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2 °C

Travelling is always so uplifting for me. I feel completely rejuvenated and full of that "we're all just one big family" spirit that can sometimes get jaded when you live in such a materialistic, monotonous society. I love that nervous energy I get when I step off a plane into the unknown. Everything is new and exciting and the challenge of making friends and finding your way through the chaotic or eerily empty streets is part of the thrill. Ask anyone who travels and they will tell you it's like an addiction. You spend hours daydreaming about the next hit and when it finally arrives the high is unmatched. And when it's over, you still tingle with memories and jetlag and as the hangover kicks in you're back at square one...daydreaming!

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But as much as globe trotting can make you indescribably happy, it can also make you undeniably broke! And so, my tail between my legs, I am heading back to the North.

I am embarking on a new and exciting project with the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) as the coordinator for the abandoned mining site clean-up in Nunavik and will spend 3-4 weeks in Kuujjuaq prepping for this summer. I will continue the work from the 'south'- in Victoriaville, where Alain and I will take up residence for at least the next few years.

Everyone is welcome to visit us. New and old friends alike. We have a big beautiful house and lots of cold beer and good stories to share. I hope to see you all soon.

Telephone # in Kuujjuaq: 819-964-1337
Telephone # in Victoriaville: 819-604-0993
nancyldea@hotmail.com

Happy Travels.

Posted by nldea 08.04.2009 16:02 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (0)

Jamaica

Once you go, you know (or get an eye infection trying!)

sunny 30 °C

The island of Jamaica was first inhabited by Arawak natives until Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1494, claiming it for Spain and eradicating the native population only decades later. Jamaica eventually became a base of operations for buccaneers and pirates alike, adding a bit of romanticism and tales of pillaging and plundering to its history books and in return these bandits of the sea kept other colonial powers from attacking the island until an earthquake in 1962 destroyed much of there existence.

Slaves arrived on the island during the late 17th century and were forced to work on plantations. The cultivation of sugar cane and coffee by African slave labour made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. During this time there were many racial tensions, and Jamaica had one of the highest instances of slave uprisings of any Caribbean island. Some slaves inevitably ran away from the estates to live in small bands in the mountains as Maroons.

With the freedom of a people and an independence of a nation, Jamaica grew from a monocrop export country to having diversified economy based around the export of sugar, bananas and other agricultural commodities, the export of bauxite and alumina, and of course the tourist industry. However, with thousands of visitors each year, the ecological footprint is noticeable. Some of the country’s biggest assets – its glorious beaches and waterfalls – are facing serious challenges of survival. Sewage pours into the coastal waters of all the major resort towns while the concerns of local communities are often ignored. Profits hightail it out of the country to feed the bottom line of foreign consortia. Many hotel workers live in degrading conditions, but are still expected to smile for guests; quite a few will tell you that they are lucky to have a low-paying job at all. As more and more tourists come, the resort towns sink deeper into urban blight. This is more than irony: it’s a potent recipe for social unrest and the accelerated decline of Jamaica’s most important industry. The government continues to offer reactionary ‘solutions’ to tourism’s woes, while at the same time approving ever more large-scale resorts. Fortunately, sustainable tourism is beginning to make inroads, and while the impact is still very small, there are grounds for guarded optimism.

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In Montego Bay's airport I was finally reunited with Alain. After 2 months of separation and many expensive calling cards I was elated to see him! It was only after holding his hand again that I realized just how much I missed him and how great my tan was!! hahaha! We headed for our hotel for some much needed catching up!

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For the record, Mo' Bay is NOT Jamaica. It is a hang-out for party-animals, resort tourists, spring breakers and is infested with hustlers, over-charging taxi drivers and low-paid locals who drool at the sight of your wallet. If this is the only part of the island you experience I pity you and the impression of Jamaicans you will carry home.

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In Negril we stayed with Elvis & Laura in a tiny sub-community know as Diver's Village. The "divers" are a group crazy-brave locals who climb precariously thin trees that hang 100 feet over the water from the side of a cliff. For $10-20US they somersault into the clear abyss below them every night before sunset at the infamous Rick's Café. Our cabin was set behind a maze of dirt roads, makeshift bars and tiny houses. People smiled and waved and called us their friends before we had barely settled in. Although the main attraction in Negril is the spectacular 7 mile long beach lined with restaurants, hotels, resorts and the infamous ganja dealers, we were treated to a more human, realistic Jamaican experience every time we left our humble home or returned from watching the phenomenal sunsets.

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We next headed to Treasure Beach, an area named so for it's plentiful coves and small stretches of secluded beachfront, found in the southern part of the island. On the way we stopped for a tour of the Appleton Rum factory where the sweet smell of molasses and sugarcane hung heavy in the air and strutting peacocks beautified the front entrance. We saw how things used to be done, thanks to the in-house donkey, the inner workings of the modern rum factory, hundreds of neatly stacked oak barrels and sampled each type of the finished product. Arriving at our guest house, with an extra kick in our step, we headed out to explore the nearby beaches and small community know as Frenchman's Cove. Almost devoid of tourists, we finally had the peace and quiet of a true vacation.

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However, all that peace and tranquillity was quickly replaced with the stress and frustration of being gravely ill in a foreign county. It seems I had contracted a serious bacterial infection which resulted in a swollen, red and painful left eye. After seeing a general practitioner, I was captive in our room, lights off and unable to see whatever was outside those 4 walls. An ophthalmologist later diagnosed me with a corneal ulcer and prescribed me a series of drops and medication requesting that a return to see him the following day. Alain spent most of that afternoon making anxious phone calls to travel insurance companies and airlines and e-mailing everyone for advice. The next day we were told that the situation had not improved and that I would have to be hospitalized. We made a quick decision to return to Canada and grabbed a cab for the airport in Montego Bay.

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At the airport we felt like competitors on a sadistic version of The Amazing Race. We raced from counter to counter, Alain guiding me through hoards of tourists and blurry obstacles, in search for tickets home. With no direct flights and very little options at all, one ticket agent tried desperately to get us onboard resort charters heading to Canada. No luck! And although eventually we booked a ticket to New York for that night with a connection to Montreal in the morning, our string of bad luck continued with delay after delay until an eventual cancellation at midnight forced us to stay another night in Jamaica. 4 hours of sleep later we headed back to the airport, waited 2 hours in line, got onboard the plane to NY and eventually landed in Montreal at 9:30PM. We rushed to the emergency room with the bad luck hot on our heels resulting in a 13 hour waiting room extravaganza that lacked all the fun such an event using entails!

That morning we saw a doctor, who assured us that the treatment I had received in Jamaica had been the right one and that although the infection was quite serious, it would not affect my vision and would probably take 2-3 weeks for a full recovery. I have been seeing an ophthalmologist nearly everyday since and have at last been given the okay to leave Montreal. One more week of drops and I should be as right as rain!

Alain was so amazing throughout this whole ordeal. I am so grateful for his patience and good humour!! Je t'aime!!!

We both have a one-way ticket from Jamaica to Canada, so end of story pending....

Posted by nldea 08.04.2009 10:57 Archived in Jamaica Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Trinidad & Tobago

The Real Caribbean

29 °C
View 62 days in the Caribbean on nldea's travel map.

The most southern of the Caribbean (or West Indies) islands, Trinidad & Tobago is a whirling, lively mix of ethnicities, cultures, music and business. Discovered by Columbus in the 15th century, this dual nation of islands celebrate separate histories and present-day development priorities but the same vivacity for life and good times.

In Trinidad, the Spanish established their settlement in 1582 and over the next two centuries they, along with the French, imported slaves from West Africa to cultivate tobacco and cocoa plantations. The abolishment of slavery followed the British invasion in 1797 and the importation of indentured workers, mostly from India. The country eventually became a republic of the Commonwealth in 1976.

The discovery of oil and natural gas in Trinidad has brought instant wealth and prosperity to the island but also accusations of corruption and complaints of under representation by East Indian communities. A recent spike in drug related crimes has led to community unrest casting a blanket of doubt on the judicial and policing capacities.

Tobago's early history is a separate story. Colonized later than Trinidad, it changed hands several times and became a base for pirates raiding ships in the Caribbean. Like Trinidad, slave labor established thriving plantations which slowly crumbled following a string of natural disasters. Tobago has since set its rebuilding efforts on tourism.

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I arrived during Carnival 2K9. Socca music throbbed in the streets of Port of Spain. Women shook and gyrated in beaded bikinis and vendors sold pungent curried dishes on every corner. Steel pan players beat captivated rhythms into oil drums, Japanese cameras clicked incessantly, and the atmosphere cracked with electricity and rum! It was wild, unadulterated and absolutely captivating.

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Thankfully, the organizing committee ear-marked Wednesday as Carnival Cool-Down and what seemed like the entire parade of masqueraders headed to Maracas Beach for one last *lime and for further recovery, I also visited the Asa Wright Nature Center, known worldwide for it's bird species, research station and numerous hiking trails.

To see the other more tranquil side of Trinidad, I traveled by bus thru the center of the Island, along the coast, to the small nearly catatonic fishing village of Toco. Here I stayed with Mr and Mrs Bravo at the Sea Sands Camp, a true gem of a guesthouse. The down-to-earth, extremely welcoming couple operate this bunk-bed style camp for groups of surfers and school children most of the year, serving their guests three square organic meals per day, with all the ingredients coming right from their garden or from the community itself. Mrs Bravo is a herbalist and sells home-made noni wine, teas and local remedies. Mr Bravo harvests sea-moss, known for it's medicinal properties and sold in dried or jelly form. Friends of the good-humored couple drove me along the northeastern coastal road, which ended in Matelot. We visited the Grande-Riviere Beach where 100's of endangered sea turtles come every year to lay their eggs, which are religiously protected by a local group of volunteers.

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Although Trinidad's oil and gas industry has left tourism low on it's priority list, it is the challenge of finding your way around the Island that makes it so appealing. It forces you to approach the people around you, striking up a conversation that may last for hours, which is how long you'll be waiting for the bus.

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A 2 1/2 hour ferry ride brought me to the port city of Scarborough on the tiny island of Tobago - a truly laid-back paradise with beer, beaches and sunshine as the order of the day. At the bus station, I met a wonderful couple from Kingston Ontario, who helped me find a guesthouse in Charlotteville, located at the Northeastern tip of the Island. After a one and half hour bus ride along winding picturesque coastal roads, I was there, looking out over the secluded country-side village nestled behind the sparkling aquamarine Man-of-War Bay. Fishermen dragged nets, heavy with herring, onto the beach. Expats and the trickle of off-the-beaten-track tourists strolled the badly paved roads, rubbing elbows with smiling locals and squatting rastas. I felt at home here, and spent 5 days exploring the hidden coves and beaches in the area, hiking to magnificent view-points and easily making friends along the way.

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Prying myself away from peaceful Charlotteville, I ventured to the opposite side of the Island, to another small fishing community known as Bucco - home to the infamous Sunday School, a sly title for a weekly street party that includes local music, food, crafts and of course, the always popular rum-punch. From Bucco, I visited Mt. Irvine Beach, a local surfing mecca and got my first taste of gnarly dudes catching rad waves. It was also in Bucco that I stayed in my first hostel (there is a serious lack of backpacker establishments in the Caribbean). In 4 days, I met 2 guys from Scotland, 1 from England, a woman from France living in French Guyana and an American man who sold everything he owned and has been travelling for 5 years, circumnavigating the world 3 times! That is part of what makes traveling so fun and at times, even enlightening.

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For another taste of island flavor, I moved to the tourist epicenter of Tobago. A sea of tourists met me as I stepped of the bus and onto the busy streets of Crown Point. Another Hostel, more travelers and great beaches, I divided my time between Store Bay and Pigeon Point two picture-perfect stretches of white sand beaches and turquoise waters but a good lime was never far away, as the area offered plenty in the way of street cafes, bars and clubs. I finished my 2-week stint in Tobago in a flurry of party hopping and beach chair lounging.

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I returned by ferry to Trinidad, for a final day of souvenir shopping and a tour of the Caroni Swamp where the nesting of hundreds of scarlet ibises, the national bird, is an unbelievable act of nature. Entire tree stands turned from green to red in a matter of minutes, as these majestic birds return everyday to roost in this one particular area.

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Trinidad and Tobago mesmerized me with it's national pride, love of music and liming, culinary treats and ethnic diversity and because it remains low on the tourism radar, it makes it that much more appealing and memorable.

  • lime: a word used throughout the Caribbean referring to people hanging out, partying or simply being unproductive. We' just limin'!

Posted by nldea 19.03.2009 14:18 Archived in Trinidad and Tobago Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Grenada

The Spice Isle

sunny 29 °C
View 62 days in the Caribbean on nldea's travel map.

Plunked between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the nation of Grenada is made up of 3 islands: Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique. Like many of the Caribbean islands it changed hands, mostly among the New World English and French, many times before becoming the smallest independent country in the Western hemisphere in 1974. The nation's political history began on shaky ground. After years of coups and corrupt leadership the tension erupted into a battle of split alliances that resulted in kidnappings, unwilling prisoners and executions. The climax saw 12,000 US Marines and soldiers from other Caribbean countries landing on the shores of Grenada and nearly 200 people died in the fighting that followed. The US Government has since withdrawn its troupes but has committed millions of dollars to help develop a new court system and government restructuring.

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In 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated Grenada. The economy was ruined, towns decimated and staple crops like nutmeg and cocoa were eliminated. 5 years later gutted buildings and empty lots are a constant reminder of the severity and destruction that such an event can cause. However, Grenadians saw a positive where many only saw despair. With financial support from neighboring islands and countries afar, the rebuilding began with enthusiasm and a new found vision for the future. Infrastructure is now bigger and better and has incorporated sustainable practices and larger, sturdier floorplans. A general awareness has developed here. Political infamy and a natural disaster were sobering experiences for islanders-forcing their culture to grow up. People are proud of their tiny nation, take care of it and genuinely welcome those who wish to visit it.

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The capital of Grenada, St. George's, is a strange fusion of colonial buildings and cobble stone streets with bright Caribbean homes and vibrant culture. Although weekly cruise ship visits pollute the narrow streets and pleasant shops, there still remains an authenticity in the harbor front city. Just north of the city, under the waters of Moliniere Bay, is the most unique art gallery you will ever visit in a swimsuit! Life-sized sculptures eerily sit on the ocean floor, collecting coral and fishy residents. Floating above the collection is surreal and so worth the effort.

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To the south of the island, 2 beautiful beaches dominate the landscape. Grand Anse, the tourist epicenter has soft white sand stretching on for miles. Hotels, restaurants and a market provide plenty of entertainment if swimming in the warm waters and tanning doesn't suffice. Mourne Rouge Bay is just down the road but because it is harder to reach by public bus and is sheltered from the bulk of tourist invasions, it is quiet and pristine and arguably a better beach experience.

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The mountainous and forested interior is often surrounded with misty clouds and is a refreshing escape from the surf and sand of the popular coast. The hills are a tangled world of rain forest, lakes and waterfalls, brimming with wildlife and exotic plants. Several trails crisscross the Grand Etang Nature Reserve and the cool breezes make for pleasant hiking.

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Gouyave, along the east coast of Grenada, is a tiny fishing village making a big splash with its hospitality. Fish Friday is a bustling street party that offers visitors a taste of local food and music. Vendors sell steaming bowls of Callaloo soup, deep fried dolphin fish and spiced lobster while a steel pan band invites the crowd to "whine" the night away.

Touring the island by car with 2 new friends, Cecil & Laura, provided a chance to explore lesser accessible sights. One of the most interesting was a tribute to hundreds of Caribs who leaped to their deaths from the cliffs of Sauteurs Bay rather than submit to the French colonists. In Grenville, we may have been the only tourists meandering the busy streets filled with pounding Reggae and Soca music and the alternating odors of sweet and stench.

A catamaran ferry took me to the island of Carriacou. Alex (see couch surfing) met the boat in Hillsborough. The decidedly milder pace of this island is reflected in the nature of its largest town. A few streets loosely center around the pier where most of the action takes place. A surprising stretch of decent beach lines the shore adding to the general laid-back feel. For 5 days I indulged in the fact that everyone knew everyone on the island and because of Alex, I had an instant group of friends and a chance to taste real community life.

In Bayaleau I visited a cemetary on a beach that had been partially submerged in sea water because of erosion due to sand mining in area. The sand is used to make cement for construction of houses and roads. The graves sat somberly, being battered by waves, surrounded by enormous dead trees, uprooted and paling in the hot sun.

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One day, Alex informed me that in Tyrell Bay, a conservation group (www.kido-projects.com) had purchased 8 large sea turtles from local fisherman that had either been caught in fishing nets by accident or as supper. These endangered turtles are considered as a regional delicacy. That day I quickly evolved from casual photographer to turtle rescuer. I was directed to jump on a boat and to splash the stressed reptiles with sea water as they were lifted on board. I happily and aggressively fulfilled my duties until the turtles were transported a few miles from shore and thrown overboard, swimming happily to a hopefully new and long-lived life.

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On Carriacou I was also exposed to the music that is insanely popular in the Caribbean. Alex and her friend Jessica play in a steel pan band and I became a groupie of sorts, following them to their various gigs. The band mostly consists of oil drums cut down and pounded into different sizes and tones producing the rhythm and percussion of a a truly unique sound. Soca music uses the energetic basic beat of Calypso but speeds it up and adds risque lyrics and wordplay. The music dominates the airwaves and during Carnival, sets the mood for street parties.

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Grenada has left a lasting impression on me. A strong and proud nation that moves to it's own friendly beat.

Posted by nldea 23.02.2009 14:13 Archived in Grenada Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

St. Lucia

Simply Beautiful

sunny 29 °C
View 62 days in the Caribbean on nldea's travel map.

Flying over the island of St. Lucia, I starred intently out the airplane window as the turquoise waters crashed dramatically against the volcanic mountains, giving way to rolling hills that were covered in a lush green canopy.

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At the international airport in Vieux Fort I joined the line of anxious tourists shuffling along, passports and customs cards in hand. Taxi drivers swarmed us but I soon spotted my name on a paper held up by a smiling driver prearranged by my guesthouse.

Along the road to Gros Islet, the driver pointed out the numerous resorts and high-end hotels distracting from the lovely landscape. I asked him what he thought of this and his answer would be echoed each time I chatted with another local. Tourist dollars were good for the economy and put food on the table, but the development projects had reached the intolerable tipping point.

St. Lucia achieved independence in 1979 after changing flags 14 times. Although the English slowly nudged out the French in the late 1800's, influence and customs linger with many towns on the map having French names & people speaking Patois, a thickly accented Creole dialect.

The population is about 165,000, with about a third living in the capital city of Castries. St. Lucians are generally laid-back and friendly. Everyone has a smile and greets you with good afternoons and al' rights. Towns here ooze culture, they pulsate with the sound of car horns, the smell of fresh rotis from the oven & reggae music blaring from speakers.

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Untouched by the tourist traps of nearby Rodney Bay, the sleepy fishing village of Gros Islet is a great insight into a real St. Lucian community. I met up with Marie-Josee and Sophie (2 friends from Kuujjuaq) at the Tropical Breeze Guesthouse and with some fellow travelers we recruited along the way, we set out to explore the island.

In Castries, we wandered the local upbeat market, bargaining for souvenirs, fresh produce and the catch of the day for our supper.

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At Pigeon Island National Landmark, we passed our most catatonic days between sunny patches of soft beige sand, warm Caribbean waters and my hammock-strung up in the shade between two swaying palm trees.

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An afternoon in Marigot Bay gave us a glimpse of how the other half live. The beautiful, sheltered, narrow inlet has become over run by yachts, cruise ships and resort tour groups that climb out of their air conditioned buses, snapping photos and eating $10 ice-cream.

In Soufriere, we were treated to a demonstration of a community alight with spirit and warmth and a true sense of the people who life and breathe on the island. The scenery is striking here. The sky-scraping towers of rock known as the Pitons loom over the town (& on the label of the local beer). At the base are numerous waterfalls and mineral springs where one could spend the day hiking from one breathtaking view to another.

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The southern part of the island is dotted with a number of small villages, each with its own unique characteristics-artful, inviting, mountainous and a pleasant place to spend the day.

Marie-Jo and Sophie have left me and so I continue my Caribbean adventure as an independent traveler, but never truly alone.

Posted by nldea 09.02.2009 07:56 Archived in Saint Lucia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

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