Photo Essay: Birding in Chobe

African Jacana

I never in my life thought that I would be interested in birding as a hobby. Going out and looking for birds in trees seemed, well, boring to me. And then I arrived in Botswana (2016). With over 450 bird species just in the Chobe National Park area, the search for the prettiest birds was on. It was like a little mystery as I would hear the birds but didn’t know what I was looking for!

Having birds, such as the Lilac-breasted Roller, which boasts 13 different colours on it’s body, and little itty bitty blue-cheeked beeaters which are bright green in colour, I just couldn’t get enough! I found myself looking at every bird, big and small and asking my guides what they were. Then I began listening to all of the amazing bird calls and asking which birds claimed each of the beautiful, happy and annoying calls. Take a look at just a few of my favourite bird photos from Chobe National Park and the Chobe River area. How could you not enjoy their beauty!

A big thanks to the guides with Ama Waterways and the Zambezi Queen on the luxury Chobe River Cruise who answered all of my questions and clearly were passionate about their jobs. If you have questions about taking a river cruise in Africa or birding, drop me a message. I’d love to chat with you.

Photo Essay: Light of Lisbon

Lisbon Tram

The famous ‘Light of Lisbon’ is no joke. If you’ve never heard of it, you should trust me and go experience it for yourself. With all of the intricate shining tiles of all different colours adorning the old houses, light reflects in every direction and creates a warm diffused glow. The light is especially spectacular in the late afternoon and early evening as the sun starts to wind down it’s day and slowly falls into the Atlantic Ocean for the night.

Below I have selection of my favourite photos from my time in Lisbon early in 2016. I hope they will entice you to visit Lisbon.

Enjoy!

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

As soon as I knew I was going to Nairobi, I knew that I wanted to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It is a well-known organization started back in 1977 that rescues abandoned or orphaned elephants (and rhinos), hand raises them and then reintegrates them back into the wild by the age of 10. Many of the elephant’s mothers have been killed by poachers for their ivory. Others have been left behind because they were injured or fell down a hole or well. Without it’s mother, a baby elephant can only live for a very short time. They are dependent on their mother’s milk for the first two years of life. The Sheldricks started rescuing the animals and eventually found a formula to give the babies the milk they needed to grow and thrive.

When the elephants are reintegrated into the wild, they join other past orphaned elephants raised by the Trust and have an extended family. However, they also share the land with wild herds. One of the most exciting things is that they then are able to have families of their own which increases the dwindling population. This is a main part of why the Trust has won world-wide acclaim for it’s Elephant and Rhino orphan project.

When I visited, they had 24 baby elephants (up to 2 years old) at the orphanage and some who were over two, but under 10 years old. While one of the Trust’s employees told visitors about the orphanage and introduced each of the babies, the playful animals coated themselves in the red sand, drank from the water holes and approached the crowd a few times for short opportunities to pet them.

At lunch time, the handlers brought out large bottles of specially formulated milk to feed each of the babies. After their quick meal, a brief call and the elephants followed one of the handlers in single file out of the ring and off to enjoy the rest of their day, while the older ones galloped in to see the onlookers.

There were easily a couple hundred visitors for the hour long viewing that only takes place once per day. Although the presentation is from 11am – 12pm, ensure you arrive early so you can find yourself a spot close to the rope for optimal chance at interacting with the wee ones.

Here are a selection of photos from my time spent with the elephants in October 2016.

Journey to Africa

It was a warm October morning in Halifax and I awoke to my alarm at 5:15am. It was the day that I would take my first journey to Africa. Having done a considerable amount of travel in the past few years, you would think I would have the packing process perfected, but even after 33 different countries, I found myself fumbling around last minute to pack the last few things before I left my sister’s house for seven weeks.

Most international flights allow one checked bag of 25 kgs. I had managed to whittle mine down to 18.4 kgs, in a smaller suitcase than normal. I was still well over the recommended 15 kgs for small flights within Africa, but at least on this trip that wouldn’t be a concern.

I was excited to not be traveling alone, at least for the first part of my journey. It was a special treat to be sharing this journey with my sister. And, even better, most of the trip was free!

Free you say? How do you go to Africa for free?

In 2015 I entered a photo contest with On the Go Tours. It was open to the public and there were six or eight different prizes to be won. Having already been to several of the other locations that were being offered, I entered for the chance to go to Africa where I had never been before. For the next six months I relentlessly reminded my friends and family to vote on my photo entry. (Thank you everyone!)

Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Family Portraits

In February 2016 while out on a hike with my friend Tina from Germany who was visiting me in the Algarve region of Portugal, I received the very exciting news that I had won the Zebras and Zanzibar Tour prize.

The prize was flights for two to Africa and the 11 day Zebras and Zanzibar itinerary. I had never done much hard core backpacking, so this would be quite an adventure touring Kenya and Tanzania in dorms and tents. As part of the terms and conditions, of course the prize winner was required to take photos of the tour and do a write up on their experience. (coming soon)

I wasn’t long contacting my sister to tell her that I had won and ask if she was interested in joining me. With a husband and two children, I honestly didn’t think she would say yes, but she just couldn’t pass up travelling with me! Ok Ok, I’m sure the destination of Africa had something to do with it too.

Traveling with someone else always reminds me of the things in travel that are not new to me any more and are kind of a big deal. For example, large planes with three rows of three seats each, 13 hour flights, overhead bins that actually fit big items and open downward instead of the door flipping up and that not everyone has flown across ‘the pond’ (Atlantic ocean). My first foray across the pond was when I travelled to Germany and Poland with Coalition for kids International. And my first 12 hour + flight was when I visited Asia in 2012.

About 22 hours after leaving Halifax, Canada we landed in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite the obvious jet lag and sleepiness from a long travel day, I think it is fair to say we were both exceptionally excited to touch African soil for the first time.

More to come soon once I have a few photos, stories and first impressions to share!

Nomadic life in 2016

Robin and Shari Istanbul

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my nomadic life, so I’ll catch everyone up a little with an overview of the first six months of 2016.

In 2016, I started out in Istanbul, Turkey. I was there (and a friend was visiting me) when the first of several bombings of this year took place. It was surreal and sad, but not really scary. I think, in general the world is scary, but I was so well taken care of my my friends and contacts in Istanbul, that I never really felt scared for my own safety. I followed precautionary measures, staying away from the bomb site and avoiding the big tourist areas and large crowds, but other than that, I went about my daily life as did all of the locals.

Robin and Shari Istanbul

A few days after the bombing, where 12 German tourists were killed near the Blue Mosque, my friend from Germany came to visit and stay with me in Istanbul. She thought long and hard about it, but I am so glad that she didn’t let fear win. We had a great time exploring, despite the chilly, windy, rainy winter weather.

As my total visa-time for Turkey was running out (only allowed 90 days every 6 months), I packed a small bag and left it behind with some of my contacts in Istanbul. I didn’t want to carry my tripod and a few other random items around for the next couple of months. I had decided that I would be returning to Istanbul as soon as I was allowed by visa regulations, tentatively end of April, and I would stay until the end of May or June.

I had to leave Turkey, so I made plans to visit with my friends Victor and Carolina from Argentina, in Amsterdam at the beginning of February. We spent five great days exploring the city by foot and bicycle and ventured off to Ghent, Belgium as well. The weather sucked for almost all of the days, but the company was good!

Shari, Victor and Carolina

 

Then what?

Believe it or not, I had no plans. I just knew that I couldn’t go back to Turkey right away (re. visa) and I needed sunshine! I made a somewhat snap decision (booked my flight only 1 week in advance) to head to the Algarve region in Southern Portugal. Sadly, the weather wasn’t as sunny, warm and fabulous as expected and it was too laid back for me. Maybe going from 10 million people of Istanbul to a couple thousand in Albufeira, was a bit too extreme for me. I spent six weeks in the Algarve region and saw amazing sites, but I needed more people in my life!

Lagos, Portugal

To throw a (good) wrench in things, I had won a trip to Africa with On The Go tours. After months of asking people to vote on my photo, I actually won the trip. I had chosen the Zebras & Zanzibar trip when I entered the contest and it was now a reality! Wowza! A trip for two to Africa. Where was that going to fit in to all of this?

After a few weeks, I ventured to Lisbon for a little more upbeat living with more to explore and more people to meet. I decided to book an shared apartment for two weeks to begin with and from that point I would decide what I was doing. Would I return home early? Would I return to Istanbul as planned? Would I go to the Dominican Republic for some sunny days, friendly faces and Spanish classes?

Lisbon, Portugal
I fell in love with Lisbon, second only to Istanbul! After about one week in Lisbon, I booked my apartment for an additional four weeks. I had made the decision to stay in Lisbon instead of return to Istanbul. With several other bombings in those couple of months, I decided not to return to Istanbul at this time. Honestly, I felt pretty safe about going to Turkey, but I thought it would cause my friends and family undue stress if I was living there. Although I try not to live my life for other people, I don’t really want people to worry about me on a daily basis either.

I made new friends from Portugal, Denmark, Spain and Mexico. Lisbon was starting to feel like home. It was a place I could see myself living long term.

Shari, JuanFher and Paloma

On my last week in Lisbon, I began looking into the process of making it my home. I knew that I would return to Halifax first, but I wanted to know the process in case I wanted to make Lisbon my home-base. Basically, I found out that I had to do everything from Canada which was fine as I wasn’t ready to make any commitments.

I spent 11 weeks in Portugal and that pretty much ate up my 90 days in 6 months that I was allowed for ALL of the Schengen Area (most of Europe). Coming in to the middle of April, I was in decision mode again. Would I go back to Istanbul for a couple of months? Would I return to Halifax a couple of months early? I also briefly looked at non-Schengen countries in Europe, but the cost of flights there and then home deterred me. Besides, I figured I’d rather spend that money in Africa since I’d be headed there anyway!

Here’s another wrench, just to confuse things. In order to keep my NS Health care, I need to reside in Nova Scotia for 152 days of the year. Not consecutively, but throughout the year. Since I had been away from January until mid-April, and I would be going to Africa in the fall, I needed to ensure that I would have 152 days back in Halifax.

After lots of ‘date crunching’, the decision was finally made for me to return to Halifax at the end of April. I wanted to go back to Istanbul, but I had made the decision not to. I also didn’t want to leave Lisbon. I wanted a few more weeks, I wasn’t ready to go back to Halifax. It was just getting warm and beautiful on a daily basis in Lisbon and I knew that Halifax was a month (or more behind).

I made the responsible decision, to go back to Halifax in order to keep my health care valid. This also allowed me a little wiggle-room in case I wanted to stay in Africa (or elsewhere) until the end of 2016. I would be in Halifax for May through September and possibly part of October. This would give me more than my 152 days in province and then I could be on my way again.

I landed back in Halifax on April 28th and here I am, July 24th …. Where has the time gone? I certainly haven’t spent it taking in the sun because it’s been so cold, foggy and rainy, but today it’s sunny and I’m writing from the balcony of Humani-T cafe.

When you live nomadically, there is a lot of adventure, a lot of decisions, crazy emotions and fun, but you miss out on a lot of things too … like your sister’s wedding, your grandfather’s funeral and the passing of not one, but two of my past photo tour passengers who were both dear friends. I don’t want to stop travelling, but it definitely reminds me to be more present when I am spending time with people I care about.

I’m living with my sister, her husband, 16-year old step son and my two nieces in Hammonds Plains (which feels like the middle of nowhere after living in the centre of Istanbul and Lisbon). I’ve taken my nieces to the Shubenacadie wildlife park and swimming at a friend’s place. We’ve had a water balloon fight, played at the park and survived a week of me taking care of them when my sister went to Jamaica. I’ve gone running and biking with Samantha and helped Elizabeth learn how to skip rocks. I even caved and played Cranium with them all the other night after Samantha’s incessant begging! We’ve been to the beach a couple of times, but it’s been CHILLY! My parents visited for a few days and I’ll visit them in Fredericton in September as well when I go to the town I grew up in for my 20th high school reunion. Yikes!

I’ve gone running, walking, cycling and kayaking but not nearly enough of any of those!

I’ve seen most of my friends at least once in the last two and a half months sharing laughs, tears and lots of food! Most importantly I was home to see my friend Kevin receive a commendation for bravery and the adoption ceremony of one of my best friend’s kids. Deciding to come home early was definitely a good decision this time around and I’m so glad I could be here for both of those very important events.

Kevin's commendation Ceremony

I’ve taken portraits of my friend’s and client’s growing families. It’s always so nice to reconnect and to see the kids grow up and new ones growing in mama’s belly!

Ember and Sarah

I’ve done several speaking engagements, including Mo Monday’s where I spoke about my 1997 plane crash and several Travel Talks about different destinations. I’ve been interviewed for the radio about the events in Turkey and I’m about to have another paid travel article published (this time online).

Shari at Mo Monday's

I’ve taught my Goodbye Auto, Hello Manual Photography course and will be teaching a Composition course this coming week.

All at the same time, I seem to have done a lot and not nearly enough. Somehow two and a half months have passed and I only have two and a half left!

I’m wrapped up in trying to enjoy the sunshine when it makes an appearance and growing my business with new clients while I’m in Nova Scotia. I’m also planning my next 6 – 8 months of travel including a huge adventure and luxury travel conference this August in Las Vegas, as well as visiting the Grand Canyon and then I’m off to Africa with my sister in October for the trip I won! Who better to take than my sister?!

I’m happy to be in Halifax for five and a half months to spend time with friends and family. I’m happy to be in one house with my clothes unpacked, a fridge full of food (most of the time) and two cats! I’m not happy about the weather, my lack of connection to the city, the high prices of everything (compared to Asia and even Portugal) and the thought of summer being so darn short here!

I still feel a bit nomadic as I’m not in ‘my own’ place, but I have to admit that it is nice to have some extra clothing choices and the same bed every night.

It’s funny to feel nomadic when I’m technically ‘at home’, but with more adventures in my near future, I guess I’m not ready to settle down quite yet. We’ll see what 2017 says about that!

 

New Orleans Photo Essay

New Orleans architecture

In November 2010, I attended a photography conference in New Orleans. Years later, I still look back with incredibly fond memories of the people I met and the beauty within a city only a couple of years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I fell in love with New Orleans. I hope you’ll enjoy my New Orleans Photo Essay.

Mayan Riviera Photo Essay

Snorkelling with sea turtles, Mayan Riviera, Mexico

I’m not the biggest fan of resort travel, but I’ve done enough of them to know why such a huge portion of the population love them! For me, I’m not into the all-inclusive alcohol and I get bored sitting on the beach all day. So, when I go on a resort vacation, like this one to the Grand Sirenis Mayan Riviera, I have to get out and have some adventures! The Mayan Riviera is full of great adventures to be had from visiting the Tulum or Chichen Itza ruins, snorkelling, rappelling or zip lining into cenotes and amazing theme parks like Xcaret. Don’t stay on the resort the entire time, get out and enjoy everything the Mayan Riviera has to offer! Hope you’ll enjoy these Mayan Riviera photos. Feel free to ask me about the Grand Sirenis Mayan Riviera Resort. I’ve visited twice and loved it both times!

Small Group Travel – Middle Agers

Photo Tour 2013 in Peru

As a travel agent over the past few years, I’ve heard all the excuses. The general consenses is that small group travel means 50 seniors on a big coach bus going at a turtle’s pace, following a colorful umbrella and stopping at each boring monument.

Please, let me educate you on a whole world of small group travel options that you are missing out on because of this widespread misconception! Please, open your mind for a few minutes and let me share with you my personal and professional experiences.

What if I told you that you can have a super-fun, yet still relaxing, vacation that combines the best of travel without all of the stress of planning it and booking every single minuscule detail?

What if I told you it doesn’t matter if you are single, in a relationship, married or divorced that travel is for everyone?

What if I told you that people from 18 – 99 travel in groups by the thousands every year with other people around their age and with similar interests?

What if I told you that you can travel anywhere in the world and never HAVE to be alone? (although if you choose to be, you certainly can)

I’ve done my fair share of solo travel over the last few years. In fact, I’m sure that’s what most of you think I do all the time, but that’s not true! I’ve been on several amazing small group tours in the last four years as well, not to mention a whole bunch of day tours that I adored!

Myanmar – Tucan Travel
Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand – G Adventures
Chile & Argentina – Intrepid Travel
Belize – G Adventures (this itinerary is now a National Geographic Journey.)

There is small group travel for everyone and some are specific to an interest, such as photography or cycling. Others are specific age groups, such as 19 – 20 somethings or seniors. Then there is a whole world of options for the middle agers, as well as for the mature 20 somethings and the extra active 60 – 70 somethings.

I hear these comments all the time …

“I can do it on my own.”
* Yes, you can. And, if you want to because you want to prove to yourself that you can, that’s great. However, if you simply don’t know the other options, you should learn why they are so awesome. Group travel isn’t any less adventurous, less rewarding or less worthy. It is often less stressful and better value though!

“I can do the same thing for cheaper.”
* Hmmmm …… No, actually you can’t. You might be able to book your flights, accommodations and entrance fees to the sites for slightly cheaper than a group tour, but you won’t have a local guide with you to share his or her stories and opinions (which, in my opinion is worth far more than the $200 bucks you saved and all of the hours it took you to book everything online!) You may or may not have a qualified guide to explain each of those sites you paid to get in to. You probably won’t have any meals included (maybe breakfast). Are you skilled at paying off people at the border to let you into a new country without a hassle? hmmm … And, if things go wrong at any step of the way, you are on your own. So, yes, you can book ‘something’ for cheaper, but NO, it will never be the same.

“I don’t want to travel with strangers.” (My favourite)
* So, you think you already know everyone you are going to see in the new country? (sarcasm). If you don’t want to travel with strangers, why are you traveling at all? If you want to be surrounded with your old familiar friends, that’s great, stay home. But, as soon as you head to the airport, you are with strangers (sorry to break it to ya). So, embrace the fact that you are surrounded by strangers, get out of your comfort zone and get to know them.

Oh, you meant you “don’t want to travel with other travellers”. You want to meet locals.
Alright, so I agree, traveling in a group of other travellers is not the same as meeting locals. However, if you think you are just going to arrive in a new country and locals are going to flock to you and become your friend, well …. it’s not really like that. It takes work to get to know the locals. So, if you are the extroverted type who can go hang out at a bar and talk up the bartender, or you go to the same market every day and chat with the lady selling fruit, that’s great. Not everyone can do that and don’t forget about the language barriers. If you think that you are getting to ‘know’ the locals by going to an all-inclusive resort … don’t forget, they are being paid to serve you. Chew on that for a few minutes. Is that what getting to know the locals looks like to you?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent lots of time with amazing locals in many countries, but personally, I find it takes a lot of effort and a lot more than just five or six days to get to know people. Most times you have one encounter with a local. It might last five minutes or five hours, but you can hardly really understand an entire culture in that amount of time. You are only just scratching the surface.

Traveling with other travellers isn’t a bad thing! You get to learn about cultures and people from all over the world while you explore a destination that you are all interested in. You meet new friends (which you can then go visit in their countries – they are ‘locals in their own country you know!) and you have that little bit of comfort in knowing someone nearby likely understands why you are uncomfortable with the thought of eating a bug, a worm or spider.

“You’re so good at traveling by yourself. Why would you want to ruin that with a group tour?”
* Traveling solo is tough. It’s a whole other blog post (or series). Yes, I love my freedom and my alone time, but I also hate being lonely, going to dinner by myself and often being overwhelmed at the ‘newness’ of everything. Sometimes, it is just better to be with people who are seeing things for the first time with you. And, sometimes it is just a whole lot easier when someone else is in charge and deals with any mishaps or problems that arise! So, yes, I love traveling solo, but every time I’ve taken a group tour I’ve loved my experience and appreciated that things were just taken care of for me. I’ve also always loved my local guides and picked their brains for all kinds of information for further travel in their homeland … you know, the things you don’t find on the internet and in the guide books!

So, just what happens on one of these group tours?

For starters, most of them run in a similar fashion but all have their key features. In general, what will happen is you’ll meet with your group and tour leader on day 1. You’ll likely go out for a group dinner to get to know each other and go over the itinerary for your tour. Often (although not planned) this will turn into your first night on the town with your new friends, exploring the local bars or street foods. Sometimes your local leader will join you and other times, they will direct you to the best local spots, avoiding the tourist traps. You are not obligated to take part by any means, but it is a great way to get to know the people you’ll be traveling with. I’m not a drinker, but I often join in on the first night out just to chat with people.

Itineraries vary a great deal depending on destination and level of activity, but I can tell you from both personal experience and from selling hundreds of group tours, that there is something for everyone.

You’ll have a mix of included activities and free time. You’ll have some timelines that must be followed (for example 8am in the lobby to catch your 10am flight). And then other times your leader will say ‘this isn’t in the itinerary, but how do you feel about … ?’ However, don’t get wrapped up in thinking that you are tied to the group the entire time. Often the group will have a guided tour and then free time to explore further on your own, or with other group members. Often tour leaders will give options for free time, but that doesn’t mean you have to do any of them. Almost all tours have half or full free days scheduled in for you to take in specific activities of interest, to relax, shop or explore. Group tours are a good mixture of having friends and organization, but having freedom to do your own thing as well.

Picture yourself exploring a turtle sanctuary on a beautiful Costa Rican beach, hiking the inca trail in Peru, swimming with turtles and rays Mexico, meeting local farmers and helping with their harvest in Vietnam, hot air ballooning over Love Valley, Turkey, searching for the big five on a safari in Africa, enjoying wine tastings in France or Italy, climbing to the top of ancient ruins in Belize … the list goes on and on. And you don’t have to do it alone!

When I’m on a group tour and there is free time, I’m the first to go off on my own and do my own thing. I’m an introvert, so after two or three days spending a lot of time with a group, I find I need my own time. However, many of the people in my past groups have become great friends and spent all of their free time with other members of the group, exploring common interests in the new destination. It’s your choice. Go with new friends or chill on your own. Read a book in the sun or play cards with your new mates! Whatever makes your vacation perfect, that’s what you should do! Your local guide will be around to help you make plans and book tours whether you go it alone or in a group of new friends.

On the last night of the tour, there is usually another group dinner to enjoy the local food and beverages, which often turns into an evening outing drinking beer or wine with your new friends. It all depends on the group whether this becomes a wild and crazy goodbye party or a few friends at the pub sharing laughs. And, believe me, I’ve seen many a 50 or 60 year old have one too many and the 29 year old heads off to bed early. You just never know! And then the next morning, everyone parts ways to return home or continue on their journey.

It paints a little different picture than a group of 50 seniors on a coach bus stopping at monuments, right? And, I should point out that the 30 to 50 somethings love to nap on buses, likely more so than the seniors!

No matter what you are looking for, or where in the world you want to travel, don’t ever think that doing it on your own is the only option! It is AN option and many people love doing the research, the challenge of struggling with the language barriers, paying off police officers and border crossing guards, finding their way in a new land on their own. Many people love the challenge of saying they survived all of the obstacles. But, for many, all of the unknown is enough to make them want to stay home.

What I’m saying to you is get out there and travel. If you want to do it on your own, do it! If you’re apprehensive about doing it on your own, go with a group. And, don’t let your ‘do it yourself’ friend convince you that group tours suck. Group tours might suck for them, but might be perfect for you. After all, the same ‘do it yourself’ friend is probably great at fixing the electrical and plumbing in his / her house too, does that mean that you are?

Have you travelled on a small group tour before? Drop me a note in the comments about where you went and what you loved about your group!

If you are interested in exploring the plethora of options for group tours out there, get in touch. I’d love to help you, your friends or your parents get away and see something new in this beautiful world of ours!

Contact me by phone 902.402.7646 or email.

Loule, Portugal Carnaval 2016 – Photo Essay

When I decided that I would head to the Algarve region of Portugal, I hadn’t even considered the fact that I would be visiting during Carnival festivities. About two days before departing Amsterdam for Faro, I learned that Loule, a community inland was known for hosting the oldest and largest Carnival in the Algarve region. With it being only 45 minutes or so away from Albufeira, I would have to make my way there to see the celebrations!

I walked 20 minutes to the bus terminal on the outskirts of town and arrived just in time for the 10:10am bus to Loule. I jumped on the bus behind a man toting a Canada flag on his back pack and immediately struck up a conversation with him and his three traveling companions. Turns out, one couple was from Halifax, Nova Scotia and the other from Miramichi, New Brunswick. Small world! We chatted away through the 45 minute bus ride and in no time at all we had arrived in the little city of Loule.

I headed in to the centre of town which was about a 10 minute walk from the terminal. I made the obligatory stop at the information centre to get a town map and a couple of pointers and then I wandered around taking photos of the historical old town and observing local life for the next couple of hours.

By 12:30, it had started to rain and I had seen pretty much all there was to see in the historic centre. It’s a pretty small area. I headed for lunch and wondered what I was possibly going to do with myself until 3pm when the parade would commence. After an underwhelming lunch of rice and two small chicken thighs that the restaurant ‘called’ chicken piri piri, I wandered around a bit more and then sat down for dessert at La Boehm Cafe. The warm brownie and hot chocolate warmed my spirits up and left me more satisfied than the sad little lunch I had eaten.

By 2:15pm it was raining again (or still) and I made my way to the parade route with my camera around my neck, my backpack rain protected and my umbrella above my head. I was awkward at best trying to use my camera and an umbrella at the same time. Luckily I didn’t take anyone’s eye out.

By 2:30pm the streets were lined with locals and tourists and the floats were starting to fill with participants. Media had arrived to interview and film the oldest carnival celebration in the Algarve region and bands were warming up with their samba beats. The build up of music and energy was infectious and I stood on the street tapping my feet and grinning. (Don’t mistake the ‘tapping my feet’ for anything near samba dancing though!)

Right on time, at 3pm, the music blared and the streets came alive with energy and colors.
The rain had subsided momentarily and the drummers and dancers were getting the feel for the beat as the parade began. Confetti and streamers were already dancing in the wind, filling the trees, streets and hair of everyone around with colourful reminders of the day.

Despite the chilly temperature of about 14 degrees, not to mention the wind and misty rains, lots of the performers put on radiant smiles and shared their energy and love of carnival with the crowd. Having said that, there were quite a few who couldn’t muster smiles through the rain. Some of the kids were pretty cold and not so happy to be there. I chose to focus on the excited ones though, so here’s a look at Carnaval 2016 in Loule from my perspective. Hope you enjoy!

 

Life is unpredictable

Sultanahmet square

 

Sultanahmet square
Obelisk in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, where the suicide bomber attacked in Jan 2016. 10 people killed. 15 injured.

In the old city of Istanbul, adjacent to Blue Mosque, stands the Obelisk. This photo was taken only a couple of days after the January 2016 suicide bomber killed 10 people and injured 15 others.

I was not in that part of the city when it happened. I did not hear or feel the bomb go off. It was a strong blast, but was only felt in the immediate area. A week later, it looks like most of the world has already forgotten about it and moved on to other news.

I was in Istanbul, only a few kilometres away, when the bomb went off. My local friends immediately began messaging me to make sure I was safe and to tell me to stay home, or at least out of crowded areas. I was shocked and saddened, but not really scared.

After the bombing, I never once considered leaving the city because of the events. I actually didn’t want to leave at all. I felt like I had the opportunity to show people that expats are alive and well in Istanbul and it is not a scary place to be. Yes, there was a bomb, but you can’t just run away from what ‘might’ happen next. Unfortunately my visa was nearing it’s end and I had to leave the country or I’d be there illegally.

The truth is, our world is a scary place. There are terrorist attacks, bombings, traffic accidents, murders, thieves, plane crashes and incurable diseases. All of these things are unpredictable.

Life itself is unpredictable.

I know many people are scared to travel, but to what end? I cannot stress enough what a negative impact the media has on travel. So many people believe that the entirety of Turkey is a dangerous place to be. When, in fact, the only areas that have strict travel advisories are along the borders with Syria. The other communities and cities are every bit as safe as any other large city in any destination, such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Buenos Aires in Argentina or Barcelona in Spain.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but cities are not safe … ever. It is just that simple. There is petty crime, tourist crime, murders and traffic accidents in every single city. Then there are the mafia, drug crime and bombs … the list of ‘bad’ goes on. However, the stats show clearly, that the number of people killed by terrorist activities are far less than that from traffic accidents. Many more people are killed from hand guns than bombings. And let’s not forget traffic accidents. If you are operating a vehicle in Canada, you are more likely to be killed than by traveling to Istanbul or Paris or Jakarta.

Perspective …  There is no advance notice of either a traffic accident or a bomb and therefore you can’t purposely change your location to avoid it.

In the end, what I am saying is that you shouldn’t stop traveling to an entire country because a bomb has gone off in one small area of one city. Avoiding all of Istanbul because of the bomb in the Old City is like avoiding all of Prince Edward Island because a bomb went off in the centre of Charlottetown. Is that reasonable?

Isn’t it also amazing that the CITY of Istanbul is the same area as the entire province of PEI? Holy!

With that in mind, would you avoid all of Atlantic Canada because a bomb went off in Charlottetown? No, of course you wouldn’t. That would be ridiculous. But, if you are avoiding Turkey because of the bomb in Istanbul or because of the problems along the borders with Syria, it is the same thing. Media would have you believe that Turkey is a dangerous place and makes it seem so small, but it is not. There are hundreds of kilometres between Istanbul and the capital of Ankara. There are hundreds of kilometres between either of those cities and the borders with Syria and Iraq. Don’t let media scare you!

I ask you to remember the innocent lives lost in these tragedies around the world (Paris, Jakarta, Istanbul, 9-11, hurricane Katrina … the list goes on), but please do not stop living your life because of unpredictable circumstances. You might stay home for fear of a suicide bomb, just to find out that you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. You might avoid flying because of two recent severe turbulence incidents, just to end up in a car accident.

I don’t say these things lightly. They are spoken from experience and from the heart. I was in a plane crash in Fredericton, NB in 1997. I let that hold me back for over 10 years. For 10 years I missed out on incredible opportunities to see the world. I lived in fear of getting back on a plane.

I am here telling you that life is precious and unpredictable. Do not let your fear of the unknown keep you from living, tasting, touching, feeling all of the amazing things our great big beautiful world has to offer.

I am thankful to be alive. Thankful that my life has changed and that fear does not reign any longer. I am thankful to have been in the beautiful city of Istanbul to share my experiences with you first hand.

Travel. See the world. Enjoy the beauty that surrounds us on your own terms. Don’t let the unpredictable control your life.

With love, and passion for travel … from Istanbul,

Shari