Natural Beauty

*Note: This post is a little late. I’m home in Nova Scotia now, but I wrote this while I was in the Dominican! Enjoy!

As I sit in my bed in a palapa this evening, under my mosquito netting, the world around me is singing. It is a constant rhthym of crickets with the symbolic chirps of various varieties of frogs whose music crescendos and minuends with the fresh tranquil breeze.

Here I am in the mountains between Puerto Plata and Santiago, Dominican Republic on the Ruta Panoramica which I believe is the next big area to become an off the beaten path destination. And, wow, is it ever beautiful! For all of those people who think Dominican Republic is all about Punta Cana beaches, it is time that you discovered more!

I’m staying at Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge, hospitably welcomed by the owner, Tim Hall. Originally from Montreal, Canada, he’s been living in the Dominican since 1983 and opened the Lodge about four and a half years ago.

When I arrived, I followed a lovely little stone pathway to a kitchen area where there were two or three women. I asked for Tim and one of them led me to his nearby office on the terrace of one of the palapa buildings.

It isn’t your normal reception area to lodging for the night, but soon I understood how it all fit in to the beautiful rustic essence of the entire experience.

Tim gave me a warm welcome and then showed me to the main palapa that functions as a meal hall and meeting area. Here we sat and talked for the next couple of hours about his story, his venture into creating Tubagua Eco Plantation and his involvement in the Ruta Panoramica.

Tim Hall, Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic
Tim Hall, Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic

Check out the amazing view! I guess this is what you should expect from the top of a mountain! Pure nature and beauty!

Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic
Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic

One of the staff brought us a few nachos with freshly made delicious salsa and we continued to chat away about Tim’s adventures in the Dominican Republic over the last 20+ years. The hospitality was grand and Tim was quick to offer me a beer, wine, or a meal, but I wasn’t hungry and I can only wish that I liked beer or wine, but I truly don’t, so it should not be wasted on me. Tim, however, enjoys his cigars and wine!

Over the years, this Canadian turned Dominican had quite the story. Way back when, he was working for the Montreal Gazette and a Toronto newspaper and had the opportunity to travel to the north coast of the Dominican Republic to do a travel story on the area. He revisited the area a couple of times, but then decided to move to the area permanently.

Over his 20+ years in the country he listed a wide variety of jobs that he had held and stressed that most people who move to the Dominican have to have several jobs just to make ends meet. It is not a place to get rich, but if you are rich, it is a wonderful place to live! His jobs covered everything from travel writing, to co-owning a local newspaper, a security monitoring company, restaurant owner and now, owner and creator of Tubagua Eco Plantation and honorary Consular General for the north coast.

He explained that he had the vision for the eco lodge and started building it in small steps about four and a half years ago. Initially he built one building that would sleep six people. This was used for his family at first, but since expanding it is used for a combination of where he sleeps and sometimes the extra bedroom is for guests.

When it was time to expand, he had visions of how everything could be tied together with stone pathways and open air palapas for a truly natural experience.

Today, four and a half years after starting, Tubagua Eco Plantation has the capacity to host 30 people. There are large group accommodations, as well as two individual palapas that are great for small groups or for families, as well as one special suite offering privacy for a romantic getaway,

Tim gave me a tour of all of the buildings and gave me a choice to sleep in a palapa or in the ‘guest’ house. My second night, I would have to sleep in the guest house because a group of tourism students was coming in and he’d need all of the beds in the palapas for them. I decided, for the full experience that my first night I would make myself at home in an open air palapa.

Accommodations, Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic
Accommodations, Tubagua Eco Plantation, Dominican Republic

We sat down for supper at around 7:30pm. It was fettucini with a lovely cream sauce, a nice fresh salad with a local cheese and mango, toast and cake with chocolate syrup for dessert.

Over supper, Tim and I discussed his business more and his plans for growing the Eco Lodge. This then led to conversations about how we might be able to work together … and once again I am back to thinking about offering photo tours in the Dominican.

Before retiring for the evening, Tim reminded me that the sunrise would likely wake me up as the sun would beam in proudly through the non-existent walls of my palapa. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a better way to wake up!

My first Tubaga morning

This morning I woke up around 7:30am to the sounds of birds chirping and rustling in the grass as little geckos of all sizes passed by. I rolled over to my right, opened my eyes and immediately awoke to the grand view from the top of this mountain.

Tubagua Eco Lodge
Tubagua Eco Lodge

I chose to sleep in a palapa last night as it was going to be occupied tonight and I would be sleeping in a more enclosed cabin. I figured while I was here, I should take advantage of the palapa experience.

Tubagua Eco Lodge Palapa Accommodations
Tubagua Eco Lodge Palapa Accommodations

Let me explain a little about the palapas. They are small structures, similar to a small cottage with thatched roofs. The one I stayed in had no walls, just tarp to keep the wind and rain out. It is like camping, but with a bed and a roof. It is amazing because you are sleeping in the fresh air with the soothing sounds of nature all around you. And, amazingly, there were not nearly as many insects and critters as I expected. Tim, the owner had also told me if I see any ‘ghosts’ or anything that scares me, to scream like a girl. I assured him that would be no problem! If something scared me, I would be sure to scream … like a girl.

I wrapped the mosquito net around my king size bed, checked under the covers for any creatures that might bite my toes, and then tentatively crawled in.

I wondered if I might be scared to sleep after my cockroach incident earlier in my trip, but after writing for awhile, and my lack of sleep from my night out in Cabarete on Thursday, when my head hit the pillow at 10:30pm, I was sound asleep.

After rising to the beauty of nature all around me, I headed to the bathroom for a shower to start my day. Now the shower is an experience all of it’s own! It is a small room with three walls made of bamboo, so there are spaces between them where you can see through, although it is obscured by some greenery outside. The fourth ‘wall’ is an open concept looking out over the grand view of the lush vegetation and sugarcane plantations of a local community.

It takes a little getting used to that when you sit down on the toilet you are staring directly into nature. And, when you get ready to shower, you strip off just as if you were in the woods.

Having said that, once you get past the fact that one wall of the building is completely open, it is beautiful to shower in the open, fresh air and stare at the stunning view.

Tubagua Eco Lodge
Tubagua Eco Lodge – the open concept bathroom

Jackie prepared fresh fruit, cereal, a fried egg and bacon for me for breakfast which I ate in the main group area. Again, enjoying the spectacular view.

A group of tourism students arrived to settle in before heading out on a tour along Ruta Panoramica. I spoke briefly to a few of them and then I decided to go adventuring!

Peru Through the Lens Art Show

Lost City, Found Self

Shari at Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru - Lost City, Found Self - ShariTucker

Machu Picchu – Lost City, Found Self
Photography is a unique opportunity to see the world through another person’s eyes.  It gives you the ability to see exactly what the other person saw, through their lens. This often extends further to understanding the photographer’s emotion as they captured a particular moment or scene.

It is no secret that travel inspires me. Getting out of the relatively ordinary routine of my life in Nova Scotia and exploring other cultures, meeting new people and facing challenges head on, fill me with energy and wonderment. When I am surrounded with new people, new places and new energy, I feel alive, free and inspired.

This combination of love for travel and passion for telling stories through photography led me to begin a beautiful journey starting in Peru.

As I embarked on the incredible inaugural journey leading nine photo enthusiasts on a Peruvian adventure, I knew that I would be challenged and inspired. I was excited to see Peru not only from my own perspective, but through the lens of nine others. Imagine my amazement when I truly discovered how beautiful the world is through nine sets of eyes!

I assisted and watched these photographers learn new skills, try new techniques, step out of their ‘automatic’ comfort zone and truly begin to allow creativity and emotion to be part of their photography expression.

One of the main draws for the trip to Peru was our visit to Machu Picchu. Although Machu Picchu was near the end of our trip, it was a profound experience. My image titled “Lost city, Found self” is an expression of the overwhelming clarity I felt while sitting in silence at six am in the beautiful, peaceful and holy city of Machu Picchu.

I can only explain it as an experience of clarity. As I sat in silence amidst one of the seven wonders of the new world, listening to the silence, breathing the fresh mountain air, watching the fog roll in and out around the sacred mountains, my head and my heart cleared. If only for that 30 minutes of silence and reflection, my head was not congested with overwhelming thoughts of what had to be done, what to do next and what others were thinking. It was just a big, free flowing, inspired way of hearing my own thoughts.

I closed my eyes, shed a few tears and opened my eyes to the fog that had completely covered the entire Incan city. I was disappointed as I could no longer see the beautiful view that I had traveled so far for. I closed my eyes again, let the tears fall, and when I opened them minutes later, the fog had rolled by and opened up a beautiful view of the lost city and mountains.

It was in that moment that I realized that I needed to let all of the fog in my life, roll on by so that I could get to the magical view of the rest of my life.

Lost city, Found self.

This adventure was an eye opening experience in so many ways, including how to clear the fog and see the beauty in the diversity of our world.

*Edited May 28, 2015

Peru in Review

To all of my loyal travel blog followers, I am so sorry to have confused you!
I’ve been posting new blogs, but I’ve been back-dating them to keep them in sequence. Unfortunately this means that they do not show up on my main feed of my blog … in turn, many people have missed some of my really great experiences.

Here is a list of my most recent (somewhat hidden) blog posts. I hope you can find time to read about my adventures!

The Spider Incident
It’s a Squatter – Part 1
It’s a Squatter – Part 2
Ccaccaccollo Homestay
TukTuks & The Food Market
Luquina Chico – Part 1
Luquina Chico – Part 2
Boat ride on Lake Titicaca

It’s a Squatter! Part 1

Feb 20, 2012

If you know me well, like my best friend Michelle does, you know that I have always had issues with squatting to pee in the woods. I’m from a small town in New Brunswick where there are camps, hunting, fishing, four wheeling, not to mention the adventure of potato picking at harvest time, so peeing in the woods is not a new thing for me.

I think my issue with it started when I was about 5 years old. My Grammy and Grampy Chapman were taking me for the day to my Great Grandmother’s farm. I told Grampy I needed to pee, so he pulled over and Grammy helped me. In the process of helping me, I somehow managed to pee all over her foot. EWWW! I’m sure I don’t actually remember the situation as much as I remember being told the story, but it is something that I will never forget!

Since then, I’ve always had issues going to the bathroom in the woods. Come on ladies, it isn’t a fun task at all and I know you are all uncomfortable just thinking about it. I worry about peeing on my pants, on my foot, falling over … I mean really … squatting to pee just isn’t something I ever want to do.

So far on our Peru adventure I’ve been pretty lucky. Most of the washrooms have been at hotels. I go before I leave the hotel and when I return … I thankfully haven’t been sick, so I haven’t needed to make many stops along the way.

My first experience with a true ‘squatter’ was in Luquina Chico. When we were at the community centre I wasn’t feeling very well and had to find a washroom. Monika and I ventured over to the two outhouses, looked at each other and in we went, separately. Well, here it is .. a ‘potty shaped’ hole in the ground and the smell of … well, I’m sure you know what it smells like. I looked at it … and looked at it …

There are two, foot-shaped cement spots where you are supposed to put your feet. I put my feet on ‘the spots’, pulled down my pants, squatted and held my pants away from me. Now what?

Um … hello? Please come out …. (I’m cracking up right now writing this) … Yes, I squatted and then had to talk my self through actually allowing pee to leave my body. Come on ladies … you’ve done it. Men – I hate you right now for being able to stand up and aim!

Ok, so the first little stream comes out, but I’ve missed the hole! Wait, stop, lean differently … start again … nope, still missing….

Pause, readjust feet to a spot other than where is marked, start again … yup, hit the pot, but I was pretty much done by this point.

Monika and I each left our outhouses, gave a quick high-five for our great achievement, got out our hand sanitizer and headed back to the community centre.

Was I ever glad that my homestay that night had a toilet with running water. Even better, it was right off our room, we didn’t have to go outside. It was pure luxury in comparison to the squatter at the community centre.

Importance of travel vaccines

Back in 2009 when I decided at Christmas time that I couldn’t resist the urge any longer to travel to Costa Rica, the thought never even crossed my mind that there may be travel vaccines required before I went! It wasn’t until about two weeks before departure that someone mentioned it to me and I decided to look into it. Much to my surprise, I was already too late to have the full course of vaccines that were recommended, but at least I could get started on them.

Now, being a more seasoned traveler, I am much more aware of the need for medications and vaccines when traveling and I understand that each country is different. Each city, community, state or area within a country can have vastly different requirements. Now, I know that 4-8 weeks in advance of any travel, I need to book an appointment with the travel health clinic. These professionals research your trip in advance and talk to you about all of the diseases and issues that you might come in contact with. For the most part, it is up to you to decide what medications and vaccines you want to take, but sometimes proof of vaccination is required before entering or leaving specific countries, such as yellow fever.

Many vaccines are lifelong protection from illnesses that are present in Canada and US, but much more prominent in under developed countries.

Most importantly, no matter where you are traveling outside of Canada, it is extremely important to have your childhood needles up to date. When we are young and get vaccinated for measles, mumps, tetanus and many others, we often forget to get our booster shots when we are older … or maybe think that they aren’t important. And in some cases vaccines have been changed, updated or have additional protections added to them.

In 2004 I was chopping wood at my home in Truro, NS. I nearly cut off my thumb with a rusty old axe and guess what? When I went to the hospital, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was up to date on my tetanus shots. Seeing as I hadn’t specifically ever sought one out just for fun, I was given the proper shot. It was a pretty easy fix, here in Canada. Take that same situation to the Amazon, or Africa when you step on a rusty nail or cut yourself while cooking during a homestay and they might not have the tetanus vaccine available to give you.

The tetanus shot actually covers you for tetanus and diphtheria and is good for about 10 years. This particular vaccine is free in Canada .. or rather our tax dollars pay for it. Either way, there is no cost to keep your tetanus shot up to date. The downfall (albeit a small one) is that this is a vaccine that does make your arm pretty sore. Better than death by rusty nail though!

When I traveled to Costa Rica, my travel health professional strongly suggested that I be vaccinated for Hepatitus A and B. This is done through a vaccine called Twinrix which you get three doses of, at specific intervals. For me, I was able to get my first two shots in before leaving Canada, but had to wait until I returned to have the final booster shot. Now that I’ve had it taken care of though, it is good for life! This isn’t just a travel vaccine though. It is recommended to most young adults as it is protection against the sexually transmitted type of Hepatitus as well as from the form carried in water and ice cubes.

Even if you are traveling for a week’s vacation to Dominican, Cuba or Mexico you should be vaccinated for Hepatitus. Their cleanliness standards are just simply not the same as ours and whether on or off resort, you are at risk.

Of course for anyone who is going to party, do drugs or have sex, the risk increases greatly. Do you really want to live with a liver disease for the rest of your life because you got drunk and had sex with a random guy/girl just one night? Then, you can carry the disease and pass it on to others. If you simply don’t care, then you suck. I think the three vaccines cost me about $200 over the course of six months, but now I am protected for the rest of my life.

As I was doing a little extra research before writing this blog I discovered that the hepatitus that is carried in water, some shellfish and on raw food is contaminated by human waste. It could be food that has been handled by someone who is infected and doesn’t wash their hands before handling your food, from poor water purification practices or from raw sewage going into the ocean where your seafood comes from.

Now that you are sufficiently disgusted … go get your Twinrix shots from your family physician or travel health clinic (about $200). While you are there, make sure you are up to date on measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria and maybe even chicken pox too. All of those last ones are paid for by the government, so protect yourself!

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. SIX WEEKS PRIOR TO TRAVEL YOU SHOULD CONSULT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL ABOUT YOUR OWN UNIQUE TRAVEL PLANS AND HEALTH CONCERNS.