Author Archives: jules09

A Lament for Innocence: Growing up in the 70s

Last week I had an eyebrow archer-type conversation with a massage client. We were chatting about the impending March Break and she expressed disappointment in the change in kids over the span of her teaching career. “The children are just so anxious now. They don’t know how to play anymore.”

Today, I was combing through press trip opportunities on a site called Media Kitty. At Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, guests are invited to get “their wildhood back.” Reconnect with time spent in nature and the wilderness!

The resort is cashing in on our detached population and the sage ways of our terra firma-tuned in grandparents. They are the Last of the Mohicans, the ones who remember a life spent deeper in nature, void of technology. In June and September, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s Elder’s Package covers the cost of “the stay for up to two grandparents (when travelling with six or more adults), excluding the cost of the floatplane trip from Vancouver to the resort. Rates for other family members start at $4,750 CDN for a three night all-inclusive package, with children under 12 staying for $2,375 CDN when sharing a tent with an adult. Rates for four and seven night stays are also available.”

In a stream of synchronicity, my friend Denise sent a link to a book she’d just read about “Nature Deficiency Disorder”—Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

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Nature Deficiency Disorder? Wildhood? Anxious kindergarten kids? The only time I was anxious in kindergarten was when we lined up alphabetically to use the washrooms and I pissed my pants (well, skirt actually. I’m a “T”—and the rest of the alphabet was dilly-dallying).

The teacher I spoke with enlightened me further. Apparently her school is ramping up their emotional awareness curricula with “mindfulness sessions.” Each morning, via the PA system, students (and teachers) are led through a mindfulness exercise, encouraging them to focus on their intention, their breathing and how to be present.

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Holy Eckhart Tolle! I recall doing mindfulness sessions in grade 10 drama class with a spunky teacher ahead of her time. I thought for sure I was ready for the hippie commune after that exercise. It was truly “out there” and something I imagined occurring in the intense heat of a sweat lodge or on a solo journey to Kilimanjaro. In kindergarten we were innocently sucking back juice boxes, handfuls of Oreos and taste-testing the Elmer’s glue and poster paint. We were IN the moment, by default. I didn’t even know the term “mindfulness” until the day I laid on the floor of the drama classroom, a bit too icked out by the carpet to be totally centered and mindful.

Do kids need mindfulness session? Shouldn’t they just be pushed outside and away from their tablets and iPhones? I know there’s probably an app for tree-climbing and grass stains, but c’mon. We need to be told to rediscover our “wildhood” and introduce kids to earth basics like dirt, worms and trees? Wow.

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I was born in 1974. We lived in childhood postcard. I had to sit down almost daily to have sticky sap cut out of my hair from perching in the pines behind our house making crappily constructed tree houses (or, dodgy ladders to wobbly platforms at least). We had chronic gouges and scrapes from endless hide n’ go seek sessions at my cousin’s farm and hiding in the belly of the combines, under greasy farm trucks in the barns. At day’s end we were ripe with pig manure, swamp mud, full of burrs and scratched all to hell from racing through the corn field rows. Our faces would be stained with orange or purple Kool-aid. Nobody was allergic to peanuts. We survived on peanut butter alone.

We were immunized because we were supposed to be. We were subjected to nit checks by some public health nurse every so often. Once a month the “Swish Lady” would appear at school and we’d gargle fluoride and chew on tiny red tablets that would reveal our tartar. At age 10, that same nurse would return and have all the girls bend over to check for scoliosis.

Nobody had ADD. If anything, you were genuinely bored and twitchy from math or history class. More often, you were a dreamer—and excited about the prospect of getting back outside to the places where all the neat things were. Where you could catch pollywogs in makeshift nets. Dig for arrowheads in the tilled fields. Make loon calls with cupped hands and blades of grass held just-so.

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Nobody was overweight—and in the 70s, whole wheat bread hadn’t even been invented. We ate our share of pre-packaged sugary things, so that can’t be to blame. We LOVED neon Kraft Dinner and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (to which we would add even more sugar). The 70s and 80s were all about white bread, Swiss Rolls, fish sticks, Fruit Roll-ups, Pop Tarts, Jell-o everything, Freezies and iceberg lettuce. We survived.

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Our parents were responsible. They made sure we could print, read and say thank you before we started kindergarten. They made sure we were curious, interested and interesting. My dad ensured that we could swim, ride bikes, swing a bat and do a snow plow stop when we played hockey. They weren’t Dragon helicopter parents force-feeding us piano lessons, karate, dance, etc., etc. Despite my dad’s affection and accolades for baseball and hockey—we all chose soccer. We chose. My mom would be the first to recommend quitting if we weren’t enjoying something anymore. I still think quitting is great. It means you can start something better.

“Only boring people get bored” My mother tattooed that into our young minds.

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Fun was a trip to the library to get as many books as we could carry. I tore through choose-your-own-adventure novels at night (yes, under the covers, with a flashlight), inspired to choose-my-own-adventures the next day. We went to Port Dover for hot dogs, went skating at Lion’s Park, fished the Grand, stayed up past our bedtime to look for Haley’s Comet and built birdhouses at the local nature centre. Our Christmas and birthday gifts were things like telescopes, bird guides, blank journals, microscopes. Dax was always experimenting with how to make dill pickles glow in the dark. We’d grow sea salt crystals, build terrariums and attempt getting avocado pits to sprout.

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Sure, we watched TV, but only at night and barely on Saturday mornings (my brother, sister and I all chose sleep over cartoons). When my mom did a revamp of the living room and moved the console TV downstairs, we lost even more interest. However, back then, didn’t we all watch the exact same shows? Were there only six to choose from? Facts of Life, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Silver Spoons?

We had one rotary dial phone that was more of a nuisance than necessity. However, my pre-teen sister was quite obsessed with it and, after clogging the home phone line in excess, she was forced into purchasing her own phone line if she wanted to gab that much. But still, she was talking, not texting. She’s still a talker and not a texter. And, I’m still without a cell phone.

When Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers was all the rage, my brother sunk money he had earned from selling produce from his garden into a play station. Wisely, he charged my sister and I to play— 25 cents a game. My coveted item was a cassette player—so I could record the spring peepers in the pond. My version of a tablet was an Etch-a-Sketch. Did we feel hard done by? Out of the loop? Hardly. We had it all. We had a Rubik’s Cube, a dog, a cat, a pond and Hostess Ketchup chips for Friday night.

Back then, we EARNED our pleasures. And they were pleasures, not demands. Kiley worked the graveyard shift at Tim Horton’s to have that fancy phone line. We picked gravel out of the grass (from the snowplows) and pinecones from the forest floor (to avoid shin shrapnel from the lawnmower). We Turtle Waxed the car and scrubbed the white walls of my dad’s Cutlass Supreme with a toothbrush for maybe $5.

We weren’t anxious. Pizza night was a treat, not routine. Going to McDonald’s was a big deal. I had three pairs of rugger pants and a pair of Kangaroo shoes. I alternated my Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt and cowboy fringe shirt. We were want for nothing—we weren’t obsessed with name brands. Everyone wore Kangaroo shoes then.

Life was innocent and simple. Lawn darts and charcoal barbecues started with lighter fluid. We didn’t sanitize our hands. Xanadu, our dog, washed our faces.

We were mindful, without even knowing it. And perhaps that’s the best way to be.

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Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

(Not) Sleeping Around Coastal Colombia

When you sleep around Colombia, here are three guarantees:

  1. You won’t sleep
  2. There will be no hot showers (or, lukewarm for that matter…but, you might be able to bird watch from the convenience of your shower)
  3. Sometimes you’ll have to request a toilet seat

Poor Kim. Even with ear plugs and enough rum to kill an elephant,  the crashing waves of the Caribbean were just too crashy. The coconuts also crashed during the night and even the tiny little lizards peeped and barked from the palm frond roofs above our heads. And of course we had a few requisite heat-seeking missile mosquitos trapped inside our mosquito net, and an off kilter rooster (from Australia?) who cockadoodled at 3am onward. There were howler monkeys, street dog choirs, horny neighbours having (apparently) amazing sex in the outdoor shower adjacent to our room, salsa lovers with music CRANKED at dawn, Fred Flintstone snorers, farters and trickling toilets. Kim didn’t sleep for 21 days.

But, sleep aside (I’m in charge of sleeping for two), here’s where we crashed around Colombia.

Zaguan Boutique Hotel, Cartagena

$129.35 CDN, 2 nights incl. breakfast


We weren’t supposed to sleep here. Despite having made a reservation with, our ‘original’ hotel, Casa del Mango, had no room for us. Via Google translate, the receptionist awaiting our arrival typed in “Hello nice lady of the night, we have no room but will send you somewhere else.” GREAT. Our introduction to Spanish charades began that night as we guessed that our cab fare would be covered by the first hotel and we would be shuttled off somewhere else. She showed us some convincing pictures of Zaguan, and we hopped in another cab and headed back directly to where we had just come from, via the airport.

In the historic centre of Cartagena, this hotel was actually closer to where we wanted to be. In minutes we were atop the walled city, walking the fort (which we soon learned was where everyone under the age of 30 came to make out on the cannons).

The room itself was contemporary and had a King bed. After we unpacked most everything on to the single bed in the room, the receptionist knocked on our door. She needed the single bed for another room. A mild annoyance, less so than the waterproof child who continued to cannonball and splash about the courtyard pool until almost 11pm. Oh, and supervising dad? He had a nice marching band mix pumping out of his cell phone—placed on our bedroom window sill. Around 2am, a group of three (probably the ones who needed the single bed) clomped in and shared their life stories above us until dawn.


We made our way to the courtyard, bleary-eyed, for our first day (but not last day) of crappy, muddy coffee, white bread, eggs and papaya.

Highlight: our shower curtain rod was an old mop handle and we had some type of insect with a 12 hour lifespan in the bathroom. Each morning, 150 dead miniature flies would be left tits up all over the sink, soap and floor.

Dumaga Hostal, Taganga

$67 CDN, 2 nights, no breakfast (but free coffee and convo with Anna!)


For $33 bucks a night, I loved this place. Owned by a recently retired Colombian American Airlines flight attendant, Anna, it was authentic, rustic and Tiny House Nation-cool. It even had a flat screen TV! However, Taganga, a formerly sleepy fishing village, is also home of the “crazy breeze.” This breeze is like a gale-force wind that whips towards the ocean, and I thought for sure our tiny cabana was going to blow right off its tiny stilts into the sea. Our bed shook, the whole structure leaned with the wind and creaked and threatened until sunrise. Oh, and then the rooster started in. This set the Rooster Richter Scale at an all-time high. It was like waking up in the middle of Old Macdonald’s Farm.

Anna compensated though with her tall tales, hatred for the neighbour’s rooster and plied us with better coffee. She helped us arrange our hell ride (see previous blog) to Playa Blanca with her rooster-owning neighbour and found us a private cab to Minca for a steal. She was the only English-speaking person we had found in Colombia in four days.

Dumaga is .8km to the beach and not entirely flip flop friendly. Kim banned me from flip-flopping down due to the terrain and my tendency to skid out or lose a flop. It’s rocky and more of a trail than a proper road. Even the taxi refused to climb the hill to drop us directly at Dumaga. At night it’s a steep crawl and one that is only done confidently with the aid of several happy hour drinks to dull rational senses.

Highlight: Sundowners at the beach. This actually ended up being our only sunset in Colombia and it was fun to park ourselves on the seawall and watch all the activity. Fisherman carrying Chihuahua-sized lobsters for sale, kids hoofing soccer balls and an odd and surprising collection of homemade circus acts. As Kim said, “It’s the place where everyone who didn’t make the Barnum & Bailey’s cut come to live.” We ate very cheaply here (and without diarrhea), sampling deep-fried arepas stuffed with guacamole and cheese for 75 cents. Beer was the same price. We also discovered what we dubbed “Colombian poutine”—the heap consisted of Crisco-saturated fries, three hunks of sausage, shredded lettuce and carrot in a mayo dressing with tomato and salty cheese. Mojitos made it taste better. I’m not sure if I would rave about it as much midday, not under the influence.

El Dorado Bird Reservo,

$230 CDN including a paltry dinner and breakfast (and 136 hummingbirds)

PLUS: $82 hell ride on the back of motorbike, to and fro from the reserve


Well, we ruined ourselves by staying here. See previous blog for the full account of hell ride #2 to access the bird reserve on motorbikes. But, wow. Soundtrack? Wattled guans and holy cacophony of green parrots! Hummingbirds, fifty at a time, circled the feeders. This place just oozed birds. At 1,700m, we were truly sleeping in the clouds. Standing on the balcony of our room, clouds would swallow the canopy below and soon envelop us, then part again.


At night, Cartagena and Bocagrande appeared like a distant Lite Brite set. The stars were bigger and brighter than those of the city far below. We were above the coffee plantations even! It was like waking up in a treehouse with toucans. Kim and I both sounded like hyped-up versions of David Attenborough, spotting birds at all angles and thumbing through the Encyclopedia-sized Colombian bird book on hand to identify the orange-eared tanager, tawny headed swallow and yellow-legged thrush.


At dinner (no other options in this remote reserve!), we chatted with the other guests. Two Americans, four Canadians and a Brit. The Canadians were also herpetologists—they couldn’t eat dinner fast enough. “When the birds end, the herps begin!” They even travelled with snake hooks! They were like sugar-high kids, finding ghost frogs and anoles that made their voices even higher than before. In two weeks they had seen 267 species. The Americans bragged about how many endemic species they had seen before breakfast–18. Kim and I privately rolled our eyes and opted out of the conversation to check out the superb collection of neon lime and orange moths and katydids that had gathered on the window of the treehouse where dinner was served.

Dinner was a pure flop—but, not why we came. I’m not even sure what it was. Tuna pie with a cold pile of mashed potatoes? It was all very beige and something a grade 7 home-ec class would prepare.

Highlight: Take the trail to El Mirador for a stunner of a view. You won’t cross paths with anyone else on the trail. And, fill up your coffee cup with hot cocoa in the morning ( a nice departure from the coffee slurry) and take a perch below the treehouse to watch all the birds that come to the “take-out” window. Those lovely moths from the night before make for a quick breakfast!

Tayrona Tented Lodge, Costeno Beach

$310.00 CDN for three nights, all-inclusive (no booze)


After walking 30 minutes through an old banana plantation, we weren’t entirely sure if we had turned the right way. Yes, we were parallel to the beach but we saw no signage for the tented lodge. The sun was like molten lava and our packs like Sumo wrestlers on our back.

We found a surf camp first and the cool dudes had never heard of the Tented Lodge. Even though it was DIRECTLY beside them, just 75 meters away. Alas, we were happy to drop our bags and find that we had booked three nights on a perfectly isolated beach. The surfers couldn’t be heard or seen unless they took to the water—but, most of them were surfing the internet or hanging out high in their hammocks. We had the beach to ourselves.

The Lodge consists of three self-contained cabanas and, again, due to the remoteness, an all-inclusive package is necessary. We ate like kings—spaghetti Bolognese, coconut rice and tilapia, chicken in coconut sauce with plantain fritters. Each meal we were presented with a new mystery juice (enhanced by our in-room vodka)–strawberry, guava and tamarind.

It was so peaceful here and our morning ritual was lazy outside of my 5k run to the end of the road. Kim would follow behind, with binoculars and camera, chasing pileated woodpeckers and parakeets around.

The beach was littered only with coconuts—obviously we were well off any boat or steamer pathway.

On our first night, the owner welcomed us with a complimentary bottle of champagne (which we think was possibly perfume blended with gasoline). He had built a Burning Man-esque effigy on the beach and invited us to join him on the beach that night. There was a cooler of beer and marshmallows even! The fire was over five feet and with endless driftwood and coconut husks, we fell into a lovely trance for hours.

Tayrona proved to be one of our faves with its isolation. We both plowed through our books, nursing drinks on our balcony, walking for hours on the beach like it was our new-found occupation.

La Sirena Eco-Hotel, Palomino

$645 CDN, 7 nights seaside casita, incl. AMAZING breakfast and one cute cat


The seaside casita we booked at La Sirena was a Pinterest page, for sure. Located right on the beach, it oozed serenity. We had an open-sky shower! We chatted with one of the massage therapists on-site and learned she was from Nelson, BC. She said she was looking for another “Nelson” somewhere warmer, and this was it. She had found it. Having been in Nelson in the fall, Kim and I agreed. It was zen, granola, yoga-centric and had groovy on the GPS.


Marta, the Colombian owner, charmed us with her genesis story. She had bought the property years ago, when her children were young. She was living in Toronto then, and, after purchasing the land, couldn’t afford to fly back to see or enjoy it for years. Her patience is evident in her plan and what she has created. The bungalows, casitas and permaculture gardens embrace and enhance the land instead of stealing the show. It’s eco-conscious all around with herbal mosquito repellants and honey for sale. The menu is a showcase of the garden (the ginger pumpkin coconut soup is the grand prize winner) and the local bakery. Unlike the rest of our travels through Colombia, when we groaned at the thought of having to eat again, La Sirena was a pure treat with the likes of dense fruit-studded French toast, lentil burgers with red cabbage slaw and plantain chips and hefty black bean burritos.


We enjoyed “bat o’clock” (at 5:55pm the bats begin to flit about and circle the palms) with bottles of red and watched the pink sky settle into night.

Though we were nearly vegan converts by day 7, we didn’t yoga—not even once. Though, we watched a lot of classes while drinking beer!

Highlight: One adorable cat named Emma who will gladly help you out with your French Toast and an endless beach that you can walk to Venezuela on. And, you can pay for your stay via paypal.

Palomino Breeze, Palomino

$35.77 CDN including breakfast and five snoring farters

We had lofty plans to go to the desert region via 4×4 but axed the idea when full logistics and cost were considered. We still had nearly a week to plot out after La Sirena, so we decided to cut costs and have a cheap sleep just a 15 minute walk from the beach at Palomino Breeze.

We had passed by the hotel every day on our way to ‘town’ on our grocery run. It was well-manicured with a pool and gorgeous golden retriever. We couldn’t believe the price either. Oddly, no one was staying there it seemed. That is, until we booked a night. Directly above our private room was a dorm with six bunk beds. All night long a group of Colombian students jumped in and out of bed, sent text messages and hosed themselves with citronella. They chatted, farted and carried on, oblivious. The couple beside us did the same—the walls were maxi-pad thin and we could hear everyone from all angles. The toilet trickled until Kim shut the water valve off. The pillows were made up of lumpy bits of leftover Q-tip cotton. The bed was like sleeping on a panty liner with springs. The hotel owner watched TV in the open-air commons room until 11pm at a blaring level. Even though the extensive document we signed said the commons room would close at 9pm, there would be no loud noise after this time—and absolutely no psychotropic drugs. We needed some serious psychotropic drugs!!

We tried to calm ourselves by turning the experience into Camino training. Walking the Camino de Santiago’s greatest challenge for Kim and I will be the other people—not the 600km walk. Sharing a hostel with no walls? Ugh. This was close. The walls here didn’t go to the ceiling and shit was falling from the ceiling as the frat party upstairs bounced around.

Not worth the savings or a picture.

Posada Jasayma, Tayrona National Park

$153 CDN for two nights, including 4 breakfasts, 4 dinners (incl. $15 deduction for bitching

about the noise levels from the neighbours listening to accordion music at 6am)

$38 CDN (park admission for two)


I missed the disclaimer that this hotel had no electricity. Or, toilet seat! It was a version of a farm shed, something like the three little pigs would have built. A combo of wood scraps, brick and cement, the water in the shower and sink smelled like a swamp—but, you could birdwatch from the shower. The screened window was at the perfect height to look for titi monkeys and parakeets.

Amazingly, the bed had no mosquito net—despite being in prime yellow fever territory. I suppose the curtains on the window were the equivalent?


The worst coffee we had in Colombia was here. The chef roared in the back of a motorbike every day to prep breakfast (day 18 of eggs and white bread, hurray!) and dinners that were actually impressive given her makeshift kitchen with pots and pans nailed to a palm tree. She made a super sweet lemonade that we tempered with rum.

Despite being inside Tayrona National Park (the world’s largest coastal national park), you are still 35 minutes to the trailhead, and another 8km to Cabo San Juan.


Highlight: At night, watching the fireflies emerge with the stars. Waking up to howler monkeys! And, finding out that we could dial-a-bottle. Because the ‘hotel’ had no bar service or drinks/snacks for sale, we could request the motorbike driver to pick up beer for us, for no additional cost (leaving the park means you have to pay admission to re-enter to the tune of $18US). Also, there is a pet parakeet here that you can have up close and personal moments with.

Yuluka Eco Hotel, Tayrona

$184 for 3 nights, Mountain View Bungalow, King Bed incl. breakfast

$59.80 for 2 mojitos, 4 mango shakes, 2 beers, 2 waters, 1 spag bol, 1 chicken quesadilla, 1 salad and 1 whole snapper with coconut rice (not all in one sitting)



Visually and architecturally impressive, the bungalows at Yuluka are built in and around massive boulders. A winding stone staircase is a real heart-thumper, but the mountain views from the rooms are uninterrupted and worth the price of admission.


As lush and manicured as an Oscar night attendee, Yuluka is a traveller’s oasis with a palatial bedroom, King bed and hammocks on the balcony. The bathroom—again, open sky (check out the conch shell shower head!) with a tub that would fit twenty of our friends was a knock-out. I loved that you could just drip dry on the hot stones—like a Turkish spa.


Esther, one of the amiable kitchen staff made the best thick and foamy mango coconut milkshakes. We even convinced her to switch up the smoked salmon quesadilla (smoked salmon in Colombia??) to chicken, and, it was the best thing we ate in three weeks. Served with mango salsa and stuffed with stretchy cheese, Esther has found her calling.


After tromping around Tayrona park, we were happy to be supine poolside with the above-mentioned mango shakes. Just watch out for the dive-bombing iguanas that suddenly belly-flop off the trees. Yuluka has built a living wall by the pool—one that we want to recreate. Hiding the concrete cinder blocks, it was a real marvel.


Unfortunately, the hotel is right on the major highway through Tayrona and trucks and motorbikes like to gun it down the straightaway. It’s the only negative I have for the property and really, once we were in the groove and sucking up the last of the Colombian sun, we tuned it out.

Highlight: A few chapters in the hammock before dusk, though you will be distracted by inevitable mountain staring.

Yes, we were largely sleepless but well-satiated by the rhythms, guaranteed sun, unexpected entertainment/hell rides and fauna of Colombia. If you are a resilient traveler open to some roadblocks, bouts of diarrhea, zero soundproofing, hiking through banana plantations to solar powered hotels, long hauls on public transport and of a steel gut, Colombia will suit.

If you’re looking for good coffee, air-conditioning, sanitation, English, ice cubes, hot showers, satellite TV, reliable internet, culinary delights, a wine list and cockroach-free suites—nope. Not here. Try somewhere in North America

Next stop? Maybe Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland, where the hotel rooms have switches to turn on white noise if the silence becomes too unbearable.

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Mucking Around Colombia: Mud Massages in Volcan de Lodo El Tutomo

When Kim and I began digging deeper into Colombia, it became obvious that tourism had yet to really percolate outside of Cartagena. Websites were thin on content and logistics. How to physically get to the dunes of La Guajira was vague and not entirely enticing. Descriptions varied, but all seemed to involve a solid two days bumping across a wind-whipped desert and sleeping in hammocks. Yeah, we don’t sleep in hammocks—even for $8 a night. I can handle a few chapters in one, but not a night’s sleep.

We opted to skip the desert, our memories of Egypt’s Siwa Oasis and the love affair we had with the White Desert can’t be matched, I know. Instead, we plotted out a route along Colombia’s coast that would be heavy on birds, a few nights in Tayrona National Park (the world’s largest coastal national park) and a volcanic mud massage at Volcan de Lodo El Tutomo in Santa Cantalina, 50km outside Cartagena.


Years ago (2008!) I had seen an episode of Word Travels on Colombia, but it wasn’t until Kim pulled up a few photos online of an ant hill volcano that the memory was triggered. I told her about travel writers and TV hosts Julia Dimon and Robin Esrock (whose Great Canadian Bucket List book launch we had attended last spring) going to that very volcano. I was certain.

The ‘attraction’ looked very homemade with a rickety staircase (that would fail any North American standards) to the crater, not so very far away at 49 feet.

Finding transit to the volcano was trying. Local buses stopped at a nearby gas station and then involved a 3km walk to the site. But you had to get to the local bus station, not so locally located on the outskirts of Cartagena. We opted to save hours and spend more by hiring a private cab who could also take us directly to the Convento de Popa, the only other site of interest to us in the city.


The convent can’t be reached by public transit either, and the walk up the zig zag road with cabs ripping up and down blind switchbacks was not advised. We understood immediately. The convent was lacking in wow factor but, the location at 150m did allow for a cool (and expensive) aerial of Cartagena and Bocagrande.


For $210,000 ($105US—total rip-off but total convenience for our party of 2) our cabbie waited for us to poke around the convent (15 minutes—not including 15 minutes drinking a beer and looking for our cabbie who probably assumed we’d be a pokey hour). There was no small talk with him due to him speaking 100% Spanish and us, 100% English. Instead he turned up his Latino rockabilly muzak and the air con to Canadian winter levels. Great.

As soon as we came to a stop (the mighty volcano in full view), fixers latched themselves to us. Two lanky Colombian boys, probably just shy of 20, introduced themselves and said they would help us. I’m not sure how or why we needed help because it was all so self-explanatory. Pay here ($10,000 for two/$5.00US), climb stairs and, get in to the mud!


What can you do for $5.00 nowadays? It was going to be a scream. Kim and I did quick changes into sports bras and underwear (I know, so classy! But I didn’t want to sacrifice my bikini) that we knew would be disposable after the mud dunk. We had read in Lonely Planet that folklore surrounding the mud volcano involved a priest who saw the fiery hole as the work of the devil. Apparently, it used to be a bubbling brew of molten lava and angry (tiny) eruptions. A few sprinkles of holy water and the priest turned the cranky volcano into mud to drown the devil. And, to provide a lark of an attraction for future tourists boasting mineral content and healing properties.

Our fixers also became our chief photographers (with the Fuji in hand, they snapped over 100 pics in less than half an hour—and even took video footage). They clung to us like mud as we climbed the ladder and queued up to enter the pit. Looking back at the Word Travels site now—I am shocked at the change. The mud bath is now about 10 feet lower than it was in the pictures on Robin and Julia’s 2008 visit. Now we had to climb a ladder down into the drowned devil pit–seven years ago it the mud was flush with the crater’s surface. Climate change?


I tell you. There’s nothing quite like sharing a mud bath with twenty of your closest non-friends with elbows and feet in your ribs and face. It was like a frosh week hot tub. But, not hot. The mud was like lukewarm pudding and so buoyant it was impossible to stand. I have no idea how deep the pit was or whether the devil’s skeleton was just a toe-tip away, but, it was like being in outerspace. Gravity bounced me to the surface with a local urging me to lie back, relax. “Put head down.” I didn’t really want to muck up my hair, but, with his hand not so gently pushing my forehead down, I had to cave. Kim entered next, as bewildered as me. “Okay, how many of our friends and family would say this would be their biggest nightmare?” All of them, except maybe my sister and our pal Michelle Bluhm who does zany things like eat walrus and polar bear and sleep in treehouses and spend years living in human-unfriendly places like Nunavut.


I thought of our friends Heidi, Kay—my mother. All of them would require sedation or millions to enter the mud volcano. Because, better yet—you get a massage too! But, it isn’t included in the admission price. No, it’s another $2.50 each for a muddy groping. The mud massagers began rubbing Kim and I up and down within a minute. They turned us like we were on a rotisserie spit and came only so close to our nether regions. I was surprised, in the dark and depth of the mud, those wandering hands could go anywhere, sight unseen.


It was brisk, weird and hilarious. Our fixers continually called to us for in-action photos from above. We were spun around a few times and well-slathered, heads half-dunked in the devil’s remains. It smelled mineral-ish, like pennies and clay. Like Plastercine actually. After maybe 20 minutes we were whistled at to get out. We were dragged to the second ladder where a mud-whiskerer whisked off the mud from our bodies as we mounted the rungs. Still slick with the healing pudding, we exited the crater and were instructed to walk down the other side of the volcano, gripping the mud-caked hand rails as we skidded down the ‘steps.’


Our fixers met us and ushered us to a lagoon 50m away. It was like the walk of shame down a road lined with makeshift restaurants selling beer, arepas, gasoline, fried fish and candy bars.


At the lagoon, Kim and I were still laughing about our five dollar experience. Little did we know what was in store next. Two women led us into deeper waters and pushed us down rather aggressively into a seated position. The murky water was up to my collarbones. The last thing I saw was Kim get doused with a bucket of water over her head. And then it was my turn. The buckets kept coming—I couldn’t breathe. I could hear Kim say, “Jesus!” And then I knew why. My bucket-dumper was tugging at my bra and trying to pull it over my head. Next she was giving me a wedgie. Her index fingers were deep in my ears and her thumbs in my eyes. Holy! Still sputtering, she threw more water over my head. We were being drowned! It was like having a fire hose at point blank! What’s that expression? Baptism by fire?

We choked and burped up lagoon water. Finally, there was a reprieve from the prodding fingers and wedgies.

Kim and I said a weak thank you to the women. We swam further into the lagoon for safety. “That was like being INSIDE a washing machine!” We still had traces of mud, surprisingly.

Exhausted from the roughhousing and attempted drowning, we found our fixers and camera. Of course, such fun would cost more than the admission. The fixers wanted $10,000 each ($5), and the massage guys were waiting for us too. They wanted $5,000 each. And of course the women who tried to smother us—they sneered and gave us a Spanish cussing when we gave them $2,000 each.

Once we paid off the hoser girls and refused to give everyone more money, a small van packed with pasty Germans piled out. Our fixers were gone in a flash and everyone resumed their positions.

We stripped in a tiny closet-sized change house and headed back to Cartagena for a serious shower. My hair was scarecrow-like, our skin grey with mud streaks and seaweed.

It was obvious. This was the very best thing to do in Cartagena.

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The Ms. Adventures of Kim and Jules in Colombia

Contrary to popular belief, Kim and I don’t actively search out adventure. The most innocent intentions somehow end with us sleeping in our 4×4 during a 180km/hour windstorm in Iceland, in the belly of a cave in Belize with a guide on the lam from the police (who made the BBC news), or in a near fistfight with a cabbie in Alexandria, Egypt who wouldn’t let us have our backpacks until we paid him double the price.

Of course we had misadventures in Colombia. Such as, let’s go to Playa Cristal by boat.


Hell Ride #1

Boat captains in Taganga had been after us for two days to see the most beautiful beach in Colombia. White sand they promised. The Taganga beach was clogged with twentysomethings downing cheap rum and cans of tuna. Soccer balls whizzed by and there were wayward circus acts—jugglers and someone playing a kazoo-thing while balancing on a ball. Playa Cristal was tempting, just for temporary relief from the hippie commune of Taganga’s inlet. For $130,000 pesos ($65) we not only had transportation to Playa Cristal—we had a white water rafting-Niagara hydroplaning jet boat HELL RIDE. I was as white knuckled as my Grandmother on the 401. I really thought my bicep was going to blow as I held on to the side of the boat through Perfect Storm-sized swells. From the inlet, as we boarded the boat and were offered ancient broken-strap lifejackets (more likely to sink us than save us), the sea looked like glass. Of course.

As we rounded the bay and cut out to the open waters, Jesus. The swells were 12 feet high. The guy behind me had his head between his knees in no time. The guy in front of me flew completely out of his seat and smacked back down, shaken but not stirred. The boat sat three to four across on bench seats designed for Smurf bums. We had about 16 in our flimsy boat, all suckers for this white sand paradise. I knew already that I wouldn’t enjoy a minute on the beach, knowing in just a few hours we’d have to return to Taganga through the tsunami.

It was terrifying. Level-headed, rational Kim, was even a bit blanched. Seated beside me, she had my other bicep to hang on to. Our bags were saturated after the first wave—and it was nearly impossible to hide the camera from the breaching whale-like spray. We couldn’t talk—I tried once and nearly bit my tongue in two as the boat mounted a wave and dropped down again with a vertebrae-crunching smash. However, my neck audibly cracked during one of the smackdowns, and it’s the first time I’ve been able to properly rotate my neck to the right in months.

The constant, pummeling tidal waves of salt luckily left us half-blinded for 98% of the ride. When I could see (half-genuinely crying, half trying to squint out the salt burn), it was a complete horror. As we edged closer to the rocky shore I told Kim, “Don’t look now, or until we arrive.” Instead I stared at the guy’s crack ahead of me, also aware that I may get a sudden elbow to the head.

The sheer terror was compensated by temporary bliss. The boat first stopped at Playa Concha, a closer beach, and a second beach called 7 Olas. I wanted to bail at beach one and take the jungle route back with a machete. Screw the pre-paid boat ride.

By the time we reached Playa Blanca, we all looked like we had been on a roller coaster that had flown off its track and crash landed onto the beach. The water was calmer here, and remarkably turquoise. Worth the death-defying, nerve-fraying $130,000 one hour of self-talk? I’m not sure. Our adrenalin levels were off the Richter scale—we couldn’t even walk properly, our quads had stopped functioning. It’s probably one of the first signs of shock.

We dropped our bags and shakily set up camp. To quell our jitters we climbed the hill to the El Mirador for a tranquilizing view of the bay and much needed liquid courage. I could barely wrap my fingers around the beer bottle—I was still all jitters. Kim and I could hardly speak—our wide eyes and head shaking communicated all we needed too.


Exhausted, we passed out on our blanket. It took a few hours to calm down again and be able to properly walk the length of the beach. We drank more beer and were nervous to eat—we could just imagine the boatload back with everyone chucking up fried tilapia and rice. We figured eating would be wise as we had gut rot from the cow patty-sized cookies we bought from a woman plying the beach. Made of sugar, pineapple and coconut, they could have doubled as body exfoliants. We ordered chicken and coconut rice with fried plantain and suddenly saw our boat captain giving us the “come on!” signal. What? We looked at our watch—we weren’t supposed to depart until 4:00 and it was just 3:15. I explained the situation to our server in Spanish charades. He promised in would be ready in a few minutos. Pacing, he finally packed it up and asked for $45,000 pesos ($23 for a beach shack resto operating over an open fire with Styrofoam coolers for refrigeration). Grossly overpriced by about three times for the shiny white tourists. Oh, we battled. An expat jumped in and we made off with one chicken and rice lunch and two beers for $20,000 ($10). We ran for our boat and joked that we could eat it on the way back to Taganga. Right. I could just imagine the rice in the hair of everyone behind us. It was probably best that we didn’t have an opportunity to eat. I’m sure it would have been barfed up over the side twenty minutes in.

And, that was our innocent little day trip to the not-white (but ‘light’ sand) beach at Playa Cristal. Not recommended.

Awesome Idea #2–A 1.5 hour Motorbike Ride Up a Mountain


Back in December, I had come across an intoxicating site for the El Dorado Bird Reserve. It’s known as the “Holy Grail” of the birding world and that made it a no-brainer. Colombia has over 1,700 bird species (Canada sits around the sub-500 mark in comparison). The subtropical montane forest sits in the clouds at 1,900 meters. The site bragged about the “Treehouse” where you could take in the snow-laden Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Caribbean coastline.

I read off the pertinent details to Kim—it was an expensive sleep at $160 (as we had already booked $32 cabanas and a beachfront casita for $90/night), but, you could wake up in the clouds! With toucans! I copied out the directions—it would be quite simple, just two hours from Santa Marta. In Minca (550 meters), the site suggested we could easily find 4×4 transport to the bird reserve.


We arrived in Minca and learned that no, we wouldn’t be able to find a 4×4. Only pre-booked groups travelling with an agency had that luxury. We would have to go by motorbike. With our packs. At that point, early in our travels, our bags were clocking in at 23 and 31 kilos. The drivers didn’t have extra helmets—of course. Even the Sons of Anarchy wear helmets! Kim was an even whiter shade of pale (and, that takes effort as she is brown as a coconut from just an hour in the sun)—and she had even owned a motorcycle years ago! If she was nervous, hell, I was done for. But, I did grow accustomed to kamikaze moto taxis all over Uganda and Kenya. The Playa Cristal boat was my personal hell, at least we were on land.


We negotiated $40,000 each, one-way, thinking maybe we could hitchhike back down the mountain with other guests possibly in a 4×4. Re-jittered we asked the motorbike dudes to give us 10 minutes to grab some snacks (some cooked ‘sausages’ which are Colombian code for wieners and a block of salty cheese). “Let’s get a beer,” Kim said, focussed. I looked at my watch—it was just 10am.

We chugged our beers and mounted the bikes. Luckily the guys balanced our packs on the front of the bikes, giving us a little more freedom to hang on to the bike for dear life.

The ‘road’ up to El Dorado was merely a suggestion. It was full of meteorite-sized potholes that could swallow the entire bike. The ‘road’ was washed out in several places as mountain streams gushed and bled without boundary. We passed coffee pickers, Wagyuu Indians—and probably a lot of other things but I could barely see as I was getting whipped with so many ferns and low-lying branches.


Kim had already roared off into the ether and I couldn’t believe we had 90 minutes on the back of a bike to endure. Halfway, hip flexors well-seized, our drivers pulled over to a shack selling gas in Coca Cola bottles—and, actual Coca Cola. Local men were doing shots of something clear (possibly also gasoline) and had music blasting into the jungle at rave levels. Kim and I shook our heads at their primitive houses—all rigged with Massey Hall-worthy sound systems.

Once we got into the we-probably-won’t-die groove, the ride was a cool and intimate passage through verdant tracks. I thought of Ewan Macgregor and Charley Boorman and their 30,000km ride around the world—albeit on tricked out BMW bikes, but still. Neon blue Morpho butterflies flitted across our path and I craned my head to see a pack of Santa Marta parakeets take to the sky.

Arriving at El-Dorado with Jell-o limbs, we were thrilled. Now this was worth the bum chafe and compressed vertebral discs. As our drivers took a break from the Thighmaster workout, I let my teeth unclench. Yes, more beer. It had proven its worth as our magical calming elixir so far.

As we waited for our room key, Kim and I stepped on to the balcony of the Treehouse. Sharing notes on our journey up, the fear factor and anxiety exited the moment we trained our eyes on the hummingbird feeders at El Dorado. There were over fifty hummingbirds in our sight. A hand’s reach away! It was like a hummer flash mob, with eight different species lining up at a time.


El Dorado was electric with sound, the buzz and twit of the hummers, distant birds in the canopies…this misadventure was awesome. Oh, and  we couldn’t hitch a 4×4 ride out, we had to call upon our motorbike dudes again–and had to wear our packs down to distribute the weight and momentum better. As top-heavy as we were, at least we had spine protection on the return trip.


Brain wave #3: Flamingo Stalking

Again, it all unfolded so innocently. We were sitting outside our casita at La Sirena in Palomino, watching the sky turn cantaloupe with dusk. Bats had begun to swirl about as we closed our books and opened wine. A woman approached us with a broad smile. “Do you speak English?”


“Where did you find that wine?”

We told her the secret location of the only red wine available in Palomino. At 13,000 pesos ($6.50), ithe Chilean G7 surprisingly didn’t taste like cough syrup or perfume. We chatted about our Colombian route, comparing itineraries and soon met the rest of Joanna’s Polish crew—her husband Lukas and daughters, Caroline and Natasha.


Three days later we somehow convinced this lovely Polish family to join us on a flamingo expedition. Kim and I had found a tour operator who dropped his price handsomely with talk of more participants. The flamingo sanctuary was only an hour and fifteen minutes away, near Riohacha. We could have jumped on a local bus to Camarones and hired motorbikes and found a boat captain for a few bucks cheaper, but, the deal seemed sweet. For $70,000 pesos ($35), ECOAndes would take us to the reserve, arrange a boat (a traditional wooden boat we were promised) and include lunch (to take advantage of the local delicacy—the camarones. Shrimp.

We wondered how seven of us would fit in his vehicle—a 1979 Sierra Nevada. “No problem, it is perfect for seven.” Actually, it was perfect for nine. After picking us up near our hotel we stopped in front of his business—to load up his wife and son. “If they stay at home, they are boring.”


When Andres loaded extra cushions into the back of the cab, Joanna joked that “It’s for the victims.” After just five minutes, we all felt like we had gas poisoning. The old Sierra vibrated like one of the Niagara Falls honeymoon suite heart-shaped numbers that you added quarters too. Kim pointed as Andres took out the key from the ignition and the truck continued running—as he added more gas! Illegal gas at that—found all along the roadsides in plastic bottles from Venezuela.

I was certain that after an hour in the truck, we would be hallucinating flamingos if anything.

What was advertised as a “sail” in a boat ended up being a push. Two kilometres out and two kilometers back. Did I mention that it was 1,008 degrees that day? The traditional wooden boat was not traditional at all. The sail had seen its day in the sun, but, was not the dhow I had imagined. Nothing was as imagined. The boat scraped bottom the entire way as our captain pushed us around Flamingo Lake.

Our guide was rather unhelpful in the narration. When I locked our binoculars on the first flamingo in the distance Andres said, “That is not a flamingo. It is a pink duck.” Pink duck? As we grew closer I realized it was a roseate spoonbill! Pink duck my ass.

We found more spoonbills, eating shrimp like Pacman as we cruised past, unnoticed. There were a few egrets and gulls, but, largely, it was us, the Polish family and the broiling sun. We exchanged fun banter and swapped recipes and talked about swapping houses even. The girls were little Nat Geo photographers in training, and were as enthused as us about the approaching pink blur. I asked Andres if he was taking us on a wild goose chase—and then had to explain the expression. When he pointed out where the flamingo puppies could be found, well, we needed an explanation. Poopies? Flamingo shit? “No, puppies. Like babies.” Oh.


The stretch of cotton candy pink along the mangroves turned into nearly a hundred flamingoes, picking their way elegantly across the placid lake (a huge contrast to the Caribbean swells to Playa Cristal). They walked in synchro, largely undisturbed by us, on skinny legs that could double as chopsticks.


When they took flight, it really was a moment of awe. The stuff and footage they make astounding documentaries with. But, we were really hot. And thirsty. And, we all smelled like gas. If somebody lit a match, the boat would have exploded and landed in Panama.

The shore was like an oasis. We were all delirious and dreaming of cold beers and this much bragged about lunch of traditional shrimp. Joanna had the same vision as Kim and I—big tiger shrimp on the grills with just a squeeze of lime juice.

Reality bites. The shrimp were indeed shrimp—almost impossible to find in the rice. They were the babiest of baby shrimp. Possibly even Sea Monkeys? Lunch was a lunch bag letdown. Order a beer, skip the camarones.

But first. The shore. 1,008 degrees. I’m not sure if it was huffing gas for an hour, the sizzling sun, dehydration or what—but, I suddenly had to shit my pants. My stomach churned and clenched. I thought I might barf too. Now, remember, we were in a tiny boat with a nice Polish family, in knee-deep water. What was I to do? Hop off the boat and squat in the water and say, “cover your ears?” What’s that expression? Dance like nobody is watching? Or, in my case, crap like nobody is watching? Oh, my stomach was sour. I tried self-talk and didn’t dare broadcast my concern to anyone. I looked through the binoculars and saw a turned over boat on shore that I could probably go behind.

As we slid in, the last painful stretch, I didn’t know what end to cover. As we stepped out of the boat I said to Kim, “I have to go shit behind that boat.”

“Babe, you can’t! There’s nowhere to hide. Everyone in the village will see you.”

I was delirious and stepping so cautiously over the parched earth. Wearing shorts, I knew one misstep would reveal all. Kim talked me off the cliff. “There will be a toilet up here, just walk slow. You’ll be okay.”

I was drained of colour and self-talk. The Polish family was far ahead now and I saw the door with Bano scrawled on it. And $1,000 below. I pushed open the door and hovered. There was no seat, just that nice hot sewage smell. I had sweat trickling down my ribs, on my brow and upper lip. As I hovered I could see the bathroom attendant looking at me through the crack in the door. Nice. Crap like nobody is watching.

I made it just in time. Barely. I came out and sat at the table with everyone in a cold sweat. Beer. Kim silently gave me the look and I reassured her that I survived. But eating shrimp and rice? The plate arrived with fried plantain cakes as heavy as hockey pucks and some sickly tomato slices. I tried one spoonful of the shrimp and rice and sat back, trying not to look at the plate. So much for an authentic camarones lunch.


On the ride back I hung my head out the gas mobile. We stopped for a few more bottles of gas, just to add to my hallucinations. It was touch and go for the rest of the night but, I gathered myself to have our nightly G7. Joanna and her family made their way over to La Sirena’s restaurant and raised her glass—she had found the coveted red wine.

We chided each other over the flamingo expedition. I smelled gas deep in my nostrils and bangs for days. We’ll never look at flamingoes quite the same way. Though, I’m ready for shrimp again.


Special thanks to the Polish family for comic relief—and the G7 wine you couldn’t finish before leaving La Sirena.

Worth it? Well, in our world yes. Though, we might suggest skipping the boat and walking across the lake to see the flamingos instead.

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The Best Places We Slept in 2014

Just like previous years, our 2014 travels completely surprised us. Some of our destinations were pre-meditated (my sister’s wedding in Lake Louise, Alberta), but more often, we found ourselves crawling around travel sites, geographically untethered, and suddenly booking flights to Zanzibar and the Magdalen Islands.

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We had bounced around the notion of Boston, Woods Island and Halifax as a romancey add-on to our week in Prince Edward Island visiting Kim’s parents in June. The flights and ferries didn’t jive. Either did the price tag. We watched a documentary on Sainte Pierre and Miquelon, a handsome self-governed territorial owned by France that sits just 25km from Newfoundland in the North Atlantic and were tempted. Further research and fawning indicated that we needed more than a three day drop-in to do the islands and croissants justice.

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I think it was a picture in Zoomer magazine that tipped us off on Canada’s biggest secret–the Magdalen Islands. Air Canada had a slew of flights or there was a five hour ferry from Souris, PEI. The Magdalens (enchanting francophone property of Quebec) were a digestible size that could be well-absorbed and criss-crossed in three days. When I randomly opened Claire Mowat’s memoir, My Travels with Farley, I had confirmation. “On a bright day in May, 1969, the Dar Herald airplane departing from Charlottetown for the Magdalens was only half full.” It was a sign!

In no particular order of awesomeness, here are the best places we slept in 2014.

Kichanga Lodge, Zanzibar

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We were quite innocently shovelling snow for the third time on a frozen January afternoon. As we tipped back hot cocoa laced with Kahlua, I hopped on expedia between shovels. Our table had a stack of library books on it—Bali, Tanzania, Vietnam. Monsoons and civil unrest crossed a few places out. Two days of flying and crappy layovers crossed off even more. Jumping between the and February forecasts, Zanzibar was a ringer for temperature, endemic monkeys, gin-coloured waters, slave history, caves and curries. Was it worth spending nearly 19 hours flying all the way to Africa for sunshine that could be found just a few hours away in Turks & Caicos or Curacao? Absolutely.

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The Kichanga Lodge is located on the Michamvi Peninsula, far from the “Italian Riviera” of the west coast. We really ruined ourselves for all future travels choosing Zanzibar. Our time at Kichanga was so spoiled and romantic. Often we were the only two on the beach. We had front row seats to canteloupe-coloured sunrises. A short walk towards Ras Mchamvi provided a view of the Indian Ocean that paralleled that from outer space. The tidal pools (the tide here goes out over a mile) were such a delight to poke around in. There are loads of sea urchins (easily avoided), but a very clear path out to remarkable sandbars and water so clear that you don’t even need snorkeling equipment. The lodge itself was a rustic marvel. At night a breeze swept through the open-concept candle-lit dining area. Almost everyone gathered earlier for drinks at the adjacent bar and lounge area where a carefully chosen soundtrack barely interrupted conversation. There were free bar snacks, piles of magazines and shelves of trader books for guests (though, if you are English-speaking, Dutch and German titles dominate!). The best perch was in the loft area above the bar and dining area where you could watch the moon rise and maybe have the company of one of the lodge dogs or cats at your feet.

We opted for the ocean front bungalow–the wide front porch with hammock and a love seat-sized chair was where we welcomed and closed each day–taking in the natural soundtrack around us. If you are a light sleeper, the night here is very “alive” (not with disco or music) with the buzz of cicadas, crashing waves, the resident donkeys in the distance and seemingly hundreds of crows at sunrise.

Nearby at Ras Mchamvi you can grab blue marlin burgers with fries or club sandwiches for $5. Dinner at Kichanga ranged from a nightly feature of barbequed crab, octopus, squid or beef tenderloin. The Swahili night (Sundays) was our favourite–golden samosas, collards, fried vermicelli, a local lime-broth soup with fried cassava, chicken and beef kebabs, baked eggplant and cashew brittle. And the King fish curry? Outstanding.

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Whether you choose to flop into a hammock by the pool or grab lounge chairs under the coconut trees on the upper private beach, there is great solitude here. The beachcombing on the way to The Rock (25 minute walk) is unreal–and you may just see some blue monkeys in the trees along the beach. If you’re looking for rustic, private and reconnection–this is the lodge for you. If you’re expecting fancy a la carte meals, air conditioning, flat screen televisions, coordinated beach activities and a night disco–go to Kendwa (the Italian Riviera of Zanzibar). There’s a wi-fi connection available for a fee in the main lodge but otherwise, Kichanga is (hurray) off the grid. You will be amazed by the recharge found in stargazing, tidal pool exploration, lazy days of reading and quiet dinners sipping wine. Go! Like us you will wonder where you could ever travel to that would come close to the unparallel beauty of the Indian Ocean and the peace found at Kichanga.

Ocean Bungalow Double (2 adults, standard rate) $280/night with half board options

La Rose des Vents, Magdalen Islands, Quebec

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We arrived poorly packed for the pissy east coast climate, leaning more towards an optimistic June forecast of 25+ degrees. Not a wavering 13-15 degrees with pelting rain. We were both wearing all the long layers that we had brought, knowing full well that we were travelling to islands known for excessive and relentless wind. The Magdalens are a kite-boarding and hang-glider haven. Every B&B and restaurant had “wind” in the name. Though my Francais is extremely scratchy at best (despite Madame Massicotte’s best efforts in highschool), I did know that “vent” translated to “wind.”

The kindness of the locals was ten-fold. In the fog duvet and ensuing night fall, we couldn’t find our B&B after three U-turns on the main road into Bassin. Kim stopped our little Fred Flintstone rental (an Aveo?) in front of a convenience store where I ran in, armed with maps. Me being the “more French fluent” of the two of us. (*Note: totally need to check out this Rosetta Stone thing).

I asked the cashier, “ou a la B&B?” while pointing to La Rose Des Vents address I had scribbled down. The cashier started blankly looking at my entire page of notes which outlined our itinerary of smoked herring, the cheese factory and beers to try. She shook her head and rang through a bag of Doritos and a Pepsi for the buying customer.

Conversation between them ensued. It sounded heated, but, was just normal chatter. Hands waved, eyes went back and forth to me and suddendly the cashier was give me the “shoo” sign. But, she was shooing me in the direction of the Doritos guy. Doritos guy gave me a “come, come” sign (I was transgressing into a golden retriever) and I followed him into the parking lot. He gave me a head nod as he got into his vehicle and I pointed to the Aveo and Kim and he nodded enthusiastically. I had no idea what we had just agreed to, but, he had chips and didn’t look serial-killer-ish.

I told Kim to follow him, for lack of better ideas.

“He’s taking us there?”

“I dunno. I think so.They didn’t speak English, but, it seemed like we were supposed to follow him.”

Oh, so trusting–but, we had a witness in the cashier. Sure enough, the Dorito fan brought us directly to the B&B (which we would have NEVER found in the soup fog, missing the critical street name that we needed to turn on to (which wasn’t on our touristy cartoon-like map). He stopped, honked, pointed and pulled a U-turn and roared off.

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Kim described the Magdalens best (once the fog lifted the next morning and we could actually see beyond 10 feet). “It’s like a chunk of Iceland broke off and floated south.” Indeed, the colourful homes against the elephant grey sky and gulf waters was pure Reykjavik. We swooned over countless homes–lime green, purple and orange beauties atop cliffs and so isolated from the density of Cap aux Meules. By the mid-afternoon, we had agreed on over 50 homes that we could instantly move into, without debate.

Our B&B innkeeper at Rose du Vents was gentle, engaging and a dynamo at breakfast, plying us with plates of local cheese, fresh cranberry studded loaves, yogurt with a stir of thick apple sauce and granola. My sister would have purred over the daily fresh fruit shake and foamy lattes. Best yet was breakfast with the horses–watching her two lovelies graze and gallop just feet from the solarium. Two cats circled our ankles inside the house and Genvieve’s Irish Setter made us feel welcome with eager headbutts and enthusiasm.

We found ourselves cross-legged in bed early. The sky would still be pink (the sun so desperate to break the clouds) when we’d retreat to our suite. We could still hear the horses huffing and moving about as we tried to down the marechal plonk we bought at PEI from Rossignol. Kim read Coelho’s memoir of his journey on the Camino while I was deep into Bruce Chatwin. The day’s thrills, timeless beach-combing on Sandy Hook, and deep satiation from the punishing climb up the Demoiselle trail for an unobstructed 360 view were the perfect stew for sleep.

$85 per night, including decadent breakfast

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The Adventure Hotel, Nelson, British Columbia


The Adventure Hotel is super sleek, sexy and urban hip. The location is primo for exploring Nelson whether you choose to run along the waterfront trail, pub-hop or poke around the gear stores. The prices stay the same year-round, and for $115 bucks, the queen rooms offer a unique sleep. It’s industrial meets heritage meets contemporary. We actually eyeballed the impressive shower design for our own home. The ceilings are painted orange and with the exposed brick and piping, groovy hallways, Warhol-type carpeting and arty lobby, you just feel cool being there. Notice the bike parts embedded in the lobby counter? The common room is so tastefully designed–it had the Icelandic esoteric with the punchy colours, communal wood harvest table, euro lighting and stringent approach to a space. There’s also a patio that received the same discerning traveller treatment.


Coffee is provided in the morning in the common room and there were other options for prepping light breakfasts if needed (toasters, etc.). But, even after downing some Adventure Hotel coffee I’d head to Oso Negro for baseball-sized muffins and a dandelion latte. We’d recommend this hotel for anyone that actively leans towards charm, history and smart styling.

$115 per night includes unlimited stiff  Kicking Horse Coffee in the morning

The Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia


After a punishing drive from Lake Louise, Alberta with so many miles logged between Nelson and Osooyos, we were ready to park the rental vehicle and enjoy the property. This is what is required: as you slip through the Naramata region, grab a bottle or two from Therapy or Blasted Church (our faves) and stop at the Naramata General Store. You can find charcuterie, cheese, six-packs and snacks for the night and baked goods for the morning. The hotel was a step back in time, complete with creaking stairs, romantic soaker tubs and a fun wine cellar pub for those happy to not leave the hotel. The breakfast (included) is decadent–three egg frittatas and eggs Benny with back bacon and fresh melon. Good coffee (as much as you can slug back) is available until nearly noon I think.


The rooms are immediately inviting (yeah! I’m always so impressed when rooms DON’T have flatscreen tv’s! A focus on actual conversation and spending time with each other!) and there’s also a huge wrap around balcony (access from inn rooms) where we reclined and opened a bottle of red at dusk. It was serene, so still–the wharf is just minutes away (walking), but we were quite content with our perch and our general store purchases to nibble on. You must have a bath here–the Aveda products make it all the more indulgent. There’s lavender linen spray even–everything to encourage and enhance a lovely sleep in the former girls’ school house. The bed was the most comfortable one of the seven hotels we’d slept in on our road trip. Creep around the library upstairs and be sure to look at the vintage letters framed in the lobby. You’re paying for an opportunity to sleep in deeply distilled history. This was my birthday pick–and, it felt very spoiled and regal to stay in the inn. The staff are enjoyable and are quick to deliver ice or olives, whatever the request may be.


Take advantage of this beauty and spend as much time as possible on the grounds and in your room. But, do make sure you walk a bit of the Kettle Valley Trail in the morning to the Little Tunnel. You’ll be well-rested for the hike.

$180 per night, including breakfast


Caberneigh Farms, Uxbridge, Ontario

(in particular, site #860 and the Airstream)


We’ve bragged about this pastoral joint before. Where else can you drink locally brewed beer (from the Old Flame Brewing Co.) and have chickens sit on your lap? If the chickens make room—there are three Chihuahuas ready to take roost as well. Or, how about a cat? You have a choice between Albert, Frankie and Patapouf—all aggressive cuddlers.

The gracious hosts PJ and Nicole know how to woo well. They even have one of those fancy old school popcorn trolley carts for the outdoor Jiffy Pop shoulder season. And PJ? Her carrot cake is probably the best baked thing I’ve had, ever. We’ve been to the farm many times over the years (forcing them into hosting Thanksgiving and New Year’s on a few occasions)—living vicariously through them and a tranquil life on the land with horses and even a darling pig named Olive. There’s zero light pollution here, save for the bonfire. Glasses of wine are bottomless and the grazing is superb. If you happen to visit during Wimbledon, there are golden waffles with strawberries and a cloud of whipped cream to balance your mimosa intake. The eggs at breakfast are sourced from the coop just 40 paces away, PJ’s travels make for the most impressive duty-free liquor cabinet around. And there’s just cool stuff to chat about—their stack of Dwell magazines is an indicator of their design chops. Every piece of art (welded, quilted, printed, repurposed) and furniture has a story, as do all the animals.

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Far, far away from their former urban Cabbagetown life, their property stretches across 50 acres and Elvis the hound dog and Ripley (a lab/shepherd mix) are always game for rip through the woods. Though, keep close watch on Willy the Jack Russell, as he has a homing instinct for the pond and his doggy paddle isn’t what it used to be. If you’re feeling a little Kentucky Derby, Nicole has a complex steeple chase at the ready.


Hanging out in Caberneigh is like a suspension in time. Together, we move about the house from couch to barstool to the kitchen counter to Adirondacks, laughing the entire time. PJ and Nicole ooze love for their home, entertaining, everything with fur and feathers, tequila and each other.

It’s an invite-only kinda place, but we might be able to get you on the preferred guest list if you play your cards right. It’s one of our favourite places to sleep. And, we get dibs on the Airstream.


If  you want to read about more suite sleeps, here are the best places we slept in 2013 and the best places we slept in 2012 and  the best sleeps in 2011.

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Booking Three Weeks in Colombia, South America (aka How We Coped With Our First Snowfall)

Last week, if you had asked, we were rather dead-set on checking out Bolivia and Chile. The week before that I had Curacao all mapped out and was madly flipping between sell-off flight sites.

And, then, quite innocently, Colombia was put on our radar. An affable guy I met in Entebbe, Uganda back in 2008 (in a distraught state, having just had his wallet stolen on an overland bus) had posted his upcoming travel itinerary on Facebook. Andrew, a NY lawyer with a chronic travel bug, has been to the kinds of places that attract us. We seem to be on the same travel parallel. I hit him up for Iceland info two years ago, after learning that he had been there for a stag party.  I offered him savoury bits on Belize. Our worlds had collided in Africa for good reason.

When he mentioned Colombia, I posted some nonchalant comment that he should check out Anthony Bourdain’s recent No Reservations episode on Colombia. The next morning, ironically, I was sucked into a feature on Providencia and San Andres, Colombia in the travel section of the Record. I found myself underlining bits and Googling flight paths before work. The connection times were gross, all routed through Panama with an overnight stay (with Bogota just an hour away). All flights had a stop at JFK (just an hour from Toronto) and a four to six hour layover in New York. However, despite the crappy flights (hell, we endured 17 hours of flying to get to Zanzibar, why the wimpy whining now?

Providencia was totally our speed—it sounded like the magical atoll that we needed after just one blast of snow. We needed a climate-controlled environment, stat.

snow bound

A few winters ago we became big ambassadors of Belize—especially Caye Caulker. The romance was in the casual, lazy vibe, killer cheap curries, colourful beach huts, old school bikes and barefoot philosophy. However, Caye Caulker offers little more than pure sun, gin-coloured water, paralyzing rum drinks and addictive ceviche. There is an opportunity to break your back on a dodgy 2+ hour boat ride to the Blue Lagoon and (better yet) to Lighthouse Caye to see the red-footed booby colony. But, that’s about it–though there is nothing wrong with that winter rehab prescription!

The rest of Belize offered everything else—terrifying cave adventures neck-deep in water, an opportunity to sleep at the zoo, river tubing, howler monkeys and bird mania.


I knew Kim was keen on some adventure and cultural literacy (in tandem with the lazy beach, beer and book days). Colombia appeared again—I was skimming through a Huffington Post article on the Top 50 Cities to See in Your Lifetime. Of course, Colombia was there, like an epiphany, seated at #36.

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36.) Cartagena, Colombia – The colonial city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast has a history filled with explorers, pirates, and royalty, and it’s UNESCO-recognized Old City is every bit as enchanting as you’d expect.

I returned all the guide books I had checked out of the local library on Bolivia and Chile. Now I was searching the catalog for “Columbia.” I was disappointed to see that the search pulled up zero matches. When I expressed my concern to our esteemed librarian, Mary Lou, she immediately tapped away at her keyboard, also in belief. “Let me look,” she said with total librarian authority. She found a 2014 Colombia Moon Guide right off the crack.

“What? How come that came up for you? I typed in the same thing on that computer over there and had no matches.” I shrugged.

“Show me.” We marched off to the terminal near the travel shelves.

The screen still showed my recent search. Keyword: Columbia.

“Well, Jules, ‘Colombia’ is spelled with two o’s not a ‘u.’”

Oh, duh, I’d been busted by the spelling and library police.

Now that I knew how to spell Colombia, the search changed dramatically. That night I laughed at the Moon guide’s content for San Andres. The biggest highlight was “Big Pond.” Rastafarian-owned, the pond had no set hours, no set fee and visitors are told to ask for Fernando. Apparently, if he is there, Fernando will feed white bread to the alligators. Wow. This is the Big Pond. Nearby there was a hole in the coral that, when the tide was just so, sprayed water 10m in the air. I couldn’t believe how exciting San Andres was! Gosh, we’d want to go see the alligator feeding and big splash every day!

Scouring Providencia (an island nearly 800km north of Colombia, but just 230km east of Nicaragua) on and airbnb for accommodations a lesson in frustration. The price points for lackluster ‘hotels’ (not beachfront even) were off-putting (ie. Scary).

And this is how it happens. I started looking at Bogota (elevation too high = cooler temps). Our first questions with travel destinations are always: How’s the heat? And, what’s to eat?

A zesty Brit I met on a Toronto pub patio years ago, Ju Hayes, Facebooked me pronto to say Colombia had giant ant salty snacks and hot chocolate served with melted cheese in the bottom of the mugs. Talk about an apres-ski fondue and hot cocoa all-in-one. I was immediately charmed.

Recurve-billed bushbird

While Kim was busy toiling away at the steel mill, I hunkered down and researched our new unexpected zone—it had to be Cartagena and the 1,760 Caribbean coastline that stretches from Panama to Venezuela. There are 1,800 bird species (the most in the world!) in Colombia. Over 3,500 orchids. Fifty species of bats! There are volcanoes where you can soak in a thermal mud bath, rivers to tube down and desert sand dunes in Nazareth even. I already had us kayaking through the placid mangroves to see the flamingoes and sleeping in cabanas made from yotojoro (cacti) heart.


Humid jungles, arid dunes, sloths, empanadas, empty beaches, coffee farms, solar-powered huts—all the boxes were ticked.

When Kim phoned from work I told her that we had a whole new game plan. I couldn’t wait for her to get home to sell the coastline package to her. I pulled up pics of Tayrona National Park with wild horses on the beach, showed her the crunchy La Sirena cabanas on an old coconut plantation (we’d skip the yoga classes). I wooed her with the Dunas de Taroa that drop 30m into the sea. A few beachy pics of the icing sugar-white sand and the contrast of the walled city of Cartagena and its historic appeal had Kim on board.

jungle hut

As the snow pounded down and cars spun sideways down our street I had my credit card at the ready. We clinked glasses of Lug Tread as we warmed our butts on the kitchen rad. “Let’s do it.”

And, so, suddenly, or not so suddenly, we are going to Colombia for three weeks in January. Stay tuned. And, if you’ve been—let me know! I want all the gory details—who, how, when, why!

Pre-trip homework:

  1. Rent Romancing the Stone. A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.
  2. Read One Hundred Years of Solitude. The 1967 novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo, the metaphoric Colombia.
  3. Re-watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Colombia—from drug capital to food capital.
  4. Watch Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods: Colombia The host eats everything from capybara to caiman to jungle rats.
  5. Brush up on 1,800 Colombian birds.
  6. Drink a lot of Colombian coffee so I’m well-versed.
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A Merry Little Condensed Christmas

When the Christmas SWAT team came a knocking, it was completely unexpected. It was an innocent July day—there was nothing Christmasey about it, except for the fact that Kim and I loosely agreed to be part of the “Jolly Holly Tour” in November when asked point-blank. We had been cornered in our backyard while drinking beer, intermittently digging up coneflowers and wayward Bachelor Buttons between gulps. We were deep into summer, sweat stinging our eyes, shirt sleeves rolled up, flip flops kicked off. Why wouldn’t we want over a thousand strangers to traipse through our house? Surely that wouldn’t entail much work to prep for. We warned the organizers that we had about four decorations between the two of us, but that didn’t seem detract them.


Our vivacious neighbour Dawn had nailed us as a target. She had watched us industriously transform our gardens into near Buckingham for the parade of 150 Galt Horticultural Society members in June. We seemed like an approachable couple, eager to have mass amounts of people traipse through our backyard—and, why not inside our house too? Dawn wooed us with fall fair-winning lemon loaves and chunky oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Plus, she somehow always smelled like vanilla frosted cake, putting me under a cosmic cake spell to anything she asked.

“We usually sell about 1,200 tickets a year for the event.” My god, Kim and I and our little stone cottage were going to be like a rock concert—1,200 was half the capacity of Massey Hall!


It all seemed so far, far away and we joked about our commitment to something so Christmasey. It wasn’t our nature–our family members and friends roared with laughter at the prospects. Coming off the tsunami of relief after the garden tour, we didn’t fret about Jolly Holly until we found ourselves in mad decorating brainstorming sessions in at the end of August.

To clarify, our idea of the perfect Christmas is four decorations and on the eve, a bottle of champagne, cheese, charcuterie and watching Love Actually for the bazillionth time. Christmas Day we make the pilgrimage to my parents’ house in Walkerton where Christmas comes alive and we can simply immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit courtesy of my mom’s splendid decorations. It’s like walking into a glossy December magazine feature complete with clove-studded oranges, reindeer of wood, wool and silver, nutcrackers, whimsy and gravy-scented rooms.

Dawn brought over a stack of House & Home mags for inspiration. Her holiday sidekick and designated sparkle guru, Kathy, pulled out her iPhone and showed us her ideas gleaned from Restoration Hardware. They already had our house wrapped up in black tuile and were losing sleep over mercury owl placement and dogwood planters. Kim and I were not losing sleep. Yet.


The Jolly Holly Tour is an annual event hosted by the IODE—Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire. I kept referring to the group as the IUD which raised a lot of eyebrows, but also attracted interest. In 1900, Margaret Polson Murray recognized the need to support Canadian troops departing to fight with the Empire forces in South Africa. She formed a group in New Brunswick that urged the human condition basics: loyalty, patriotism and service. They sent parcels to the troops while providing for families in need at home. The IODE has evolved its mandate to “women dedicated to making a better Canada.”  Dawn and Kathy were apparently part of the “Make a better Christmas at Kim and Jules’ house chapter.” We made them promise not to barf Christmas all over our house. We couldn’t say no to a group that just oozes good.

The IODE donates to the Cambridge Memorial Hospital’s children and maternity ward. They give to summer camps, support suicide prevention and bereavement counselling programs, the local hospice, the food bank. They donated Canadian flags to local elementary schools, reading programs, crisis shelters…

We said yes to the dress—despite realizing that our house would have silver sparkles dotted around it for another 153 years. For the tour, five local houses would be decorated to near National Lampoon standards. If you build it, they will come. For $20, holiday flockers spend a day touring around the homes to get in the Christmas groove, looking for inspiration coupled with a little bit of permissible nosey-parker-ness. Who doesn’t want to snoop around somebody’s home? How else do you get the opportunity? The IODE raises over $20,000 from the house tour event alone.


The bombardment started before Halloween with the assembly of the tree in the carriage house. Dawn and Kathy, the holiday drill sergeants, enlisted other members. Dawn’s sister and a cousin joined the crew and soon we found our minimalist house feeling very maximalist.


We’re not talking Clark Griswald though—the women kept to our simplistic, subdued, rustic request and created a lovely condensed Christmas. Kathy must have cut down a swath of cedar, birch and pine from her property to deck our halls. And this woman had balls! A lot—red, silver—bowling ball-sized. The balls and glitter found homes with the rest of their combined Christmas cartel.


I littered Facebook with posts on the process—who had we become? Kim was hanging garland the day after Halloween!

Kim and I transformed into Christmas zombies about four days before the show. In the midst of all this we had our en suite shower glass installed, bagged 23 bags of leaves, painted the hallway, the back door, installed a new light fixture and medallion in the guest bedroom (in the dark, with headlamps on), vacuumed and scoured to the standards of a Queen’s visit. We even met with our investment advisor to see when exactly we could retire–maybe we were holiday decorators at heart, stymied by our full time jobs.

The bottles of wine were like downed bowling pins with sleepover guests. We had a few nights of cheese and cracker dinners around 10:30pm.


The show was an immense success—and, as part of our evacuation plan on Sunday, my parents joined us on the tour of the showcased homes. (Side note: with a pit stop for the best bison burgers at the New Dundee Emporium!)


A huge thank you to the IUD for keeping us sane and calm during the invasion. Thanks to Monica and Graham at Monigram’s for jumping in last minute to showcase Galt’s best coffee beans and merch on our countertop. (*And for those perky Americanos that you delivered to our house during the set-up!).


Thanks to Hercules at Grand River Soap Company for supplying the generous stack of lavender studded and lemon balm sensory appeal in our main bathroom. Calgon, take me away!

If you missed the show, here’s the virtual tour—and as you walk through, consider giving handsomely to the IODE as they do keep it local and make life sunnier and hopeful for so many.


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Rocky Mountain Road Trip Part 3: Okanagan to Banff

Two things learned. I have sub zero interest in being a long haul trucker and owning a RV–well, that would be a sheer nightmare. I realize some places in the world require driving to get to point A, B and B and a half, but, my true self prefers the pedestrian pace and jumping on trains or more planes if need be.

Driving back to Banff from Naramata meant retracing our route–those darn mountains left highway builders scratching plans for alternates. Which meant we’d be on the BC-3 for 54o.04 km back to Cranbrook. That’s 6 hours and 57 minutes of suggested driving time. Even with the prospects of spotting Sasquatch, it’s a hamstring-cramping haul.


I should hardly bitch–I’m not even the driver! But, as Kim will attest, it’s hard for me to remain awake as the passenger. I yawned 5,467 times as we went higher and higher in elevation. I blamed it on the thin air of the Bonanza Pass at 5,035 feet and the inn’s satiating breakfast frittata. And, perhaps, that 10am wine tasting at Blasted Church in Okanagan Falls.


Even though there are nearly 100 super accessible roadside wineries in the Okanagan, I like to find the ones that are seemingly wild goose chases. Signage was elusive and the road was more like 15km on a gravel driveway to nowhere. But, what a delight. As their website suggests: “Park your attitude at the farmgate, this winery has no place for traditional wine stuffiness and gravitas. Blasted Church is the Okanagan Valley’s most creative, inspired and fun destination for wine lovers. Blasted Church wines are often celebrated for their divine quality. Our wine labels, however, give heartburn to the most discriminating oenophiles.”

The story behind the Blasted Church is a grand tale involving an actual explosion. The Big Bang Theory was, that if the church was blasted from the interior, the impact would loosen the nails and the church would be easier to disassemble (it was being moved to another location). Oddly it worked, but clearly, do not try this at home.

We spoke with a gentle retired chap who shared behind-the-scenes info about his coveted gig at the winery. He’s at the comfortable age where he doesn’t need money and is happy to step back to allow the younger population a job opportunity. So, he picks up the few days over exams and the back to school crush. Which equals 18 days a year, give or take. Imagine. Kim and I nodded–yes, this would be our dream retirement ‘job.’

The wine list here is a riot: Bible Thumper, Holy Moly, Nothing Sacred, Mixed Blessings–you get the twist. We opted for the Big Bang Theory as a take-away and decided if we had a vineyard and knew how to make wine, this would be our schtick. But, that would probably involve more than 18 days a year and it’s so much easier to lay down $19.50 for somebody else’s dirty work.

We whizzed back through the fruit stands that clog the roadsides to Oliver. If you’ve been through the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario–the BC fruit stands are the equivalent of the smoke and rollies shops in Oshweken. We stopped for fall fair  contest winning peaches and blushing plums and pointed fingers at the brilliant purple peppers, yellow watermelons and syrups squeezed out of every possible fruit.

*Which reminds me–we have some black raspberry syrup for our next lazy Sunday buttermilk pancake session.


Driving, driving, driving. Oh, and  a new warning outside of the usual elk, moose, mountain goat signage: Watch for sudden weather changes 27 km ahead. Great. As we snaked up the Mt. Everest-esque summit behind crawling logging trucks we watched the temperature on the dash plummet a few degrees every minute. Kim was anticipating a flash freeze as we dipped from 17 to 3 degrees in no time. Now was not the time for elk or moose.


After the nerve-exhausting climb up and down the mountain pass we were happy to roll into Rossland and Trail. Every house in Rossland had a steeply pitched steel roof. These were snow towns–and, being on the shoulder season of skiing, it also meant that very little was open besides a used tire shop. We had planned on staying in Trail that night but were rather disappointed in the snore of a town.  Possible claims to fame? Kerrin-Lee Gartner who won the downhill Olympic gold in 1992 is from Trail. And, about 1,000 Italian immigrants who moved to the Gulch area. After stepping inside three dodgy restaurants, we settled on the Arlington Hotel Bar and Grill. It’s the kind of place you walk into and everyone turns their head. Day drinkers, Keno, neon, wood panelling and Queen.

Our server was so sweet when I enquired about the “Big Surf” lager. She explained, “It’s one of those micro-things everyone is talking about these days. It’s nice.”

So, we had nice Big Surfs on her urging, a butter-slicked Monte Cristo and chicken caesar wrap. While we waited for our order I went to the hall of fame-type section in the restaurant. There were Garfield cartoons, polaroids of drunk people fishing in the 70s and a few trophies for unknown things. Interesting.

Departing Trail and its glumness, we made the big push to Cranbrook, traversing the Kootenay Summit, 10 degree temperature changes and big horn sheep warnings.


Cranbrook was equally sleepy–just a long stretch of chain hotels and aging strip malls. It was truly just a crash night and when the Best Western was suggesting $189 a night for a Queen room I was flabbergasted. No, not after our lap of historical luxury at the Naramata Heritage Inn for the same price tag and a lovely frittata.

We reminisced about the crappy horror of a place we stayed in Dakhla, Egypt–the pistachio green walls–the fridge that was hotter than a microwave inside–the wallpaper border of hunting labrador retrievers–the shower that was clogged and flooded the 2 by 2 bathroom–the flickering flourescent lights and Donald Duck decor. Surely we could make the best out of the “Heritage Inn” in Cranbrook with a hot breakfast all for $95 plus tax. (Not sure where the heritage part comes in–it had no visible relation to the Naramata Heritage Inn). The other hotels I had stepped into while Kim kept the car running were the type you’d hide from the FBI in or, kill yourself while listening to Lionel Richie on repeat. It doesn’t take much to make a room pleasing. A white duvet, some throw pillows and a black and white framed photo or two. Why the garage sale-ready prints of flowers and peacocks? Why the floral bedspreads?

For $95 we survived. Don’t even get me started on our three room changes with the TV that hummed louder than the actual TV volume. Or, the blast and rumble of the train all night long. Or, the hot (loosely used term) breakfast in the morning where we actually shook from the vibration of the idling train outside. The servers laughed it off–I thought I was mid-seizure.

Cranbrook to Radium Hot Springs: 142.81km

Kim and I quickly decided that we’d be looking outside of Radium for accommodations that night. Hot rods ripped up and down the main drag–it was the annual classic car show and people were lined up in lawnchairs, all snacked out, watching the parade of suped-up vehicles that would carry on for the weekend. We bought some smoked turkey sandwiches to go and disappeared up the Redstreak Trail, far from the madness.


The hike started on a full-on 90 degrees angle. Think of the Grouse Grind, Vancouverites. I could only hear my heart in my head for the first 15 minutes. If a bear schemed to come eat us, it would have been the perfect time–our calves burned and our lungs felt sat upon. But, oh, the vistas!


We took the lower Sinclair Creek Trail after a sandwich pit stop. Kim submerged a few cans of beer in the creek that we were hoping to see blood red Kokanee Salmon running up. The ferocious rush of water and whiskey jacks were a Solitudes soundtrack waiting to happen though. Minus the rumble of the machinery chugging around the nearby sawmill.


Instant rehab was soon found in the the 102 degree waters of Radium Hot Springs. For $6.70 a person, it’s the cheapest way to happiness. Once we navigated the bighorn sheep in the parking lot it was easy to surrender to the surrounds.


That night we found a perfect little cabin in Brisco, 27km north of Radium. We were welcomed by a scrappy three-legged dog and a less than social owner.


The cabin was kitted out with a kitchenette (and a humming fridge that we had to unplug at night so we didn’t go mad–is there a theme with humming things, or what?), a stone fireplace AND an outdoor firepit. An unlimited pile of firewood and an axe = a five hour-long fire for the pyros.


Kim expertly grilled a Dr. Oetker thin crust pizza by headlamp. The stars–my god, there were a bazillion in Brisco. We drank a Californian merlot–Three Blind Moose, and watched the sky so intently that we both saw a falling star. This would be the perfect snuggle spot for the Perseid meteorite showers in August!

The night air was seriously brisk–at this point I was wearing all the long sleeves I had packed. The chattering red squirrels and their machine gun calls had subsided. It was well after midnight when we doused the fire, having retraced our road trip a few times over each glass of wine in between ping ponging ideas for our next destination. This is how it happens! Innocent fireside chats and suddenly we are flying to the Corn Islands or the Bolivian Salt Flats.

We hurried out of the bungalows in the morning (no Keurigs or thermostats here!). In Radium we just missed the 8-9am $1.00 coffee happy hour at the local deli/bakery. We spent the extra bucks on a stiff Kicking Horse blend and tucked into just-baked blueberry muffins. Cue up Nat Geo–a black bear and her cub meandering alongside the road! There was no time to snap a picture–it was just one of those solid gold life-is-awesome moments that we shared.

Driving back to Banff, the return to the treed mountains was a sharp contrast from our tumbleweed desert trek. With the larch trees in full form (liquid sunshine yellow), I felt like we were transplanted into a miniature train set landscape. Oh, and don’t forget to add the bald eagle catching a ride on a thermal above us.

We did a speed tour of Banff–squishing in a hike along the Spray River behind the regal Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. My contentment level peaked when I had secured two of Evelyn’s mammoth peanut butter and choco chip cookies (the best in Canada–and I’ve tried 86% of cookies available). Kim found a sweet deal on a pair of Scarpa hikers for our Camino de Santiago training  and we still had time to down a pint on the rooftop of the Elk and Oarsmen on Banff Ave.


And, the birthday revelry continued. We reconnected with my parents and the just-marrieds for a bottle of Veuve (thanks Lynne!)  and apps in the driveway (*Redneck disclaimer: Kiley’s deck was in shade and we were all happy to suck up the  last blast of the western heat wave. I also liked how the seating and table arrangements were comrpised of coolers, bear barrels and a painting that Mark did in highschool on wood).

"Larry, you just clunked me in the head and don't spill my champagne!"

“Larry, you just clunked me in the head and don’t spill my champagne!”

That night we had the perfect send-off. Kiley pulled us outside, bubbling more than the Cliquot. “Listen! The elks are bugling!” With every blast of the train horn in the dead silence of the night, the elks responded with a guttural bugle and whistle.

Yeah, amazing. Rocky Mountain Roadtrip complete. Six days, 10 bottles of Okanagan’s magic, 56 beers, two bears and 1,791km.



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Rocky Mountain Road Trip Part 2: Nelson to Naramata

Nelson to Osooyos: 262.45km

Soundtrack: I Drove All Night, Cyndi Lauper

Road Snack: Buxom Okanagan apples, 1.5 kilos of Costco trail mix (mostly down to the gross raisins)

Nelson, BC is true hippie headquarters. As you enter the core, there is a significant increase in yoga studios, Birkenstocks, a surplus of tie-dye, transients and stranded and broke twentysomethings with guitars and huskies.


We found a perfect launching pad in the Adventure Hotel on Vernon street. The heritage building has been updated with a serious dose of cool since its 1913 heyday. The walls are corrugated iron, the ceilings are clockwork orange and the hallway carpet is very Andy Warhol. The lobby counter has bike cog wheels embedded in its surface, there’s a “Hogwash Station” for bikers out back and Kootenay coffee is at the ready in the commons room.


It’s architectural design mag-worthy—and the rooms have a slick Euro-feel with exposed brick and ducts and  super-sexy en suite showers. And, to boot, you can order a 6-pack of Hell’s Gate Lager for $10 from the room service menu.

My sister had gushed endlessly about Nelson—so much so that she admitted it was her second choice to live, if Banff didn’t win out on the mountain scene. I get it. The waterfront trail winds around a tiny marina on the western arm of Kootenay Lake and sits in the shadow of the Selkirk mountains. The parks are lush and the soccer pitches have dip nets (to retrieve soccer balls that get ambitiously hoofed into the lake). Kim and I walked the trail and took in the parade of organic-looking locals with equally happy dogs, kamikaze kids on BMX bikes and groovy skateboarders on longriders. You can feel the community hug in this place.


From the waterfront, the town itself is San Francisco-like with monster hills (total calf-burners on my morning run). Note: don’t buy a standard in these parts. The main drag is rich with gear shops, yoga this-and-that and relaxed indie coffee joints. After a substantial wander and some fawning over Patagonia shells and fleece we were drawn to the stately Hume Hotel with its landmark neon sign beckoning.


It was dark and moody inside, but in a good way. Two greyhound-thin guys in even skinnier skinny jeans played unobtrusive jazzy numbers. The place was packed. I felt like we had just stepped into 1898 (the year it was built) with our horse tethered outside while we ordered pints of Nelson Brewing Company Harvest Lager. A crab and artichoke dip became dinner as we had spent the day grazing on trail mix and had bypassed an appetite hours ago. However, had they brought out another terrine of dip, I would have been game.

Back at our Adventure Hotel, Kim and I set to work re-plotting our trip (again) and turned our bed into a tourist information booth with the stacks of brochures we had collected for the Okanagan. We could hardly stay awake until 9pm—I know, a world record. The two of us haven’t gone to bed at 9 since we were probably 7-years-old.

Kim was eager to get going in the morning, hoping that we’d make it to the desert and be able to enjoy a few solid hours lakeside in the afternoon sun. We hit up a nearby coffee shop called Oso Negro (Kiley insisted we go for “e-balls” and dandelion lattes) and had total guilt pangs about not travelling with a reuseable mug. The shop actually has a central rinsing station, and, everyone except us got the memo about a decade ago. We queued up with at least two dozen Oso Negro die-hards. I spied the e-balls that Kiley got glassy-eyed talking about, but, the baseball-sized ball of 100% peanut butter rolled in seeds and dunked half in chocolate looked like protein overkill to me. Too rich for my morning palate. Instead, Kim and I went for the carb-load of pineapple raisin and white chocolate-raspberry muffins that could double as doorstops.

The dandelion latte was a curious brew. I’m glad we tried it, but, I don’t need to try it again. It had a savoury finish, almost like chicken broth. But, it’s the kind of drink you keep sipping because it’s so weird and you need to keep trying to establish the exact taste profile until it’s finished.

Fuelled with dandelions and muffins (cake in disguise) we were ready to take on the next leg of the race—to Osooyos. The scenery changed dramatically every twenty minutes as we drove deep into the Arrid Extra Dry landscape. The ponderosa pines of the Kootenayshad thinned out long ago and the few trees we saw now were scrubbier. Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree? Yes, a stretch of those. We had entered the zone of bleached grasses, taupe monotones and possible tumbleweeds. I started craving cans of pork n’ beans and Maker’s Mark in a metal cup by a blazing fire. It was the wild west, indeed.


In Fort Greenwood (blink-gone) we passed Dr. Van Hulligan’s Circus of Calamities. The gold rush-esque town was dotted with trapper cabins, collapsing barns and saloon-ish bars. We drove a little faster through these parts half-expecting to see Dawg the Bounty Hunter or Christopher Walken.

Driving, driving, driving. On high alert for burrowing owls, Ogopogo and Sasquatch.

  • Next Nelson visit: All Seasons Cafe—a back alley bistro dishing out ‘left coast inland cuisine’ like bison spring rolls
  • Sandon: a silver mine ghost town. I like the mingling of abandonment, history and creepy.

Osooyos, BC

Selling features: 2, 039 hours of sunshine, less than 318mm of rain, average summer temperature of 28 degrees Celsius with a low of 1.3 degrees Celsius in the winter


Similar to Spain in climate and terrain, residents have adoped an Iberian-style in buildling construction as well. Dubbed “Canada’s Warmest Welcome,” it totally was—the temp was 26 degrees. Like water diviners, Kim and I drove immediately to the two waterfront hotels we had earmarked online. Realizing the sun was going to set at the Coast Hotel versus Walnut Beach Resort, our decision was easy. Plus, Coast had cute complimentary Q-tip packages, in-room Starbucks Verona and a pancake machine in the breakfast room. By 2pm we were Q-tipped, on lounge chairs and well under the spell of Osooyos Lake (Canada’s warmest fresh water lake).

Our books went largely unread. We stared and strolled the shore, pausing to chat up a retired couple from the UK who were like sage owls in their slick of coconut oil, dispensing snowbird advice. Osooyos was kinda like stepping into the movie Cocoon. Everyone was over the age of 60, limber and as tanned as Bob Barker.


Osooyos highlights included a drop in to Nk’mip Cellars—Canada’s first aboriginal owned and operated winery. The 2012 Syrah blend was pure plum and cedar and the perfect sundowner with wedges of maple cheddar.


In the morning we tracked down the geo-marvel that is the Spotted Lake. Just eight kilometres from Osooyos on Highway 3, the sacred lake is a jawdropper with its crystallized “spots” of minerals. Dense deposits of magnesium sulfate, calcium, sodium sulphate, silver and titanium create multi-coloured rings, especially in the summer. It’s outer spacey and a fine display of Mother Nature’s creative side.


Oliver, BC

This is the northern tip of the American Great Basin Desert (which extends to Mexico) and the south end of the Okanagan Valley– the trampoline jump to the Golden Mile. A map pinpointing the location of every winery in this area looks something like a Bingo card dabbed by a drunkard. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the proximity and clever names. Burrowing Owl was a must for me because they’re generous to our feathered friends. While Cariboo Brewing Company donates 10% to restoring forests ravaged by the Asian Pine Beetle, Burrowing Owl puts 100% of their tasting donations to owl rehab restoration projects. I like drinking responsibly!

All the reds we tried at Burrowing Owl were silky and big on the barnyard mouth-feel. Or, as the tasting notes suggested, “bacon and pastry crust.”

See Ya Later Ranch—the playful dog-centered winery donates 100% to the local SPCA. They sell everything from neon dog ponchos to dog-friendly peanut butter to a snappy Brut. We scooped a Jimmy My Pal chard/pinot gris but were quite sorry that we weren’t hungry enough for a patio perch lunch overlooking the rolling wine terrace. For those in the hood: How about their Brie LT? Brie, basil pesto, garlic confit and tomato with a fennel balsamic reduction.


Oliver Twist—check out the cool vintage cars! The winemakers here are young bucks—35 and mad for the vintage hot rods. The Summer Passion Rose would be a fun pour to swirl on a June afternoon.


Black Widow—the name and branding sucked us in naturally. The 2012 Phobia was a punch of black raspberry and seductive throughout. The port was a complete surprise. Aged 21 months in French oak barrels, this one would be a crowd pleaser with a chunk of Fair Trade sea salt-flecked dark chocolate in the mix.

Oh, it was difficult not to go all Sideways, but Kim was driving and I was getting cranked on so many sips. We bypassed Laughing Stock, Misconduct, Howling Buff and Ruby Blues. Silver Sage Winery with their infamous bottles with submerged hot peppers would have to await a future Golden Mile redux. Same with Hester Creek and their wood-fired potato and truffle pizza and Tuscan sausage-stuffed calzones.

Canada’s wine capital of 20 wineries in 20km is rather dreamy. Unfortunately, wine tours with shuttles demand $60++ bucks a person. Instead, we reasoned, for $120 you can have one dedicated taster and drive away with five decent bottles.

And, it was my birthday after all. So, as dedicated taster, we swooped in on one last winery: THERAPY. It seemed appropriate.


Part of the Naramata Bench, the labels here are completely Freudian, of course! I quickly chose a syrah, the best accompaniment for our soak in the tub later that night at the Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa.

Backtrack: Our original plan was to stay in Penticton, possibly in a yurt (inconveniently located just feet from the highway). That was a blow-out. It’s just a big box city, clogged with traffic and with zero charm. The only saving grace was that the tourist info centre also had a wine tasting area. The staff there directed us to Naramata (Therapy also had a guest house, but, it was rather remote and we wanted to park the car for the day and get into the vino purchases).

The Naramata Heritage Inn was formerly a girls school house built in 1908. With just 12 rooms, the hotel is intimate, complete with creaking stairs and wonky hallways. I love sleeping in history– a byproduct of owning a 153-year-old home I suppose.


We stopped at the local general store and picked up some of Penticton’s Cannery beers (the only praise-worthy thing about Penticton—especially the Anarchy Ale and Naramata Nut Brown), Old Dutch jalapeno chips and another block of cheese. Kim and I were born to picnic, indoors and out.


The Inn, with the soaker tub and nostalgia oozing out of the floorboards was pure Romance 101. The rooms had the requisite plush robes and Aveda products to pimp out the bath with a dose of rosemary-mint. There was even a bottle of lavender linen spray.

But first, before the lounging—some sweat. We snaked up through the vineyards to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and hiked to Little Tunnel (a 4.4km one-way jaunt). The views were surreal, and despite our mutual imaginary bear sound detection (and rattlesnake warnings!) we were left unscathed and seriously moved by the elevation and view over the Naramata bench.



Day’s end: The Naramata Inn balcony. The sky had threatened us with rain and then shifted. Near the wharf the Damson purple clouds softened with sunset. We read a few chapters of our books (mostly out loud to each other), shared some olives, bites of cheese and unmatchable stillness.

And then, a soak and some Therapy. The best start to 40, I’d say.


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Rocky Mountain Road Trip: Part 1

When the phone rang in seemingly the dead of night at the Lake Louise Inn, my brother and Kim both moaned, “ask for a late check-out.” (*I should mention that my brother was in a separate bed—but we were sharing a hotel room).

It wasn’t front desk phoning. And it wasn’t the dead of night. It was just after 9am and we were still in a wine-induced fog from my sister’s wedding the night previous. It was my dad summoning us to the group breakfast at the hotel. Luckily my dad can deliver a steady monologue that doesn’t involve participation—and we merely had to nod, occasionally, still sleeping, staring into our muddy coffee while he made buffet suggestions and offered pastry and pancake bites.


Hours later, rejuvenated by that crystalline Rocky Mountain air, Kim and I sat (still semi-trance like) on the benches facing Lake Louise, marvelling at the liquid emerald body. Of my ten visits or so to visit my sister in Banff, I’d never seen Lake Louise unfrozen (this year it was still covered in ice on June 4th). Whiskey jacks hollered and bounced along ponderosa pine branches, displaying much bird bravado. They are the biggest loud-mouths of the avian world.


We decided to splash out and take to the patio at the Fairmont hotel. Wild boar bacon pizza with fontina and pints of Rutting Elk red in undiluted sunshine made for a welcome surprise after a week of fretting about the dismal, snow-heavy Alberta forecast.

When we landed in Calgary just two days before, the rental car indicated that it was three degrees. Wet snow whipped at us all along the Trans Canada and turned into pissing rain near Banff. The fields were blanketed in snow from the big dump just two days before. Our wedding outfits were not mountain-friendly. Our route to Osooyos, BC and back to Banff (in six days and counting), would not be as smooth as pudding with snowy summits, slushy passes and spontaneous wildlife in the mix.


However, BC was promising a barometer of 27 degrees for the third week of September. Conveniently, my parents had booked a floating time share at the Marble Canyon Resort in Fairmont Hot Springs, BC. The 3,000 square foot “estate” was right on a golf fairway—which if you know my dad and Kim, is the stuff that dreams are made of.

After a lazy Lake Louise afternoon we cruised to Marble Canyon where my mother had elk burgers at the ready. “Can Kim do the barbecue part?” My parents have an unnatural fear of propane barbecues and spontaneous combustion. The resort condo had eight bedrooms I think—it would house the Kardashians and then some. There were two fireplaces and a wrap-around deck that we lounged on until dark.

Asian Pine Beetle Devastation

Asian Pine Beetle Devastation

Though tempted to stay at the canyon castle with my parents, we had a serious driving itinerary to tend to. After the mountain goat flash mobs of Radium Hot Springs and the ghostly apocalyptic passage through Kootenay National Park (where the Asian pine beetle have ravaged the forests for endless miles), we were eager to get to the “pocket desert” in Osooyos, BC.

The larch trees were just beginning to spin gold. Road signs warned of elk, caribou, deer and mountain goats. We passed log home hewing sites and tiny communities comprised of a dozen homes like Ta Ta Creek. Homemade signs advertising candied and smoked salmon dotted the highway.

The pine-infused air was like driving into the world’s longest and biggest air freshener.

Funny intermission: After filling the tank at a Husky station, I double-checked with a middle-aged bedraggled woman sucking on a Slurpee that we were heading in the right direction for Kimberley.

“Yup. You go there and there (madly pointing) and keep on honkin’ to Marysville. You’ll see it. No question.”

(For the remainder of the trip we kept honkin’ to whatever that day’s destination was. That woman has no idea how much she influenced us).


If you blink your eyes twice, you move instantly from anywhere, BC, to Bavariaville. The Kimberley strip is a curious passage into a traditional platzl complete with schnitzel stands, fondue spots and $3 apple strudel.


It’s also oddly a metaphysical rock/gem wonderland and the patchouli is cranked out of the stores in fighting force with the frying breaded schnitzel. North America’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock is located here.


For $1 you can have the cuckoo come out to play (if you are visiting off the hour). We had a few quarters and a toonie and missed out on the full impact of the landmark’s wonder. The platzl also had an outdoor ping pong set and an oversized chess set to cover all interests I suppose. I was more captivated by our hunt for the Old Bauernhaus.


The 350-year-old structure had been transported from Bavaria, Germany and resurrected in Kimberley in 1989. We hoped to have a pint there (and maybe some of the venison geschnetzeltes and spatzle with sour cherry sauce that I had read about on their online menu, but, it was only 11am and the barn wasn’t open until 5pm). Instead we craned our necks and peered in the windows. To think, we bitch about trying to assemble Ikea bookcases. Imagine an entire farmhouse and barn arriving in two shipping containers with no instructions—not even in German? Ugh.

Creston: The Valley of the Swans (though we didn’t see any)

Creston hasn’t observed daylight savings since 1918. I’m still perplexed as to how this all works in the grand scheme of things. Due to the town’s proximity to the US border, many businesses accept American currency. Similarly, Porthill, the US border town, accepts Canadian bucks at the pumps. British Columbia’s last remaining population of the Northern Leopard Frog are found here (not by us) and Creston boasts the latest cherries grown in the Northern hemisphere. I know, wow. Such juxtapositions.

Our Creston experience involved crispy cod fish tacos with kicked-up chipotle aioli at Jimmy’s Pub and Grill, an add-on to a tired hotel on the main drag (the kind that advertises it’s cleanliness and hot water!). We skipped the nearby Kokanee beer factory tour (though I did kinda want to see the big Sasquatch monument there and experience first-hand what they described as a “family-friendly”brewery tour) and drank Jimmy’s Kokanee amber without the beer lesson (enjoying the reality show-like banter between the various day drinkers instead).

Sometimes it’s just time-savvy to read the blurbs from the tourist brochures and glance out the window at 80km/hr. I was turning into an audio book for Kim, giving her the highlights of each place we drove through.

The Labatt owned Kokanee brewery was involved in movie-making? Playing on the company’s slogan “It’s The Beer Out Here” they so cleverly named the movie “It’s The Movie Out Here.” Touted as a Canadian buddy comedy, it debuted at the Whistler Film Fest and had a limited run at theatres in Western Canada. Characters from Kokanee’s past campaigns starred in the film, but it tanked due to “an over-reliance on lewd content and product placement.”

Wiki has volumes on the Kokanee Sasquatch mascot storyboard that reads very much like a soap-opera. The Sasquatch hunter of earlier commercials was even killed off. Beer drama! The trailer for It’s The Movie Out Here# looks 100% terrible, even if you were skunked on Kokanee.

Wynndel, BC: population 900

Gas stations were fast becoming my favourite spots. In these wayward interior “towns” the stations are the go-to for current events and Duck Dynasty-style fleece wear. Kim had to pull me out of a few stations after I straggled in the aisles, mesmerized by the fancy lures, rifles, fresh huckleberries ($10/pound) and assortment of jerky. The bulletin boards outside of Fas Gas (no, not FAST, just Fas Gas) were a constant source of entertainment from the heritage pigs for sale ads to the glossy pics of a swimming Red Roan mare for $1,200 (one week trial offered) to tai chi groups, turkey shoots, funeral notices and ‘hempcrete’ (yes, concrete made out of hemp, somehow). There was even an advert posted by a 10-year-old who promised “to play with your children while you work or read a book” for $3/hour. But, she could only work for three hours max. Smart kid.

Huckleberry-less, we had to remain focused as the free ferry (the world’s longest free ferry—a 35 minute crossing of Kootenay Lake) to Balfour was departing at 2:50 (the next was slated for two hours after that) and I was keen on seeing the Creston Glass House en route. We planned to snake up along Kootenay Lake and ferry over to Nelson for the scenic vistas, and indeed, there was a solid dose of oohs and ahhs on the windy road.


The Creston Glass House was built in 1952 by a genius mortician. David H. Brown decided to repurpose over 500,000 square discarded embalming fluid bottles and construct a two level house with them. He didn’t stop there—he also built a watchtower and bridge. The 1,200 square foot house is quirky and creepy—but, for $10, a worthy roadside attraction.



HGTV’s Sarah Richardson would have a heyday in this joint. The southern lake view is uninterrupted and it made Kim and I wonder what we could build out of beer bottles.


As we queued up for the ferry to Nelson we began to re-think our ambitious journey. The driving times with those pesky BC mountains meant for a lot of long harrowing hauls. Yes, we had tackled 1,000km routes before (across the desert to the Siwa Oasis from Cairo and south to Luxor), and we made it around the Ring Road in Iceland intact (with hurricane winds, a blizzard and a sandstorm to contend with) in nine days. But, did we want to be crushing the miles and bypassing woodsy trails and cutesy cafes just to get to the next spot? We had already given up the likes of Sasquatch, a family-friendly beer tour and a taxidermy museum because of precious time. But, now if we were cutting out the traverse to Vernon and Kelowna, we’d be missing out on the kangaroo sanctuary, the Myra Canyon part of the Kettle Valley Trail with 18 train trestles to bike across, the fried chicken and waffle sandwiches at Doc Willoughby’s Public House, the Pulp Fiction Coffee House and an artisan goat cheese cellar that served up goat’s milk gelato. Sigh.

I pulled out my makeshift green crayon highlighter and concluded that a re-route could afford us more time in the desert looking for burrowing owls and increased quaffing time wine country. Duh. We could leave the kangaroos for Australia and surely Toronto will catch on to the fried chicken and waffle sandwich craze in a month or so.


Scratch Vernon and Kelowna. Hello Penticton and Naramata Bench. We would keep on honkin’ on a less-taxing route.

Stay tuned.

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