Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate

My luggage

In continuation of my Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love, not everything went so well on my journey from Canada to Panama in December 2016.

While being pampered in Air Canada Premium Rouge class with extra snacks and upgraded food, I advised staff that I was supposed to connect to a flight to Panama but that it had likely already departed. They told me there were a few others on the flight with the same connection and that there was no current update, but we could talk to Air Canada staff after we cleared immigration, about any arrangements that needed to be made.

This is where my luck ran out and everything went downhill fast (or maybe slow would be a better description).

I was the third person off the plane and second person in line to go through immigration when we arrived in Kingston, Jamaica. The officer checked over my passport, asked me a few questions and asked for my boarding passes. When she discovered that my connecting flight had already departed, that’s where the real ‘fun’ began. She asked me where I would be staying. I explained to her that I needed to find an Air Canada rep in order to find that information out. I also told her that I was told there would be someone to speak to after I picked up my luggage (which was after immigration). She would have nothing to do with it. She told me she couldn’t let me pass until I could tell her where I was staying. I tried to explain my case again but no luck. I told her there were others in the same situation and that I thought they had already passed through, but she stood her ground. She kept my passport even though I pleaded to have it back and sent me to the back of the hall to an information desk where ‘apparently’ I could talk to ‘someone’.

The information desk was unattended, but I hollered ‘hello’ and heard an ‘I’ll be there.’ So, I waited. A nice lady come to the front, but unfortunately I wasn’t my normal chipper self, having just had my passport held and denied entry into the country that I wasn’t even supposed to be staying in. She called an Air Canada rep over the intercom no less than five times. Eventually a lady sauntered over (I’m still not sure if she worked for Air Canada or not). I explained the situation, including that I didn’t have any information on my connecting flight as we were just arriving and Air Canada had not given us any information. Further to that, I couldn’t get past immigration to find out if my flight had already departed or find a rep to discuss my situation. The lady was quiet. Not mean or unhelpful, just not very communicative. She made a couple of calls and told me that Air Canada had arranged for all of us to stay at Pegasus hotel for the night, but that we would have to call Aeroplan (because each of us were flying on points redemptions) to rebook our flights. Apparently we could do that after customs and immigration. She told me to bring my passport and come with her, to which I had to re-explain that the immigration officer held my passport and wouldn’t give it back.

Off the two of us went to the desk to get my passport back and sort this out. Except, the immigration officer didn’t just need where I would be staying, she also wanted to know which flight I would be departing on. Now, I understand that to be let into a country they want to know when you are leaving. This is a fairly standard rule. But, my frustrations were ever compounding because Air Canada had not rebooked my flights or provided any information. At that particular moment in time I was stuck in a country being denied entry, but also not able to make any further arrangements. And, I’m not in possession of my own passport. Of course they wanted me to call Air Canada Reservations right then to get flights sorted. Um no. I was not paying roaming charges from Jamaica to call Air Canada and wait on hold to sort this out. There had to be another solution. After all it wasn’t my fault that the weather was bad, the connections were missed and Air Canada left us to fend for ourselves.

The lady who was trying to help me disappeared without a word (would she return? I didn’t know). I connected with two of the other passengers who were just about to try their luck going through immigration. And then the lady came back, asking us all to come to one specific immigration desk. Except, the immigration officer still wouldn’t give me my passport. I waited for her to finish with the next client and saunter her way over to the other desk. One of the other girls who had been on my flight had actually been sent to a holding room without any information or her passport and she was just rejoining us.

In the end, we all made it through immigration somehow and were told to go to counter 41 after we had our luggage. There we would find a phone and could call the Air Canada rep to come out and talk to us about our hotel, transfer and hopefully our new flights.

You may remember in Part 1 I talked about how much luggage there was for all of the Jamaicans heading home from Canada after Christmas. Passengers had too much carry on luggage that was then put into checked luggage, plus, I’m sure more than half the plane had two bags (or boxes) per person. It was a steady flow of luggage coming along the belt, but it went on for an hour or more before they loaded the last piece. The other passengers that had missed their connection had gathered their luggage about 45 minutes into the process and left to see what they could find out about their flights and transfers. I told them I’d catch up as I suspected my luggage didn’t make the connection in Toronto and I would have to file a lost baggage claim.

My luggage
Last seen when I took this photo in Halifax Dec 29th at 3:45am

I waited for the belt to stop and the remaining bags were removed from the belt. Mine was nowhere to be seen, so off to the baggage counter I went. Go figure, it was unstaffed. I asked another staff member if there was an Air Canada rep around and she said ‘Ya, someone was here,’ and then turned her back to continue her conversation with a colleague. A minute later I approached her again and asked, as politely as I could after all of this, ‘Could you please help me find the Air Canada baggage rep?’ She sighed, started asking a few people and slogged off looking to see if she could track someone down.

When I turned around, there were now four or five others lined up at the Air Canada desk. A few minutes later, I jostled my way back to the counter when the rep finally arrived. I gathered the required paperwork to fill out and quickly returned it to the desk, anxious to get out of there and on to the next obstacle.

Although I was the first person to hand over my paperwork, somehow I was the second last person in the line to have my paperwork completed. Seems as though mine was more difficult, or maybe I had someone new working on my file. After a good 20 – 30 minutes at the counter, I was sent to stand in a line up to go through customs with a piece of paper saying my luggage had been lost. Thankfully they had created a separate line up for us because 100+ Jamaicans were still waiting in the customs line up to have their luggage approved for entry. I’ve seriously never seen so much luggage!

I had no issues at the customs desk, returned the piece of paper to the baggage claim area and made my way out the doors, officially into the heat of Jamaica.  Now the hunt was on for counter 41 where I hoped my fellow displaced passengers would be waiting for me, although I was a little skeptical as I had been well over an hour longer than them in the baggage area. After checking with the info desk, I was directed a few hundred meters away to the departures area where I would find counter 41 and my ‘pals’ waiting for me. Apparently they had come looking for me a couple of times but weren’t allowed back into the baggage area, so they just had to wait for me to appear. They had used the phone and spoken to an Air Canada rep who had told them that we would be staying at a different hotel, the Knutsford Court Hotel and we would all be transferred there as soon as I arrived. They had tried to make arrangements for their flights, but there wasn’t a phone available for use for that purpose, so it would have to wait until we got to the hotel.

Of course, the Air Canada rep had gotten tired of waiting for me (for over an hour) and had gone on break or to do something else and told the others to call through on the phone when I arrived. Because I already told you that the story keeps getting worse, it’ll be no surprise that dialling through on the phone line got nothing but a busy signal for the next 15 – 20 minutes while we continued to wait and had no contact with the rep and no way to call our transfer driver to take us to the hotel.

One of the other passengers went to talk to staff from another airline and ask for help. I asked one of the airport staff to help us and eventually the Air Canada rep appeared again. She called our transfer driver, introduced us to him and as we were about to load our luggage into the vehicle, she realized he wasn’t the right driver, so she re-introduced us to someone else. Gah! Seriously?

The five of us piled into two different vehicles and off we went in what we hoped were the correct vehicles, going to the correct hotel. We had touched down at around 4pm local time and it was now after 7:30pm as we were arriving at the hotel.

Check in at the hotel went smoothly, thank goodness as just about all of us were ready to burst from frustration. The hotel even offered to let us use the business centre phones to call Air Canada to sort out our flights for the next day. Unfortunately Air Canada and Aeroplan 1-800 numbers don’t work from International phone lines and they don’t provide a regular number. One couple had a travel roaming package for their cell phone, but that also wouldn’t help because the 1-800 number still didn’t work from Jamaica. Frustrations mounted even higher. We had really been left in the lurch.

I was slightly less panicked than the rest of the people as I knew I would be able to use Skype to call the 1-800 number. (One of the many useful pieces of information I’ve learned while being a digital nomad.) I told the others, but of course not all of them had Skype, or laptops. I offered for everyone to come to my room and we could try to do all of the changes at once, if the internet connection would hold.

One of the girls dropped by just as I was dialling Aeroplan as we had been advised they were the ones that would have to take care of it for us. We waited on hold for 1 hour, 16 minutes and 12 seconds (Skype shows me these stats). At about 45 minutes, one of the other girls came to visit and said that she had messaged her parents in Toronto. They weren’t able to get through to Aeroplan because of the long wait time, but they had gotten through to Air Canada and her flight was all taken care of for the next day’s departure. She was in the clear. As we continued to wait on hold with Aeroplan, I had the idea to call the travel agent line from Air Canada. Originally I hadn’t thought of it because we were told to call Aeroplan specifically. (Good thing I just did 10+ hours of Air Canada certification training to help my agency keep access to this special service line because it sure came in handy!)

Air Canada Certificate

About 30 minutes later, the staff at our travel agent line had my flight and one of the other girl’s flights all taken care of. There were a couple of glitches, such as the internet cutting out and dropping the call … but in the end, a second call, even with a different agent on the line and everything was sorted.

What a relief, right?

We headed down to have dinner at the hotel restaurant at close to 9pm and the last couple of people still hadn’t found a way to contact Air Canada as the 1-800 numbers weren’t working from Jamaica. I went and ordered my food and then came back to check on them to see if they had found another number. They hadn’t. I called the 1-800 number for them via Skype on my phone and advised there would be quite a wait time. I left them with my cell phone hoping the internet connection would hold and went back to have my dinner.

Unbelievably, an hour later when I was done dinner, the poor lady was still on hold. Actually, she had spoken to someone, gotten nowhere and was back on hold. It was a never-ending story for these folks.

I jumped on Skype on my computer while she continued to hold on my phone. I called the travel agent line again and had it sorted for her in another 20 minutes. Meanwhile she had still gotten nowhere with the phone call she had been on for a total of 1 hour, 42 minutes and 7 seconds.

What a disaster.

Finally, around 11pm, all five of us were sorted with new flights for the next day. Our transfer had been arranged and with any luck, we would arrive in Panama City 24 hours later than planned.

Just when you think the story has a happy ending …

With a good night’s sleep under our belts, we headed to the airport on time and there were no line ups to check in at the Copa desk (one of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners). The first couple checked in with no problem. Done. Ready to go. The other two girls were at separate desks. One agent was asking for the girl’s proof of departure from Panama. At the other counter, the agent was telling the other girl that she could only check one bag and that her second bag would cost $125 USD to check through to Panama. This was after the bags had arrived in Jamaica without any fee. The real kicker on this though was that her second suitcase was full of items that she was planning to donate when she arrived in Panama.

At this point, my lost luggage was actually a blessing in disguise. Imagine! Since I had no luggage to check with me, I was able to check her second bag as my own for no cost. Problem solved … until they had difficulties finding my newly booked flight! Seriously, the complications just don’t stop!

I’ve got to say though, that between all of us being rested and in better state of mind and the Copa Airlines staff who were super helpful, these issues were handled much better than those of the very long day before.

While I’m now checking-in luggage for my new friend and the Copa Airlines staff are trying to get my ticket to appear on their system, the girl at the other counter is stuck with the same problem … her ticket won’t appear on their system. Thankfully the Copa staff were proactive and started talking to the manager, conversing with Air Canada and making sure it got fixed rather than leaving us to sort it out on our own. What should have taken five minutes for us all to check in, took 30+. A big thank you Copa Airlines for doing what it took to find the problems, correct them and get us all on that flight.

Fast forward …

We boarded the flight to Panama on time, it was smooth sailing and we finally arrived in Panama City. I was hoping that my luggage would have been sent on the same flight routing as the day before and that just maybe, it might be on the baggage belt with everyone else’s. No such luck. I waited until the end of the luggage unloading and then went to baggage services just in case they had marked it and pulled it before it went around the belt as it would have been traveling unaccompanied. Again, no luck, but they gave me phone numbers to call and check on the status.

This incredibly long story started on Thursday, Dec 29th, 2016 when I left my sister’s house at 3:15am. Tonight as I’m writing the final few sentences, the fiasco is still living on with me as my luggage is currently MIA. It’s now Monday, January 2nd at 11pm.

I’ve been able to confirm that it was *supposed* to be sent to Kingston, Jamaica on Dec 30th. Not much of a confirmation as no one can tell me if it actually arrived there or not. I’ve been authorized by Air Canada to spend $100 USD on essentials which they will reimburse me for. And, I’ve been advised to call back in 24 hours. Apparently, although they take all of your contact information (at home, in destination, hotel address and phone number, email addresses) they tell me that I will not be contacted with an update on when to expect it to arrive. It’s still my job to continue following up. In fact, the agent’s exact quote was worth noting ‘You’ll definitely be contacted sometime maybe, but you should call back to follow up.’ #CustomerServiceFail

Air Canada and Aeroplan, if you are reading this … all five of the customers (including myself) who have gone through this ordeal deserve an apology, some kind of compensation for the hours of hold time, stress of being at an unplanned destination overnight, being denied entry into the country with little to no assistance and left to rebook flights on our own. So much of this could have been avoided if our flights were proactively rebooked for the next day and the information had been communicated to the staff in Kingston, Jamaica. Since hotels arrangements were made for each of us and that was communicated … I’m left wondering why the flights weren’t?

And, because it’s January 2nd and I’d like to start the year on a positive note, I’m very thankful to be in Panama City (finally) and have met a couple of great new Canadian friends! Although sanity was lost during the process, new friendships have been gained.

Ever had a travel nightmare of your own? Did you file a complaint with the company / companies involved? Did they ever respond? Leave me some comments!

River Cruise 101

Douro River, Portugal

River Cruising

For the past couple of years, the river cruise industry has been booming. What once was only for the retired and wealthy, has become a bucket list trip for many and a trendy way to travel for 21 – 45 year olds. It is not just for 60 plus anymore! Be careful though, it’s addictive! You may think it’s a once in a lifetime trip, but river cruise companies boast incredibly high repeat business stats which means you may find yourself floating down a different river each year!

Don’t be surprised if your friends are talking about their amazing vacations on the rivers of Europe, or the excitement of an upcoming trip! You’ll probably hear them swoon about the mouthwatering food, the free-flowing local wines along with the castles and quaint towns to get lost in. It’s a picture perfect get-away.

Why choose river cruising over ocean cruising
River and Ocean cruises have a few things in common, but yet a few big distinctions too. If you are looking to only unpack once and visit various ports, both options have you covered. You can even choose from standard ships to ultra-luxury and various room categories from small porthole windows to balconies or the Captain’s suite, depending on your budget.

Although millions of people take ocean cruises each year, more and more people are looking to River Cruising for a more intimate, cultural experience, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. Companies are adding new ships each year to keep up with the demand.

Here is what you can look forward to on your first River Cruise:

Destinations – One of the biggest draws of River Cruising is the opportunity to visit smaller, lesser-known ports along the waterways. While many River Cruises start and finish in big cities such as Amsterdam, Porto, Paris or Budapest, you’ll also be treated to smaller cities and unique excursions along the way. In France you might take a steam train ride in Tournon or visit an olive farm in Arles. You might do a Medieval City tour in Nuremburg, Germany or taste port wines in Pinhao, Portugal. And, did you know that you can do River Cruising in Asia, Russia and Africa too?

Food & Drinks – Be prepared for a culinary treat. You’ll be dazzled with a fresh variety of delectable creations, often made with local produce and meats that the chefs shop for along the way. Each meal will be unique and paired with local wines. Every night will be a fine dining experience for your taste buds, but rest assured, you can dress comfortably and casually. No need for a suit and tie!

The Atmosphere – You’ll find only 100 – 200 passengers per ship on a river cruise in comparison to 3000 – 5000 on an average cruise ship. Think of an ocean cruise as a floating city filled with lots of activities and people. Think of River cruise as a quaint community. There will still be great experiences and activities, but they’ll be more cultural and intimate, less Vegas. You won’t find a disco or a casino on your river cruise, but you will be treated to top-notch local entertainment from nearby communities. And, you’ll also have the opportunity to stay in port some evenings to enjoy the nightlife, a rare find on an ocean cruise itinerary.

The Views – Instead of whiling your time away staring at miles and miles of ocean, sit back and relax with the ever-changing views of rolling hills, Medieval Towns and grand castles slowly drifting by your floor to ceiling windows while you sip a glass of regional wine.

Ah! Doesn’t that sound perfectly relaxing?

With the appeal of visiting several ports, but only unpacking once and the option to explore smaller cities on foot, bicycle or by tour … no wonder river cruising is one of the hottest trends in travel!

What are you waiting for?

INSIDER INFO:

Local wines, beers and spirits are often included with your meals, but make sure you know if they are for purchase outside of meal times or included. Each company does it differently.

Did you know that some ships will pack a gourmet picnic lunch for you to take ashore?

River cruises often sell out nine months to a year in advance, so you’ll find better deals for an early booking bonus rather than a late space special.

Need help deciding what River Cruise is best for you or finding the best value for your hard earned money? Let’s set up a time to chat by phone, or drop me an email. I’ll be happy to help you with your dream vacation!

Phone: 902 402 7646

Email: stucker@tpi.ca

 

Douro River, Portugal
Douro River, Portugal

Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love

Air Canada Premium Rouge Menu

Anyone who travels regularly has had the unpleasant experience of delayed flights, lost luggage and bad customer service combining into various kinds of travel nightmares. Sadly, this is just part of the travel world. No matter how much preparation you do, you can’t control the weather, mechanical breakdowns, human error or just plain rudeness. All you can do is try to approach it all with kindness.

Errrrrr … hmmm ….

Great advice right? I tried. Really I did.

I’ve been delayed for flights before. I can recall a time when I was leaving for Asia and my flight was delayed due to fog in Halifax. The flights from the night before hadn’t arrived, so we couldn’t fly out. Mass chaos ensued, but being a travel agent, I managed to get a flight later that day with a different routing. United Airways was telling everyone no flights out of Halifax to anywhere for five days as they were booked solid, but I found the options that they were not willing to look for.

I’ve had flights delayed and ended up staying over in Houston, TX on my way to Belize. I’ve had flights cancelled in The Philippines due to political conferences and had to rebook. I’ve been diverted to Quebec city on the way home from Mexico only seconds before landing in Halifax.

I’ve lost my luggage on the way to Peru, on the way home from Mexico, while traveling to Namibia and most recently, on my way to Panama.

You’d think I’d be an expert at things going wrong. But, let me tell you, no amount of travel experience prepares you for all of those things happening in one day and being met with unsympathetic and unhelpful people.

On Dec 29th, 2016 I woke up at 2:45am to gather my last few things before my 3:15am pick up from the lovely folks at One Stop Limo. Thank goodness they are reliable because it is about the only thing that went right all day long! I arrived, got my luggage tags, checked my luggage which was thankfully under the weight limit and cleared security in a jiffy. All the signs of the beginnings of a great trip!

Flight 603 to Toronto for 5:25am boarded pretty close to on time and pushed back only about 10 minutes late to head for de-icing. All normal for traveling in Canadian winter. The flight was smooth until we started our initial descent into Toronto. The captain had warned us that there was weather moving in and that we might hit a bit of turbulence on the way in to land. We did indeed begin to feel a bit of turbulence, but really quite mild all in all. We took a couple of big turns and just as I was beginning to think that we had done a full circle, sure enough the Captain came over the speaker again to advise that weather had moved into Toronto earlier than expected. Snowfall had accumulated and they were clearing the runways with a backlog of traffic waiting. He went on to explain that we had initially been asked to hold for 20 minutes (hence the couple of big turns we had done) and had just been advised it would be 40 minutes. I really appreciated that he was keeping us up to date on what was going on because otherwise my mind gets extra anxious and wonders if something is wrong with the plane. He said we would continue holding for the next 20 minutes and if we were not cleared to land at that time that we would divert to Montreal because we would not have enough fuel to continue holding.

Errrr … mmmm … Not quite so happy to hear of a lowish fuel situation, but at least we had a plan.

Sure enough, another 20 minutes passed and we had not been cleared to land, so after stalling for nearly an hour in the skies above Toronto, we made another turn and off to Montreal we went. 35 minutes later we touched down turbulence free and taxied in to a fueling stop. We had time to check email and connecting flights. At this point, my connecting flight to Kingston, Jamaica had been delayed until 11:30am … there was still a tiny chance that I might make it.

Snow in Montreal

Another 45 minutes or so passed while we refuelled and then the Captain advised that traffic had started moving at the Toronto Airport again. Up, up and away again for our hour long journey back to Toronto. We were supposed to touch down in Toronto at around 7am local time. Instead, we were arriving at around 11am local time.

The staff on board the plane that day were apologetic about the situation, kept us very well informed and advised that there would be staff and a manager on hand at the gate to help all of us with our connecting flights. This was far more than I expected. Despite all of the delays and difficulties, until this point I actually felt it had been handled as best as it could be.

I waited my turn to disembark from the back of the plane and checked that my connecting flight was still delayed to 11:30am. I jumped the long line up of people (sorry people!) to quickly ask the staff if I should run for my gate or wait in line to be rerouted. With a couple of phone calls and a special note for fast security clearance (just at the doors between terminals), she told me they were waiting for me and sent me running.

The Toronto airport is too damn big! Although I set off running, that didn’t last for long seeing as I hadn’t run for at least eight months, plus I had 20lbs of camera gear and another 10lbs of laptop, paperwork and treats etc with me (Thanks for the M&M’s for Christmas mom!). I did what most people do, run, walk and try to catch my breath, run, catch my breath and then make sure I run to the gate so it looks like I ran the whole way. Come on, you do it too!

I got to the gate, went to the front of the line, panting, and said that I was there for the flight. The guy tells me ‘We just started boarding.’ Ug! I ran for that? I thought they were holding the plane for me. Then he tells me that they removed me from the flight because I wasn’t supposed to make it. And, that the flight is full so he would try to find me a seat but couldn’t guarantee it. Gah! I ran for that?

So, I put some money in a machine for a drink of water and ended up with ice tea. Go figure! Not even the vending machines worked right.

I watched priority boarding trickle through and then the masses of Jamaicans with soooo many kids and sooo many carry ons, form a huge line up for boarding zones 3 and 4. Then, my name was called. They had indeed found room for me. Lucky me, it was with priority boarding and in premium rouge class. I went to the front of the priority boarding line and boarded the plane. I sat my ass down in seat 1C, the very front of the plane. My luck continued as there was also room in my overhead bin for my carry on items. About 10 minutes after I boarded, they were already telling people they could not take their roller bags in cabin as there wasn’t enough room in the bins. People were not happy being told that they would have to check their large carry on items. Of course, many hadn’t packed carefully enough for that, so they were unpacking their roller bags to find medications, insulin, duty free, breakables and valuables that they didn’t want checked. What a mess. In all fairness though, this was not Air Canada’s fault. Let me tell you, people returning home to Jamaica after Christmas had a lot of luggage!

Finally, once everyone was on board and doors were closed, I could breathe a sigh of relief that I was at least getting out of the craziness of Toronto and the Canadian weather!

With a piping hot face cloth served up by the flight attendant, I washed the stickiness from my face from my Olympic sprint through the Toronto airport. I’m sure I should’ve received a medal! We were given tablets for our viewing pleasure, a menu to choose our meal option and our choice of orange juice or water … All before take off!

I went for the omelette with goat cheese and sausage. Let me tell you, the upgraded meal was a pleasant surprise! I’ve been known to skip plane meals all together because they often turn my stomach. This, however was served up in hot plates with lovely cutlery, a cloth napkin and tasted like real food instead of mystery mash.

After lunch, with another round of beverages, we were served warm, salted nuts and a choice of chips or a chocolate bar. I didn’t even crack my own treats while I was on the plane.

It’s hard to decide if the price of flying Premium Rouge is worth the extra cost or not, but for me it was a free upgrade and I truly thought the service was great. Good job on Part 1 Air Canada.

Oh wait. Then my luck ran out. Full Stop.

To be continued in “Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate” – coming soon.

Feel free to share your sympathies and commiserate with me in the comments!

 

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!