Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas from Mexico City!

I've been here only a week yet already it seems like I've been here for much longer. After what seemed like days (or maybe I'm just getting too old to sleep in airports!) we arrived in Cancun and as soon as we got off the plane and the heat hit us it was obvious this was going to be a very different to Canada. We managed to find the bus into town (after some drama with a lost bus ticket!) and found the hostel fairly easily. I was a little disappointed to find it was a HI hostel because I usually try to avoid them (usually too many beds, no good common area to sit and chat & extra charges for things) but I couldn't fault the location and actually the lovely people there made up for the towel charges and lack of water at certain times of the day.

One thing that became obvious fairly quickly when we started to explore Cancun was that the people responsible for building the town forgot to consider pedestrians when they were making their plans. Virtually no pavements make walking anywhere an extreme sport - dodging cars and trying to work out where the hell the traffic is coming from means you constantly have to have your wits about you. Much to the amusement of the guy who sold us a snorkeling trip, we decided to walk to the hotel strip to find out where the meeting place was for the following morning and he was right, it was a long way. I like to walk though, it gives me a much better feel for a place than just sitting on a bus and we wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet so many iguanas had we been on wheels.

Cancun is a tourist town though, based around a hotel strip, each with its own beach. Downtown is a bit quieter and there are some nice little places to eat very well. It's easy to find a good dinner for less than £1.50 including a drink. Tacos, empanadas, quesadillas and nachos followed by churros for desert all washed down with fizzy pop or sweetened ice tea seem to be the order of things here. It really is diabetes waiting to happen with an abundance of fat and sugar...but it tastes SO good!

Figuring that we might as well make the most of the fact that Cancun is close to so many historical sites, we filled our days there to the brim. With 30 degree heat we decided swimming was a good option to start with so we took a catamaran trip out to go snorkelling on a reef off Isla Mujeres. The water was warm, the fish were beautiful and the food and drinks were all inclusive which made for a wonderfully relaxing day. Unfortunately the wind was too strong for us to be able to dive at the underwater art museum, but it's somewhere I'd happily go back to another time.

We also decided to go to Chichen Itza and settled for an organised tour as it was cheaper and more convenient than trying to get there ourselves. I'm not a fan of organised cattle truck type tours, but this was ok as far as they go. Our Mayan guide, Antonio, was very good and told us a lot about the area as well as about where we were going. It's interesting that there's no real hard sell here. Right from talking to the various tour people on the Main Street, it's all very friendly and easy to beat the price down with a bit of banter. On the snorkeling trip we talked to other people on the boat and it seems we paid at least 20USD less than most others people, in some cases 40USD and for Chichen Itza we got an even better discount. The guy who sold us the latter even bumped into us in the street the following night, recognised us and bought us beers! I guess the majority of people probably book these tours through their hotels and the premium they pay allows for the discount got those savvy enough to shop around.

Chichen Itza was incredible but spoiled slightly by the sheer numbers of visitors and continuous stream of coaches. There were also dozens of traders selling tourist tat right by the pyramid and temples which surprised me a bit given that it is a sacred Mayan site and it did ruin what would otherwise have been quite a special atmosphere.

As the only cheap flight we could find to Mexico City left at 3am on Christmas Eve and we had to be out of the hostel by 11am, we decided to spend the day visiting Tulum, the site of some Mayan ruins on a beach a couple of hours drive south of Cancun. Instead of paying out for a more expensive tour we used the 'collectivo' buses first to Playa del Carmen and then onwards to Tulum. Uncomfortable, cramped and hot, but cheap enough to more than make it worthwhile. Tulum was beautiful, the temples more spread out and far fewer people, which was a nice change from the chaos of Chichen Itza. Public transport here is pretty good - buses are on time and the drivers are fast! Public toilets on the other hand leave a little to be desired - one we found in Playa del Carmen didn't even have a door and it seems to be a theme that only one water tap in each place just have to find it!

That night Sharen continued her tradition of losing whatever is in her hand two minutes beforehand by managing a record of losing her bus ticket (again!) less than a minute after she'd showed it to a security guy to ask the gate number! Ticket found, we headed for the airport only to find that sleeping in airports isn't really done in Mexico. No seats or benches, just cold, hard floor, but we managed to find an electric socket and spent the next few hours camped out there.

All the sucking of breath through teeth and worried expressions that seemed to be generated every time we mentioned we were going to Mexico City so far seem to be unfounded. Thus far all we've found is good food and friendly, welcoming people who will go out of their way to include you in their family life and help you in any way they can. That's not to say that there aren't areas where we'd probably see a very different side of the city, but the trepidation with which people view a visit to the city I think is largely unfounded. My wonderful friend Maria collected us from the airport and cooked an amazing Christmas dinner that we shared with several of her sisters and their families last night. Much tequila was drunk and we finally crawled into bed at 2.30am. For someone who doesn't like Christmas much, I have to admit this one rates fairly highly. Here the real meaning of Christmas is still prevalent...time spent with loved ones, talking and sharing, not a money spending competition that is forced upon you as soon as bonfire night is out of the way. It makes a refreshing change.

Now I'm sitting here watching the Aristocats in Spanish, drinking poncha navideno and life is pretty good. Tomorrow we'll visit the city proper and in the few days following we'll see some other local sites before moving on to San Miguel de Allende for the new year celebrations and to El Rosario to visit the monarch butterfly reserve. After that a road trip back east to Chetumal and then a ferry to Belize. Leaving Canada was hard and it holds a special place in my heart for lots of reasons, but this country is beautiful too and I can't wait to experience more of it.

Hope you've all had a great Christmas wherever you are and who knows, maybe I'll be able to catch up with at least a few of you on my travels in the new year.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Canada, see you later

As I sit here now in Cleveland airport with an 8 hour wait ahead of me, I figured it'd be a good time to write and recap on my last few days in Canada. Sorry, limited pictures this time...too much effort via the free airport wifi.

I finally left Big Bay early on Monday morning and not without many tears. Leaving was just as hard as I expected it would be and for most of Monday I moped about. Then Monday night I had dinner with my lovely friend Amberley and I started to feel a little better. I'm sure the few glasses of wine helped too.

It's funny though, many things have struck me over the last few days. I expected that I would hate being back in the city, but I actually didn't feel like that at all, quite the opposite. I decided that rather than stay with friends I'd head back to the hostel I began my adventure at. Partly for the convenience of not having to wait around anywhere for hours with my backpack and partly because I was in need of some conversations with random travellers to try and reignite my enthusiasm for moving on. I also needed a little time on my own to think about some things without feeling an obligation to be sociable. It was there that I realised how perfectly orchestrated the end to my time in Canada has eventually turned out.

Last night I went to see Amberley's school classes' christmas concert. It was cold, snowing big flakes, every bit Canadian wintertime, and it made me think back to when I arrived and the change in the seasons I've seen here - torrential rain, followed by extreme heat, followed by fall and now winter. After the concert we stopped in for a quick drink at The Communist's Daughter, a bar I've many times meant to visit but that every time I've been in the area has been packed to overflowing. Not last night. So we stopped for quick beer and then headed on to Java cafe to meet Lisa for some food before moving on to see some bands at the Horseshoe, most of them bands I'd seen at some other time during my stay here. Highlight for me was probably Hollerado playing a cover of Holland, 1945...seemed so fitting after being at The Communist's Daughter earlier and it made me smile.

As I was standing waiting for the Spadina streetcar just after midnight with the snowflakes still falling, I realised that my time in Toronto had come full circle. I spent my last couple of days in the city just as I had spent my first...same places, same TTC rides, same lovely people to share that time with...and it made me smile. At that point  it felt right somehow that I should be leaving.

Today I woke up feeling far more positive about things. I disposed of my unneeded and some jumpers to the hostels free clothing shelf...and set off somewhat lighter in every sense. I'm still sad to be leaving...I'll miss pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, supermarket shopping trolleys with fixed back wheels, butter tarts and being able to turn right on a red light. There are more than a few people that I'll miss a hundred times more. But I know I'll be back. I was only mildly irritated on the subway this morning looking at the people on there with an envy that they'd still be in this beautiful country tomorrow while I wouldn't be, rather than outright hating them for it.

And so now I lay here on my bench at Cleveland airport contemplating life and listening to looped Christmas music. Alongside me Sharen is busy writing to a friend about the amazing hand driers in the restrooms and tapping her feet in time to the music. We finally managed to navigate the chaos that is Pearson airport...2 full hours required to get through security and US immigration once we'd found the right terminal....and then less than an hour after take off we arrived in Cleveland. It immediately became clear this was going to be a quiet night, with only a half a dozen or so people staying overnight it seems. A conversation with a very friendly and helpful Peruvian airport cleaner called Fidel resulted in us finding a great place to sleep...comfy benches, tv and all night dunkin donuts nearby. He also gave us a full history of what Cleveland is famous for, something we'd just been contemplating a few minutes before and drawing a blank. In fact as I was writing this he came back to find us at the end of his shift to give us some factor 50 sun cream, because 'we'd need it in Mexico' and to wish us well on our adventures. It's encounters like this that I travel for, what makes things more than just a trip from A to B.

As I started to write this I was reminded for some reason of something a wonderful hostel owner, Jasmin, in Sarajevo once told me. He said that he often received postcards from people who had stayed at his home and that he held a special affection for one particular guest who had come for a few days and ended up staying for a few months and had become almost one of the family. When this guy left, he wrote Jasmin a note thanking him for his hospitality and he ended it with 'see you later' rather than 'goodbye'. His reason, he said, was that 'goodbye' was too final and implied that he wouldn't return, whereas 'see you later' showed his absence would be temporary and that he'd soon be back.

Canada, see you later x

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Digging dahlias in the dark

I’ll apologise in advance if anyone reading this is expecting it to be full of tales of adventures, because you’ll be disappointed. It already feels like years, rather than a little less than six months ago, that I was waiting at Gatwick airport for my flight to Toronto, full of anticipation mixed with intrepidation at the unknown and maybe a little bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure. I was however fairly confident that I knew pretty much how my summer in Canada would pan out. How wrong I was.

In a couple of weeks time I have to leave here and to be honest I’m not really looking forward to it at all. Not because I’m not excited to move on to new adventures, but because I hate saying goodbye to people and there are a few people here that I will find it very hard to leave behind. I guess that’s one of the downsides to travelling that the guidebooks don't warn you about.

Since mid October I've been back in Georgian Bluffs, enjoying the pace of life typical of rural Ontario and loving it. With most of the summer cottage dwellers now back at home, it’s an even quieter place...hard to imagine when the population here is so tiny to start with. Still obvious though is the wonderful community spirit that I loved so much the first time I was here. It’s a very different place in the fall to how it was in the summer, but still a place I love very much and I don’t want to leave, so you’re going to have to put up with my slightly irritable mood for the time being.

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With the onset of wintery weather and the nights drawing in there has been less time spent out in the garden, but nonetheless there has still been plenty to do outside...tidying up for the winter, packing away furniture and pots and trying to squeeze hundreds of plants into greenhouse and outbuildings. There has even been time for a few new projects such as building an old ruin-style wall and planting bulbs. Days when the weather hasn’t been so good have been put to good use working on new information boards for the nature trail and evenings spent at the homes of friends who are braving the bleakness of winter up here. There have also been enough nice days to allow for trips out up the peninsula....a few weeks ago a beautiful sunny Sunday spent walking on the beach at Singing Sands and Dorcas Bay, and another day a trip out to the grotto at Cyprus Lake – all on my favourite stretch of lakeshore.

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Now the snow has arrived too, only about a foot so far, but enough to warrant the daily shovelling of paths and to be wearing an extra couple of layers of clothes and warm boots. With the temperature during the last week or two well into minus figures, it has felt decidedly wintery. Last weekend was the laziest one I’ve spent so far in Canada – on Saturday I spent the day with a friend sat in front of the wood stove watching The Wire and drinking tea, and on Sunday some neighbours visited in the morning and then I went with Susan to a very festive concert by a local choir at the church in Wiarton. I never thought I’d say it, but I could get used to this way of life.

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On the whole though it’s been quiet and I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking. I’ve realised a lot of things in the last few weeks as a result of conversations I’ve had with people I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with, things that have given some clarity to how I’ve been feeling about this trip, what I should do next and various other things that have been on my mind. As cliched as it sounds, I’ve come to realise a few things about myself too, which is good because I think learning has probably always been my underlying motive.

I found a poem today by Sylvia Forges-Ryan, the prologue in a haiku book I got in a thrift store, that sums up all of this quite well and most importantly has reminded me not to look for too much meaning in things or to over-analyse; that sometimes it’s better just to let things be...something that's not a strong point of mine:
We try to believe
the wide shawl
of the black
night sky
is stitched
with infinite
care and design.

We want to feel
in a garden of ten
thousand flowers
one life
means something
or anything
at all.

Some have found joy
in visions grand
as a celestial rose
or humble as heaven
in the palm of a hand.

But why this need
to elaborate
the mystery
of all that is?

Is it not enough
and more
to leave it all
To simply name
and let it

As here
in this patch
of violets, in this stone
and in the encompassing

So, I finally bit the bullet the other day and booked a new flight to Mexico; I leave Canada on 18th December headed for Cancun as my visa runs out on Christmas Eve and the cost of flights after the 18th rises steeply. My kiwi friend, Sharen, is coming with me and we’re going to go on an adventure that hopefully will also take in Belize, Cuba and Hawaii, so I’m trying to be positive and look forward to what awaits rather than count down the days until I have to say goodbye to this beautiful country and my friends here. I was hoping that I’d be more accepting of the thought of leaving by now but if anything I want to leave even less. I still have a couple of weeks to get my head round the idea and to sum up some enthusiasm for new adventures, but I have a feeling I’ll be back here before too long.

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Friday, 8 November 2013

Next stop...Canada

I actually wrote something a few weeks ago that I planned on posting but never did for some reason. It was a melancholy piece about how hard I was finding it to face leaving friends both old and new in Canada and that as my final weeks here drew to a close, saying goodbye to people and places I’ve got to know and grown to love was something I hadn’t considered would be so difficult. Then yesterday I realised there was a simple solution to the problem (albeit a temporary one) – don’t leave.

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Someone reminded me that when I first set off on this trip the only rule I set for myself was to travel with as few plans as possible so that I can take advantage of whatever opportunities arise along the way. Well that’s what I’m going to flight to Cancun in a couple of days time will leave without me. I’m back in the Georgian Bay area and I couldn’t be happier here; I feels like I’m where I'm supposed to be right now despite the weather closing in, the temperatures starting to drop and the recent clock change meaning the nights get darker earlier. We even had the first dusting of snow last night.

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Maybe it’ll make it even harder to leave in the long run, but I think by the time I leave in late December when my visa expires it won’t feel so much like I’m leaving when I don’t have to. Or maybe I’ll be tired of the cold and wet by then and be ready for some tropical weather! Either way, I’m staying put for the time being. I bought some warm jumpers and a woolly hat today - bring on the snow and sub zero temperatures!

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Saturday, 12 October 2013

Wwoofing part 2

I’ve held off writing anything for a couple of weeks now, despite it being in the back of my mind. At the start of October I left Toronto for another volunteer place on another farm with plans to stay for the whole month. Still buzzing from my time spent at Keppel Croft in August and ready to get out of the city again, I think I had built up a naive expectation that all farms that accepted wwoofers would have a similar philosophy. How wrong could I be...this place couldn’t be more different.

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However, I don’t want this to be a lengthy run down of my many gripes here. If I had written this a week or two ago it probably would have been, but I’ve realised that when expectations are shattered, the best thing to do is to try and find the positives in the situation and then try and work out what I am supposed to learn from the experience. I’m not even going to name names or say exactly where I am, suffice to say it’s a small beef/arable farm with cats, dogs and a few elderly ducks and chickens as pets. Run by a couple who think they’re living the good life and can talk the talk, but have little idea of the methods they profess to follow, it’s been a challenge to say the least.

Probably the most important thing I’ve learnt here is tolerance and an understanding that not everyone thinks the same way as I do. The past couple of weeks have been frustrating for a lot of reasons. I’ve met people both good and not so good who have views and outlooks on life that couldn’t be more opposite from my own and even as someone who is always open to considering an alternative perspective, my patience has been tested to the extreme. A day or two in and I was ready to pick up my things and leave again, not caring where I went, but desperate to escape the stressful atmosphere, sure that there was little good to be found here. A day or two later I had learned to make the best of it and that an honest and direct approach to issues usually created at least a truce and a bearable working environment. Almost two weeks in, and admittedly whilst looking forward to leaving in a few days time, I can finally see the lessons I was supposed to take away from this experience.

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What I’ve learned is not to sweat the small stuff. The evidence here of the effects of stress on people is quite scary. I’ve learnt when to raise concerns and try and debate my point and when it’s best just to take a deep breath, bite my tongue and let something go. I’ve learnt that if I don’t like something then I have two options - to try and change it or else move on. Most importantly though I’ve seen that even in very negative places there are always little things that make it all worthwhile. Take this morning for example, watching the cows emerge from the morning mist as the sun came up over the fields at 6.30am or sitting in a barn alone for seven hours sorting potatoes with just a semi-feral cat for company and suddenly realising how quiet it is away from the city. There have still been lots of things that have made me smile amongst the wtf?! moments. I’ve also learnt a whole multitude of other things too for future volunteer placements. I will ask far more questions of a potential host before relying on their wwoof profile information or their website in the future and never again do I want to spend any length of time with self professed healers/alternative health/nutrition specialists. Doing manual work for 8+ hour day in return for two small meals – a bowl of porridge and a bowl of soup - isn’t fun and it’s even worse when you’re told it’s good for you!

In a couple of days I will leave here and head back to Keppel Croft for the rest of the month. Whilst Tuesday really can’t come soon enough, I’m glad I stayed here long enough to be able to smile about the experience and be excited to leave more because of where I’m going than because of where I’m leaving.

Thanks too to my partners in crime here – it’s been umm.....interesting!

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Friday, 13 September 2013

TIFF film festival fever

I won't lie, getting back into the swing of things in the city took me a little while. I missed the quiet and the open space of the Bruce Peninsula a lot when I first got back, and even more so the people there, and for a while I started to wonder if another month in Toronto, as much as I love this city, was such a good idea. Those feelings passed though and now suddenly half of September has gone already! The last couple of weeks have been very film oriented. With the city in the grips of film fever ever since the start of TIFF a week ago it seemed only right to go and see what all the fuss is about.

At first I presumed that there was only one film festival but it turns out that Toronto is actually host to not one, but more than 70 different film festivals throughout the year. I'd already noticed that during the summer it was possible to see a free outdoor screening of a film nearly every night somewhere in the city, but I wasn't aware of just how important film was to the city.

Interested to see what all the fuss was about, when my friend Nadia said she wanted to try and get tickets for a TIFF red carpet premiere one evening, I agreed to give it a go. I had attempted to look through the list of films showing on the TIFF website when they were first announced but was overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, so I was happy to let her choose what we went to see. As it turned out she couldn't have picked better - Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut 'Don Jon' at the Princess of Wales Theatre right next to the TIFF Lightbox on King St, the epicentre of TIFF. As with most high profile films by the time single tickets were released, the premiere was of course sold out so we pitched up at 3pm and proceeded to wait in the rush line for the next few hours, all with no guarantee of a ticket. There were about 70 people ahead of us in the queue, the first of whom had arrived at midday. It wasn't long before the line grew to several hundred, stretching along the road further than I could see.

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It was an interesting place for people watching, overhearing conversations and generally watching the film world rush around us. Shiny black cars with heavily tinted windows passed by, red carpets were laid out and endless streams of security, police and TIFF volunteers passed us. Luckily we were in shady spot, given the 33 degree heat that day. Eventually 6.30 came around and the queue moved forward in anticipation. Slowly batches of tickets were released and 20 or 30 people at a time were given ticket tokens. We waited and we waited and eventually our patience paid off - we got tokens no 28 and 29 of a batch of 30 seats and we were in. Looking at the seats available when we got into the theatre we must have got two of the last 20 or so seats available, so luck was shining on us that day!

In short the film was very good (but then has JGL ever made a bad film?), the atmosphere was great and the Q&A after the film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson (sorry, not a fan) was the perfect end to the evening and a great insight into the world of TIFF.

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It's not TIFF that I have enjoyed most about Toronto's film offerings this month though. There has been another film festival running for the last week - the cleverly named TOIFF or Toronto Independent Film Festival. Discovered as the result of a misspelt google search, the TOIFF has been screening a series of low/no budget short films and features every night at the Carlton Cinema. For the very reasonable sum of $8 (less than £5) you can watch the daily block of shorts and a feature film followed by Q&A with the directors, so this is what I've done for several nights during the past week and I've seen some truly funny, imaginative and thought provoking cinema.

From the hilariously funny 'Break' directed by Mitch Boudreau, a three minute film about the passing of his best friend (who happens to be a goldfish) to the stunningly filmed and hard hitting 'Brightwood' directed by Lautaro Gabriel Gonda, if these films were any indication of the future of independent film making then we've got a lot to look forward to. Other highlights for me included 'Down and Out' directed by Adam Simopoulos (for its stunning cinematography), 'Today I Will Tell Her' by Jon Murray, 'Walk the Light' by Anthony Sabet (really nice guy who's working on a series of vignettes a la Paris Je T'aime), 'Strangers' by Kevin Hoffman and 'Bent' by Amy Jo Johnson. Some of these are available on YouTube and Vimeo so watch them if you can find them and you'll see what I mean.

On Wednesday night I stayed for the late feature too, a film looking at the demise of repertory cinema across North America. Using the Toronto Underground Cinema as its case study, 'The Rep' directed by Morgan White documents the attempts of three friends to try and re-open and run a rep cinema in Toronto over a couple of years, following the occasional ups and many downs of the project to its eventual and perhaps inevitable demise. I can't say it was something I have really thought about before, making me one of the people guilty of the complacency that's leading to the demise of these old single screen theatres I guess, but it was sad to think that one day soon the only place to see a film on the big screen will be in a soulless corporate multiplex.

The closing shots of the film were a sombre series of pictures of old theatres that have closed down and are now being used for everything from tanning studios to Tim Horton's coffee shops. Yet another indictment of how society and technology are changing. Sadly it seems that soon, watching films on 35mm reels will be a thing consigned to history. The score was worth a mention too, extremely well done and with The Barr Brothers 'Beggar in the Morning' accompanying the closing credits it suitably added to the wistful tone of the film.


So it's been an interesting couple of weeks and taking the time to just stop and sit and watch so many films has been great, but last night though it was back to music, this time at the Holy Oak cafe. I went to see my friend's band, Specialhyde, play for the first time in a long while after a bit of a hiatus and with a new bass player. I've been looking forward to seeing them play for weeks and they didn't disappoint. It was a nice little venue and they played a great set, a real shame it wasn't longer, but I'm looking forward to hearing more from them soon. Sadly it wasn't on the setlist last night, but Singing Swan is really beautiful so have a listen. Couple of songs below, but check out his website for more

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Summer at Keppel Croft

It’s been a fair while since I wrote anything – partly due to a lack of time and energy for writing and partly because I’ve been debating where to start! I spent the whole of August at Keppel Croft Gardens in Big Bay on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. The garden’s owners, Bill & Dawn Loney, are two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. A Canadian and a Kiwi respectively, they met while teaching in the Arctic and over the past 40 or so years they have turned the acres of what was a rocky extension of the lakeshore covered with a couple of inches of soil surrounding their house into some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. With a dry river bed, rock gardens, lawns, ponds, a henge, human sundial and a veggie garden, not to mention a large traditional barn full of sheep, chickens, guinea hens, turkeys, ducks and geese there’s plenty of work to do...and that’s precisely why I went there.


As part of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), it’s permissible to spend up to a month at a time doing voluntary work in Canada whilst on a visitor visa providing it isn’t the main purpose of your trip. In return for 4-6 hours of work a day you get bed and board and in this case, the opportunity to experience a unique slice of rural life in Ontario. So much so in fact that I hardly stopped the entire time I was there! 

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So for the most part we spent our time cutting and weeding and chopping and raking and spreading woodchips and concreting designs into new paths and digging holes for plants - well, if you can call excavating a square foot of stones with a small pick-like hand tool over the course of an hour ‘digging’ - and eating (a lot) and generally enjoying life. ‘We’ started off as me and a German wwoofer, Isabel, who was there when I arrived and since included various wwoofers who have come and gone. Life is never dull at Keppel Croft, it’s always busy. On Wednesday mornings we were joined by up to 20 local community volunteers who come to weed and water the veggie garden, which they have a vested interest in as all the produce from it is split equally between them, as well as work on other garden projects.

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It wasn’t all work though, in fact far from it. I’ve done more in the last month than I ever thought possible. We went to local fairs, auctions and markets, to beaches and for dinner and drinks with countless friends and neighbours. The community spirit there is incredible, as is the hospitality from everyone I met. We also visited caves and went hiking on the Bruce Trail that runs along the Niagara escarpment from Tobermory to Niagara. At Tobermory we took a jet boat out to Flowerpot Island (taking only a few minutes to cross the 6km of water at 40knots!) via the sunken shipwrecks in Big Tub harbour. The weather was amazing, for the most part blazing sunshine that makes the water shine a crystal blue-green against the white rocks, perfect for afternoon (and sometimes lunchtime) swimming in the lake.

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A couple of weeks ago (or maybe it was even the week before that...I have no grasp of time anymore!) Isabel, Bill and I went to Halfway Log Dump along the road to Tobermory. We’d actually planned to go to Cyprus Lake but upon arriving we discovered that the beautiful weather had drawn the visitors out and the parking lot was full so we were turned away. Instead we went to an area of shore known as Halfway Log Dump and it was quite possibly the most beautiful lakeshore I’ve ever seen. Brilliant blue water along a beach of white pebbles dotted with boulders, it reminded me very much of the Croatian coast. Rather than hiking along the trail we opted to walk along the beach, but this involved scrambling over rocks, climbing up and sliding down boulders, paddling through water where it was shallow enough and squeezing through cracks between rocks to get by. We laughed a lot, scratched out heads a lot trying to work out ways through and finally when we’d got as far as we were going to go we just sat on the rocks eating dried cranberries, almonds and chocolate chips watching the sun start to sink over the water. It really was a perfect day.

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As we made our way back to the parking lot we were lucky enough (or unlucky enough depending on who you ask) to come face to face with a black bear standing not 50 feet away from us between the trees. Being Europeans unused to the dangers of large wild animals I think Bill was somewhat bemused that our first reaction was to try and take a photo rather than escape the potential danger. Sadly neither of us managed to take a photo that even remotely resembled a bear but it was the perfect ending to a really lovely day. 

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These last few weeks have also been a place of many firsts for me...sea kayaking in Georgian Bay, a Pow-wow at Cape Croker Park Reserve and going to a Rodeo being just some of those things, alongside little things like finding snakes in the pantry and hearing the high pitched buzz of hummingbirds darting around outside as I sat and ate my breakfast on the porch. Far too many things to write about but have a look at the photos I’m starting to upload to Flickr now I’m back in the city and have a bit more time. Trying to pick a highlight of my month at Keppel Croft is impossible, there were too many to choose from. The only downside? The biting insects - mosquitos and deer flies ate me alive!

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Sadly my time there came to an end (a week later than planned!) and now I’m back in Toronto. In a way I was looking forward to being back in the hustle and bustle of the city but Keppel Croft and all the wonderful people I met there left a lasting impression on me and my time there is something I won’t forget. The hospitality, warmth and community spirit I found there are inspirational and I hope that one day soon I can return and see many of those people again. In particular I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bill and Dawn for opening their home to me this past month and for being such warm and interesting hosts. I’ve enjoyed my time with you immensely and can’t even begin to thank you for all the opportunities you provided during my stay at your beautiful home. I hope I’ll soon have the chance to come back and visit you again. 

For more information on Keppel Croft Gardens visit their website and to see more photos of the beautiful gardens and all the other places I visited while I was there check out my photos on flickr 

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