champey

These lovely humans <3

Its unBELIZEable

After landing at the Belize City airport, and coaching myself through my first realization of, “you are now alone in third world countries for 3 weeks. You committed, love it or hate it – can’t back out now”, I hoped in the front seat of the cab and took off to the water taxi terminal.

Figured now was as good a time as any to learn how to strike up random conversations. My cab driver, a devoted husband and father of two (he was friendly to say the least), went on to warn me about the dangers in Belize City and to watch out for the ‘Reggae Men’. I had to convince him that I had my head on my shoulders and I wouldn’t be paying the way for any local who wanted to follow me along my journey.

Belize City was not pretty or welcoming. I was happy to wait only a few minutes before jumping on board the water taxi (headed for Caye Caulker BTW!). I snagged the front seat, opened the window and breathed in the salty air and felt at home. Words cannot describe how the water makes me feel, any body of water really. A piece of my soul is water molecules I think, I feel complete when I find myself in the area.

It was here that I met two adorable German girls; they were headed to the same hostel as me (perfect!). For the record, it’s that easy to make friends while traveling solo. The three of us ended up spending the first few days together, before they moved on to the next island and I stayed put.

A kind local walked showed us the way to Bella’s Hostel. Thinking about it now I am not sure where he came from or what was in it for him. I assume he worked for a hostel on the island. I had emailed Bella’s Hostel, so I had a dorm bed ‘reserved’ for me, the other two were out of luck and had to stay at Dirty McNasty’s across the street. Yes, that’s an established business name. From the stories I heard, Nasty does paint an accurate description. Fun party hostel thought!

Bella’s was a perfect first hostel experience for me. It had the chill local vibe I was looking for. Hammocks on the deck, bikes for you to take as you please, water access with canoes to use out the back, busy little kitchen-living room area and dorm style bunkrooms. It was $12 American dollars a night, 25 BZ Dollars.

Caye Caulker for me was all about the water sports. I was there to do my Open Water, PADI certification. Decided I should get out into the water before I actually try to scuba, so snorkeling it was! I have never experienced snorkeling like that. The amount of marine life you see is mind blowing. This was out on the Belize Barrier Reef, which I learned is the second largest reef in the world – Great Barrier reef in Australia being the only one larger. The boat took us out to 3 spots, one of which being ‘Shark Ray Alley’ and holy was there sharks and rays. Nurse sharks, the ‘gentle’ ones; come up to the boat like kittens in the kitchen when you open a can of Tuna. They swarm when they hear the boat engines, because they know there is food for them. The captain throws a bunch of dead fish in the water for them and says – JUMP IN! I jumped off the other side of the boat, naturally. The rays actually bothered me a bit more than the sharks. They come and swim so close to you, and stare. I think they were checking me out more intensely than I was checking them out.

The third stop was where I saw the Green Turtle. Finally, my bucket list item, ‘swim with turtles could be checked off’. They were so CUTE. This area was far to over crowded by tourists, most swimming after the turtles, naturally scaring them off. There must have been 20 boats anchored off the reef, and all taking snorkeling groups through the waters. At one point I brought my head up and realized myself and another girl were in the middle of some other tour group. Took us five minutes to find our guide again. Amazing there is so much wild life when so many humans were out there daily. I did ask my dive instructor later that week about the animals. He said at night they all leave and go about their business, so they are coming to these areas of the reef by choice. Maybe they like to people watch.

Now all night, all I could think about was starting my PADI the next day – I was like a kid waiting for Santa. Went out for dinner that night, I was amazing how much ‘American’ food there was everywhere – sandwiches and burgers, expensive one at that. Caye Caulker wasn’t cheap in general though. I ended up buying food to cook in the hostel for most of the week. Lived off of eggs – which by the way, you buy from the shelf. That was weird to me!

One food highlight was making fresh Conch Ceviche. We brought up a few Conchs from our dive (so cool!) and Joey and the guys at the dive shop cleaned it up, chopped up the veggies on the dock and there you had it. It was delicious, and obviously very fresh. Ceviche is a big ‘local’ food in Central so having a cool story behind it made a good memory.

Anyways, I highly recommend doing your dive certificates in places like this – the ocean is your pool! When I signed up online, it said 4 days and made it sound intense. It wasn’t. It was SO easy. Ended up being two and a half days too, which was awesome. I also highly recommend Frenchies Dive Shop. They were fantastic, and my instructor, Joey, well he was exactly what I hoped for in a dive instructor: Confident, relaxed, knowledgeable, patient, friendly and cute.

Immediately finishing my last dive I was already talking about my next one. I need to time my next trip so that I can find the whale sharks – that’s a check mark waiting to happen for my bucket list as well. I did see a beautiful Spotted Eagle Ray on one dive. It was beautiful how it ‘soared’ through the water. And the fish – I felt like I was in the Finding Nemo. Every time I blinked I was amazed by a new species.

Last note – the party scene! It was solid, as you would expect. I group of us ended up trying to drink all of the rum on the Island, a few nights in a row. I highly recommend a day in the sun at The Split (remember H2O), than heading to the I&I Reggea Bar for some dancing and bad decisions. Watch out for those from Australia, the UK and Canadians – especially when we make up a group together. I think combined we partied harder than the locals.

Now, 5 nights and 4 beautiful sandy island days, I am off to Guatemala…

Note: this follows the party night I mentioned above; hung-over boat rides may beat any hung-over car ride I have suffered through in the past.

Enjoy the pictures.

J