Category Archives: Canada

My First Full Year As A Digital Nomad: 2014 In Pictures

photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr image credit: photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr

Well, we’re halfway through January, but with all the freelance work I’ve been bashing my way through, this year in review had to wait for awhile.  In many ways, 2014 was defined by the growth of my mobile business, which caused this blog to be neglected at times ( Mama’s been busy, but I still love you all … sorry!).

In true digital nomad fashion though, I managed to get in tons of travel between the ever frequent 12 hour work days (the less glamorous aspect of the trade), starting in Chiang Mai, Thailand on New Year’s Day and progressing through Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico and Belize.

I’m currently writing this from Guatemala, which is where I traveled to on New Year’s Day, and looking back over the past year, it was another tumultuous ride. Let’s dive right into yet another 2014 in pictures post, shall we?

January

I began my year in Chiang Mai with one final month on my apartment lease, so I took the opportunity to get out and see parts of the city I hadn’t seen. One of those spots included Warorot Market, a multi-level traditional trading house with everything from hill tribe clothes to weird Thai-Chinese food.

It was at the outer stalls where I picked up the giant blanket and pillow for my bed back in November 2013 … paid 500 baht total (bedding in Thailand is expensive for some reason).

February

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February saw me take to the road again after four months of working to get my business plane off the runway, with the end goal being Bali.  Along the way though, I spent time in Krabi (the awesomeness of Railay Beach cannot be understated) and Koh Lanta before heading to Kuala Lumpur to catch a one-way flight to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.

In the days before my flight though, I had the chance to have a long-awaited reunion with Paul Phillip, a native Malaysian who I went to college with back in Canada from 1998 to 2003. Tiger beers were had, bowls of Hokkien Mee were greedily consumed, and stories exchanged. Can’t wait to hang out with my old buddy again (next winter maybe?)!

March

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Much of March was spent in Indonesia, but not in Bali.  The second half of February was when I explored that island paradise, leaving most of this month for me to make my way across the densely populated, volcano-studded island of Java.

This place sees a trickle of the foreign tourists that visit Bali, and in cities like Surabaya (pictured above), one can experience the real Indonesia, a place that is rough around the edges, but is still a profoundly rewarding place in which to travel.

April

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Arriving back in Canada in late March via British Columbia, I kicked off my time at home by exploring a corner of this gorgeous province that I had never explored before.  Vancouver Island turned out to be all that and more when it came to sublime beauty, with no place exemplifying this principle more than Tonquin Beach in Tofino.

May

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The rest of April was spent in Alberta catching up with friends and family, and skiing/hiking the slopes of Jasper before returning to the Greater Vancouver Area to take up my first housesit acquired through TrustedHouseSitters.

I spent three weeks caring for Cleo the Cat and Emma the Black Lab in the suburb of Surrey while cheering on my Habs through to the Eastern Conference Final. The arrangement had its challenges at times, but I find myself missing my furry roommates even as I type this.  When I get back to Canada, I will definitely be doing this again!

June

After completing my housesitting assignment ended, I began my eastward journey by checking out Whistler, then after another pet sitting date in Calgary finished up, I set out on an epic 54 hour bus ride to Toronto. You don’t want to know how smelly my feet were after that! 😛

Once I got rested up and showered, it just so happened that Toronto was hosting World Pride … camera in hand and ready for a fabulous time, I snagged an awesome spot on Yonge and watched the festivities unfold…

July

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July saw me finally get home after over two years away from Nova Scotia, and it was for a joyous occasion, as I attended the wedding of my little sister Meghan and her vertically endowed partner, Malcolm. Thanks again for two fun-filled days Meg, and congrats!

August

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Once the wedding was over, I spent a full month reconnecting with family back in the Scotia before I set out to continue my world adventures in Latin America.  On August the 21st, I landed in Mexico City, and had my intense fears surrounding the place shattered in a matter of hours.

Anybody with a modicum of street smarts and common sense will be fine here, and with a wealth of museums, fine architecture and modern attractions, nobody on a extended Mexican trip can afford to skip this place.  Set aside at least four days.

September

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While most of September was spent in balmy Puerto Vallarta, the photographic highlight of September occurred early in the month, as the mountainous colonial gem of Guanajuato stole my heart.  This was the first in a series of oustanding historic towns that I’ve seen on my Latin American journey that you all need to see with your own eyes … stay tuned for posts in the new year on these places!

October

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October was defined by a highly controversial story in Mexico where 43 student protesters (or normalistas) were rounded up my police in one of the poorer parts of the country and disappeared.

It came out later that they had been turned over to the cartels and subsequently murdered, touching off mass demonstrations across the nation, with this wall in San Cristobal de la Casas showing the signs of the public’s anger and discontent.

November

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I settled into Playa Del Carmen for most of November and into early December for both work and pleasure, with my parents joining me in one of Mexico’s best resort towns later in this month for some shared vacation time.

The highlight of our time together was our swim and trek through Rio Secreto, which was an enclosed cenote with some of the purest, most effervescent water I’ve ever seen. For those scared of organized tours, go ahead and give this one a go!

December

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The final month of 2014 had me blissing out in Belize, with my time split between Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio.  The above pic comes from a breakfast cafe in CC, where the silky breezes of the Caribbean combined with the eye candy to give me a moment of solace in a year where there have been precious few.

Business is hard and can consume your life occasionally, but it beats not having control of your time, and better you get at running your own affairs, the more it becomes possible to do things that just aren’t possible in a 9-5 career.

Tentative plans for 2015

As far as my business is concerned, I have more freelance work than I can handle at times, so the emphasis will be on improving the quality of work that I accept going forward, and freeing time so that I can work on personal business projects that have been on the back burner in my brain for far too long.

I got an idea journal full of potential websites, products, and so forth just waiting to be acted on … I just have to clear enough slots on my dance card to give them the attention they need to take root and grow.

On the travel side of the coin, the goal is Ushuaia, Argentina.  The bottom of the world.  How or when I get there in 2015 is immaterial. If I can gaze towards Antarctica (the trip to the frozen continent will have to wait, as I don’t have $5,000 laying around at the moment) from the rocky shores of the bottom of the civilized world, standing astride with some penguin friends, my journey will be a complete success.

What are you up to in 2015? Tell us all about it below! 

The Wonders of Vancouver’s West Side

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While most that visit Vancouver hang out on the downtown peninsula, there is so more more to the city that they are missing out on.  Case in point: Vancouver’s West Side (not to be confused with the west end, which refers to the westerly portion of downtown that’s one of the most densely populated parts of Canada, or West Vancouver, which is the uber rich enclave on the North Shore near the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal).

This place is home to the ultra hip neighborhood of Kitsilano, two beaches where young Vancouverites go to see and be seen during the summer time, and the campus of UBC, where smart kids from across British Columbia, Canada, and the world come to further their studies.

Above all else though, the views and the surroundings of this part of town are truly out of this world…

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Walking along the shore of Burrard Inlet, a portion of land between the end of backyards of houses residing on Point Grey Road (of one Vancouver’s most elite addresses) and the ocean makes for a very scenic trail.

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While Kits and Jericho Beach are far more popular among the scenesters on the West side of Vancouver, no beach has the size and serenity that the Spanish Banks do. Located just before the UBC Endowment lands, there is no shortage of places to lay out a towel, play a game of beersbie with your friends, or just drink in the timeless view of the North Shore Mountains and ruminate how friggin lucky you are to live here (and if you don’t, you’re starting to work out in your head how you could make it so).

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Honestly, how can you go wrong with a view like this at any time of year?

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While summer and early Fall is an excellent time to be in Vancouver, I’ll heartily put in my vote for dropping by during mid Spring.  From Late April into May, cherry blossoms blow up all over the city, and with the streets of Kitsilano being lined with these beauties, your head will be swimming in a dream world of floral awesomeness.

The only proper way to head a day here into continue up the street from the waterfront to West 4th Ave and have a drink on one of many, many patios that exists there and nearby (Vancouver has such a competitive food and beverage industry that ridiculous deals exist everywhere here, so don’t be stingy … enjoy your time in this heartstoppingly beautiful place!

Ever been to Vancouver in the spring?  Love the west side of Van City and have an awesome recommendation for a place to eat and/or drink? Tell us all about it below!

Welcome To Foodie Paradise: A Day At Granville Island Market in Vancouver, Canada

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In addition to all the world renowned natural scenery that can be found all around the Greater Vancouver Area, another aspect that makes this modern metropolis attractive to people from all over Canada and the world is its food scene.  From restaurants (like the Indian place on Davie Street that is shown above), to public markets, the astounding variety of high quality cuisine and foodstuffs will blow the mind of even the most discerning foodie.

Of all the markets in Van City and area, the Granville Island Market is the most celebrated of them all.  From produce to cheeses, prepared food to fresh flowers, even casual tourists will find enough stuff here to make a trip to Granville Island worthwhile.

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To get here, either take a harbor hopper ferry across False Creek…

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Or drive in underneath the Granville Street bridge!

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All the best foodstuffs from farms across the Lower Mainland can be found here, including a bewildering array of cheeses…

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… the bounty of the sea, from shrimp to scallops…

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Maybe some fresh cut flowers for the missus, or that crush you’ve awkwardly eyeing up the past week or so?

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And no matter who you are, it’s hard to say no to some field fresh berries!

Overall, the food on display here is well worth it just to gawk at it, but come for the freshly prepared meals (sadly, not photographed on this site for some reason), and if you feel like cooking up a storm in the hostel kitchen, maybe you’ll get some ideas from here!

 

Vancouver: A Flagship City For The 21st Century

Coal Harbour "condo village" in Vancouver

If you have not been to Vancouver, it can be hard to place how modern and built up this city truly is.  Everybody has their preconceived notions surrounding Canada as a largely uninhabited wilderness with charming yet somewhat backwater-ish people.  So when you walk through a scene like the one shown above (just steps away from verdant Stanley Park), it can be a surreal experience.

Still not convinced?  Take a look inside the Vancouver I’ve grown to love, a city that is very much a flag bearer for 21st century urban living.

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Despite this cities’ reputation for modern structures, it does manage to work some historic structures into the mix with great effect.  The Vancouver Art Gallery is a place that plays host to some of the best visual art displays in Western Canada, and also is a popular gathering spot for events.  On this day, I was strolling by on 4/20 … purple haze indeed!

Vancouver Public Library

Even rudimentary institutions like the public library get designed ambitiously here.  Styled after the Roman Colosseum, the inside is as impressive as the outside facade, which goes to show that if you want to get treated like a major city on the world scene, you have to do major city things … like doing a potentially tacky reproduction of a famous ancient ruin and totally pulling it off!

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The tallest building in Vancouver is the Shangri-la Hotel at a dizzying 201 metres (659 feet) above the street … like, literally.  Try standing at the bottom and staring up at the square dots … you’ll feel your head spinning and your feet starting to give out before you know it! 🙂

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With innovative, groundbreaking designs, water features that force you to stop and take in their magnificence, and the lush surroundings made possible by its mild climate, Vancouver’s skyscrapers and urban design are something that any self-respecting urbanite should experience at some point in their lifetimes?

What modern wonders does your city contain?  Feel free to share them with us below!

Canada’s California: Palm Trees And More In Vancouver, BC

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Sitting on Canada’s west coast, the city of Vancouver, which sits at end of a low lying sliver of land in British Columbia’s southwest known as the Lower Mainland, experience considerably warmer weather than the rest of the nation as a whole.

Together with Vancouver Island and the North Coast, they are bubbles of mildness that endure through the vast majority of a harsh Canadian winter, with daytime highs averaging between 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (42 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) at a time when the rest of Canada is in the deep freeze and buried under mounds of snow.

This temperate climate, combined with some of the best soil in the nation also allows a mind-boggling variety of plants to grow, and yes, as shown above, some of the hardiest palm trees in the world can indeed grow in Van City, lending the place more credence to its legendary status among weather-obsessed Canadians.

Here’s some more examples of horticultural brilliance that can be found in one of Canada’s best cities…

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With robust bushes of pink flowers and palm trees and a condo tower in the background, doesn’t this feel like Hawaii at first blush?  The water and the air might be a bit chillier, but use your imagination, people!

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Cherry trees are planted here in abundance and luckily for me, I was in town during blossom season.  Being in the mid to high teens Celsius (60’s in Fahrenheit) while Alberta continued to freeze also allowed the flower beds throughout public spaces like this one at the end of Davie and Denman to flourish in a truly spectacular fashion!

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Just a brilliant day to head to the beach, soak up the spring sun, and enjoy the beautiful bounty that such a horticultural and climatically rich part of the world has to offer to you.  Yes, Vancouver’s an expensive place to live or visit, but with surroundings like this, the pain is worth the struggle to experience what can only be described as Canada’s California! 🙂

Ever been to Vancouver, or any other freakishly warm place when the rest of your country was suffering in the cold?  Tell us all about it below!

Because I Was Bored: My Epic Jasper Ski Trip

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In order to have the time to lay out and execute my plan to teach ESL in South Korea, I determined that I needed to quit my job to give myself the breathing space required to satisfy the myriad of steps to secure a Korean work visa and with it, a job.

However, during the ensuing time between leaving my job and boarding the plane to Korea, there was a lot of lag time spent in Calgary going for daily walk in the suburbs, working on my website, and watching Youtube and the Walking Dead. Yawn.

After about a month of this, I was getting restless. The time was ripe for a Jasper ski trip!  For one, there was a ton of powder in the mountains that wasn’t getting shredded … I decided it was up to me to do my solemn Canadian duty to ensure that no line, be it high in the alpine or in a tight glade , went undisturbed.

Second, many of my Jasper friends were still in or near town (the opening photo is a view of the front range of the Rockies from the industrial town of Hinton, Alberta, where two of my former tour guide friends lived), so a visit to these fine folks were definitely in order.

Little did I know, I would get a lot more champagne pow that I had bargained for…!

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First though, I spent some time with my dear friend Brooke and her adorable puppy dog Layla. We spent a couple of days going for long walks through the forests and fields behind her neighbourhood (Canada’s an amazing country, as the wilderness is anywhere from steps to a short drive away from your house!), catching up on the past year, and watching awesome movies!

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I also took the opportunity to drop in on another awesome friend, Stephie!  As a contrast to Brooke’s place, this locale had a distinctly feline flavour.  I would have gotten a better shot of Eddie And Axl Rosie, but they were too busy om nom nom-ing!

After arrival in Jasper and sorting my ski rental for the following morning, I had lunch with another work friend before deciding on my activity for the afternoon: climbing Old Fort Point … in winter!

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The sublime waters of the Athabasca River were made much more effervescent by the slate grey sky above, a harbinger of events to come that weekend.  But first, I had a glacially formed hill to scale first … little did I know that it would be the most harrowing experience of the entire trip!

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It was a tough climb to this point, but the hard packed snow provided enough traction…

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The views of the main range in the distance were quite excellent on this day, but I was more focused on maintaining my balance at this juncture, as the ground underfoot had shifted to mostly glare ice, or loose shale … hurray!

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Made it to the top … now to get down (note to everyone, as well as myself: use crampons next time!) 🙁

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Warming up beside the fire at HI – Whistler’s Hostel (recommended despite the distance from town), I pondered the reports of record snows the next day.  After being skirted by hyped storms in the past, I knew better than to get my hopes up too high…!

Alas, Ullr visited my favourite mountain town with full fury the next day (and the one after that…!)

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It was the day that every powder hound hopes and dreams will happen to them at least once in their lifetime … that particular day struck for me and many other Jasperites at Marmot Basin (it was a weekday, so the city folk were at work, helplessly watching us carve up the sweet, sweet blower…!)

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The view from my favourite cruising black diamond run … the powder hides the skiier created moguls, which form during periods of low snowfall.  Some people treat it like a minefield … I just dive right in!  I need a GoPro 😛

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Slash is one of my favourite runs at Marmot Basin … it starts out innocently enough, and then a steep drop smacks you down just as you’re getting into a comfortable rhythm.  Just attack it – staring over the precipice will only get you in trouble!

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It was a ski selfie kinda day … but it wasn’t over yet…!

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From carving up the powder on the less trafficked blacks and in the turn or die woods, it was a day well lived.  All told, 71 centimetres (2 feet, 4 1/2 inches for any Americanos out there) fell that weekend, stranding me in Jasper for another day.  So, what did I do?  I stayed and skied another day, of course!

No photos on that day though: I focused on soaking in the moment that day … even travel bloggers have to step out from behind the camera sometimes! 🙂

What was your most perfect ski/boarding day in your life like? Share your stoke-filled tale in the comments!

Doing The Teahouse Circuit: Hiking In Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

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With the onset of winter rapidly approaching, I had not truly gotten out into the mountains that much.  Yes, I had gone out on a trip for Labour Day Weekend to see my friends, and I had done a whirlwind tour of Icefields Parkway attractions for you guys, but had not hoofed it through the wilds of the Canadian Rockies yet during that summer, which was a crime in and of itself!

Thus, there I was, standing on the platform of my C-Train at an even earlier hour than when I usually started my weekday commute, bleary eyed and jonesing for some breakfast to bring me out of my semi-comatose state (nothing is open in the suburbs at the hour you see above) before heading off on a weekend of hiking in Lake Louise.

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Eventually, I did get to the Greyhound Bus Station in Calgary that morning, but not without weaving about the streets of the Beltline during the later stages of the witching hour … kinda spooky down there when it is still dark and little activity from the general population.  Anyway, shortly after, our bus begins lurching towards the Rockies and the sun rose shortly thereafter, giving a rousing view that one can only enjoy in harvest season in Alberta!

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Upon arrival, the fresh, COLD mountain air (Lake Louise is the highest settled place in Canada at 1,750 metres above sea level (5,700 feet) granted an invigorating contrast to the air of the city.  Indeed, the overall atmosphere was as if one had stepped through a portal from a harried, loud and stressful realm to one of beauty and peace.

Clearly, I needed this getaway like a fish needs water!

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After paying a king’s ransom for a truck stop lunch ($20 for ordinary chicken fingers and fries) and a couple of 1.5 L bottles of water ($4 per bottle!!), and dropping my main bag off at HI – Lake Louise, I set off up the hill towards Lake Louise (the lake itself … as I was already in town).

I could have taken a cab up to the Teahouse Circuit trail head instead, but (a) fitness, (b) more time in nature (just look at that view above!) and (c) Lake Louise is quite the pricey place, as I’ve already shown in the previous paragraph!

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Upon reaching the lake shore, I briefly paused to take the artiest photos I could, mostly failing in the process. 😛 No matter though, as The Plain Of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes were the goals on this day, not capturing an overdone portrait…

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The weather in Lake Louise can be fickle, and this day was no exception.  Strolling along Lake Louise saw a brief moment of pleasantness, but that wouldn’t last long…

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… because sure enough, it clouded over again, and a cold drizzle began to drift down from the moody clouds above.  The views more than made up for it though, as I pushed further into the sub-alpine.

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You can’t see it in this pic, but at this point, the drizzle had deteriorated into a full-on torrential downpour, soaking my clothes quite thoroughly.  Thankfully, I had dry clothes in my shielded day pack, but it just goes to show that you have to respect the weather whenever you are in the mountains.  I could have done much better by having rain gear or non-cotton clothes myself … live and learn!

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Completely numb at this point, the sight I had been waiting for appeared in a depression in the glacial plain ahead … the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse!  Here, I dried off and changed clothes, and claimed my hard-earned award … some of the richest chocolate cake you’ll ever eat!  Don’t be put off by the $6 price tag … it’s worth it.

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The Plain of Six Glaciers is located at a dead end in the established trail, making for a good bit of backtracking to get to the junction that would lead to objective #2 on the day: the Lake Agnes Teahouse.  The weather changed once again on the way back, allowing for a spectacular suspended view of Lake Louise from thousands of feet up!

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Along the way, there are innumerable classic views waiting to be captured by your camera.  This is just a taste (lots of standalone photo posts to come from this hike!)

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I finally reached Lake Agnes with a few short hours before sunset, with the climb down all the way to the town still to be completed.  Lake Agnes has no natural inlet, being a tarn lake formed by a melting glacier thousands of years ago and only being partially replenished by snow melt since the initial formation of the lake.  I did manage to get in just in time to buy a cookie before the tea house closed … also recommended!

Ever gone hiking in Lake Louise?  Share your experience below!

Lake Louise’s Other Body Of Water: Paying A Visit To Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Canada

After years of working at Maligne Lake, and with the easy accessibility of Lake Louise, it was a shame that I hadn’t been to one of the Rockies’ most underappreciated bodies of water, Moraine Lake. It’s not that nobody knows about this place, as it was featured on the back of the Canadian dollar bill (before we switched to the less regal-sounding loonie coin), and there is a homely looking resort on the premises.

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It’s just that it languishes in the shadow of its more famous cousin Lake Louise, who has a much more glamorous resort on her shores, along with easier highway access. To get up to Moraine Lake, you have to drive up a winding, precarious (but breathtaking beautiful) mountain road that is only open in the summer time.  Not only that, but in the fall, there are needled trees called larches whose needles turn a golden yellow, drawing hordes of people from nearby Calgary, creating horrific traffic jams.

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So, needless to say, getting here is a matter of timing, patience, and willingness to get off the main track that time starved tourists seem to stay glued to, like a tongue on a icy flagpole. Despite these difficulties though, it is well worth to spend some time contemplating life on the shore here, as the clouds drift over the stalwart peaks, still laden with leftover snow from the previous winter (even though it’s early September), and as the icy cold but impeccably clean lake water laps on the shore, nibbling at your exposed toes.

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Or you can come here for the epic hiking opportunities, but don’t come in a party less than four, as the presence of grizzly bears in the valley where Moraine Lake is located has caused Parks Canada to ban groups smaller than that for safety reasons.

Traveling by your lonesome, or in a small group? Check in at the Lake Louise info centre and register with other randoms so that your party will meet the prescribed size.  It’s recommended that you take some bear spray in too, just in case of a hostile encounter (as long as you make enough noise on the trail though, this shouldn’t happen though).

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To register to hike at Moraine Lake, first head to the info centre, then…

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… head to Moraine Lake (not Lake Louise by accident) and enjoy some of Banff National Park’s most awe-inspiring scenery that you can see via automobile transport!

Ever been to Moraine Lake?

Photo: Peyto Lake’s Unearthly Blue Hue, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

The Canadian Rockies boasts many gorgeous lakes.  Of them all, perhaps Peyto Lake, located in Banff National Park, is the most brilliant.  Coloured by glacial sediment that has tinged the lake a delightful shade of baby blue, it is a sight that gets the shutters clicking the second you step on the viewpoint from where this photo was taken.

There is a path that will take you down to the lake shore, and I had photos of it that I lost, but I didn’t have time to re-do my trek on this day, as my rental car was due to be returned in mere hours … I’ll have to plan it out better next time I am in Banff National Park!

To reach this beautiful place, head north on the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise until you reach the Bow Summit area.  In this region, there will be signs indicating that you have reached Peyto Lake … follow the signs to the parking lot, then trek up the paths, and you’re there!  Just be sure to pack a sweater, as it can be quite chilly up there even in the peak of summer!

My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days.  This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.

I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea.  I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.

Well, that’s cool.  But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway?  On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!

January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this.  Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.

As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead.  All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!

February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job?  Time To Go Skiing!

After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past.  While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.

Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do?  Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there!  Sick times.  Want to see more?  Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!

March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”.  While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.

During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico.  During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.

In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB!  I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul.  WHOO-HOO!

April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system.  As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”.  There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).

Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!

May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea

Rooftop view, Baebang, Korea

After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here.  The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.

For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).

Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend.  Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t.  So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>

Whew… I’m almost never like that.  Sorry guys.  Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine.  And go public, not private.  More on that in a second…!

June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s

Daecheon Beach, Korea

OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right?  I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world.  Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach!  Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.

If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs.  Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style!  I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!

Korean BBQ in Korea

Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ).  I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.

Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers.  When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!

July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.

My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city.  From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet).  As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂

August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…

Word of wisdom, Korea

I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August.  After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.

With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move.  After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand.  For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching.  Totally burnt out.  I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.

As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity.  A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it.  At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…

September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia.  I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die.  If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily.  It’s that good guys, for serious!

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From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next.  Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!

October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here.  Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!

November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious.  Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included.  Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month.  Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that!  On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all.  Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!

December 2013 – Catching Fire

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month.  Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that.  I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.

All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂

How did the past year treat you?  Regale us with your tales in the comments!