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Ten Cool Experiences to Have in Central America

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Central America, the isthmus connecting North and South America, consists of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El  Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It is both culturally and geographically rich and diverse. Cloud-shrouded volcanoes, Mayan ruins, exciting wildlife and colorful colonial towns are some of the delights waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveler.

1)   Take a hike in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica  – This is a sublimely beautiful National Park close to the small Caribbean town of Cahuita. So close, in fact, that you can walk directly into the park from town. The park covers over 57,500 acres of land and sea, including 600 acres of living coral reef. The 5.6-mile trail hugs the beach, with lush rainforest on one side and lovely views of the ocean on the other. Giant electric blue morpho butterflies flutter past, monkeys swing overhead and if your luck is in, you may spot a sloth hanging about in a tree. It’s a wildlife wonderland and the trail is flat and easy. There are plenty of opportunities to take a refreshing dip in the ocean too.

The beach at Cahuita National Park

2)    Swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, Guatemala – This destination is off the beaten track, but worth the long and bone-shaking journey to experience the unique cascading pools. The color of the water has to be seen to be believed. You can swim, go tubing or explore the nearby caves (a guide is required to visit the caves). Don’t miss the challenging hike up to Mirador, from which there are spectacular views. Situated high in the mountains, Semuc Champey is probably the most stunning natural wonder in Guatemala.

The pools at Semuc Champey

3)   Meet an ex-guerrilla at the Museum of Revolution, Leon, Nicaragua – It isn’t every day that you get to chat with an ex-revolutionary, but this ramshackle, yet compelling museum provides the opportunity to do just that. The guides at the museum were teenage soldiers when they fought in the revolution. Now in their fifties and sixties, they are happy to share their experiences with visitors. The building was the scene of many battles, as the bullet holes on the walls testify. It is clearly in need of funding, but nevertheless, a visit is a fascinating and moving experience and an example of a nation standing up for their rights against an evil regime.                                   

4)   Live in the shadow of a smoking volcano in Antigua, Guatemala –  Antigua is Central America’s most charming city. Guatemala’s popular tourist destination is a blend of crumbling ruins, bustling plazas, churches, handicraft markets, international restaurants and Spanish schools. The city has successfully managed to balance tourism with traditionalism. Nestled between three volcanoes, you never quite get over the wonder of glimpsing up to see puffs of smoke emerging from Volcano Pacaya. Every now and again, there is a minor eruption or you can hear rumbles coming from deep within the earth’s core. What with dramatic natural phenomena and a delightful city center, Antigua really does have it all. https://www.aroundantigua.com

The colonial city of Antigua

5)   Chill out in Caye Caulker, Belize – If you are in need of total relaxation, look no further than the tiny island of Caye Caulker. Spend your days swinging in a hammock, drinking cocktails at the Lazy Lizard Bar and snorkelling the coral reefs, where you can spot nurse sharks, stingrays and an array of vibrantly colored fish. The laid back Creole and Rasta presence gives the island an undoubtedly Caribbean ambience. The pastel painted wooden buildings, superb seafood, and absence of cars all contribute to making Caye Caulker a very special place.

6)   Explore the ancient ruins of Copan, Honduras – These Mayan ruins are over 2000 years old and comprise of pyramids, tombs, and temples, many displaying intricate carvings. The ruins are an easy walk from the nearby town of Copan Ruinas. The town is probably the prettiest in Honduras.  With its cobblestone streets, cute white houses and excellent range of lodgings, bars, and restaurants, it makes a great base for a visit to the ruins. Check out the tequila shrimp and enjoy the rooftop view at Twisted Tanyas, the best restaurant in town.

7)   Surf at Punta Roca, El Salvador –  Whether you are an experienced surfer or a beginner, this surfing mecca offers perfect waves, warm water, and miles of unspoilt beaches. Board hire and lessons are available and most of the local businesses are surf-orientated. It’s less commercialized and more low-key than nearby La Libertad and a perfect place to commune with the waves and kick back. Punta Roca plays host to several annual surf tournaments.

8)   Venture into the heart of the jungle to explore the ancient Mayan city of Tikal – If you fancy yourself as Indiana Jones, this is the place to head for. It’s the largest and most important Mayan site in Central America. The fact that the ancient city is hidden in the heart of the jungle only adds to the appeal.  From the tallest pyramid, you can enjoy panoramic views over the treetops and see other temples peeking through the canopy. Toucans, howler and spider monkeys populate the park and are easily spotted, but the elusive jaguar keeps a low profile.

Head into the heart of the jungle at Tikal

9)    Connect with nature at Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica – Monteverde lies 4,000 feet above sea level and comprises of coffee plantations and misty trails through eerie, but beautiful cloud forests.  There are two small towns in the area, Monteverde and Santa Elena. They each have a sprinkling of restaurants, bars, and shops catering to tourists. Zip-lining, mountain biking, and hiking are all popular pursuits. There are numerous wildlife sanctuaries and gardens exhibiting the flowers and fauna of the area. http://www.monteverdeinfo.com

10)  Take a stroll through the historic area of Panama City  – Wandering the atmospheric streets of Casco Viejo is a highlight of a visit to the city. The crumbling colonial architecture, plazas and narrow streets are a world away from the downtown skyscrapers. The area combines old-world elegance with a touch of edginess. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and some vibrant street art hidden away in the side streets. With restaurants, cafes and bars aplenty, it would be easy to spend a day enjoying the delights of Casco Viejo.

Street art in Casco Viejo

Originally posted 2017-08-13 19:05:39.

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Growing Up with Gender Neutrality

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Even before we are born, gender seeps through the womb like a glaze on a cake: very slowly, but all-encompassing, soaking what was a blank slate with gender norms and heterosexual expectations. From then on we slowly become more and more conscious of societal expectations, and unwritten rules and consequences. Whether they be intentional or not, the impact can be substantial.

Equality at Egalia

When people are young, they are malleable. The surroundings they are subjected to and the individuals that interact with them are instrumental in forming their first viewpoints of the world. Egalia, a preschool in Sweden, is a prime example of a safe learning environment that provides space to explore interests and activities that might be frowned upon or not offered in other preschools. “We don’t say, ‘Come on boys, let’s go and play football,’ because there might be girls who want to play football,” says Frida Wikström, the schools’ coordinator.  

Keeping the Ball Rolling

How does one continue the example of a safe environment shown at Egalia at home? It can actually be more difficult due to our own personal ingrained ideas about gender and what they look like. The first place to start in creating a freeing environment is the toy chest. Here are my top 10 picks for gender neutral toys:

  1. Stuffed animals – Who doesn’t love something soft and cuddly to carry around?
  2. Doctor Kit – I remember growing up with a Sesame Street doctor kit, and loving it.
  3. Building Toys – Legos, Lincoln Logs, blocks, etc.
  4. Appliances – Kitchen sets have always been a favorite of mine; cooking is a great skill to have, especially when you’re hungry!
  5. Play Food – A kitchen isn’t much good without some food to cook with!
  6. Tools – Fixing your vacuum cleaner, or changing a tire are skills everyone could benefit from learning.
  7. Bike or Trike – Once you learn, you never forget!
  8. Bath Toys – I was never a fan of bathing growing up, but having bath toys always made it much more bearable.
  9. Outdoor Games – Balls, frisbees, and hula hoops are all classics.
  10. Musical Toys – Who knows – maybe a toy xylophone will be the catalyst of creating a great percussionist!

Gender Neutral Clothes for Kids

Whether one is at Egalia, or at home, play clothes are a necessity. Here are my top 3 gender neutral kids clothing stores:

  1. Quirkie Kids – I adore how the majority of the clothes are images of cool things! Who doesn’t want a shark on a shirt?! Some shirts don’t resonate with me as much (“Still a boy” / “Still a girl”) but I can see how they could be validating for someone who is often told they are not behaving masc or femme enough for the gender they identify with.
  2. Baby Blastoff! – I am a VERY big fan of this company. Tabs are divided into shirts, pants, and bodysuits. Again, they are screenprinted with super cool images (trees, birds, dinosaurs). What captured my heart was seeing a child in a wheelchair sporting one of these awesome t shirts on the homepage – showing that ALL KIDS deserve awesome clothes. Representation of all types of kiddos is important, validating, and beautiful.
  3. Target – Target is setting an example by offering a ‘neutral’ setting under filters when looking at clothes. Supporting independent and local businesses is important and ideal. However, when we are in need of something affordable and closeby, it is wonderful to have validating and inclusive options.

Gender isn’t Garbage

I was raised very gender neutrally. Solid colored shirts and pants, not a lot of Barbies, and a whole lot of blocks and crayons. Even when I took ballet lessons from 4th – 6th grade, there were very few pink and frilly garments. There were times growing up where I wanted to present more femme. I wanted to wear clothes with some sparkle and sequins. I wanted to play around with makeup. There was a forbidden aspect that made it even more intriguing. This also applied to toys. The “boy” toy aisle in Walmart always looked more fun. There was action, adventure, variety, and more.

Egalia is more than just a preschool – it is an example of what all humans desire and deserve: “a space to feel security, joy and a desire to learn and develop many rich expressions, where everyone feels involved and where learning is for life!” Gender is not bad. Being assigned female at birth (AFAB) and loving dresses and dolls is not bad. Being assigned male at birth (AMAB) and loving trucks and pants is not bad. Eliminating gender isn’t the answer to creating a safe and fun environment to grow and play. Egalia acknowledges and embraces that. Critics have labelled the project as “gender-madness,” accusing the school of trying to brainwash the kids into a genderless homogeneity. Egalia’s not trying to do that. Gender is an important part of people’s identities, and the kids are free to embrace those differences.

Originally posted 2017-11-16 17:34:10.

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GUEST POST: A week in Toronto with Kimberley SE

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What to do, where to stay, what to wear and how to party!

Toronto is the laid back neighbor of New York that is still up and coming as one of the world’s must see cities. In late 2015 I spent a month exploring Toronto. 22, fresh out of university and armed with my camera, I traveled solo from the UK to explore Canada’s biggest city of entertainment and food.

What to do: If you’re in Toronto during the summer or fall, getting the ferry over to Toronto Island is a must. Great for casual strolls, long boarding and cycling, taking your kids to adventure and absolutely perfect for romantic first dates.

Woodbine Beach & Sugar Beach. To top up your tan and take a dip in Lake Ontario to cool off from the humidity during the summer.

Check out Kensington Market for trendy clothes and trinkets. The market is exceptionally arty and there’s tons of independent stores to explore.

Fancy incredibly picturesque Instagram style cocktails inspired by the world of Harry Potter? Who doesn’t. Head over to The Lockhart Cocktail Bar located on Dundas Street West where you’ll find a cosy Harry Potter styled bar that serves up explosive potions to quench your first (and your inner Harry potter fan girl screams).

Where to stay: Airbnb. Hands down. If you’re on any sort of budget definitely stay in an Airbnb in Toronto. While there’s some beautiful hotels (The Thompson Hotel for example) located in the city, you could get the local experience by staying in an Airbnb, and save a fortune while doing so. Airbnb is also welcoming as the hosts go the extra mile to make you feel safe and comfortable. There are great apartments available to suit your style of trip, whether you want to shop till you drop in the heart of Yonge and Dundas which is a mini Times Square, or chill by the beautiful harbor in Fort York (my home for a month, perfect for quiet down time but still close enough to the downtown core to easily get home after a long day of exploring) or hang out in the hippest parts of town: Parkdale, King Street West, Kensington Market and Bloor Street, there’s a neighbourhood to suit your exact style of trip and personality.

What to wear:

Summer & Spring: If you’re going any time between March and October, pack tshirts, shorts, light jumpers and an evening coat. A lot of people who haven’t been to Canada automatically assume it’s cold all year round. It’s not, it’s actually boiling during their summer in Toronto with temperatures reaching over 30 degrees (86F) daily.

Winter: Layers. Layers. Layers. More layers. A winter coat, adequate snow boots for those early morning adventures and did I say layers? Yep. Wrap up warm. As Toronto gets extremely hot in the summer it gets extremely cold in the winter. Make use of the thousands of cosy restaurants and cafes during their winter. For beer enthusiasts head over to Bar Volo for a range of Canadian Craft beer and Batch for European craft beer (if you want a taste of home like I did). And of course – grab a hot chocolate and some Tim Bits from Tim Hortons to officially feel Canadian.

Where to party: The LGBTQ night life scene in Toronto is huge, in fact – it’s the biggest in Canada. There is no shortage of options and events going on to meet new people from all over the world from all walks of life. The Village, located on the intersection between Church and Wellesley, is the home of Toronto’s LGBTQ scene. The area features restaurants, cafes and LGBTQ orientated stores. The Village is the place to be for exciting night spots and if you’re around in June, the Village holds the annual Gay Pride Parade and puts on hundreds of events to fill the streets with rainbow colors and glitter. Head to Crews and Tango’s for the best drag shows you’ll ever see or head over to Pegasus to play pool and video games to hang out and meet new people.

Through word of mouth I ended up at a night club party called Cream (now re-named to About Last Night), a once a month all girls LGBTQ party that welcomes hundreds of local gay women from all over the city. Great mixers, great music, great people. This is your go to place if you happen to be in the city wanting to meet girls and blow off some steam dancing. The best thing about Toronto is that nobody is shy – you’ll easily make new friends at huge events and there is always a party to be had in the Village.

If you haven’t already, download Her and keep an eye on their events page. In Toronto the Her team hold games nights, bar crawls and meet and greet events for gay women to make new friends and meet a potential match regularly. You’ll find it hard not to meet likeminded people and have fun.

The beauty of Toronto is that every day is different – and there’s something for everyone. It’s safe, it’s friendly and it’s very open minded to gay travellers.

Words by Kimberley SE

Kimberley is a British Australian magazine photographer currently based in the UK. Coming from a long line of globe trotters, she has a soft spot for small cities and can usually be found cruising along a beach on her skate board. We’re thrilled to have her guest posting on TravelPride!

Check out her blog here: https://kimedwards66.wixsite.com/kimberleysportfolio

Originally posted 2017-11-15 19:12:34.


Also published on Medium.

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How To Complete NaNoWriMo Without Losing Your Sanity

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When most think of November, they conjure up images of turkey, cozy sweaters, and the seemingly endless preparations for the Holiday Season. However, if you’re in the writing community, November brings up images of frantic typing and the fear of a looming deadline.

That’s right folks, NaNoWriMo is here, and it’s getting cray.

  What’s NaNoWriMo you ask? It’s a fancy acronym for National Novel Writing Month. This month-long creative “holiday” was created by freelance writer Chris Baty in July of 1999 with 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. The next year, it was moved from July to November to “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.

The objective? Write a rough draft of a novel (about 50,000 words or more) in 30 days. Anyone else screaming yet?

This is a free event that anyone can do, just join their website and start writing in any format. Just as long as you get 50,000 words before the end of the month. Participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length and receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on the web, and inclusion on the list of winners. Also, bragging rights.

 Hey there,  I’m Ellen, a Features Writer here at TravelPride and a writer by occupation. I have a BFA in Creative Writing and have written a novel already. I’ve always wanted to do NaNoWriMo and I thought this would be the perfect time to do it. Plus I want to take a break from writing my current memoir and do the fun interconnected short story collection I’ve been dying to write for years. I thought this was going to be so easy. I mean my senior thesis was 50,000 words. My novel manuscript is 96,000 words. 50,000 words will be a piece of cake.

Me, Writer and actual Fool.

I was wrong. It’s hard ya’ll.

       To complete NaNoWriMo on time you need to write 1,667 words per day, which is roughly 6 pages, double-spaced. That may not seem like a lot, but with everything you have to do in a day, plus find the creativity and energy to write 6 pages seems overwhelming.

   Then there’s something I call the “NaNo slump” which happens around the second or third week of November. The first week of NaNoWriMo you’re all excited and ready to write, cranking out 2,000+ words a day. Then you get busy, writer’s block or just plain fall behind and then quit because you think you can ever catch up.

   Well, stop write there (get it?). I’ve got some great tips for how to complete NaNoWriMo without losing your inspiration, hope, and sanity.

 

Write Everyday

The most important part of writing for NaNoWriMo or just being a writer is creating a writing schedule. One of the genius things about NaNoWriMo is that it allows you to become a better and more successful writer after this is over since it takes 30 days to create a habit. By writing every day in the month of November, you’re setting yourself up for writing all year long.

Carve a period of time out of your day and set it aside just for writing. It can be early in the morning, late at night, an hour, two, whatever you can and use that time to just write and only write. If your life is a little crazy and can’t form a schedule, write when you’re on the go. Carry your tablet with you, use the Notes app on your phone, or do the old-fashioned pen and paper and write whenever you get a free moment. Waiting for your flight? Write. Commuting to home or work? Write. On your lunch break? Write! You’ll be surprised how all those little moments of writing really add up. It’s just important to write every day. Just write it!

Prompts

   Oh, Writer’s block, the sworn enemy of a writer. That blank page causes so much anxiety and could lead you to giving up on your project because you’re “stuck.” A writing prompt could help you. NaNoWriMo’s website is awesome because they have a feature called “word sprints” which is a timed writing challenge. You set a timer, open up your draft, and race against the clock to add words to your novel. They have a cool “dare me” button that gives you little writing prompts such as “Write a scene that takes place in a house of mirrors.” or “Have one character have a sudden personality switch with another”. It’s a fun little way to get the juices going. You can also just google “writing prompts” to find some good ones. Have fun with it!

Buddy System

   Teamwork makes the dream work! NaNoWriMo has a cool feature where you can have a writing buddy with friends who are also doing NaNoWriMo, which is a fun way to help encourage each other or be a shoulder to cry on. One of my dear friends, Cassie, who’s also a writer has been doing NaNoWriMo for years and she’s been a great resource (she also made a book cover for me, because she’s the real MVP). My friend Kelsey is doing NaNoWriMo for the first time too. It’s just nice to not feel alone in my frustrations and have someone who is also going through this. NaNoWriMo also has forums where writers can talk to one another because, despite popular belief, writers are not solitary creatures, but communities.

Let Go and Have Fun

   I personally put so much pressure on myself, not only during NaNoWriMo but in my everyday professional life. When something I write isn’t perfect on the first try, or I don’t meet my word count, I beat myself up over it. You have to remember that NaNoWriMo is all about having fun. No one is reading your novel right now, no one is judging you but yourself. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words, it’s okay if you take a break or write something crappy. You can always write more words and it’s better to write something crappy and edit it later than to never write at all.

   For some more words of advice let’s talk to TravelPride’s own Editor and Weekly Columnist, Summer Kurtz. Summer has actually completed NaNoWriMo in the past. Here’s how she completed the writing challenge:

“I had to set a schedule/goal and really stick to it as closely as I could. I think I tried to do a certain number of words daily and if I didn’t quite hit that I had a weekly goal to try and meet or even exceed if possible. It really helped me to become a more disciplined writer but also learn not to beat myself up over not reaching every single goal. On days I got stuck I would write a couple hundred words on any other topic I felt like until my motivation returned.”

   Fantastic advice. How are doing in NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments and follow my own NaNoWriMo journey here. Remember: we’re all in this together!

Happy Writing!

 

Originally posted 2017-11-15 18:30:10.

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