4th November: I’m Home

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening, from Toledo!

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Not the best pic, but my balcony view!

So…it’s been two months since I wrote anything on this blog. Yikes. I think any “travel blogger” (or in my case, wannabe-travel-blogger) commits to writing a certain amount of posts before they take any big trip. But then, we actually get to our destination, and the adventure just takes over. Whether you’re cruising the Mediterranean, hiking the jungles of Brasil, or building a¬†life in a completely new country, it can be hard to remember to post. No worries to the few people who actually read this blog, because I am back, and pledge to write more every week!
In which case, you’ll likely hear from me again in two more months. ūüėõ

The main reason I haven’t posted on this blog is because I am super busy! Welcome to Spain as an¬†auxiliar de conversaci√≥n¬†or “language assistant.” I will post more about my school and a breakdown of the types of things I do in a different post, for anyone interested in doing a similar program in Spain and what to truly expect. But as a quick breakdown, I have been:

1. Teaching/Assisting
I work 24 hours per week (the maximum number of hours assigned at random by the BEDA program) at a¬†concertado, which is a school that is half-public, half private. Some things are paid for by the local authority while some are paid for the families who attend. I have 24 different classes of students ranging from 7 years of age to 18, from 2nd Primary to 2nd Bachillerato. In the Canadian education system, this translates to kids from Grade 2-12. It’s sometimes difficult to manage activities and games for such a diverse age range, but I love to prep for my classes and discuss ideas with my fellow teachers. They are all very sweet and eager to practice their English, but are also gracious in allowing me to practice my Spanish with them too! Every day we have a “coffee break” in the staff room which makes me feel super professional, haha. I am able to chat with the teachers there and we also have lunch together. I may work more hours than some of my other friends in different programs, and work Monday to Friday, with only weekends off, but I am really enjoying it and feel that teaching is, in some form at least, my true calling.

2. Private classes
Compared to Canadian cities of the same size, the cost of living in Toledo is fairly cheap, and the monthly stipend provided by my school is definitely enough to cover basic expenses like food and rent. I have leftover cash to go out with friends and grudgingly pay my student loan back at home since I wasn’t able to defer it. However, most people come to Spain with the plan to travel around Europe, which is half the fun! While I did save money before I came, I also took up the practice of doing¬†clases privadas here in Spain, all gained solely by word of mouth from my fellow teachers. Basically, I spend around an hour with each person (mostly children aged 8-15) providing English conversation practice. Education here in Spain is great when it comes to grammar and such, but like any language, English is best learned by speaking out loud! Parents know their kids can be shy in a class of 25+ and so they often get native speakers to provide this conversation time and pay a fee. I have 10-11 clients (depending on their schedule sometimes) that I do this with every week from Mon-Fri. Some of my friends also do lessons at English academies in their free time. It’s a necessary thing to do here if you want to save some money, but I really enjoy it!

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Just some prep!

3. Making friends
Lame, I know, but I’ve met a tonne of great people already here in Toledo! Besides my fellow staff members, I’ve made friends with many other¬†auxiliares¬†through connections like regional Facebook groups. We love to go out to explore the city, and I’ll admit that it’s really nice to speak in my own language in a non-academic/teaching kind of way. I’m so happy I’ve met so many people, although I’ve yet to meet any fellow Canadians ūüė¶
I also spend a lot of time with my roommates, who are all Spanish and don’t speak too much English. But I don’t mind, because my Spanish has improved immensely, even in just two months! We watch TV together and hit the gym, which has been an interesting experience on its own, without the foreign language thrown in! The families of my private-class kids have also been super welcoming, often making me a meal or snack while in their home.

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My roommates and I at the bar!

4. Trying to make the most of my down-time
Between teaching, private lessons, prepping for lessons, hanging with my friends, hitting the gym, and doing normal person things like, ya know, eating and sleeping… I’ve been trying to maximize what little down time I have by improving my Spanish! I got a library card to take books out in the target language instead of buying them, and that proved to be a big help, because the first book I checked out (a young adult novel) was written at a much higher level than I can comprehend. I have around a B1-B2 level in Spanish, which is to say, fairly conversation and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease, but still not fluent and lacks significant vocabulary or grammar poignancy to be considered fluent. In order to learn more vocab, I borrowed some primary level books from my school, notably¬†The Adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I comprehend about 90% of the books, and although they’re a bit infantile, I love using the context of the words I know to learn new ones. Another favourite tactic of mine to learn is to watch TV with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles. I’m at a good enough level to understand most of it, but if I have the Spanish subs on, it forces me to read it and think, not just see the translation in English. I find it helps to watch shows I’m familiar with already, like The Big Bang Theory, Spongebob, or The Simpsons.

But down-time with a lazy brain is also important. I finally watched¬†Stranger Things and loved it, I watch Vine compilations¬†a lot (RIP VINE), especially when I’m feeling down. I read books in English, write poems, research travel destinations, and make pros and cons lists of options for teaching/living abroad in the next few years. A big thing among expat friends here is that we feel we always have to be¬†doing something because, duh, we’re in SPAIN and should be maximizing every moment! But we’re also in Spain for seven more months. There is time. If you’re in a similar situation, just breathe, and take time for yourself.

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A cable car in Porto

This is getting pretty lengthy, so without going into detail, I have also: traveled to Portugal (my fourteenth country!), gotten a really terrible cough¬†AND food poisoning, navigated the Spanish red tape of getting my ID cards in order, been to the hospital (for the terrible cough, I didn’t know how to make a doc appointment), been to a Maluma concert in Madrid, went to a few Spanish National Day events, cooked a lot more for myself, embarrassed myself countless times at the supermarket, and stayed awake until 5am partying Spanish-style.

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National day celebrations (Guardia Civil)

I love it here, and encourage anyone who has a similar dream to go for it!

xoxo Cady

 

3rd September: Toledo Livin’

Well, I’ve made it! After a long wait at the airport in Toronto, a relatively quick-seeming flight to Madrid, an even quicker train ride to Toledo, and countless muscle aches from dragging my 60 pound suitcase all over the cobblestone streets, I’m here. I’m living in Toledo, Spain!

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View of the Old Town about five minutes walking up from the train station!

Toledo is beautiful, but I can already tell I’m going to get a work out just by walking from my apartment to my school. There are so many hills! It appears to be split between the “old” town and the new and is fairly navigable. I’ve already downloaded a helpful city bus app, which also has information about out of town buses. (If you’re spending any longer than a day in the city, I’d highly recommend it; I found it by searching “Toledo Bus” in the app store.)

I spent my first two nights here in an Air BNB, my first one ever! I’ve always been a bit wary of things like Uber and related companies just because it seemed so sketchy to me. A room in a person’s house? For a night? Is it like a hotel or a hostel? I have the keys to their house? I stayed in a bottom floor flat with a room to myself, sharing the bathroom and common areas with two others who I rarely saw. My only complaint would be that the place was difficult to find. The street “Callejon de Cura” might as well have been an alleyway with how tiny it was, and signage in Spain makes it tough to spot the street name until you’re basically there. But otherwise, it was cozy and a great way to start my adventure in Toledo!
Click here for a link the one I stayed at, my hostess Manuela was very kind and helpful, especially when I told her I was looking for an apartment. She called a few of her contacts and told me about the neighbourhoods of Toledo.

Afterwards, the real work began: my apartment hunt. I’ve been back in Spain for almost five days now, and already I’ve experienced one of my least favourite things about the country…the attitude of “ma√Īana.” This Spanish word means “tomorrow,” but is also a common joke about how slow the pace of life is in Spain, because here, everything can wait until “ma√Īana.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be laid back, but I need an apartment! Hello! I messaged probably 40 people in total regarding their ads for rentable rooms, most of them on the Spanish renting site idealista.com. Around ten didn’t respond to my messages at all, more than fifteen were already rented out (then why is your ad still up? Because ma√Īana, probably), and a few ended up being out of my price range. I saw four places in total and ended up in one in the neighbourhood of Buenavista.

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Buenavista is Spanish for “great view,” and that’s what I’ve got! -From my balcony

I have a different job than a lot of Spaniards, so it’s hard for me to say if life in Spain is low-cost. I mean, for me, it totally is…my room costs me 200 euros per month including the internet, cable, water, gas, electricity, etc. and came furnished with a bed, armario (I don’t know the English word for this lmao), an armchair, a desk, and a desk chair. The neighbourhood is beautiful and I’m on the 6th floor, the only fly in that ointment being that our elevator is currently broken… time to get fit I guess. I live with three Spanish women which will hopefully help me learn this language to fluency even faster. There’s also a POOL in this complex that will 1. hopefully be open for another couple weeks as it’s like 34 degrees here and 2. may have been my deciding factor in picking this apartment over others I saw. It might be a 30 minute walk to my school, but I’m committed to my fitness goals this time around in Spain, and if all else fails, the bus is right outside the gate!

Tomorrow I’ll be finalizing the contract to live here, and I can’t wait! I still have two days after that until BEDA orientation, and on the 9th I’ll be off to Portugal to kill some time before classes officially begin on 18th September!

xoxo Cady

I’m Going Back to SPAIN!

Hi everyone! I’m a bit delayed in writing this post, but I’ve been so excited, I’ve barely had the time to think! Look what came into my email the other day:

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That’s right, your girl got a spot in the BEDA program to teach English in Toledo, Spain from September 2017 to June 2018! Why would I want to do this, you ask? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but over here in Canada, most of our college applications require some¬†experience. And I have none! So I figured why not gain some valuable teaching practice in a lovely place like Spain? That’s reason number two: I fell in love with Spain years ago and have been itching to go back ever since. Almost exactly three years later, here I’ll go! ūüôā

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I’ll be teaching here! Image from:¬†https://nationaltokens.com/7-new-locations-toledo-spain/

Wow, was this ever an agonizing wait! I joined Facebook groups for both the¬†BEDA and¬†Auxiliar programs, and I’ve been anxiously watching others post their acceptances since I returned from Varadero in early May. I even racked up some pretty hefty roaming charges while in Cuba, because I was constantly checking my email for word! The year before, I heard pretty quickly from BEDA, but this year seemed to take more time. Finally, on May 17th, I had my answer!

The letter I got details my assignment (primary and high school students) and the amount of hours I’ll work each week. 24 may not seem like a lot, but in fact it’s the maximum you could be working with BEDA! Positions are assigned from 18-24 hours and are given at random. It’s a lighter work load because we’ll also be taking classes about teaching theory through the University of Comillas. I’m not sure what to expect from those, but I’m sure they’ll look great on a resume.

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Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1328388/Spain-weekend-breaks-Toledo-steel-heart.html

I’ll be living in a city with roughly 83,000 people, but it’s only 45 minutes from the Spanish capital of Madrid. Heart eyes! I have to confess, even though I spent nearly five months in and around Spain in 2014 during my exchange, I’ve never been to Madrid or most other parts of Spain (broke student life). I’m excited to discover the castles and cobblestones of Toledo, head to Madrid for easy flight-hopping and¬†El Clasico¬†(I’m getting tickets ASAP, baby!), take a train down to Malaga, Cordoba, or Cadiz, and explore the rest of Don Quixote’s province. I also can’t wait to visit the friends I made while living in Bilbao!

The process of applying for a student visa, which we’re technically under since we’ll be studying at Comillas, is a long one, so I promise to detail the steps that lead up to my BEDA experience as I go along! I’ve already put in an application for my national background check to be able to work with children, and I’ve made a massive list splitting up my tasks in nice “To Do” checklists for June, July, and August. Classes start on September 18th, but I’ll be in Spain long before then to apartment hunt and settle in! Oh, and I’m going to Varadero again in two weeks, for possibly the last time for a year! ūüė¶ I’m very sad about being even further from my boyfriend for 9+ long months, but we’ve spoken about this at length, and on a sort of positive note, we’re already used to distance. I’m excited to explore Spain and the rest of Europe, and to be back in one of my favourite countries once again!

Did anyone else apply to BEDA, UCETAM, MEDDEAS or the Auxiliares program in Spain? Anyone in the Madrid/Castilla La Mancha area? I’d love to connect!

xoxo Cady

5 Reasons Why I Love Varadero

Hi friends! It’s been a while, and there are a few reasons why that is. The first is that I’m lazy, to be honest. When I get home from work, I tend to sit down, grab a snack, and binge watch¬†Shameless or¬†Riverdale instead of working on this blog. Plus, there hasn’t been much to write about since my last trip to Cuba. I’ve been working, waiting patiently for the Canadian snow to melt, and checking my email daily for something from BEDA or the Auxiliares de Conversacion program to tell me I’ve gotten a position in Spain for September! Both programs have closed applications, so everything is just a waiting game at this point. Some people have heard back, but most tend to hear in early May.

But, that’s not why I’m here. Surprise, surprise, I’m going to Varadero¬†again in a week! I’ll be traveling with a couple of friends to my favourite little beach town to relax, explore, and of course, see my lovely Cubano boyfriend who I’ve been missing dearly for three whole months. Every time I go, I find more things to love about this cute tropical getaway, so I decided to write a list here about why I enjoy it so much! Hopefully, my third time will be a charm as well, and I’ll have even MORE to say on the subject when I return. Here are 5 reasons why I think you should go to Varadero, Cuba!

1. It’s BEAUTIFUL

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Path between the mall “Plaza America” and Hotel Melia Varadero

I will willingly admit that my photos are not National Geographic-quality, but even my crappy camera can’t hide how beautiful and unspoiled the beaches of Varadero are. There’s a reason that it’s the most popular vacation destination in Cuba, and people come from as far as Germany and Russia to enjoy it. The sand is spotlessly white, the waters are azure blue, and the palm trees sway rhythmically above in a hazy brown and green swish. All along the peninsula, which is thin enough to cross from one side to another in a 10 minute walk, you’re treated to incredible views of the ocean and unparalleled sunsets. Not much can be done if it’s rainy or cloudy, but the water will still be warm.

Besides the obvious beaches, Varadero’ streets are also extremely clean. There are many parks in the area through which you can take a walk or a paddle-boat ride, and the houses you’ll pass by are colourful and decorated in bright patterns and unusual sculptures. No two houses are exactly alike, and I enjoyed walking by the picturesque buildings every day on my way to my boyfriend’s house.

2. It’s SAFE

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What I thought was a lamp post but is actually a security camera

This particular reason is, for me, difficult to construct, because I know that a large part of the “security” of Varadero comes from the fact that Cuba is a communist country, and there is a very high presence of the “state” wherever you travel. Crime rates here are low because of:
1. Lots of tourist police/security on the beach
2. Cameras on many street corners
3. Plain-clothed citizens who work for or report to the state, and not just in instances of theft or assault. For example, did you know that a person like me (Canadian) can’t stay the night at my Cuban boyfriend’s house, unless we were married or related? As a tourist, I’m obligated to spend money at hotels, and the family of my boyfriend would need a¬†casa particular license to have me in the home overnight, if I didn’t have a family visa. Also, if they did have that license, I’d have to pay to stay there anyways.

So, given my Canadian privilege, I’m well aware that Varadero is a safe place because of how tightly controlled the Cuban people are. It’s not good, and I don’t support such a strict regime. But if you are traveling solo in Varadero¬†(even as a woman) and you’re worried, don’t be. Like anywhere else, use your common sense, but don’t be afraid to walk down the street after dark. You’re likely to hear the usual macho cat-calling that is unfortunately a part of Cuban male culture, but it’s nothing worse than you might receive back in Canada, and it’s certainly not likely to lead to anything else.
*Note that this is limited to my experience in Varadero only, as a white female, and there are always things that could happen even in the safest of places. Plus, I’ve heard that other places in Cuba may not be so heavily patrolled and you should take your caution. Still, Cuba is the safest of the Latin American countries by far!

3. It’s FUN

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Did you know there was a Harley Davidson meet up in Varadero? People who ride them are called “Harlistas!”

Some people would come to Varadero for a week, stay at one of the resorts up the peninsula, and spend their entire vacation on the beach with a book in one hand and a mojito in the other. Honestly? There’s no “right” way to vacation, and if that’s the way people like to hang, whether they’re retirees or a family of four, then I’d say, you do you. But for me, I like to explore, and I had to find things to kill time when my boyfriend was at work and I was traveling solo. Most hotels offer the usual excursions to Havana or Trinidad (and if they don’t, you can find representatives selling them on the street!), and will often have information about local attractions too. There’s something for everyone!

If you like the beach… the choice is obvious and all around you. Varadero Beach is one of the best in the world!

If you like water sports… Most resorts offer kayaking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and the list goes on! There are also fairly notable kite-surfing schools in Varadero, and a place halfway up the peninsula where you can swim with dolphins!

If you like shopping… Varadero has three malls: Plaza America, Plaza Caracol, and Centro Comercial Hicacos. Every street corner also has vendors selling souvenirs and trinkets. Admittedly, a lot of them are the same, and given the embargo, there isn’t much that can be brought in that’s different. However, it is possible to find some unique pieces if you keep your search going, and there are markets in the malls where you can find American brands (Pringles, Coke) if you’re missing snacks from home. Note that these will be more expensive than Cuban brands, and personally I dig the taste of Cuba’s own Tu Kola.

If you like exploring… Varadero’s peninsula has a lot of cool day or afternoon trips on it. A few notable ones are Casa de Al (Al Capone’s house, now a restaurant), Parque Josone which is the biggest park with paddle boats and cute walking paths, the Varadero Marina, and the various¬†cuevas (caves) that can be accessed on the bus. Varadero has a great double-decker, open-top, hop-on hop-off bus system that takes you to all the hotspots and hotels along the highway. It’s 5 CUC for a day pass and is totally worth it.

If you like to party… Varadero has a variety of nightclubs, bars, billiards clubs, and music venues to entertain. Take a step off the resort one night and head to the classic rock-themed¬†Beatles bar, or relax and enjoy some salsa tunes at Calle 62.

4. It’s INEXPENSIVE

Of course, to call a place “cheap” or “inexpensive” is relative, because I already know I’m privileged in the sense of being able to travel and for some, an all-inclusive vacation is simply out of the question. That being said, Cuba is top on a lot of Canadians’ lists because of its relatively low cost when compared with other tropical destinations like Dominican Republic, Mexico, or the Bahamas. All inclusive packages can go for as low as $700 if you’re not picky about star-rating and are looking at your hotel room as a place to sleep and shower only. Getting around is easy by foot, taxi, bus, or even a rental moto/car, for the more adventurous, and prices are pretty low. If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive, surrounding restaurants offer great food for admirable prices, and shops sell bottles of water and other necessities. Locally-run casa particulars are also a great choice for those on a budget. These rooms are located in real Cuban homes, run by those who have obtained their license from the state to host foreigners. Prices can be as low as 25 CUC per night and usually include a breakfast. This is a great way to meet locals!

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Non-all-inclusive hotel El Pullman, cute and affordable

5. It’s full of wonderful people

My boyfriend and his fabulous family aside, every person I’ve met in Varadero was friendly and sweet. I’m not talking about staff at the hotel who are obligated to be nice to you (although they always were anyways, and we had some great conversations), but people on the street, in the markets, or at the beach were always willing to chat as well. It helps to know Spanish, but I met plenty of hotel staff who were multilingual, putting my barely-bilingual self to shame. Another woman I asked for directions to the mall on my first day, and she gave me a 50 CUP coin to grab the bus because she thought it’d be too far for me to walk there. It turned out to be a fifteen minute walk, which is nothing for me, but the thought was there.

The friendly openness of the Cuban people is what I give credit to for meeting my boyfriend in the first place, and I encourage you to talk to locals as well, since Varadero is not just a resort town, but their home (though many live outside of the town as well). Many have stories to tell, sometimes good, and sometimes sad. I met a guy working at my hotel who spoke five languages, moving from Italy to Egypt to the USA to Cuba, where he worked as the chef. Taking the time to chat with him got me awesome insight into his life, as well as a few deliciously crafted pastas ūüėČ

Anyways, those are 5 reasons I think you should go to Varadero, and I’ll be sure to update you with more when I return. Have you been there, or been to other places in Cuba? Do you like it?

xoxo Cady

I Left My Heart in Varadero

I’ve been debating even writing about this on my blog, because I try to stick to my “theme” as much as I can: traveling solo as a woman, fighting my anxiety disorder, and attempting to accomplish my dream of becoming a teacher through teach-abroad experiences. But then I thought:

  1. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to?
  2. In a way, it is sort of travel-related
  3. I have way too many feelings not to write about it

So here it is, and I’d love some feedback/advice/ideas from anyone who has ever gone through the same thing that I am right now.

I didn’t just leave Varadero in November with a new sense of bravery and another country ticked off my list. Amid the beaches and the cobblestone streets, the guava juice, the salsa music, I found something better. I left Varadero with a boyfriend… a Cuban one.

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We met at my hotel (which I swear I’m going to review sometime, I’ve just been really busy), where he worked at one of the souvenir stands. I was inspired by one part boredom because my friend had fallen asleep by the pool, one part attraction to this guy I’d seen sitting there for the past couple of days and exchanged nothing but smiles with, and one part egging-on of my brain to practice my Spanish skills after a dry spell of no Spanish interaction for several months. Whatever the reason really was, I ended up talking to him for a short time, leaving after realizing my Spanish skills had really deteriorated after not living in¬†Spain. Although, I can’t blame just myself, because the Cuban accent is a really difficult one laced with local slang and “swallowed” ends of words, like talking to a Quebecois. Still, I had to pat myself on the back for trying.

We ended up exchanging Facebook handles the night before I was to leave, because on the actual departure day, he had his¬†dia libre. I have to admit that our conversations didn’t become especially riveting until I was back in Canada and could just type in Spanish, rather than talk poorly and try to understand the Cuban tongue. Reading and writing slang-filled text messages became the highlight of my day, and not just because I was learning. I began to really fall for the person I was talking to, who seemed so genuinely kind and easygoing.

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My boyfriend’s grandma’s porch in Varadero, pretty much where I spent every day

Without going into too much detail, I definitely had some personal turmoil when it came to talking to him. Every Canadian gets the warning about Cuban people just wanting a visa or to escape their island, and while it’s a stereotype that’s really overdone and gross, I have to admit that I felt it sometimes too. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think it’s important to say, because my relationship has given me an insight to the¬†real life of Cubans, not just what they show on TV about Che and Fidel-worshippers, poverty being rampant, and an ignorant understanding of the rest of the world. I’m not saying there aren’t¬†jineteros out there (hustlers that try to bring foreigners good food, trips, and yes… sex… and then get paid a lot for it) but since I was the one who approached my boyfriend in the first place, it didn’t seem likely that he was part of that, and he definitely is not.

Needless to say, our daily messaging and occasional video chats sparked passion on both sides, and it wasn’t long before I was planning another visit to Varadero, specifically for him. The days counted down and I got more excited, but also more nervous. I hadn’t traveled truly¬†solo since 2014, and I was going to Cuba mostly to hang out with a guy I’d only met a few times at my hotel. Was this absolutely crazy? Some of my friends and family said yes, while others were more encouraging. I stepped on the plane in early February, heart racing, with no turning back.

My week in Varadero felt like a dream. It was lovely to spend time with my boyfriend, who was just as happy to see me, and took me to meet his family and friends. I spent a lot of time in his home with his grandmother, eating ¬†great food and learning more about the fascinating dichotomy which is Cuba. Cuban laws prevent foreigners who aren’t married to Cubans from staying in a Cuban home, and they are not permitted to stay with foreigners overnight in hotels. He worked every single day, and I have to admit that staying in an all inclusive hotel and hitting the beach daily isn’t nearly as fun when you’re traveling solo. Still, I had a wonderful, yet bittersweet, time in Varadero, knowing ¬†I’d have to leave and being unsure about when I’d return. I’m still planning to go to Spain to teach if I get the job, and he knows it. There’s the question of money and time off, schedules, the lack of internet access on the island, long distance, cultural differences. I sometimes ask myself what the heck I’m even doing.

But here I am, back in Ontario for a month now, reflecting on that time in Varadero. I still have my boyfriend, and hope to return to see him before I go to Spain, maybe in June or August. I want to bring my mother next time if I can. I have a great deal of faith that somehow, despite all of the odds, this could just be something great. And if not, I’ll always have fond memories of my time in his city, watching stars on the roof, eating delicious ice cream.

Have you ever met someone special abroad? What do you think? How do you handle a long distance relationship?

xoxo Cady

Travel Book Review: “Wanderlust” by Elisabeth Eaves

Hi everyone! I’m still emotionally unprepared to write about my recent trip to Cuba (in a good way though), but I really wanted to write something on my blog anyways. So, I decided I’d try something new, and write my first review of someone else’s travel writing!

As well as my fellow adventurers’ travel blogs, I am really intrigued by full books that are about or involve traveling in some way. They don’t have to be true stories, but I like those ones a lot more, especially if they’ve been written by women. It’s not that I have a gender bias, but as a woman, I feel more empowered reading a story written by a woman, specifically if she’s traveled to some more “risky” places around the globe. Anyways, the first book I’ll be writing about is one of the latter; it’s a totally true travel memoir written by a fearless female, and it’s one of my favourite books in any category.

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My well-worn copy

The book in this picture is my own, and would likely appear even more worn-out if it were my original. I joined a book club that involved swapping our favourite reads with others to borrow, and then we were to return and discuss them and swap them back. Needless to say, the book club never met again, and the girl who had my first copy moved away from my university town. I went to Chapters to buy another copy of this book because I started to miss it. I read it‚ÄĒor at least pieces, excerpts, or chapters of it‚ÄĒevery week. I have read the entire book more than 100 times, probably, and highlighted anything that has stood out to me in times of need. This is how I felt without it; I needed this book back, hence the second purchase. It is¬†la biblia, it is my comfort object,¬†it is irreplaceable.

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Wanderlust is written by Elisabeth Eaves, who is now a journalist and frequently posts on her twitter (@elisabetheaves) about current events. Her tumblr, however, is much more travel-centric, and although she hasn’t updated in ages, it’s still worth a browse too (elisabetheaves.tumblr.com).

I hadn’t realized at first that the book was a memoir. I picked it up because I thought the cover was pretty, and I had always felt that I had Wanderlust too, even if it was only thinking about going up the Eiffel tower someday. It only hit me, once reading that the characters referred to the narrator as “Beth,” that I was glimpsing into something much better than fiction. The wild stories and exotic locales had all¬†happened to her, had all been touched by her, and recounted by her. This was new. This was fantastic. It made me think that I could do these things too.

Wanderlust follows Elisabeth from her shiny introduction to travel around age 9 during her father’s sabbatical, in Spain, to returning years later as a nanny in the same country (during which she gets up to a lot of naughty and raucous adventures‚ÄĒthis is probably one of my favourite segments to the story, since it reminded me a lot of my own experiences in Spain), to living as an adult in London, England and backpacking through treacherous trails in Papua New Guinea. I tried to count how many countries she visits throughout, but I always lose track. The narrator is Elisabeth herself and she tells her story¬†with an honest, thoughtful voice, with no detail spared. She has mentioned that the details came straight from her own journals. It feels, as well, that in nearly every country she ends up with a lover or several. Sometimes they last only the duration of her stay, or sometimes for years after she’s left the country, which is a feeling I can relate to that I’ve also carried ever since I first stepped off of a plane myself. Not necessarily lover-related, mind you, but the feeling of a person met or connection I’ve made haunting me long after I’ve left.

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One of my favourite passages from Wanderlust

But the sexy, sensational parts of this book aren’t the only reasons I enjoy it so much. In between the trips, the author details the tedious parts of life which must¬†occur: falling in love, settling down, breaking up, changing jobs, being broke, feeling trapped. No matter what she has in front of her, there always seems to be a singular desire to get away from it. She calls herself “an eccentric, who can’t find pleasure in quotidian life, and would rather pursue adventure and adventurers than stability in New York.” After a breakup with someone who I thought was the love of my life, this book really resonated with me, and reminded me that it was okay to pursue something other than a settled house + car + kids life that everyone around me seemed to expect. No matter where in the world Elisabeth is in Wanderlust, her words always hit close to home for me.

I’ve realized I can’t encompass everything that this book means to me into this review, and it’s beginning to get a little lengthy. The book itself smells like sunscreen right now because it accompanied me every day to the beach in Varadero, both the first and second times I went. It’s crossed both big oceans in my bag, going East and West. That’s how much this book means to me, and I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy, and discover this book for yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Would recommend to: women, only because it is fairly feminine-centric, but I feel like a lot of men would enjoy the stories too

Do you have a favourite piece of travel writing? A book, a blog, a magazine? Please tell me, I am legitimately always looking for good books about travel!

xoxo Cady

Pre-Trip Anxiety and How I (Sort of) Deal

It’s around 11pm on a cold Sunday night here in Ontario, and I’m feeling fear again. I’ve been sipping tepid water and brushing my teeth like mad. Tomorrow, conveniently timed 5 days before my trip to Varadero, I have my very first root canal scheduled. Every single person I’ve told has said the same thing: “It’s going to hurt.” The right side of my mouth throbs intermittently.

I’m not afraid of the dentist in the slightest.

I truly am not. I’ve sat through fillings and deep tooth scaling like a champion ever since I was old enough to even see a dentist. I have friends who won’t sit their bum in a chair until heavily medicated with laughing gas, whereas I could just as easily walk into a dental office as I would walk into work every day (disappointed to be there, but not uneasy…hahaha). It’s not that I’m looking forward to a root canal per se, it’s just that it’s not what’s driving my nervous feeling.

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Fearing no heights in Varadero 2016 – Photo credit to Victoria Chiasson

Nope, I’m feeling the fear for five days in the future. On Saturday I’ll be taking my first solo plane ride since China and my first solo trip since China, and while I’m majorly excited about it, my old travel anxiety is creeping back up as well. If you’ve never read my blog before, you may be wondering why often it always goes back to my experience in the Far East, which I detailed here.
Well, I just think of how awful I felt at that time. I was so panicked and on edge at every moment of the day, and couldn’t even enjoy sharing time with new friends without worrying about what was to happen to me. My anxiety disorder tends to focus specifically on my health; I’m always concerned when and where I can find a doctor, a hospital, my medications… the list goes on. I never want to repeat my China disaster, and cut a cool trip short for a fear of nothing in particular.

To be honest, I know that my trip to Cuba will differentiate from my trip to China in many ways. I’ve already been to Varadero and am somewhat familiar with the hotels and the airport. I speak Spanish semi-fluently, at least well enough to let someone know if I’m hurting and where in my body. I take my anxiety medication steadily, I’ve been eating well, and I’m going to meet someone in Varadero that I already know. I’ve got it planned out; I’m staying at a resort. I’ve read countless articles about solo travel in Cuba for girls, and it seems like it will all be okay.

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Does my fear trump my wish to be here again? No way!

Still, I have that impending fear. I know I’ll have to fly, which is something I’ve dealt with enough times to become somewhat okay with, but still don’t love. I always think: “What if? What if I have to go to the hospital? What if the plane goes down? What if I get food poisoning?” (That last one is very unlikely for me, as I have an iron stomach, but even that can’t get past my anxious mind sometimes.)

But I’m determined. I read accomplished travel blogs by men and women alike, and I continue to be inspired by the various hiccups that people overcome in order to travel: money issues, long distance relationships, processing visas, etc. Also, given the current situation in the United States right now, I feel blessed to even be able to travel freely with my passport to so many different countries. I know I’m privileged to travel to Cuba as often as I am, and I have high hopes for this trip.

Do you get nervous before a trip? What worries you most? Tell me!

xoxo Cady