Nicaragua, the Central American country that is sandwiched in an ideal spot between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is home to lush tropical forests, long golden beaches, and over a dozen volcanoes, many of them still active. I am drawn to volcanoes wherever I go in the world, and I had already hiked through the idyllic cloud forests of Mombacho at the beginning of my weeklong trip in Nicaragua. Now, it was time to climb one of the most active of them all – Telica.
The colourful colonial town of Granada is one of Nicaragua’s main tourist draws. Low buildings splashed with paint in every shade of the rainbow line cobblestone streets, people on bikes and on foot lazily ambling in the heat while active volcanoes loom in the not-so-distant background. After hiking through Mombacho volcano’s cloud forest, my travel companion and I were deposited in the historic centre of town.
The throngs of tourists the travel literature promised were nowhere to be seen. We settled into our casa, cozy rooms dotted around a courtyard with a shallow pool, reminiscent of the riads we loved so much in Morocco. We walked the sun-drenched streets without aim, settling in to the slow pace of life. On occasion we passed small squares with pretty trees and fountains at their centres. Our meanderings took us to Iglesia de Merced, a church was originally built in the 16th century, destroyed by pirates, and rebuilt in the late 1700s. It was damaged and repaired yet again in the mid-1800s. For the price of a mere dollar, we climbed the narrow stairwell to the top of the bell tower for the famous postcard views of the low-slung buildings with Mombacho to the south and Lake Nicaragua to the east. The rooftop is small and the bell is never far from your ears. As I was serenely enjoying the views, the giant bell was rung violently by men out of my sight, causing my head to spin for hours afterward.
This is the third post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read parts one and two.
The Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is arguably one of the most gorgeous drives in the world. Two hundred and thirty kilometres of smooth asphalt pass by the feet of towering mountains, ancient glaciers, and crystal clear streams and, lined with wildlife, it makes every list of ‘Best Drives in the World.’ It was on this road that our rag tag group of writers and bloggers traveled on the last day of our Rocky Mountain exploration.
This is the second post in a series on Edmonton and Jasper. Click here to read part one.
As a chronic wanderluster who lives in a city that is so isolated that it takes at least two or three flights to get anywhere exotic, I am constantly thinking of ways to maximize long weekends and make the most of my more immediate surroundings. Fortunately my hometown of Edmonton is only a few hours’ drive from the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the cozy mountain town of Jasper, Alberta.
Edmonton, Alberta is known for its shopping mall, its hockey team, and its extreme low temperatures. It is the city that raised me, the most northerly city in North America with more than one million residents, and it’s a place I often leave to explore other corners of the globe. Often, when I tell people where I’m from, they ask if it’s near Toronto or Montreal (it’s not). As travelers, we often overlook our hometowns in favour of the more exotic, the warmer, the more far-flung, the better. When I was invited to be a guest of Edmonton Tourism and Tourism Jasper to explore my own backyard this fall, I jumped at the chance to see my city, as well as Jasper National Park, from a fresh perspective – that of a tourist.
Only a crazy person would drive the length of Canada from Vancouver to Halifax in a 48-year-old Volvo Amazon, purposely avoiding the main highways the whole way, right? Well, that’s exactly what my husband and his friend did earlier this summer, covering 9000km in 11 days, retracing routes from the Shell 4000 rallies that ran in the 1960s, raising money for Alzheimer’s along the way. It was called the Canada 5000, and mere weeks after their return, my Dave decided he hadn’t had enough. He wanted to give the 1965 Regina to Edmonton leg a shot, with me as his passenger/navigator. Most people, including my husband, didn’t think I would want to sit in a car for at least 21 hours, drive to Saskatchewan and immediately turn back around, but I signed up for the challenge without hesitating. Traveling is my passion, and any trip great or small is an opportunity for me to experience something new and see places I haven’t seen before.
Southern Alberta has become one of my favourite destinations in the past couple of years, one that I am fortunate to be able to reach with an easy half-day road trip. I love the larger-than-life Alberta skies and the vast, flat, golden prairies. I love how the landscape can change so quickly and how the Earth opens up in front of me to reveal something completely different.
For this year’s Alberta exploration, I started with two nights in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park before moving on for two more at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park/Áísínai’pi National Historic Site.
My thirst for exploration and discovery is unquenchable, no matter my age or how many countries I have visited. Curiosity runs through my veins and every chance I get to leave my hometown gets my blood pumping, whether I’m flying halfway across the world or driving to a town an hour away. Long-term or long-distance travel isn’t always a reality for me, so over the past couple of years I have been making efforts to explore my own backyard and take advantage of long weekends to get out of town. My husband and I love to take road trips together and have made our own tradition of taking one each year for our wedding anniversary. This year, we were drawn to Southern Alberta again. Our first destination: Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, spread over southwestern Alberta and southeastern Saskatchewan, the only interprovincial park in the country, an oasis of forest, lakes and hills rising up 600m from the surrounding prairies.
Cloud forest – before deciding to go to Nicaragua I had never heard this enchanting term. I was immediately intrigued and knew I had to experience whatever it was. I imagined myself trekking up a lush green mountainside with perfect, fluffy white clouds languishing and floating past. Reality wasn’t that far off. Mombacho Volcano, one of Nicaragua’s 19 volcanoes, is the home to one of these rare cloud forests. Only 30km from Laguna de Apoyo and 10km from Granada, it is the perfect place for a daytrip when traveling between the two. I’ve always been intrigued by volcanoes. One of my favourite memories is hiking Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, and I would never pass up the opportunity to hike on one.
Earlier this summer one of my longest running wishes came true; I won a trip at a Travel Alberta media event in my hometown of Edmonton. It was a small, intimate event with travel professionals and bloggers from around the province and the first event of its kind that I had ever attended. Great conversation and delicious snacks and drinks were plentiful. As the night wound down, business cards were drawn for several door prizes, each a trip to a different destinations in our spectacular, diverse province. When it came time to draw the prize of a trip to Banff for Performance in the Park, courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, my husband Dave’s card was drawn. Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for him, depending on how you want to look at it), he was to be away that weekend on his coast-to-coast Canada 5000 Rally. This left me with a free trip to one of the most beautiful places on the planet and my pick of who to have join me.