Underwater Adventures in the Galapagos

As much fun as I was having hanging out with sea lions on the beach, as it turns out, they’re even MORE fun underwater!! On land, they just kind of lounge around on the beach, soaking up the sun (can you blame them!?) but underwater, they zip around like they own the ocean!

RAAWR!!

RAAWR!!

Check out my Youtube video if you’re still not convinced these kids are the sea’s royalty!

(Fun video fact: “High for This” was the #1 song choice when I googled “underwater songs”, which I found far too ironic to pass up.)

In review of the video, I got the chance to play with these beauties again on San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Santiago islands. Of course, there were also tons of sea turtles, fish and even the occasional shark – despite what rumours seem to lead people to believe, the Galapagos sharks I encountered were actually kind of shy, hiding behind reefs. (While this could be shyness, it could also just be their crafty way of being a cunningly elusive hunter – bumbum BUUUUUM!)

Our dive spot in Santa Cruz was especially popular with the locals, as just as we were about to hop in the water, a pod of dolphins appeared out of nowhere! Squealing at impossibly high and loud octaves (I’m actually surprised any non-dogs could hear me), I sprang into the water and bolted after the pod at super speed (grateful to be putting by triathlon training to real-world dolphin chasing use)! For a while, I was surrounded by the pod, who seemed to be gracefully floating through the currents as I flailed to keep up.

Before I could reach for the “play” button on my GoPro, the group was gone. It was an amazing moment to be able to be a part of and though it was was fleeting, seemed to exist outside of time and isn’t something I’ll soon forget!

Whisky Jack-ing Joffre Lakes

The morning after my farming excursions had me waking up to a completely different adventure – hiking. This took me to Joffre Lakes, about a 30-minute drive from Hostel Sholih Works. Over the summer, I’d seen countless Facebook photos and heard endless tales about both the beauty and intensity of the hike, so I figured it was more than about time to embark on it for myself!

The hike starts out easy enough, with Lower Joffre Lake being only a few moments’ stroll from the roadway pit stop. My friends and I stopped for a brief photo-shoot, but were quickly decided to set our sights on the middle and upper lakes, located along. (Little did I know that the trail’s intensity would soon quintuple!)

2014-09-16 16.41.13             Making my way along the trail, my friends and I found ourselves clinging to each other for support during some of the near-vertical inclines as we approached Matier glacier. I was almost considering turning back when, in true Whistler spirit, we happen to run into my 65-year-old landlord and his family bounding back down the trail after already having reached the peak. We stopped for a “what a crazy coincidence to be meeting on the side of a mountain” chat before continuing on my way with a renewed sense of motivation – if my old landlord could make the hike, so could I!

Steep hillsides be damned!

Steep hillsides be damned!

With that, I bounded along the remainder of the trail and soon found myself at Upper Joffre Lake!! Having been to Lakes Minnewanka, Morrain and Louise in back when I lived in Alberta, I’d like to say I have a pretty high lake standard for lakes. With that, Joffre Lake definitely took the cake! Not only did it have that glacier-fed-crystal-blue hue to it,

(Couldn't resist jumping in, of course!)

(Couldn’t resist jumping in, of course!)

There were a ton of Whisky Jack birds flying around it that came up and ate pieces of bread straight out of our hands!

Behold! The human birdfeeder!

Behold! The human birdfeeder!

Altogether, it was one of the most memorable hikes I’d been on and would definitely recommend it to anyone willing to take on the challenge!

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Ice Climbing a Tower in 8 Bit Increments: Adventure (Park) Time Part 2

IceClimberboxartnesI used to think that my excitement levels had reached a maximum when I learned that Big White had a place called the Adventure Park. While I don’t usually like being wrong, Adventure Park isn’t exactly a “usual” place. Soon after discovering the park, I found out that it was home to the biggest ice tower on the continent (the thing is a massive 60feet tall) and that it existed just so that normal ski bums could transform into the 8 bit Nintendo characters, Nana and Popo! (Okay, so you didn’t actually get pixelated before climbing the tower, but I was too excited to care.)

I signed up for a climb and strapped into a pair of boots with cleats that were so big, they made soccer shoes look like they should be used for bowling.

Dual point crampons for the win!

Dual point crampons for the win!

Stepping up to the wall, I was then handed a pair of ice picks and immediately went into full photo-shoot mode.

(Don't worry, I won't bombard you with too many pics)

(Don’t worry, I won’t bombard you with too many pics)

Once I had calmed down, my guide began explaining that ice climbing basically involved the same muscles and techniques as rock climbing, but since you had such badass cleats on your feet, you didn’t have to search for ledges and could basically dig your feet into any part of the wall you wanted.

Since I’d been rock climbing before, I was feeling pretty confident and decided to opt for the intermediate wall (which I later found out actually had a tougher rating than 90% of naturally occurring ice walls).

Why yes, I DO always think in photo collages!

Why yes, I DO always think in photo collages!

It took me a whole 30cm to realize that this was going to be more difficult than I had originally thought. Somehow, I had already gotten twisted around, scrunched up and put a ton of pressure on my wrists.

Killing it! (And by "it" I mean myself...)

Killing it! (And by “it” I mean myself…)

Luckily for me, as Nana the Ice Climber, I had more than one life and re-started my ascent with bigger strides. Soon enough, I had pounded my way up ¾ of the wall and while bordering on exhausting, was feeling pretty good about myself.

Killing it! (And by "it", I mean the wall this time)

Killing it! (And by “it”, I mean the wall this time)

However, it was at this point that the wall seemed to run out of places to dig my axe into and my guide started poking fun and telling me I climbed like a girl. I cursed him a bit under my breath before yelling down at him: “I’ll show YOU how girls climb!” From there, I somehow managed to hack my way to the summit and triumphantly ring the bell at the top of the wall. Despite being pathetically muffled and frozen, to me, it rang out like a triumphant symphony.

SUCCESS!!

SUCCESS!!

Because Mountain Exploits Aren’t Enough: Adventure (Park) Time Part 1

Like about 99% of the people who venture to Big White, all of my immediate thoughts were engulfed by the mountain itself, which, to be fair, is quite large, awesome and thought-worthy. However, with all my thoughts being concentrated on mountain life, it took an embarrassingly long time for me to discover that adventure was waiting beyond the slopes.

I was enjoying a delectable breakfast-for-dinner at the Happy Valley Day Lodge when (for some strange reason), I looked away from my food and out the window. It was then that I noticed a sign labelled “ADVENTURE PARK” (cue Adventure Time theme music)!

Adventure Time + Me = Travvel Sized Fiona

Adventure Time + Me = Travvel Sized Fiona

The mountain itself was enough of an adventure, and that didn’t even make any allusions to how exhilarating it was! This place was bound to be full of daring expeditions and I was immediately ready to begin my exploits! (Once I had finished my breakfast of course.)

AN ENTIRE PARK FOR ADVENTURE!!

AN ENTIRE PARK FOR ADVENTURE!!

Bounding across the icy plain, I had made it to the famous (as of 15 minutes ago) Adventure Park and was immediately face-to-face with the largest skating rink, longest tube park and highest ice-climbing tower on the continent! To top things off, there were even snowmobiling Santas and horse and carriage rides – basically, I was ready to sign up for everything!

TUBES!!

TUBES!!

Santa knows what's cool!

Santa knows what’s cool!

Unfortunately, it was still only 9am, and nothing in the park was open until the afternoon, so my conquests were unfortunately put on hold (for the time being).

Until next time, adorable horses!

Until next time, adorable horses!

SUP, Kettle Point!?

(Just to be clear, the title isn’t my attempt at using hip slang; it’s a hilarious pun because I go Stand Up Paddleboarding at Kettle Point)

Oh, I'm so punny!

Oh, I’m so punny!

So now that I’ve gotten past my bison vs buffalo rant and have cleared up the title, without further ado kids, this is my story about my trip to Kettle Point:

Basically, Kettle Point is home to the group “camping” site in Wood Buffalo National Park. Notice the quotation marks around “camping”, because the site is fully equipped with a yurt-like cabin, washroom and playground AND has private access to the lake. By camping standards, it’s luxury living. Its awesomeness factor is also significantly increased by the fact that it’s only about a 40minute drive out of Fort Smith, most of which takes you through prime bison-spotting territory. I literally squealed with delight the first time I saw one so much, my buddy had to pull over the car so I could scamper out and start an impromptu photo-shoot while blatantly ignoring everyone’s warnings not to get too close.

EEEEE!! Pretty bison!!

EEEEE!! Pretty bison!!

I basically went through the exact same squealing and jumping out of a car-scenario the first time I saw a black bear in Banff National Park, so I figured if I made it through that fine, I could definitely handle taking pictures of bison.

Eventually, I realized that everyone else had already seen a bison, weren’t nearly as ecstatic as I was and were more preoccupied with actually getting to the site, so I decided to hop back in the car so we could continue on our way.

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Avoiding scenic and thankfully not road-blocking fallen trees

After eagerly scanning the forest-lined road, searching for more bison (I saw quite a few more, to my delight and the pain of everyone else’s earlobes as the squealing continued), we suddenly turned a corner and BAM! Out of (what seemed to be) nowhere popped a colossal lake and an even more monumental sky.

Too.Much.Sky.Can't.Handle.

Too.Much.Sky.Can’t.Handle.

I spent a few moments being sky-struck (a condition I’ve been experiencing quite often where the afflicted party is so overtaken by the vastness of the wild blue yonder, they become momentarily paralyzed, mouth left slightly agape).

I eventually recovered and spent the remainder of the evening around the campfire being amazed instead at the fact that there were about 4,000,000 mosquitos buzzing around my face the entire evening, but that my bug dope (northern-speak for mozzie spray) was keeping from getting bitten even once before falling into a luxury, not freezing in a tent-sleep.

The next morning, I was up in time to frolic around one of the trails leading up to the site before the main attraction.

Basically felt like I was Red Riding Hood walking along this trail (even though my shirt was only kind of red and not-hooded)

Basically felt like I was Red Riding Hood walking along this trail (even though my shirt was only kind of red and not-hooded)

Did you really expect me to go camping and NOT take photos of flowers?

Did you really expect me to go camping and NOT take photos of flowers?

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EVEN THE STUMPS WERE PRETTY!

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I love this type of moss way too much!

If you were able to take the hint from the title, the main attraction is stand up paddleboarding. Now, SUP has gotten some bashing for basically being like surfing with a crutch in no waves. BUT, the fact that it was the only athletic activity I have ever been able to do well the first time I ever attempted it made it pretty awesome. Yeah, I was out on the lake for over an hour and never once fell off the board! Aw yeah, I’m a champ! If the water is calm, the board is pretty forgiving to slight wobbles, and I really got into the zen of the moment paddling across the calm, vast lake while towering over the water. At one point, I even came across a herd of bison grazing along the shoreline and was able to paddle right up to them without them so much as flinching. We locked eyes for an elongated moment before the bull returned to its grassy feast and I returned to paddling.

I eventually got off the board and shared it with everyone else :P

I eventually got off the board and shared it with everyone else :P

After cruising the waters for an undetermined amount of time, I checked my watch to realize it had broken several hours ago. Feeling in s sunny side of life kind of mood, I took this as a sign that time has no meaning at Kettle Point, it’s a place to get away from it all (unless you include friends, campfires, bison, mosquitos, SUPs or cabins in “it all”).

Ruff ruff ^_^

Ruff ruff ^_^

Pulau Ubin Pirates

If you’re a broke student looking to get away from school and city-life craziness in Singapore in general without leaving the country, Pulau Ubin is definitely the place to go. The whole island holds a different frame of mind; one that looks like it came out the end of a 1960’s time machine. You can feel the air let a deep, calm breath out once you step off the boat and its hard not to do the same (I don’t know why you would even want to try not doing this if you’re coming to the island to relax).

Even mail drop offs are more relaxed, you only need to walk to the person's front gate, not right to the door!

Even mail drop offs are more relaxed, you only need to walk to the person’s front gate, not right to the door!

I at least had the foresight to look (admittedly briefly) into where on the island the Celestial Ubin where I was supposed to be staying was located. From what I gathered, I needed to turn left and walk. This may seem overly simple, but it was a small island and I figured there’s no way I could mess up turning left. As it turns out, I have even less directional sense than I thought (which should have been expected, I once got lost going home from one of my best friend’s houses after living there for 3 years..!) and ended up making a wrong turn in there somewhere. In a feeble attempt to try to salvage some of my dignity, there was a garden in between the left turn and Celestial Ubin and these things very easily distract me:

Wow, this scarecrow looks like he's having a bad night..

Wow, this scarecrow looks like he’s having a bad night..

.. Probably drank too much of this one's pop!

.. Probably drank too much of this one’s pop!

After wandering through a marsh for a while, I eventually had to ask for directions (lucky there happened to be someone out walking, the dirt road I was on was pretty empty) and realized that I came within 10m of the resort before turning around in the wrong direction – distracted by all the starfruit – I TRUSTED YOU!!

EVIL!!

EVIL!!

My plant anger soon vanished when I got to the reception and saw that the free bike rental I was promised was actually so much more than just that – it was a tandem bike rental!!

Being twice as awesome as normal bikes since 1898!

Being twice as awesome as normal bikes since 1898!

Now, one of my friends in high school had a tandem bike, and we rode it quite a few times, so I figured I’d be okay to drive it, plus, I’d just been on a regular bike in Vietnam. Now, if you’re catching on to the trend here, things are never as simple as they seem and after convincing my roomie I wouldn’t kill her, we loaded on the bike and I immediately veered towards a nearby ditch. Shrieking in fear, I whipped the wheel around the opposite direction and Pulau Ubin-drifted back onto the road. After a few similar shrieking turns, I eventually got the hang of things, and we were on our way… For about 2 minutes before getting distracted by the sheer un-Singaporeanness of the island:

Trees!? Marshes!? In SINGAPORE?? MADNESS!!

Trees!? Marshes!? In SINGAPORE?? MADNESS!!

On the main island, this would probably take up the space of 4 shopping malls and HDB residential unti!

On the main island, this would probably take up the space of 4 shopping malls and HDB residential unti!

After several photo-break pit stops, it began getting threateningly dark – especially under the tree cover, so we decided to head back before getting lost (again).

Also, the lighting in my photos was getting kind of crappy

Also, the lighting in my photos was getting kind of crappy

Since I had finally satisfied my inner wild horse by exploring the land around the island, it was time to move onto aquatic exploration and break out the kayaks. After waking up and tracking down someone who worked at the resort (which was quite a bit harder than you would think), we were told just to take a kayak and bring it back whenever. After briefly contemplating kayaking away to Singapore and selling the kayak on the black market, I decided that would go against the heart of exploration (not because it would be unethical, but because I’d already been to Singapore, so the trip wouldn’t be as exciting as exploring the rest of the island). We ended up on Pulau Sekudu, a tiny island off the coast of Pulau Ubin. It was pretty miniscule, but full of colourful shells and coral, which I went and pillaged (to get some kind of pirating activity in)!

Unfortunately, the tides began to turn and the weather quickly started to turn foul, so we had to cut the raid short and escape back to Pulau Ubin before getting kayak-wrecked out at sea. Thankfully, we made it in time and were able to hop on a bum boat back to Singapore (there were actually other people around wanting to leave the island now, so it was easy to get a lift), pockets bulging with treasure.

A successful looting!

A successful looting!

 

Raiding the “Tomb Raider” Tombs of Ta Prohm (Angkor Temples Part 3)

As someone who loves travel and the Internet and has seen Lara Croft Tomb Raider, I had seen about 1,000,000,000 photos of Ta Prohm before getting there, and to be honest, wanted to visit Angkor more for these temples than Angkor Wat itself and since the Grand Tour I was taking is a tease like that, Ta Phrohm was the last stop of the tour.

If these Cambodian temples are enough to inspire an Angelina adoption spree, they're worth a visit!

If these Cambodian temples are enough to inspire an Angelina adoption spree, clearly they’re worth a visit!

At first, this only required that I ensure I had ample camera battery and space on my memory card remaining when I arrived. Now, although this is a staple task during virtually all of my travel outings, this time it was easier said than done. My camera began looming over the menacing 1/3 charge level dangerously early in the day and my card only holds 500 photos, the majority of which I had already used, and the remainder I needed to save for the rest of my excursions. Nonetheless, with (a lot of) self-control, I was able to curb my trigger-finger and maintain a reasonable photo-taking pace (comparatively, for being at the most opulent temples I have ever seen).

However, this little happening doesn’t involve any tomb raiding like the title mentions, so the plot only thickens from here. First, a little explanation about temple-viewing procedures: at the gates to each temple complex, you have to show your Angkor-pass to the Angkor-authorities. Although the whole circuit only has one entrance, and it would be significantly more convenient just to check passes once there, you nonetheless have to show it at each individual temple.  Not the most exciting bit of information, I know, so it was far from my mind as I ran-skipped towards the entrance to Ta Prohm in an excited fever (yes, a fever, it was mid day, sunny and over 30C). As I approached the gate, I reached in my bag to pull out my wallet, only to react in terror as I realized that neither my wallet nor my Angkor-pass was there.

Realizing the horror of not being able to see Ta Prohm, I dashed back to the Tuk Tuk I was touring in, and instructed the driver to return to the last temple I had visited, Ta Som. Time was of the essence and I stressed this urgency to the driver, but Cambodia is infamous for being full of slow drivers, and although there was a bit of notable change in speed, the ride back to Ta Som still felt like the longest one of my life (which is say a lot, as I has just taken a 12 hour ride from Saigon to Siem Reap). The Angkor-authorities at Ta Som fortunately recognised me and let me back in without my pass. Upon entering before, they had looked sceptically at my friend, claiming she and the girl on her Angkor-pass were “same-same but different”, as she had recently switched her glasses for contact lenses. Now, this “same-same but different” saying is a weakness for all tourists in Southeast Asia, (its just so hilarious to hear) and is often used to make them buy silly shirts, or to distract them while haggling at a market. This being said, my friend was able to prove her identity by showing the guard her glasses (she didn’t even need to put them on, just prove she owned a pair). I, on the other hand, had been disarmed, laughing distractedly as I put my wallet and Angkor-pass away.

Upon returning and scouring the entire temple multiple times over, I had to admit that someone had taken it.

Not the easiest place to search, to say the least!

Not the easiest place to search, to say the least!

While I had money and my student pass in my wallet, the main concern of the moment was the lack of ability to get into Ta Prohm. I begged the guard to explain my situation to the Angkor-authorities there, but he stubbornly refused to leave his post. Not willing to give up that easily, I nonetheless instructed the driver to return to Ta Prohm, claiming I wanted to search the area for my missing pass. After a quick scan of the area (namely the trash bin I had thrown my water bottle in – recycling isn’t a big thing in Cambodia), I “accidentally” veered off the main path, past a restoration site, along another trail and towards a back entrance to Ta Prohm, which, “strangely enough” wasn’t host to any Angkor-authorities.

Come in, come in!

Come in, come in! 

While the Ta Prohm I finally made it to was built as a school and monastery, not as the home of the Triangle of Light, and didn’t even have any Jasmine growing around it, as Lara Croft would have you believe, it was still an awe-inspiring fusion of nature and ancient architecture, definitely the highlight of the Angkor tour.

So maybe I'm a better explorer than raider..!

So maybe I’m a better explorer than raider..!

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