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Snorkeling the amazing coral reefs of the Florida Keys

The first time I snorkelled, I was 16 years old. It was October 1987, and I was in Barbados with my dad. I picked up some gear from a kiosk on the beach of our hotel in Christ Church and swam to the reef not far from shore. I didn’t know how to snorkel or knew what I would find there. Every time I saw a fish, I went the other way. True story.

Despite my initial fear, my appreciation and love for the ocean have grown over the years, and my fear of its inhabitants has dissipated. Not to say that poking my head underwater still doesn’t give me pause, but I no longer go the other way. I’ve snorkeled several times since then, and in November 2015 I enjoyed three days of snorkeling in the remote Mergui Archipelago of South Myanmar.

I love to travel to destinations that offer opportunities to see animals and marine life in their natural environments. It is important for me to be able to share those experiences with my two sons in hopes that they too will love our natural world.

In November 2016, I decided to take my 11-year-old son to the Florida Keys to snorkel after learning that the Keys is home to the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world. He had never done so in the open ocean before or in a coral reef. I made a plan to snorkel three reefs in the protected Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

With so much talk of the damaged and dying coral reefs around the world, it was hopeful to see the abundant coral and marine life in the sites we visited. In my research, I learned of the coral reef restoration project by Mote Marine Laboratory at their Mote Tropical Research Laboratory in Summerland Key.

 

Tips to Prepare for a Snorkeling Trip with Children

I was able to take my 11-year old son on this trip, but I didn’t bring my 6-year old (soon to be 7) son because he hasn’t yet swum or snorkeled in saltwater and he tends to be more cautious and sometimes fearful. I also didn’t have my husband or another adult along who could either sit out with him if he wanted to get out early or be in the water with my other child.

We have been planning for a future snorkeling trip with my youngest son. Here are some of the ways we’ve been preparing since he was 4 years old. We hope to take him some time this year or in the first half of 2018.

  • Swim lessons
  • Consider investing in a dry top snorkel set with just the mask or a set that has fins they can grow with. A dry top snorkel helps to keep the water out of the top which has been very helpful, especially with children.
  • Practice swimming in lakes close to home, so they get used to the open water feel of it
  • Practice snorkeling in swimming pools
  • Research what marine life you will see and get them involved and excited
  • Talk about all the colours of the marine life

 

All three tour operators included masks, snorkels, fins, snorkel vests and offered water noodles. They all had an anti-fog solution and a rinse bucket available. We brought our dry top snorkel and mask but borrowed fins. The snorkel vests were mandatory, but you could inflate/deflate as much as you wanted. I also enjoyed the use of the noodle as it helped keep my hands free to take video.

We chose all afternoon trips as it gave us a chance to do other activities in the morning, check out of hotels and travel the Keys.

 

General tips to prepare for a snorkel trip

  • Check out the Tropical Snorkeling blog  for fantastic information about snorkeling in the Florida Keys and other destinations around the world. I’ve taken their advice for snorkeling in Aruba too.
  • Always use only reef-friendly sunscreen
  • Take your own anti-fog solution so you can practice snorkeling or get in extra snorkeling from shore before your snorkel excursion
  • Consider a long-sleeve UV protected swim shirt or rash guard for children and adults
  • Take an easy to pack beach or wet bag. It’s especially helpful if you get one last snorkel in and then you have to fly out the same day and your swimwear hasn’t had time to dry.
  • Take water shoes, water hats, water flap hats
  • Consider bringing your own snorkel vest for snorkeling from shore
  • Don’t forget a small dry bag to keep your valuables dry such as your cell phone, car/hotel room keys and money.
  • Don’t forget insurance and make sure it covers adventure travel insurance. Also, check what your credit card covers.

 

 

 

Our Snorkeling Itinerary with 3 Snorkel Tour Operators: 

Day 1, departure from Duck Key

We spent two nights at Hawks Cay Resort (read our experience here) and booked our first snorkeling trip in the Keys with Sundance Watersports.

After a friendly check-in, we boarded Blue, a 65-foot catamaran, on a beautiful sunny day. Blue is a perfect boat for snorkelling trips as it has sturdy ladders off the back for easy entry, seats along the perimeter, wide open space in the middle, and shower heads on board to rinse the salt water off after snorkeling.

We arrived at the Stake and were greeted by small flying fish. After instructions from the Captain and staff, we took to the glistening azure waters. The waves were a little choppy, but visibility was good. We saw French, Queen and Gray Angelfish, Blue and Stoplight Parrotfish, Great Barracuda, Blue Hamlet, Wrasse, Trunkfish, Sergeant Major, Yellow Jack, Butterflyfish and countless other tropical fish species.

Thanks to the team at Sundance and their helpful instructions on how and where to snorkel, my son had an incredible first experience snorkeling; we were the last ones back to the boat.

Coffins Patch reef fish Sundance Watersports
Snorkeling at Coffins Patch with Sundance Watersports

 

Coral at Coffins Patch with Sundance Watersports
Snorkeling and coral at Coffins Patch with Sundance Watersports

 

Who: Sundance Watersports at Hawks Cay Marina – https://www.hawkscay.com/watersports

Where: Depart from Hawks Cay Marina at mile marker 61 and travel about 4 miles offshore to The Stake at Coffins Patch.

Note: You don’t have to be a guest of Hawks Cay to snorkel with Sundance. However, it did make it convenient to be a guest there as you can enjoy water activities in the morning, have brunch at the resort, relax and change in your room and then take the tram to the marina for afternoon snorkeling. At the marina, there is a store called the Dockside shop, and it has change rooms. You can purchase snacks and drinks to take on board.

Snorkeling with Children: Coffins Patch appeared to be the most shallow of the three reefs which brought us closer to the reef and made underwater viewing easier. My son had no problem snorkeling there. I recommend this for children 6-7 years old+ who can swim, are comfortable in the water/salt water and with getting splashed as there will most likely be some waves even if the waves are small. Consider your children’s personality and abilities. There was a young child about 4-5 years old on board; he was in the water for only a few minutes as he was afraid. It’s a fantastic beginner reef with much to see.

About Coffins Patch from Franko Maps:

To 25′  Beginner.  Southern stingrays, brain coral, fire coral, and pillar coral are common here.  Visibility is sometimes good here, sometimes not so good.  A great place for snorkeling.  Caution:  Surgy, fire coral.

Blue at Sundance Watersports
Blue, a catamaran with Sundance Watersports in Duck Key, Florida

 

On the snorkel boat with Sundance Watersports in the Florida Keys

The view off of a catamaran in the Florida Keys

Hawks Cay canal view Duck Key, Floria
Hawks Cay canal view in Duck Key, Florida.

 

 

 

Day 2, departure from Marathon 

When I called to book with Spirit Snorkeling, they weren’t sure if they were going out as the forecast had called for high wind. Fortunately, it wasn’t windy, and we were off to Sombrero Reef for our second snorkeling excursion in the Florida Keys.

It was another sunny day, and the ride to the reef took us under the 7-mile bridge to the Sombrero Lighthouse. It was a smooth ride out, and visibility was good. We saw a variety of fish and coral, much like Coffin Patch plus some marine life we hadn’t yet seen such as Blue Tang, Banded Butterfly, Scrawled Filefish and Jellyfish. Some snorkelers in the group saw an eel, sea turtle and nurse shark. Sombrero is a spur and groove coral reef and was deeper than Coffins Patch, but we could still see the marine life, just not as close. With calm seas and good visibility, it is a special place in the Florida Keys.

Kim (divemaster) was friendly and helpful. The boat was equipped with ladders off the side and back. It also had a rope platform to sit on in the front of the vessel. After snorkelling, we were given lollipops to help get rid of the saltwater feeling on our lips. What a great idea and it worked.

Spirit Snorkeling Sombrero Reef
My son entering the water at Sombrero Reef

 

A spur and groove Sombrero Reef
A spur and groove reef and tropical fish at Sombrero Reef in the Florida Keys

 

Who: Spirit Snorkelling –  http://captainpips.com/snorkeling/

Where: Depart from Captain Pip’s Marina at mile marker 47.5 and travel about six miles offshore to Sombrero Reef at the Sombrero Lighthouse

Notes: There is a change room/bathroom available at the marina should you need it. There were plastic round tubs to keep our bags dry. They also offer snacks and sodas on board, and you can bring alcoholic drinks.

Snorkelling with Children: My 11-year old son had no problem snorkeling there. It is deeper than Coffins Patch but some parts of the reef came closer to the top which made it easy enough to see the fish. There was a 6-year old girl on board who snorkelled for an hour, I don’t know her previous swimming or snorkeling experience. I recommend Sombrero Reef for children who can swim, are comfortable in the water/salt water and with getting splashed as there will most likely be some waves even if the waves are small. Consider your children’s age, personality and abilities as it is further out and deeper.

About Sombrero Reef from Franko Maps:

To 35′  Beginner – Intermediate.  Marked by the 142-foot Sombrero Key Light, built in 1858.  This classic spur-and-groove reef system provides sand channel alleys and finger reefs just loaded with fish and giant brain coral, which make for cleaning stations for barracuda, turtles and other customers who come to be picked clean by tiny cleaner wrasse.  This site is terrific for snorkeling.  Caution:  Currents

 

Sombrero Lighthouse and snorkelling with Spirit Snorkeling
Snorkelling with Spirit Snorkeling and a view of Sombrero Lighthouse

 

 

7 mile bridge Florida Keys
Under the 7 mile bridge in the Florida Keys

 

 

Day 3, departure from Ramrod Key

Our final snorkel trip was to Looe Key Reef with a fully outfitted dive centre, and we had several divers on board. In my research about Looe Key, I kept coming across the phrase “not for the faint of heart”.  My understanding is that Looe Key is on the edge of the barrier reef. The reef was deeper than the previous two reefs we snorkelled, but with the large reef patches that came closer to the surface, viewing was great. If some members of your group or family scuba dive, this is a fantastic reef for you. So much to explore. It’s an exciting reef.

We lucked out with the third day of sunny skies and good visibility. This time we were aboard Kokomo Cat II, a 45-foot Catamaran with ladders on the side. We saw many of the same fish we had seen at the other two reefs and others I haven’t ever seen before like the Horse-eye Jack and Black Durgon. We saw a lot more Great Barracuda and the ones we saw were larger and swam closer to the surface. We also saw moon jellyfish and had an incredible sighting of three goliath groupers, one in the first location and two in the second. The moon jellyfish and groupers made my son a bit nervous but he handled it really well and again we were amongst the last to get back on the boat. The goliath groupers are a protected species, and they had to be about 150-200 lbs or more. I was secretly hoping for a sighting of a nurse shark. Others in our group saw a reef, hammerhead or nurse shark.

Looe Key Dive Center is an excellent, friendly and professional snorkel and dive operator. The staff were knowledgeable and helpful. They also have a motel and tiki bar on-site.

Snorkelling Looe Key reef with Looe Key Dive Centre and Resort
Snorkeling the Looe Key reef in the Florida Keys

 

Goliath Grouper at Looe Key reef
My son snorkeling with a Goliath Grouper at Looe Key reef

 

Great Barracuda at Looe Key reef
Great Barracuda at Looe Key Reef

 

Goliath Grouper Looe Key reef
Goliath Grouper at Looe Key Reef

 

Tropical fish at Looe Key Reef
Great Barracuda and Horse-Eye Jack at Looe Key Reef

 

Jellyfish at Looe Key reef
Jellyfish at Looe Key Reef

 

Who: Looe Key Dive Center & Resort – http://www.diveflakeys.com

Where: We departed the Looe Key Dive Center Marina at mile marker 27.5 to Looe Key Reef, about 5 miles offshore. We snorkelled in two locations for an hour each.

Notes: Arrive a little early to browse the shop, and you need to sign a waiver before boarding. You can purchase reef-friendly sunscreen here. It’s the closest operator to Looe Key reef, so you spend less time on the boat and more time in the water. The captain cooks hot dogs between snorkel spots; my son loved that. They also sell snacks and soft drinks on the boat.

Snorkelling with Children: My 11-year old did well at this reef though he was a little nervous of the moon jellyfish. Admittedly, I was a bit too as I hadn’t ever snorkelled with jellyfish before. However, they are slow swimmers, so there is time to move away from them. Be aware if you’re snorkelling in August and September as I understand that is moon jellyfish season. I recommend Looe Key Reef for children with intermediate swimming skills, are quite comfortable in the water/salt water, with marine life and with getting splashed as there will most likely be some waves even if the waves are small. The fish were bigger here than the fish in the previous two reefs. There is a possibility of seeing sharks as well as the large groupers. My son was also nervous of the groupers, but they didn’t come too close. Consider your children’s personality and abilities. There was a 10-year-old on board who was audibly nervous. He didn’t have previous snorkeling experience but snorkeled for about an hour. He didn’t snorkel in the second location.

I don’t think I would bring my 6-year old (soon to be 7) son to this reef. I would wait until he is a more experienced swimmer and less cautious/fearful and I would definitely want to have one adult per child in this reef.

About Looe Key Reef from Franko Maps:

EAST END to 35′ Intermediate.  “The name comes from the British Man-O-War, HMS Looe, which ran into the reef here and sank in 1744.  The reef is made up of parallel limestone ridges that come within 10 feet of the surface.  Looe Key dive is absolutely brilliant over an 800 yard stretch.  Here you will find a variety of soft and hard corals, sea plumes, sea fans, sea rods, and sea whips.  A good snorkeling site.  Caution:  Surgy.”
WEST END  to 35′  Intermediate.  The Looe Key consists of 800 yards of magnificent underwater variety, which is perhaps equal to the entire Florida Keys’ collective assortment.  In fact, a common nickname for this  reef is the Jewel of the Middle Keys.  The west end is a classic spur-and-groove reef formation where you will find brain, star, and giant star corals, brown tube and orange elephant ear sponges, elkhorn coral, yellowtail snapper, sergeant majors, surgeonfish, French grunts, damselfish, barracuda, mutton snapper, and Nassau groupers.  This is also a good snorkeling site.  Caution:  Surginess can make for an added challenge, but the Gulf Stream Current can be very difficult.  The current sometimes rips along at over 3 kts., making this a great drift dive, but it is very demanding on the dive boat operator to make sure you don’t wind up heading for Europe.

Look Key Dive Centre and Resort
Kokomo II at Looe Key Reef

 

Looe Key Dive Centre and Resort Marina
Looe Key Dive Center and Resort Marina

 

Canal near Looe Key Dive Centre and Resort Marina
Canal near Looe Key Dive Center and Resort

 

 

A return to the Florida Keys 

I returned to the Florida Keys in early January, this time with my oldest niece in hopes of snorkeling again. Here are my follow-up experiences with the same three snorkeling tour operators:

 

Sundance Watersports

We attempted to book a snorkeling trip with Sundance, but unfortunately, all excursions were cancelled due to the expected high winds. I have to give a shout out to Fourie (sp?) at Sundance as he was extremely helpful in explaining the situation and pushing our reservation to the following days while we were in the Keys in hopes the winds would die down, sadly, they didn’t.

 

Spirit Snorkeling

This time there were high winds as mentioned above, and the Captain decided to go out. As we made our way past the 7-mile bridge, the seas were rough, and the waves got increasingly bigger as we got closer to the Lighthouse. I wondered if we were going to turn back because as the front of the vessel dipped into the waves, water spilt into the boat. The guests seated at the front were soaked. The boat filled with some water, fortunately, the boat is made for that, and the water quickly flowed out of the drainage holes. I wondered about visibility in the water and was also concerned about the senior snorkelers on board as it was hard to walk around the boat and navigate the ladder. Visibility was not good, at maybe 3-4 feet. Despite that, I managed to see about five different species of fish in the ten minutes we had in the water before we were abruptly called back to the boat due to the black clouds and the storm rolling in. We got caught in the rainstorm on the way back to the safe harbour.  The ride back in was smoother than the way out to the reef due to the wind being at our backs instead.

I believe the Captain did the best job he could, given the conditions. However, I feel a partial refund should have been offered as we only had ten minutes to snorkel and many had less than that. I don’t think I would have allowed my 11-year old son to get in the water had he been with me that day. Once my head was down and looking underwater, the waves didn’t bother me. My issue was poor visibility.

I would still recommend a trip with Spirit Snorkelling on days that don’t have strong winds as my first experience with them was perfect. I would have preferred to have been told that visibility would be poor and that the seas would be rough when I called or at check-in with the option to cancel or reschedule. I feel that we should not have gone out that day because what is the point of snorkeling in such poor visibility and rough seas. We were told that the storm was due to arrive at 4 pm and we were to be back at the dock by about 3 pm. It came early.

Tip: If there is a visible sway of palm trees (wind) and you are at all concerned, call another operator to see if they are going out. Make your decision based on that, if you could handle rough seas and your abilities.

 

Looe Key Dive Center and Resort

I stopped at the Looe Key Dive Center and asked if they would be going out that day or any dates that week. All excursions were cancelled due to the high winds expected for several days/weeks but recommended we check with an operator that has a larger boat in Key West, to see if they would be going out.

 

I hope this guide will help you experience the best snorkeling the Florida Keys has to offer. Stay tuned for video footage.

Until next time,

Andrea

 

 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary snorkel trip for two from Sundance Watersports as part of my stay at Hawks Cay Resort. As always, choice of activities as well opinions are strictly my own. Most photos are screenshots from video captured with a Go Pro Hero 2.

First experiences and happy memories of Hawks Cay Resort

After driving the palm tree-lined road of Hawks Cay Boulevard, past the Calm Waters Spa, the children’s Coral Cay Club and tennis courts, my 11-year old son let out a “wow, mom” as we pulled up to the circular driveway of the Hawks Cay Resort.

With a smooth check-in behind us, we drove to our villa. You know that anticipation you feel when you enter a hotel for the first time? Double it, and that’s how we felt as we opened the front door of our two-bedroom, two-story marina village villa.

I fell in love with the retro feel of the olive green painted walls (my favourite colour) and florals of our accommodations. It was a series of ‘ooohs and ahhs’ as we moved through the villa from the modern kitchen to the dining area, past the bathroom, towards the living room and onto the porch. My son excitedly raced up the stairs to check out the bedrooms.

hcroad1

Hawks Cay Resort Villa

Hawks Cay Marina Villa

Hawks Cay Marina Villa

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Hawks Cay Marina Villa

Having driven in from the Everglades National Park that day, we just wanted to relax and enjoy the villa though we were tempted to go to the hotel and attend the live music performance by the firepit. Instead we soaked in the fresh air of a beautiful November Keys night on the porch, ordered in-room service, and settled in.

After a comfortable sleep, we awoke to a beautiful day in South Florida. I had just received an email from Hawks Cay detailing the day’s activities and noticed a kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding demo that was to start in the lagoon in 30 minutes.

Knowing my son wanted to try kayaking, we quickly got ready and off we went to the hotel. You can take a leisurely walk or drive as there is a self-parking lot nearby. There is also a tram shuttle service around the resort taking you from your villa to the main hotel or to the marina with stops at the various buildings around the property.

We arrived at the saltwater lagoon to children stand-up paddleboarding, sunbathers and a swimmer. Marc, the resort staff working the watersports rentals helped my son get started and offered some tips. He took to the water in a blue kayak and paddled all around the lagoon on his own. With pride in his smile and a sense of accomplishment from first time kayaking, he then wanted to try to paddleboarding. After a short time with the paddleboard, he decided he preferred kayaking but wanted to practice snorkeling one more time before our afternoon snorkel trip with Sundance Watersports at the Hawks Cay Marina. He put on the snorkel and mask he brought from home in Canada and discovered the lagoon had some small colorful fish.

hcdykayak

Hawks Cay Resort child paddle boarding

hcdytowel

Hawks Cay Resort child snorkel in the lagoon

It was 10:30 am, and we were both feeling hungry, so we decided to have brunch with a view at the on-site restaurant, Ocean. We had a choice of buffet or a la carte. With about forty-five minutes before we needed to leave for our snorkel excursion, we went back to the villa and relaxed on the porch. We watched the boats from the marina go by on the canal that takes you to and from the open water.

hc1

hcfood

After checking in for our snorkel excursion, we picked up fins and boarded Blue, the beautiful snorkel-ready 65-foot catamaran. The Captain and crew explained that we were going out to the ‘stake’, a marker in the water at Coffin Patch at the nearby Florida Reef.

We couldn’t wait to get to the reef but enjoyed our ride on the open ocean and the canal, past the villas and Hawks Cay Lagoon. The clear turquoise water was almost hard to believe, and on our arrival, we watched as fish jumped out of the water behind the catamaran.

hcblue

hcboatwater

hclagoon

hcdycapt

hcpelican

With it being my son’s first open water snorkeling experience he was a little slow to get in the water, but once he did, we were the last to get back on the boat. We saw a host of colors and spotted 25-30 varieties of tropical fish. We were thrilled to see French and Queen angelfish, parrotfish, blue tang, snapper and trunkfish. He was a little nervous when he saw the great barracuda but it and the several other ones we came across kept their distance as expected. With helpful snorkeling tips and the watchful eye of the crew it was a great first snorkel experience for my son. We had a fantastic time snorkeling and can’t wait to return with the rest of my family.

After the snorkeling excursion, we changed back to our street clothes in the change room in the Dockside store and drove off to explore the surrounding Duck Key area and the nearby city of Marathon. Duck Key is at mile marker 61 and is halfway between Miami International Airport and Key West. It’s a perfect place to spend a few days if you’re traveling the length of the Florida Keys or if you’ve already been, a great place to vacation. So much to do, so little time.

My first mistake was to arrive so late in the day on our first night so we couldn’t take advantage of activities the resort had to offer the next morning. My second mistake was not staying more than two nights as there simply is not enough time to enjoy all the resort has to offer in two nights and one full day.

Lesson learned. We will be back. I know my youngest son is already looking forward to the pirate ship pool and spending time at Coral Cay club.

Thanks for the memories, Hawks Cay.

Until next time,

Andrea

 

Information: 

 

Check out this short video of our family trip to Hawks Cay and see if you can spot the flying fish. 

 

Disclaimer: I received a media rate for my stay at Hawks Cay Resort and complimentary snorkel excursion from Sundance Watersports. As always, choice of accommodations and activities as well opinions are strictly my own.

12 images that show how Indigenous culture in Canada is being preserved

AReesFNCulture1
This carving stands on a pole at Songhees Point. It depicts the importance of children and the spirit of this sacred site to the Songhees First Nation. This area is also known as Pallatsis, meaning “place of the cradle” in the Lekwungen language. When children were able to walk on their own, parents put their cradle along the waterfront to ensure them a long life. This was the launch site of 3 canoes that participated in the ‘welcoming of canoes’ ceremony and traditional protocol of approaching a First Nations territory and asking to come ashore. A young boy is seen walking behind this pole to join his father (not pictured) before they departed in the canoes for the ceremony and to open the 2015 Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, British Columbia.

 

OVER THE THREE-DAY Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, Canada, I witnessed the great pride of elders as they watched their children and grandchildren dance, drum and sing, celebrating and preserving their rich culture.

We were a mix of Aboriginal people, some in colourful regalia, and non-Aboriginal people that included local mayors, business leaders, and myself. We paddled in sync to the shared traditional territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to ask for permission to come ashore, a time-honored protocol. It was a historic day, as this had never been done before in the history of Victoria.

Chief Ron Sam of Songhees First Nation welcomed us ashore and stated the significance of the canoe ceremony when he said:

“You know I think it’s important, the acknowledgment, when we’re all in a canoe, pulling in the same direction. You know, I think that’s what we want to achieve on a daily basis.”

FN Culture 2
George Taylor, emcee of the Aboriginal Cultural Festival and director of Le-La-La Dancers of Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation sings and drums as he leads a procession of 3 canoes across Victoria’s Inner Harbor in the canoe ceremony. Ten-year-old Matthew Everson seen beside George wearing a ceremonial blanket and mask participates in this historic ceremony.

 

FNCulture3
Chief Ron Sam of Songhees First Nation looks on as a youth dancer from the Songhees Nation greets the canoes, he then performed a paddle song to welcome us ashore.

 

FNCulture4
A young drummer from the Esquimalt First Nation joins his grandfather (not pictured) on stage at the 2nd annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, British Columbia.

 

FNCulture5
Lason Taylor performs as a young grizzly bear at the Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Lason is a 3rd generation member of the Le-La-La Dancers First Nations dance company. The Le-La-La dancers are from the Kwakwaka’wakh First Nation in Northern Vancouver Island. They have been sharing their culture and traditions through song and dance under the direction of George Me’las Taylor locally and around the world for 27 years. The passing of stories from generation to generation is how their rich culture has survived and will continue to survive.

 

FNCulture6
A drummer stands beside elder Ray Qwulshemut Peter, director of the Tzinquaw Dancers group from the Cowichan First Nation, as they sing and drum at the Aboriginal Cultural Festival. This group presented songs and dances that were taught to them by their elders. They shared a song that was sacred to them and asked that no one record or photograph the performance. Several elders that lead dance groups stepped aside and asked the younger generation to sing and drums their songs. George Taylor spoke of the importance of the “passing of the drumstick” and teaching children and youth so that their traditions, songs, dances and stories may be carried on.

 

FNCulture7
A young boy drums as he performs with the Tzinquaw Dancers from the Cowichan First Nation at the 2nd annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Children learn their traditional songs, dances and stories and participate in ceremonies and at festivals from a young age.

 

FNCulture8
Amber Wells shares her story through a hoop dance. Amber’s father, Alex Wells is a 3-time world champion hoop dancer and has taught Amber the basics of this dance to which she has added her own elements.

 

FNCulture9
Matthew Everson on stage at the 2nd annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, British Columbia. Matthew is a 2nd-generation dancer in the Le-La-La Dancers First Nation Dance Company.

 

FNCulture10
Kelly Robinson of Nuu-chah-nulth and Nuxalk First Nations displays a raven mask that he carved from yellow cedar. Kelly shared that his favourite animal to carve is the raven as it the light bringer, it brings light to the world. Kelly comes from a family of carvers as his uncles and grandfathers also work with this art. This mask is used for dances or ceremonies such as the potlatch.

 

FNCulture11
Young Michael Sheena of the Pauquachin First Nation shows off a drum he made from cut pieces of deer hide. He learned how to make rattles and drums from his grandfather, Virgil Bob. Virgil shared the month-long process of preparing a hide, such as putting the fur in a special solution and the scraping of fur. Michael comes from a family of artists as his grandfather’s sisters, Alva and Iona are weavers and jewellery designers. Michael was with his aunts and grandfather in the artist booth. I learned that Michael and Virgil also use elk and bear hide for their instruments.

 

FNCulture12
Jason, Lason and George Me’las Taylor, 3 generations of the Le-La-La Dancers First Nations dance company. The Le-La-La dancers are from the Kwakwaka’wakh First Nation in Northern Vancouver Island.

 

More:

It was an honour to be in one of 3 canoes during the historic Welcoming of Canoes ceremony. Watch a short 30-second video of my experience.

To experience Indigenous culture in Canada visit:

Aboriginal Tourism BC 

  • A non-profit agency that works to support and promote a culturally rich Aboriginal tourism industry in British Columbia. Their website is a fantastic resource to find authentic Indigenous experiences and events throughout the year.

 

Aboriginal Canada

  •  A good resource to find events and experiences in our 10 provinces and 3 territories

 

A portion of this article was published in part on Matador Network. I was a guest of Tourism Victoria but as always all opinions are strictly my own.

Cherry Beach is my favourite beach in Toronto, Ontario

Lifeguard station at Cherry Beach in Toronto, Canada.

Cherry Beach in Toronto, Ontario is my go-to beach for it’s laid back atmosphere. It’s my favourite place to sit by the lake and take some time out. It is much less crowded than the other Toronto beaches.

There are toilet facilities, a food truck and an off-leash dog park. You’ll often see kite boarders, kayakers, stand up paddle boarders and wind surfers. There are barbeque facilities as well, just bring the charcoal.

California in 9 squares

This week I’m starting a new series on the wanderingiPhone blog ‘in 9 squares’ with a focus on a destination I have travelled to and my favourite 9 Instagrams.

The weekend of April 22, 2016 I went to California with my father to meet relatives I had never met and up until about a 2 years ago didn’t know existed. After some research and DNA Ancestry, we connected. I’ll save that story for a later post.

Between family dinners, lunches and discovering Burmese restaurants in Palo Alto and Berkeley, we saw a bit of San Francisco and Palo Alto and drove the infamous Pacific Coast Highway from San Luis Obispo to Monterrey, California after driving down to Santa Barbara to meet more relatives. Here are my favourite 9 Instagram photos from that trip. Click on the 9 squares below to see a larger version.

To see the photos on Instagram along with their detailed captions, visit wanderingiphone on Instagram

California
Stanford Memorial Church, Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seals, Stanford University Quad, McWay Falls, Golden Gate Bridge

 

If you’re looking for a Burmese restaurant in the San Francisco area, check out Burma Ruby. It’s been my mission to find Htamin Lethoke (rice salad) like the way my grandma, grandaunt and I make it. I have to say Burma Ruby is the closest I’ve come to that taste. So good.

Incase you’re wondering, my father, grandmother, some great and great great grandparents come from Burma or what is known as Myanmar and I still have over 100 relatives there. Read about my travels to Myanmar in The long road to Mandalay and my Myanmar travel tips in 6 things to know about travelling to Myanmar in 2016. I’m a first generation Canadian and have a very ethnically diverse family who moved around a lot. I swear I come by a ‘travel gene’ honestly 😀

Celebrating Cherry Blossoms in Vancouver, British Columbia and a Festival

cherry blossoms vancouver

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Vancouver and area. We found these ones in South Surrey in March 2016 while we were on a family trip during March Break. As a resident of Toronto, have to say I was a little jealous of their cherry blossom trees. Not only do they bloom earlier than us, they have many more trees than we do in Toronto, at least, it seemed that way. We  saw trees everywhere we looked from Vancouver to Abbotsford.

cherry blossoms vancouver

cherry blossoms vancouver

cherry blossoms vancouver

Vancouver celebrates the Sakura trees and  even has a Cherry Blossom Festival. In 2016, it runs from March 24 to April 17th.

For more information about the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival including a map of cherry tree locations, visit here. The map helped us find the trees pictured above.