Well it is the last day of 2016, and as most people are looking forward to 2016 ending, I’m looking back at this year of transition. Sure, we lost a ton of amazing actors (Alan Rickman…Always) and musicians and a grotesque troll of a human was elected to the highest office in the USA, but in my very small personal world 2016 actually went pretty well (save for the threat to civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender equality in the US…).
I have experienced 6 new countries, I survived a 7-day backcountry hike, and I’m finishing the year living in the Caribbean. I have a cat named Michelle Obama who loves me. But let’s look back.
December 31 2015
My friend Morgan’s 30th birthday. Also the last day of 2015, arguably one of the toughest years of my life.
I had been home from my time in Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan for 2 months and I was still recovering mentally and emotionally (I won’t get into the details, I’ll save all that for my wildly anticipated memoir). I had put on at least 15 pounds in 2 months, and felt totally fine about it; I deserved that cheese and wine!
I was living in my parents basement suite and watching a ton of television.
I was jobless, but I had a ticket to Cuba booked for January 4th, so I was fine with the lack of work. I was at a major crossroads and figured a trip to Cuba couldn’t hurt.
Ringing in 2016 was fantastic! Morgan and I went to a party with a bunch of people I had never met and we had a rip roaring great time.
I was thrilled 2015 was ending, good riddance! 2016 was going to be AWESOME!
Cuba Adventures to Start 2016
Starting off 2016 with a 3-week trip to Cuba was a great decision. Not only did it get me out of the Canadian winter, but I ate a lot of fresh fruit, got caught in some rainstorms, drank mojitos, and read 14 books. I visited the gorgeous cities of Havana and Trinidad, toured the mogotes of Vinales, bummed around the sleepy streets of Sancti Spiritus and Matanzas, hiked the hills of Soroa, rode the Hershey Train, and got off the beaten path in Playa Jibacoa. I never made it to Isla de la Juventud, which became and remains my white whale of travel. I met some great humans, some of which I am still in contact with on Facebook. I bettered my Spanish (some of which oddly sounded like Kyrgyz).
Little did I know that my trip to Cuba would just be the tip of my Caribbean iceberg for 2016!
After a couple of professional false starts in the first few months of 2016 (still with the joblessness, basement suite and mucho television), I applied to a development contract with a Canadian non-profit. The job was based in Jamaica. My goals for applying to any jobs had come down to this: I just want to do good work somewhere warm with good beer and yummy food. Pretty simple right?
This job seemed to encompass it all, and within a few weeks it was all confirmed. I would be Jamaica bound at the end of July.
The West Coast Trail
Before I set sail for the Caribbean, there was one nagging challenge I had always wanted to attempt: my home province’s West Coast Trail. I figured with the job set and all of my paperwork turned in, late June was the perfect time to unplug and hike the 77km seaside trail. I packed a massive backpack and made for Vancouver Island. My intention was to hike the trail solo, but on the way to the trailhead I met up with a group of 5 who quickly hugged me into their team.
Starting the trail, I felt like a champion. That feeling quickly diminished to just wanting to make it to camp each night. I distracted myself with spying spectacular ocean views, hearing bellowing sounds of whales and sea lions, mentally avoiding the thought of being attacked by a bear, and convincing myself that I was awesome and strong and could do this.
And I did do it. Reaching the end of the 77km with the rest of my hiking comrades, I felt like a champion again. Maybe the first time I had felt like a champion in almost a year (I tell you those last few months in KG were rough!).
After 7 days hiking the West Coast Trail, I smelled like a sweaty fire pit and was dying for some decent food and wine. My mom picked me up at the ferry, sent me to shower, fed me, and then told me to shower again. I thought I smelled great!
July 24th I arrived in Jamaica, my home-to-be for a year. Immediately the heat struck me and my hair started frizzing. Classic. A couple of days in Kingston, and then out to Mandeville, where I would be based. After a rather traumatic encounter with two dogs, I got settled into my own home, a 2-bedroom apartment on the side of a hill with a fantastic veranda and a view of town.
Once I started working, I travelled the country extensively in the passenger seat of my co-workers car talking to beneficiaries and meeting with partners. Lessons include:
1) Some Jamaican roads are horrific
2) Jamaica is a decently large island; unlike some other Caribbean countries, driving around the whole country would not be a fun day trip.
3) I did well with my job search goals: good work, good food, good beer, and hot weather!
After a few months in Jamaica, I travelled to St. Lucia, another one of the organizations focus countries. After an exhausting milk-run type island hopper flight, landing down in St. Lucia was thrilling. Anytime you have to Google the place that you are going, you know it’s a good time!
St. Lucia was gorgeous and after my work was done, I took a few extra days to explore. I climbed the Gros Piton, the national symbol of St. Lucia and I made good use of the many mineral baths and volcanic hot springs the south of the island has to offer. I ate amazing roti! I weaseled my way onto the second half of a day cruise, and basked on the deck of a catamaran while drinking open bar rum punches. I could handle more of St. Lucia…
My 4 days in Curacao with my friends Jeremy and Mark were like a dream! Mark and I colluded to surprise Jeremy with not only the trip to Curacao but my presence on it. We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, ate wonderful food at the Flavors of Curacao Food Festival, went stand up paddle boarding, drank yummy rum, and laid on a private beach. It was all time. Everyone could use more Curacao in their lives. And more Jeremy and Mark.
Guyana, another work trip, and another Caribbean country I never knew anything about! Guyana sits on the north coast of South America, but is Caribbean and English speaking. I know, it’s confusing. The biggest thing to see in Guyana is Kaieteur Falls, the tallest single drop waterfall in the world at over 700 feet high.
Flying over the Amazon jungle to get out to the falls, I witnessed how breathtaking Guyana is and what an almost untouched land it is. The Falls are phenomenal in all of their very tall glory and it really is something being so remote and so undeveloped. Guyana is also a place where it is said everything will kill you. While I didn’t die, I can relay that I did see a plant that is actually carnivorous! Yes, like Little Shop of Horrors! Amazing, only in Guyana. On the flight back to Georgetown from the falls, I sat up front with pilot, so happy.
I still don’t feel like I have seen Barbados yet, but I have had a couple of awesome times. One was just lying on the beach. Barbados is of course known for the sand and the sun, so I felt like taking that in was culturally appropriate.
My second adventure in Barbados was seeing Prince Harry, a tale that has been recounted many times since and is definitely my best ‘celebrity sighting’ to date. I mean, the guy is my soul mate after all…
Jamaica, back again
After leaving Barbados, I came back to Jamaica and immediately met up with my Mom and Dad who had been travelling in country for a week already. We met in Negril, where I started and finished my first 13.1 mile race, the Reggae Marathon. I had been training for a couple of months to keep myself motivated, and even though those last few miles were rough, I was absolutely thrilled to be a finisher with my medal. And it’s true what they say, finish lines are pretty addicting…
After a couple of days in Negril to recover, we rented a car and explored the island as tourists. We stayed in Treasure Beach and visited YS Falls and the Appleton Rum Factory. We slept in not one but two tree houses (Dad was doing back flips for sure!). We went to a track meet and my athletics official parents were guests of honor. We swam in the Glistening Waters as well as in random other parts of the Caribbean. We ate amazing jerk in Portland. My Dad cringed every time I hit a pothole with that car (to be fair, there are literally thousands of potholes in Jamaica and I only really hit about 10 of them).
I spent Christmas back in Treasure Beach in a furnished tent 25 meters from the sea.
All in all, a pretty dang good year of travel!!!
Personally, I’m thrilled with living in Jamaica. I love writing my blog. I love my cat. I love my house. I’m in decent shape what with the running and all.
So what’s next for 2017?
Well, more writing and more travelling to be sure!!!
First up is a work regional meeting here in Jamaica at a super swanky resort on the North Coast. 6 nights at an all-inclusive never really did kill anyone now did it?
After the meeting I’m flying to Washington, D.C. to meet my mom, our cousins, and some of my Peace Corps friends for the Womens March on D.C. The march is the day after the swearing-in of the grotesque troll. #nastywoman #imstillwithher
I am registered for the Kingston City Half-Marathon in March. More running, more pain, bring it on!
Several friends are hopefully visiting Jamaica in the spring, you know who you are. But if you haven’t thought about visiting and you want to… I’m here until July!
After July, things are pretty up in the air! I have been invited by my lovely and enabling friend Lauren to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in September. I look forward to meeting the various new babies who have been born in my absence and see their mothers. My 15-year high school reunion is hopefully in August.
Dominating my goals in 2017 is to improve this blog, which means more travel and therefore more writing. I’ve learned a lot over the last 7 months of blogging from the time I met with my friend Lindsay at Carpe Diem Our Way and we talked blogging for 3 hours while eating wings and drinking wine. It was only then I started taking the blog more seriously and putting some real work into it. And finding out how much I love it!
I’m still learning, so if anyone has any suggestions, or wants to fly me anywhere to write about a place, I’m totally open to any of that.
And who knows what else?!?! My Bucket List only gets longer and as my country number grows as does my destination wish board.
But for now, I am glad to wish my brilliant and powerful friend Morgan Haigh a very Happy Birthday, make myself another cup of tea, and enjoy the view of the fireworks from my veranda tonight. Assuming there will be fireworks, you never know in Jamaica…
Love from me to all of you, thank you so much for reading and coming along on my adventures this year. I wish you all a prosperous and healthy 2017!