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Adventure

A Side Trip to London and the 2012 Olympics

Earlier this summer I took a last minute, unexpected trip to the Netherlands for family reasons. It just so happened that it was timed perfectly with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. So I thought to myself, “should I go to London?” The answer, of course, was, “hells yes, you should go to London!!” I was already most of the way there, and all that stood between me and experiencing that amazing Olympic energy again was a small puddle jump across the English Channel! I know I would have regretted it, had I not gone.

So upon a trusted recommendation, I navigated to the EasyJet website, one of Europe’s low cost airlines, and for about $200 CAD I booked my return ticket from Amsterdam to London Gatwick. From there I needed a train ticket to get into London proper. After a quick Google search I came upon the Gatwick Express site, and booked a ticket for about $45 CAD return, which went right to London’s Victoria station. Easy!

Finally, accommodations… I was very fortunate and thankful to the generosity of friends who were in London for the Games, and I was able to stay with them in the flat they had rented in Kensington. Awesome! I was set! On to London!!

As it was my first time in London, I spent a day exploring some of the well known landmarks and historical areas. I started in Hyde Park at Kensington Palace and slowly made my way, mostly on foot, to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The best part though (and thanks to James and Greg for giving me the ticket!), was the athletics event at the Olympic stadium! This was my first summer Olympics, so I was very excited about attending an official Olympic event! It was truly amazing to watch the athletic ability of the competitors! Their speed and talent was incredible to watch! I’m so grateful for having these two amazing friends who helped make it all happen for me!

I’d also like to send out a HUGE thank you to the Olympic Party Boys, James Mazur and Greg Mazur, for their generosity and hospitality that made my London adventure such an unforgettable experience! You guys are incredible and I’m so very grateful for your friendship and epic awesomeness! Big love to you both! 

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For more travel images, please visit my Flickr page.

 

A Thailand Liveaboard Adventure

I arrived in Thailand at the end of March 2011 armed with my PADI Open Water certification and a mere 7 dives under my belt. After a Scuba Review dive with terrible visibility off Koh Tao, I did the Enriched Air Nitrox specialty course and then the Advanced Open Water course at Buddha View Dive Resort, with PADI instructor, and friend, Robert Scales.

On the dive boat off Koh Tao. Diving on Koh Tao

For my PADI Advanced Open Water Course, I chose to do deep, navigation, peak buoyancy, night and, of course, photography as my adventure dives to complete the course.

Everything went smoothly, and I did not feel the effects of nitrogen narcosis during the deep dive segment. I was fairly nervous about doing the night dive. Diving in the dark, where you can see only where your light shines was hugely intimidating for me. But surprisingly, I found it to be very peaceful and even relaxing. It was probably my best dive experience off Koh Tao.

So, just like that, 3 days later, I was an Advanced Open Water Diver! Yes!!

So… The whole purpose of doing the Advanced Open Water course was to do a three day liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock with Eden Divers in Khao Lak. Our experience with Eden Divers was better than I could have imagined. Never having done a liveaboard before, I was unsure what I should expect, but this far exceeded my expectations!

 

We chose Eden Divers because of the small number of people on the boat. The Sea of Fantasy can take up to 13 liveaboard guests plus crew. We were not interested in going out on a massive boat with 30+ people, where you would constantly be running into people while diving. 13 seemed like it would be a much better and intimate experience. So, we splurged (just a tiny splurge) and booked ourselves one of the two air conditioned master cabins on the ship. Awesome!

The trip included 5 amazing meals a day, coffee, tea, drinking water, fruit and snacks, and you could also purchase soft drinks and beer on the ship, or bring your own. You could do up to four dives each day and if you were nitrox certified (which I now was), the nitrox was included at no extra cost. And to top it all off our guide, Fariborze, was amazing!

Diving courses were also available on the boat, as each guide is a certified instructor. So, for example, if you didn’t have your nitrox certification when you boarded the ship, you could upgrade your knowledge and skills while on the trip and do your dives on nitrox. We had one fellow guest who had started her Open Water course a couple of days before the trip, and she completed it on the boat and decided to also do her Advanced Open Water and Nitrox courses on the boat as well.

The crew on the boat was nothing short of awesome! Our rooms were cleaned and made up each day. The meals we ate were super tasty. The deck crew below, helping with our gear thought of everything before we even had a spark of an idea in our minds. We barely had to do anything except climb into our wetsuits, strap on our BCDs and jump in the 29 celsius water! Awesome!

So, on to the fun stuff! What did we see….??? We woke up on the first day to a tornado/water spout! Very cool! We did 11 dives over 3 days and saw all kinds of crazy creatures: lion fish, dancing shrimp, many giant moray eels and barracudas, many different nudibranchs, trigger fish, box fish (one of my favourites), black spotted puffer fish, porcupine fish, groupers, travellys, the biggest lobster I’ve EVER seen (I’m probably evil for wanting to see it on my plate…), sea horses, harlequin shrimp, ghost pipefish, trumpet fish, jans pipefish, spider crabs, leopard sharks, napoleon wrasse, bandit sea snakes (very poisonous), stone fish, scorpion fish, honeycomb moray eels, and that just scratches the surface! Of course we saw all of the more common creatures like clown fish, anemones, urchins, corals, etc. The two things I was really hoping to encounter were the manta rays and a whale shark, but they did not reveal themselves to us on this adventure. It just means I will have to keep looking and finding many other critters in the process!

So as I stepped off the ship, I now had logged 24 dives in my log book, and I feel much more confident underwater.

It’s funny… when most people look out at the ocean, they have no idea of what lies beneath. There truly is a whole other world on this planet that we share, and I have not even scratched the surface with what I have seen. I could get used to being on the water more. A different view each time you look out, and a new world to explore each time you jump overboard. Doesn’t sound half bad. I could get used to that life.

A HUGE thank you Eden Divers for an amazing experience in the Similan Islands! Thank you Fariborze for being a brilliant guide! And thank you Robert, for being my instructor and dive buddy throughout our Thailand diving adventures! The trip was truly amazing.

[miniflickr photoset_id=72157626990617591&sortby=date-posted-asc&per_page=48]

 

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park 89 by mariskar
Elephant Nature Park 89, a photo by mariskar on Flickr.

My visit to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand was one of the most amazing experiences ever! This is a photo of my favourite pachyderm at the park, Medo.

Adventures in Bangkok

Our first day in Bangkok was somewhat adventurous. After breakfast we grabbed our cameras and set off to first, sort out our travel plans to Koh Tao, and then to explore the city.

Sorting out our travel plans wasn’t as simple as we expected. A friend had arranged our train and ferry tickets to the island of Koh Tao and had sent the tickets from Koh Tao to a Bangkok travel office. However, due to the storms in the gulf of Thailand at the time, the tickets never actually made it to Bangkok. So, day one in Bangkok, we were told to come back the next day to see if the ferries were running again for our tickets to make it to the mainland… So, off we went to explore Bangkok!

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Within minutes of leaving the travel office we were approached by one tuktuk driver after another offering to take us to various tourist attractions. We were standing on a corner looking at the city map, when a woman walked up offering to help give us direction to the Grand Palace. She told us the easiest way to get there was by tuktuk and so we climbed in. The ride was exceptionally cheap that day, as it was a Buddhist holiday and the government was sponsoring the tuktuks for the day, so we ended up paying 20 baht (about 64 Canadian cents) for a two and a half hour tour of Bangkok with several stops along the way. Not bad!

View from the back of the tuktuk in Bangkok, Thailand

First stop, the Standing Buddha. This was the the first big Buddha I had ever seen and I was blown away by its sheer size! This was also my first experience watching Buddhists leaving offerings and pausing for prayer. They would pay a donation to the temple and in exchange they were given three incense sticks, a candle, and gold leaf. The incense and candle were lit and left in designated areas, while the gold leaf was pressed onto a Buddha statue for luck. Next they would kneel in front of the Buddha in prayer.

Me, at the Standing Buddha, Bangkok 2011 12 Giant Standing Buddha, Bangkok 2011 16

Praying at the Standing Buddha, Bangkok 2011 9

Lighting incense for prayer, Standing Buddha, Bangkok 2011 6

Burning incense, Bangkok 2011 11

We made a couple of other stops before the driver took us to Top Ten Tailors, the first sponsor of the adventure. I had read about this so was not surprised. Basically the tuktuk drivers are paid in gasoline coupons for bringing tourists to their sponsors (usually tailors and jem shops). So, we played along… Although the clothes were truly beautiful, and much more affordable than back home (a 3-piece men’s suit was $75 CAD), we weren’t about to lug something like that all over Thailand with us for seven weeks… So after listening to the half hour spiel, we politely declined and were on our way again.

We stopped at one more temple before we told our driver that we were not interested in any more sponsor stops, our tuktuk tour abruptly ended right back where we started, and the friendly woman who had been so helpful earlier pretended not to even know us. Haha! Quite hilarious, really…

From there, we carried on on foot. We explored the famous Khaosan Road, where you can buy anything and everything you can imagine!

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We eventually made our way to the Grand Palace. However, by this time it was later in the afternoon, and there was not enough time before the palace closed to do it justice for exploring. So we decided to go back the following day. But we’ll save that for another post…

Bangkok- Grand Palace 3

For more photos of my Bangkok adventure, please visit the set on Flickr!

Nikon School of Underwater Photography

Are you interested in learning more about underwater photography? I’ve found the PERFECT solution! Check out the Nikon School of Underwater Photography!

Nikon Digital SLR Underwater Photography Programs are offered every week of the year in Bonaire, in the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean Sea!

Nikon School Underwater Photo Montage
The program includes:

  • Seven nights hotel accommodations/double occupancy
  • Breakfast daily
  • Six days of diving: Six boat dives
  • Unlimited Air Fills and Unlimited 24 hr. Shore Diving
  • Tanks and Weight Belts included
  • Hotel and Government tax and service charges included
  • Round trip airport transfers in Bonaire included
  • Six days free rental of Nikon SLR digital camera and housing, lenses, strobes and accessories.
  • Six-day underwater photography lesson modules with assist from Pro.
  • Regular dive packages are available for non-photography students.

Summer Rates* starting at $1,649/person (Double Occupancy)
April 1 to December 18

Winter Rates* starting at $1,799/person (Double Occupancy)
December 19 to March 31

*Rates vary according to the type of hotel accommodations.

For questions, or to register, please call +1.203.599.1203
or email: [email protected]

For more information on accommodations:
Captain Don’s Habitat, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles
Habitatbonaire.com

This is definitely another one to add to my bucket list!

Source: http://www.nikonusa.com

Island Time

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Fresh BBQ'd salmon, potatoes and asparagus for dinner! YUM!

Island Time 2011, a set on Flickr.

A collection of photos of my visits to Vancouver Island in 2011.

Bangkok: Grand Palace

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Bangkok: Grand Palace, a set on Flickr.

New photos posted to Flickr of my visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

Off to a Rough Start…

My trip to Thailand didn’t have the greatest start… For starters, the morning of my flight to Bangkok I woke up to find that my car window had been smashed. I had to leave for the airport at 10:30am, and found my smashed window at 8am while taking the dog out for one last good walk before being away for 7 weeks… Ugh… Thanks to great friends and amazing family, it was quickly looked after so I could focus on getting my last minute things done before heading to the airport.

My journey was in two legs: Vancouver to Beijing, then Beijing to Bangkok. The flight to Beijing was a long 11 hours. And thanks to the six kids who took turns screaming, throughout the entire flight, it just that much longer… After a 4 hour layover, the Beijing to Bangkok flight was much quieter, and I actually slept through almost the entire trip.

The arrival in Bangkok was smooth. The luggage came quickly and the next thing I knew, I was in a taxi and headed to the hotel.

Quatchi's last photo at YVR

Quatchi's last photo at YVR, enjoying a ceasar while waiting to board the flight to Beijing.

We arrived at the hotel after more than 30 hours of traveling and just as the taxi drove away I realized I had left a bag in the cab… Which wasn’t a huge big deal (duty free booze, a scarf, and travel slippers), except that there was one item in the bag that I’ll miss a lot during the trip, and was a huge part of my little travel project… Quatchi. Quatchi was in the bag. 🙁

So… as much as I intended to post plenty of photos of Quatchi checking out Thailand at @QuatchiTravels, Quatchi has embarked on his own personal undocumented journey. I’m thinking that the driver was quite happy with the gift of rum, his wife has a nice new scarf and slippers, and his kid has a fun new toy…

Surprisingly, after more than 30 hours of travel and maybe 4 hours of sleep, sleep did not come easy on the first night in Bangkok. So, what better to do at 2am, than to search the streets for some tasty tom ka (coconut soup).

My luck was changing, cuz we found such a tasty soup not far from the hotel at a street vendor. Tom ka seafood! YUM! With a belly full of soup, sleep came much easier! Not a bad way to start the Bangkok adventure!

Good luck Quatchi! I hope you find happiness as you embark on a whole new adventure!

Everything Happens for a Reason…

“Everything happens for a reason.” When “shit” happens this is something we tell ourselves and want to believe. Is it true? Who knows? But it is something we cling to because it is somehow comforting and helps get us through the rough patches of life… Ice Hotel, entrance

The last two and a half years I have been through quite the roller coaster. I’ve experienced emotions I never knew existed and have felt them to my core. I think I’ve become guarded and jaded from the experience, but I have learned a lot through it as well, and that is always for the better…

I’ve started to reclaim my independence out of this experience, which I had lost somewhere along the way. This was the first time in a very long while that I did not have a partner and two children to consider in all that I did… It felt so strange at first, that I became somewhat of a hermit and didn’t do much of anything at all for a while. This was me until I recognized that this was very unhealthy and directing me toward depression. So to turn things around, I promised myself that Belize 2009: The Blue Holeif I was invited to do something (no matter what that something was) I would say yes and do it.

Out of this commitment, I have had many incredible experiences. I have slept in the ice hotel in Quebec, started scuba diving again, swam with sharks in the Blue Hole in Belize, went to the Yukon for a day (that’s right, a DAY trip), visited Northern British Columbia, spent a month on Bali, Indonesia, and experienced the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver in a way I never could have imagined! I  have done more traveling in the past 2 years than probably in my entire life and have had experiences that I couldn’t have dreamed up!

Canola fieldsAll I can say is that if things had not happened the way they did, I would never have seen or experienced any of these incredible things, nor would I be taking a 7 week trip to Southeast Asia at the end of this month!

So I reiterate, everything happens for a reason… My previous life feels like exactly that these days, a PREVIOUS life. Almost like a foggy dream. Not to say that I don’t treasure the memories that I collected in those years, because I do. I can honestly say that I had some of the best times of my life in those days. I was happier than I had ever been and had a partner and two beautiful children to share that with. Ubud Wanderings 78 I prefer to remember the good things rather than dwell on how things ended. The roller coaster took me through many things: sadness, pain, heart-break, depression, and all the “fun” things that go along with that. But on the other hand, when you roll it all up into a moment of life, it has made me a stronger person. So whatever the reason that things happened the way they did, it was meant to be. So here I am! Ready for life’s next adventure and whatever comes along with that…

Next stop: Thailand!

 

A Taste of the Yukon

In the short time I spent on the whirlwind Whitehorse Olympic media day last February, there was much to see and do!    (This post is well overdue….)

The trip started right from the moment we checked in at YVR. The woman handing out the boarding passes was dressed in traditional dress from the gold rush days. She wore this while hosting the flight to Whitehorse with contests and games.

Upon arrival, our media group was ushered to waiting school buses to take us to the local Whitehorse tourism centre, where we were introduced to the Province’s premier, Dennis Fentie, and members of Yukon Tourism. We were also treated to a dance from the Snowshoe Shufflers! Yep, dancers with snowshoes strapped to their feet! They also had past Olympians and Special Olympians present from the local area. I was honoured to personally meet Christine Larsen and she allowed me not only to hold her medal from the Atlanta Games, but to hang it around my neck as well!

Me and Christine Larsen and her silver medal

Christine Larsen's silver medal

Travel Yukon hosted a quick lunch with tastes of various restaurants in the city with traditional loca foods, such as moose, bison, and venison meats! It was all absolutely delicious!

We were then separated into our respective groups, depending on the activity we had previously chosen. The one my partner and I chose to be a part of was the Wildlife Reserve and Hot Springs tour. In between the two, we even stopped at t a local coffee roasting company, Bean North, where they roast organic beans from around the world that are purchased via fair trade.

Bean North Cafe

Bean North Cafe Bean North Cafe

At the wildlife reserve we saw many animals, from reindeer, to mountain goats, mountain sheep, elk, and  deer, to my favourite: a lynx!

Lynx at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

The Takhini Hot Springs were heavenly! We didn’t have a whole lot of time to enjoy them, but in the -20 degree Celsius weather it was a welcome warm up! The great thing about these hot springs was that you did not get that rotten egg sulfur smell that you often do with hot springs. There was no odor at all! Just two big pools of different temperatures to enjoy at your leisure. We were told that if you’re enjoying the hot springs at night, you may be lucky enough to catch a great light show from the arora borealis. Now THAT, I would love to experience!

Takhini Hot Springs

Connected to the hot springs is accommodation in the form of small cabins in the woods. The cabins looked very cozy and a good place to warm up as a nice winter retreat. With snow shoeing and cross-country skiing as daytime activities, and the hot springs to warm up in at the end of the day, you will never get bored at the Takhini Resort!

Takhini Hot Springs Lodge

Takhini Hot Springs Cabins Takhini Hot Springs Cabins

Takhini Hot Springs Cabins: Group shot

Next, we were taken to the Whitehorse Museum where we had an opportunity try our hands at gold panning, taste some locally brewed beer and attempt the Sour Toe Cocktail. You’ll find more details about interesting cocktail, continent a mummified human toe in this previous post. You can watch a video of me drinking the cocktail on YouTube.

SourToe Cocktail

SourToe Cocktail Drinking my Sourtoe Cocktail in Whitehorse, Yukon

From the museum the media group was taken to our last stop of the trip, the banquet dinner for the Yukon Quest dog sledding race. (http://www.yukonquest.com/) We were invited to partake in the celebration and announcements of the winners of the 2010 Yukon Quest. We had the honour of meeting the winner and speaking with him about the challenges he experienced over the 1,600 km of rough, sometimes hazardous terrain between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Yukon Quest Hans Gatt, winner of Yukon Quest, a 2 week Dog Sledding Race

We had one final surprise at the Whitehorse airport to round off our Yukon experience as we waited to check in and board our chartered flight back to YVR. Cancan dancers! Pretty sure this is not a regular occurrence for travelers to Whitehorse…

Cancan Dancers at the Whitehorse Airport

After a full day of travel and activities, we arrived back in Vancouver around midnight. It was a nice break, but I was happy to jump back into the Olympics craziness the following day.

I’d like to thank Travel Yukon and Canada’s Northern House for inviting me to come along on the Yukon media trip. It was truly amazing to see such a beautiful part of our country. I know I’ll be back again to see and experience all that Yukon has to offer! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that will not be forgotten!