Los volcanes de Guatemala

I discovered a passion for hiking after my first multi-day trek on Mount Kenya a few years ago. Since then, I always make sure I pack my hiking shoes and poles when I travel! …and I usually pick destinations where they will be in good use! ☺️

Did you know there are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala, including 3 active ones? The reason is that Guatemala is located right on the Ring of Fire (the volcanic and seismic activity area circling the Pacific Ocean), just like Japan, Philippines, New Zealand, Chile etc. More than 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes are located on the Ring. When I wasn’t studying Spanish, I was surely climbing a volcano somewhere! Here’s a brief summary of my wonderful treks (please note that all of them are doable in one or two days).

Tajumulco

  • Altitude: 4222m (Highest peak in Central America!)
  • Level of Difficulty: 4/5
  • Duration: 2 days (5 hours to base camp, 1h to summit)
  • My trek: I did a two-day trek with Quetzaltrekkers, a local volunteer-run company in Xela (all the profits from their trips go to Escuela de la Calle, an organisation that provides education, housing, and social support to disadvantaged children). I was extremely pleased with this hike! The first day included quite a strenuous 5 hours climb to base camp (we had to carry all our camping gear, food and water; that was the tough part!). Next morning was an early 4am wake up to climb to the summit, but what a better feeling than catching the first rays of sunshine at the roof of Central America! We had perfect weather which made the experience unforgettable. After a stroll around the crater we slowly made our way down for a total of 6 hours of hiking for the second day. I warmly recommend this company to anyone who wants to tackle Tajumulco. Price was Q500 including all meals and gear (food is amazing!).

Acatenango

  • Altitude: 3976m
  • Level of Difficulty: 4/5
  • Duration: 2 days (4 hours to base camp, 1h15 to summit)
  • My trek: Acatenango is the most hiked volcano in Guatemala. You quickly understand why when you get to base camp and see from your own eyes the very active Fuego volcano, as well as Agua and Pacaya in the background. If luck is on your side, you might even get a spectacular night-time lava show from Fuego. I did this trek twice since the weather was sh*t during my first attempt. I went firstly with the popular company Wincho and Charlie (Q450) and the second time with a cheaper local company in Antigua (Q300). The only differences in the price include the comfort of the base camp (tents, beds), the quality of food and the number of people in the group (I was as satisfied with the cheaper smaller company). The first day is a 4 hours (steep!) uphill trek to base camp through corn fields and lush forests. Afterwards, it is another 1h-1h30 of trekking through volcanic ash to summit for the sunrise or/and sunset. During my second trek I was spoiled with clear skies and a few red eruptions at night. I was very happy I came back! This is a must-do trek for anyone who is relatively fit!

Pacaya

  • Altitude: 2552m
  • Level of Difficulty: 2/5
  • Duration: 1 day (2 – 3 hours round trip)
  • My trek: Pacaya first erupted over 23,000 years ago and it has been active since. Papaya’s eruptions are non-explosive (compared to Fuego) which means the lava flows are relatively calm. It is not uncommon to spot lava flowing down the peak. Unfortunately, the day of my hike, Pacaya was taking a nap… so no magma but clear views and a wonderful sunset! Pacaya is an easy day trek from Antigua (about an hour drive). Many companies offer morning and afternoon tours. The trail is well indicated so it is possible to do it on your own. I went with a local friend who knew the route so I only had to pay the Q50 admission to the park. I really enjoyed walking through the black lava fields, feeling the warmth coming out of the geothermal holes. A wonderful hike in a surreal landscape!

San Pedro

  • Altitude: 3020m
  • Level of Difficulty: 3/5
  • Duration: 1 day (5 – 6 hours round trip)
  • My trek: The San Pedro Volcano is a must for any hikers staying around San Pedro La Laguna (the party-village at the Lake Atitlan)! I did the hike with a buddy and, to be on the safe side, we decided to hire a local guide for Q120 each (which included the admission park fee of Q100). We have been warned and strongly encouraged to hike with a guide since there have been reports of harassment and robberies in the past few months (something to be cautious when trekking around Atitlan). The hike is mainly through the jungle with a few miradors (view points) along the way. It is a good three hours climb but you’ll get rewarded with magnificent views over the Lake. Don’t forget to get your picture taken with the tire swing!

Santa Maria

  • Altitude: 3772m
  • Level of Difficulty: 3.5/5
  • Duration: 1 day (5 – 6 hours round trip)
  • My trek: The last eruption of Santa Maria was in 1902 and was considered one of the three largest eruptions of the 20th century. The eruption completely ravaged the countryside of Xela (now covered with coffee plantations and farms). Since, Santa Maria has been dormant. This was my first volcano hike of my trip. I did it with an amigo from my Spanish school. Feeling pretty confident and fit, we decided to tackle the volcano ourselves. Beforehand, we found this very useful website enumerating all the necessary information (with pictures) about doing the trek on our own: https://diytravelhq.com/hike-volcan-santa-maria/ Like any other hikes, it is recommended to leave as early as possible. You want to reach the summit before the clouds show up. We left Xela at 5:30, started climbing at 6:00 and reached the summit three hours later. The trek goes from easy to moderate to difficult (the last bit only). However, the panorama at the peak will quickly make you forget the pain! When we summited, we were surprise to see many religious groups singing and praying (apparently it is a common activity for locals to do on a Sunday morning). What a soothing experience to hear this music while admiring Xela from above!

Santiaguito

  • Altitude: 2550m
  • Level of Difficulty: 2/5
  • Duration: 1 day (3 – 4 hours round trip)
  • My trek: Santiaguito is the third active volcano in Guatemala (alongside with Fuego and Pacaya). It is not actually possible to climb Santiaguito because of its activity (it is one of the most active volcano in the world!). However, there is a mirador (view point) you can hike to get a clear view of the monster. I went on a field trip that my Spanish school organised. Therefore we had a local guiding the way (but it would be possible to do it on your own). The Santiaguito Mirador trek starts at the same location as the Santa Maria trail (both volcanoes are neighbours), but instead of climbing up, this trek goes around Santa Maria. There is a Q10 entrance fee (since the trail is on a private property) we had to pay directly to the farm owner. Once we reached the mirador, we were fortunate to see not one, but two eruptions (in less than one hour)! Another very pleasant and recommended morning trek from Xela!

Happy trails to you all! 👣

Hola de Xela! 🇬🇹

¡Buenos días a todos!

Here I am at the moment, sitting in a cozy Guatemalan coffee shop, drinking an amazing latte (made with local beans), eating a vegan chocolate cake and writing this over-due blog post (tough life huh? 😌). I moved to the hippie-outdoorsy city of Xela five weeks ago para aprender español. I have always dreamed to learn a third language (unfortunately Chinese and I didn’t quite get along!) so I decided that Spanish was my best option (and I have in mind to travel to South America later this year!). After researching online and talking with my dear colleagues in China, I chose to come to Guatemala which is currently a very hot (and cheap!) destination to learn Spanish. Let’s not forget to mention that the country offers spectacular volcanoes hikes, some of the best Maya ruins in the world, glorious lakes and of course awesome coffee AND chocolate! I didn’t think twice before buying my one-way ticket! ☺️

Xela (short for ‘Quetzaltenango) is the second largest city in Guatemala where foreigners come either to hike, volunteer or learn Spanish (I came for all three!). Today, I am starting my 5th week of classes in the lovely family-run El Quetzal school. Every student at the school receives one-on-one lessons in the morning for 4 or 5 hours. In the afternoon, the school organises plenty of activities for us such as cooking classes, salsa classes, visits to museums, hikes in the countryside etc. In order to have the full immersion, I opted to stay with a local family (that doesn’t speak a word English of course!). At first, family dinners were definitely putting me out of my comfort zone! However, in four weeks only, I went from mumbling a few words into telling stories about my weekends’ hikes. I am also teaching English once a week to a small group of chicas at my school. It feels good to give a little bit of my time while doing what I like! So far, my stay in Xela has been muy bueno! No doubt I have a hard time leaving!

The 1st of November was El Dia de los Muertos; a day celebrated throughout Latin America where people commemorate the deceased. In Guatemala, families go to the cemetery for the day to eat, pray, play music and spend time with their loved ones who have died. Contrary to what one would expect, it a very happy and festive day! I have never seen cemeteries with that much colours, music and joy! Families come to paint, clean and decorate the graves a few days prior so that everything is perfectly ready for November 1st! As for myself, I decided to go to Sumpango for the day to attend the famous kite festival -another tradition of El Dia de los Muertos. The festival is also a prestigious kite competition where several groups work for months to build kites ranging from 3 meters to 30 meters high! After they have been judge on their aesthetic, the groups try to fly their kite for as long as they can (some flew for 2 hours, some only 5 seconds!). The atmosphere was surreal during the competition, so much excitement! What a great first Dia de los Muertos!

Only two more weeks left in Xela before I start my travels around this beautiful country! I must say I am very excited to finally pack my bag and explore Guat! Hasta pronto mis amigos! I’m heading to my yoga class now! ✌🏻

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Me fui a ser feliz, no se cuando vuelva ✌🏻

12 things I will miss about China 🇨🇳

There is no place like home. I will be the first one to agree with this saying. I have been back in Canada for over a month now and it feels extremely good to be reunited with my people, eating mom’s food, driving my car, speaking French 24/7 and the list goes on! However, I will admit I am already missing some little things about China. As much as I had a culture shock when I first moved to Dongguan, the complexity of the everyday life in China became somewhat easy and enjoyable. Once I have learned to embrace the culture, found a way to communicate and developed friendships with locals, life in China is actually pretty awesome! So, before embarking very soon on my next adventure (more details to come 😉), I thought about dedicating one last post to my dear adoptive country over the past two years. Here are 12 things I will miss about China:

  • The “superstar status”: Yes it is weird at the beginning, but there’s something kind of cool about walking in the streets and being stared at like you’re Beyoncé or Angelina Jolie or being asked to take selfies with locals (sometimes even without any notice)! Talk about an ego booster! 😎
  • Being able to wear your PJ to the cinema, sing your heart out in the middle of the street, slurp your soup in a fancy restaurant, have a beer in a Didi (Chinese version of Uber)… you can pretty much do any (legal) thing you want in public. With the massive amount of people everywhere, all the time, Chinese don’t seem to bother much about what others think. 👯
  • That my Mandarin was always “Hen Hao” (“very good”), although it was very limited to my own standard! Chinese will always appreciate and acknowledge any foreigner trying to speak their language (even if the only thing you say is “Ni Hao” or “Xiè xiè”!). ✌🏻
  • Cheap food! I am already missing getting yummy dim sum, steaming hot pot or fresh seasonal fruits at every corner of the streets for basically nothing! 😋
  • Buying alcohol anywhere, at any time of the day! I surely miss those 7-Eleven pre-drinks and afterparties! 🍻

  • One hour massage for 10$, yes please! A-N-Y-T-I-M-E! And let’s not forget to mention those massage parlours where you can book a private room with your girlfriends and get your back and feet pampered while watching a movie, munching on fruits and sipping milk tea! Alleluia! 🙌🏻
  • Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, where you can order anything online (and I mean anything….a plane, a live alpaca, breast milk soap, a collar that allows your dog to speak, a cow brain… and I’m keeping it PG-13 here!) and have it the next day or so. 💁
  • WeChat, China’s ultimate cellphone application used by everyone, to do everything: messaging, social media, banking, book your cinema ticket, order a taxi… and the list goes on. Chinese are definitely a step ahead on technology! 📱
  • Having an “Ayi” (housekeeper) that can basically do everything for you (cleaning, cooking, shopping) for about 6$ an hour. It’s so easy to become lazy in China… 🙄 (The translation of the word “Ayi” is literary “Aunt” but it is also commonly used to say a “housekeeper”)
  • Having students named Apple, Sunny, Candy, Coco, Bobo… always put a smile on my face. Scolding a student named Angel is quite funny I must say! 🙃 (For those who didn’t know, Chinese usually choose their ‘English name’ when they are still a kid…. hence the colorful, exotic names!)

  • The beautiful friendships I have developed. China is probably the easiest place on earth to make new friends (all Chinese want to have a Laowai* bestie!) and it’s the best way to get immersed in the culture as well! You get invited to family gatherings, weddings, Chinese New Year dinners, KTV (karaoke) sessions, hiking trips and they will spoil you all the time with presents (on absolutely any occasion!). Guys, if you don’t have a Chinese friend yet, better look for one! 👭 *Laowai stands for « foreigner »
  • And finally, I will surely miss the joy of living of Chinese. Either if it’s with family, friends or colleagues, they do love to gather, eat, drink, laugh and enjoy life. When in China, you’re off for a good time! Friendly tip: Never refuse an invitation to “Gan Bei!” 🍻 (« Cheers! » literary « Bottoms up! »)

So for one last time, thank you China for the beautiful memories and the countless selfies I was forced to take… You are one pretty unique place to live and I will surely never forget you! ❤️

再见中国! ✌🏻

再见 Dongguan! 👋🏻

Well this is it. My Dongguan chapter has finally come to its end. Whenever it’s time for me to conclude a journey, I put my life into perspective and take the time to reflect on how much I have changed since. The last two years have been extremely enriching on a personal, professional and spiritual level. I have succeeded, I have failed, I fell in love, I got my heart broken, I have questioned my beliefs, I have tried new things, I have learned about myself but most importantly, I have been happy. I believe I have grown a lot these past years and I’m loving the person I am becoming and the life I am living. Through all the ups and downs, this is what life should be about: finding our own happiness while striving to be the best person we can be. 😇💙

Action Asia Yunnan Ultramarathon

I feel like this year, life has been particularly good to me (maybe it’s the big 30?!). Whether it’s at work, in my travels or in my social life, some very special souls have walked into my life. The people we encounter on our path are always there for a reason: to teach you, to love you or to experience life with you. Thank you to everyone that played a role in my Dongguan story. You made my journey a memorable one. I’m leaving with eyes full or tears but with a heart full of love, countless memories and crazy stories. I will miss you all beautiful people of Dongguan! Until next time… 再见! 😉✌🏻

 

Every story has an end but in life, every ending is a just new beginning. Recently, I’ve learned to follow my intuition, to listen to my inner voice. Thus, I decided to put a hold on my teaching career next year to continue exploring this vast beautiful world. I will take this opportunity while I’m still young and free to do what I like the most: traveling. I don’t know exactly where or what is ahead of me but as always, I am ready to jump in and let the waves guide me to a new horizon. I have always had faith in life so I’m excited to see what she has in stock for me this time. To be continued… 🌎✈️

But until then, I am back to the land of moose and maple syrup. Ottawa, here I come for some much needed fresh air and catching up!🤗😁😘

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Now to the next adventure…

My second year at ISD

I was very fortunate in August 2016 to get offered a teaching position at the International School of Dongguan. As my first teaching abroad employment, I had no idea what to expect nor if it was suitable for me. But as always, I followed my adventurous instinct, signed the contract and jumped on a plane to China! Well 2 years later I can tell you it was a good move: I am now an IB certified French and English teacher, I have taught to wonderful, smart cookies, I have developed close relationships with amazing colleagues and I have travelled in and out of China for school trips, conferences and workshops. Oh, and I was also getting paid to do all of this! 😉 My second year at ISD was definitely as busy and as exciting as the first one. Here are a few of my highlights:

*I had the chance to teach the same classes as last year: Secondary School French, IB French B and IB English B (’B’ meaning ‘as a second language’), which gave me the opportunity to tweak my lesson plans of last year in order to improve my teaching. I was also lucky to go to Jakarta in October for my second IB training workshop for the courses I teach. I hope one day I will pursue my career as an IB educator. As much as it is a rigorous program for the students (and teachers!) it is a curriculum that I have very enjoyed teaching.

*This year, I wanted to get more involve into the school life, so I took charge of our StuCo (Student Council). I have been very fortunate to be working with a group of 20 dedicated students (not bad for a small school!). We have organized several activities and fundraising events throughout the year to promote our school spirit. It brought me many souvenirs of my good old days when I was a member of the ‘Parlement Étudiant’ at my high school. We are currently planning our biggest event of the year: The Prom!

*With the initiative of one of my Canadian fellow colleague, we created ISD’s first swim team! We were able to gather 5 courageous swimmers so far this year and I’m positive that the team will continue to grow. It was great to be back on a pool deck, and of course it was the perfect opportunity to start swimming again!

*Finally, last month I had the chance to accompanying the grade 8 to 12 to their Week Without Walls (annual field trip where students get to visit a new region of China while discovering new outdoors and cultural activities). This year we spent one exciting and busy week in the province of Sichuan exploring the city of Chengdu and its surrounding. Camping, via ferrata, canyon hiking, tea plantations visit, hot pot dinner, mask changing opera, we definitely had the full Sichuan experience! It’s always a pleasure to be interacting with the students in a non-classroom setting while watching them getting out of their comfort zone and learning new skills. Everyone get to see a different side of each other. It’s a great bonding experience!

Now off I go into the last stretch of the school year! I cannot believe in less than two months I’ll be packing my bags to leave my beautiful adoptive city of Dongguan. Whether it was at work, in my social life or in my many travels, I believe I definitely made the most of my time here. You may wonder what’s next for me? Well I am still in the process of planning my next adventure, but I’ll give you one hint: I’m heading for the only continent I haven’t visited yet… 😉 (and no, Antartica doesn’t count!)

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Week Without Wall fun!

New Year Reflections

One of my life philosophies is to constantly challenge myself while striving to be the best person I can be. To be able to grow as human being, we must learn to reflect on the past in order to plan for the future. I have learned over the last few years the importance of setting goals as well as reflecting on myself. Discovering and accepting our weaknesses and strengths lead us to become a better person while guiding us in the right direction. I constantly have a personal objective to work for or an event to look forward to, whether it is to train for a race or to plan my next trip. It is my way of keeping me happy, passionate and driven.

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This year, I decided to teach my students the importance of reflecting on themselves as well as the value of setting goals. I did this reflecting activity with my classes at the beginning of January: Everyone wrote a list of their achievements and important events of 2017. Then, we envisaged our 2018 year by completing a list of writing prompts. We wrote everything on bits of paper that we posted on the classroom walls; acting as a reminder for the rest of the school year.

I thought about sharing with you my own personal reflections of this activity.

My year 2017 in a nutshell…

  1. I ran my first ultra-marathon
  2. I got my Advanced scuba diving course
  3. I became a vegetarian at home (and I’ve been improving a lot my cooking skills!)
  4. I have been meditating on a regular basis (and have introduced this practice in a few of my classes)
  5. I learned over 150 Chinese Characters (I am aiming to complete my ‘300 course’ by the end of the year)
  6. I attended the Category 2 of the IB Language B workshop in Jakarta
  7. I commuted to work by bike (almost) every single day (rain or shine, frost or flood!)
  8. I learned how to play rugby and played my first contact game
  9. I experienced simplicity, openness and mindfulness at Buddhafield Festival
  10. I changed decade!

2017 was… Mind-opening.

A quote that best represents my 2017 year: Surrender to what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be. -Buddha

In 2018…

  • I want to go… on a silent retreat for the first time.
  • I want to do more…ultramarathons! Yes, I am hooked.
  • I want to do less… shopping. I want to reduce my consumption habits and move towards a minimalist lifestyle.
  • I want to read… The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Beach by Alex Garland and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  • I want to get… a tattoo!
  • I want to improve… my endurance. Yup, i want to be able to run for longer.
  • I want to change… my eating habits. I’m aiming to become a complete vegetarian by the end of the year! (Thank you to my inspiring sister!)
  • I want to learn… how to shuffle (dance) properly!
  • I want to be… more present and attentively listen to others. “The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.”
  • I want to imagine… falling in love.

A quote that will represent my 2018 year: Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself. -Oprah Winfrey

2018 will be …. Enriching.

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I came, I ran, (I suffered), I conquered!

It has been 3 years since I crossed the finish line of my last triathlon, the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. I used to be a pretty serious long distance triathlete/runner; getting up at 6am every morning, training 7 days a week, racing every month. It was my passion, my life. I put that lifestyle on standby when I decided to live abroad. However, my inner competitive athlete recently surfaced, eager to face a new challenge, to cross a new finish line. This is when the idea of running my first ultra-marathon came up. Without thinking too much, I signed up for the Lantau 50, a 54km trail run on the beautiful Lantau island in Hong Kong. I had 2 months to prepare for a running course that is renowned to be one of the most difficult in Asia (something I was thankfully not aware of before the race!). Go big or go home..

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Before my 24km trail run on Victoria Peak (Hong Kong)

Dongguan is unfortunately not the best city to train for an ultra-marathon. It’s a “normal” Chinese size city of 8 millions, where the pollution, the traffic and mostly the lack of trails made it difficult to prepare properly for this kind of race. I did the best I could with what I got: a few 40km+ runs (mostly on roads), one 24km trail running race in HK and lots of stairs repeat (living on the 25th floor of my building helped!). I still felt good leading up to the race.

The course consists of a 54km run along the very scenic Lantau trail, combining a variety of terrains (uphill, downhill, natural trails, stone steps, wooden stairs, roads) and going over the island’s highest peaks, Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak, for a total elevation gain of 3,500m. To put it briefly, Lantau 50 was NOT what I expected! It was much hillier, much longer and much harder than what I have imagined! Regardless, I crossed the finish line in 9h06, completely exhausted, but extremely proud of myself. Since it was my first ultra, I didn’t have much expectations except to finish. I learned a lot from that race, and one thing I surely know: it definitely won’t be the last one!

What I nailed:

-Pacing: This is one of my strength in training and races. I knew it would be a long day so I hold back for the first half of the race, I took it easy on the uphill, ran the downhills and still managed to ‘sprint’ the last km’s of the race!

-Nutrition: I ate and drank constantly, making sure I was well hydrated and that I kept that sugar level up! And I saved my favourite treat (a Snickers bar) for that last endless hour!

-Positive attitude: Just like an Ironman, an ultra-marathon requires as much physical than mental strength. I knew I would go through a rollercoaster of emotions. In those moments of doubts and weakness, my plan was to slow down if needed (but never dare to stop!), find a positive distraction (listen to music, chat with another runner, enjoy the scenery), look ahead and keep on running and running until that finish line.

What I could have done better:

-Train by time and not by distance (my longest training run of 4h didn’t help much for my 9h race!)

-There is no such thing as doing too much hill or stair repeats! (Especially for races in Hong Kong!)

-Get proper trail running shoes! (I not only destroyed my poor little running shoes but my feet were blistered and sore for over a week!)

-Duct tape does not fix everything! (I had to get a new camelback after mine fell apart…)

So, what’s next? A 100km 3 day ultra-marathon in Lijiang (Yunnan province in China) in April! Time to hit the trails!

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“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”