Kizomba Lessons

A few years ago I met a Cuban guy living in Halifax. We hit it off and hung out a few times. I discovered he used to work for the resorts in Cuba as part of the entertainment crew and used to teach people how to dance. hmmmmm … It didn’t take me long to ask him to show me a few things!

One night (long ago) he asked me if I had ever heard of Kizomba. I hadn’t. He loaded up some good ol’ youtube videos with kizomba music and told me ‘just feel the music’.

There we were, ‘feeling’ the music in my living room. How romantic right?
Generally, I would agree with you … handsome latin man who can dance, sexy music … should be very romantic.

This is what ‘Feeling the music’ is supposed to look like ….

Then there is me trying to learn to dance to Latin music when I don’t have Latin blood. It is difficult. Our white North American bodies are not accustomed to moving the same as Latinos. They learn to dance from birth and here I was 30 years late getting started! I had a lot of catching up to do!

Me?

Ok ok … I’m not that bad.

I thought that Dominican bachata was the sexiest dance I knew, but then I learned about kizomba! Ooo la la!

Lessons didn’t last very long that night. I don’t think I was a very good student. For some reason I have difficulties with follow the leader. (ha ha ha) It was probably because kizomba is danced so physically close to one another that it is like you are one.

Fast forward several years until March 2015. I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm of kizomba, but it isn’t very popular in any of the areas that I’ve traveled. Or maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places.

One night when I was out with my friend in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we stopped for Happy Hour at La Bodeguita, a Cuban bar / restaurant on the malecon, whose creator is famous for the original creation of the mojito in Cuba. Come to find out, we were an hour too late for happy hour, so we didn’t stick around, but on the way out I noticed a sign advertising kizomba dance lessons at 9pm that night.

We went out and had a few drinks at a nearby bar (I couldn’t resist 2 for 1 Pina Coladas) and then returned to the Cuban bar to check out kizomba lessons.

The instructors started off with a beautifully choreographed dance to show us all what ‘could’ be done and then a small group of us practiced the basics together. We learned a few of the basic steps and danced a couple of songs and then the lesson was over. It was just a short little teaser for the workshop that they were organizing for the next two days.

I had looked into taking dance lessons (salsa) when I arrived in Vallarta, but I didn’t have any luck finding group classes. Having stumbled upon kizomba classes and a workshop taking place on my last weekend in the city, I just couldn’t say no.

Late Saturday afternoon I headed to Isla Cuale (a very small island in one of the main rivers running from the mountains to the ocean) to a newly opened bar called Utopia. It was quiet mid-day but looks like it would be a great place to dance the night away. There I met with the promoter, the instructor and about seven others looking to learn kizomba.

The workshop was put on by Nora from Keep on Dancing. She’s a beautiful dancer and speaks fluent Spanish and English. Amazingly, and very proudly, I told her that she did not need to repeat everything in English for me and I actually understood the instructions in Spanish. Although, I’m sure the demonstrative nature of a dance class helped some.

I knew I was in the right class when she explained the basis of kizomba as being all about connection with your partner. The first thing we had to do was form a circle and then individually hug everyone in the circle. Keep in mind, nearly all of us were complete strangers, with the exception for the couple who were there and two girls who had met at a prior class. Now, I know many people who cringe at the thought of hugging a stranger, although it doesn’t bother me at all. But, take a second and think about hugging a stranger for 10 – 15 exaggerated and long seconds. It was important to hug long enough to actually relax a little and feel the connection. This is a hug like you would give your mom, your dad or your partner and isn’t the quick little pat that you give someone in a receiving line at a wedding. For anyone who knows me, they are more like my squishy hugs or even my wiggly ones. I’m a strong believer that hugs are good for your mental health and I give and take them whenever I can.

When was the last time you had a 10 second hug? I was literally very happy that day because I had at least 10 hugs before the dance class even started. If I could take dances classes daily that started with hugs I think I would be the happiest girl in the world. It was a great, although a slightly awkward icebreaker, but afterwards we didn’t really feel like strangers any longer which makes it a whole lot better for dancing kizomba.

The first 45 minutes was spent listening to the music and standing in a line learning the basic steps. Then we would practice them with rotating partners. This way everyone got a feel for how to dance with different people and since some were a little more advanced than others, you could learn from your partner while practicing.

One of our practice exercises was to dance with our bodies touching, but without our hands. It is important to maintain body contact at all times and you ‘should’ be able to follow your leader by feeling their movements rather than with hand signals. Here’s a short clip (I’m in the black and white dress on the left).

For the next hour and a half, we practiced various steps with increasing difficulty and putting them together into a choreographed movement. The choreography was mostly so we could learn how all of the steps could transition and be used together, more so than having to learn to dance this exact formula of steps.

Through changing partners the men got to practice leading different women. I felt bad regularly as I suck at following, but I tried really hard to follow and by the end was getting better. If a guy can’t lead, the girl doesn’t know what to do and if a girl can’t follow then nothing works!

I won’t lie, I stepped on a few toes and my little toes got squished a few times too. Note to self – don’t learn to dance with open toed sandals. I learned how to move my hips in a proper figure 8, how to do the dolphin move (rolling your body) and all kinds of variations of quick-quick-slow, slow-slow-quick, side to side, back and forth and walking along with a couple of turns or salidas.

In the end it was actually lovely to hear from the instructor how much I had learned throughout the class and have a laugh at how uncomfortable the dolphin move is for me, even though I was doing it correctly.

Here’s a little video of the instructor showing off all the moves that I did not learn in my first class. Well, the dolphin is in there toward the end where she moves her whole body like a dolphin, or a worm (standing up). Add these moves into the choreography of a beautiful partner dance and it becomes incredibly sexy. Hmmmm … I’m not quite there yet.

Sadly, I was too busy learning to take any video of my efforts. I know how disappointed you all are! But, I hope you enjoy the few little videos I’ve shared.

I now know how to dance at least the basic steps to salsa, cumbia, bachata, merengue and kizomba. Keeping all of the music straight is sometimes a challenge, but I just can’t tell you how much I love latin dancing.

If you ever get a chance to try a class, give it a ‘roll’ …

A big thanks to Keep on Dancing for the classes and Nora for being so lovely and encouraging.

It’s a cat … oh wait, no it isn’t!

I’m living in a nice area of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is on the border between Fluvial and Pitillal. It is a newer neighbourhood, only a few years old and there is new construction happening on at least four houses in a two block radius. It is very quiet here (other than some barking dogs) and no traffic.

The house I live in is quite nice. It has two levels, tile floor throughout the house, three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a full kitchen … A normal house. I’m guessing about 2000 square feet. The front door opens to a dead end street with about five houses in total. Not only is the street a dead end, but the sidewalk blocks the entrance to the small street so that traffic doesn’t enter. Of course, the locals in the few houses bring their vehicles in, but most people wouldn’t bother to manoeuvre over the sidewalk.

I’m living with a local lady, her cat, dog and sometimes her boyfriend when he is in town. The cat and dog are lovely. I’ve never met such a calm and well behaved cocker spaniel. She only barks at danger and never at me.

Tonight, I went downstairs to get a drink at around 10:30 pm and the screen door to the small patio and laundry area was open. This is normal, as the small backyard (about 8 feet x 25 feet) has a cement wall about 10 feet high and then a screen / fence around the top for another 5 or 6 feet. The small patio has room for a laundry sink, washer, dryer, cleaning supplies, a small bbq and a few plants.

The dog, Mona, was sitting by the open doorway perfectly still staring into the distance. I thought nothing of it because she is always so calm. I walked by again and she didn’t stir. She didn’t even cock her head or ears. I said her name, nothing. She was like a statue. I called her name louder and still nothing. She wouldn’t take her eyes of of ‘something’ outside.

I went to the open door, stood over her and timidly peered upward in the direction where her eyes were fixed. I saw nothing but blackness and the shimmer of plants in the breeze. She still hadn’t moved even though I was invading her space and likely blocking her view.

I took a quick look around the house for the cat and determined that she must be somewhere in the back yard, that’s probably what the dog was looking at, right? It made sense at the time.

I looked out of the open screen door again, standing still a little longer and letting my eyes adjust to the light. And then I saw the glitter of animal eyes at the top of the fence above the backyard (about 16 – 20 feet up). I squinted through the dark night to see what it was. It wasn’t much more than a shadow, but was about the size and shape of a house cat. About a foot long, four legs, hairy and it had a round belly. It didn’t help that the animal was also dark brown or grey, not exactly easy to pick out from the blackness of the night sky with no lights.

Yes, it must be the cat, Menina. She is grey and black striped and since she’s not inside the house, it is quite possible that she’s climbing the fence in the backyard.

I made some kissy sounds to get her attention and she looked at me. As I squinted to see what colour it was to make sure it was Menina, it started moving very slowly across the top of the wire fence, about the speed of a cat stalking a mouse. She continued to move slowly away from the edge of the house and to the corner of the fence where she stopped.

As it was moving very slowly and my eyes were starting to adjust, I could tell it was not Menina. The animal was far too plump to be the lovely little cat that was in my bed last night. And, now I was questioning if it was a cat at all. But what else could be cat-sized and climb fences?

As I caught a glimpse of the animal’s profile, I realized it clearly was not a cat. It had a long pronounced snout. And then it paused and looked at me again and seemed to be content to stay in that corner for the time being.

I closed the screen door and went to my room to get my trusty iPhone to use as a flashlight. I was a little scared that the animal might have moved, or climbed down into the patio area while I was upstairs, so I was scared to open the screen door. I tried (hoping for miracles) shining my light through the screen, but it didn’t work. I timidly opened the screen part way and shone the light up at the corner where I had last seen the animal. Sure enough, the light glistened off of it’s eyes. It then started it’s way across the top of the fence again. Ah! Maybe it is a racoon? They aren’t so bad, we have those in Canada! They like to make a mess and dig through garbage, but they don’t really scare me. But then I saw the long, thin, hairless tail. The tail was approximately the same length as the animal’s body.

What does a long, thin, hair-less tail mean to you?

RAT.

I nearly squirmed out of my skin at the thought that this cat-sized animal could be a rat. I’ve seen lots of wharf rats in Halifax and other large rats in other countries, but never the size of a full grown cat.

It wobbled atop the wire fence, likely because it’s body weight was more than the fence was meant to withstand, and I quickly shut the screen door and then the glass door while I got myself together. All the while, Mona, is still sitting under foot, just inside the door, following the movements of the creature.

With the glass door shut, there was nothing further that I could do, but at least I knew it wasn’t coming in the house through the open door. I went upstairs to research what the animal could possibly be.

Searching for cat-sized rodents in Mexico, rodents with long tails in Mexico and large rodents in Mexico brought me to lots of images that I should never have looked at before bed time. Was it a coati, a rat, a racoon, a capybara?

I couldn’t tell which it was, so instead of going to sleep and forgetting about it, I marched myself back downstairs to see if I could get another look.

I tried to see through the glass and the screen with no luck. I opened the glass, muttering to myself the entire time that it better not be standing right by the door or I might die.

I cracked the screen door open far enough to stick my hand out and pointed my phone’s flashlight up at the fence. Sure enough, it was still stealthily moving across the top … until it changed it’s mind and started climbing down … on the inside of the fencing … That’s right folks, headed down toward the ground on the inside of the patio. I watched until it got to the bottom of the fencing and was contemplating how to manoeuvre from the concrete wall to the large tree with it’s leaves reaching upward.

I contemplated no more. I shut the screen door and then quickly shut and locked the glass door. After all, if it was a racoon, they are smart little buggers. I didn’t want it figuring out how to pry the door open because it smelled the garbage can in the house.

With nothing further I could do, I messaged the lady I lived with to warn her not to open the back door as there was a large rodent out there. She hadn’t read the message, but came home a few minutes later.

When I told her the short version, that there was a large rodent outside, she said ‘oh, was it about a foot or two long and green? I’m sure it was just an iguana. Don’t worry about them. They won’t come in because of the cat and dog.’

I had to explain that this was definitely not an iguana. And, with that, she bravely opened the glass door and we looked through the screen for the mysterious creature. We finally found him back on top of the fence. Since he was at the top of the fence, I took my light out and shone it on him again. We then both got slightly grossed out and our voices each went an octave higher. Even she didn’t know what it was, but she was equally disgusted at it’s long, hairless tail.

We watched it slowly crawl along the top of the fence for a couple of minutes and then it started down on the outside of the fencing. This is when she squirmed a bit and closed the glass door again, reassuring me that if it had gotten in that the dog and cat would take care of it quickly. Sadly, that really wasn’t very reassuring with a skinny cat and a cocker spaniel, I didn’t feel particularly safe.

In the end, we still don’t know which kind of rodent it is for sure and it was too dark to take a photo.

Lesson learned to always keep the patio door closed at night though!

My First Christmas Abroad – Part 3

After reading Part 1 & 2 about my beliefs on Christmas and how Dominican’s celebrate differently than North American’s, I hope you’ll appreciate how absolutely at peace I was with my decision to be abroad for Christmas in 2014. Of course I missed my family and friends. More than anything though, all I could wish for was that every single one of them was enjoying Christmas in whatever capacity brings them happiness and no stress. Christmas morning I slept in until about 9am. When I woke up, I immediately called my family to say Merry Christmas and chat for a bit. My apartment was ‘decorated’ with clothing hanging to dry on a drying rack after being at the beach the day before. My mind was rested from a good night’s sleep and the sun was shining (when I finally opened the curtains!). Amazingly it was just like any other day except fewer people in the community were working and stores were closed. And I felt … Happy. Later that day, with a handful of other students and friends from IIC Casa Goethe (my Spanish school), we hopped in a carro publico and made our way about 30 minutes outside of Sosua along the coast to a small community called Saboneta. On the outskirts of town we were met by our guide and her jeep, waiting to take us to her farm where we would meet the horses and begin our day. We all got saddled up and acquainted with our horses and then slowly set off through the streets of the little town toward the mountains. Locals were sitting on their porches chatting away as normal. Kids were playing in the streets. Bachata and Merengue music could be heard around every corner. And we clip clopped through waving and saying ‘Feliz Navidad’ to the locals.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Once we set off up the first hill, our guides checked in to make sure we were all doing ok in the saddles and then shortly after that we had our first opportunity to go fast, straight up a large hill. I’ve been horseback riding only about 10 times in my life and I’ve never gone any faster than a saunter, so this was particularly exciting for me. And off we went straight up the hill. How exhilarating! The strength, speed and agility of the horse, balanced with the concentration it took from me to stay on her … amazing! Do it again! Do it again! (it wasn’t time yet though) We climbed a fairly well-groomed dirt road for a good half hour and then headed down into the valley where we got the first glimpse of the river that we would be crossing with our horses. This was also the rest stop for the horses and a relaxing snack and dance break for us.

The beautiful river

The beautiful river.

Break time for the horses.

Break time for the horses.

Horseback Riding on Christmas

Dance break for the humans.

After a leisurely break, we mounted the horses and started our true adventure through the river and jungle of the Dominican’s beautiful mountains. The horses navigated their way down a short, slippery and rocky slope to the river and then in we went! No time to reconsider, the horses were following the leader and he was already on the other river bank! Each of the horses daintily waded into the water stumbling on rocks and regaining balance almost with every step, but never losing a passenger! The water was up to the horses’ tummies which meant our feet were fully submersed in the river and occasionally up to our knees. Don’t be fooled though, the rest of our bodies didn’t stay dry with the splashing from our own horse as well as whoever happened to be in front. As dainty as they may be when they are trying to choose the path of least resistance, they sure can make a splash as they clomp into a river. We quietly followed the leader along the sandy banks of the river for awhile and then criss-crossed back and forth down the river to follow the best pathways along the beaches, rocky banks and through the jungle. More than once I found myself drifting off into a relaxed day dream as I bumped methodically along the pathway surrounded by large leafy trees, the bubbling sound of the river passing by and birds singing in the distance. My mind completely relaxed and I was able to just enjoy the freshness and revitalizing spirit of nature. I’m not sure if others in my group felt the same or not, but they were equally quiet and there were times when no one in the group spoke for five or more minutes as we trotted along the trails. It was complete human silence, only broken by the sounds of nature. After traversing the river and riding through various different types of foliage, we reached an open field where we were allowed to run with our horses to the other side where we would meet our final path back to the main road. A couple of the others were seasoned riders and took off at the speed of light. Me and my horsey, Puerto Plata, started with a trot and then next thing I knew she was going full speed ahead. I was a little torn between fear of losing my balance and the exhilaration of going so fast. In the end, exhilaration won as I’ve decided that I love horseback riding and need to find more opportunities to improve my skills so that the fear of falling off doesn’t inhibit me from going as fast as the horse can take me. We all met up at the last trail and clip clopped our way slowly back through the little village to the farm. I can’t really put in to words how much I enjoyed the three hours we spent amidst nature with the horses, but I know that for Christmas 2014, I found my holiday happiness, my tranquility and my sanity on a horseback trip through the mountains and rivers near Saboneta, Dominican Republic.

My First Christmas Abroad – Part 2

Check out Part 1 for the background on my Christmas beliefs before delving into the following post.

*Beware, some sarcasm may ensue half way through this post. You have been forewarned.

Pretty much from the minute that I started making travel plans in the summer of 2014, I knew that I would be away over the holidays that year. My friend had asked me to photograph her wedding in the Dominican Republic on December 28, 2014 and by the end of summer I had confirmed that I would be there. I decided to fly into Dominican Republic on December 11th (before the Christmas rush and high prices) and leave at the beginning of February (after the Christmas rush). That gave me about seven and a half weeks to enjoy Dominican life. Keep in mind that I’m not on vacation while I’m traveling, I’m working as a travel agent, so I spend a good chunk of each day working, just like you. The big difference is that before work (or after), I can walk to the beach.

I was so busy traveling throughout the autumn of 2014, I didn’t really have time to think about what it would feel like to be abroad for Christmas. The thought crossed my mind occasionally and I wondered if I would be homesick. Would I miss my family? Would I miss the tree and the presents? Would I feel lonely on Christmas day? Would I be able to find turkey dinner? But, I was too busy living every single moment to think that far into the future.

Once I got to the Dominican Republic I settled in quickly, made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I immediately felt at home. I arrived on December 11th and went out dancing my first night. You could tell it was Christmas because there were a few decorations at restaurants and shops, but they weren’t very prominent. There was a small Christmas tree in the lobby of where I was renting and the bar that I went dancing at had a wrought iron tree / candle stand, but overall, just like Dominican in general, it was ‘tranquio’ (which translates to quiet).

A couple of days before Christmas one of the motoconcho drivers that I had met invited me to come spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to go sooooo badly, but I knew that it was a ploy to show me off as the ‘white girl trophy’. I contemplated going for the experience, but I didn’t know him very well and in the end I decided that as much as I wanted to see a real Dominican Christmas, I knew that I would just be annoyed if he acted like my boyfriend the entire day. So, in the end I said no.

Dominican Republic is a very poor country. They do not celebrate Christmas the American way and I’ve got to be honest, I think America could learn from them on this one. Generally speaking, Christmas Eve is spent attending church and then gathering with family and friends for lots of food (often pot-luck kind of style) and drinks. Everyone stays up late and it is all about spending time together with loved ones. Christmas day is spent being ‘tranquilo’ with friends and family. On Christmas night everyone goes out to dance and celebrate.

Most locals don’t have a Christmas tree, although you are likely to see some form of nativity scene as most families practice their faith. There will be random Christmas trinkets and old-style decorations hung throughout their tiny, basic homes from the oddest of places. Decorations are eclectic, they don’t match and you know what? None of that matters here.

Huh! Imagine that.

Shhhhh …. Don’t tell anyone ….

It actually does not matter if your tree lights are hung perfectly.
(Unless you are diagnosed with OCD and then I’ll agree that it could matter in that case)

In Dominican Republic, you will not be judged for your Christmas decorations or lack thereof.
You also have no need to put pressure on yourself because someone might be judging you. They just aren’t.
Woah! What a concept.

Sorry about my sarcasm, but one of my biggest problems with North American Christmas is the expectations that people put on themselves to impress their family and friends when really, none of that matters. It is all superficial.

Side Note – Thanks mum and papa for not ever judging me for how untidy my house was. I know I used to get in trouble for my messy bedroom as a teen, but I’m not THAT bad anymore.

Did you notice in my description of Christmas in Dominican Republic what was missing?

Dominican’s in general don’t celebrate Christmas with gift-giving.

WOAH! What is this concept? Is Christmas even Christmas without giving gifts?

Well folks … believe it or not, even though Jesus was welcomed into the world with gifts, in my humble opinion, God is not judging anyone based on what size Tonka truck they give their son or if their daughter would rather a tool set than a barbie.

Anyone care to argue that point? My comments section is open … open for nice, intelligent conversation, no bullying folks!

In Dominican (and lots of other countries) families don’t have the money to buy gifts to celebrate Christmas. Some families do, of course, but the majority do not. There are no long lineups. No one is stressed about having enough money to buy the best new shoes or most popular new toy for their kids because they are more stressed about putting food on the table (a problem for separate discussion). You don’t have to keep up with the Jones’ because the Jones’ are just normal people, struggling to get by. So, instead of giving gifts, they spend time with their friends and family.

WOAH! What if we all did that?

Nearly every day the week before Christmas I arranged my work day so that I could go to the beach for a few hours. Immediately I hear most of you thinking to yourself ‘Lucky girl. That must be nice.’ Followed by tinges of jealousy.

You know what? It was beautiful. It was relaxing, sunny, warm and not even remotely Christmas-like in Sosua on the beach. I did not hear Christmas music. I saw very few Christmas decorations. There were no extra long line ups, no stressed people, no complaints about not having money to buy gifts …. Hmmmmm … quite the concept! I bet most of you reading this would love to have a relaxing Christmas.

So, I ask you … What’s stopping you from having a relaxing, enjoyable Christmas (whatever that means to you)? Why are you letting family, friends and advertising dictate how you spend your time, money and sanity?

I understand that I’m not going to change the entire North American way of thinking about Christmas (after all, I’m not an advertising company). I know that I can’t single-handedly stop the huge influx of ridiculous advertising around the holidays, but what I can (and did) do is remove myself from the stress that burdens so many people around the holidays.

You can let yourself get caught up in the mob, or you can step aside and let it tumble on past you.

For my first ever Christmas abroad, I chose to do something on Christmas Day that would bring me joy. Something that would make me feel good and that would not cause me any stress. It was completely relaxing, enjoyable, peaceful and beautiful …

Check out Part 3 for how I spent my first Christmas abroad.

My first Christmas abroad – Part 1

(the back story on my Christmas beliefs)

Bah humbug.
Yeah, that’s what most of the world’s Christmas lovers would say about me.
I prefer to think of myself more as an advocate of less stressful holidays. That doesn’t mean that I hate Christmas (although I don’t particularly love it.) And, it doesn’t mean that I try to bring others down. It just means that I choose to avoid the chaos whenever possible. I stay away from the malls. I don’t do Christmas baking. I have very few Christmas parties to attend. I don’t listen to Christmas music. I don’t put up a tree or decorate. Some people love these things, but for me, they really all lead to more stress.

I think part of this is because I’m an introvert and chaotic situations drain me physically and emotionally. So, with a holiday as hectic and chaotic as Christmas, I feel tired and drained the whole season (which often starts before Rememberance day). That’s nearly two full months of exhaustion. And, let’s face it, if you live in the Americas it is impossible to avoid Christmas.

Even if you do your part to keep your own stress level to a minimum, it is still near impossible to avoid soaking up some of your friend’s stresses. Not to mention advertising on television, radio, buses, etc and post after post on Facebook about the long lines, the high prices, the ridiculousness of it all … but yet everyone still going crazy to meet the deadlines and high expectations that they have placed on themselves.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to explain to my family (who mostly understand) that I don’t really enjoy Christmas. I’m not interested in gifts. I don’t need anything and I don’t want to buy stuff for others that they don’t need or appreciate. The commercialization of Christmas and needing to buy gifts for everyone frustrates me to no end. All I want for Christmas is a turkey dinner with family. My expectation is that my mom or sister will cook the turkey because I don’t know that I could come anywhere close to doing it as well as them. However, should something happen and the turkey doesn’t turn out, I would hope we could all laugh about it rather than being upset because it wasn’t perfect.

Stress … Think of all the stresses that surround Christmas!

1. Deadline to buy the gifts, have them wrapped or sent by mail.

2. Having the money to buy ‘good enough’ gifts for whoever is on your list.

3. Buying gifts that your significant other will like.

4. Cooking turkey dinner with all of the fixings.

5. Having your tree decorated PERFECTLY.

6. Having your house clean enough for company.

7. Entertaining company (specifically the in-laws) over the holiday

Thankfully my family isn’t particularly wrapped up in material items, so it has never been about spending large ridiculous amounts of money. Of course my mom decorates for Christmas and I always appreciate how pretty it is, but I would never ever judge her if she one day decided not to decorate!

For the past few years, my mom, sister and I have tried to stick to exchanging hand-made gifts. These could be self-made, or they could be purchased from a local artist. Something interesting, not terribly expensive, but more about the thought and meaning of the gift rather than just buying for the sake of buying. Personally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this and try to stick with it.

My mom has both made, and bought beautiful hand-made bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry. My sister made a donation in my name to the Planeterra Foundation and bought me a t-shirt from a not for profit. She also purchased a bracelet for me from Free the Children that gives water to a family for life.

For my family, I usually create a travel photo calendar of that year’s adventures. One year I also purchased garden baskets for African families to be able to start and maintain a garden, the way to a healthier and more prosperous future.

These things warm my heart because in all honesty no one in my family needs anything. We have everything we need (likely 10 times more) and if the spirit of Christmas is giving, I think it should be given to those who need it, not those who don’t!

Trying to keep this perspective alive is nearly impossible when you are bombarded with Christmas gift giving expectations and advertisements. Whether you believe in Christmas or not, you have no choice but to be subject to it because it is so commercialized.

So, in 2014 I ran away from it all and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Stay tuned for How I celebrated Christmas 2014 and why I loved it so much.

Cheat the Yankee

I truly love the differences that come with all of the cultures of our beautiful amazing world. I love that people everywhere are the same, but yet somehow totally different.

I’ve been to Dominican Republic twice before, including a seven week stay in 2012. I’m here again now for approximately eight weeks and I’m enjoying *almost* every second. I’ve been sick with a couple of different issues which was not so enjoyable and I’ve had a couple of frustrating situations. However, overall, the people, the beach, the sun, the food, the new friends from here and afar, the little town of Sosua has not disappointed me.

Anytime you travel you have to be particularly careful of tourist scams. In my opinion, high priced excursions that you book in advance of travel or on the resorts are not scams. If you agree to the price in advance, if it seems reasonable to you in whatever culture you are used to and you are happy with the quality of service you receive when you take the excursion, then it’s not a scam. However, if you arrive, take the excursion and then there are additional ‘required’ costs at the end that you weren’t advised of, that is a different story.

Also don’t forget that the extras are offered at additional cost because people DO buy them at that price. If they weren’t getting any sales from it, they wouldn’t be in operation, or at least not offering that particular product. Business is the same everywhere in that they are all looking to make money. They will not do something at a loss. However, in some places you have to be more careful of the business ‘ethics’ and ‘scams’ than in others.

Many people book excursions in advance for the ease of it as well as the security of working with a reputable company. For those two things, you are paying a higher price than you would locally. However, if you try to book the same tour locally you have to consider that you have to barter the price on your own, spend your time researching the options and you aren’t sure on the security and standards of the local company. You are also on your own if something goes wrong rather than having the backing of a larger, reputable company. Prices can go either way locally for the exact same product. It can be the same as what you were offered by your travel agent or tour operator, or it could be lower or higher. It all depends on the agreements in place between the international and local suppliers. Some times they’ve negotiated special rates because they bring in bulk clients, which also means that the local companies are very careful to please and meet the standards of the international companies. Or, sometimes you can find a local supplier and pay less. Just keep in mind that you take your chances when you do that.

However, there are lots of real ‘scams’ out there. In fact, many people joke (but they are really serious) that the national past-time of Dominican Republic is actually ‘Cheat the Yankee’, not baseball as they would have you believe. Now, not all Dominican’s do this. There are certainly fair and honest people here. But, there are also many crimes of opportunity and tourist scams that you should be aware of

Take for example this one which is quite common in Dominican Republic. Here’s a little story so you can relate …

My friend and I left from Sosua to go to Puerto Plata to enjoy the summit to Pico Isabel de Torres on the only Cable car in the Caribbean. We hopped into a carro publico (public taxi), paid our 50 pesos each for the upcoming 45 minute drive squished in the back seat of a car similar to a Honda Civic with a total of six passengers. The driver, plus two passengers in the front and then four passengers in the back seat. This is the main source of transportation here so it’s nothing new to us and for one dollar, it’s really a pretty good deal.

Keep in mind, the public transit drivers don’t speak English, the remainder of this story takes place with me speaking Spanish.

As we got close to Puerto Plate the driver inquired where we needed to get off. I told him the centre of Puerto Plata would be fine as we were heading to the Teleferico. He asked a couple more questions, but I couldn’t understand him. My Spanish is much better when I can see someone speaking and hear them. In this case because he was in the front, driving, and I was in the back with the music blaring, I just couldn’t hear well enough to understand.

When we stopped at the central station in Puerto Plata everyone piled out, including me. Before my friend was able to wiggle her way out of the car, the driver told us to stay in the car to go to the Teleferico. I explained no problem, that we would find our own way there, but he insisted (nicely) that he would take us there and I got back in the car. Let’s just say I should have known better but for whatever reason at that moment, I thought he was genuine. And, I was able to hear and see him when we had the conversation, so I understood him well.

It was about a five minute car ride to the middle of the mountain where you buy your tickets for the cable car. He dropped us off and as I started to get out of the car he turned around and told me it would be an additional 100 Pesos. The conversation went a little something like this (in Spanish):

Driver: That’s 100 pesos
Me: No. Why?
Driver: Because I brought you all the way to the Cable Car.
Me: But you didn’t tell us there was an extra charge for that. We would have taken other transportation from the centre.
Driver: But I brought you, so you owe 100 pesos more.
Me: (getting agitated) No. I’m sorry but I’m not paying you. I tried to get out of the car and you told me to stay. You did not tell me there was an extra fee. (My friend and I exited the car)

We walked about 50 meters to the front entrance of the Cable Car pavilion when the driver and one of the Cable car employees approached us. I’m not sure which one spoke to me first, but at this point I was really annoyed with the driver.

Driver: You owe me 100 pesos.
Me: You should have told us that before you brought us here. We wanted to get off in the centre, but you didn’t let us. You told us to stay in the car.
Driver: But I brought you here, there is a charge for that.
Me: Not my problem. We were going to take other transportation but you wouldn’t let us. You didn’t tell me there was a fee. I’m not paying you.
Driver: Fine, I’ll get the police then.
Me: As you wish.

He beckoned the ‘police’ nearby which was actually only a security guard, not officially police. I’m sure he thought that the idea of the police was enough to scare me, but I didn’t back down.

The security guard sauntered over from the other side of the parking lot. When he was close the Driver immediately began to explain his side of the story. His side, of course, was simply that he drove us here and then we refused to pay. When he was finished, I immediately asked if the security guard spoke English. Of course he responded no! And I’m pretty sure I snarkily said ‘Of course not!’ Not for a second did I actually believe this as he was security at a huge tourist attraction, but whatever, I couldn’t be bothered to argue over that too. So, I yammered on in Spanish explaining how we had tried to get out of the public car but he told us to stay and that he didn’t tell us there was an extra fee for this.

By this time, there was a group of about five to seven of us. Myself and my friend, the driver, the security guard and several staff from the cable car who wait outside to greet people.

The security guard just stood there listening. I quite honestly don’t know if he even said a word other than ‘No’ that he didn’t speak English. And even then he might have just shook his head. HA HA

At some point one of the staff asked how much we had paid and I explained that we paid 50 pesos each when we got in the car in Sosua until Puerto Plata. 50 pesos each was already slightly high as I believe it is only 45 pesos, but I hadn’t asked for change, so I wasn’t going to argue over it.

It was then they asked why I didn’t want to pay the extra 100 pesos.

Although my friend tells me I wasn’t loud, I was certainly angry at this point. I was arguing over 100 pesos (approximately $2.50 CAD). Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? In the back of my mind it seemed ridiculous to me too, but I knew this was a regular occurrence and felt like I needed to take a stand so that they would know it wasn’t right to take advantage of tourists.

I also know that this has happened to other tourists and generally they just pay the money and back off as they don’t know what to do, what’s going to happen or even if they are right or wrong. For that reason, it is intimidating and the locals who are looking for opportunities can take advantage. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me … at least not this time.

Driver: It is only 100 pesos. That is not expensive.

And then I kind of lost it.

Me: Just because it is only 100 pesos doesn’t mean it isn’t expensive. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that 100 pesos is nothing. I’m not new here. You should have let us out of your car or told us the price in advance and then we wouldn’t have this problem. We could have easily taken a moto concho or walked. We tried to get out of the car but you told us to stay. You are not honest. You didn’t tell us there was a fee. I’m not paying.

What I really wanted to do was take out 100 pesos and tear it up in front of them to prove that it wasn’t about the money. I’m glad I didn’t though. It would have been a waste!

I turned to the security guard ….

Me: Ok. Now what? I’m not paying. What happens now?

There was some mumbling and grumbling between the driver and the cable car staff and a short conversation between them that I didn’t understand.

Then one of the staff said ‘Ok. Ok. Go ahead’. I looked at each of the staff and the security guard and sincerely said ‘Thank you.’

My blood was boiling. For one, I don’t like confrontation. Secondly, confrontation in a foreign language? Yikes!

Go figure, once we finally got inside it started to rain and the teleferico stopped! Thankfully only for a short period of time, so we were able to get on about 30 – 45 minutes later.

It took awhile before my blood pressure returned to a regular level.

Funny enough, one of the staff who had been involved in the argument approached me while we were waiting to buy tickets and told me how good my Spanish was. Hmmm … maybe if you want to sound good in Spanish you just have to get angry so that you talk faster and they won’t hear your mistakes!

One of my friends in Canada said to me today “Don’t forget, you aren’t in Canada anymore.”

My response? “What are you talking about????? I would NEVER EVER EVER have argued like this if I was in Canada! I would have been arrested! LOL I only did it because I was in Dominican!”

By the way, for those of you who might be concerned (i.e. Mum & Papa) … I don’t do this on a regular basis. In fact, this was the first time. And, if there had been any real chance that I was going to be arrested I would have paid the $2.50 to stay safe.

Incrediblue was incredible!

For those of you who may not know, I chose to visit Athens, Greece in October as I was already planning to travel in Europe and there was an exciting travel blogger conference being held in Athens. Since I was in the general area (i.e. the same continent), I decided it would be a waste not to go to the TBEX conference and see what it was all about. The conference did not disappoint!

After three days of networking, connecting with other amazing travel bloggers and vloggers, doing a few tours and taking in an amazing amount of information, I got a really fantastic opportunity that kind of rocked my world.

If you’ve been following along with my blog, you might be aware that I have fallen head over heels in love with sailing. I’ve always loved boats and being on or near the ocean, but I struggle with sea sickness, so it makes it a love / hate relationship.

During the TBEX conference, I had entered a contest with Incrediblue, lo and behold, when the winners were announced, I had been chosen as one of them. The prize, a four hour catamaran sailing experience with a handful of other winners, a spread of beautiful Greek cheeses and Ela Gold Champagne.

It was a grey, chilly day in Athens, but we all joined together to set sail for a few hours just off the coast.
The bloggers: Lizzy, Scott, Suzanne and Paula. We were greeted by three friendly crew members who would take care of us on board. They helped us navigate the ropes to get on the catamaran and showed us to the kitchen where we were treated to a spread of champagne, olives, crackers, cheeses and sun dried tomatoes.

In case you are not familiar, Ela Gold is infused with 24 carat gold flakes. I’m not much of a drinker, but how could I pass up something so unique! It’s not like I get to taste the richness of gold every day. I am far from a connoisseur of any kind of alcohol beverage (although I do love a good fuzzy navel!), but I have to admit that the Ela Gold Champagne was tasty and paired well with the local snacks.

Once we had indulged in champagne for breakfast, the crew navigated us out of our tight docking spot in the marina and off toward open water. Despite the blah weather, it was a lovely day for sailing. The waters were calm and visibility was excellent.

Our small group spread out around the catamaran; some chatting with the crew, others lazing on the netting (until they were warned that they might get a bit wet). I took a few minutes to just sit and take it all in at the front of the boat, the calmness of the seas, the wind whistling by, the smell of the ocean …. When it all comes together it is so very relaxing. How could you not love the freedom of being on the ocean? After breathing it all in, I got back around to mingling with the other bloggers, staff and crew.

Incrediblue is a really interesting company. They are somewhat like an agency for people who own and operate sailboats of all different shapes and sizes. It is kind of like the Air BnB of sailing if you will. If you are interested in a sailing vacation you simply sort through their inventory by location, date and size of the vessel and then you contact the crew to ask as many questions as you wish. It is a completely tailor-made experience. They operate mostly in the Mediterranean, but are expanding. You choose your ship with crew, your destination and length of time sailing. How cool is that?

I was chatting with the crew about sailing the catamaran and next thing I knew, I was sailing the catamaran! Just take a look at my face and you’ll quickly see how much I was enjoying my time on board. (Thanks Intrepid Escape for capturing my joy!)

I learned a bit about when to turn the wheel and how far, but I don’t really think I was very good at it. I didn’t really realize how quickly the wind changes and that you have to adjust for it constantly. After a few minutes of trying my hand at sailing, I gave the wheel back to the Captain as the winds were changing. The crew rushed off to change the sails and shortly thereafter we were headed back to shore.

Despite the grey day in Athens, the sailing trip was a great glimpse at what Incrediblue has to offer and yet another chance for me to get out on the water and enjoy the relaxing lilt of the waves and the wind in my hair. Also worthy of noting, one more sailing adventure without sea sickness! Preventative medication is king!

Santiago, Chile – 10 First Impressions

I like to think that I’m a little bit of a unique traveler in that I don’t do much research on a destination before I arrive. I don’t want to hear about the destination from other people’s views, I want to see it, taste it, experience it for myself and make my own opinions. Now, this isn’t for everyone. Lots of people love to read all about it before they arrive so that they know what they want to see and do. Me, I just like to arrive and see what I feel like. Since I’m writing a blog and you are reading it, I’m glad you are the type of person who likes to hear about other’s experiences. If we were all like me, I wouldn’t have anyone out there reading, instead I’d be sending everyone to Chile to experience it themselves!

We all know that first impressions are important, for better or worse, so here are 10 of my first impressions of Chile.

1. Mountains. Mountains. Mountains. For about the last 45 minutes of the flight approaching Santiago, you are soaring high above beautiful mountains. You land amongst the mountains and the city of Santiago is surrounded by mountains. The mountains run the length of the country, but also split the width of the country. They also are responsible for dividing the climate between coastal and humid to inland dry and desert-like. No question, the towering mountains are everywhere and they are spectacular.

2. Homeless. As I approached the historic centre of Santiago by taxi, the first thing that caught my eye in the green space dividing the main street was a person (man or woman, I’m not sure), sitting on a large tree stump with their pants around their ankles. I shouldn’t have stared, but it was really unusual and I just couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. That hot Friday afternoon when I arrived, the green space was laden with homeless people sleeping, peeing, defecating and puking. Not really the best first impression of the city, but none-the-less, I was there to experience the real Santiago, not just the tourist version.

3. Dirty. Despite seeing people out collecting garbage from the streets, the historical centre was a dirty area. Dust from the dry climate combined with lack of education for littering, left the streets strewn with garbage. The beautiful purple jacaranda trees were also starting to lose their petals, which left the streets carpeted with bright purple flowers.

Jacaranda tree, Santiago, Chile

Jacaranda tree, Santiago, Chile

4. Dry. I have never visited an area with such dry heat. I’ve always visited Caribbean areas that have high humidity, so I’ve always associated 30+ degree weather with sweating profusely. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to walk down the street in the afternoon sun and not need a shower 20 minutes later. The dry heat was a pleasant surprise and the sunshine on my face was most welcome.

5. Easy to navigate on foot. If you rent a hotel or apartment near the historic district, it is no problem at all to find your way around the central area of the city on foot. In fact, I did so without a map. However, if you have a map you’ll likely find all of the tourist spots much quicker and not miss out. Myself, I just wandered around the streets and then sauntered back to my apart-hotel.

6. No begging. No bothering. Despite what seemed like a lot of homeless people in the central historic area, I was never once asked for money or bothered at all. Even when I walked through the Central Market and down the main streets with stores, vendors and restaurants, I was not hollered at or begged to spend money on anything. Vendors simply existed there and if you wanted to purchase something you could approach them, otherwise, they continued about their day.

7. Tranquilo. A word aptly used to describe the overall atmosphere of the city, tranquil. No one was in a hurry, very few cars were beeping and over the weekend that I was there, there was next to no traffic. People walk slowly and take in their surroundings and conversations with friends. There were no fights or brawls. Simply tranquil.

8. Safe. Being in a new city is always a little bit intimidating for a solo female traveler such as myself. In any city it is best to always be on guard and follow general safety measures such as not wearing fancy jewellery, not carrying your passport or all of your money and making sure that you are aware of your surroundings. Personally, I felt very comfortable in Santiago because of it’s laid back attitude and slow pace. For a big city, it seemed to have a country attitude.

9. Street Art. After having visited Athens in October and going on a Street Art tour, I am much more cognizant of Street Art in other cities. Ranging from proper graffiti (with a purpose), to graffiti for the sake of defacing a building to murals and colourful drawings, Santiago does not disappoint with the street art. Although there is not much in the historic district, within about 10 blocks (near the Loreto Hotel) the streets come alive with bursts of colour and imaginative designs.

10. Hot dogs. Although I chose not to have one, hot dogs are a popular choice for lunch or a snack with hot dog stands spread throughout the historic centre. If you are not feeling like eating on the run, you can also choose a local restaurant on the street or in the market and chance are, they will have a hot dog with your choice of toppings or fully loaded that you can munch on while watching the futbol match of the evening.

Overall, I enjoyed Santiago. I felt safe and easily got my bearings. I had no safety issues and soaked up the dry heat whenever I could get outside in the sun. I was a bit disappointed that most shops and restaurants were closed on Sunday, but I managed to find what I needed.

Sadly, the homeless situation bothered me. Many large cities struggle with this problem and I certainly don’t know what the answer is, but I know that as I walked by men passed out on the streets in various positions, sometimes lying in their own vomit, that I felt horrible that there was nothing I could do to help these people in that particular moment.

Although it is not a destination that I will rush to return to, it is also not a destination that I dread returning to. I wouldn’t suggest spending more than one or two days in the city, but it is an excellent starting or ending point with lots of day tours that you can do to surrounding cities, mountains and vineyards.

Murano, Italy

September 2014

Hotel Rialto offers a transfer and tour of a Murano glass factory for free, so I decided to give it a try while I was in Venice. After-all, I had wanted to visit Murano anyway and I love seeing artisans at work.

I gave the front desk about 15 minutes notice and they had a boat and driver pick me up right at the hotel for 3pm. It ended up being a private taxi-boat, one of the fancy ones and I was the only person on the boat. I guess it is less busy on Sunday and I was taking the last tour of the day.

The private taxi had a covered inside section with windows and leather seats – room for about 10 people. I, however, stayed up front in the fresh air and sea breeze with my driver. He was friendly, but didn’t seem to want to talk, so I took pictures and video on the 15 minute transfer to Marco Polo glass Factory on the island of Murano.

Private boat-taxi Venice, Italy

Private boat-taxi Venice, Italy

Murano, Italy

Murano, Italy

As soon as my boat arrived, I was greeted by Alex, who immediately made me feel welcome with his warm, friendly personality and his excellent English. He ushered me right in to the factory where I got my own private showing of a Master glass blower at work. The blower’s name is Mariano and he is well known for his art.

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

I then got a tour of the factory’s art gallery which houses hundreds of unique, one of a kind master pieces by the artists who work in this particular factory. There are about 600 glass blowing artists in Venice and about 40 of them work out of this particular factory. Each section of the gallery was a new discovery. Sadly, but also understandably, no photos or videos are allowed as these are one of a kind pieces of art. It is like a museum of the best glass works in Murano. Some artists have collections of items in the gallery, others have only one or two master pieces. The artist that I saw at work is known for making chandeliers and most of the ones in the gallery were hand-crafted by him. The detail in each and every tiny little piece is magnificent.

I learned about the different styles of glass work and the family history behind glass blowing. Glass blowing has been handed down through generations from fathers to sons. The trade nearly always stays within the family and only ends if there are no further sons born into the family (no pressure ladies!). There are no women glass blowers, however many women in the family are talented artists and do much of the painting and finish work on different styles of glass works, such as the gold or silver plating.

One of my favorite sections of the gallery was from the family who creates only animals. On display were about 30 different one-of-a-kind animals from turtles to owls, cats to ducks, horses and more. My favourite ones were the jellyfish with their detailed tentacles and bubbles coming out of the ‘glass’ water around them.

It was explained that there are three types of commercial glass works.

  1. Master artists who create one of a kind art that is sold to collectors and often to buyers for large businesses, or groups of businesses.
  2. Regular glass blowers who create mass market products mainly for the tourist industry.
  3. Regular glass blowers who work with recycled materials to create lower grade quality items that may have imperfections. Also for the tourist market, but also ensuring that remnants of glass from all of the works are recycled.

Alex was very excited to answer all of my questions. He was very proud to share this part of his history and culture with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide and all for free! Of course, I stopped at the store on the way out to buy a souvenir (or two) … it was the least I could do after having an hour long, private tour with such a fantastic guide.

After the tour, Alex was quick to give me a map and invite me to visit the rest of the island as well as direct me to the vaporettos for when I was ready to return to San Marco square.

Murano, Italy

Murano, Italy

I spent about an hour wandering the main streets of Murano and taking a few photos, looking at store after store of beautiful, but completely different styles of glass works. Around 5pm, I returned to the vaporetto stand to head back to Venice Island. It was a lovely day learning about the artistry of blown glass and the history of Murano, Italy.

20 things a non-wine drinker learned about wine in Mendoza.

November 2014 As friends and family know, I’m not much of a drinker and especially not wine. Yes, I am well aware that it is a required taste. I’ve been trying to ‘acquire’ it for 20 years. I think it’s fair to say it’s just not for me. None-the-less, when you are traveling in Argentina, wine is a given at every meal and a winery tour is a must! It is such an important part of their history and economy that it was only fair for me to give it a try. While on my trip with Intrepid Travel, we did a half day wine tasting tour that visited three Bodegas (or wineries) in Mendoza. The three Bodegas were: Alta Vista, Dante Robino and Lagarde. We started around 9am and by 10am we were three tasting glasses in! Each winery gave us a tour and overview of their process and then served us three to four of their mid-range wines to test. Proudly, I tasted all nine wines that were put in front of me. I really disliked most of them, but a couple of the whites or sparkling wines were ok. I even had seconds on one of the ones at Dante Robino! Having said that, there were wine lovers in my group who enjoyed every single glass, plus the remainder of several of my glasses. Needless to say, everyone was pretty happy by 1:30pm when we finished at the last winery and headed to lunch.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Here’s what I learned about wines during my tour. 1. All grapes are the same color on the inside. The skin is the difference in the color. 2. The amount of dryness in a wine is directly related to the sugar content. It ranges from Extra brut, brut, sec and demi sec. 3. Vineyards are good up to approximately 100 years. 4. The older the tree, the smaller the harvest, but the better quality of the grapes. 5. The type of ground that crops are planted in, determines the flavor of the wine. Rocky, earthy, sandy areas all provide different flavors. 6. Mendoza is best known for Malbecs (red). 7. Sparkling wines made with natural carbonation have very fine bubbles that raise up the glass in stems and collect along the edges of the glass. Cheaper sparkling wines that are carbonated artificially have larger bubbles (like soda). 8. In the Mendoza region, they have very few natural elements that will harm the grapes. However, when a cold front and warm front meet, they often create hail that can range from golf ball size to baseball size. Not only does the hail knock the fruit off the trees, but it can also damage the tree and cause it to not produce well going forward. 9. The crops are sometimes covered in netting. This is to protect the fruit from hail (not from birds). 10. Red and white wines go through almost the same fermentation process, but because white wines are the color of the grape, they get to final product more quickly. The reds have to have the skins added in for four hours (rose) to several days for a darker color. 11. Wines used to be stored in very large oak barrels but have been moved to smaller oak barrels to improve efficiency. With more litres in the large barrels, it takes longer for the oak flavor to infuse through the entire liquid. By moving to smaller barrels, the oak flavor dispurses more quickly and can be moved to market more quickly. 12. The oak barrels are used once, first, for the best wines. Second for the next best and third for a market version. The barrels are purchased for close to 1000 Euros each and then sold to be made into furniture or other decorations for approximately 25 Euros each after their three-year cycle. They are sometimes sold to other producers of whiskey or rye as well, but these are not made in Mendoza.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

13. Many of the best Argentinian wines are not exported at all. They produce a lower amount of these wines and keep them within the country for consumption. Many of the wines we tasted cannot be found in Canada. 14. Red wines are usually more expensive than whites because it is a longer process to make reds. 15. Lagarde makes one of top four wines in the country.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

16. Henry (by Lagarde) is a blend of four different grapes and takes five years to produce. Each of the wines goes through the fermentation process individually and then they are mixed together in the end. Henry is well known outside of Argentina, but is produced in low quantities, more for awards than for sale. The quality of the wine brings prestige and integrity to the winery. They focus on the quality of this wine and not so much the profit. 17. Mendoza is situated at about 900 meters above sea level. Growing grapes at altitude works well because there are no problems with insects ruining the crops, so no pesticides are needed. However, they struggle with little rainfall to irrigate the crops and hail storms can ruin a crop within minutes.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

18. When storing bottles in the cellar, they allow dust to pile on the bottles because it protects the wine from the light. 19. Use beer caps instead of corks during processing to make sure that no oxygen seeps in and that humidity (or lack thereof) doesn’t dry cork out and leave bits in the wine. 20. Most wines still have sediment in them when they are first bottled. Wineries will store bottles with the neck down and do a ¼ turn of bottle daily, or weekly, to help the sediment go to the neck. They then freeze the neck & pop out the frozen chunk then re-cork the top, leaving a sediment-free and clear wine for drinking. Seems like I learned a lot about wine making. Interested in knowing more? Well, you’ll just have to contact me and I can set you up on a fantastic Argentina trip!