Wrapping Up My Camino Research

Camino Books

My research on what to expect, what to bring, what time of year to go, how long I would need, and so much more for my upcoming Camino de Santiago adventure started almost a decade ago, in 2008. Yup, 2008. I came across a great article in some magazine that sparked the ‘follow the Way’ bug in me!

Within weeks I bought and poured through A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, the 2008 edition. My desire to clip a scallop shell to my pack and follow the yellow arrows of the Camino were never too far from the surface since. It’s now August 2017 and I am just 11 sleeps from departure.

In this last year I have done a lot of research to prepare for the journey. I thought I would share a bit about the non-fiction books I have read and the tips I derived from each for my Camino. Here goes:

Guidebook(s) to the Camino de Santiago, John Brierley 

As part of my research, I have read the 2017 version of the Guidebook for the Way of St. James (French Way) that I read back in 2008, the Portuguese Way (Camino Central), and the Muxia Circuit through Finisterre way – both the full Guidebooks and the shorter Map book versions. These books by Mr. Brierley are often referred to as the ‘bible of the Camino’ and for good reason. They have everything you need. Maps with breakdowns of the distance on different kinds of surfaces (woodland path vs forest roads), elevation gain, info about areas and places, where to stay and where to get your next cafe con leche. If you are going to walk the Camino and only had time to read one book, make it a Mr. Brierley guidebook!

TIP: I will be taking the Map versions of each of 3 of these Ways with me on the journey as we will be walking some or all of each. However … avert your eyes all book lovers this hurts my heart too … I have ripped out any page I don’t need to cut down on the size and weight of each book. Weight or lack thereof in your pack is critical for the Way.

I’m Off Then, Hape Kerkeling 

Here is where I admit I was seriously hoping to find a Bill Bryson book on the Camino. I have read every single one of his books and thought maybe there was a secret stash only those who have bought their flight to St. Jean Pied de Port where the St. James Way to Santiago starts know about. Nope. But a darn near close second was this book, It even had a recommendation from Mr. Hilarious Travel Exploits Bill Bryson himself. For good reason too – this book was an easy, entertaining and really enjoyable read.  Hape has a great way of explaining people and places with just enough detail to leave an impression and make you want to to head there to see it for yourself. On it!

TIP: Every chapter in this book finishes with an insight of the day. Most were really great reminders like drink more and some were quite profound. I have made a note in my journal to come up with an insight daily (and yes you will be subjected to each here on this blog). I want to see if mine too go from basic needs (drink more) to profound and insightful and often spiritual like Hape’s did by the time he reach Santiago.

The Way, My Way A Camino Memoir, Bill Bennett 

While this book was definitely about Bill’s Camino experience and included information on the route, walking, how his body held up (or didn’t);  it was also so much more. Bill really got into the story of other pilgrim’s. The getting to know them, learning why they were walking, and overall just making a real connection with other people’s and their story. He brought this all into his memoir. So it was really like reading the memoirs of many, not just Bill’s. The laughs throughout the book were icing on the cake.

TIP: Talk to people, engage and interact with other pilgrim’s. To some of you that may sound like a total no-brainer but for this introvert it is something I will have to really think about and force myself to do. I will though, commitment made (and now I want to build a fort in my room and hide lol).

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrm, Jane Christmas

Jane sets out on the Camino with a bunch of women she barely or does not know at all. After mentioning she is going to walk the Way to an acquaintance back home within chapters she is a Camino tour guide effectively to a bunch of other women. Of course you can guess that does not lend itself to a restful and spiritual Camino but rather a lonely, crazy making, frustrating one until Jane takes her Camino back.

TIP: Walk your Way, your way. I am heading to the Camino with my bestie Lana (and fellow blogger here on Running for the Gate) and we made a ‘pinky swear’ of sorts to make sure we do in fact walk the Way, our own way. We each have one “we are not walking today” card and neither of will walk that day AND we have unlimited with no judgement or shame “I am not walking today” where the other one can walk and we will meet up at our destination.

Call of the Camino, Robert Muller 

This book is half Robert’s account of his pilgrimage and half explanation of the myths and legends along the Camino route all intermixed throughout. I really liked this format. I geeked out and made notes so I could tell Lana about legends as we walk through certain areas and churches. I love the Rooster in the church story!  I also found personal Robert’s experience honest, easy to read and I hope my experience is something like his is on the Way. I loved how he, like Bill Bennett, also included the stories and his connection with other Pilgrim’s.

TIP: Learn about where you are going. Know some of the history, myths and legends of where you will be visiting. I do this for every trip and it really brings me joy. I find recognizing something, even a story or history of a building, while abroad helps with the homesickness that even the most experience travelers deal with.

Beun Camino! Camino de Santiago: A Father-Daughter Journey (ebook)

I am racing to read this book before I depart on my own Camino next week. The book is written jointly by Natasha (daughter) and Peter (dad). Each chapter has “Peter” sections and “Natasha” sections about the same day or trail section and has a whole bunch of history and legend of the Way and St. James throughout. So far it is really great!

TIP: If you are going to share your Camino, do it with someone you love – someone who encourages you but doesn’t pressure you – someone who will approach the Way in a similar frame of mind – someone who will also give you the room to make your Way, your way. I am super lucky to have this in my Camino mate Lana but I could have also happily and ecstatically walked with my Dad too. Wow, that would have been amazing! (Dad, there are a bunch of other routes to Santiago. What you doing next year?)

The Way of the Stars, Robert C. Sibley 

Robert has walked the Way of St. James twice. Do not be surprised by that – from what I have read once the Camino is in your blood you cannot help but want to do it again! The first time Robert walked it was alone and this second time he set off with his young adult son. Robert gives the details of his first walk and provides insights on how he now sees the Camino a second time but with his son at his side (or ahead on the trail). An easy read with lots of good chuckles throughout.

TIP: Bring something you learned on the Camino, home with you. Robert spends quite a bit of his story talking about being unconnected from the urban life, really enjoying the break from a commute and daily work demands. I want to focus on how good it feels to just walk and bring that home with me. Like not getting so caught up in the house needing to be vacuumed that I don’t go for a hike. The lint on the carpet can wait but my peace of mind shouldn’t.

The Journey In Between, Keith Foskett (ebook)

I saved the best (aka my favourite) for last. This book is awesome. Keith Foskett is a thru hiker and an author – my own dream. His Camino story hit home for me as it is blatantly obvious he loves nature and loves putting one foot in front of the other. Me too! I love eating up space and time with my own two feet then looking back and thinking “I did that”. Keith’s story made me laugh out loud, cringe at the pain of his blisters, agree audibility with his insights, and chomp at the bit to start my own Camino.

TIP: Almost all not-so-great-events will make a good story next week or next year. Even situations and circumstances that in the moment feel awful may be the best story you ever told. When I walked the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales in 2008 with a 102 fever due to infected spider bites it was awful BUT it makes a great story when trading travel experiences with others!

Well that’s my book list … so far. I have no doubt I will be adding to this list when I get back. Reading for nostalgic instead of research purposes. Really, my ultimate dream would be to add my own book to this list. Can you imagine!

Brande 

PS 11 Sleeps!

Speak, Parle, Hablo, Falo!

Oh goodness me, who do I think I am and what language am I even trying to speak!

My efforts to be prepared for the upcoming Camino Adventure in French, Spain and Portugal continue – and the current prep is all around communication! Making sure what I need is understood. You know just simple things like “do you have beds available?” or”two beers please?” and “where is the bathroom?” or “have you ever seen such a blister?” and “do you have bed bugs?” Oh and learning some basic polite phrases like good morning, have a good day, please and thank you too.

My plan (in action and so far quite interesting) is to use the months of June, July and in August to learn to speak Portuguese, brush up on the Spanish I learned in University, and hopefully drum up memories of the French I learned in grade school.

I have my trusty Pimsleur playback devices rented from my local library for free (I heart libraries) in each of the three languages. My rule is I must be doing my language learning while driving to and from anywhere. No more fun podcasts, audio books or chatting with family. Languages, linguas, langues, idiomas! Only. If you see a blond in a Tuscon in Vancouver butchering French, Spanish or Portuguese as she drives – that is me! Give me a wave!

June was designated Portuguese month and it is a doozy for me to pronounce this language. Portuguese in my mind is like trying to speak Spanish but with a saucy German accent. I have to keep saying “Sprichst du Deutsch?” (Do you speak German?) in my head over and over in order to get the sound right when trying to speak Portuguese. Yes this is the only German I know and I am probably butchering it too. If I am insulting anyone here, there is no offense meant – so far this is just the only way I can get the R rolling and the SH sounds of Portuguese to work with these wee, little, skinny chicken lips I have. Portuguese is such a cool language but wow a different sound than I have ever had to make. Some of the words in Portuguese are so much cooler than their English counter part. Like Lisbon sounds cool in English sure but in Portuguese it is Lisboa (pronounced in my mind like leash-boa) and that is  so much cooler. Yes I picture a dog with wearing a leash and a feather boa everytime I say it.

July is my refresh on Spanish and French month. We are only in France for a few days on the trip so I will run through the Pimsleur playback just once (OK maybe twice). I am well versed in how to order chocolate croissants and wine in French from my last visit and that is the most important stuff covered. Ha! But for Spanish, we do have a couple weeks in Spain so I will need to take that refresh a little more seriously. Spanish is the language I have spent the most time studying and using abroad. The simple stuff has come back pretty quick in the past so hopefully I have that same luck.

August will take me back to Portuguese for a final refresh. During this month I will make a language cheat sheet for my traveler’s notebook journal. A little reference sheet for the trip that I can peek at when the words elude me. You know something that has the word for wine, cheese, bread, blister, shower, thank you, etc. in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The important stuff!

Carrying a translation dictionary for each language is just too much weight for the average size backpacks we will be lugging about. So when a language does fail me (as I am sure it will many a time), I am not afraid to resort to hand signals, speaking the English words slower and louder (seems to be a universal thing to do), and breaking into random interpretive dance.

Brande 

PS 49 sleeps to departure!

Training for the Camino Gets Real

How will I train for my Camino adventure? How will I make it so lifting these boots for kilometers a day is a total blister-muscle-pain-soreness-free pleasure?

Boots_May2017There are lots of forums, blogs, websites, books and more with tips and fully designed plans for training for the Camino de Santiago. They are all so helpful and really have helped me figure out how I am going to train for my Camino.

The Camino adventure Lana Rae and I will be doing this fall is a bit of a mash up from the usual point A (St. Jean Pied de Port) to point B (Santiago) Camino. Ours includes the Pyrenees mountain section and final 100+ km of the Camino Frances, the Camino Finisterre taking us out to the Spanish coast through some long woodland stretches, and then finally the Camino Portuguese – Fisherman Coastal section with lots of walking right on the beach. Yahoo!

So basically I need to train for all manner of terrain, with temps in the 25C+ range, a month of walking with most days around 25-30km, and about a total 600km. Accounting for any detours to off trail historic sites, and lets be honest probably a couple get lost and found again kilometers too.

Hmm well here is my plan:

  • hike often
  • aim for round 15-20km each time
  • get in as many days back to back as possible
  • throw in at least a half dozen 30km
  • always with with 25lb in my pack
  • wear the boots and gear I will be wearing on the actual trip
  • throw in some stair training
  • get some overall weight training in
  • increase the yoga focus to limber up these getting creaky joints

Plan established (check) and now in progress (check).

JinkerstonStairs_ChilliwackI have been doing most of my training to date in my own neighbourhood which is just amazing to be able to do. I am lucky to live at the top of a big hill with the great Burns Bog trail system close by.

But I do need to kick it up a notch. To officially start my training plan I did a  jaunt up and down one of my favourite hikes in Chilliwack – Mount Thom. I parked a couple of kilometers away so I could get in some extra hill time and the horrible, torturous and awesome for training Jinkerson Stairs (all 240 of them). Now that will get the glutes and hammies working!

MountThom_ChilliwackFrom there, with some serious Darth Vader breathing, it was up and up the Mount Thom trail. Its an easy trail really with no scrambling at all but the ascent is pretty quick in some sections. And there are some random up and down sections throughout so just when the legs get burning up, you get a down section and a whole different set up muscles burning, then back up again.

MountThomView_ChilliwackI also like this trail for the nice number of folks on the trail. Not too many and not too few. Just enough so there are other food options for the bears and cougars. I prefer to not be the only main course for the wild beasties.

The view from the top is icing on the cake – you can see out over all of the amazing farms that Chilliwack boasts and the mountain range start out in the distance. So great!

A favourite, close-ish to home hike for sure.

FitBitMap_MntThomMay2017FitBitStats_MntThomMay2017Now I just need to get these ‘baseline / first training session’ stats kicked up a notch. Posting my first session FitBit stats here and I will toss up my last training stats doing this same hike before I go as my goal to see these improve.

Wow nothing like making myself publicly accountable!

 

There is truly so much pleasure in the training – I love hiking and most especially love just being out in nature listening to the birds or my podcasts and just doing a lot of thinking. I cant wait to experience the same joy of walking but in France, Spain and Portugal.. and I will have my bestie to chat with each step too. Hello! 

1 month and 27 days to departure – and now I have a solid training plan and a end goal. That just makes this adventure quite real. Eeeeek so excited.

Brande

 

 

 

Found in Translation

Oh goodness me –  just had to share!

Over the past few weeks, Lana and I have been busy planning our Great Camino Mash Up Adventure. This is our catch phrase name for the 5 weeks we get to spend in France, Spain and Portugal taking part in the best parts of 3 different Camino pilgrimages. Check out Planning is Half the Fun! for way too many details on just how knee deep into planning we have been.

While bouncing about the world wide web during a recent planning weekend, Lana and I were finding ourselves quite amused. Some of the information on accommodation or travel websites in Spain and Portugal were hilarious. Either they are just darn funny people by nature (I hope so as that will make this trip even more fun) or Google Translate has wreaked some humorous havoc on their web fronts!

We had to share a few of our favourites which at 2am after hours of planning had us in stitches – of course what isn’t funny in the middle of the night with your bestie!

  • you shall see on your left hand side, a skat-park
  • chronic melting of volunteers
  • book to secure your most satisfaction
  • the soul given by each of you, to you
  • sheet low to use and throw away

Now while most made us laugh, I couple hit a bit home. These two statements that were seemingly lost in translation … may have actually been found in translation. I am hit by a much deeper meaning to these – for our lives and for this adventure.

Despite the passage is forbidden, continue

Despite the passage is forbidden, continue. This one had me thinking about all of the hardships we may run into and need to work through on our adventure. To overcome and just keep on stepping. Blisters, injuries, weather, malfunctioning gear, health issues, or whatever. Just take the next small step towards our goal. Despite it continue.

Trust in God and tether your camel.

Trust in God and tether your camel. Well this one definitely hits home for me as I am a bit of a worrier, ok sometimes more than a bit. I think this one will be a great reminder to just give it to God and know he will take care of us. Tether that anxiety or grumpiness or weariness and trust … and keep those hiking boots moving forward.

Awesome mantras for the adventure ahead!

Brande

Planning is Half the Fun!

Well lets start this post with some confessions of an adventurer…

I love planning. I love organizing. I love documenting details. I love images and maps of far off places. I love reading books about the far off places. I love research into destinations and gear and travel hacks.

All this love means that I am one of those quirky travelers who has the pleasure of loving the planning for a trip as much as the actual trip itself! No joke. And the bigger the trip, more countries, more flights, too many languages, different currencies – the more I enjoy it. Like a ‘giddy school girl with pig tails bouncing and clapping with little screams’ excited.  Get this wanderer some sharpies and post it notes, a pint of lager, and you will have a trip of a lifetime planned in detail in no time!

Deepening the confession level … I actually need things planned. Yup need it. Deep in my soul I am a ‘need to know the when, the how and the what’ in order to relax in the moment. I am not a fly by the seat of my pants globetrotter. Rather I am the researcher, advance planner and informed decision maker who dreams of cutting lose but gets a little chest pain when it actually happens. So thank goodness my quirks are resolved by something I love. I do not apologize for this must-plan trait in fact I am proud of it. It brings me a little closer to our Strachan Clan motto of “not timid, just cautious”. Boom!

So let the planning fun begin . . . for our big Camino Mash Up,  Lana and I will be walking 5 weeks worth of 3 Camino Ways in France, Spain and Portugal.

Blank Slate Trip

A blank slate – like a big, amazing canvas!

Lana flew in to Vancouver for a long weekend and we spent it planning, planning, planning. Before Lana arrived we had our flights booked and had, for the most part, decided our route we would take on the 3 Caminos – a spreadsheet may have been involved. So we knew  arrivals and departure, roughly which days were we walking, and where we had to find a bed at night. A great start to our blank canvas!

We set ourselves up on the deck by day and the kitchen table by night. Armed with our poster size calendar, laptop, iPad, travel books, spreadsheet route, snacks, pints, post it notes, sharpies, and a pencil  – we got to planning. The pencil was for Lana – she hates when I use a sharpie on the poster or post its before the plan is set in stone. Makes me laugh.

Planning by day – on the deck!

Planning and eating.

Planning by night – at the kitchen table!

 

 

 

 

 

After a near 4 solid days of planning (I may have accidentally made Lana help me paint my living room and french doors when we weren’t planning) we had a pretty solid plan. Add in a couple more weeks of planning by text between me in B.C and Lana in Alberta, and we have a perfect plan! If we do say so ourselves. I could do this for a living!

Planning complete!

Planners gotta plan – its like art!

Ok we do have two days where we need to find a place to sleep but we have 2 months and 2 days to sort that out and technically we could always just show up in the town and find a bed  on the day of. Like real pilgrims.

Wow, this trip has gotten very real now that it is all planned. It feels great to be so ahead of the game on this. Now to wrap our head around the packing list!

Brande

Dear Sir Osprey

Dear Sir Osprey (my backpack),

Well my little buddy, my trusted friend and most loyal travel companion … it is time for our travels around this vast world to part I think. With a sad, but working on accepting it heart it is time for your retirement. You will have a trusted place on the shelf next to all the very travel books that once you carried around this wide world for me on our adventures. And oh the adventures we have had together!

West Highland Way

West Highland Way, Scotland

Remember the West Highland Way, Scotland? Our first long distance hike (154km). I bought you for that  adventure 10 years ago from the Robinson’s Outdoor Store in Victoria. I loved you the from the second we took our first step on the path! This is the hike that set the bar for all others. We walked from the lowlands to the highlands, playing the Run Rig music collections on repeat, and feeling amazed at how lucky we were every day. We closed this trip in my favourite town in this world Fort William, Scotland at the Grog and Gruel with a pint of Tennents Lager toasting my 30th birthday and the start of 5+ more months of travel still in front of us!

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Wales

Oh but do you remember the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path on the coast of Wales? Wow that was a doozy. 16 days walking 299kms. Sadly 14 of those days you were wrapped tight in your waterproof cover as we were pelted with sideways, upwards, downwards and misty rain. Like the rain scenes from Forrest Gump really! Not to mention the poor tears you had to witness as the path was often on the very edge of the coastal cliffs and well beyond my comfort zone. I will never forget that gust of wind that took my right off my feet and I was sure we were plunging to our death – but you had me! I landed on my back like a sad little turtle flipped upside down on my shell with my legs dangling, tears streaming and all of our fresh blackberries in your outside pocket crushed. You still have that blackberry stain!

Hadrian's Wall Path

Hadrian’s Wall Path, England

Our next adventure was the Hadrian’s Wall Path in England and it was no less exciting at 135km of adventure. You hung on tight as we  very, narrowly outran that crazy bull on day 3 –  catapulting ourselves over Hadrian’s Wall itself (thank goodness it is now so robbed of stone over the years that it was only 7 feet not 16 feet tall). We landed right in a thistle patch as the bull struck the wall behind us. Thanks to you my back was the only spot not covered in thistle burrs that led to prickly hives for days. A great compliment to my 102 fever we were fighting from all the spider bites I had when we walked through that nest and they all snuggled under and you next to me and starting their afternoon snack on me!

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Did you love the day we got back to Scotland as much as I did? Our trip to the Isle of Sky where we hiked basically through the equivalent of pea soup all day for days – we were soggy and virtually blind from the fog. Yeesh I almost walked right into a sheep up on the ridge. Probably saved me from walking off the cliff edge really now that I think about it – wee cutesy and heroic lamb he was.

Great Glen Way

Great Glen Way, Scotland

Oh yes and of course one of my favourite memories with my sister Shar – the 127km Great Glen Way also in Scotland. You experienced everything from walking to boating on that trip. Again never a complaint. How great you did your job and how easy it was to carry you about. Even on all the days I was sick as a dog from drinking from an unwashed water bladder pack (I brought the wrong one), you felt like comfort and home on my back. Many a time on our breaks during the day you became my trusted pillow while I tried to cat nap away the headache, dizziness and nausea. Oh what a story – all part of the adventure!

Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Perhaps your biggest adventures was Mount Kilimanjaro! Wow. Up and over the tallest free standing mountain in the world. We love Africa – the only place where you can you get a sunburn while walking along a glacier while people chant and encourage – it was just amazing. Sorry that other guy had to carry you for a while at the Summit there. My much regretted and unexpected case of the ole pulmonary edema wreaked havoc on me. Trust me though, your hike with the guide was much better than it would have been on my back that day. Alas though we made it and loved it and once again our long standing friendship was solidified in another country and another adventure.

Salt Spring Island, Canada at the top of Erskine Mountain (fairy door trail)

Salt Spring Island, Canada

Now we can’t of course discount the many, many adventures we had here in our own backyard of Canada. You have been with me to all kinds of places on Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island, North Shore, Whistler, Squamish, Fraser Valley, Alberta, Okanagan, and more, and more. Too many too remember individually but collectively a wonderful memoir of you!

I can’t imagine having reached for any other than you Sir Osprey to get me where I needed to go. However, all great things (even backpacks) must one day come to an end and Sir you have put your time in. From the battle scars and stains all over you, to the ripped out non-existent inside pocket, to the old- school canvas hip straps you are ready for a glorious retirement! May your days forward be relaxing and reminiscent, because you dear friend can now sit back and enjoy the easy life.

A quote from Henry Miller comes to mind when I think of our travels together …

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” This is so true and I have you to thank for helping me see things in new ways. With just my own two feet, a full heart of love from back home, and anything I could ever need in your 35litres – I had the confidence and the hefty sense of adventure to see new things in new ways and in so many amazing places.

Thank you Sir, thank you.

Brande

PS. I hope the next generation of Brande’s Backpacks tackles my Camino adventure as well as you did all yours! I will be sure to leave you and he alone for a few days so you can provide him with a comprehensive briefing on how to best support this gong-show adventurer!

What the Santiago? 

Yup, yup, yup – another adventure is in the works for these Running for the Gate gals! So exciting! 

We are off to see what all this Camino fuss is about in September … but in classic Lana y Brande style we are doing it mash up style. Instead of walking one Classic Camino, we are doing the best of many. The best of the France Camino, the classic Spain Camino, the Portugal Camino, and for good coastal sunshine measure the Finesterre Camino too. More details on the exact Camino Mash Up Itinerary of Awesome coming soon. 

We depart Aug 25 for at least 25 days of walking, covering what we think will be about 580kms by our own two feet (well four feet really there are two of us) and then back on Sept 30. A little hip, hop, skip, jump, hike, blister, laugh, whirlwind tour. 

Guess this means I better finish my Kilimanjaro blog posts – I still owe you day 5, 6 and 7. Coming soon.

Brande 

Salt Spring Island – Hippy Happy Bliss 

Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island

Approaching Long Harbour, Salt Spring Island

I am so lucky, for ra-zeal … I live on the west coast of amazing Canada and have at my finger tips some awesome places to explore. This summer for a few random weekends in June and August I am blessed with the scenery of Salt Spring Island. I big style enjoy the hippy, happy bliss of Salt Spring Island and would recommend the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring or any other, to any one!

Salt Spring Island

What a place. How to describe it? In one long, poor grammar and badly punctuated sentence …. A small isle of winding,  hilly, crazy roads riddled with cyclists navigating from lake to lake to ocean among mountains, two wee villages, many artisan shops, some cheese shops, a winery, a brewery, a cidery and more, oh my! If it sounds quaint and yet rugged – I have gotten my point across!

Getting here: the only way here is to boat yourself (I wish), harbour plane (amazing if you can afford it), or on BC Ferries (also amazing but still expensive). I come over on the ferry. Some tips – it’s cheaper to walk as a foot passenger ($20 per human each way) and the expense of driving across is cheaper if you go mid week. Make a reservation for this sailing and check the schedule closely. This route is usually served by a small, old ferry boat with little room for cars and peeps so things fill up fast in summer. The milk run route (stops at least once at every other Gulf Island before getting to Salt Spring) is a neat idea if you have double the time but does not save you any money.

Getting around: I am all about using my own two feet to get around or at least the most enviro friendly option (biking, public transport) but on Salt that’s an adventure in itself. The island is MUCH bigger than most people assume. The roads are windy, hilly and the wilderness (trees, deer and more) meets the road right where a ‘shoulder’ for walkers and bikers should be. So walkers and cyclist must use the actual skinny roads to commute and while probably safe (many do it here) not something I prefer (I am a big fan of bike lanes and sidewalks). If you are traveling with kids here, use caution walking and biking assuming the little humans even have the leg power to get up and over the hills. So basically I recommend a car while here. There are though local taxi like services and many locals gladly pick up and drop tourists on their travels – but not my thing.

Getting eats: there is no shortage of good eats on this island. Salt Spring is as good to artists as it is to the outdoorsy and the foodies. All over Ganges and Fulford (the only ‘towns’ on the island) are restaurants from burger joints to coffee shops to pubs to pizza places to bakeries. Ganges is littered with food truck inspired locations that are really fun. Most places boast of local, organic food and many have fun twists on the usual boring fare too (duck wings instead of chicken wings). In Ganges my usual haunts like the Oyster Catcher has a great flatbread pizza, Moby’s Pub has great duck wings and the best pints, Treehouse Cafe (built literally around a tree) has awesome breakfast, Salt Spring Island Coffee has epic .. you guess, coffee, and Embe Bakery has treats for every taste. To name just a few of the yummy places about.

If you need groceries I highly recommend the Country Grocer just past Ganges Harbour to the Thrifty’s in the  Harbour. I am a huge Thifty’s fan usual (mmmm west coast ranger cookies) but the one on this isle is a gong show. Sorry. But if you are here in the height of summer I would instead suggest sticking to markets for your shopping! There is a massive market in Ganges on Saturdays and Tuesdays offering veggies, breads, jams, meats and more. There are also honesty boxes all over the island. In your travels have some small cash on hand and if there is something on the roadside for sale like eggs, veggies, flowers, firewood and more – simply drop the indicated and required sum in the honesty box and take what you paid for. Easy! The organic, free range, couldn’t be any more local eggs we picked up were amazing!

Getting to sleep: there all a whole host of campsites, bed and breakfast places, and Air BnB or VRBO places across the island. There are a few inns, hotels and guest houses too. Oh and most do accommodate humans and not just fairies like this one.

I generally go the Air BnB route so I can ‘live like a local’ and find this a pretty affordable option especially as I prefer to cook most of my meals. And by cook I mean eat cereal or make peanut butter and banana toasted sandwiches. (Side note: did you know that was Elvis’ favourite sammy? Yup!)

Anywho, the camping can be fun but be warned most campsites are walk in only (aka you must hoof your stuff in by hand not car) so embrace minimalist notions if you camp. I love love love the Ruckle Provincial Park campground! Some folks just set up their camp on local beaches and parks and don’t bother with official campsite mumbo jumbo. While this route is easy on the wallet, the prospect of getting woken in the night to get in trouble for it deters me. I am…how do you say it … A wimp when it comes to authority. Park Rangers especially. They might revoke my hiking rights!

Full disclosure here – prices in high season (summer) can be steep. Take the time to explore all options and you will find something in your price range even if maybe out of your comfort zone a wee bit – even 5 star hotel peeps can enjoy a walk in campsite with no amenities right? What you maybe over spend on accommodations you can save by fishing for your own dinner or eating Elvis sandwiches at your camp site!

Getting to know the island: what better way to get to know a place than by leaving it! Seriously hike and drive and bike the island for sure but also get on a boat and see it from the water. It’s just an amazing place – as is all the other small and large islands around it! Consider kayaking; the slow, quiet commute around and about the island gives you a great opportunity to take it all in. We saw seals, otters, snakes (being eaten by aforementioned otter), star fish, osprey (the actual bird not my backpack), deer and more from the comfort of my kayak! (Check out Island Escapades if you go.)

If bobbing in the ocean where something called a Killer Whale swims about underneath you isn’t your schtick – don’t worry, the island has enough to offer to keep you entertained. Try Mount Erskine Provincial Park for the fairy door trail, Ruckle Provincial Park for a great trek from bay to bay (and awesome geo-caching), Mount Maxwell Provincial Park for a hard core hike or a 4×4 drive to the amazing summit, Peter Arnell Trail for a rain forest fix, and then cool off at Beddis Beach on the ocean or St. Mary Lake for a swim of the non-salty variety.

Now what most people will tell you about Salt Spring is that the place is full of local artisan shops – if you like amazing, homemade, interesting, one of a kind, local art then Salt Spring is the place for you! You can’t dance in circles without hitting a local artist on that island. So many and so much talent. I will be honest I have not had the chance to explore this aspect of the island yet; when I have an ocean and mountains around me I hike not shop. Once I have done all the hikes, I will check out the art.

Some more pics to give you a sense of how great this Island really is!

Peter Arnell Trail, Salt Spring Island

Peter Arnell Trail (convinced they filmed Jurassic Park here

Ruckle Provincial Park

Hilltop section of the Ruckle Provincial Park Trail

Mount Erskine Trail

Up and up and up; the trail to the Mount Erskine summit

Mount Erskine, Salt Spring Island

View from the top of Erskine Mount, Salt Spring Island (the Fairy Door Trail is on this mountain)

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island

Government dock at Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island

Burgoyne Bay Beach, Salt Spring Island (northern part of the isle)

Outhouse at Chocolate Beach, Third Sister Island

Chocolate Beach, Third Sister Island (about a 1,000 kayaking paddles from Salt Spring Island, Ganges Harbour

Hmm, I think that about sums it up  – put Salt Spring on your list!

Brande

Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Epiphany)

Well I subjected you to the run down of my roller coast emotions on the day we reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, so its only fair I also subject you to my summit epiphany as well.

(If you missed my emotional recap, click Brande Looks Back: Kilimanjaro Day 5 (Summit Day – Emotions). Its pretty raw, you have been warned.)

mount kilimajaro summit

Any who, back to my epiphany. Drum roll please….

Getting to the summit is only half way!

Let me explain before you are all wondering what I am going on about.

Every conversation you have before you even depart for Tanzania, before you even pack your bags, get your travel insurance and start any training (if you plan on training) is about if you will summit Mount Kilimanjaro. When you finally arrive in Arushu or Moshi, whichever destination you pick as your ‘base camp’ all questions from the Lodge or Hotel staff, from your fellow trekkers and in your own mind are about if or if not you will summit. Then the day comes and you meet your Guide and climbing company and every conversation is about how they will make sure you summit. Summit, summit, summit!

Makes some sense. You travel all the way to Tanzania, you labour up that mountain one painfully slow step at a time, to do one thing: summit. Summit, summit, summit!

This ‘all about the summit adage’ once made sense to me but is now totally nonsensical. The summit is not the finish line, it is not the end of the road, or the end of your journey – it is only half way. Half bloody way!

Of course it is half way, duh – what kind of hiker, trekker, and mountain climber am I anyway? What goes up must come down, and last I checked there is no Gondola on Mount Kilimanjaro. But wait. You honestly do not think much about anything but getting to the summit, until one day the possibility of the summit is really real and then it hits you that holy crap you have to get back down. People need to know and I am serious about that – if you are debating that mountain embrace my epiphany. lol

The summit is not a finish line. It is not a marathon where my husband is standing at the finish line to hug me up, walk with me though the post-race snack line up to grab some chocolate milk, half banana and some cookies, and then get in the comfy car to head home for a long, well deserved shower. {oh wow that would have been amazing}

The summit is only half way. You have to turn your arse around and do exactly what you did for the past 6+ hours one more time but this time your legs are already burning, your lungs are on fire and feeling like the are fully on strike, your head is pounding, and you are willing yourself to go even 100 more steps without puking again.Did I mention the toes jamming in the front of your boots or the knees on strike? Every step you took on the way up already, you take again but this time fully exhausted not just kind of exhausted. Sometimes the cruelty of the mountain is such that you can even see your own footsteps in the opposite direction left in the scree field that you humped up just hours before and now you need to slide unbalanced down again.

Getting to the summit is a feat, and anyone who has done it or even attempts it gets a big, awesome, amazing kudos from me. The ultimate trick is if you can get up and down the highest free standing mountain in the same positive head space both ways.  A few on my crew were happy go lucky the whole up and down time, I wanted to be but don’t recall having the energy to be. I for sure had moments in my happy place and also in my get me the hell down head space over the course of summit day. Trust me, like many others before me, I was so focused on the summit, just like everyone with me and before me on that mountain, that I almost and very nearly missed an opportunity to appreciate the ‘coming back down’ as much as the ‘going to the top’.

I was happy to be on Mount Kilimanjaro, wow I was ecstatic to be honest. But there is nothing I wanted more than to leave that bucket list mountain top and get down and never see that thing again. Well now that I am down, recovered and looking back on the experience I maybe have a more reasonable opinion of the roof of Africa….

If you asked me if I would I climb it again? You bet! I would do it again in one heartbeat.

Brande

PS: Blog post with the step by step details coming soon. It would seem I needed to see more pictures from my fellow trekkers to piece together the day. Who knew altitude stole your breath and your memories! Pics and step details coming soon.

Hola Mexico 

Taking a little break from our Mount Kilimanjaro posts, to tell you about my current, exciting excursion to Cancun, Mexico. 

Me and the hubby are here at the Grand Bahia Principe Coba for 7nights with my mom, stepdad, stepsister, sister and her boys (my 2 nephews and her man), the sisinlaw and her daughter. 

  
So far I can conclude the following: 
1) the emergency exit row leg room is shy of heaven – and this wife is on the ‘best wife ever’ list for snagging it at check in 

  
2) West Jet as usual has impressed with their service and such friendly staff

3) that these little raccoon / lemur / ant eaters / bears are basically as cute as can be and I want one (actually called Coatis, and I would name home Ralph Racolemantbear)

 
4) having a logic model design for a university course due at midnight the day you land in Mexico is not fun
5) the infamous (me thinks the correct reference already) Zika virus carrying mosquitos are creating quite a conversation buzz but judging by the sheer number of pregger ladies on this flight it’s not as scary to some as others 

6) going for a hard run and not stretching before sitting on a plane for 5+ hours makes for some seriously sore hammies 

7) the Grand Bahia Principe result here in Cancun is pretty much an exact replica of the one in Dominican Republic – why change a good thing! 

8) the guacamole must be crack cause this girl cannot get enough of it – I made withdrawal therapy

9) some people truly do not understand that the personal space you should afford a stranger in public is the same when that same stranger and you are in a Buffett in proximity to each other. I cannot believe how many times someone has literally tried to take a serving tong from my hands for food that is overflowing from the serving dish – did you think I was gonna eat it all? Ok that is possible but all the same 

10) I love me a vacation with my sister for the laughs and I have a running partner! 

 
11) this girl could sit at a poolside all darn day everyday if given the chance – if anyone would like to fund that enterprise drop me a line

Brande 

PS If any of my soccer gals are reading this … Go Diamonds! I do love me a pool side margarita but in my heart I would rather be toughing it through our cup game against the Millers