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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.

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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.

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Hawks Cay Resort child paddle boarding

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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.

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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.

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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.

My close encounter with an elephant in South Africa

Arriving back at Naledi Game Lodge in South Africa for my third time, I had only one wish — to be surrounded by elephants. I was yearning to have more time with my favourite animal, observing it in its natural habitat.

I had already gone on the morning game drive and decided to spend 3 hours at a hide. I was just finishing breakfast when I noticed an elephant on the television screen that was mounted on the wall. I soon realized that it was the webcam feed from the hide I was planning to visit.

The bull elephant was still at the waterhole when we arrived, but it was off camera and to the side of the hide, eating leaves. After an okay from Sipho, a tracker at Naledi, I quickly moved from the game drive vehicle, up the stairs and over to the side to get a good view of the elephant.

The Hide at Naledi Game Lodge.
Sipho, a tracker at Naledi Game Lodge, South Africa.

The bull elephant that rumbled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of a sudden the elephant emitted a rumbling sound. Sipho explained that the bull elephant was communicating. Sure enough, three more elephants came by for a drink. One by one they arrived at the waterhole and went to the back of the waterhole by the trees and furthest point from the hide.

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Then an elephant that Sipho called  “Flopsy” (because of his floppy right ear) was the last of the five elephants to appear. He passed in front of the hide and nodded his head as if to say hello and joined the others for a drink. They hung around for about 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe all the time I had with them, alone, as Sipho had left just after Flopsy arrived. I got a little emotional and was thankful for the visit.

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Three wild African elephants at a waterhole, including “Flopsy”. My view from the hide above the waterhole.

The next day while on a game drive, Mike (my guide) heard breaking branches and followed the sound into the bush. We came upon 12-13 male elephants. I immediately thought it was “my” elephants as I had seen eight male elephants altogether the day before.

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My guide Mike taking a photo of the elephants with his smartphone

 

While Mike, Sipho & I were watching the elephants in front of us, we suddenly heard branches breaking behind us. We couldn’t see it; we could only hear it. After a few minutes, it came out from behind the tree and continued to eat nearby. It was Flopsy.

He was so close to the vehicle that I switched to my iPhone to get a few shots and started recording video. I giggled because I couldn’t believe how close he was and that I had to use my iPhone.

Then, this happened.

 

I was alone in the back of the game drive vehicle that day, and our vehicle had the sighting to ourselves. The only way to describe this 2-day experience is, magical.

I have always believed that elephants were magical. Now I know it’s true. Thanks to the expert guiding of Mike and fantastic tracking of Sipho, this experience will long live in my heart. I was completely calm and felt safe.

 

More – 

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We left the elephant sighting and found that one of the males had gone for a walk. Another Naledi Game Lodge is pictured.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Naledi Game Lodges – a luxury, family friendly and relatively affordable lodge in the Greater Kruger area.
  • Africam – web cameras that stream 24 hours a day, three are located at Naledi Game Lodge.
  • Safari Live – For live streaming game drives from South Africa, check out Safari Live. It’s as if you’re in the back of the vehicle on a 3-hour drive, searching for wildlife. The drives are twice a day.
  • If you love elephants don’t ever ride them, ride in a game drive vehicle instead – https://www.thedodo.com/elephant-rides-trek-1132645600.html

 

Whale watching in Victoria, British Columbia

One of my favourite things to do when I visit British Columbia is to go on a whale watching tour. I’ve been to BC several times and have been on many whale watching tours in Victoria, Tofino and Vancouver, British Columbia.

While on a sunset whale watching tour in the waters of the Salish Sea near Victoria, we were surrounded by a family of orca whales. Suddenly, an orca whale came out of the water to check us out.

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A wild & free transient Orca whale (also known as Killer Whale) in the Salish Sea, the waters near Victoria, British Columbia.

 

Shortly after the above photo was taken, a mother and baby orca swam under our boat, twice. We also had a rare opportunity to watch Orca whales as they taught their young how to hunt for porpoises and saw a humpback whale and seals. It was my favourite whale watching tour to date.

Mother Orca teaching her young one how to hunt for porpoise.
Two orcas in the water near Victoria, British Columbia with Race Rock in the background.

 

A humpback whale tale against the sunset in the Salish Sea near Victoria, British Columbia

I highly recommend Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia for these reasons:

  • They are Canada’s first carbon-neutral, eco-adventure whale watching company
  • They partner with the Songhees First Nation, traditional territory of Victoria, to offer the Songhees Nation Cultural Tour
  • They contribute to conservation and education
  • They have several tour options and boats available. I enjoyed the tour on the Goldwing.

Watch: Killer Whales swim under our boat 

Read: A Close Encounter with Orcas in British Columbia

 

My Unforgettable India tour in Video

In August 2014, Toronto Travel Massive, a community I’ve been a part of since May 2013, celebrated its 4th anniversary. It was an India inspired event with Intrepid Travel and India Tourism as co-sponsors. Intrepid Travel gave away a 15-day tour and I was the lucky winner! In February 2015, I went to India for the first time on the Unforgettable India tour

The Unforgettable India Intrepid Travel tour route.

We began the tour in Old Delhi touring the markets and temples, experienced Ganga by boat in Varanasi and further down river where we ‘sailed’ and camped overnight, saw the elusive Ganges dolphins,  journeyed through rural India to Bandhavgarh National Park, Khajuraho and Chanderi and ended it all by visiting Agra and the iconic Taj Mahal.

All scenes were shot with my iPhone 5s & 6+ except for the final scene which was shot with an Olympus OMD em1.

A rainy day at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India - March 2015.
A rainy day at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India – March 2015.


View: A journey through India in 20 iPhone photos. 

Until next time… Andrea and my wandering iPhone

Video: The Elusive Bottlenose Dolphins of the Ganges (Ganga) River

In February 2015 I went on the Unforgettable India tour with Intrepid Travel. I won the tour at the 4th anniversary of Toronto Travel Massive, a travel community I’ve been a part of since May 2013. Part of the tour took us on a 2 hour drive from Varanasi where our group climbed into boats and “set sail” down river for a leisurely and calming 4.5 hours to where we would camp for the night.

When we awoke in the morning we saw the elusive bottlenose dolphins of the Ganges River. I had no idea there were dolphins in the Ganges so it was a wonderful surprise. We climbed into the boats once more and as we rowed to our departure point we saw several more of the dolphins. Here is our closest encounter with them.

Adventures in Dakar, Senegal

Le Centre Culturel c’est là the taxi driver announced.

C’est le Centre Culturel Derkle? I ask.

Non, c’est le Centre Culturel Americain

Derkle? He sounded confused.

I think back to my conversation with Amina, the nanny at my friend’s house. She also thought I was going to the American cultural centre. Maybe it’s the one most visitors go to in Dakar. I remembered that I saw ‘liberté six’ on the map when I showed her the location.

Now in the taxi and somewhat lost, I pull the map out of my travel bag and show it to him while pointing to The Derkle Cultural Centre.

C’est là, en liberté six.

Ah, oui, je le sais maintenant.

Ndiaye smiles and turns the taxi around as he knows where to go now. Relief spreads over me. For a moment, I imagined myself lost in Dakar and not being able to explain where I wanted to go. Senegal is the first place I’ve ever been where English speakers were difficult to find, a new experience for me.

 

Dakar Street Life on route to the Derkle Cultural Centre
Dakar Street Life on route to the Derkle Cultural Centre

 

We pull up to a rose-colored building in the middle of a residential neighbourhood in Dakar. There isn’t a tourist in sight.

C’est ici says, Ndiaye. I look around and hesitantly step out of the familiarity of the taxi and Ndiaye.

Merci Ndiaye, je vais vous répondre ici à six heures

D’accord, à six heures

Thanking him as I get out of the taxi, we make plans to meet at 6 o’clock that evening. I know that it’s the correct place as I spotted a sign before leaving the car.

There is a gated entry way; I walk through. A circle of senior women are on my right. They gathered in the shade of a tree. I can hear them talking, but I don’t recognize the language. I wonder if it’s Wolof. I want to stop and interact with them, but I have a class to attend, and I’m not sure where I need to go.

 

Derkle Cultural Centre, Dakar, Senegal
Derkle Cultural Centre, Dakar, Senegal

 

Derkle Cultural Centre, Dakar, Senegal.
Derkle Cultural Centre, Dakar, Senegal.

 

I continue and am now in the courtyard of the building. There are many rooms; they appear to be classrooms. I wonder where everyone is. I try to look for a sign that may point to where I’m supposed to go for my Djembe lessons, but there are none. I wander around and try and listen for the sound of a drum, but again, nothing.

I go back to the front of the building and search for someone that may know where I need to go. It looks like I’m at the front office, but I’m not certain. I step inside.

Bonjour? I call out. Suddenly a man appears from a back room. Bonjour.

Savez-vous Ibou? J’ai des cours de djembe avec lui.

Non, je suis désolé mais je ne le connais pas.

I’ve just asked if he knows Ibou, the man I’m supposed to meet. He tells me that he’s sorry but doesn’t know him. I thank him and say goodbye. The only person who seems to know anything about the place doesn’t know the person I’m supposed to meet.

I’m not even sure where I am in Dakar. I don’t know how far away my friend’s house is, and I wonder if there is a local bus nearby but then I don’t know how to get back to my friend’s house. I don’t have a transit map, and I don’t have a data connection as I couldn’t get my Senegal SIM card to work. I don’t even have Ndiaye, the taxi driver’s number, and I’m not sure I can speak French well enough to get me to where I need to go. Suddenly, I feel ill-prepared, and a bit of panic begins to set in.

I take a deep breath.

Okay Andrea, relax. Think. You are more prepared than this; you can handle this. In my excitement, I forgot that I was supposed to call the drumming instructor when I arrived. Good thing I added an Africa phone and text plan to my iPhone the night before since my local SIM didn’t work. I look on my phone, and there’s the information I need. I dial the number. A voice answers.

Salaam alaikum

Alaikum Salaam. Hello, is that Ibou?

Yes, this is Ibou

Great! It’s Andrea; I’m here at the front.

Okay, I’ll find you there

I exhale.

 

 

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A group of drummers at a local cultural centre in Dakar, Senegal. The man in the blue shirt on the right is Ibou and was my djembe instructor.