Clear the List February 2020

In a divergence from outdoor and travel tales, today’s post is joining in with the language learning community’s monthly goal setting trend. Specially Lindsay from and Shannon from host the monthly Clear the List goal setting link up – you can find all the details here:

Having not partaken recently I don’t have a review of last month’s goals for your reading pleasure, but I do have some for this month!

The two languages I am actively learning are American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish. French is always there in the background because I use it regularly at work, but no specific objectives for it right now.


1. Classes

I am taking classes online with a tutor through the iTalki website (highly recommend!). I would like to make sure I get in at least four 45 minute classes this month.

2. Self Study – 30 Day Video Challenge

In January I registered for a 30 day course with a short video and lesson every day (well, I guess 30/31 days) through Fortunately the videos don’t disappear because so far I have completed, ahem, one of them. My goal for this month is to complete 10.

Disclaimer! The above might change if ASL103 runs this month through our local Canadian Hearing Society. If that comes to fruition it will be an intensive course over a couple of weekends, so the other activities will move to the back burner. Numbers aren’t looking promising for it to go ahead though.


My Spanish studying comes and goes, but whenever I travel I always wish it had spent more time coming than going. With a trip to Belize on the horizon in May, I started picking it up again last week.

1. Classes

I take online classes with a tutor, although not through iTalki in this case. Scheduling is a bit tricker than for ASL. So, I would like to take a total of three 45 minute classes.

2. Drops app

This is a vocab app that limits you to 5 minutes a day, twice a day, with short bonuses for keeping up a streak. I want to do a minimum 5 minutes a day.

3. Podcasts

I want to listen to 3 podcasts a week, using the Duolingo Spanish podcast and the Coffee Break Spanish podcast.

4. Stories

I want to read 3 short stories a week, which will come from this book:

For tracking progress for both ASL and Spanish I’m going with the ol’ bullet journal approach:

So there you have it, public commitment. Hasta luego!

Continue reading “Clear the List February 2020”

Mexico 2019 Part 1: Tajma Ha Cenote

One short week ago I was in the midst of a glorious scuba diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico. Can’t say that I care much about the details apart from the diving, so suffice to say we stayed at a resort on the island of Cozumel, with some jaunts across to the mainland.

One such mainland jaunt was to go diving in the cenotes – karst cavern/cave systems. Cenotes were the only source of water in the jungle for the Mayan civilization (no above ground rivers!) and are considered sacred by the Mayan people.

This wasn’t the first diving we did, but we’re not going with chronological order here. Frankly, I had the fewest pics and shortest videos to sort through from this day, so it got tackled first!

Today, cenotes are popular with both snorkelers and divers (that’s us). We booked a day with ProDive International (the same outfit operating out of our resort). We took the ferry across to the mainland, and were picked up by ProDive. A short drive brought us to the turn off to our cenote of the day, the Tajma Ha, where we jumped into a different truck with our guide, Luis.

We were especially lucky that day, as it was just Audra and I with Luis. On the drive in he gave us a thorough briefing as to what to expect. A key point here is the difference between caves and caverns. Cave diving is a serious type of technical diving, because you can’t easily surface. Conversely, in recreational diving you can always boogie straight up if need be. Cavern diving is in between the two – you are in an overhead environment, but you are also always within easy reach of an exit (not that I could have found it).

So, this means that non-cave certified divers can dive in cenotes, but only under the watchful eye of a cave-certified guide wearing all the equipment necessary for full fledged cave diving, i.e. Luis. This is why he is wearing double tanks in the pics and videos.

We were all equipped with lights, as parts of the cavern were quite dark. In other areas the sunlight streaming in created the beautiful blue ‘laser beams’ you see in some of these pics!

The dark sections took a bit of getting used to. Very cool, but also a game of mind control in not letting your brain wander too far down any number of hypothetical paths. Fortunately for us Audra becomes more anxious if she feels crowded, and if I’m anxious I like being super (annoyingly, probably) close to the guide, so I followed directly behind Luis, Audra held the caboose position, and we were all content.

I made the mistake of thinking I would be fine in my own 3mm wetsuit, and wearing that on dive 1 instead of the 5mm that was offered. I thought I was calmly hiding just how c-c-cold I was near the end of the dive when Luis looked back and asked if I was cold. Oh ya know, just a little, I signed back casually. Later he said he could see my hands visibly shaking. Cover blown!

For dive 2 I was not messing around. That 5mm was a bit too big but fit well over my 3mm, leaving me nice and cozy in 8mm (for perspective, my Lake Superior wetsuit is 7mm).

Here I am extremely happy to be fully warm, albeit somewhat immobile.

Audra, unfortunately, was not feeling well and opted out of dive 2. Luis and I headed off while she snoozed in the truck.

Features to see inside the cenote included stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (pointing up), and fossilized seashells.

On the second dive we also popped up twice – first to check out the wide open Sugar Bowl, and second to check out the 95% enclosed Bat Cave. No pics of the Bat Cave turned out. Guess you’ll just have to go yourself.

There is a ladder in the Sugar Bowl in case someone needs an emergency exit. But then your guide has to get all your gear through the cavern system (that ladder is higher than it looks), so it’s not a recommended option!

Finally, earlier I mentioned the difference between caverns and caves. This system actually has both, with lines that are placed showing the routes. Yellow means cavern, white means cave. So, um, don’t head off following a white one!

You can see what the lines look like in this quick clip:

Near the end of the first dive Luis veered off the line! I, being in the mild state of hypothermia that I was, figured he was veering off to show us another shell or something, but decided I was too cold to go look. Took me a minute of hovering to realize he was continuing in that direction and to start following! Anyhow, it was not one bit sketchy – we were right at the end, and he was avoiding a descending group that was following the line. Nonetheless, neither he nor Audra let me live down my strict adherence to the yellow line rule for the rest of the day!

Two dives done, we got a ride back to the ferry and headed back to the island. I would highly recommend this scuba venture if you’re traveling in the area – and just cross your fingers that you get a private tour with an awesome guide!

Not-So-Reading Week

Whew, this semester has been a whirlwind and it’s not slowing down yet! However, with the next adventure looming (hint: it’s a warm one!), it’s time to recap October’s Reading Week canoe trip.

With 9 days to play with, Conor, Jack the Dog and I headed off to Temagami. Our friend Carole came along with us, and we connected with our friend Tim a couple of days into the trip.

Jack was his normal helpful self while we got loaded up at the put-in.

The fall colours weren’t peak, but were still beautiful.

We brought the hot tent, which was quite a cozy refuge on the cold and rainy days, and the snowy (!!) morning.

Some portage trails were easy walkers.

Other portages were trickier.

And one portage was absolutely horrifically heinously awful. We had to get through this bog, but we couldn’t move forward. The mud was bottomless, so we also couldn’t wade and push the canoe.

Before we were too far into it, we tried to follow some grassy hummocks to search for a better option. Jack knew better than to join us.

My mood was, ahem, disintegrating at this point, so Conor tried to maneuver the canoe while I stuck to higher ground.

Then I ran out of higher ground. This was an issue, as there was a significant stretch of bottomless mud between the canoe and I. No photos of my journey back to the canoe, but let’s just say I was glad I was wearing my PFD! With every step I was sinking to my hips, until I started scurrying on my knees in an effort to spread out my weight.

Here is proof that I made it.

We made it through only with Carole’s help. She could scoot through much more easily with her small, lightweight canoe, so she took some of our packs to lighten our load.

Eventually we made it through and set up camp. Jack loves being on the trail, but isn’t a big fan of camp set-up and tear down. He spends his time patiently-but-obviously waiting to get into the tent.

When the tent wasn’t an option he found other beds.

We had some beautiful, calm mornings.

And of course started every morning with Cowboy Coffee, professionally swung by Conor.

We spent one complete day weather bound. So I made a tuque.

We had some nice, rock campsites.

Checked out some pictographs.


Took some selfies.

And even got a family photo!

Finished into a headwind on Saturday morning, and headed back home rejuvenated and ready (sort of) to jump back into things.

Quebec 2019 – the Final Smorgasbord

Once again, we are reliving the annual tradition of hitting late fall and not having finished a summer trip report. Given that we spent last week on a canoe trip, I am officially one trip behind.

So, finding myself once again playing catch-up, here is a context-less smorgasbord of pictures from Quebec this past summer.

Portage Life

Camp Life

Food Life

Flora, Fauna, Funky Rocks

Paddling Life


Navigating the Mystery Move

Along with the mosquito-filled cabin from hell, another notable point of this summer’s canoe trip was the distinct division into different sections. The first river, the Eastmain, was relatively well traveled and generally had actual (!!!) portage trails. Then we moved onto the Clearwater River, which was distinctly NOT well traveled. And, a forest fire had ripped through the area, so the shorelines were trail-less and covered with dense, ankle grabbing regrowth and burned, downed trees.

There was a pretty wild section of big drop after big drop after big drop. It was really quite beautiful (but I still swore a lot).

One of the more interesting Clearwater put-ins

An example of me being super helpful. You got this honey!

A neat (geological) kettle on a portage

By the last rapid I was ready to throw caution to the wind and run just about anything to avoid another portage. For once Conor was the voice of reason, while I enthusiastically pointed to possible lines through the maelstrom. Eventually I won him over and we successfully ran it.

A drizzly last morning on the Clearwater

Things changed again upon leaving the Clearwater. We briefly reentered the Eastmain, but just long enough to paddle across it and portage 2km over dam (damn!) roads to a big reservoir. And thus began the man made section of the trip.

Portaging past the spillway, visible in the background

We camped at the end of the portage (gravel roads, how beautiful), and the next morning had just enough of a weather window to paddle the 40km stretch across the reservoir. It’s weird because no maps have been created of these new, man made water bodies. The maps still show small lakes and rivers with lots of land in between, but a vast area is now covered by water. We were navigating via a patched together map composed of a satellite image superimposed on the original topo map.

If I stood in certain areas here I had cell phone service, which was bizarre since we were still far from anywhere. Don’t be offended if I didn’t text you, I stayed incognito.

This is also where the Mystery Move comes in. We had to somehow get out of the reservoir and onto the final stretch of our trip. Again, we were going by satellite images, and our best guess was an upstream stretch through a river created entirely through hydro related diversions. The satellite image showed patches of white in some places, which we took to be rapids, but who knows how they vary with fluctuating water levels. There were also two canals identified on the site plan, which were potential crux points.

Heading to the start of the Mystery Move the next morning we quickly learned that a truly massive river had been created – there was no way we would be wading up these rapids! We ended up doing 6 portages in the stretch leading up to the canals, and the paddling portions were a solid upstream paddle against the current!

Things got interesting at the canals. The first one didn’t really contain rapids, but the current was ripping through it, and there were small ledges to power over at the top. Unfortunately our route put us on the less optimal side, but we thought we could do it. We snuck up the shore eddy, and aaaaalllmost made it up the final ledge push, but not quite. It’s that feeling of paddling as hard as you possibly can…staying still..and then slowly slipping backwards. I then had the terrible idea that we should ferry across and power up the other side, which didn’t look as bad at the top. While this was true, the crossing was wider than it looked and the current was strong, and while ferrying across we lost virtually all the ground we had gained (and all our energy). We did make it up that side, but it was exhausting and accepting a portage right away would have been a smarter plan.

There was no way we could make it up the second canal – the current was even stronger. Once again, unfortunately, we were on the wrong side, which we discovered after landing, unloading, and scouting for a portage route. Loaded up again and ferried to the other side, where it was an easy portage.

A bit more upstream paddling and we had successfully completed the Mystery Move! Hurrah! We camped in another gravel pit, ready to start on the final stretch of the trip, the Nemiscau River.

Quebec tells it like it is

Sometimes Cabins are a Terrible Idea

As per usual, Conor and I embarked on a canoe trip earlier this summer. While only half as long as last year’s, it was still lengthy enough at 26 days.

My plan was to refer back to my journal and share the trip in a chronological way, but suffice to say the pictures on my phone are not cooperating (they refuse to leave my phone), making organization annoyingly hard. So, instead, there will be random stories in a random order.

Canoe trips are a funny thing. We’re choosing to go live in a tent for weeks on end, but any opportunities to stay in cabins along the way are delightful. So delightful that sometimes, as in this case, the excitement of a cabin overrides our better judgment.

It was mid afternoon on a beautiful day, but with a headwind. We were plowing into it on this particular lake for well over an hour, the whole time staring at something white on the far shore. Was it a rock? Was it a cabin? No way to know except slowly inching towards it.

As we got closer we saw that yes, it was a cabin! A little white cabin with a red roof! Oh how cute!

Now, if you look carefully you will notice more problems than cuteness. Take, for instance, the door, which wouldn’t shut properly. Or the window on the right – see the towel sticking out of it? In our cabin daze we thought that would stop mosquitoes. HAHA. Yeah right.

But the afternoon was bug free, we had been amping ourselves up throughout the whole crossing, and we opted to stay.

We weren’t the only mammal to have spent time in the cabin. A bigger, furrier animal had left a nice paw print in one of the mattresses.

Everything went well until we headed to bed around 9pm. Once we had wedged ourselves into the teeny bed (rolling over was a team event), we shut our eyes….and BZZZZZZZ. The mosquitoes were coming out, they were coming out fierce, and our bug proofing attempts were clearly a massive failure.

Ok, no big deal. We’ll get up, figure out where they’re coming in, and seal it off with the giant roll of duct tape we found. Easy peasy!


We sealed entrances and killed bugs until 11:30pm. TWO AND A HALF HOURS of waging war against mosquitoes. The door was completely sealed with duct tape. So were the windows. We were completely sealed inside. And they were still coming in! It was hopeless.

We gave up. There was only one option left, and it wasn’t a fun one – we put on our bug jackets and crawled back into bed.

Conor faking sleep

I lay there on my back, listening to mosquitoes surrounding me, trying to sleep. The problem with bug jackets (apart from generally being hot and awful) is that if the netting lies against your skin mosquitoes can bite through it. I dozed for perhaps an hour, before waking up to one munching on my cheek. I quickly realized that they had feasted on my lips before I woke up, which were swelling up nicely.

That was the end of my sleep for the night. At 5am I called it quits and got up for good.

Conor looking as dejected as I felt

Man oh man were we happy to leave that place behind, and the tent never felt as good as it did crawling into it the next night!

While paddling the next day we agreed that it ranked as one of our top 3 worst nights ever camping – up there with a night spent in a bbq shelter (a motel forgot we were coming) and a similarly bug-infested shed (that one due to miscommunication, not cabin fever).

Needless to say our cabin standards were significantly higher for the rest of the trip.

Oh, and that door that didn’t shut properly? It fell off completely the following morning, which pretty much summed up the whole experience.

Temagami 2019

As is fairly standard, we extended the May long weekend and turned it into a 10 day canoe trip. As is also fairly standard, we opted to go to Temagami.

As is also also fairly standard, I have been meaning to publish a blog post since getting back, but haven’t, and am now in scramble mode for a longer summer trip.

So, instead of the well polished post I envisioned, here are some pics with a few token words.

We started on the long weekend, so of course we two days of cold rain where we didn’t move anywhere. This meant we did a different loop than originally planned, but you can’t really go wrong in Temagami.

We passed by a well known pictograph site.

Jack the Dog came along. Fortunately for him is cuteness compensates for his terrible eating habits.

Here he is ignoring a biscuit.

And here I am hand feeding him, because I am a sucker.

But gosh darn he’s just so cute!

Our revised route meant less portaging than originally planned, but still enough to keep most folks happy (by which I mean enough to keep me happy, Conor wanted more).

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, spring is the wettest season in this area, which led to some interesting portage trails.

But there were some dry and pleasant trails.

Our new route also meant we got to do the Maple Mountain hike, and Jack got to prove that he is still as capable a mountain climber as he was as a young pupster.

We started in the enchanted forest.

Forged a mighty river.

Scaled some cliffs.

And then, the highlight of Jack the Dog’s trip, found snow at the top!

We also found the old fire tower. The ladder coming to ground level has been removed. This had zero impact on whether or not I would actually climb the thing. Uh uh, no way.

Later in the trip we faced more rain, and perfected the tent+tarp rain protection combo.

We also found tree spirits!

Aaaaaand then we finished the trip. Your imagination may need to fill in some details. Au revoir!