Sunday 03 April 2011
For those of you who have been wondering why one minute I’m in Canada, then Venezuela, and the next in Trinidad and Tobago, here’s is a little run through of my travels, which went from surviving the cold winters of Northern Ontario, Canada, to enduring the hot, humid heat of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela and sweet Caribbean vibe in Trinidad.
I was raised in the small town of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario (population 6,000) where I enjoyed the great outdoors. My life consisted of camping, ice fishing, four wheeling, snowmobiling and joining as a team member of nearly every school sport available. For 16 years I also figure skated competitively and was a member of my university varsity team. For the figure skaters out there, I attained my quadruple gold. For the non figure skaters, this means completing the tests up to the gold level for all figure skating disciplines; dance, free-skate, skills and interpretive.
It was after my first year of schooling at The University of Guelph in Ontario that I decided to take part of my summer to travel through the beautiful country of Costa Rica, where I lived with a completely Spanish family (to my surprise!) and got to learn the Spanish pretty quickly. It was my first time being abroad by myself (apart from an exchange to Newfoundland), so it was quite an experience. I got to travel from coast to coast, give a helping hand in a sea turtle conservation project, experience the Costa Rican culture first hand, see the beautiful nature (CR is known for its ecology) and survive extreme sports, including class 4 white water rafting, zip-lining, horseback riding trough an organic coffee farm, visiting a volcano and playing with howler monkeys. This is when my passion for travelling began. Some of the other places I got a little taste of include Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and of course, the United States of America. I am hoping head overseas VERY soon!
Venezuela has been a huge part of my life. When I decided to go to Venezuela I first had to locate where it was on the map! No peeps, it is NOT in Africa! ;) I get that question much too often. When I first entered Venezuela in 2008 I was on a two-month (turned into three months) adventure tour where I was able to see and experience some of the most amazing scenery and meet some really cool people. I was mesmerized by the beauty of white sandy beaches, survived a ten day kayaking tour of the Amazon River (Orinoco Delta branch), endured a five day climb to the top of the highest table top mountain in the world (Roraima), camped on pretty Caribbean islands (where we had to hide from Pirates), got to experience my first of many backstage tours with the International Latin pop group Equilibrio, and enjoyed the company of great new friends from around the globe.
During this time,another huge change appeared in disguise. It’s funny how things REALLY do happen when you least expect them! I met my best friend, dance/Spanish/running partner, cuddling movie watcher, health food shopping buddy aka soul mate and current boyfriend, Stephan Subero a.k.a Trini and ex-Equilibrio Latin boy band member. Yes an interesting mix, I know! ;) I must say it all began as a fun “summer love” and somehow grew into a long distance, “Skype-call-me-everyday” type of relationship. I ended up staying in Venezuela for another month and the excuse I gave my parents was that I wanted to do the volunteer program (lie), although I did end up volunteering, which turned out to be a great experience of teaching local kids how to speak English, kayaking to the most beautiful beaches to clean them, and organizing events to help the less fortunate. My real reasonfor staying, of course, was my new Latin love! Every parents worse nightmare, just what they wanted to hear from their only little girl. Now, after three years, he is one of the top assets of my company Beyond Vitality, and the reason that my crazy journey from Canada to Venezuela, and then Trinidad, began. I could not be happier that we both endured the grueling time apart! It’s all worth it in the end if it means you can be with the one you love.
I did return do Canada to continue my studies at U of G in Applied Human Nutrition, but oddly enough, it was while in Venezuela, the following summer (while visiting Stephan), that I discovered and decided to attend The Institute of Holistic Nutrition, which is what changed my life for the better (along with my Latin boy), and when I developed my true passion for Holistic Health. I completed my education at IHN to become a Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP), and after a difficult international long-distance relationship for two years and travelling back and forth, I decided to pack up my bags, say “good bye” (for now) to my first-world country (wonderful Canada) and move to Venezuela.
Now I was finally back in the tropical sunshine, after my year of study at IHN, filled with the knowledge and confidence to begin my journey into creating my personal business, Beyond Vitality: Holistic Health, Nutrition & Fitness. But unfortunatley, there was a slight aspect missing to be able to cater to local people right away, SPANISH. My Spanish as a foreign language (third language) was good for conversation, but in the work field, I needed to get familiar with all the holistic health terms. The other part of the equation that was missing was the diversity of it's natural supplements. Yes there was an abundance of natural foods growing around me, but a serious lack of proper vegetarian options and raw superfoods. But if you look hard, you will always find. For that reason, Beyond Vitality started out as an online consulting practice, and grew to local clients overtime.
We began planning our strategy long before we actually launched Beyond Vitality. We are both new in the business aspect of the company. Nerdy like we are, we spent months self-educating ourselves, reading guides, watching webinars and researching the key concepts to running a successful and thriving small business. Part of the planning included the creation of our website/blog (thanks to Silverexe from Venezuela), building a strong presence in social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc), the creation of our corporate image and branding (thanks to Jermold Compton from Trinidad) and many glitches we had to work through for our business to expand. The one thing we came to realize is that when beginning a new business, weekends do NOT exist anymore! ;)
Now enough about business and back to the globetrotting! As I was saying...Venezuela has a rich and diverse culture. The diversity of natural environment gives the exotic country a uniqueness that is not easily seen anywhere else. You can find everything from the world's highest waterfall and tabletop mountain, snowcapped Andean mountain peaks, piranha and anaconda filled rivers, lush jungles, the Coro desert, and white-sandy beaches dotting one of the longest coastlines in the Caribbean. There is also rich cultural heritage stemming from the Carib, Warao, Guajiro and other native indigenous tribes. The typical Venezuelan foods include arepas, tequenos, hallacas (Christmas time), cachapas, platano, cassava/yucca and my favorite, empanadas, which are DELICIOUS, but not the healthiest when it comes to holistic nutrition standards. I tried to re-create a few of the traditional recipes to fit my healthier lifestyle, and they were still very delicious! Of course, the abundance of refreshing tropical fruit was the best part of living in a hot country! The fruits and vegetables I had no problem finding, but when it came to organic produce, it was far and between (although there IS in areas). Some locals simply looked at me strange if I asked for organic. Maybe I just wasn't using the proper term in Spanish though! ;) My bad! But we must consider the fact that many might grow their own produce, and simply avoid the hastle and expense of actually certifying their foods organic, as we do in Canada/USA/UK. The best option was buying from local farmers who do not use pesticides/herbicides, or having a home garden.
Well you must wonder why we chose to make our way on the ocean (small ferry with loud music!), away from Venezuela, to come live in Trinidad! The primary reason for the move was because of my condition, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and the low variety of vegetarian/natural health products, both for myself, and to suggest to clients. Other reasons, in my opinion, included some corruptness (small town girl from Canada is not accustomed; although there is corruptness in EVERY country), a bit of disorganization (I'm too much of a perfectionist) and lack of good employment opportunities/growth for business in the holistic health field SPECIFICALLY; simply because people are not aware about it yet. But it will happen. Although we do hear a lot about the crime and corrupness in Venezuela, it is actually not all that bad that it's made out to be. In my three years visiting Venezuela, never did I EVER experience theft, harassment or threats. Venezuelans are some of the kindest people on Earth! However, the country has changed a lot in the past 10 years, mostly because of the government (the people are still great). Importation of food has greatly diminished. The country has a small variety of importated foods, which I found difficult to give suggestions for my clients. The typical Venezuelan is slightly overweight (but as we are in Canada/USA/UK as well). Who blames them when close to everything is fried and white. I had to go through 2-4 grocery stores (sometimes) to find a whole wheat bread (not that wheat is even good). You can find it, but like I said, you must search. There where no restaurants (although we were not in the capital) with proper vegetarian options (except one DELICIOUS place), so that eliminated some outings for me (but I still managed). Nuts and seeds were very expensive, and I could not find any grains but white rice and wheat (except an occasional bag of brown rice). They are very big on red meats, fried foods, white bread and pastries. The current political situation, low variety of health foods and lack of natural supplements had me reconsidering my move to Venezuela. As a nutritionist, I base my quality of life on these aspects, but of course someone who is not as focussed on these would very much LOVE Venezuela. Everything I am stating is simply my OPINION, from the perspective of holistic health. I felt my condition getting worse day by day, and my optimism slowly decreasing. Although Venezuela was challenging for me to adapt to, because of various health factors, it is still a WONDERFUL place (so unique and different) that I would recommend for you to visit any day! I sure will be going back. I did in fact build an attachment to the country's many positive aspects and of course the poeple (and some foods).
Although I loved my experience in Venezuela, I did come to the conclusion that it wasn't the place for me to live (plus I love to travel and am not ready to settle anywhere just yet). After having done some research, and considering the fact that Stephan has dual citizenship (Venezuela/T&T), we made a spontaneous decision to pack up everything (again for me) and relocate to the beautiful islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Within two weeks we were gone. I became close to many of Stephan's family and friends in Venezuela, and as hard as it was for me to leave them, I'm sure it was even more difficult for him to leave the country he was raised in. The saddest part for me was that I had to leave my adorable little kitten Chia (I LOVE animals). She’s a small kitten we rescued from the street that turned out to be such a loving companion. Venezuela has wonderful people AND animals! ;) We had to leave her behind because she would have had to spend 6 months in quarantine here in T&T (not a life for a kitten). I became so attached to her, but I will visit often. Luckily we found her a good home and she’s being properly cared for.
We have been living in Port of Spain, Trinidad for almost two months, and loving every moment of it! I will gladly be going to visit Venezuela every few months, but not to live there anytime in the near future (perhaps when my company is more stable). However, Stephan and I do miss Venezuela, but now we are starting the new chapter to our book. Trinidad and Tobago, the land of Carnival, soca, colour, great food, natural beauty and a well developed active and health conscious society. From the moment we landed I have loved every aspect of T&T; perfect sunshine, beautiful beaches, laid back and caring people and as I said before, GREAT food! Can you tell that I love eating?! The rich African/Indian culture gives the country a huge variety of flavorful foods with great diversity of spices and herbs, as well as plenty of options for vegetarians/vegans. My favorite traditional foods (up to now) include roti, corn soup, doubles, callaloo, dumplings and the typical Trinidadian “Sunday Lunch”. However, some Trinis are very big on their fried chicken (largest KFC in the world). I have dragged Stephan into almost every natural shop/health food store in Trinidad! I was pleased to find many quality products and whole, natural foods. Some of the greatest places I stopped at were Live Green (natural and organic product store), Be Free Foods (organic grocery store), Whole Foods Market (organic dry food, produce and supplement store), as well as Sun Eaters Organics/New Earth Enterprise (vegan restaurant and small organic grocery store including dry foods and produce). I have yet to find them all, but I’ve been pleased with the ones I was able to discover! I am happy to say that once again, I feel GREAT!!!
During our time here we were able to spend a wonderful week of vacation seeing more of Trinidad, as well as the ecologically known island of Tobago. We stayed at a beautiful beach house called “The Naturalist” in Castara Bay. I cannot get ENOUGH of all the natural beauty here! Trinis are big on sustainability and very eco-friendly. They use a lot of herbs and other natural remedies to treat illnesses, which I love. Of course, I dragged everyone into a few natural shops in Tobago as well, where I purchased some great products, including sulfur soap (right from Trinidad’s world known Pitch Lake), natural toothpaste (fluoride and SLS free), and a few other goodies. We traveled round the entire perimeter of the island of Tobago, as well as some of its offshore islands, visiting many stunning locations such as Englishman’s Bay, Little Tobago (island off coast of Tobago), Bucco Reef and the famous Nylon Pool (so breath taking). The experience was simply amazing! We are definitely considering hosting a tropical health retreat in Tobago within the next year or two!
I have enjoyed my first experience Trinidad Carnival, which was a SPECTACULAR event; starting with Jouvert morning (4am grand opening for Carnival) and continuing with two days of masquerade in the streets of Port of Spain, where I learned how to “chip” and perfected my “wining” skills. I highly recommend you experience Carnival Trini style at least once in your lifetime! Come join me for Carnival 2012! I will be “playin mas”, full costume and everything!
For the next while, T&T is going to be my new home. I’ve started working as an on-site nutritionist for the organic store Live Green, where I am starting to see clients in my office inside the store. Janelle Xavier, a very health conscious and well-informed individual, manages Live Green. Stop by for a chat with her and the Registered Holistic Nutritionist (me) for some nutrition facts and to check out the variety of quality supplements, natural remedies and organic skin care/cleaning products we carry. Live Green will be expending a lot in the near future, so Trinis, please feel free to suggest products you would like for us to look into. We are here for YOU!
Some more travelling will be on my agenda in the near future, as well as Canada this Christmas. We love to discover the world’s many superfoods and to learn about traditional and alternative health practices in other cultures. Please follow us throughout our journey!
“The world is an apple and I want a huge bite of it!” – Stephan Subero (heard him saying that today…LOL!)