The next two days of this trip were probably my favourite part of the entire trip. On day six, we boarded a ferry at 6:00 in the morning and headed to the beautiful island of Vieques. Now, here’s some things you should keep in mind if you’re visiting Vieques. First off, rent a ATV as the island is big!
When we arrived, we were kind of lost of how to get around. Luckily, we came across an older gentlemen who was offering tours. After some hesitation in three girls getting into a car with one man, we decided to take a chance and we are so glad we did! As we drove around Vieques, he told us about the island and how Hurricane Maria had decimated a lot of the island. Despite this, there was still much to enjoy. Our first stop: Playa Caracas.
As we chilled out enjoying the beautiful white sand, we also got to witness some wild horses hanging eating some nearby grass. As I admired them from afar, my best friend worked on trying to be a horse whisperer and get them to come closer. It was great beginning and set us up for the rest of the day in Vieques.
After this, we headed to Sun Bay Beach. Despite being on the same island, the waves were incredibly strong that day. As a result, we spent most of our time here just walking along the beach and discovering new spots. There was a nice little secluded spot which had crystal clear water. The best thing about the beach here was how scenic it was. Just take a look for yourself!
Our last stop in our Vieques’ grand tour was Playa Negra (Black Beach). The trail is about a 20 minute walk if you manage to not get lost. We obviously got lost, but it was all part of the adventure. Once we got there, the beach was nice and secluded. After our trek, it was definitely nice to kick back and enjoy the refreshing water and charcoal coloured sand. Believe me when I say the trek was worth it! One thing I’ve learned about travel, is the best things are often unplanned. In the case of Vieques, this was true. We got an excellent tour guide and got to see lots of cool things on the island as well. This concluded our day in Vieques. The next day, we would head on over to Culebra to continue our adventures.
The next day, it was time to head over to Salinas de Cabo Rojo. These are salt flats located in Boqueron, PR. They are part of the National WildLife Refuge and offer refuge to a variety of nesting birds. Maybe it was the fact that we were expecting a beach (totally our fault for not researching properly) but the Salinas de Cabo Rojo left much to be desired. When we arrived, the images of “bright pink” in actuality were a more dull pink. In addition, the area was quite muddy so be prepared to bring proper footwear if you are walking the trails. I think if you go here with the expectation that it is you a nature refuge then it is a place that is worth checking out. However, considering that it doesn’t take long to check out the flats, the almost three hour drive from San Juan made it less than ideal. Despite this, we made our journey worthwhile and decided to enjoy the nearby beach of Playa Sucia.The beach was nice and secluded and offered beautiful pristine waters. After being in the car for what felt like centuries, this was the perfect way to kick back and relax.
The next day, we decided to head on over to Mar Chiquita in Manati, Puerto Rico which was just a short drive from San Juan. If you are visiting Mar Chiquita, make sure to bring water shoes as there are jagged rocks in the water and sea urchins in the water. Being the tourists that we are, we obviously did not bring the following which resulted in a nice gash on a my foot and a sea urchin spine embedded in my foot. However, don’t let my injuries deter you. The beach itself is quite beautiful and has cliffs you can explore as well on the far end of it.Furthermore, on the weekends they have a small food vendor stand selling alcoholic beverages and food on this beach. With a Pina Colada and a juicy chicken kebab, I was in heaven. There’s just something about eating on a beach that makes everything taste 100x better. Be warned, the waves can be quite rough, so be vigilant and enjoy the tide!
On Day Five, it was time to say goodbye to San Juan and its surrounding areas and say hello to the city of Fajardo. Originally we were supposed to head out to the Vieques via ferry from the neighbouring town of Ceiba but the world had other plans for us. When we arrived to the ferry port in Ceiba, we were informed that all tickets to Vieques and Culebra (the two islands this ferry services) were sold out for the day. As a result, for all those looking to visit Vieques and Culebra make sure to buy your tickets in advance on their website to avoid disappointment. Despite this minor setback, we decided to make the most of our adventure. After heading to the grocery store to get some supplies. For those of you looking to cook during your time in Puerto Rico, SuperMax is a popular grocery store which will provide you with everything you need during your stay. It also includes a hot food table, bakery, and in some stores a smoothie/acai bowl bar. Once we settled into our AirBnB, we headed over to Seven Seas Beach. For those of you not looking to board ferries, Fajardo itself is a town which has a lot to offer. Due to it being more of just a home base for us, we didn’t get a chance to see everything it had to offer. However, it is home to a variety of small beach inlets and lots of snorkel and beach tours which can take you to the smaller islands surrounding it such as Cayo Icacos or Isla Palominos. After what felt like an incredibly long day, we had a few drinks back at our place and called it a night.
One thing that 2019 taught me was that you need to stop apologizing for everything and knocking yourself down for not doing “more.” I think North Americans have a problem with constantly trying to outbeat each other. If one person wakes up at 7 am, the other proudly proclaims that they have been awake since 5 am. To anyone feeling like they are not doing “enough,” you are doing great! There is all this talk about being the greatest and extraordinary, but what makes people extraordinary is a genuine sense of happiness and fulfillment. Gain confidence from being at peace with your strengths and your weaknesses. Allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself for a short while on the bad days, and then pick yourself up and remember that you are a badass! For me, these reminders come in the form of holidays. So in order to get myself out of a slump, I picked myself up and booked a trip to Puerto Rico. This is my story.
After arriving in San Juan late in the evening on our first day, we began our official adventure of San Juan the morning after. The first thing on our list was Museo de Las Americas. If you are a history buff, then take a moment to check out this museum. The museum highlights Puerto Rican history while also incorporating contemporary Puerto Rican art. According to my best friend, she also swears that she heard a ghostly tapping while perusing the galleries. While I cannot confirm the validity of her ghostly encounter, what I can comment on is one unsettling demonic figurine that is hosted in the museum. This figurine is encased behind glass and on the front of the glass is the symbol of the cross. So whether you want to learn about Puerto Rico’s history, enjoy some contemporary art, or have your own ghostly encounter, check out the Museo de Las Americas.
Next on our list, was Castillo San Cristobal. This is a fortress built by the Spaniards to protect the city. With the stone walls and ocean views, it definitely offers picturesque views. After this, it was time to treat ourselves with some giant coconut water infused with rum. Treat yourself! After this, we headed back to our place before getting some food and enjoying the nightlife that the La Placita neighborhood had to offer.
On this day we decided to check out El Yunque Rainforest and Luquillo Beach. For the elderly, the young, and the physically unfit, you have been warned that El Yunque is a bit of a trek. Just make sure to pack some snacks and water as there is no place to stop to get food. I am a nature lover and El Yunque hit all the spots in what I look for in a good trail. It has lush greenery, rugged terrain, cascading waterfalls, and a few great photo opportunities. When we began our hike it was all sunshine and rainbows, but shortly after the weather turned misty and foggy to the point it was a slightly precarious situation. Despite not being able to see much once we got to the top due to the dense fog, it was a long arduous workout which was physically satisfying. In addition, once you reach the peak, the world echoes around you. With the dense fog and our voices echoing to the forest below, the best word I can use to describe the experience is sublime. To those who have been with me for awhile, you will know that I have mentioned the experience of the sublime before. It is something awe inspiring but also takes us beyond ourselves and may even incite fear. This is what El Yunque offers. The reward of sanctuary in a place that makes the world around you feel so vast and unknown and yet so magnificent. There is a small lookout point once you reach the top and if you take a moment to stand up there by yourself, you will understand what I mean.
After our experience in El Yunque it was time to relax on the beach and so we headed to Luquillo to refresh our tired, sweaty bodies. It was still quite overcast when we arrived and it was getting late but all that mattered was a moment to do absolutely nothing. And so, that is what we did. We enjoyed the waters and then ultimately headed back to San Juan for the night.
As the crisp morning air awakened our tired bodies, we headed on over to plant some trees for a charity called Trees for Life. When Scotland was initially being settled, much of the woodland was cleared out to make room for settlement. While Scotland is a place full of greenery, one thing that is missing from the beautiful rolling green hills are tall, hovering trees. Scotland is now looking to restore the forest that was once cleared through initiatives such as these. After hearing a passionate speech by the operations manager, Doug Gilbert about the work at the tree nursery in Dundreggan, we got our hands dirty and planted a couple of trees for the cause. It was great to hear Doug talk and his passion for the cause was evident. Want to do some good while in Scotland? Check out Trees for Life.
After Dundreggan, we went to Culloden Battlefield to learn about the war between the British and the Jacobites in Scotland. The battle was a deadly one with over 1,500 Jacobite deaths. As we went through the museum, we learned about the battle, the aftermath of the battle, and the reasoning behind it. It was after this battle, that the Highlands became the last part of Scotland to be incorporated into the British empire.
The Fifth and Final Day
The last day was spent visiting small waterfalls, hanging out in the charming town of Pitlochry, and walking as a group down the Forth Road Bridge. It was a time to absorb everything we had experienced during the week from the stories of Nessie, planting trees, eating haggis, and learning about the mythical kelpies. As we arrived in the small town of Pitlochry, one of my tour mates and I took a moment to visit a gorgeous tea room called Hettie’s Tea Rooms. If you’re in Pitlochry, I recommend checking out this absolutely adorable place with its colourful decor, beautiful artwork, and delicious pastries and teas.
After Hettie’s, we headed back on our bus towards Edinburgh but not before stopping at the Forth Road Bridge where we walked as a big group down the long pedestrian and cycling bridge. It was literally like crossing a finish line and as we walked, there were a bunch of locks with the names of couples chained to the fence. It was sweet and a nice way to end the beautiful adventure we had embarked on. My journey had come to an end, but yours is just beginning. So go ahead…give Scotland a try! For a country that is so chilly, it truly knows how to warm the soul.
On our third day of the tour, we were off to the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye. Normally these pools are closed off to tour groups to preserve the land, but due to the small size of our tour group we were able to enjoy the wonderful views. The Fairy Poolsare a collection of scenic waterfalls with pools glittering like jewels in green and blue hues. After admiring the scenic area and the dense cloud cover over the hilltops we headed on over to Inverness.
Inverness is considered the gateway to the Highlands. It was here we stopped to enjoy the town and do a little shopping at Primark before reaching our hostel in Loch Ness. Once we arrived, we had some food and then headed to our Loch Ness monster boat ride. For those who don’t know, it is rumoured that deep within the waters of Loch Ness, there is a large creature with a long neck that resides within them. Due to the waters having little to no visibility due to the high peat content, the mythical monster named Nessie remains hidden in these waters. Over the years, people have claimed to see Nessie and have taken photographic evidence of her. Whether you believe the folklore or not, the individuals running the tour were incredibly engaging and entertaining and it was a great relaxing boat cruise. When the cruise was over it was time to play some trivia at our hostel before going to bed in preparation for the next day.
Tomorrow we would be planting trees for a planting initiative called Trees for Life before heading to Culloden Battlefield to learn about the deadly battle that occurred on that field.
On the second day of our tour, we were on our way to the Isle of Skye. However, our first stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct. For all you Harry Potter lovers out there, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is the location where the Hogwarts Express passes through in the films. The viaduct’s primary purpose however is to serve as a bridge which services a railway that passes through it. For some of my tour mates, they decided to take the Hogwarts Express train to relive their childhood memories. For the rest of my tour mates including myself we decided to skip the costly train and instead rode on in our bus to where the Viaduct was located. Once there, we took our very own Harry Potter inspired photos while enjoying the scenic mountain area.
After Armadale Castle, we headed over to a small woodland trail in which we climbed rocks through the misty rain and observed various marine plants adhered to the slick rocks surrounding the water. The colour of them was a vibrant yellow which contrasted beautifully against the overcast sky. After climbing rocks and indulging our inner child, it was time to pick up our Harry Potter stragglers. Once doing so, we headed to our hostel where we made ourselves comfortable, ate some food, and settled in for the night. The next day we would be headed to the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye which would prove to be extraordinarily beautiful!
The next morning began the start of my journey into the Scottish Highlands. As we left Edinburgh behind we ventured off to check out the Wallace Monument in Stirling, which commemorates Sir William Wallace. While I did not particularly know much about the history relating to it, the views from the balcony were fantastic and worth the journey. After this, it was time to visit a pair of famous Hairy Coos, which are a Scottish cattle breed. Here we got to feed the cattle from behind the fence and admire the funky looking cows. Although it may not seem like much, it was an entertaining pit stop that I was happy we were given the opportunity to do.
Now onto the stuff that dreams are made of. After checking out the hairy coos, it was time to go on a scenic hike through Glencoe Mountains. The nature lover in me was beaming as we hiked higher and higher with water streaming from the mountain throughout the trail. It was a surprisingly warm day in Scotland that day and I was forever grateful the weather held up. Once we reached the end of our hike, we had a moment to sit back and relax and drink water directly from the mountain spring. It’s one thing to buy bottled water that claims to be from mountain springs, and another thing to actually drink directly from the spring itself. I’m a city kid so this was an experience I don’t come across too often. This would be end of our first day of the tour, and after the hike we headed to Oban where we spent the night filling our bellies and preparing for our journey to the Isle of Skye the next day.
If you have been following my blog, you will know that I visited Scotland once before in 2014. After four long years and watching far too much Outlander, I decided it was time to head back and really take the time to discover this beautiful country. This time, I would be heading to Scotland to appreciate the Fringe Festival and the Scottish Highlands.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival of the world featuring thousands of performers. This festival usually takes place during the first three weeks of August and it is something I truly believe everyone should experience. The first time I was in Edinburgh, it was a quiet and charming city. During the festival, this all changed. The quiet calm had been replaced by loud excitement and cheer wherever you went. Anywhere I turned there were street performers and flash mobs happening. When I first arrived, I watched a play about women’s role in the Vietnam war, followed by a comedy sketch by the lovely Jilberto Santos, and lastly a circus performance by the incredible Circolombia. What I loved about seeing Edinburgh in festival mode, was the diversity. Whereas it normally isn’t quite diverse, it was now filled with people from across the globe to celebrate this festival. During this day, I would also check out the National Gallery and revisit Calton Hill as I did so many years ago. This would be the beginning of my journey, and the next day would be the beginning of my adventure into the Scottish Highlands.
As the sun began to rise the next morning, I got ready and headed towards the meet up location for Haggis Adventures. It was with this tour I would spend the next five days exploring the Highlands which would include visits to the Isle of Skye, searching for the Loch Ness Monster, and taking part in a traditional Scottish Ceilidh (dance). So stick around, and see what this new adventure would bring.
My decision to go to New Orleans, like all my decisions in life, was a sporadic one. I had recently gone back to school, and I was in a desperate need of a holiday. So when the first semester was over, I headed to New Orleans for a change of scenery and a little bit of soul searching. It would be my first trip being solo for the entire duration of the holiday. While the trip would not end up being what I expected, I think it was an important journey to take. It was an important journey to take because it made me realize I was capable of travelling completely alone.
One fantastic thing about New Orleans is their public transit system. The streetcar lines that run through the city will get you to all the main spots of where you want to go. Simply download the CTA transit app on your phone and you can buy unlimited ride passes for 1,3 or 7 day passes to be used on the streetcars. It should be noted that these passes are only valid for the CTA transit routes, so make sure when planning your transit travels to check which transit operators you will need to use before purchasing passes.
Another good thing about New Orleans is the abundance of seafood that can be found. A great place for local cuisine is a place called Neyow’s Creole Cafe. The wait to be seated in this place is painfully long but it is so worth it. Looking for great breakfast food? Check out The Bean Gallery located near City Park for delicious paninis and sandwiches.
Speaking of City Park, this lovely park is a must see before you leave New Orleans. This park is full of beautiful greenery and has an amusement park for children called Storyland. For the adults visiting, The New Orleans Museum of Art is located within the park and attached has the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In other words, City Park is your one stop shop for art, nature, and amusement.
Now, if you are into partying hard then Bourbon Street is where you want to head on down to. If you’ve been to Phuket, Thailand, consider this the equivalent of Bangla Road. It is full of people with over-sized drinks in their hands, partying in the streets, and music blaring from various establishments. While I avoided this street like the plague due to travelling alone, my brief walk through it to get to my destination said it all. Want to party? Bourbon Street will be your best friend.
If you’re looking to enjoy New Orleans fantastic music scene without the havoc and mayhem, check out Frenchmen Street instead. I made it a point to visit Balcony Music Club while in this area and I am glad I did. The place was fairly large and offered great live music that soothed the soul.
Aside from music, don’t forget to check out their incredible art scene in New Orleans and consider supporting their economy by investing in some pieces. Before heading to Balcony Music Club, I checked out Secondline Arts And Antiques. Like everyone else in New Orleans, the staff were incredibly pleasant and made my experience shopping there an absolutely great one.
Other things to do in New Orleans include taking a swamp tour (avoid in the winter, as alligators hibernate during this time), going on ghost tours to acquaint yourself with New Orleans haunted history, and checking out some of the plantations in Louisiana to acquaint yourself with America’s dark history. Maybe it’s because I majored in history but the history provided on the plantation tours were very simplistic and didn’t truly convey what truly went on during the period of time when slavery operated. That being said, to those not familiar with America’s history it is a decent introduction to what occurred.
New Orleans is still a city very much struggling from the events from Hurricane Katrina which left over 1,800 dead and caused $125 billion in damage. As a result, there are many parts of the city that remain rundown and impoverished. The best way to help, is to invest in their economy and support their local businesses when you go down to visit. New Orleans has so much potential and one only has to look at their French Quarter with its beautifully coloured buildings to see its beauty. So head on over to New Orleans and help make it become the city it is capable of being.
The final day in Miami was upon us and man had it been an amazing ride so far. Our plan for the day consisted of going to Vizcaya Museums & Gardens, followed by the Venetian Pool and lastly a stop at Calle Ocho. Our first stop, Vizcaya Museums & Gardens was the former villa and estate of the businessman James Deering. The villa was interesting but it was the surrounding gardens which won my heart. The gardens were beautiful manicured and included several fountains and beautiful sculptures. While I did not care for the actual history, I admired the property for its greenery and the work in keeping it so beautiful maintained. So do yourself a favour, and make sure to check out Vizcaya the next time you head to Miami.
After wandering through the grounds of Vizcaya, it was time to soak in the sun and so we headed to the Venetian Pool in the Coral Gables District. This pool is a public pool which has a lovely man-made waterfall and places to lounge around while you get your tan on. After spending the last two days at the beach but not being brave enough to venture into the water, the pool was the perfect way to perfect my swimming skills. After lounging around here for some time, we headed out our final stop of the day: Calle Ocho.
Now I’m going to be real with you in that Calle Ocho didn’t do much for me, but what they did have going for them was honestly the best food I had during my trip. Calle Ocho is Miami’s Cuban district and it was here I had some delicious Cuban cuisine. We went to Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina where I ordered the Lechon Asado with beans and rice and fried plantain. It was absolutely delicious. To top it all off, the staff serving us were an absolute delight. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos at the Venetian Pool because water and phones don’t mix and at the restaurant I was too hungry to pause and take a photo of the food. But, enjoy all the images of Vizcaya and just believe me when I say Old’s Havana is absolutely worth every single dollar. This concluded our trip to Miami and it was perfect way to unwind after a stressful few weeks. Thank you Miami for your hospitality and while you broke my bank account you were worth every penny.