Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Trip to Tobermory

Before we start...if you haven't read Part I of my 2019 review, go here.

A few years ago, I wrote about the perception of the acceleration of time, that is, that time seems to pass by more quickly as we age.  Since then, I read that this can be explained by our brain activity.  When we were young, everything that the brain experiences is new and the brain needs to process all of that incoming information.  As we age, things start to become mundane and the brain goes more on autopilot.  As a result, time seems to pass more quickly.  This seems like a pretty good explanation to me!

So, a way to slow down how we perceive time passes would be to create new experiences for ourselves.  A great way to do this is to travel.  It doesn't necessarily need to be far away, but just needs to be different from our ordinary lives.  Traveling is also a great way to create memories for ourselves and our kids.  I still remember so much of what we did when we were in Orlando in 2018.  I absolutely advocate going on a vacation each year with the family!  It's much better than spending the money on a certain gadget!

Blue Mountains - June
At the end of June, we went to Blue Mountains for several days.  I actually like Blue Mountains better in the summer than in the winter, probably because I'm a novice skier and can't justify the high cost of skiing at Blue.  In the summer, accommodations are much cheaper and a lot of the places provide access to a somewhat private pool.  The kids don't like swimming lessons much, but they love playing in the pool!

We didn't do much outside of swimming, hiking, and watching movies.  I guess this was a trip more for me than for everyone else! Lol!  I really being able to spend time with Renee and the kids, in a less stressful environment compared to our weekends!  Beavertails were also great!


Tobermory - July/August
I've always wanted to go to Tobermory.  For some reason, I'm really attracted to blue, turquoise water!  My parents, my brother Eric's family along with us stayed a week there.  It has recently become an annual family tradition to go somewhere together for a week in the summer.  I really enjoy this time because I get to spend time with Eric and my dad, whom I don't see as often.  You kids out there reading this now...someday, you will grow up and will start your own lives, and you will find that you miss seeing everyday the annoying sibling(s) that you have.  So, treasure the time you have now!

During our trip, we took a ferry to Flowerpot Island that is famous for its flowerpot-like rock formations.  They're pretty cool to look at.  Eric, his sons Nick and Ben, myself, Adele and Athan camped on the island for one night.  There are only a handful of sites on the island so it was quite an experience.

 Flowerpot Rock Formation at Flowerpot Island

Our campsite was close to a dock and we spent some time jumping into the cold water.  Check out the video of my nephew Ben below!

My Nephew, Ben, Jumping Off a Dock into the Cold Water

We also visited the Grotto near Tobermory.  It's one of the more popular attractions there.  The grotto is actually quite treacherous to get to.  To get there, one would need to climb down a rocky cliff.  Aside from a few signs telling you not to do stupid things since people have died here before, there are no stairs, railings, or any other safety measures.  After scoping out the path down, we decided that the grandparents and the younger kids should not go down.

Renee, Joanne (Eric's wife), and the older kids decided to do the climb down, while Eric and I helped get the younger kids settled down.  We brought them with the grandparents to a rocky beach on the other side of the grotto.  Once they were happily settled, Eric and I headed off to the grotto.  Instead of walking back to the cliff and climbing down, we thought it would be easier to swim there.

I wouldn't say it was the worst of ideas, but it definitely was a less than ideal exercise.  We walked along the rocks as far as we could before we had to jump into the water.  Once we jumped in, we realized the water was very cold!  A quick google tells me that the average water temperature in the summer at Tobermory is between 15 and 20°C.  It doesn't sound that cold, but at 25°C, one's breathing starts to be affected by the cold water temperature.  At 20°C, it's considered "dangerously cold" to swim in.  It took us about 3 to 5 minutes to get to the other side, where the grotto was.  By the time we got there, both of our arms and legs started getting numb and it began to be difficult to swim.  Given another 5 minutes in the water, we probably would have drowned.  Once we got there, we were happy to see the wives and kids already in the grotto.  We took some jumps from inside the grotto into the cold water before heading back to the beach.

Aside from these exciting adventures, we also enjoyed movies, whiskey and cigars (the latter two by the men only!).  Overall, this was a great trip and many good memories were made!

Rocky Beach at the Grotto (the Grotto is on the Other Side of the Rocks at the Back) 

The Grotto is at the Bottom

Cherry Beach Resort - August/September
Over the Labour Day long weekend, we, along with Renee's parents, siblings and, her best friend Melissa and husband Danny went to Cherry Beach Resort in Prince Edward County (near Sandbanks).  

The resort is a pretty neat place.  It has a number of different water sports, a swimming pool, basketball and tennis court, and other activities.  The kids got to go on a canoe which was a first for some of them.  Adele, while paddling, hit her own nose with the oar, causing it to bleed profusely in the middle of the lake!  We also spent quite a bit of time playing board and card games, and watching old movies on DVDs (poor internet there).  Adele and I also discovered Sim City on my phone, which we somewhat quickly got bored of.  To cap off the trip, the resort provided a free hot dog dinner along with nice fireworks!  All in all, a really fun trip spent with nice company!

As an aside, Melissa and Danny have a company called ComfyComfy that sells buckwheat pillows, among other things.  If you have neck pain or just need better support sleeping, try their pillows out!  Renee and I have a number of their pillows in our home.  You can also find them on Amazon.  (No, I don't get commissions. lol)

Melissa, Her Daughter Maddy, and Audrey

Finger Lakes, New York - November
For Renee's birthday, I surprised her with a trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.  It was only the two of us who went, thanks to the grandparents who took care of all 5 kids!  I don't remember when our previous "us only" trip was; so this was quite a treat!

Our trip started with a stay at Harbour House in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Harbour House is one of our favourite hotels in Ontario.  It's super cozy and nice and never disappoints!  They had a packaged deal with a discount on dinner and spa, which was both very enjoyable.  Dinner was at HobNob and our couple's massage the next morning was at Secret Garden Spa, also in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

After our massage, we left for Aurora, NY and arrived at dusk.  We stayed at Wallcourt Hall, which is one of several hotels in the small town, that is owned by Pleasant Rowland, the founder of American Girl.  The town has been revived and has got a nice, small American town feel to it.  There's not much to do there, but it's very scenic and is a perfect getaway for Torontonians who have gotten bored of Muskoka.  The drive from Toronto is around 4 to 5 hours.

Renee Pretending to Read in Our Wallcourt Hall Room 

Our Room Was Really Nicely Decorated

I thought that every Hong Kong immigrant to Toronto has been to the Corning Museum of Glass, since it's one of the stops between Toronto and New York City on the 美東四日遊 (4-day Eastern US bus tour).  To my surprise, Renee has never been there, and since it's been 30 years since I've been there, we spent a day there.  It's a small but very neat museum, and one could easily spend a day there looking at the exhibits and watching the entertaining glass blowing demos.

Corning Museum of Glass

After the museum, we swung by Watkins Glen State Park, hoping to walk on the trails to see the waterfalls there.  Unfortunately, the trails were closed for the season.  We did snap a few pictures at the trailhead.  Maybe we'll be back with the kids in the future!

 Watkins Glen State Park

A few days quickly passed, which to be honest, was enough since we missed the kids.  We were also quite sure they were a handful for our parents.  Thanks again, Mom and Dad!  But before heading back to Toronto, we made a quick stop at Waterloo Premium Outlets which definitely won me some brownie points!  How can a birthday trip not include shopping, right?!

That sums up our travel in 2019.  Although we didn't do any big trips, these small trips were all very enjoyable and they made quite a few memorable moments for us to reminisce on  for years to come!

Stay tuned for my final post on an update on each of our 5 rascals!
I had tried starting this post before the coronavirus outbreak, but did not get any progress until now.  It's April 11, 2020 and I've been home since before March Break, which would make this the start of week #5.  Not sure if this is affecting anyone else, but I feel especially lethargic from a work perspective, having to stay home all the time.  But I will push through this lethargy and complete this post today!  If you see this on April 11, you'll know I succeeded!

In general, 2019 was somewhat eventful, but it really went by like a blur and nothing stuck out as a highlight.  Perhaps it wasn't the greatest of years as you'll soon read about.  Or maybe, it might be because I didn't have any newborn this year! ;)  But I'm glad I'm going through this exercise of looking back.  Otherwise, the year would have passed and I would not have reflected more upon it.  And isn't being conscious and being able to reflect on past events what separates us from other creatures in this world?

Annual Tradition - Gambling & Eating Steak

This has become a bit of an annual tradition.  It started way back in 2008 (?) when the Great Recession was running in high gear and it seemed like everything was on discount.  Hotels were not the least affected and had some pretty great deals that winter.  Kelvin (Lai Chuen), my cousin and I would enjoy the packaged deals from Four Points Fallsview to stay for a night, get some "free" chips from the casino and coupons from local restaurants (which lowered the cost of the highly priced food back to normal prices).

Isn't gambling not allowed for Catholics?  Well, no, that is not entirely accurate.  Gambling, in and of itself, is not a sin.  However, gambling definitely leads to sin; which is why gambling is often shunned.  I know this first hand.  Many years ago, I lost around $200 at a casino and I lost it and threw a fit like an uncontrollable toddler.  It was an ugly sight.  $200 is not a huge amount but it was enough to turn me into a different person.  "Know your limit" so goes the OLG saying.  Now, I know my limit!  So these days, I get the "free" chips from the casino and play enough so I can cash it out.

Anyway, back to our trip to Niagara.  Kelvin's birthday is in January.  So, we decided to take advantage of the hotel deals again.  But this time, I had a few surprises for him.  I picked up the tab for his stay and even organized a surprise for him.  He thought that it was only the 2 of us + family, but there ended up being around 20 people, including my parents, his in-laws, Jit team.  It was a fun trip...and to spoil next year's "2020 in Review" post, we did it again in January 2020!

Selling the Matrix

This section is quite inconsequential...but thought I'd document this for posterity.  Lol.  Just before Renee and I got married, we bought our first car together.  It was a used 2004 Toyota Matrix.  Over the years, it had served us well.  When we went down to one car after Adele was born, we gave it to my dad to drive.  He eventually got a BMW and passed the Matrix to my mom.  My mom then drove it for probably 6 or 7 years.  Finally, after 15 years of good service and almost 300,000 km, we decided to retire it.  I think we even sold it for $1200 (if I recall correctly).  It was such a practical and reliable car!  It had not broken down once and all repairs were of a minor nature.

For this, I love Toyotas so much!  They're just engineered and manufactured so well and last forever.  However, I'm terribly worried about the company.  They are like Blackberry in 2008...not quite sure what I mean?  Well, the iPhone was announced in 2007.  Everyone knew it was the future, but people like Steve Ballmer just mocked it (you gotta click on this link if you haven't seen the video).  I think you know where I'm going with this.  We know electric vehicles (EVs) are the future.  How can they not be?  But Toyota is just so obstinate!  I don't get it.  They practically started the EV revolution by pioneering hybrid technology.  Why do they have such a pathetic EV roadmap?  When they talk the game, what they mean by EVs are hybrids, and not zero-emissions EVs.  This would have been fine 20 years ago when they came out with the Prius.  They've gone from leader to laggard.  It's truly disappointing and sad.

Mom's Surgery
My mom, Susanna, has been my nanny, cook, educator, and Instacart shopper (lol, this last one is a joke) for the past 10 years.  I'm tremendously grateful for her help.  Without her, I don't think we could have gone past 2 kids!

Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It was actually not her first diagnosis of this terrible disease.  10 years prior, she was diagnosed with the same and had her first mastectomy.  Her recovery back then was not great.  I recall it probably took her about a week before she was able to get out of bed.  Even then, she was not very mobile.  So, this time, we were very worried about what this would mean.  She was going to get another mastectomy, but she was now 10 years older.

To our surprise, while she had the same surgeon and had the surgery done at the same hospital, the surgery went exceptionally well.  She was also able to have a one-night stay at the hospital instead of a day surgery.  That helped tremendously as well.  By day 3, she was up and about and even cooked lunch (nobody can stop her when she's determined)!  We were really relieved!  She fully recovered in 2 to 3 months.  It's been over a year since the surgery and she's been back to her old self.  Thanks be to God!

We also thank you all for your prayers and kind thoughts during this time!

It is important to note...while mom was off on sick leave, Renee did a great job taking care of kids and myself.  She did lose about 5 pounds in this period though! :P

Grandma's Passing and Trip to Hong Kong
In mid April, mom called and told us that she was well enough to come back the following week.  We didn't mind that she took more time off to recuperate but knowing mom, she probably felt it was her responsibility to come back to help when she was able.  That's mom...always going above and beyond!

As fate would have it, on the following day, she got a call from my uncle in Hong Kong informing her that Grandma had been hospitalized.  The situation was not good and so, she booked her flight to go back.  I followed shortly after.  I was glad I did because Grandma passed while I was there and I got to spend her last few days with her.  I wrote about that last year when I was still in Hong Kong.

Not only was I able to spend time with Grandma, I also spent some time with my cousins, whom I had not seen in quite some time.  In fact, it was really my first time interacting on a less superficial basis with my younger cousins, Ka Yue and Ka Pong.  They were born after we had immigrated to Canada and I was glad I was able to get to know them a bit better.  Guys, if you're reading, thanks for your hospitality last year.  It was great connecting with you guys!  I was also fortunate to connect with a few other relatives and old friends, which is always great.  It was too bad I was only there for 1 week...

This trip was also the only time I spent any meaningful amount of time alone with mom.  The last time was probably in 1989 when again, the two of us went to Hong Kong together (wow, some 30 years ago)!  After grandma's passing, we did some touristy stuff in Hong Kong, went shopping, and enjoyed the rest of our time there.  I guess this was the silver lining of the trip.

Family's First Baseball Game

Ainsworth's (where I work) family event this year was a Blue Jays game.  It's been about 30 years since I've seen a live Jays game.  The last time, the Rogers Centre was still called the Skydome (which is what I still call it).  It was a superb game to watch with something like 7 home runs during the game!  Free game, free food - what a great day!  Thanks Ainsworth!

Enjoying Friends' Company
Honestly, God has blessed us with so many good friends that we're so grateful.  I have to say I'm terrible with keeping in touch.  It's never been my strength.  Thanks to all you kind souls; that hasn't kept you out of our lives!

One wintry day, we had a great time with Matt, Jessica, Sophia and Sam at the Science Centre!  They gifted us a membership many years ago and after losing it for a few years, we finally found it.  We gladly invited them to join us.  It was a bit of a hectic and chaotic day, with adults terribly outnumbered (mainly my fault), but we had a blast!

And for all those of you who don't know, the Science Centre has a great reciprocal membership program with other museums.  Within a 8 hour drive radius, you probably have free access to around 10 different museums in Canada and the US.  Definitely keep this in mind!

In 2019, I was also a godfather again!  I'm the proud godfather of everyone in John's family except Joanna!  Their second, Oliver, was baptized and I was so honoured to be godfather again!  Godfather Part!

In July, we threw Matt (Tsang) a surprise birthday lunch.  The surprise was so good...Matt Siu and I hid in Lai Chuen's pantry and when Matt came over, thinking he was putting up some furniture for Lai Chuen, we scared the heck out of him when he found 2 screaming dudes in the pantry!  We definitely had a good laugh at his expense!

Calvin, Aggie, and their girls Abbey and Alley visited from Hong Kong in December.  We had a great time reminiscing about old jokes like "I...I...I was just saying..."  It was a great way of celebrating Christmas with great, old friends!  Watching Dennis and Calvin shuck oysters was also amusing! :)

Other Highlights
Watching Canada Day Fireworks at the Local Park 

Renee's Grandma Visiting in the Summer 

Starting of a New Family Tradition: A Real Christmas Tree!

Thanks for dropping by!  Stay tuned for more!
Heavily Photoshopped Picture I Took at Moraine Lake, AB

Before we had kids, in 2008, we drove all the way to Victoria, BC in a rental van and had a blast. Driving across the country had always been a dream for me, and 9 years later, we drove to the other end of the country, all the way to Newfoundland! Now that I've been to all 10 provinces, I know where I want to go back to... and that's Alberta!  Banff was such a beautiful place; it's like somewhere you would only see in movies.

The situation 11 years later is a bit different, shall we say? If I wanted to visit Alberta, I might have to fork out $600 for a plane ticket, multiplied by 7!  That's $4200 before I even left the door, never mind accommodations, etc.!  So, I used the tactic that I employed for my trip to Florida, which was to scour the web for cheap flights that fly out from a reasonably close airport (reasonably being within a 5-hr drive...perhaps too much for some).  Ladies and gentlemen, good news for us: I've found a relatively inexpensive way to get there.

Go to Google Flights and search for a flight from YXU (London, ON) to YEG (Edmonton) and you'll find unbelievably cheap flights. For example, on May 25, 2019, I found a round-trip direct flight by Swoop from London to Edmonton for $162, with June 10 to 24 as travel dates. This is peak season we're talking about!

Now, of course, there's a catch. First and you already know this, you have to fly out of London.  I'm perfectly ok with this as I've flown out of Pittsburg which is a much longer drive. My brother Eric living in London also gives me another reason to use the London airport. Second, flight times aren't great. For the outbound trip, you have to fly out at 10:35 pm.  For the inbound trip, it's even worse... 6:00 am!  Lastly, Swoop charges even for a carry-on luggage.

So, let's just say I do take this trip, this is what my cost would look like.

- Flights - $162 x 7 = $1134
- 2 checked luggage - $46 x 2 = $92
- Parking at the airport for 2 weeks - $50 x 2 = $100
- Gas to London - $50
- TOTAL - $1376

This works out to be $197/person!  I'd say that's pretty good!  So, you know where I might be going next year! :)

Recently, I've stumbled onto 2 websites that publish really cheap flights and wanted to share: Secret Flying and YYZ Deals.  I think anyone thinking of traveling should bookmark these sites, especially if you're not sure where you want to go, but just want to go somewhere.  There are some great deals to be had.

I was just showing my parents that they could fly to Hong Kong, with a stop in Beijing for $591 (CAD all-in)!  Although the flight has a layover in Chicago, I certainly wouldn't mind.

How about flying one-way to New York for $37?  You can't even buy one tank of gas for that money?  Well, actually I can on my prius and probably be able to get there as well in that tank, but that's another story.

Anyway, have fun with these 2 sites!

Edit: Thanks to Agnes, try Next Departure too!

This post was written on September 30, 2015, while I was 25000 ft above ground over British Columbia.

I'm writing this on my way from Vancouver to Fort McMurray, on a small Bombardier Dash 8 prop.  Usually, I'd be fast asleep by now but because this plane flies at a relatively low altitude, the view outside the window is too beautiful to pass up.

View from the Plane Over the Rockies in BC

Fort What?
You're probably thinking either of 2 things right now.  Where is Fort McMurray or if you know where Fort McMurray is, why is he going there?  As the tourist's destination of choice in Canada, I'm flying there to...just kidding!  It's really for work.  In 4 days, we would have covered 3 cities/time zones (Halifax, Vancouver, Fort McMurray), but earned only about 1000 Aeroplan points.  :(  The nice thing about travelling for work is that it'll bring you to places you typically wouldn't travel to during personal travel.  The bad thing about travelling for work is that it'll bring you to places you typically wouldn't travel to during personal travel. :)

At Ainsworth, we've been working on the implementation of a new work order management system that is to be rolled out company wide.  We're a midsize company (not a household name, but we did build the electrical systems of Toronto landmarks such as then Skydome and CN Tower) with about 800 employees across the country and this software will affect a large majority of the company.  That's why we're visiting the different branch locations to show them what's coming down the pipe.  I'm the project manager for this project and we've got a top notch team, and am very grateful because the team makes me look good!

Hilarious Sign I Spotted in the Airport Washroom

So, WHAT Do You Do? 
Throughout my career, I've been plagued by uncommon and non-descriptive titles.  When people ask me what I do, I usually hesitate to tell them my title because of this.  When I worked at ATS, my title was Systems Designer.  Now, my title is Manager, Business Process Management.  As you can see, anyone's response would be, "so really, what do you do?"  So, I end up saying, "I design machines," or, "I'm kind of like an IT guy, except I don't know how to fix computers."  I can't say I'm an engineer because PEO will come after me so I'm kind of stuck (Hopefully by the end of this year, I can get my license...finally).

Working for a midsize company definitely has its pluses.  My boss is the CFO, which makes me sound like I'm high on the corporate ladder (except I'm not), and I get to interact with the President and Vice-Presidents on a regular basis, which would be rare had I worked for a larger company.  But the best thing really is that my work impacts the company and I feel empowered to make a real difference.

Shaping Your Future
One of the many things that I've learned throughout my short career is that if you want to grow in your career, you have to be proactive about it.  Even if you do good work and work hard, you can't just sit around and expect to get a promotion.  If you don't make it known that you would like to grow, your employer would probably think you're happy where you are, because there are many people out there who have no desire to progress, and you definitely don't want to be grouped in with them.

Sometimes, there is no room for you to progress.  Maybe your boss is the CFO and you're not an accountant!  There could be a thousand other reasons.  I believe you have to search within your company for a gap to fill.  Blaze a new path if one doesn't exist.  Of course, it's more easily said than done.  It takes careful planning and strategizing, and probably a lot of convincing before you are given what you want.  I'm really not one to give career advice, but these are my thoughts...what do you think?

"Ask and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7). It doesn't just apply to your spiritual life.  I think it applies equally well in your career.
Renee at the Italian Restaurant by the Shore, Coconut in Hand

I'm now writing this in late April to late May (this post took a month to write!). *Sigh*  Sometimes I wished I was retired (don't we all?) and have all the free time to do things that we want to do.  I remember hearing from somewhere that when students are asked what they would do if they had a million dollars, the teacher would tell them that that particular thing is what they should become once they graduate.  To that question, I would say sleeping, spending time with my family, traveling, and blogging.  Maybe I should quit my daytime job to blog about traveling with my family, while giving consultation to insomniacs! :)  Hopefully, I'll still recall some of the details of the trip.

Day 3 - January 30, 2011
Today was the Sunday that we were in Cuba.  We asked the hotel staff where the closest church was, and was told that there were no churches in the Cayo Coco area, because it was a conservation area.  The closest church would be in Moron, which is a city about 50 km away from the resort area.  Since it was Sunday, there were no excursions to the city.  We would have to hire a taxi to bring us to the city, which meant we would not have a guide with us.  We weren't that adventurous, especially with Adele being there with us.  So, we had to skip mass for that week (we went to Confession once we got back).

We explored the resort a little bit and found a children's playground and a small daycare.  We went inside to look.  There was a hotel staff there, a lady named Mocha, looking after a young girl.  We chatted with her a little bit, and she was kind enough to let Adele do some watercolouring.

That afternoon, we spent some time beside the pool.  I caught up on some sleep and read a little.  I brought a book called, The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz.  It's about the economics of the 90s, obviously.  But really, the focus was on the dotcom boom-bust, and also the corporate scandals exemplified by Worldcom, Enron, and Arthur Andersen.  Read a few chapters on the trip, but didn't get to finish it.  Still haven't...maybe I will at some point this summer.  Anyway, I digress...

So, after falling asleep by the poolside, Renee came back to me with a different daughter!  Adele had gotten dreadlocks!  While we were at the daycare, Mocha had offered to braid Adele's hair.  I didn't know about that, but Renee told me afterwards that it cost 10 pesos.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but that's more than a day's salary for the average Cuban!  It did look very cool!

Cool Dreadlocks

That evening after dinner, a band came to the hotel and played some Cuban music in the lobby.  The atmosphere was really good and there were a number of people dancing.  What caught our eyes was this huge contraption that looked like an organ, except no one was playing it.  We walked around to the back, and to our surprise, there was this man cranking a shaft that ran the instrument.  A ticker tape looking sheet was being fed into and out of the machine.  It was essentially a record and the instrument read the pattern on the tape and played the music.  It was the weirdest thing!

Cranking Out the Music (Literally)

Again, another fun day in Cuba.  Good company, good weather, ok food, and really relaxing...

Day 4 - January 31, 2011

Kayaks Were Readily Available For Us to Use

Today was our first action packed day.  In the morning, we went for an archery lesson.  It was very short; each person got to shoot about 5 arrows and that was it.  Then, we played some beach volleyball, and met a couple from Quebec.  While we were playing, a gardener gave Renee a hat made from coconut tree leaves.  They were beautifully woven.  When we gave him 2 pesos as a tip, he was so grateful.  Ever since then, he always gave us special treatment when he saw us, giving Adele grasshoppers made from the same leaves, etc.

Beautiful Hats Made From Coconut Tree Leaves

After lunch, we went to our scheduled catamaran trip.  It's not the catamaran excursion that we had booked, but simply a short ride on a catamaran.  We all wanted to go, but there were no life jackets small enough for Adele.  So, Renee and I decided to stay onshore while the rest went on the trip.  They all said that it was wise for us not to bring Adele because it was a rocky ride.  It did look very fun though.  The catamaran staff, Mike, kept offering a private excursion to the nearest town, Moron, where he lived.  He was going to charge us 40 pesos per person to bring the whole family there and also provide a lobster dinner at his house.  I believe an excursion to Moron was being charged 80 pesos per person.  It sounded like a good deal, but we decided against it, because we didn't feel 100% safe with Adele with us.  But just thinking about it, he'd make 240 pesos minus the cost of lobsters and gasoline.  The average Cuban makes a few pesos a!  He sure knows how to make money!

Johnson, Anita, Ryan, and Rachel on a Short Catamaran Trip

After coming back from the catamaran trip, we decided to stay on the beach because it was just too gorgeous.  Renee and I have always loved white sand beaches with clear water.  That was why we went to Sardinia in Italy for our honeymoon.  However, Cayo Coco just blew Sardinia away.  It was just amazing.

The resort is situated somewhat on the east side of the beach.  I think we were the second resort from the east side.  So, there was a beach on the east side of the resort and one on the west.  The one we were on today was the one on the east.  There was some shore erosion where the sea level seemed to have risen over the years and eroded away the sand.  Some of the coconut trees had fallen due to this erosion.  Nevertheless, the beach was still really beautiful.

Adele and Renee by the Beach

A Badly Stitched Photo of the Beach at Sol Cayo Coco

We swam for a little bit and then had a few burgers by the beach.  This part of the beach was pretty windy. So, we ended up going back to the resort and continued our sun tanning by the pool.  While the men sun tanned and slept, the girls went to the beach on the west side of the resort and took many pictures.  They claimed that this side was much prettier...I'll create some suspense and will post the pictures on my next post.

That evening was the beach party night that our tour operator organized for us.  We got bused to the "most beautiful beach" in the area, the Playa Pilar.  The party was a held at the outdoor bar by the beach but it was so dark by then that we couldn't really see the beauty there.  Anyway, there was a band which provided live music and an MC who taught us how to salsa.  I think I still remember the basic moves.  The dancing was pretty fun.  The night ended with a game of limbo.  There were about 30 people who played.  Ryan, Rachel and I all made it to the last 6 or 7 people.  Ryan got eliminated first and I went shortly after.  In the end, Rachel won the competition and brought home the prize...a bottle of wine!

Here's a Video of Us Limbo-ing

We got back to the hotel at around 11 pm.  Adele was really good and didn't make too big of a fuss!  Another great day in Cuba!  I'm beginning to there a bad day in Cuba?

On January 28, 2011, we headed to Cayo Coco, Cuba for our family trip.  This year, Renee's father, Johnson, is turning 60 and we (the kids) decided to treat him and Renee's mom, Anita, to a trip down south.  It's our first time going to the Caribbean; so, naturally, we were really excited.

We started planning for the trip during the Christmas holidays.  After deciding that we were going to an all-inclusive resort (as opposed to a cruise), we started reading reviews on  Renee and I are crazy about beautiful beaches with clear, turquoise water, and after reading countless reviews and looking pictures, we converged on Cayo Coco, Cuba.  Cuba seemed to give the best bang for buck, and Cayo Coco was a relatively isolated place with beautiful beaches.  We ended up picking the Sol Cayo Coco resort.  We paid around $700 per person, which includes flight, accommodations (including 3 meals), and taxes.  Since Adele was under 2 years old, we had to pay a total of $16 of taxes for her!

Day 1 - January 28, 2011

Our Canjet flight was at 5:20 pm at Terminal 3 at Pearson airport.  I took the day off, but ended up working from home in the morning.  Every time I go on an extended vacation, the week leading up to the vacation is always a nightmare at work, because I usually have to either get things done before I leave or somehow hand it off to somebody else.

The day didn't start off too well.  I dropped Renee off at the bus stop in the morning and then drove back home.  The side street leading to my street has a no-left-turn sign that came into effect in the morning, but since I only turned left there during the evening, I just made the same turn, without taking notice the sign.  The cop who's there every morning had no problem stopping me and giving me a ticket.  Unfortunately, my acting was not good enough, and he was not about to give me a second chance.  He did say that "if he were in my place", he'd ask for a "first attendance meeting" to bargain with the prosecutor to have the charged revised to a lower one.

Anyway, that day turned out to be a busy and stressful day.  We parked at Park N Fly at Pearson (which costed about $60 for 8 days).  The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Cuba at around 9:30.  However, when getting off the plane, I got too excited and left my camera on-board.  I got really worked up, thinking that it was gone forever.  The Cuban airport personnel didn't seem too concerned and told me to wait.  I was thinking, "Great...I'm going to wait and they're going to tell me they couldn't find anything."  To top it off, I left my cellphone at one of the X-ray machines at the security check.  I almost lost it when I realized that.  But to my surprise, both the cellphone and camera were returned to me in quick order.  Not bad for a first impression!

We arrived at the hotel after a quick 10-minute bus ride.  Check-in was easy, and since it was close to the 10:00 pm closing time of the buffet, the receptionist advised us to grab a bite before heading off to our rooms.  She said we could leave our luggage out in the lobby and just go.  We were reluctant at first about doing that, but she reassured us that she'd watch over them for us.  After we came back out, we found our luggage as they were, safe and sound.  Good second impression!  We were starting to realize that Cuba is a relatively safe place, at least when compared to Mexico!

Our rooms were on the first floor and was fairly nice.  The resort was rated 4 stars, but in reality, it's probably a 2.5 star if it were in North America (better than a Days Inn, but not as good as a Residence Inn).  We are not terribly picky, and so, were more than satisfied.  The hotel also prepared a crib for us without us asking.  We didn't end up using it because we thought we'd let Adele sleep with us since she was on vacation too!

Day 2 - January 29, 2011

This was our first full day in Cuba.  We woke up and had a nice breakfast.  They had eggs cooked to your liking, pancakes, pastries, etc. at the buffet.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The pancakes were quite bland, but putting syrup on it cured that problem.  Overall, the food in Cuba is not what you'd get in North America or Europe.  They have the same stuff, but the taste is blander and the quality of the ingredients are not as good.  For example, beef would be tougher and very chewy.  Renee and I aren't picky eaters and so we were always able to find something we liked.

We met with Colin, the representative of our tour operator, Hola Sun Holidays.  He explained the hotel amenities, excursions, things to do/watch for, etc. to us.  He was very thorough and gave me a pretty good impression.  We decided to go on the catamaran excursion which included a lobster lunch and 2 snorkeling sessions.  It was quite pricey at 75 pesos per person.  To make things worse, the exchange rate at the hotel was brutal.  The rate as posted on the web was something like 1 peso to $0.94 CAD, but we ended getting a 1 peso to $0.84 rate.  We heard that the bank that was on-site had similar rates, but didn't go to check.  Oh well...

The weather was very nice compared to the freezing weather in Toronto.  It was in the low 20s and sunny, and a little windy by the beach, which by the way was absolutely heavenly.  So, we decided to stick around the pool for the first day.  The water in the pool was not heated, and so, it was quite cold to swim.  Adele had no problem though.  She really loves swimming.  Whenever we picked her out of the water, she'd start crying!  I'm not a very good swimmer and it kind of sucks, so I want my kids to be able to swim well.

We had a relaxing day and a nice dinner at the buffet.  After dinner, there were some vendors selling trinkets and stuff outside.  There was one vendor who had some toys and stuff and Adele saw a little banjo which interested her.  Renee worked her magic and haggled the price down from 5 pesos to 3 pesos.  We felt victorious for a few seconds and then thought that he needed the money more than we did, but of course, we weren't going to give him money back.  So, Renee asked me to grab the nicest piece of used clothing that I had brought to give to the Cubans and gave it to him.  It was a fall blazer type jacket that I used to wear, but had gone out of style.  We gave it to the vendor and he was very grateful for it and shook my hands.  It was such a cool moment.

That night, Adele went to bed in Rachel's room, and we went to see the show that the entertainment crew put on.  The theme revolved around Disney cartoons and there was dancing and lip-syncing to Disney music.  Adele would have enjoyed it, but me, not so much.  That was the only show that Renee and I saw because for the rest of the nights, Adele slept in our room, and naturally, we had to be there.

All in all, it was a first full day in Cuba!
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