Category: Travel

Review: San Francisco International Bachata Festival


It’s been a few years since I started Latin dancing, my favourite of which is bachata. When there’s a bachata-themed event, I’m usually there, even if it’s a few thousand miles away in San Francisco.

So last month I waited for some airfare deals and flew down to California with one of my “salsa girlfriends”, and we attended the annual San Francisco International Bachata Festival at the Hyatt Regency from July 19-21. The brainchild of Rodney “Rodchata” Aquino, SFIBF was one of the (if not the) best Latin dance festival/congress I’ve ever been to.

Check in process was pretty straight-forward, and the staff and volunteers were pretty helpful. I purchased a nice pair of super-cute dance flats from one of the vendor booths (just when I thought I had enough shoes), and the festival sponsor Yerba Mate kept everyone hydrated with their energy-filled drinks.

Most of the workshops were great, with my favourites being those led by Troy and Jorjet (kizomba), Bryon and Sammantha (Dominican bachata footwork), and Jo and Kathy (bachata ladies styling) . I learned some really cool movements that I can add to my bachata shines. I also found a new passion for kizomba by taking Troy and Jorjet’s workshop. I just hate dancing closed position dances with sweaty guys, so learning the “community hold” made me appreciate the dance more.

Speaking of Troy and Jorjet, if anyone has seen them on YouTube or taken any of their workshops before, you know how their mannerisms are. Vince and Jo did a hilarious impersonation of them. Best of all, Troy and Jorjet were good sports about it, which just show how great professionals they are.

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Troy also recognized me from the “Bachata Basement” dance video I did with my friend, Renelle last year. Super-nice guy with such a positive personality. The dance DVD’s that he and his wife produce are so easy-to-follow that I had to pick up a couple more so that I can build on my bachata and learn some kizomba.

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The variety of amazing instructors and dancers who were in attendence had me in awe. My favourites (and mainly the sole reason why I wanted to attend) Troy Anthony and Jorjet Alcocer were there,  DJ Vince Torres & Jo Quiñonez had the crowd in stitches with their entertaining MC-ing during the performances, the ever-faboulous Zeke Fabulosa from Chicago, the beautiful Kathy Reyes, the world-renound brother-sister team of Junior and Emily Alabi, and so many more.

My favourite team though by far was the dancers from MG Dance Studio. If you want to see what hard work and dedication look like, while at the same time having fun, being positive and friendly, the young people in this group is the embodiment of it. Their routines are phenominal. I still can’t believe a few of them are only high school seniors.

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The performances and shows were excellent. Not too short and not to long. The dancers all seemed like they rehearsed well, with clean movements and great energy.

Social dancing Friday, Saturday and Sunday night were breaths of fresh air compared to social dancing here in Toronto. Don’t get me wrong, I love my city, but the “salsa scene” here seems to be a bit… cliquey (a post about this coming up soon). It was nice actually getting asked to dance by guys for once. All the dancers in attendance were super friendly, introduced themselves, and always up for a dance.

One guy came up and asked me to dance salsa, but admitted that he dances a little of a “different style”. Honestly, this was music to my ears, because ever since I stopped taking Latin dance classes, I seemed to dance in my own style (which happens to be more Cuban-based) which is not the norm here in the Toronto salsa scene. So when he smiled as he saw how I was following to match his own similar style, it was one of my best salsa dances ever (he also was a great bachata dancer as well)!

I also signed up for the competition that SFIBF was hosting at this year’s event. Although a tad disorganized (call-times were changed and they even forgot to mention my name), it was a great experience for me. Personally, I thought there would be a lot more competitors, but for the two categories I entered–the solo and the Jack & Jill–I was up against some seasoned veterans.

Although I didn’t come home with the big trophy, I was honoured to get the chance to compete with some talented dancers and experienced professionals. I surprised myself by getting up on that stage (probably because it was in a city where no one knew my name), I managed to throw together a routine that garnered a lot of praise from other dancers and even one of the coaches from another team (thank you so much for the kind words Wayne Melton!). I felt so blessed that I got the chance to do this, and I’m going to keep on dancing to improve my skill while having fun doing it.

Will I be back in San Fran for next year’s festival? Based on what I experienced this year, then for sure. Well, unless airfare prices skyrocket… it’s a looooong way to San Francisco from the T Dot!


Camping at Killbear Provincial Park


Camping was one of those things on my bucket list of to-do items. So when a friend of mine invited me to go camping with a bunch of friends this summer, I jumped at the chance. Of course I was a little apprehensive at first (come on… how many young, black females voluntarily choose to spend 2+ days outside in the wilderness?), but I made sure I was prepared for anything that might transpire.

Over the weeks upcoming to my camping expedition I made some stops at Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart and Mountain Equipment Co. in order to be able to check everything off on my camping packing list. And you can see from the photo in my gallery below that I wasn’t kidding!


Did some research online and picked up a super-comfy, deluxe camp chair (complete with memory foam seat and attached bottle opener!), an air mattress, warm sleeping bag, first aid kit, s’mores roaster, a headlamp, other useful items, as well as a roomy hiking bag to put all that stuff in.

My most prized possession on that trip was the bear bell that I bought at MEC. Supposedly it’s supposed to give bears a chance to hear you coming, then choose to amble away instead of investigate. I’m still alive typing, so I guess it worked!

Killbear Provincial Park is located about 45 minutes outside of Parry Sound. We stayed at the Blind Bay campground. Crisp air, breathtaking views of the Georgian Bay… nature sure is beautiful. I couldn’t even really complain about bugs, because I didn’t see one mosquito in our time there (though there were a couple of long-legged spiders).

One of the other things (besides bears) I was worried about was the washroom/shower facilities. I was picturing a rotting, wooden outhouse (hence why I brought a tub of baby wipes, due to the fact that I didn’t want to use leaves). But the facilities at this campsite are really nice and clean for the most part.

My friends and I spend our 2.5 days playing games and chatting around the campfire, heading down to the beach, hiking down trails, and making some ‘campy’ meals. I think I ate one too many s’mores though (as delicious as they were). Cooking outdoors is a challenge when you’re used to being in the kitchen. Aluminum foil became my new bestest friend.

So what’s camping without a bear scare? That’s right: on my first camping trip I did in fact see a bear trod past my tent at 3 o’clock in the morning. With a name like “Killbear” you would guess that the bear population in that part of town would be pretty scarce, no?

Getting to sleep on the Friday night was a challenge. It was freezing that night, and I didn’t pack enough warm clothes. I was hearing noises from outside the tent. My friend said it was a bear, but I didn’t believe her (personally, I thought it might have been someone snoring or a raccoon or something.

On to night number two. I was trying to get used to the sounds of Mother Nature: the crickets, the leaves falling on my tent scaring the bejeezus out of me. My eyes were wide open for the first part of the night, as I didn’t want to waste the batteries in my trusty headlamp (yes, I sleep with a night light). So when I hear nondescript voices coming from our neighboring site, and see flashes of light outside my tent, obviously I become 100% alert. Minutes later I hear a woman yell “Get out of here bear! We don’t want you here!” succeeded by car alarms going off and honking. I’m thinking, did I just hear that right? Bear?! So I nudge my tent mate who basically told me to play dead (I wanted to ring my bear bell).

Then we hear another exclamation, “It’s coming back to your site!”. My eyes opened wide, but being the inquisitive being that I am, I told my tent mate that I wanted to see the bear (naturally). So I peeped through the mesh in our tent trying to get my eyes adjusted to the darkness outside so that I can make out something. Seconds later I see a black apparition barreling through a couple of trees 2 feet in front of our tent! A freaking bear! I backed up so fast… my heart was beating a thousand times per minute. At that point my friend became more alert, as we both felt the tremors that the bear made when it ran past us. After discussing protocol for a couple minutes we gingerly unzipped our tent in order to figure out the details of the situation.

Turns out that a family in the site across from us had left their cooler in the back of their pick up truck , only covered by a tarp (like that’s going to stop a bear from riffling through it). When my friends heard the commotion of the bear eating from the cooler (their tent was directly opposite the family’s site), they decided to make a run for their car after figuring out there was a bear in close proximity. Running to the vehicle, they turned on the engine as the headlights went on, they were face to face with a bear on all fours, eating like a fat kid at a all-you-can-eat buffet. They honked the horn and the bear ran off. What I found out later that some of the girls from my site informed the family that they needed to clean up the  mess that the bear left. Of course they didn’t listen. That’s why the bear came back (hence the “it’s coming back to your site” call). One of the brave women from our group managed to scare the bear off permanently by taking an aggressive stance, raising her arms, yelling and taking a few steps in the bear’s direction (she’s got guts, I tell ya).

Needless to say that none of us went back to sleep that night until the sun rose at 6am. The four of us that were up from our large group lit a fire and had a bear watch for 3 hours. I felt like I was a member of The Avengers or something. We noticed a couple of other sites start fires as well. The remainder of our troupe were still sleeping. Strangely enough, not a park ranger was to be seen during the entire bear event (though they were there earlier on in the evening to tell us to keep down the noise at 11pm).

Would I go camping again? Well I’d have to see if there’s such a thing as a bear-proof tent.

Get your $1 Megabus tickets to travel between Toronto and Montreal!


That’s right, Coach Canada is at it again. But this time they’ve joined forces with Megabus, new double-deckers that offer a more comfortable ride. Tickets are now on sale (online only) for as low as $1!

Now I don’t know if it was a press release error, but when I read Metro newspaper this morning they said that the seat sale for the $1 tickets will start on August 19th. I decided to check out the website today myself and lo and behold $1 tickets were released up to November 24th! Had I checked a little earlier I might have scooped up some of those high demand weekend tickets for less that it would cost me to buy a happy meal. But I did manage to secure some super-cheap seats for the upcoming months (makes my LDR a lot easier!).

The majority (if not all) of the $1 tickets for weekend departures/returns are pretty much sold out. But I just seen a bunch for mid-week travel on sale for $1. Once the 10,000 $1 seats are sold out, you’ll still be able to find decent prices on Toronto to Montreal travel, between $10 and $60. Don’t fret about not getting a deal, try to make your travel plans as flexible as possible (I myself will have to endure some 3am arrival times, but it’s worth my loonie!).

$16 million dollars has been invested by Coach Canada for the 15 new Megabus buses that will depart/arrive at the following cities: Whitby, Mississauga, Toronto, Scarborough, Kingston, Kirkland and Montreal, at up to 8 daily departure times.

The 81-passenger, 3.99 metres (13.1 feet) high, two-level coaches have front and rear staircases and offer free Wi-Fi, power outlets and DVD video capabilities, as well as a panoramic view, two folding card tables, comfortable reclining seats, restroom, safety belts and mobility impaired accessibility.

I’ve taken Coach Canada buses before, but have never been on a Megabus. Head over on to and book your dollar tickets before they’re all sold out! Good luck on finding the good ones!

Travelling between Toronto and Montreal this winter? It’ll only cost you a toonie.


Coach Canada BusHere is an excellent deal if you’re planning on travelling between Toronto and Montreal in the next several months: Coach Canada is offering $1 fares between the two cities.  Yes, that’s right.  I said one dollar. So depending on the dates you choose between the beginning of January and the end of March (the new dates were just posted within the last couple of days), you can potentially only spend $2.18 for a round trip ticket including taxes.  Now I call that a deal!

Make sure you don’t hesitate on this offer, the special $1 tickets are selling out quickly. After they’re sold out, the next batch of tickets with a reasonable price will be $10, and I’ve seen tickets between Toronto and Montreal go for as high as $60 each way with this Coach Canada promotion.  Other departure/arrival points included in this Toronto-to-Montreal deal are Scarborough, Mississauga, Whitby and Kirkland.

Visit the Coach Canada website to purchase your tickets online.

Dog Sledding in Haliburton, Ontario


Like I mentioned before the Easter holidays, I went dog sledding in Haliburton, Ontario (about a 2 1/2 – 3 hour drive from Toronto) over the weekend. Man, was it ever fun! I’m so glad my friend, Colleen convinced me to go, because it was such a great experience.

So we left Friday afternoon and headed up to the Delta Pinestone Resort, so it would be less off a rush to head to the trails in the morning. The resort was really nice. I wish I had remembered to bring my swim suit because they had a nice pool and hot tub there that we could’ve had all to ourselves since the resort wasn’t busy. The room was a tad cold when we walked in, but when we finally found the heater it was nice and toasty for the rest of the stay.

Dinner at Haliburton Family RestaurantFor dinner on Friday night we went to this small, local diner called Haliburton Family Restaurant. We were all starving from the long drive up, so Colleen and I ordered about 4 plates of appetizers to split–I now know why they always say never shop when you’re hungry. We tried to forced ourselves to finish all the Buffalo chicken wings, poutine, chicken fingers and nachos. It’s a good think Colleen’s dad and friend were there to help us out with that. :D The food was alright… not as “home made” as I thought it would be, but nonetheless still sufficient. Our waitress was really friendly. A nice ‘country’ atmosphere. Even the walls were lined in dog wallpaper which we found a bit coincidental taking into consideration our dog sledding journey. Back at the hotel we did some channel surfing, falling asleep to the hysterics of Spike’s MXC (Most Extreme Elimination). I think we were really anxious about dog sledding because every time we looked at the clock it seemed really early and time was going by slowly.

Our dog sled teamWe woke up at about 7am. Went down to Heatherwood, the resorts’ restaurant, for a yummy breakfast. I ordered the eggs Benedict, so did Colleen, her dad got oatmeal and his friend got the ‘Canadian Breakfast’. Breakfast was very tasty and filling. We scooted back to our rooms to pack and head out for the 30 minute drive to Winterdance Dog Sledding Tours. We were running a bit late, and to top it off 15 minutes after taking a wrong turn, we realized we were going the wrong way (when the numbers started getting smaller), so we had to turn around and double back. Just to let you know these country roads are very bumpy, and we were driving fairly fast in order to make it to the site on time… Colleen and I should’ve ordered the oatmeal.

We were supposed to get to the tour site by 9am–we got there at 9:37. The people at Winterdance were really cool about it though and said we could still join the training session since it was just getting underway, but we decided to wait another 30 minutes for the 10am run. This worked to our advantage because we got the coolest instructor, Fraser–very knowledgeable and funny–and had him all to ourselves for our small group of four.

Fraser went through quick lesson with the entire group (there were about 12 all together) of us on what to expect from the dogs, the different parts of the sled, the harness, the brakes and most importantly the correct calls: “Hike” is to go, not “mush” as some of you might think, “woah” means to stop or slow downFraser making lunch and we had to call “on by” if the dog was distracted by the side of the trail (e.g. by a squirrel or something) while it was running. The brake took a bit of getting used to… it was a parallel bar with spikes on either end that dug into the snow to slow down the sled, between the thin ski bars that the driver had to balance on with his or her feet.

The dogs were very eager to get running. You should’ve heard the noises and excitement that was in the air when they were getting harnessed in. There were 6 dogs to each sled, one driver and one rider sitting in the sled. I didn’t want to take the chance and drive for the first time, so I let Colleen have the honours. We switched about 1 hour in (after getting some yummy hot chocolate), then other three times to give each of us a break. The feeling of the wind hitting your face as you have these wonderful creatures race down the snowy trials and frozen lakes was incredible. The dogs were so cute, even though it was a tad shocking to see them do #1 and #2 mid-stride (Fraser had nicknamed part of the trail Poo Valley because of incidents like that… lol). Me driving the sled over the lakeOur team consisted of twins Candy and Pumpkin, Ebony (who we had to switch for Badit 1 hour in since he was having a dispute with one of the dogs on Colleen’s dad’s sled) and Red, and Belle and Joker.

After a couple hours we settled down in a section of the woods for some lunch. Fraser started a campfire and boiled some garden vegetable soup and BBQed some hamburgers (always tastes better over an open fire)! He also gave our teams some much deserved and highly anticipated treats (I never seen a dog jump so high or bark so loudly in anticipation. Our bellies full, we settled in for the afternoon portion of our run. Our team was so eager to go… I had a hard time trying to get Candy and Pumpkin (the lead dogs on our team) to slow down to allow enough gap between our sled and Fraser’s sled!

Belle’s cool eyesRacing over the frozen lake was probably the most beautiful part of the trip. The air is so still and quiet. It was such a beautiful day and the trees and cliff sides were amazing to see. We got back to the starting point around 5pm, got off our sleds and gave our team some much needed water and more treats, helped pack up and thanked all the instructors for a wonderful day.

This was such a great experience. Whether you’re a dog person, love the outdoors, or just want to try something new, dog sledding is a great adventure to try!