Bandwagon Blogger says Follow Me on Instagram! Story time is just getting started…

I will admit it – I have been a bandwagon blogger. I started the blog when I had an abundance of free time on my hands. More than enough. Too much, if there is such a thing. I’m sure some reading that sentence might cringe, or disagree in some way. But I was adrift.

Today, I am happy to say, I don’t have that problem! Free time is once again something precious, to be hoarded, and treasured. I am a graduate student. So you see, it’s not that I have stopped writing.

To reinforce this lifestyle, my tried and tested Nikon D60 has finally gone caput after a lot of use, and from time to time, abuse, at my hands. My trigger finger is getting itchy: and so my love for Instagram has finally taken flight.

So Follow Me on Instagram! 

More travel photos from around the world, as well as a whole bunch from my home, Canada, as well. Photos from Home and Away! Food, travel, the great outdoors.

I’m hooked you guys. So I’m here to say that I haven’t given up on the blog, just put it on the back burner on a very gentle, slow cooking simmer. It makes me happy to see that people still come to the blog as it is through search engines and other external links! The most popular posts continue to be those that I had some sort of experience or story to share – factual or fictional.

There are a ton of travel bloggers out there to be sifted through online, but true storytellers among them seem few and far between. That is something I am trying to keep up with on Instagram by sharing my photographs. Instagram is like the Travel Years, just distilled and concentrated down. Check it out!






Photos on Monday – Visiting Prambanan Temple, Indonesia

Prambanan World Heritage Site

The Prambanan Temple Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on Central Java, Indonesia – just outside of Yogyakarta. The Hindu temples were constructed during the 9th century. My first ever major set of temples, I found them fascinating.

Photos on Monday’s – Vivaaa Da Nang (Vietnam)

Viva Da NangSometimes a good photo is all about the place and time, and has little to with the photographer or their equipment – as is the case here. I snapped this picture out the window of a speeding van with my broken down Samsung Galaxy S3 one sunny morning leaving Da Nang, Vietnam. It is also the subject of my most popular tweet to date on Twitter (small victories). Da Nang was lovely because we had the place to ourselves. It was a slow city, and our first real taste of the beach on that trip.

West Java, Indonesia: Experiencing Pangandaran with a Local

I don’t think I was ready to say goodbye when we did. I had grown attached to Vietnam, learned to appreciate the beautiful countryside, the moto-packed cities, and learned about the ease of making fast friends on the road. I was just getting a feel for a new country when a taxi drove us through town to the international airport, heading for Indonesia.

Eighteen hours later, we touched down on the rainy tarmac in Jakarta. Thirteen hours more and we were unloading from of a bus that had taken us across the island, from the capital to Pangandaran, on the south side of West Java. It was about 12am, and pitch black outside the gates of the ocean side town.

The bicycle rickshaw drivers spotted us immediately.

“Where you going?”

This is, of course, how all conversations with drivers start. We countered with the usual, “How far is it to town?”

After a small haggle, we took the offered ride – drivers almost always know where you want to go. After stopping at the gate to pay the entrance fee to the town, we made straight to the doors of Bamboo House. The group decided on the family-run guest house based on the general consensus of Trip Advisor. Bamboo House was my first sight waking up in one of my favorite locations of the trip and home for the next three days. It featured a gorgeous courtyard, reset-them-yourself breakers, and excellent banana pancakes.

Waking up in Indonesia after 30 hours in transit washed away any thoughts I had of missing Vietnam. Where life in Vietnam had been busy, fast-paced and full of things to catch your attention, Indonesia appeared to be more laid back, casual, and about relaxing. Maybe it was because it was so hot there being near the equator. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long for us to seek out the beach.

A note of caution here people: DO NOT forget the sunscreen. The sun is big time hot. Especially if you’re coming from a cooler climate in the dead of winter. Anyways.

The beach at Pangandaran is wonderful. The darker black beaches of Pangandaran may not photograph as well as the picturesque white sand beaches of Bali, but they are no less desirable for swimming, suntanning, and acclimatizing to beach life. Hanging out on the beach is also a great way to interact with local people from the town and with other Indonesian tourists. Be prepared to possibly have your photo taken. This happened quite often on West Java, as well as in Vietnam.

Pangandaran is a surfer’s destination, with decent if smaller waves, and a sandy bottom. These two things make it a popular learn-to-surf destination – a fact that local Indonesians have not overlooked. On our first morning in Pangandaran, we had the good fortune of stepping out onto the beach next to Yoga’s Learn-to-Surf Camp. This meeting shaped our time in the town for the better.

The boys rented surf boards and hit the waves, after a on land theory lesson about paddling, catching a wave, and making use of the current. “Maybe later, I will come out and show you how it’s done, ah?” says Yoga. While the boys surfed, Yoga told Amy and myself about life in Pangandaran, asked us questions about our homes, and helped us become acquainted with the restaurant menu. We talked about the giant tsunami that ravaged the area in 2006.

Meeting Yoga and his brother is a huge part of what made visiting Pangandaran so special. Experienced travelers will tell you that seeing a destination through the eyes of a local can make all of the difference in the world, and really bring a place to life. This principle became clear to me that first afternoon on the beach.

Yoga came over and asked, “You know rambutan? ”

No… Who or what is a rambutan? A type of fruit, as it turned out.

“You want to pick some fruit? My brother has a fruit tree, with extra. You can come pick!”

A bit skeptical, we asked a few questions. How do we get there? “I pick you up, in my van.” How much for the ride? “Nothing, just come see the tree! Pick the fruit.”

It seemed too good to be true, so we packed up and left the beach for the late afternoon while the tide was low with our surf coach turned tour guide at the wheel.

The drive alone would have been enough. After Vietnam in the middle of winter, Indonesia is so green! You can look anywhere and see a mountain or a volcano on the horizon and the rice fields are lush and green. Yoga took us into a part of the town normally not accessible to tourists. The entrance is guarded by a lady manning a bamboo gate!

Driving through a wooded part of town, we eventually came to a group of houses with the promised rambutan tree centered in the front yard. For 30 minutes or so we picked our fill of the red spiky fruit, and met Yoga’s family. I poked around a bit, checking out the chicken coop and exploring with my camera. These ladies even asked me to take their picture! I didn’t have to be told twice. All told, it was a great introduction to Javanese culture and set the pace for Indonesia.

Pangandaran was also our first taste of Indonesian food. Some of it was standard, like fried noodles and rice, but served with a fried egg on top in Indonesia. Some of some of it was particularly memorable. The rambutan picking experience definitely qualifies as memorable. But so does the spicy as hell chicken dish we ordered for the first time at 1 in the morning after arriving in Pangandaran. The dish I dubbed ‘Beach Soup’ also qualifies – a rich, clear broth flavored with hot sauce, and floating tofu, meatballs, and fish balls ladled out by a man wandering the beach (10,000 IDR). Our first encounter with the local rice liquor, arak, was definitely memorable. Even more so the next morning.

Like many places we visited, I wanted to spend more time in Pangandaran. I would happily return to the beach town. We stayed three days, but two French Canadians we met there were spending two weeks there – “Who knows, maybe we stay longer.” Life was easy, relaxed, and uncrowded after the well-trodden backpacker loop we had gotten used to traveling in Vietnam. All that mattered was eventually getting to Bali, and beyond that to the Gili Island’s. And so we pushed on to Yogykarta.

You're waiting for a train...

You’re waiting for a train…

Photos on Monday – Dog in Motion

This is Brissy. She is an Australian Sheppard (a.k.a. Aussie) who loves her job, and does it well. Besides being a family dog, Brissy works together with her partner to be a top notch agility dog! I had the chance to see this wonderful dog run an agility demo recently, at the Grand Opening of North Bays first Off-Leash Dog Park. You can check out more Dogs in Motion from the Dog Park here.

Besides seeing a dog doing what she loves, I enjoy these photos because of the rich colors that frame them. Perfect for this weeks Daily Post Photo Challenge – Colors of the Rainbow.

No job, no travel. The struggle is real.

Well, reality has finally caught up to me here at the Travel Years. While I spend much of my spare time looking up flight prices – comparing, rejecting, considering; daydreaming and thinking about the future – where we could go, what we could do, how much will be need to budget – the reality is that the job market is smacking me square in the face. As a result, I have no immediate travel plans for the first time in a year. At least it’s summer! But no job means no travel, and Vancouver was the last ticket for a while. But that doesn’t mean adventure has to stop!

So I hope you’re all ready for some within-Canada travel, because that’s where this blogger is going to be focusing her attention for the next little while. I am thrilled, as Canada is such a large country. Even Ontario alone is a large mass of land, with more parks, trails, towns, and sights to see than could be accomplished in a single summer. This weekend we head to Manitoulin Island – the largest fresh water lake island in the world, and popular summer tourist destination for hiking, boating, and eating!

Hiking the alvars of Misery Bay.

Hiking the alvars of Misery Bay.

But back to the job market…. what a tough nut to crack. Already, I have lost count of the number of cover letter/resume combos I have put together, sent out, and failed to receive a response from. Refusing to be discouraged I have been pursuing freelance work, including web design, photography, and writing. Check out my personal portfolio here, and see what I’ve been up to.

Business cards are in!

Business cards are in!

Besides a complete lack of capital, one of the reasons keeping me grounded at home is the upcoming education season. For anyone not familiar with the North American education system, most schooling starts every year in September. Specifically after the first ‘long weekend’ of the month. Although I completed an undergraduate degree two years ago, I am a glutton for punishment and heading back for more. It’s official, I have been offered and accepted my place at Laurentian University in Sudbury, to study Science Communications for 10-months!

But it all starts with a job – and preferably one I don’t hate. A way to make it through the next year, and start saving for the beaches of the world. The breathtaking views, the endless coast lines, and limitless and questionable street food stalls. Work is the ticket to it all, so I’m hitting the pavement. Serving jobs, general labor, website design – anything to pay the bills and start plumping the trip fund. That doesn’t mean I’m not handing out resumes, or thinking about a future internship placement as a student. I always did enjoy school, but I have learned that I enjoy traveling more.

The ultimate goal? A RTW (round-the-world) trip. 

So many obstacles lie in between: the realities of planning a RTW trip, the day dreamy-ness of it all. The probably horror and disbelief of my mother when she finds out what I’m planning, and that I’m serious about it all. Paying for the whole shebang. Somehow making a reality out of all of these dreams.

Image courtesy of the Evans Hotel.

Image courtesy of the Evans Hotel.

Vietnam Photo Gallery 2

Visiting Vietnam was a wonderful experience, and a true challenge/eye opener for my first ‘real’ travel experience. Cruise ships, and crossing the border don’t count. I particularly enjoyed the northern parts of the country – the City of Hanoi, the northern mountain region of Sa Pa and surrounding communities, and Cat Ba Island. Even in winter, beautiful and unique flowers could be found blooming everywhere – a dramatically different type of winter than I am used to, coming from Central Ontario.

After releasing my first set of favorite images from Vietnam, I decided the time was ripe to give you some more! Traveling for many is becoming a way of life, and many people ask me about my time there. Please enjoy – your feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

Vancouver or Toronto? And other questions Canadians are asked in South East Asia.

Not exaggerating in the slightest – the most common questions locals asked me when traveling through Vietnam and Indonesia was, “From Vancouver? Or Toronto?” While I am not from Toronto, or even close to it, the provincial capital was usually the closest landmark in Ontario I could choose that many people would recognize. Most local people assumed we were from Vancouver anyways – it seems that a lot of Canadian travelers are coming from the west coast these days. Coincidence? Probably not.

I wanted to talk about Vancouver because I am in the midst of spending 10 days on Canada’s temperate west coast! A lifelong resident of Ontario, the west coast has always held a certain draw for me. There is something about British Columbia that is captivating – I think this is true for many of us from Ontario. Same same, but different.

Vancouver? Or Toronto?

To people who aren’t familiar with Canadian geography, these are the main regions of Canada, along with Montreal. And understandably so – Canada is huge. In South East Asia most places can be reached by a couple of hours in a plane making the distances between Canadian cities and provinces vast. Toronto to Vancouver on a regular flight (YYZ to YVR) takes about 5 hours and can cost anywhere from $475 to $800+ for the flight.

Today's available flights. Direct flights are 5 hours, and can vary in cost.

Today’s available flights. Direct flights are 5 hours, and can vary in cost.

So why did many local people in Vietnam and Indonesia assume we were from Vancouver?

Possibly for these two reasons

1) Many of the Canadians we met traveling were from Vancouver. Or maybe they were from the Vancouver area, and identified the closest landmark. Much the same way I identified with being from Toronto, despite living a couple of hours away.

2) The Vancouver area has a large Asian community due to large population of Asian immigrants, increasing in numbers according to Canadian census data from 2014. One man we met in Hanoi asked if we were from “Hong Couver”, haha. The community of Richmond, in particular, is a more noticeably Asian community (cuisine, signage, population), in addition to a popular Chinatown and night markets near Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Canada… it’s cold there, right?

Yes, it can be cold here. So cold. And windy. The Finlanders know. And so do a lot of other people, but some don’t, and I found myself talking about the weather in Canada all of the time. Maybe I was just home sick, or feeling guilty over missing the worst part of winter for the first time in my life (the snow!). It can be fun explaining to people who never experience temperatures below the low 20s (Celsius) how our weather can drop to -30 C in the dead of winter.

But while winter weather can get extreme in the central Ontario region, the west coast of the country often experiences the moderating effect of being near the ocean and experiences milder winters. That’s not to say British Columbia doesn’t get extreme winter weather – they do. But the Vancouver and lower mainland area is known for having milder winter temperatures, with heavier precipitation. This past winter was particularly mild on the west coast.

And the summers are beautiful, no matter what part of the country you’re from.

Portrait of a Dog

Portrait of a Dog

Snowshoeing? Ice fishing? 

These activities are more common in areas with lots of snow! When winter is at least five months out of the year, Canadians need to get creative to keep entertained during the dark, cold months from November to April. In Ontario, activities like snowshoeing and ice fishing are extremely popular. In British Columbia, the Rocky Mountains are a main feature and there is less lower mainland snow – making the region known world wide for its top notch snowboarding and skiing.

Ice Fishing

We have been lucky enough to visit B.C. during the spring – which means hiking, exploring and making the most of patio season. Yesterday, we visited beautiful Stanley Park, on the edge of downtown Vancouver. The 1,001 acre park is bordered by Vancouver Harbor and English Bay, features approximately 200 km of walking trails, and is an amazing thing to find in the middle of one of Canada’s largest cities. Stay tuned for more details on our visit to Stanley Park and the sea wall.

What is the food like?

Fortunately, Canada supports a multicultural society which means multicultural food! Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian, French, Italian… the list goes on – if you want it, there is probably a restaurant that serves it.

That being said, I have always found Vancouver to have a wider selection of the types of food that I like to eat – see back to my point about having a large population of Asian individuals. Being a coastal city, Vancouver also offers phenomenal sushi that Canadians from landlocked provinces just don’t have access to. We checked out Nikko Sushi, in Langley, and were not disappointed.

Nikko Sushi!

What I am trying to say is that food in Canada is whatever you want it be. We may take it for granted, but Canadians are very lucky in this respect. I did a little research before arriving in the Vancouver area, and stumbled across Wondrous Adventure, a beautiful travel blog put together by Christine, with many of the blog posts relating to hiking, food, and other activities in the Vancouver area. If you are planning on spending time in the region, Christine’s blog is a great place to start.

So far our time in Vancouver has been fantastic – although there could be a little more sun (for my liking anyways)!

Coming up: Highlights from our visit to Stanley Park, Granville Island, and my visit with fellow travel bloggers and soon-to-be expats Rob and Diane (Rodi) from Experimental Expats. You can follow their adventure of moving to Malaysia by checking out their blog here.