How to Start a Roadtrip in Australia

Australia is one the biggest countries in the world with nearly 3 million square miles of landmass alone. This enormous country makes the improbable combination of tropical rainforests, grassland, and vast dry deserts on a single island a possibility.

Most Australian cities line areas near the stunning coastlines and may be linked by limited and expensive transportation (after all, the distances covered are vast.) While it’s possible to fly between Sydney and Perth, or Brisbane and Darwin, you would get only a brief hint of the truly diverse landscapes encompassing a coast to coast journey.

Milky Way Australia

For these reasons and more, the only way to truly experience Australia is via road trip, already one of my absolute favourite ways to explore the world (thanks to my first road trips driving across Canada and the USA). Road trips are the ultimate freedom in travel. Choose your own hours, stops, destinations and explore the hard to reach places, all on your own time.  Continue reading

Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex – Hong Kong

Welcome to the new series that basically named itself! We’ve just landed in a new continent that is about to challenge us in completely new ways. Some will undoubtedly be intriguing and funny little things we’ll have to adjust to. Others will surely be frustrating or beyond comprehension. Finally, there will be cringe-worthy moments certain to have us questioning why we ever left the comforts of home in the first place.

Each article in the series is intended to be an opportunity to learn, grow and share. It is our collection of observations and information from the different cultures we visit from our subjective anthropological perspective. We never intend to shame or shed negativity on anyone else’s way of life. Wherever we can, we will do our best to understand and explain how to respect and behave in a given place. Though sometimes, we may only be able to share on what NOT to do, as we figure out life as a local through our embarrassing mistakes and faux paus moments.

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong -- Karina's Extraordinary Life

Pandamonium! Arriving in Hong Kong — Karina’s Extraordinary Life


Culture Shock! And The Sorry Complex

To kick off the series I definitely want to poke fun at one of the most famous stereotypes we deal with as Canadians. Most have heard the jokes, especially if you watch ‘How I Met Your Mother’, about how apologetic Canadian culture is. That’s saying it nicely I guess. Most jokes state that you could punch a Canadian in the face and spill their beer and said Canadian would apologize for running into your hand and offer to buy you a drink! I’d be willing to bet that has never happened, but to a certain degree, absolutely, we apologize for everything. It’s more of a reflex than a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, and most of us may not even think about it, but that absence of acknowledging that you may have possibly, in some minor way bothered, obstructed, touched or dismissed another person has become a very loud silence since we arrived in Hong Kong. Not once have I been apologized to for anything here! Not even when the airline lost my bags!

Continue reading

An Extraordinary Guide to Caribbean Coast of Guatemala: Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal (Part II)

View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different.  La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea.

Check out Part I for the seaside, Garifuna town of Livingston and the nearby attractions. 


View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Travel Tip:

Take a daytime walk over the bridge for the best views from high above the ‘sweet river’.


Rio Dulce is a sweet water haven surrounded by massive jungles that connects the enormous fresh water Lake Izabal with the open sea on the Caribbean coast. In contrast to the crowded, gateway town of Fronteras, the waters edge is spotted by small and isolated Mayan towns, a few eco-lodges and the weekend homes of Guatemala’s wealthy elite. Beautiful mansions complete with thatch roof ranchos covering enormous luxury boats shine a spotlight on the massively uneven distributions of wealth in this country. Continue reading

An Extraordinary Guide to Caribbean Coast of Guatemala: Livingston (Part I)

Waterfront pier over at Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different.  La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea. (Part II click here)

Where the river meets the salty ocean stands the Garifuna town of Livingston. This is a corner of Guatemala so unlike the rest of the country, it is hard believe you are not some island far, far away. The remote location and lack of connecting roads have helped to preserve this completely separate culture. Descendants from the Black Caribs of St. Vincent (Nigerian slaves mixed with Carib locals and consider themselves a separate race) the Garifuna people brought their own language, music, delicious seafood based gastronomy and some still practice an Afro-Carib religion know as dugu.

Livingston is still a small community, though a few roads have been paved and virtually any car you see will operate as a taxi (20Q to anywhere). The main strip from the public dock is packed with Western style restaurants and a few hostels. Shops there are clearly targeting tourism with all kinds seaside souvenirs such as giant conch shells, carved coconuts and sea stars as well as traditional Garifuna ailment cures and natural oils. The waterfront on the river side is lined with small hotels, perfectly positioned to invite in the fresh breeze on balmy, humid days. (See accommodations below)

The beaches around town are generally not nice. Most people will take the popular full day tour to Playa Blanca or White Beach. Living up to its name, this white sand, sparkly blue sea water is a bit of an anomaly for Guatemala. There is a 20Q charge to use the beach, money goes to cleaning up large amounts of sea trash that washes unto the entire coastline. Better yet, make your way to Siete Altares (Seven Altars). A cool, freshwater river waterfalls into pools beneath the soaring jungle. Hike up the pools through a series of makeshift paths to bathe, relax and jump off the rocks. 20Q entrance fee.

The Tour

A lancha departs at 9am taking the group to Siete Altares first for a brief swim before dropping everyone off at Playa Blanca for the day. A sandwich is provided for lunch and the lancha returns at 3:30pm. Entrance fees not included.

Travel Tip:

Unless you’ve never seen a white sand beach before, skip the tour (and the crowds) and make your way to Siete Altares by land. It’s a long but straight forward walk from Livingston that affords you looks into how people really live and work. Distinct architecture, alternating concrete palaces and thatched huts, abandoned homes reclaimed by the jungle, makeshift shops, a colouful cemetery and plenty of characters along the way. Follow the paved road past the Mayan village where it’s hard not to marvel at how different and separate these two groups of people are.

When the road ends, cross the hanging bridge and keep walking along the black sand coastline another half an hour until you see the pier.

Depart early so you can avoid the midday heat and drink lots of water 🙂

Return trip: Walk back to the bridge where there is often someone willing to drive you back into town for a fee. We paid 20Q for 3 people.

Safety

Everyone we spoke with assured us that this is a very small and tranquil community. We never felt unsafe walking about.

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it's head right off. Even though it's likely it was not a human, it's still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. -- Karina Noriega

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it’s head right off. Even though it’s likely it was not a human, it’s still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. — Karina Noriega


Accommodations 

  • There is only one luxury option in Livingston.

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Villa Caribe is tucked perfectly into the edge of the peninsula. It can easily pass as an all-inclusive with its waterfront location, on-site restaurant, elevated suites for the best views and the golden ticket, a huge palm tree rimmed swimming pool.

Prices start at US$115per night based on double occupancy and includes 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners. villacaribe@villasdeguatemala.com +(502)2223-5005  ext.116

  • Backpacker Budget

Most backpackers head straight to Casa de la Iguana. Unfortunately it is not by the water so it can get scorching hot but they have a large range of options. Share a private room for 3 at 120Q, a dorm bed for 50Q or spend the night under the stars for 20Q They pride themselves on being a party hostel, in fact, some of the on duty staff were simply “too f*cked up to help”. Happy hour is 6-8pm… or all the time. +(502)7947-0976

  • My choice

Casa Rosada. Simple and rustic bungalows with a fan, mosquito nets and separate bathroom and shower areas. Clean and well maintained with an excellent little restaurant that serves 3 course meals and attracts guests from all over Livingston. Very quiet and relaxed. Selling point: long pier over the water complete with a rancho and hammocks to laze the day away.

160Q per bungalow (we paid 180Q for 3 of us to share) +(502)7947-0303 www.hotelcasarosada.com

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Travel Tip:

High Season in Livingston is June, July and August. Prepare for fully booked accommodations and rising prices.

We went in April and it was absolutely perfect. Hot sunny days with a cool ocean breeze, few tourists and NO mosquitos!

Personal Recommendations for Food

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma's empanada emporium :) Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma’s empanada emporium 🙂 Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– Across from Hotel Delfin, on calle (street) Marcos Sanchez Diaz is a little tienda (store) without a name. The matriarch of a friendly local family cooks up delicious and filling chicken or fish empanadas for just 2Q each (less than 25centUS). It can literally fill up two grown ups for less than $1. 

Just ask for empanadas de Vilma and send our regards 🙂

Restaurante Margoth

The most authentic TAPADO in town as vouched for by locals. Tapado is a Garifuna dish made with coconut milk, plantain and includes fish, crab, shrimp, octopus and lobster; all still whole and in their shells/skins/tails 90Q One of the most delicious meals I’ve ever tried. Totally worth the splurge.

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it's absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it’s absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– Breakfast at Casa Rosada

30-35Q Pick from traditional eggs and beans or fresh fruit and big pancakes. Real coffee for 10Q (not the unfortunate instant crap they serve at most places throughout Guatemala).


Getting here:

There are only two options.

  1. Puerto Barrios

Whether you are coming from within Guatemala by road, or boating into the country from Honduras or Belize, all trails meet in Puerto Barrios. Head straight to the dock (where 12th street meets the water). Lanchas leave every half hour to an hour. 35Q for the 45 minute ride into Livingston. (Larger and much slower ferries also depart here twice a day).

2.   Rio Dulce

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Lanchas from Rio Dulce leave twice daily, 9:30am and 2pm. 125Q one way for a 2 and half hour journey through the extraordinary jungle canyon (A lot more on this trip in Part II, coming next week.)

Travel Tip:

Take the morning boat. Waters get a lot choppier in the afternoon making the beautiful journey a little hard to enjoy.

From Guatemala City:

Litegua offers Central Americas most modern and efficient transit system. The buses are large, clean and safe. First class busses include free water, AC, and your own personal TV/gaming system. Fares range from 80-125Q depending on class and route to/from Guatemala City (6-7 hours)

The Puerto Barrios station is just a short walk/taxi ride from the dock.

www.litegua.com +(502)2326-9595


Our Trip

April and I invited April’s dad along on his very first backpacking trip!

We spent 4 days in Rio Dulce and Livingston plus another 4 exploring the ruins of Iximche and the colonial city of Antigua. Watch our adventure coming up on our next post.

Part II of the extraordinary guide to the Caribbean: Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal

~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

Check out the Cost Breakdown for Travel Through Guatemala

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Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part III: Homestay vs. Hostel)

My bedroom in Xela was a concrete addition added on to the rooftop of the family home. When I stepped outside of my bedroom, this was the view overlooking the city. Xela, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Choosing the best language school accomodations for you: Homestay vs Hostel

Out for a night on the town, eating typical Guatemala food at a local restaurant, La Cuevita De Los Urquizu. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Out for a night on the town, eating typical Guatemala food at a local restaurant, La Cuevita De Los Urquizu. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

The big question you will ask yourself, once you have selected the best language school for you , is “Where am I going to live while I am studying?” If you don’t have friends or family who are able to host you, you are likely to go with one of two options:

  1. Stay with a local family (which can be arranged through your school).

OR

  1. Live in a hostel.

I spent three weeks living with a family and three weeks living in a hostel. Both options are relatively low cost but each option has its own benefits. Here are 6 helpful tips I learned from first-hand experience that can help you decide which environment is right for YOU!

Three Advantages To Living With Locals While Attending Language School

1. Peace of Mind

The homestay experience allows language students to pay a reasonable fee to live and eat with a local family.  When I signed up for language classes in Xela, Guatemala I opted for the homestay experience as it was my first time living in a foreign country. I appreciated the peace of mind I received paying one fee to have all of my food and shelter arrangements taken care of. This relieved significant weight from my shoulders so I could concentrate my energy on my studies.

The weekly fee of US$155 included 25 hours of private classes at the Celas Maya school plus the homestay package with a local family. Meals were provided by the family 6 days a week. On Sunday, students must make their own arrangements for meals which is a common practice for most homestay contracts in Central America.

2. Meals Are Prepared For You

Spending time with my host family. Xela, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Spending time with my host family. Xela, Guatemala — April Beresford

The meals prepared by my host family were very basic and there wasn’t much variety from one day to the next. I found them to be hearty enough that I did not need to purchase additional food.  Students eat whatever the family eats and while each household is slightly different, a staple in most Latin American homes is beans and rice which was served at least once per day by my host family. Families are open to supporting dietary restrictions but in order to ensure the cost benefit ratio serves their interest, they will not increase your food budget.  If you want to increase your meat intake or eat extra veggies every day, you will need purchase those items yourself and the family will cook them for you.

3. Socializing In Your New Language

The best way to create a more authentic immersion experience is to live with a local family. This increases the opportunity for engaging with locals in your immediate environment.  Every time you sit at the dinner table for example, you will have the opportunity to practice your new language. You can’t help but pick up a language faster when everywhere you turn, you are forced to communicate in that new language.

Also, living in the same space as a local family will allow you to connect more deeply with their culture.

Homestay families will provide the quiet environment necessary for you to study and get your required rest so you can maximize your potential for learning.

Three Advantages to Staying in a Hostel While Attending Language School

1. Paying For What You Want

Hostels provide basic services to customers and in turn, provide very inexpensive accommodations to travelers. Most travelers only stay a few nights while they are passing through town, so hostel managers are willing to negotiate a deal on the price when customers are able to commit to a longer stay. While pricing out hostels can be more time consuming than paying for a homestay, in the end you will have more selections to choose from. Also, hostels often provide customers with free wifi access. Your homestay family is unlikely to provide this so your internet access would then be limited to being on-site at your language school. Many hostels will provide free coffee, tea and water throughout the day whereas in a homestay situation, you will be limited as to when and how much you can use of these items.

2. Preparing Your Own Food

Messy Hostel Kitchen- Unfortunately when you are staying in a hostel, some patrons fail to clean up after themselves. Maid staff will clean up the mess when it bottlenecks but I encourage you to be a respectful traveler and clean up your own mess. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Messy Hostel Kitchen- Unfortunately when you are staying in a hostel, some patrons fail to clean up after themselves. Maid staff will clean up the mess when it bottlenecks but I encourage you to be a respectful traveler and clean up your own mess. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Often guests have access to a shared kitchen space where food can be prepared and stored. You can eat whatever you want, when you want (as long as you respect the kitchen’s hours of operation). When committing to a homestay on the other hand, you must respect the families designated meal times and this creates obvious barriers to your freedom if you prefer to come and go as you please. Living in a hostel, if you purchase food at a local market and prepare it yourself you can stay healthy, and keep costs down or you can choose to attend restaurants as you please. The point is, that by utilizing a hostel for accommodations you operate on your own schedule at all times.

3. Immersion Diversion

Learning a new language will be mentally draining. Staying at a hostel will open you to the opportunity of potentially interacting with people who speak the same language as you do. This will give you a break from the immersion experience if you are finding this type of environment too isolating. Lots of new people from all over the world come and go from hostels every day which will expose you to a diverse range of cultures. The hostel environment does however, run the risk of diverting your attention from your studies as they often cultivate a party culture. This can be very distracting as you might be easily swayed to stay out late, getting to know a stranger, when you need to wake up early for school the next day. If you possess unwavering discipline, you will remain a step ahead of the game.

Browsing through local shops with some new friends. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Browsing through local shops with some new friends. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Still have questions?

The strategies presented in mind will definitely help set you up for success as you take on this new venture. If you have any additional questions about selecting language schools , or creating strategies to optimize your learning, please feel free to comment on one of the 3 articles in our Language School series. We are happy to help support you on your quest to learn a new language.

~ An Extraordinary Story By April Beresford ~

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Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part II of III: Maximize Learning)

Now that you have selected the language school that is right for you, find out:

How To Make The Most Out Of Your Language Classes

Learning a new language is tough work and your task will be more challenging if you don’t put into practice effective strategies that facilitate your learning. Based on my experiences studying Spanish in Guatemala, I have developed a list of must-know tactics that will maximize your learning both inside and outside of the classroom.

How Much Is Too Much? Maximizing Your Potential For Learning

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala -- April Beresford

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala — April Beresford

After consulting with the owners of several different language schools, it appears consensus recommends 4 hours of conversational language classes per day. If you are a beginner, any more than 4 hours will be excessive as your brain can only take in so much new information. Studying a little extra on your own every day is better than pushing too hard in a classroom, leading to burn out.

Lesson Planning For Conversational Classes

Make sure that you come to class prepared knowing exactly what you want to work on. Conversation classes are completely different than studying a language in high school or college. Your teacher will not take complete charge of what you learn and when. Instead, for the most part, you will lead the discussion and determine the focus of each lesson. Come to class having prepared specific questions concerning grammar, verb conjugations and topics of conversation that interests you.

Keep it Interesting

Learning how to communicate with locals is the best way you can position yourself to connect more deeply with the local culture.  I found it fascinating to learn about local values and traditions from my teacher. After we grew to know one another better, she would tell me funny stories of her childhood which we both found to be very entertaining. Remember that you will be chatting with this person for hours throughout the day. It won’t be productive for either of you if the conversation becomes dull. Continue reading

Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part I of III: Selecting the Right School)

Choosing the right environment for learning is one of the top priorities. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Choosing the right environment for learning is one of the top priorities. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Part One:  Selecting The Best Language School For You!

The Best Way To Learn A New Language

April's Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala

April’s Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala

I hopped on a plane heading for Guatemala knowing that complete immersion is my best chance to fulfill my aspirations of learning Spanish.  I had pre-scheduled my language classes and arranged airport pickup through a reputable organization, so when I arrived in Guatemala all I needed to do was focus on was my education. I learned a lot throughout this experience and I am happy to share my knowledge to help support others in their quest to converse in a new language.

First-Timers

If this is your first time taking conversational language classes in a foreign land, I know how daunting it can feel.  I want to help set you up for success so you can tackle the language immersion experience, with efficiency and enjoyment.

How Do I Select The Best School?

Do your research online. You need to first define “the best” school, based on your individual priorities. For example, the more formal education and years of experience the teachers have, the more you will pay for their teaching skills. School’s located in larger cities will charge more because overall, the cost of living and running a business in this location will be greater. Is it a priority for you to study somewhere easily accessible and centrally located? Look to language schools in smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns to help you keep costs down. It will also minimize the opportunities to speak your native tongue therefore strengthening the immersion experience. Continue reading

An Open Letter To Travel Girls And Those Who Want To Be One

Volcano Panorama viewed from atop Volcan Pacaya -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
Mount Bromo, Java, Indonesia --Karina Noriega

My favourite selfie! Climbed Mt. Penanjakan in the darker to watch the sunrise over the active Mt. Bromo, Penanjakan, Java, Indonesia — Karina Noriega

Open Letter to the Global Degree girls & every other travel dreamer:

I want to get this message out before the contest ends. Before it seems as if this were about winners and losers. This open letter goes out to the girls who ‘always wished they could’. It goes out to the excellent applicants who are well traveled, versed in marketing and social media, girls who have the potential to inspire others. But more importantly, it goes out to the girls who have never left their hometown. The women who look at the world as something beyond their reach, who took a leap at the chance to join hands with others who are already in pursuit. To follow Global Degree on an amazing journey 193 nations strong.

You ladies took the first step already. You took a risk. You put yourselves out there. You probably haven’t stopped thinking about the possibilities since then. Whether traveling around the world has been a lifelong endeavour or a recent inspiration, I want to encourage you to follow through.

Travel will teach you more about the world and about yourself than any book, any show, any school or any one person ever could. I’m talking about lessons beyond the history, culture or state of a particular place. I can speak to my own transformation as a girl who learned to believe that I could do ANYTHING!

My first solo backpacker adventure down the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico -- Karina Noriega

My first solo backpacker adventure down the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico — Karina Noriega

Continue reading