Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Morning Confess Sesh: Southern Culture Shock

The Lifestyle Project: Monday Morning Confess Sesh

I’ve been visiting the southern states of the US for the past four months and things are certainly different around here. It’s an interesting dynamic as America is so vast and multi-faceted. Parts of the US are undoubtedly cosmopolitan, progressive, and open-minded. 

Yet I think just about everyone would agree that, as a whole, the southern United States has not historically fit this description. 

I’ve written about my process of expatriating from Canada to the US but, aside from that post about guns in the bedroom, I haven’t really talked about experiencing culture shock since I’ve been here.

The funny part about arriving in the US after backpacking through Central America was that I immediately considered it akin to home. The signs were in English. The roads were maintained. There were fast food joints everywhere. “Yup, definitely not in Central America anymore,” I thought after my husband picked me up from the airport. Sure, there are differences between Canada and the US, but in general they are both developed Western countries that share a lot of similarities. 

Dealing with culture shock as an expat
Can you tell whether this is in Canada or the US?
I carried on daily life as though I was back in my home country only to be belatedly slapped in the face by culture shock the further I settled into life in America. 

The first time I did a double take was while I was shopping. I was picking up a spare battery for my camera and the customer in front of me had a gun sitting on his waist in a holster. I couldn’t help but fixate on it – why did this man feel the need to bring a pistol into a battery store? I know that a ton of Americans own guns but does that mean they should be flaunted in public? This was happening around the same time that Starbucks and Chipotle asked patrons not to bring guns into their restaurants and I think it’s obvious that I wholeheartedly agree with that policy. 

The next set of eyebrows to be raised were not my own but they were in my direction. Everyone thus far has been subtle, but I can’t tell you how many times there have been double glances in our direction when seeing a woman of colour holding hands with a white man. It was especially notable when I first came back from Panama and my tan was particularly dark. M insists that people are just checking me out because I’m hot, which I think is an adorable husband-like thing to say, but the realist in me knows there’s more to the story than that.

The Lifestyle Project: Antigua, Guatemala
In Guatemala I was often mistaken for a local
My biggest problem so far has been deciding when to stand up for my beliefs and when to stay quiet to keep the peace. My usual Monday Morning Confess Sessions tend to be more light-hearted but this one has really gotten to me. In fact, I’ve been putting off writing this post because of two reasons. First of all, selfishly, it’s easier to delay the things that make us uncomfortable. Second of all, I have a public website. People in my “real life” read and comment on what I write. I didn’t say anything in the moment but I’ll be damned if I don’t say anything on my own freaking blog. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Downside of Falling in Love with an American

Last week we were hoping to embark on an epic road trip up the eastern United States and find ourselves in Canada by this time. We wanted to enjoy a few weeks catching up with the family and friends we left behind before my husband starts a new job next month. New York, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and a week at my friend’s cottage were all on the list. 

As you can probably tell, that trip never happened. 

There is a huge downside of falling in love and marrying an American and that obstacle is dealing with the expatriation process. 

First dance lighting and photography
Completely and totally in love with this American
Considering that I’m from Canada, people have naively assumed that the immigration procedure would be a breeze for us but we’ve been going through the spousal visa process for over eight months and it seems never ending! I can’t tell you how many frustrated hours and tears have come from it. Even just visiting each other’s respective countries causes suspicion that we’re planning to sneak in our spouse illegally (remember that time I was detained at the border?). 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chasing Monkeys in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Hmm… more like slowly and quietly observing monkeys and other rare wildlife in their natural environment while we followed them in a silent electric boat, but that’s not as catchy of a title now is it?

I don’t remember how I heard about Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, but once it was in my head I couldn’t get it out. I decided to change up my original route of backpacking Central America so that I could spend more time in the Afro-Caribbean communities that are present along the Caribbean coast. I preferred the laid back vibes of these towns and since I was backpacking by myself, I could go wherever I wanted! Birds, manatees, turtles, crocodiles, and monkeys consider themselves residents of the waterways along the small island village of Tortuguero so I made my way there to explore the coastal park for a few days.

Boat tours are the most popular way to see the park. I normally try to stick with locally owned and operated expeditions, but when I heard that Casa Marbella was owned by a Canadian whose electric boat tours had excellent reviews, I didn't wait to sign up (call it national loyalty or whatever you will but I can't help being a little biased to my home country!). Sadly his charming guesthouse didn’t have room for me to stay but I was able to reserve a spot for the next morning’s tour departing at 5.45am. 

As the dark blue skies of dawn lightened with the sun’s arrival, a local guide named Roberto navigated our group of eight through the park’s canals and expertly pointed out the exotic animals that camouflaged themselves among the vegetation. If I would've tried to do this tour by kayaking on my own, I know I would've missed the smaller animals that Roberto was able to identify. Sometimes it just makes more sense to join a tour.

I hope you enjoy this mini-photo essay of the wildlife that I had the privilege to observe while visiting Tortuguero. For a quick video of these monkeys in action, check out this post from earlier in the summer

Chasing Monkeys in Tortuguero, Costa Rica on The-Lifestyle-Project.com
Capuchin monkey scrounging for berries 
Capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Wildlife
Camera shy
Capuchin monkey of Costa Rica

Capuchin monkey of Costa Rica
Starting to get nervous because he can sense what's below 
Caiman lizard in Tortuguero
I spy with my little eye... 
Caiman crocodiles in Costa Rica
A caiman crocodile 
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Bird preying in Costa Rica

Bird preying - making the kill in Costa Rica

Bird preying - making the kill in Costa Rica

Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park
Iguana laying out in the sun 
Fauna in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Wildlife in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park
Nicknamed Jesus Christ Lizards because of the way they appear to walk on water   
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Chasing Monkeys in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Have you ever been on a wildlife tour? Going on a safari in Africa is next on my dream wanderlist.

Linking up with Bonnie and Camila for Travel Tuesday.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

3 Unexpectedly Romantic Moments in Central America

3 Unexpectedly Romantic Moments Travelling as a Couple in Central America

There’s something about exploring a new part of the world with your husband that sounds inherently romantic. You think of wearing the cutest dress with those heels that make your legs look like whoa while sipping wine on a patio overlooking the charming cobblestone streets below.

If only travelling was always that pretty.

My husband and I spent two months together backpacking through Central America (I stayed on for an extra month by myself) and, let me tell you, having somebody by your side 24/7 means they’re probably going to see some pretty unflattering moments that you’d rather keep to yourself. Seasickness, early morning wake up calls, beds that fall apart, food poisoning and more, all accompanied by a beautiful sheen of sweat coating your skin in the 40 degree heat (that’s 104F for my American friends) were all realities for us on the road.

Caracol, Belize
My skin looks like it’s glowing here but trust me, I’m just really sweaty
Backpacking and romantic aren’t two words that typically go together, but after two months of exploring Central America with my husband, we did walk away with a few really sweet memories. Dates don’t have to be all “done up” to still be special and romance doesn’t always arrive neatly packaged with a bow. Today I’m sharing three unexpectedly romantic moments from our trip.


1. FLYING IN A SINGLE PROP CESSNA PLANE

How to travel to Utila

Single prop Cessna airplane

What an exhilarating experience! On the outside it probably doesn’t look romantic at all, but holding hands and seeing that burst of excitement reflected in my husband’s eyes as we took off was unforgettable. Flying to Utila was entirely unplanned which made it all the better.


2. STRIPPING OFF OUR CLOTHES AND JUMPING INTO LAKE PETEN


Lake Peten, Guatemala

Cerro Cahui Biological Reserve, Guatemala
About ready to drop dead with heat exhaustion. This tree is holding me up!
We had just finished hiking through Cerro Cahui Biological Reserve in Guatemala with the sounds of howler monkeys following us through the forest and we were disgustingly sweaty. Nobody else was around so on a whim we decided to strip down and jump into the cool fresh water. It wasn’t quite skinny-dipping, but there’s definitely something about swimming in your underwear with your man holding you close that makes things feel scandalous!


3. SCUBA DIVING TOGETHER FOR THE FIRST TIME


Scuba jump gif
Jumping into the water with his scuba gear for his first underwater test
My husband is very forthright about having a fear of open water. It doesn’t always make sense (remember that time he was the first to jump in with sharks and stingrays?) but fear is often irrational so I respect his limits. We started taking our Open Water Dive courses together but just before it was time to test our skills in the water he decided to back out. I continued on and completed the certification by myself and must admit to feeling quite proud that I was able to go through with it. 

After seeing me go on six successful dives, M talked himself into going back and finishing the certification. A few days later we went diving for the first time together in the most beautiful conditions. That day we saw our first sea turtle and it was surreal to observe this incredible creature in the water as he did his thing nibbling on the coral and popping up to the surface for air. I was filled with awe in that moment! I looked over at my husband in his mask and scuba gear (floating upside down just because he could) and decided to float upside down too. What a pair we made! Unfortunately there was no underwater camera so no pictures came from our dives but we were absolutely present in the moment and what a serene and romantic moment it was!

Have you experienced any unexpectedly romantic moments when travelling as a couple before? I’d love to read about it in the comments below.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

4 Ways Travel Changed Me

There are times when travelling can really push you to your limits. Trying to research bus routes, train schedules, and find accommodations can be pretty stressful, especially when you’re trying to accomplish these tasks in a new country and a foreign language.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: there were more than a few instances on the road when I was thisclose to breaking into tears of frustration because of one setback after another. However, for all of the times that travelling has challenged me by forcing me to step out of my comfort zone, it has undoubtedly changed me for the better. 

4 Ways Travel Changed Me

1. I LEARNED THAT I WAS STRONGER, SMARTER, AND MORE RESOURCEFUL THAN I GAVE MYSELF CREDIT FOR.

I’ve travelled to eight countries by myself and learned to tackle a whole bunch of shit on my own. From negotiating taxi fares to deciphering Asian maps to learning new languages, I had nobody to rely on but myself. 

Funny enough, I’d consider one of the biggest challenges that I had to overcome was growing the balls to kill ginormous insects. I used to call my dad or husband to kill spiders and such but was put to the test one night in Nicaragua when a rainstorm brought an army of cockroaches into the halls of my guesthouse! From the hallway, they were crawling under the door into my room and I was beside myself. I allowed myself two minutes to hop on the bed and freak out (complete with panic tears and girly screams interspersed with a few “ohmygodohmygod” thrown in for good measure) until I forced myself to get down from the bed and kill those little fuckers. I squealed with disgust when I squished them (because I think we can all agree that crunchy insects are the worst) but now I can fortunately/unfortunately say that I’m able to handle killing creepy crawlies all by myself.  

2. I LEARNED TO BE PRESENT. 

You may have noticed that my Instagram feed doesn’t actually contain a lot of my daily life or in the moment snaps. That’s partly because I use Instagram through my iPod Touch and the camera quality is terrible (I may be one of the few people in the developed world who doesn’t have a fancy smartphone). It’s also partly because, despite having a public blog, I try to balance keeping a private life. I also detest when people live with their phone in their hand so I make a conscious effort to be present in what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with.

3. I MADE NEW FRIENDS. 

This is an issue I’ve struggled with since I graduated university. Back then I made friends no problem. I’m 27 now and things have changed. Everyone seems to get settled into their routines - work, gym, shopping, church, whatever. It’s really easy to stop reaching out to new people. When you’re travelling on the road, though, everyone is new! Everyone has a story. There’s something about making new friends when travelling that just connects you in a special way. Expats will also know what I mean. These kinds of friendships have a tendency to be shorter but they’re still so meaningful. 

Happiness motivational quote

4. I PRACTISE DAILY GRATITUDE.

When I was on my reading kick in Honduras, I became very inspired after finishing The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. One of the points that I took away from the book was developing a practice of daily gratitude. Almost every morning since January I’ve been making a list of three things I’m thankful for as soon as I wake up. In Central America I made a point of writing it down in a notebook but the faster pace of life in the States has caught up with me and I only do a mental checklist these days. Sometimes the items are serious and sometimes they’re superficial, but taking these few moments each morning while my mind is quiet and calm is a great way to remind myself that I’m very fortunate to have a beautiful life.

How has travel changed the way you live? 

4 Ways Travel Changed Me: Daily Gratitude
Thankful for a chance to spend time with one of our best friends who was visiting from Canada (he actually introduced me and my husband)

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

4 Things The World Cup Taught Me About Blogging

Blogging Tips: 4 Things The World Cup Taught Me About Blogging

Hey blogger friends! Today I'm guest posting on Brown Girl Bloggers about 4 things I learned about blogging from watching the World Cup. Suddenly, I realized that all those afternoons spent yelling at TV earlier this summer could teach me a thing or two, and what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t share them with the rest of the community? Hop on over to Brown Girl Bloggers to catch a few of my blogging tips. 

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Do You Have Shopping Rules?

Do you have shopping rules? 

No cap sleeves, no crop tops, no ass cheeks hanging out… (hopefully the last one’s a given!)

With everyone’s body being different, though, the rules can change. Personally, all three rules above apply to me. It’s a lot easier for me when I’m shopping to filter through trendy pieces and pick out clothing that’s flattering for my body when I follow a general set of rules. 

In addition to the ones above, my shopping rules include:
  • Dresses > pants. Any day.
  • Dresses + pockets = super cute.
  • No boat necks. No turtlenecks. The key for me is always to elongate my body.
  • Tops and dresses need to have structure. Anything that’s too baggy, too thin of a material, or shaped like a sac isn’t flattering on me.
  • Nothing too short. A scandalous dress for your bachelorette party? Sure, bring on the mini. But generally in life I go for something longer. Those itty bitty cut-off shorts with a 1.5” inseam? No way.
  • Overdressed is better than underdressed.
  • Usually no to strapless or anything that requires me to wear an uncomfortable bra. Have you ever tried those stick-on cutlets? Don’t bother, they’re a waste of time.

The sleeves thing has been a bit of an issue lately. Despite the hot temperatures, I haven’t been liking the strapless look lately and it seems like the only dresses left are either spaghetti straps or sleeveless. 

Enter the sound of angels singing when eShakti reached out to me and offered me my choice of clothing from their online store. The best thing about this retailer? Every piece that eShakti sells can be ordered ready-to-wear or completely customized plus their clothing is actually affordable. See a dress that you like but want to change the neckline, hem length, or cut of the sleeves? Not a problem. If I had a summer wedding to go to, I’d be there wearing this dress.

Printed illusion dress with sleeves

Wedding guest outfit inspiration

Printed dress with cut out back and perforated sleeves

The ultimate in a flattering cut - try an illusion dress

Customized perforated sleeves with eShakti

Printed illusion dress c/o eShakti / Mix No. 6 neon captoe heels via DSW / Loft metallic earrings

The ordering process was so straightforward and the customer service team was a pleasure to work with. Check out eShakti on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to keep up to date with their latest pieces and sales. PS: Right now they’ve got a ton of dresses up to 70% off (including the one I'm wearing) and they’re offering free shipping on orders over $50. Run, don’t walk!

Do you have any shopping rules that you swear by? Share them with me in the comments below!

Linking up with The Pleated Poppy / Because Shanna Said SoStyle Elixir / Get Your Pretty On.

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