Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles – A Note on Travel

George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…
George Bailey: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.

-It’s a Wonderful Life

I lie in bed in the loft of my grandmother’s condo, a condo which overlooks a river that trails through a city. A city in the middle of nowhere, I could say. A city in the center of everything, you might argue.

As I lie here, surrounded by overflowing suitcases and half-packed boxes, I gaze up through the skylight. The starry sky shines with all the brilliance of a hot summer night. In the past week, the clouds have gathered, the rain has poured, and the province has flooded.

But none of this matters to me — tomorrow, I’m leaving. Read more

Weekly Travel Shot: Grizzly Bear in British Columbia

A chance encounter along Highway 16 in the Canadian Rockies.

This was taken just over the British Columbia border.  Probably the closest I’ve been to a wild Grizzly Bear!  Canadian wildlife is something that I will certainly miss once I move to Europe.

The drive between Edmonton and Vancouver takes about 13 hours.  This week, we did it all in one day — your typical Canadian road trip schedule.


The Road Trip Routine

The Road Trip Routine

The smell of coffee in vehicles makes me nauseous.

My parents know this; I tell them year after year, but they still always insist on filling their thermoses with McDonalds’ coffee right before we hit the road.  It’s something I’ve come to accept, part of the road trip routine.

Every year we make the 13-hour drive from St. Albert to the Gulf Islands and by now every one of those thirteen hours can be whittled down to a list of expectations.

June  1998 – Hour Seven, Day Two.  

I am beginning to doze off already, even though we just got back on the highway.  I’ve just swallowed a Gravol to counteract the coffee odour and the pill is already starting to kick in.  It’s seven in the morning, and the sun still hides behind the tree-lined mountains, but my parents are antsy and ready to get moving.  Before I forget, I lock my door, and bark at my brother to do the same.  It’s a silly habit; I never lock the doors for city driving.

In the passenger seat my Mom pops a CD into the player.  Nobody has to ask what album she chose; we always listen to Meat Loaf right after we cross the B.C. border.  The screech and moans of Meat Loaf’s guitar fill the air while he sings about Paradise by the Dashboard Light.  I’m old enough to know the words, but too young to know what they mean.

I reach for the yellow Tupperware container that rests at my feet and pass around some Jolly Ranchers, as usual ensuring that I get the watermelon ones.  When the track changes to a mournful love ballad I feel my eyelids getting heavy again.  I put on my headphones and reach for the pile of pink cassette tapes that sits between me and my brother.  Fred Penner is better for the next stretch of road; we’re headed into the valley.

Photo Friday: Escape — Cancun, Mexico

Photo Friday: Escape — Cancun, Mexico

I took this photo on the shores of Isla de las Mujeres in Cancun back in October.  I was saving it for the coldest, most miserable week in January, knowing that it would be the perfect mental escape from the bitter Canadian winter.

It seems like this has been the right week for it.  Two days ago, I woke up to a wind chill factor of -43 Celsius.  

My poor brother had to arrive home from Thailand in this weather, a temperature change of an astounding 80 degrees.

The last couple of days, I’ve trudged through piles of snow, cursed the car that refused to start, and ran as fast as I could from the bus stop to the front door.  Yet at that same time, I’ve gone to dance class, to job interviews, and watched everyone around me continue on their normal routine.  I even still watched a crowd of smokers huddle outside the library and puff on cigarettes that struggled to stay lit.

When you’re Canadian, you may complain about the cold, but you still live through it.  You may desire a break from it all, a chance to jet off to Mexico or Cuba or the Dominican.  Maybe you actually will.

But, if you are “stuck” at home, don’t worry.  There are still opportunities for your own winter escape, right in your backyard.

For some stunning footage of our own Canadian paradise, check out this video below with footage from Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks.


Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies from The Upthink Lab on Vimeo.



The Toughest Adjustment After Returning Home? — Facing You

The Toughest Adjustment After Returning Home? — Facing You

“Back to reality” — it’s a saying I’ve never liked.

We create our own reality.  If you don’t like yours — change it.

Still, at the end of every trip, it’s a phrase that we toss around.  It symbolizes a return to work.  To responsibility. To routine.

For the first time ever, I was excited to return to Canada.  To see friends and family.  I couldn’t consider this a return to reality.  In 2012, “reality” had meant waking up every day with no commitments or sense of where I would end up.  I wasn’t going to return to my “old” life back home; I would be continuing the path in my new one.

My plane touched down in Edmonton last Wednesday at 2 AM (three hours late), in the middle of a blizzard.  Even the weather couldn’t quell my excitement.

Within hours of landing, I was hit by so-called “reality.”  Not work.  Not responsibility.  Relationships.

The biggest adjustment this time around has been the reintroduction of friends and family into my daily routine.  While traveling alone, I made new friends, but my interactions with the closest people in my life were generally limited to Skype sessions and social media.

I forgot about gossip.  I got over a broken heart.  I avoided jealousy and drama.  I learned to be more independent.  Too independent, perhaps. 

I was lucky enough to have amazing friends come to visit while I was gone, but for most of the time, I was alone. — Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia

Suddenly, I’m immersed in a world where people know me.   Inside and out.  I have acquaintances, exes, friends, and maybe even an enemy or two.

It’s a fabulous feeling to walk into a bar, and see a circle of familiar faces.  To enjoy a meal with my family.  To get advice, and share secrets.  But, I’d forgotten what it was like to tell someone news, and watch it spread and mutate at a cancerous rate.  To have people judge and assume.  Tell me who to date, and who to stay away from.   My life is on display again.

After getting used to so much independence, and the ability to disappear in the Amazon for a week without hearing from anyone, it’s a bit of a change.  Yet considering that I already expose much of my life via this blog , I can’t call it a major issue.  The bottom line is, I love my friends, I love my family, and I love that they care.

You are the reason I came home.  


“Deadmontitis” – The Plague of The Second-Coldest Place on Earth

“Deadmontitis” – The Plague of The Second-Coldest Place on Earth

In Edmonton, there are only two seasons: winter and construction.  That’s what we like to say, as we clutch double-doubles in hands clad with Walmart stretchy gloves.  We grumble about the early-October snowfall, but later brag about it when we’re abroad — “Did you know that one day in 2009, Edmonton was the second-coldest place on the planet? Only somewhere in Siberia was colder.”

We say it like it’s an accomplishment, but it’s really just to boost our morale.  We like to think that we’ve chosen to live there, and that we’re tough because of it.

But that’s a lie.  Surviving a tongue-stuck-to-a-pole and a lack of snow days may have hardened us as children, but we’re still not immune to “Deadmontitis.”



Deadmontitis is a contagious endemic that targets Edmontonians and long-term visitors to the city.  In the eyes of the victim, the city loses its charm and begins to conform to its unfortunate moniker, “Deadmonton.”  Primarily winter-related, Deadmontitis is most prominent when temperatures dip below -15°C.  It brings an onset of mild depression, an unwillingness to get up in the morning, and a strong urge to be anywhere but Edmonton.


Edmonton Snow
Typical scene from the Edmonton area. This was taken in MAY!


 Deadmontitis has a variety of causes.  Top risk factors include:

  • Too many hours spent hunched over a laptop in Rutherford library or the corner Starbucks
  • A Reading Week filled with lab write-ups or endless overtime leading up to the long weekend.
  • Multiple hours stuck in traffic on the Yellowhead or Henday
  • Returning to Edmonton after a period of extended travel abroad
  • A morning commute along the desolate industrial roads of North Edmonton
  • Aimlessly searching for a parking spot at the mall before Christmas



 After initial infection, you may notice:

  • Increased complaining: about the weather, snow-clearance, bad drivers, lack of exciting Jasper Avenue nightspots – you name it.
  • Decreased support for the Edmonton Oilers.  That Hemsky jersey may spend more time on the hanger than it does on your back.
  • An increased tendency to hit “sleep” on the alarm clock.  Who wants to get up when it’s -20 and still dark?
  • More mornings spent in the Timmy’s line.  Maybe a Boston Cream donut will warm the spirit.
  • Work hours wasted on Expedia hunting for last-minute Puerto Vallarta deals.

These symptoms will worsen without immediate treatment.



Because Deadmontitis plagues Edmontonians between October and April, the illness can be prevented by taken full advantage of the summer months.  With over 2,300 annual hours of sunshine and the most extensive urban park space on the continent (reputedly 22 times larger than Central Park), there is no excuse to complain at this time of year.  Go play outside!

Proven prevention methods include:


Heritage Festival Edmonton
Food + Dancing + Beautiful Weather = Edmonton Heritage Festival

Most importantly, spend the last night of August watching the sun set over the river valley.  Remind yourself: while winters may be tough to get through, there is always another spectacular Edmonton summer around the bend.


If you succumb to Deadmontitis, don’t panic – there is a cure.  Just as prevention requires an intensive winter exposure, the best remedy is a full-on winter immersion:

1. Indulge in winter sports: Kick off a Saturday with a heavenly cinnamon bun from the Sugarbowl, which should give you the energy for an active day.  Edmonton area offers plenty of winter activity options: spend the day cross-country skiing through the river valley’s extensive trail system, or hit the slopes and terrain park at either Snow Valley, Rabbit Hill, Tawatinaw, or Sunridge ski hill.  For a classic Canadian experience, lace up your skates, grab a stick, and head down to one of the local school skating rinks.  If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, snowshoe, snowmobile, sled, or curl – Edmonton has it all.

2. Celebrate a classic Christmas:  Nothing says Christmas like snow, and Edmonton usually has no shortage of it.  Enhance your white Christmas with a wander down Candy Cane Lane (a ten-block stretch of houses with over-the-top lights displays), or a visit to the Festival of Trees (a display of 100+ Christmas trees at the Shaw Conference Centre).  Round out a festive day by taking in the annual rendition of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel Theatre, or the Nutcracker Ballet at the Jubilee Auditorium.  Top it all off with a Second Cup candy cane hot chocolate and a stroll past the lights of the Legislature grounds.

Candycane Lane — one of Edmonton’s best Christmas activities

3. Embrace Edmonton’s concert culture:  Edmonton was dubbed “Canada’s Culture Capital” for the year 2007, a reference to the city’s dedication to arts, theatre, and music.  Rexall place attracts big-name artists like Rihanna, Paul McCartney, and Bon Jovi, while smaller venues such as the Jubilee, Shaw Conference Centre, and Winspear have hosted everything from electronic DJs to folk artists to symphonies.  Whatever your taste, you’re sure to find a setting to distract you from the harsh winter weather.

4. Travel Beyond the Resorts: If you feel you must — leave.  While the glamour of an exotic setting may relieve some symptoms, the real cure comes when you linger in a foreign city.  After a couple weeks, Lima traffic jams make the Yellowhead commute seem pleasant; the clouds of smoke in Parisian cafes will leave you grateful for fresh, Alberta air; and sky-high New York prices will crumple your savings.  Soon, you will realize: the grass in Edmonton may be dead all winter, but it doesn’t mean that things are always greener on the other side.  At any time of year, Edmonton is alive and flourishing.

Oh, Canada: A Traveler’s Confession to the True North, Strong and Free

Oh, Canada: A Traveler’s Confession to the True North, Strong and Free

Dear Canada,

Today marks the ninth-month anniversary of our breakup.  When I left in March, I packed up my stuff, moved out, and told you I wasn’t coming back.  But, I have a confession to make:

Sometimes, I miss you.

I know that this seems like a lot, coming from the girl who always jets off for European summers and doesn’t look back.  But South America isn’t Europe.  This time it’s different.  This time, I’ve learned something.

Sometimes, travel teaches you not only to appreciate other cultures, but also to value what you’ve left behind.

I’m not ready to come back to you, not just yet.  But I can’t hide the fact that there are some things about you that are just irreplaceable. Let me give you some examples…

1. You are green, green, green: One of the first things I notice when traveling outside of North America is the lack of green space.  Boulevards, parks, huge trees — we take these things for granted in Canada, and it’s amazing how much they contribute to the atmosphere of a place.  One of the main reasons I prefer Medellin (Colombia) over Lima (Peru), for example, is because Lima is largely dry and dusty, whereas Medellin has its fair share of greenery.  In Edmonton, the snow may cover the grass for much of the year, but, in the summer, there is no shortage of spots to spread out a picnic blanket.

View of Edmonton, my hometown

2. You don’t try to kill your own people:  Peruvian crosswalks have painted messages to remind people that four out of five traffic-related deaths involve pedestrians.  Considering that South Americans REFUSE to let pedestrians cross the street (even when they have a “walk” signal), this doesn’t surprise me.  Maybe, if people didn’t drive like maniacs, they would keep their fellow countrymen alive.   On top of that, my hearing will be very grateful when I go back to a country where drivers don’t feel the need to blast their horns every half-block.

3. You have drinkable, free water:  It becomes tedious as a backpacker, carting around 2.5 L water bottles in order to keep hydrated, but it’s necessary in hostels where filtered water isn’t provided.  Thank you, Canada, for allowing me to turn on my tap and pour myself a glass of nice, cold water.

 4. Canadians are okay with saying “no”:  Time and time again, I’ve been confused by a series of Latino excuses and lies.  It’s not that these people are malicious, they just hate to say “no” to you.  I’ve been stood up making plans, only to be fed obscure excuses.  Why can’t someone tell me, straight up, that they’re unable or don’t want to meet up with me?  It’s a cultural thing, and it’s all about saving face.  Moreover, if a Latino doesn’t know the answer to a question, more often than not, they won’t admit it.  They will make something up, or try to act more informed or educated than they are.  It’s okay to admit that you don’t know everything. 

I may be freezing, but the view behind me makes it worth it!

5.  Your landscape is stunning:  When we arrived in Patagonia, Lauren and I were supposed to be blown away by the nature.  Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful, but we quickly realized that we had been spoiled by living where we do.  We get to spend weekends in the Rocky Mountains, and vacation on Vancouver Island.  Canada, you are one pretty place. 

I may be chilly, but I have one beautiful view behind me! Lake Louise, Alberta

6. With you, I can go for a run without being harassed every 30 seconds:  I think I’ve reached my limit of Latino “piropos.”  How many times can you hear “Hola, mamacita” or “Ay, que rica” in one day before you want to just glare at every man that passes you on the street?  Attention can be flattering, but sometimes it’s nice to feel anonymous.   

7: Your people get things get done, when I need them done:  People generally show up on time.  9:00 PM means, 9:00 PM, and I would never expect to be kept waiting for an hour or more.  If I order a transcript from my university, it gets processed and sent the next day, not a month later. 

8. Your level of smoking and air pollution is minimal:  Ahh… fresh air!  Be it in a bar, or outside, I can breathe easy in Canada.  The number of Canada smokers may still be statistically relevant, but I rarely come into heavy contact with smoke in my routine back home.  Here, I can’t go to a club without coming home smelling like a cigarette, and I can’t walk the city streets of Lima without feeling my lungs fill with pollution.  It’s so strong that I actually feel warmer standing near the major roads, because my legs get blanketed in black exhaust. 

The Edmonton River Valley

9. You don’t have bakeries on every street corner to fatten me up:  Okay, this could be a pro/con, depending how you look at it.  The baked goods are spectacular in South America, but they are taking their toll on my body.  (You’ve noticed in the  photos, I know).  So, I’ll be relieved when I get away from the tempting window displays of pastries and ice cream on every block and can get back in shape. 

10. You’re a nation of treehuggers:  The only South American country I’ve visited that shows any sort of real dedication to recycling is Colombia, and even there I saw most of the recycling bins overflowing with trash.  It will be great to throw away paper or a plastic bottle and not feel like I’ve just contributed to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. 

And finally, you have the definition of a “white Christmas:”

The decorations are up in Peru, the carols are blaring, but there’s something so magical about a white Christmas that things just don’t seem quite right here.  Every year, on the first weekend of December, my family puts up our Christmas tree while listening to Bing Crosby croon classics such as “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”  Well, I won’t be home this year, but on December 25, a part of me will be dreaming about the snow that dusts the city streets back home.


So, there you have it, Canada.  The real truth.  I miss you.  Not all of you — I don’t miss the cold, the expensive prices, or the icy sidewalks — but you do have a certain charm.  That said, I will enjoy every moment of my last 38 days in South America, but I’ll also have a few butterflies in my stomach when I arrive back in your arms.


La Viajera