Tofino: An overview/budget review

I have only amassed about three weeks of travel in the past two and a half years. I know it’s a lot, and I know how lucky I am for that. But damn, for someone who’s used to spending 3-4 months of the year abroad it’s hard. So, Adam and I decided a long weekend away was in order. We were going to go to the states, but I’m kind of dodged out by the US because Canadian/American exchange rate is, for lack of a better word, complete and utter shit; also, I’m not too fond of who the people put in power. The combo made it a pretty easy choice to stay in Canada. We didn’t want to fly anywhere, so we thought Vancouver Island would be perfect. With my luxurious family weekend in Tigh-Na-Mara still fresh in my mind, my first thought was spa. Then we looked up the prices for spas. We ended up deciding on Tofino because I hadn’t been out that way since I was about eight, and it has some amazing, super British Columbia-y stuff going for it. Think lush rain-forests and tsunami evacuation signs.

Heralded by everyone telling us Tofino is beautiful but, “oh! It’s so expensive there!” we decided to go for it. I truly believe there always a way to see a place regardless of budget. The problem with this trip was that we only had a weekend. The slower you travel, the cheaper you travel. But alas, we both have steady jobs, so what can you do.

Tofino is pretty easy to get to from Vancouver. You could go this weekend on a greyhound for about $100. We opted to take my Mom’s car because, well, she loaned it to us and Adam likes to drive.

It quickly became a game of me sending pictures like that to her and alerting her to all the fun her car is having without her.

We started our journey from my house in the suburbs and drove to the ferries. If you’re driving the quickest way is hands down Horseshoe Bay- Nanaimo. We made it on to the 8:30 a.m crossing and since it wasn’t a long weekend, our Friday morning was nice and cruisey. BC ferries is… well, it’s the only option so I’m not going to critique it too much. You pay about $18 for each passenger, and an extra $55 for the car.

After we got off the ferry we followed the signs. We did make some stop though….

This is Little Qualicum Falls. They have an upper and a lower route. Because my body is still messed up, we did the lower route. It took about twenty minutes and was a nice little detour.

All in all, there are a lot of amazing things about the off season. It’s cheaper, less crowded… but a lot of stuff we stopped for was closed until March. Most notably Coombs market, which has always been one of my favourite places on the Island.

One thing that wasn’t closed? ….actually it’s only open Saturdays but she sold us cheese anyway… Was Coleman Meadows Farm! We stopped there because we saw a buffalo dairy sign and I’m obsessed with buffalo mozzarella, which ended up being our dinner that night.

Also, water buffalo are super cute. After we pet the dog and checked out the chickens, we headed on.

Continue reading “Tofino: An overview/budget review”

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Tofino: An overview/budget review

Travelling When Your Body Just Won’t

I have compartment syndrome.

It’s a super scary condition where your muscles don’t want to be contained in their muscle holder anymore.

The magical medical practitioners think it happened as a combination of stressing myself out way to much and overworking my already injured body. As a kid I wanted nothing more than to be a prima ballerina. This didn’t pan out as I have exactly 100% the opposite natural body you want for ballet. I have hips, I have a bum, and I hold weight in my stomach. It’s not exactly graceful. But I tried. I loved- still love- to dance. When I was 15 I went to my then family doctor and asked about this weird pop thing my hip was doing. He told me it was nothing and not to bother him with stupid problems. Yeah. I continued to throw myself into performing through dance, intensive theater camps, and started competing in musical theater the next year. My hip didn’t get better. It wasn’t until I was 22 during a rugby practice where a coach heard the noise. At that point I had been playing for a few years with a break to study abroad. My coach looked at me, informed me that wasn’t normal, and gave me the name of a sports specialist who I saw that week. Keep in mind I hadn’t really seen a doctor that wasn’t at the walk in clinic since I was 15. I went and he diagnosed it as snapping hip syndrome in 5 minutes. I walked out with a physio referral and started on that path. I probably wouldn’t have been in that sort of pain for that long if I had been better about resting and not going in to intensely. I was still playing rugby and… man, I love playing rugby. It’s definitely one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love the crap out of that sport, I loved the people I was playing with. So play I did.

After my friend passed away I kind of gave up on life. I stopped playing rugby, stopped going to the gym… stopped giving a shit about anything really. I lost my biggest support system and that took its toll. I still have to deal with it every day. Losing someone you were that close to messes you up. My feet started to scream bloody murder whenever I stood up and after much fighting my Mom made me go back to the doctor to get orthotics. I went and mentioned that when I walked a lot my shins hurt SO bad and it hurt to even touch my calves. That’s when I got the compartment syndrome and instructions to keep very lightly active- which at that point I wasn’t, to not google compartment syndrome and, most importantly, to keep my stress levels down. I tend to be a very high stress person so I figured that was impossible, got my orthotics and hoped for the best.

Eventually it all caught up with me and I found myself having to miss a day of work to spend in the hospital because I was absolutely sure my foot was broken but had no idea why. The doctor at emergency checked me out and diagnosed me with plantar fascitis in both my feet. I had no idea what that meant and vowed to wear my orthotics more. He gave me celebrex to take and I was, once again, told to be lightly active, rest, and keep my stress levels down. During all this I managed to do two summers working at summer camps in Italy. I didn’t have the same problems there. Working with kids is pretty stressful so I still can’t figure out why I wasn’t in pain.

By this point my sports specialist had retired, which was terrible because he was the best doctor I’ve ever had. He was direct but caring, and you could tell his focus was completely on his patients. My mother had found a new doctor and my feet were getting much, much worse. I could only walk for about 5 minutes before the pain became unbearable. My mom kind of took matters into her own hands and made an appointment with the doctor and bribed me out of the house with a shopping trip. My anxiety level was high, but I like the new doctor. I’m still on her patient list. She referred me to a pain specialist in the same clinic who wanted to start K Laser. I had four treatments and things were better. I could walk for a half hour after the first one. After the fourth one I went to London and Paris and something weird happened. I walked. I walked for five hours one day and didn’t even feel a hint of a throb. I was enjoying walking. I reported this back to the doctor when I went for my fifth and final treatment. He thinks it might be a climate thing and that I should move to Europe.

Alas, the point of this trip isn’t to talk about all my pain and reinforce the fact that I really, REALLY should live in Europe. Bonjour France, je veux moi? It’s to talk about the how. Since I did spend two summers in Europe with chronic pain while working and whatnot I’ll give my list.

  1. Carry all medications with you in your carry on. Luckily they only lost my luggage on the way home, but damn were those some bad days until it got restored to me.
  2.  Make sure your medication is legal in the country you’re going to. I worry about this all the time even though celebrex is pretty standard.
  3. Talk to your doctor about transitioning through time zones. When I went to Australia I lost a whole day. I tend to keep my Ipod on Vancouver time no matter where I go so that I don’t accidentally wake people up when I call home. Sometimes you end up taking what you take at noon at home at eight pm away, which is reasonable. However, sometimes you end up needing to take it at 2. Figure out the time zones and talk to your doctor.
  4. For the love of all that is and ever was do not start your medication on the trip. Take it for at least two weeks before. Finding that celebrex worked for me was hard. I went through some other pain meds that had side effects that… wouldn’t be what you’d want in a shared bathroom situation. (This also plays into why I hate ensuite bathrooms at hostels, but that’s another post.). You need to know how your body reacts to what you’re taking. For instance, I had to learn the hard way that if you ignore the label and take celebrex without food you will not be a happy camper. I tend to prize celebrex because it worked for me but meds are different for everyone. I’ve even heard of some people having weird side effects from the generic. Do not take this grace period for granted. Seriously. Very, VERY important.
  5. Give yourself permission to feel like shit and hermit for a few days. I’ve been to Genoa many times but I’ve never seen any of it. There’s a hotel there  that’s not far from the train station and whenever I’m there it’s where I stay. It’s clean, not to expensive, the shower water pressure is awesome and their wifi is full on badass. I get an inordinate amount of food, take the longest shower ever and just relax. I’m an introvert with extrovert qualities and I need the recharge time. Even with a cold it’s not fair to do a shared room when you’re sick or injured. Let yourself have that down time and don’t let anybody make you feel bad for it. If you’ve booked a hostel and just need a day to hang around the building and the two blocks around it, that’s fine. Take care of your mental health and your physical health will follow. After my Genoa stays I go wherever I need to after feeling like a renewed person. If I have a bum around the hostel day, usually I feel ready to go and end up having amazing nights.

When you have chronic pain it sucks. Going places sucks. Getting out of bed most days is a marathon… but it’s possible to push through it and have some great experiences.

Just give yourself permission to feel it otherwise I’m sure your head will explode.

Travelling When Your Body Just Won’t

Why I Decided to Study Abroad

3.1% of Canadian students choose to study abroad. 

Let that sink in. Honestly, it’s kind of super gross. I went to college after a quick stint as a receptionist. All I wanted was to go back to Europe, but post-secondary is one of those things I thought I really needed. I also wanted to get behind the rope at museums and cultural sites and thought, “Yes, I shall be an archeologist.” I didn’t even know how to spell archeologist. I had never seen Indiana Jones (still haven’t). Imagine my bewilderment when I was walking down the steps from my rude awakening about what archeology really is i.e a physical anthropology lecture, and saw a big sign: “Study Abroad in Europe”.

The program was offered by the college and for four months I’d tour around Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucerne, Paris, and London. The museums would be my classroom and I would be one with Art History (which is a hella lot closer to what I thought archeology was). This was March. The program included a textbook reading and small classroom component in August, and in September I was off.

I loved the learning. There’s something magical about looking at a painting in real life, at the  real time and hearing about it. Also, little tidbits like this:

That’s some graffiti by Michelangelo. Who knows that other than an art history professor?

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t all sitting at cafe’s in Venice and shopping in London. I had some hard days- I was very ill at the start of the trip in Rome and didn’t find a social group. Everyone was quite clique-y and I kind of got lost in the shuffle. I was told in Florence that everyone thought I was a horrible know it all – a side effect of being to sick to party and actually doing the assignments. Luckily my solo traveller heart kicked in and I still had a great time.

Even with the little social fejula I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I grew so much as a learner and a traveller. I learned that social whatever’s didn’t matter as much which has helped me through pretty much every single interaction I’ve had with humans since- especially when I’ve travelled. I’ve learned that if you need to absorb information try looking at it in a more active, realistic way.

Also, I learned that travel isn’t something I can just “get out of my system”.

I did my field school through Langara College, where I was going. The credits are pretty universally transferrable, and they do some continuing ed programs if you just want to take a trip with none of the work. Almost all universities have an international office if you’re not wanting to do the whole tour thing, but instead just want to do a full on exchange. My cousin did one in Milan and literally talked his way backstage at the Versace runway show. Magic.

Some I haven’t been on, but have been wanderlusting pretty hard on:

  • Sea|mester  You spend the amount of time on a yacht learning how to sail, getting your PADI, and taking classes like Marine Biology. Also, they get the most pun points.
  • Where There Be Dragons  These look so beautifully curated. If you read reviews you’ll be just… I don’t even know. I want to go. I wish I had known about these earlier.
  • Kalu Yala You live in an eco town in the middle of the jungle. This is so far in my wheelhouse it hurts.
  • Semester at Sea This is one of the most well known study abroad programs. Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela were guest lecturers. This program is actually bananas. Block off like 2 hours for the website because that’s seriously how long I took forgetting I was doing a blog post.

If you’ve been on any of these, let me know! I love first hand accounts. Also, you’re probably super cool.

And, if you’re rich as and are all like “damn, I want to drop some cash right now!” I’ll gladly let you fund me on some educational adventure. 😉

Why I Decided to Study Abroad

When Solo Travel Means Being Alone

I walked into the bar and ordered a local pilsner. There was the usual hostel vibe, a large group was playing some sort of game. I sat down with my tablet at a table nearby. I figured being in a hostel bar alone some other solo traveller would strike up a conversation eventually.

I was still tired after the bus ride from Germany, but who knew who I’d meet? Where the night might take me… That’s what I love about solo travel. I completely bought into the whole hostel concept, and after three trips I had yet to meet a person I couldn’t “gel” with. For someone who spent lunch hours in Elementary school doing homework alone and got bullied out of a high school I felt like I had cracked the mythical code to acceptance, friends, and building up self-confidence.

“Is anyone sitting here?” I looked up at one of the guys from the game. I knew it! The travel inclusion always wins. “I just lost the game we were playing and my punishment is to talk to you for two minutes.”

What. The. Fuck.

I wish I had said something along the lines of, “I’m not a punishment, I’m a human. What happened in your life to make you that saying that is at all okay?” But sadly, I’m not a badass. I’m still mad at myself for going along with it. I was just… I guess flabbergasted. Who does that?

Larry*, apparently. Larry was someone who looked like the 90’s spelling of X-TREME! He acted like, well like someone who would orchestrate the above exchange. He set up a GoPro everywhere to record his “epic” times with his friends- one of which had just gone back to their group.

“I just got offered a job!” I saw the tour guide from the bus that day walking away from the group looking as shocked and bewildered as I felt while shaking his head. Larry looked ecstatic and was slurring his story about how the tour guide liked how he arranged this big game and that he should work for the company. I found out during my two-minute-to-the-dot conversation that I was on the same bus schedule as them until Paris. My stomach dropped. Great.

In the next Czech city the booking gods frowned on me and I ended up in the same room as Larry. The town was small and Larry and his merry band of fellowmen decided this means they needed to binge drink for two nights straight. Now, I won’t sit here and say you shouldn’t hard core party in Europe. I ended up being invited in on one of the night (after Larry passed out? Was to drunk to object? I’m not sure. As salty as it sounds, I wasn’t exactly concerned for his well-being.). His friends were actually pretty cool. I had fun. In the next city there was enough museums that I managed to avoid the group, but the town after that was very secluded. Hostel in the middle of the woods secluded. One of the nights a girl they had deemed worthy to be in their group was setting up a board game and invited me in on it. I jumped at the opportunity to be social until Larry announced “I’m not going to play if she’s here.” I was glad to see everyone at the table was a bit taken aback. I just didn’t have the energy to fight it and went to bed. Looking back, this did my bank account and liver a lot of good. I was able to take on the next two major cities with a lot of gusto; however, the whole endeavour soured me a little. I was having trouble shaking it off. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t people want me in on their super fun times? Had nothing really changed since I was a teenager?

I met up with my friend Tom in Munich, where I told him the whole ordeal. “The guy Larry, I just don’t get what his issue with me was. I mean, I don’t think-”

“Wait, Larry?” Tom’s eyes lit up. A look of understanding, disbelief, and the faintest hint of pity on his face. “That group had to stay back a night. They were on our schedule but no one could stand them. We were all happy to be rid of them.”

At first I was shocked but if literally anyone I knew had told me about what Larry did I would think he was more vile than satan’s breath after a night on cheap hooch. The guide’s bewildered face? The other people on the bus when Larry drank a 40 of jager at eight in the morning? His friends faces when he decided not doing something was better than including me? All true reflections of how he is and how the world reacts to him.

I’m happy I didn’t let him ruin my trip, I had an amazing time. I’m also a lot more aware of how behaviour like that hurts people and it’s helped me not do that to others. There needs to be an exception to prove the rule, and he was mine. I still think that I always meet amazing people while travelling.

As for Larry I don’t think that he works for the bus company- they make all their guides get a branded twitter. I haven’t found evidence of him doing anything really. I hope he got help. I get the feeling that there was something under the surface that he took out on me. I hope he’s not pissed off someone who would physically hurt him. Above all else, I really hope I never see that asshat again.

*name changed to protect the absolutely, completely guilty.

 

When Solo Travel Means Being Alone