Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Shark Summit

The first time I glimpsed the dots bubbling underneath the ocean on the left, I thought I was hallucinating. I had sailed a jerky, sun-scorching hour to get to the whale shark reserve of Isla Contoy on the Yucatan Peninsula and needless to say, I wasn't in the best mental state.  The dreaded sea-seasickness had kicked in and I wasn't sure if I was seeing things.

 When we set off at the crack of dawn for EcoColors Whale Shark Adventure, I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't expect this Mayan warrior above, jumping and waving his talisman on the dock. I think he was wishing us vaya con Dios Americanos estupidos. It did not feel comforting but what did I know?

I was still smiling when I hopped on the boat, excited about this once-in-a lifetime experience. There are only two places you can see whale sharks in the world:Australia and Mexico. And I wasn't going to just see them, I was going to splash down right next to them and snorkel.

By the time we set sail and the ocean rippled and rocked our small boat, I was having tiny second thoughts. Whale sharks are the biggest fish on Earth, averaging 41,50 feet and 47,000 pounds. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to get all up in their face. Just at that point, the bubbles rose up to reveal a cluster of polka-dotted whale sharks, surrounding our boat. It was almost like they were inviting us to join them.

This baby whale shark floated so close that I could touch him. I slung on  my snorkel mask and jumped in, queasy stomach and all. Our naturalist guide led us to a small group of whale sharks, We were instructed not to swim in front of the sharks because their eyes are on the side and they can't see in front. We swam on the side of the speckled fish, which are part of the shark family but are a slow-moving, filter-feeding variety. They eat plankton, microscopic plants and small animals. I was assured that human morsels are not included in their diet, which is a good thing because they swam so close to me that they brushed up against my skin. Although they ballooned out hundreds of feet around me, they weren't menacing but playful, like dolphins. Unlike dolphins, whale sharks are classified as "vulnerable to extinction" on the World Conversation Union's Red List. I'm glad I endured the six-hour adventure, there are only about  2,500 whale sharks in Mexico and I snagged an up close and personal visit with quite a few of them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fun in the Sun Without The Burn

I love the sun. It's no coincidence that much of my traveling takes place in climates where the sun blazes nonstop. Nothing encourages exploration and adventure quite like a sunny day, as long as you're equipped to handle it. Besides sunscreen and sun glasses, I always pack sun hats for any tropical escapade. And by sun hats, I don't mean the geeky safari or outback variety. You can have sun protection and style all in one hat and I have a carefully curated arsenal to prove it. The only problem is that not all fashionable sun hats are crushable and easy to pack so I'm always on the lookout for more.  So when I received a  review sample of  the La Scala Collezione sun hat with SPF 50 sun protection, I was a little excited.  I wasn't a lot excited because I was skeptical of the claim that this hat would block 97.5 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays. With a cute ric-rac design, cotton and polyester fabric and a bendable four-inch brim, this little chapeau just didn't look that powerful. So I took it on the ultimate test--Mexico in the heat of the summer.

There's something about the intense Mexican sun that always scorches me, I don't care how much sunscreen or how many hats that I wear. I have never stepped a toe into Mexico without coming home with some part of my body burned. I wore the La Scala hat in 98 degree heat as I waltzed through Isla Mujeres, dripping in sweat.  Guess what? After a total of nine hours in the sun, I wasn't even lightly singed. Very impressive for a hat that's  also cute and packable. I wish I could tell you that I finally made it home from Mexico without any sunburn but I can not. The one day I didn't wear the hat, I promptly burned my nose and cheeks (slathered with sunscreen). I probably need to order one of these hats in every color. They cost $30 and can be ordered at womens-hats.com. What are some of your sun protection tips?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Anne's Angst: Raspberry Cordial or Currant Wine

You can't go many places in Canada and not be greeted with a reference from the classic children's book,  set in Canada's Prince Edward Island, Anne of Green Gables.  But I was surprised and delighted to spot bottles of  raspberry cordial at Montreal's Jean-Talon Market. In a pivotal scene in the book, dramatic Anne serves her best friend Diana huge tumblers full of raspberry cordial. Only it's not zesty raspberry cordial but Marilla's  homemade currant wine and Diana stumbles home drunk.  Poor Anne is forever banned from seeing her best friend for getting her in such a wicked state. Sipping the fruity drink, I was transported to weeks reading the Anne of Green Gables books as a child and then reliving them with my daughter decades later. Have you ever seen anything that brought you back to your childhood during your travels?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Montreal Circus Arts

Montreal is a city that vibrates with quirkiness. You'll see evidence of this everywhere from the edgy public art to the funky fashion. I'll have posts on both of those things but another quirky example that really struck me was the prevalence of circus arts. I know that this is the city that birthed Cirque du Soleil but I was caught off guard. My first vision upon entering the acclaimed Montreal Jazz Festival  was the pair of hula hoopers, above.

I was just not prepared for this sight or the mimes, stilt walkers and jugglers that I also saw everywhere I turned. I've attended lots of jazz festivals but I've never witnessed any circus performers during them.

By the time I saw these aerialists, I had discovered that Montreal takes its circus arts very seriously. It's treated like any other art form and admittance to the National Circus Performers School Montreal carries as much prestige as entrance into an Ivy League college.

Cirque du Soleil is just the most famous, there are dozens of similar troupes in Montreal and I enjoyed a taste  of their dramatic attributes for most of the time that I visited Montreal.