I recently experienced the Niagara wine scene by bike – a pretty cool experience.
I took my mom on a wine tour with Grape Escape bike tours for her birthday. This company appealed to me because it married being physically active with wine…I mean what doesn’t sound good about that?
Our tour was on a Sunday afternoon and promised to be about 20km with four wineries stops. The beginning of the bike tour was beautiful, as we wound through tall forests along a canal. It was a beautiful sunny spring day with just enough warmth to make biking enjoyable, but not hot.
Our first stop was Inniskillin where we had a tour and tasting. This was our longest stop on the tour including background on making ice wine and the winery. The other three stops on our tour were relatively close together and an easy bike ride to each. One stop included a cheese pairing, which was a nice addition. I enjoyed biking between these wineries because they were small and off the beaten path. We biked on back roads past wineries and farms. After the fourth winery we continued biking through the country and about 30 minutes later returned to Niagara on the Lake.
Overall, I would recommend this tour company. The guides were friendly and made sure we had a great experience at every stop. This gave us a more in-depth experience than if we showed up at each winery on our own.
The afternoon took about 5 hours with 3-4 small tastings at each winery. I would recommend this tour in the spring or fall when it is cooler and the groups smaller.
Last fall I discovered McCrae Lake while searching for an adventure activity near the cottage. The cottage is great, but I can only relax so long before looking for something to do. Fall at McCrae Lake was beautiful and led to my first HIGH cliff jumping experience – like 82 feet high!
Spring at McCrae Lake did not disappoint. McCrae Lake has a reputation for more rowdy campers because of its accessibility. It is, however, a fabulous location in the spring and fall. It is also free to use, which is an added bonus.
We arrived to sunny skies and a muddy trail. Our plan was to use the McCrae Lake hiking trail and bushwack into the cottage from there. The cottage is boat access only in the summer.
It would be me and the guys for the weekend, as we set out under a crystal clear blue sky. The trail was still covered by large puddles and rivers from the winter melt, but
otherwise our progress was quick. The trails are well marked, which was appreciated as they meander through the forest.
We estimated the hike to the cottage would be around 7k, which made Crow’s Cliff a halfway point. We took a break there to admire the beautiful scenery. The view under the warm sun was well worth the hike. We saw a few tents below with eager campers out for an early April camping trip. Crow’s Cliffs also boasts a climbing area, which might be an adventure for another trip.
We continued on through the twisting forest and around a small lake that had a beautiful camping spot. Our journey continued up hill, as the forest gave way to expanses of rock. There is something
uniquely beautiful about the Canadian Shield in this area. As there were fewer trees to hang markers, some enterprising hikers built small inuksuks to point us in the right direction.
We watched a stunning sunset that night on the Georgian Bay before returning to the cottage for a bonfire.
This is hopefully a start to some great camping trips this summer!
During our trip to Ecuador we spent one day white water rafting the Amazon River basin outside Tena, Ecuador.
Our tour was pre-arranged by the local guides and the rafting company, Rios Ecuador, they picked was fantastic. We enjoyed a day rafting the Jatunyacu River on class 3 rapids. Our group was large, so they split us into an experienced and beginner group. Both our groups rafted the same river, but our group did more difficult lines.
The day of the tour
The tour company picked us up from our hotel and we arrived on the Jatunyacu River around 8:30am. The drive to the put in location was about 40 minutes over mostly-dirt roads.
After a safety introduction and gear fitting, we hiked down the riverbank to the rumbling water below. In addition to the rafting guides, we also had someone in a kayak to help people that fell out and to take pictures. After a spectacular launch off a cliff in his kayak, we got in our rafts for the white water that awaited us.
Around noon we stopped for lunch on the beach of a pretty little camp. Lunch was provided on this stop by our guides. We spent time playing games and looking at local crafts for sale. After lunch and some more pictures, we continued down the river. The trip ended just outside Tena around 4pm.
The pace of the river was perfect; we had fairly constant rapids with short breaks on flat water to catch our breath. I don’t know if the classification system is different than at home, but the rapids were more exciting than I expected. We even flipped quiet spectacularly once, although the guides did a good job of avoiding these areas with the raft of beginner paddlers.
Our guides also made an effort to keep the trip interesting. They were professional when needed, but also made the experience fun with a variety of activities. I was lucky to play rodeo, where I sat facing out on the front of the raft while they took us through rapids. It was fun trying to stay on! They also stopped to let us swing off “tarzan vines” on the side of the river and jump off of large rocks into the rapids.
If you are doing this trip remember to bring sunscreen AND long active clothing. I am glad I had long sleeves to prevent sunburn, but also to stop a chill after being wet for several hours.
Overall, I highly recommend this tour!
Check out our other adventures in Ecuador on the Ecuador travel page.
“That is my favourite sound,” I said.
“Just listen,” I explained and as we stopped talking the sound of frogs calling through the forest became clear.
For me their chirping is a reminder of summer camping trips deep in the bush, paddling down winding rivers under the hot sun or hikes on a crisp spring morning as the sun warms the forest. It is the dawning of a new season.
Although temperatures in Canada have been up and down, this past Sunday was a balmy 15 degrees, which encouraged us to go on a hike at Hilton Falls. It is a favourite of mine as it is close to where I live and has a beautiful waterfall.
The downside is that the weather brought out a lot of tourists. I think it is great that so many city people are exploring nature, but if you want to avoid crowds at Hilton Falls stick to the Bruce trail side trails for a peaceful hike. Either way it felt great to be outside enjoying the warm weather.
What is your favourite spot for a short hike?
Other local adventures:
The sun was glimmering off the ocean below and I felt a warm breeze on my face. As I turned for final approach I scanned the beach below for hazards. There are certainly no lack on them; a volleyball net, palapas, rocks, palm trees, buildings, pools and beach goers paying no attention to us flying above.
I finally got to do my first beach jump, which has been on my list of goals for a long time. As luck would have it, it also happened in Mexico, which was a beautiful backdrop for this experience. Although striking, it was stressful, as the beach was small and packed with things to avoid. The feeling of flying beside massive buildings on one side and crashing waves on the other is something I will not soon forget. As was the rush of sound in my ears while speeding by people on the beach to land softly in the sand (we will pretend to forget the landing where I tripped in the sand and face planted).
A lot went into making this jump happen from getting my gear to Mexico to the final beach landing:
The journey started by getting my gear to Mexico. Skydiving rigs can be taken as carry-ons and most skydivers prefer this, as it eliminates the possibility of having thousands of dollar’s worth of equipment lost or damaged. While we can carry on ours rigs, we still need the proper documentation to do it. Even with that a security person can inspect or refuse the equipment. I decided to purchase a special designed bag (RigSleeve) to put my rig into that protects all the important cords and handles while still allowing it to be easily moved like a backpack.
Once we settled into our hotel and enjoyed the beach, we took a 20 minute taxi ride to Skydive Vallarta. Skydive Vallarta takes-off from the international airport, but drops skydivers over the beach closest to their dropzone office. If you have visited a dropzone before or done a tandem, you know this is fairly unusual. In most cases everything from take-off to landing happens in one location. We looked at a map of the beach and the staff walked us through where we would land. I was given a call, so I put my rig and gear in the dropzone’s truck and waited for them to round up all the tandem students.
The international airport can get busy and becomes difficult to drive in without spending lots of time in traffic. To avoid this the dropzone’s van pulls into a driveway outside the airport. All jumpers and tandem students grab their gear and walk to the international airport.
To avoid hold ups in security skydivers enter through the private pilot entrance and use that security machine. This involves dropping skydiving gear on a table, walking through a scanner and picking up your gear on the other side. Once cleared by security you walk out onto the tarmac and gear up under an awning. This whole process goes surprisingly fast and is pretty slick after a few years of practice by the dropzone staff.
We walked to the plane as usual and taxed to the runway. It is an interesting experience sitting in the plane, in a que of jets waiting for our turn to take off. It makes you feel rather dwarfed in comparison to the huge planes taking tourists across the world. We were in the air and on our way to altitude before I knew it.
The regular jumpers and staff pointed out the landing area on our first pass by the dropzone. The landing area is a stretch of beach, so jumpers have only two directions to land in. Either towards the river or away from it, which dictates the landing pattern. We would not be determining our landing pattern based off of a wind sock here. We simply had a large arrow in the sand telling us which way to land. Although this means possible cross wind landings, it eliminates the danger of someone landing the wrong way in the small available space.
We were out of the plane and flying to the beach. I was pretty pumped to land in the right direction, avoid all the hazards and land relatively softly. It was also a unique experience to have such an “audience” on the beach. The beach is lined by hotels, so at times there is a big crowd of people watching you land – something out of the ordinary.
I did, however, manage to catch my heal on the door of the plane on another jump and tumble away from the group I was jumping with. On another occasion I tripped in the sand on landing and fell on my face, but hey, what an experience!
After chatting and answering some skydiving questions, we made the walk back to the office. I learned how to shake sand out of my parachute before packing it up. We celebrated a day well spent watching the sunset with drinks on the beach.
A warm salty breeze, crashing waves and the glow of a setting sun – I could not imagine a better backdrop to a horseback ride down the beach.
We were visiting San Pancho in Nayarit, Mexico. Although this town is about 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta, it is worth the drive for a taste of local culture, food and a beautiful beach. San Pancho is still frequented by tourists, but those who want a local feel, which makes it feel friendly and culturally rich. Visitors should spend some time on the beach before watching the sunset and then walking through the town at night – it is beautiful.
My highlight in this town was the opportunity to ride a beautiful Andalusian horse on the beach.
My friends spotted two locals leading horses by the water. It appeared they were letting people take photos with the horses (for a cost). I was reluctant to ask about riding someone’s horse, but our friends, who live in Puerto Vallarta, encouraged us to ask. For $10 each and after explaining I know how to ride, they were more than happy to let us ride along the beach. I guess things are different in Mexico! I am so glad we inquired because the experience was incredible.
I was also glad to see how well the horses were cared for. Sometimes you find horses in less than ideal conditions on vacation, but these ones were healthy and well groomed. Making the minimal cost to ride them quite attractive compared to a trail riding facility.
A highlight of our trip to Mexico, so please enjoy the photos.
Photo credits: Greg Laver
Check out some of my other posts:
- Read more about our trip to Puerto Vallarta: Why you should leave the resort in Mexico.
- Learn about horseback riding in Ecuador: Ecuador volcanoes: sometimes you listen to the horses
- Read about when I rode on a beach in Spain: Spain and Horseback Riding at Equestrian Center Las Marias
I’m surprised by how many people told me to stay near the hotels in Mexico. Resorts are beautiful, but you do not get the true feeling of a country on one. Always be cautious, but you can certainly journey off the resort. Just be aware of your surroundings and travel with someone you trust.
Not only is the experience likely to be more fulfilling, but guess what? It is also more affordable.
During our recent trip to Mexico, we did not stay at an all-inclusive and in my opinion they are over-priced for what you get and the quality of it. People find it hard to believe, but eating locally and spending time outside the resort is often more affordable than paying a set price at an all-inclusive.
During our resent stay in Puerto Vallarta/Nuevo Vallarta we spent all but one of our days outside the resort. And here is why:
1. Access to quiet and beautiful beaches: they also happen to be where locals are selling great food and beautiful goods to take home with you.
2. Local markets: there are local markets all over the place in Mexico. Rent a car or take a taxi and walk through them. You will find many at the side of the road with great fresh food! If a local market is not for you, go to a grocery store. We had many of our breakfasts for less than a few dollars by purchasing food in advance.
3. Local food: along the same line, you might think that the guacamole is good at the resort, but wait until you leave and taste authentic hand-made food. It is worth it, believe me. Tacos at a local spot in San Pancho, Mexico cost us less than $1!
4. Nightlife: it is amazing how vibrant the towns in Mexico become after sunset. The locals are out and so are all the vendors. It is really worth spending one evening out in a town. Stay in the busy areas and don’t wander off alone!
5. Wildlife: we discovered a turtle hatchery where we watched and learned about the catch and release program. We literally just stumbled across this walking around.
6. Adventures: all the fun stuff is outside your resort. Really! It is often more cost effective too. We met some locals that let us ride their horses on the beach for $10. We found an ATV tour for half the price by booking it outside the hotel. And we got a cheaper price renting skidoos by wandering down a beach.
Be smart, be careful and have fun!
What gems have you found off the resort?
The horse industry is a funny one. It is expansive; from the neighbor down the road with a horse in the backyard to multi-figure horses that compete at the highest levels of the sport. More and more, I have been hearing comments from outside the industry and even those involved in other areas of agriculture about the cost of having a horse.
I find myself stuck in between these worlds. While I once competed at the national level, I did so with my thoroughbred X Clyde. She did a pretty good impression of a much-more expensive warmblood –until you saw her trot. We got good at the walk-canter transition before our hunter rounds.
Now with a horse in her teens and finding my way in the “adult world,” I realize that competing at that level is a thing of the past. At the same time, I am not ready to transition out of that world and I intend to keep my horse for the rest of her life. So where does this leave me? Well I have a shadbelly in my closet I can’t quiet part with, but has not been used in years.
But you know what? I am okay with my new reality in the horse world. I think many young adults are struggling with this; as the cost of showing keeps going up, it prices horse competitions into the luxury market. Guess what? There is SO MUCH else you can do with your horse.
In the past year I went to a wine ride on horseback and took my horse to the beach. Both these activities were far cheaper than a show and turned out to be so much more fun. There are many cool things to do on the farm too; from winter trail rides, to ground driving, to
gymnastics and teaching your horse tricks in hand.
All my musings come back to the fact that although horse ownership is not possible for everyone, there are many ways to make it more affordable. I have learned a lot in my journey from amateur owner to pseudo- weekend warrior. Not to say that I only ride on weekends; but adulthood, the 9-5, putting money away and new responsibilities change the reality of having a horse. I hope some of these tips can help you out too.
- Cut out competition: as I mentioned the first to go was competition. This does not mean you cannot hit up one-or-two local shows a year, but the entire winter and summer circuit might have to be out.
- Scale back from full service/training board: okay I never kept my horse in these facilities and instead elected to do a lot of self-care at shows, but these are the areas you can cut back on. I have dropped regular weekly lessons and board at a facility where I can jump on my own time. NOTE: this works because I know my horse and our capabilities. If you are not comfortable, a professional is always best.
- Part-boarder: it took me a long time to come around to this and find someone suitable, but it is so nice to have a bit of extra cash and time. Plus my part-boarder loves my horse and that in itself is really rewarding.
- Accessories: as hard as it is to hear, you don’t need to newest accessories. Gasp, I am still riding in a GPA speed air and my original beige TS breeches because they are in good condition.
- Find new fun things to do with your horse: I have been tossing on a western saddle and playing around outdoors this winter.
- NEVER FEEL GUILTY: whether you cannot make it to the barn because your working late or you have to turn down another show; realize that it is okay! Horse ownership does not need to look like it did as a junior.
Where do you save money with horses?
For those of us that skydive regularly, jumping can be therapeutic.
It is a brief escape from the 9 to 5 and a wonderful way to recharge. This past weekend, a fellow skydive said “this is better than going for a massage.” A good way of explaining the relaxation that comes from jumping.
I often forget about this phenomenon during the summer, but the long, cold and wet winters in Canada are a good reminder. Jumping is so therapeutic for the winter blues. Even more so are the beautiful winter jumps at sunset.
People, skydivers included, often ask how I jump in the winter. Not many places jump through Canadian winters, but there is one I can count on to put jumpers in the air as soon as the runway freezes.
My answer is always that winter jumping is not that cold is you are prepared, so I have put together a list of how I prepare for them:
- Thermal layers and then more layers: This weekend I had about 4 under layers, two thin sweaters and two jackets.
- Buffs: I use two buffs in the winter. One to cover my neck and one over my head. This ensures nothing is exposed from my chest to helmet.
- Closed face helmet: last year I used an open face, but keeping the wind off your face makes a big difference.
- Wind breakers: I wear light rain pants to break the wind.
- Good gloves: I find one pair of good quality gloves is enough. To many can get tight, make you colder and restrict movement. I have heard of some people putting surgical gloves on to stay warm, but I never have.
- Boots: I use good quality water resistant boots with thick socks.
- A warm plane helps!
- Make sure you stay warm on the ground: the place I jump has a wood burning stove to warm up by.
It was my birthday, my mom had agreed to try her first skydive, it was beautiful and warm out – I was pretty freaking pumped.
My mom would be doing a tandem with the instructor who taught me to skydive. Coincidentally, he is also the instructor I desperately do not want to disappoint. At the time I had just over 100 jumps and he offered to let me jump with my first tandem. I would follow them out of the plane and hang out during the skydive.
There are lots of reasons why this is difficult for a newer skydiver, but the main ones are: tandems fall slow because of the drogue, it is really bad to hit the drogue and general safety around tandem skydiving. It takes some time to be allowed to skydive with a tandem.
While my mom was gearing up, the instructor said, “well aren’t you jumping with us to?” Insert me reverting to a child, “Really? Me? I can come to?”
I hustled off to put on my jumpsuit and my friend, who was also my mom’s videographer on this jump, told me to wear a baggy jumpsuit to slow to the tandem’s speed (the drogue makes tandems fall slow). On went my old purple RW jumpsuit that I really dislike (but hey I picked it up for $60 online). As I pulled it on, I realized I WOULD BE JUMPING with my first tandem.
My friend reminded me to deploy high and NOT track too far, as tandems are the last out of the plane (meaning farther from the dropzone). We geared up and I receive a last reminder to stay the f*** away from the drogue.
In the plane, I was nearly as excited as my mom. The door opened to blinding sunshine and blue skies. My mom’s tandem and my friend moved towards the door. I jumped last to stay a safe distance on exit.
I dived out and caught up quickly. I flew over and managed to stay on level for most of the skydive! We reached the tandems deployment altitude and off they went under canopy. Success!
I started tracking, as I patted myself on the back for not screwing up the skydive. I continue to track, as we were still high…see the problem here? In a whoosh, I was under canopy and looking at a pair of windmills. In hindsight I was quiet high above, but at the time it was disconcerting.
I pull on my rear risers to try and hold some altitude, while watching my mom’s tandem fly to the dropzone. I see my friend/videographer working to get back; at least I was not the only one far away. After about 30 seconds, I realized there was no point in trying with a forest to cross — a potential hazard if I didn’t make it back. I scanned the fields below and elected to land in plowed field to my right. It looked like the flattest and safest landing area.
A glance forward showed my mom’s tandem hanging in the air above the dropzone. It appeared that they were watching me land. My friend was just landing – she didn’t track so far away.
I turned into the wind and prepared to land on the unfamiliar ground. My landing was a soft stand up with only a farmer to see. I gathered up my parachute and looked for a way out. There was a dirt path in front of me, so I jumped a ditch and headed that way. I waved towards the farmer as an apology for my uninvited arrival. He was unfazed and went about his work – apparently a side effect of living near a dropzone.
In my mind this was the most logical route, but the walk down the dirt path towards the house was REALLY long. I was in my huge ugly purple jumpsuit lugging a parachute.
It also happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. And I didn’t take a cellphone, so I couldn’t call the dropzone. As I trudged along I was wishing for my last off-landing the winter before – who knew I would be missing winter jumping!
I was sure someone from the dropzone would turn up once I was near the road. To my dismay after a few minutes of sweating at the side of the road I had not seen anyone, so I decided to start walking in the right direction. A local stopped and asked if I need a ride back to the dropzone. YES!!
She looked nice, like she probably would not kill me, so in I jumped in with all my gear. And there was air conditioning!
I told her all about my mom’s first skydive. I said thank you and off she went. My mom was waiting, fairly unconcerned as they had seen me land and excited to tell me about the experience. It was a success!
It turns out the owners had been driving around looking for me closer to the road I landed near, so we missed each other. The owner/pilot nonchalantly told me to remember to deploy higher and track less next time I jump with a tandem. It looked like no one, but I, was concerned with my inability to reach the dropzone.
I hope you enjoyed my misadventure. It turned out to be a great experience for my mom and it is a quirky little story to remember the day by. Although it turned out safely, there are always good lessons to take away:
- Deploy higher with tandems
- Track less with tandems
- Watch where I am in free fall
- Jump with a cell phone
- At least I am confident I can land safely!