Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Take On TBEX Toronto

With TBEX Dublin coming up soon, I've been ruminating on my experience at TBEX Toronto. A lot of bloggers have asked me about whether it's a worthwhile conference and how such a big and buzzy event can be helpful for independent-minded bloggers. In my opinion, it all depends on who you are and where you are in your travel blogging journey. I was a speaker at the very first TBEX, when it was just a gathering of  travel bloggers and writers meeting up in Chicago. Maybe there were a 100 people at that meeting in the Chicago Cultural Center but it seemed more intimate. That was four years ago. TBEX Toronto attracted 1200 attendees. It didn't seem intimate, it didn't seem like just a gathering. It was a BIG EVENT.  There were pre-tours and post tours and parties and speed dating and lots of drama. If you are an introvert and don't deal well with crowds, you probably wouldn't find TBEX that enjoyable. If you don't like the idea of corporate sponsorship or any level of wheeling and dealing, TBEX would probably turn you off. If you don't know why you blog or aren't sure if you want to continue, you might find TBEX to be intimidating. That being said, I felt the experience was worth the money and time I spent and here's why:

I learned from  the sessions offered. I gathered helpful tips and ideas about content strategy, social media management tools and how to build community with readers. I especially learned valuable travel photography tips from the inimitable Lola Akinmade Akerstrom.

I had the chance to explore one of my favorite cities from another perspective.  I explored Toronto's ethnic communities, including Chinatown, Little Portugal, Indian Bazaar, Little Korea and Little Italy with a local chef. He guided us through streets I might not have ever seen and offered local tastes that I might not have ever savored.

Not only did I get to catch up with blogger friends and connect in real time but I met new ones. I traipsed through the funky Kensington Market neighborhood with Debbie Abrams Kaplan, We shopped through the quirky vintage salons where they only accepted Canadian dollars.

I was so exhausted by the second night of the conference that I skipped the Expedia Viewing party and hung out with my friend Mikey B, local writer and fellow music head. He squired me around T.O. for tapas, sangria and live music. (Which alas, I couldn't keep my eyes open for.)

I had the opportunity to try out Airbnb for the first time, snagging a great apartment in the middle of downtown Toronto and steps away from the TBEX headquarters.

Finally, I got to stay with a gracious Italian couple, Elisa and Giancarlo, who walked me to the island airport on my way back home and reminded me why I love Italy so much.
So that's what I got from TBEX. I had fun, I learned new things and met with old friends and new. Are you considering going to TBEX Dublin?

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Vallarta Vision

I know this totally looks like an arranged scene but I was lucky to grab this classic shot of a paleta vendor relaxing in the Puerto Vallarta sun. The vivid colors of the hammock and dress, accented by the perfect, sun-blocking tilt of his hat makes this one of my favorite travel images this year. I think it showcases the appeal of Mexican culture, from the traditional textiles and importance of entrepreneurs, to the natural tropical beauty, all in one snap.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moose Tracking in the Chic Choc Mountains

Besides maple syrup,moose are probably the most common symbol of Canada's expansive natural beauty. I've tasted lots of maple syrup but I've never seen a moose up close so I was excited to hike through the Gaspe Peninsula's Chic Choc Mountains and track moose.  Chic Choc ( pronounced shick-shock) means impenetrable in the First nation Mic-Mac language and the mountains did indeed present an endless maze of jaw-dropping vistas that I certainly wouldn't have navigated without our sure-footed guide, Jean Pierre.

We spotted a female moose (no antlers) early in our trek and I couldn't believe our luck.

I was close enough to watch her delicately select leaves to munch but she didn't seem to be fazed by the presence of five gawking humans.

Staring directly at us, she calmly marched away, convinced that there was nothing we could do to all 600 pounds of her. She personified the phrase, "large and in charge." The moose was huge but we didn't hear her footsteps through the forest at all, only the distant crunching of leaves. 

Jean-Pierre pointed out a flattened  grassy area as a moose bed.It didn't look big enough for a moose but maybe they curl up their hulking bodies for a sound nights sleep.

Jean-Pierre brimmed with hiking expertise and Quebecois spirit, as you can grasp from the photo.I had a quintessential Canadian experience that will always stand out in my memory. Have you had any travel experiences that fully represented the destination?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

For The Birds: Gaspe's Bonaventure Island

The stench arrives before you even spot them. Sailing to Bonaventure Island, absorbing the stunning scenery, you realize that you're near the world's second largest Northern Gannet breeding colony when the noxious aroma of pounds of bird poop accosts your nose. But the wonder of the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of birds quickly helps you forget that.

Gazing at them from a distance, they don't even look like birds but blankets of white, covering slabs of rock. Even if I didn't know that these were birds I soon received sticky proof in the form of bird poop dropped on my shoulders from the 250 foot nesting cliffs.

I was glad to arrive on the island and wander the pretty trails lined with lush greenery.

We hiked through the cleared trails that lead to the birds. We hiked up hills. And down hills. And through forests. And we hiked some more.

Finally, there were the birds. Flapping, squawking, flying, everywhere.

Everywhere you turned, the white feathered Gannets perched.

It was an overwhelming experience, being totally surrounded by birds. Bonaventure hosts 293 species but the Gannets are the most visible.

My favorite sight was this mother bird with her baby chick, calmly sheltering the newborn in the midst of a sea of activity.