Big Adventure on the Big Island

Big Adventure on the Big Island

“Where are you going on vacation?”

“Hawaii”

“Oh! Which island?”

“Hawaii”

“So, like Honolulu?”

“No, like the Big Island. It’s called Hawaii.”

“…”

I had some version of this conversation at least a dozen times prior to my recent Hawaii vacation. It’s incredible to me that a place as popular and touristy as Hawaii can still have parts unknown. And the Big Island is one of those places that hasn’t officially entered the mainstream.

Since this was my fourth trip to the Rainbow State, I was looking for a new experience that could bring both adventure and relaxation. I wanted to enjoy the Hawaii I know and love and yet still see something new. The Big Island ended up being the perfect solution.

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Even though it is far and away the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, it only contains 13% of the population. The lack of people made me feel like I was exploring uncharted territory, which was far from the truth but still exciting.

Location Location Location

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Fairmont Orchid Hotel

Unsurprisingly, where you stay can have a major impact on how enjoyable of a vacation you end up having. This is especially true on any Hawaiian island where trade winds cause substantial rainfall on their north and east flanks during the colder, winter months.

For our mid December trip, we opted to stay on the Kohala Coast which is super sunny year round and granted us a rain-free stay at our Mauna Lani resort. The scenery was more volcanic than tropical, but the tradeoff was worthwhile for sunny skies and close proximity to some of the best beaches on the island. You’re going to want to rent a car anyway to properly explore the island, so you may as well stay as dry as possible.

Greenwell Farms

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I absolutely love coffee and have fallen in love with the Kona varietals over the last few years. It is consistently ranked among the very best coffee in the world. Unfortunately for me, it is also one of the most expensive coffees in the world. But, that did not stop us from making a visit to Greenwell Farms. After sampling a wide assortment of fresh brews, we met our guide for a free tour of the farm, showing us every stage in the coffee-making process. Delicious and educational – not to be missed!

Kealakekua Bay

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Shakas on the Sea Paradise

Located just an hour south of our home base in Puako is Kealakekua Bay. This spot is significant because the first documented European to reach the Hawaiian Islands, Captain James Cook, was killed there in 1779. The site is now marked by a white obelisk. But, our reason for visiting was for the brilliant waters filled with coral and schools of tropical fish. The bay is a marine life conservation district perfect for snorkeling so we boarded a late afternoon cruise on a 45 foot trimaran with Sea Paradise and even got a lucky sighting of the famed spinner dolphins on our way back.

Lili’uokalani Gardens

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Lili’uokalani Gardens

No trip to the Big Island would be complete without a visit to Hilo. In addition to being the largest city and capital, it also holds the title of fourth wettest city in America. We timed our day trip to the eastern side of the island carefully so as to enjoy beautiful blue skies as we explored the Japanese themed Lili’uokalani Gardens and famed Banyan Drive.

Akaka Falls

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Akaka Falls

The main reason for our trip to the Eastern side was really to chase all the waterfalls (sorry TLC). We started at Akaka Falls State Park where we hiked a short and pleasant loop through lush rainforest (perks of all that precipitation) to see the towering 442 ft Akaka Falls.

Umauma Falls

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Umauma Falls

Next up was Umauma Falls which is only accessible through the Umauma Experience. The most popular activity here is ziplining but you can also just drive up to view the falls and walk through the gardens, which is what we did. The riverwalk is beautifully manicured and we didn’t see another person the entire time, although it’s important to note that early December is not peak season.

Mauna Kea Beach

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Mauna Kea Beach

Not too far from our villa is the one of the prettiest white sand beaches in all of Hawaii. We set off to arrive early in the day to secure one of the 40 coveted visitor parking spots. With boogie boards in tow we set up camp for a perfect morning of sunbathing, napping, and playing in the waves. Can you believe that at 30 I’d never boogie boarded before? Better late than never.

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Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co

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We made a very important fuel stop at the “Nut House” prior to getting our hike on in the Pololu Valley. We tasted as many free samples of both sweet and savoury macadamia nuts as we wanted before inevitably purchasing our favourites – Coconut glazed, Kona Coffee glazed and the traditional lightly salted.

Pololu Valley

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Pololu Valley Overlook

In the Northern Kohala Coast are some gorgeous valleys that we were very excited to check out. You can drive right up to the stunning Pololu Valley Overlook, where we also opted to hike down the steep cliffs to check out the Black Sand beach below. The view definitely got better as we descended so it is worth going at least part of the way down.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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Halemaumau Crater at Kilauea Summit

It’s crazy to think that a mere 5 months after these photographs were taken, a surge in volcanic activity has now led to the crater in the photo above doubling in size. The fissures and lava flows from this most recent eruption have destroyed over 700 homes and displaced more than 2000 people in the surrounding communities. I imagine that tourism in the area has changed some now that the park has re-opened, but visiting one of the most active volcanoes in the world should still be at the top of your Hawaii to-do list.

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Kilauea Iki Trail

Our favourite activity at the park was one of our first stops on the Crater Rim Drive. We hiked around the rim of the Kilauea Iki overlook and down through the crater below. In 1959 it was a seething lava lake, but today it is a dry lava field a mile long and 3,000 feet across. We opted to hike along the rim first before descending into the crater as this makes the ascent much easier on the return. The desolate landscape reminded me of scenes from Lord of the Rings – vast and foreboding. However, the resurgence of life was also stunning to behold.

Kiholo Bay

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The best thing we did in all of Hawaii was probably our visit to Kiholo Bay which we affectionately call Turtle Island. With no real signage or path, this picturesque bay is a true hidden gem. We parked by mile marker 82 along Hwy 19 and carried our picnic supplies through the bush on foot for about 20 minutes. The bay is filled with a series of calm, turquoise tidepools making it the perfect place to spot sea turtles. We spent the afternoon observing and swimming with turtles… so yeah, it was worth the effort.

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Waipi’o Valley Lookout

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My personal favourite view on the island is the Waipi’o Valley. Waterfalls tumbling down steep tropical cliffs into the crashing ocean waves below… what’s not to love. Once again, this is an easy one as you can drive right to the lookout. The facilities are quite nice so it’s also a great spot for a picnic.

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It’s hard to believe we packed so many activities into just one week. This trip to Hawaii was the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure. I absolutely loved having a car rental and getting to explore with it. We ate delicious food which I didn’t even touch on in this blog, but if you go, you have to try the malasadas from Tex Drive-in, Shave Ice, Kona coffee, Hamakua macademia nuts, pancakes with coconut syrup, and at least one Mai Tai. There’s so much to see and do that the island warrants multiple visits. I for one, can’t wait for my next trip to the Aloha State.

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Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Back to California: The San Diego Obsession

Contrary to popular belief… I am not moving to San Diego, as much as I may wish otherwise. After my annual pilgrimage to America’s Finest City last month, I reflected once again on why I fall more in love with California living each time I visit.

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There are some very obvious advantages: Near constant sunshine, + 25 ºC weather in February, an abundance of delicious Mexican food (mmm… fish tacos!), palm trees and beaches as far as the eye can see… I could go on and on.

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I love the laid back lifestyle and I love that after six visits, I am still discovering (and re-discovering) favourite places, eateries, and activities.

Balboa Park

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I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to finally explore Balboa Park. If you want to get technical, I did visit the famous San Diego Zoo back in 2009 which is located in the area of Balboa Park. But, I have never spent time touring the park itself, which is gigantic and lovely. I could have easily spent the entire day marveling at the Spanish architecture, watching street performers, and admiring the manicured gardens. I’m already itching to return.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

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There is something so lovely about returning to the same familiar spot year after year. My best friend Jennie just so happens to live in Pacific Beach, and the first thing we do every time I visit is take a walk down to the PB Boardwalk. This area is quintessential California. You’ve got surfers, roller skaters, cyclists, and everyone from retirees to families on vacation. I love the endless beach, the waves crashing on the outstretched pier, the palm tree lined sidewalks… This never gets old.

La Jolla

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No trip to San Diego would be complete without brunch and a stroll along the cliffs in La Jolla. There’s always a new place to sample or an angle that I haven’t photographed yet (although that seems impossible!). There’s just something soothing and revitalizing about this seaside community that instantly relaxes me. These are the moments that I store up and savour to keep me going long after I’ve returned home.

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 Do you have a favourite state?

Do you ever return to the same place again and again?

 

 

My Favourite Travel Day: ATV Adventure on Santorini

My Favourite Travel Day: ATV Adventure on Santorini

On our second full day on Santorini we decided to venture away from our adorable villa in Finikia and the unbelievably gorgeous streets of Oia to explore what the rest of the island had to offer. Well let me tell you… it had a lot!

The view from our villa... it was hard to tear ourselves away.

The view from our villa… it was hard to tear ourselves away.

To maximize our freedom (and fun for that matter) we decided to rent two ATVs for four people. At a rate of €34 for 24 hours – we figured we were getting a pretty good deal. I was super stoked about this whole experience as I’d never driven an ATV before. And the last time I decided to rent a vehicle while traveling was on my wildly successful trip to Maui – another island paradise! Are you sensing a travel theme these days?

As it turns out, this day was quite possibly one of my favourite travel days of all time!

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By the time our two ATVs showed up (that’s right… we had them delivered to our door) we were more than ready to hit the streets. I handed over my drivers license and signed my life away before some 14 year old kid showed me how to operate the ATV properly. I even had to go for a test drive with the rental guy for him to assess my abilities. My male friend Caleb did not. Another loss for feminism… but I digress.

After a quick pit stop to fill our tanks, we were off. Our first stop was lunch in the centrally located town of Pyrgos. The main draw to this part of the island was the proximity to a plethora of wineries. We had trouble finding the first one on my list but ended up stumbling upon a winery recommended to us by the owner of our wine store in Finikia. Are you sensing another travel theme?

Art Space was a completely delightful addition to our itinerary. Immediately upon arrival, the owner of this winery turned art gallery started leading us on a tour of the facilities. He spoke in rapid Greeklish with me only comprehending one in every 20 or so words. But he was completely adorable and the space was very cool which more than made up for my lack of understanding. Plus, we concluded our not-so-informational tour with a €5 wine tasting that included various blends of the Assyrtiko grape, the local sweet speciality Vinsanto, Ouzo, and something akin to moonshine at 42% alcohol. 

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Conveniently located just around the corner was Santorini’s first and only brewery. This craft beer obsessed Vancouverite was definitely excited to taste the Greek brews, which were adorably named the Yellow Donkey (lager), Red Donkey (red ale) and Crazy Donkey (IPA). They gave us a free tasting and I have to say that I really enjoyed all three, even the IPA which isn’t normally my drink of choice. I’m definitely rooting for this new business!

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The final stop on our self-guided wine tour was the one I was most looking forward to – Gaia Wines. We drove to nearby Kamari where an old tomato factory was converted into a winery. The beach front location didn’t hurt either.

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Next up was a frolic in the sea on a black sand beach in Kamari. By this time we were completely blissed out and feeling the vacation vibes in a big way. There’s nothing that puts me in a better mood than oceanfront dining and the sound of crashing waves.

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We had some time to kill before our final activity of the day so we took our ATVs for a drive to a lookout at the top of the island. I couldn’t believe how high we were able to drive and the view – stunning!

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Mandatory helmet selfie :)

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Our final activity of the day was the highly anticipated outdoor movie at Kamari’s famous Open Air Cinema. We got there early to nab front row reclining seats for an English screening of Age of Adaline. The movie wasn’t great but the atmosphere was top notch. The cinema featured complimentary blankets, a full bar, and reasonably priced snacks. What’s not to love?

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What a day! Aside from the post-movie ATV incident (it wouldn’t start but then it did) and the adrenaline filled ride home (imagine pitch black switch back roads with 1000 ft cliffside drop-offs) we had a perfect day. It was fun. It was adventurous. It was delicious. Santorini – you did it again!

Coming up on the blog… we left Greece just in time to miss the economic meltdown and turned our attention to neighbouring Turkey. Stay tuned for some of the most incredibly weird and wonderful sites that I’ve ever seen!

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Vancouver: The Best Place on Earth

Another Vancouver-centered blog post? That’s right people… just because I love to travel doesn’t mean I don’t love the place I call home.

Today is my 2nd anniversary of living in Vancouver and to celebrate I thought I would share a few of my favourite things about my favourite place on earth!

1. The Skyline

Vancouver was recently ranked 9th in the world for most number of ‘highrises’ – defined as a multi-storey building with at least 12 floors or a height of 35 metres (115 feet). But, it’s not simply the numbers that impress me… it’s the combination of the mountains, ocean, green space, and glass buildings. Just look at that view!

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2. The Beaches

It is no secret that I love beaches (see some of my favourites here). And lucky for me, Vancouver has SO MANY!!!

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3. The Mountains

Living minutes from multiple ski hills (Grouse, Seymour, Cypress) and world-class hiking is a huge draw for many Vancouverites that move here to play in our mountains year round. They aren’t so bad to look at either.

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4. Seawall

When I say that I’m going for a walk or a bike ride, you should just assume that I’m talking about the Seawall. This scenic 22 km path that lines Vancouver’s waterfront could not be more perfect for a walk, cycle, or jog and is by far the most popular recreational spot in the city. Just make sure that you stay in your designated lane (walking/jogging vs. cycling/skating) or you might just get knocked into the sea.

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5. Nightlife

Vancouver sometimes gets a bad rap for being a ‘no fun city.’ Say what?! You will quickly see from this list, that that is definitely not the case. In fact, it could easily be called a ‘more fun city!’ Now I can see how some of the legislation may seem uptight but lucky for us locals it is loosening quite a bit (hello happy hour!). But, the best part of the Vancity nightlife has to be the cool bars in historic Gastown. Several of my favourite spots remind me of the unspeakably cool Speak Easy culture of the 1920s, such as Pourhouse, Guilt & Co, and Revel Room. Cheers!

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6. Food

From Street Food Trucks to Top-chef restaurants and award-winning gelato to sushi on every corner… Vancouver cuisine is diverse, local, probably organic, and always delicious.

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7. Events

Long before I lived in Vancouver, I had been coming here each summer to enjoy many of the spectacular events. If you like theatre then we have Bard on the Beach and Theatre Under the Stars. If you like movies then we have the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Summer Cinema Series featuring outdoor movies in Stanley Park. We have one of the largest Pride Parades in North America and the always popular Pacific National Exhibition(aka really big summer fair). But of all these events, my favourite has to be the Celebration of Light. Not only is it Vancouver’s biggest event, but it’s also the largest offshore fireworks competition in the world and attracts up to 400,000 spectators along English Bay. I’ve been coming for years and now I can even enjoy the show from the comfort of my couch.

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8. Culture

Vancouver is still a relatively young city by the world’s standards having just celebrated it’s 128th birthday. But even still the city is rich in history and culture. Whether it be the legend and deep-rooted history of the First Nations people or the kaleidoscope of diversity brought through immigration, Vancouver is a place where you can experience the new and different. Sometimes I catch myself on the bus and no one around me is even speaking English. I love that! I hope my city always remains a place where people from all over the world feel welcome. Our differences are what make us stronger.

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9. Parks

Not only does Vancouver have the largest and top rated city park in the entire world (Stanley Park), it also has 750 hectares devoted to forest research at Pacific Spirit Regional Park. From small neighbourhood community gardens to large destination parks and feature gardens, the Vancouver Park Board maintains more than 220 parks that make up 11% of Vancouver’s land mass. We are well on our way to becoming the greenest city in the world in more ways than one.

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10. Architecture

It is so hard to choose a favourite building in the city when you have options like Science World and the Vancouver Convention Centre in the running. But, the one that never ceases to amaze and impress is the Vancouver Central Library, which was recently ranked as the 6th most beautiful library in the world. Inspired by the Colosseum, this architectural gem combines the old and new with such perfection. The words certainly don’t fit the picture.

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Beach Paradise in Nha Trang

My two days in Nha Trang were not nearly long enough to soak up all of the fabulous activities available. But, I did manage to squeeze in a lovely boat trip to snorkel in the South China Sea, an all day beach party with new friends, and some delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

This city had a completely different vibe than Ho Chi Minh City. I still feared for my life when crossing the street (crazy mopeds) but the atmosphere was way more laid back. I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the sunrise at the main beach one morning and it was there that I witnessed a jam packed beach at 6am. Apparently, the locals like to rise early to swim before the sun and the heat come out. That left a mostly quiet beach for us tourists to enjoy. Private cabanas could be rented for about $3 for the whole day and miles of white sand beaches were left for the taking. It’s no wonder the Russians have made Nha Trang their new go to vacation spot. I was certainly sad to leave but my skin needed a break from all that hot hot heat.

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Hvar: The sunniest spot in Europe

It was a cold, dark, and rainy January evening when I randomly met my first Croatian at a Pita Pit in Vancouver. We struck up a conversation that started with olives and ended with an email exchange of must-see places in Croatia. I had never heard of Hvar before and I certainly hadn’t planned to go there, but my new friend Davor assured me that it was not to be missed.

Fast forward 6 months and I spent two amazing days on the beautiful island that claims to be the sunniest spot in Europe! We stayed a short five minute walk from the harbour and spent our time strolling along the promenades lined with cafes where we enjoyed dinner, drinks, and dessert al fresco every night.

And of course no Mediterranean vacation is complete without a beach day. After a mere 30 minute water taxi ride we reached the tranquil and even more remote Palmižana island.  A part of the Pakleni chain of islands, this popular spot is the perfect place for yachts (both big and small), swimming, and sunbathing. We rented some luxurious beach chairs and spent a blissful day soaking up the sun, which played hide & seek, but fortunately, mostly seek.

Another highlight of our time on Hvar was our hike to visit the Fortica (Spanjola). After an easy 20 minute “hike” up the stone steps and winding pathway we reached the 16th century fortress that provides stunning panoramic views of Hvar town and the surrounding Pakleni islands. We were once again blown away by the beauty of Croatia (see Dubrovnik post) and took an embarrassing number of photos to document the stunning vistas. At this point, Croatia is a top contender for the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited… although it does have some stiff competition (I’m looking at you Italy, Ecuador, Spain, Costa Rica, and Switzerland).

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Beach Day at Playa Blanca

Today was… eventful.

Laura and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday afternoon after flying on our first South American airline, Avianca. It was THE BEST flight! We had English television and spacious seats and the service was excellent. Colombia has been so impressive.

We arrived by taxi to our adorable little hotel in Bocagrande called Hotel San Pietro. It´s about 30 minutes outside the city and a mere 3 minute walk from the beach. We absolutely love it! The weather is extremely hot and humid; nothing like Bogota. We are extremely thankful for our A/C… that´s for sure. We’re also big fans of our roof top hammocks. Now I really feel like I’m on vacation!

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Today we decided to take a boat tour to the Isla del Rosario, which are 27 islands just off the coast of Cartagena… or at least I think so. We actually don´t really know what we´ve seen since we appear to be the only white females in the city. All the other tourists are from Colombia as well so the tour was led completely in Spanish… great!

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Our first stop was on an island where we could take an optional visit to an Aquarium. We didn´t want to pay the extra to see what looked like the worst aquarium in existence so we opted to bake in the sun instead. We had to push away some pesky vendors for a while but they mostly left us alone. More boats arrived throughout the morning and we watched as idiotic tourists proceeded to buy raw seafood from the sketchy vendors on the dock. When is that ever a good idea? Do you really want raw shrimp that badly?

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Fortunately, we made friends with the most adorable Colombian family in the whole wide world who ended up saving our lives later that day.  And then, we met the day´s entertainment… the oddest couple you could imagine. First, meet Daniel: a middle-aged, overweight, gay flight attendant from Miami. He complained about pretty much everything but won us over with his hilarious comments and unique charm… oh and Laura enjoyed having the company of a fellow red head. Then, meet Luis: a native Ecuadorian, gypsy/flight attendant who agreed to travel with Daniel and act as his translator.

Once we arrived at our afternoon destination, Playa Blanca, we spent the whole afternoon chatting with our new amigos. Luis speaks 6 languages and has been to virtually every country in existence. In short… I want to be Luis. We found a secluded spot on the gorgeous white beach and floated in the warm Caribbean ocean for hours. It was so wonderful.

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Playa Blanca

On our walk back to the boat… Laura and I were standing with Daniel as we got harrassed by more vendors selling goods that I wouldn´t even donate to MCC. Daniel then proceeded to auction Laura and I off to one young and unsuspecting vendor. “Which one of these lovely ladies would you like? We have Miss Vancouver and Miss Toronto over here.” The vendor quickly decided to vacate the premise. Daniel was an expert at giving the locals a hard time.

The boat ride back was also an experience. Our motor boat was driving so fast that we crashed up and down on every wave. Laura was continually splashed with water as we went so that provided some humor… although I´ll definitely need to see a chiropractor when I get home.

The worst part of our day was once we got back to the main dock. All of the other guests on our boat magically disappeared and we were left standing in our towels, without a guide, without a bus, and completely clueless. Hmm… we wandered around the “terminal” aimlessly until we stumbled upon our favourite little Colombian family who we promised to email pictures to when we got home. They didn´t speak any English but they understood that we were clearly lost. They offered to share a cab with us and tried to explain to the driver where our hotel was. We found it thanks to my amazing ability to remember the two intersecting streets at the corner by our hotel. I am no longer directionally challenged!!!! Anyways, we were never so relieved to see our room again and to shower away the salt. However, Laura was left looking like a little lobster.

We decided to treat ourselves after our long ordeal and waited till the sun went down to take a lovely stroll to Crepes & Waffles. This restaurant was so gorgeous. We sat on the outdoor patio and I had waffles with Arequipe (like caramel) and Bananas. Laura had a vegetarian pita. We were both so satisfied! Ice cream has become a nightly tradition in Cartagena.

Well, the Internet lineup is growing so I better vacate my seat. Miss you all but I am having the time of my life!