Product Review: BUFF Multifunctional Headwear

*The following review is my personal opinion only, and I was not paid or perked in any way by BUFF.*

What It Is:
The Original Buff Multifunctional Headwear is a stretchy piece of fabric tube that will change your life.  It is lightweight, breathable, easy to care for and functional.  It is a neck warmer, a face mask, a headband, a scrunchy, and so much more.

image: runoregonblog.com

image: runoregonblog.com

When I Used It:

Running in the Winter

Snowshoeing in Emerald Lake, BC

Traveling through Costa Rica

What I Love: 

-It comes in a variety of colours and prints

-It is quick-drying and both machine and hand-washable

-There are endless ways to wear it

-It packs down very small

Using my Buff as a face mask during some chilly winter Running

Using my Buff as a face mask during some chilly winter Running

What I Don’t Love: 

-I have found it challenging to wear some styles, like the Hood or the Balaclava while doing high-motion activities such as running without things slipping because my head and face are quite small

Where To Get It:

-Many outdoors & sports shops

-Online at buffcanada.com or buffusa.com

What It Costs:

-Approximately $25 CAD

Do you have a favourite running / travel / hiking accessory?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

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My Personal Experience and Healing at Peace Retreat Costa Rica

I arrived at Peace Retreat Costa Rica on an overcast Saturday afternoon.  My eyes were tired – I had been awake as a traveling insomniac for nearly 40 hours by the time I was met by the friendly face of retreat founder and owner, Kevin McQuillan, at the Liberia International Airport.  As we made the hour-plus journey to Peace Retreat, I was overwhelmed by the beauty all around me.  I have been blessed to have visited many beautiful places on this planet, but there is always something so special about those first few hours in a new country.

Arriving at Peace Retreat

Arriving at Peace Retreat

The previous evening, as my boyfriend, Sean, drove me to the Calgary International Airport, I cried.  In fact, I cried a few days before I left.  And for the entire two hours leading up to the moment that we left our apartment.  And then I cried as I said goodbye, and when I checked in for my flight…and then I cried all the way to Toronto.  It was safe to say that I was a bit of an emotional wreck by the time I arrived at Peace Retreat.  I was missing Sean, I was anxious to be traveling alone for the first time to somewhere so different, and I was fighting back the thoughts of the life I had left behind in Canada.

I took this teary photo in the departures terminal at the Calgary International Airport to remind myself how I was feeling when I began my journey.

I took this teary photo in the departures terminal at the Calgary International Airport to remind myself how I was feeling when I began my journey.

Before I begin, I want to explain how I am going to break down my experience at Peace Retreat.  It came to me right in the middle of my trip, during a restorative evening yoga class that Kevin was teaching.  His words were – “Honour yourself – Who you Were, Who you Are, and Who you’re Becoming.”  I smiled as I realized to myself that I had found the perfect way to describe the transformation I was experiencing at Peace Retreat.  Who I Was – the shaky, unstable person I left behind back home.  Who I Am – the person on that mat in Costa Rica, and everything she thought, felt, and experienced during her time there.  And – Who I’m Becoming – the constant transformation towards who I will be, and all of the lessons I will carry with me from Peace Retreat.

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WHO I WAS

Let me give you a quick peek into the baggage that I begrudgingly carried with me to Costa Rica.  Two years ago, I had no significant struggles – other than the basic stuff…scary student loans, awkward twenty-something adjustments to real life, remembering to feed my fish.  But in the last 24 months, my father and my best friend, revealed his long-term struggle with addiction, which led to the eventual destruction of my parents’ marriage, my family, and all of our lives as we knew them.

My entire foundation felt like it was gone.  I went from being the girl from the Okanagan whose parents were happily married and owned a beautiful house in the hills with a big fancy boat, to a girl who watched her father slowly slip away deeper and deeper into the depths of alcoholism until it felt like there was almost nothing left.  I watched my mother attempt to start fresh at 52 on her own, my baby sister struggle with challenges that nobody should ever have to, and everything I had ever felt solid about dissolve into thin air.

I could write for days, weeks even, about my Father’s illness and what it has done to him, to us, to me.  And maybe someday I will.  But the real reason I wanted to write this article is to give my readers a real, raw, transparent and authentic look into the ways that my 10 day solo retreat at Peace Retreat transformed – and healed – my broken spirit.

The moment I arrived at Peace Retreat itself will forever be etched into my memory.  As Kevin showed me to my room and provided a brief tour of the grounds, my heartbeat slowed from anxious and uneasy to relaxed and safe.  I knew right then that I had chosen the perfect destination for my solo retreat.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Flying into Costa Rica

Flying into Costa Rica

WHO I AM

During my 10 days at Peace, I pushed my personal limits in many ways.  I disconnected from most of technology, I forced myself to be social and meet new people, I challenged myself to try things that I was afraid of, and, most of all, I spent 10 days by myself – a great feat for someone who felt she had become a little too reliant on the strong foundation of her boyfriend back home.  During the first few nights, my anxiety was elevated, simply because I was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sounds.  After some time passed, I began to relax and enjoy the silence and solitude.

My days looked like this; I was usually awoken by the Howler Monkeys at about 5:30am.  I would typically get ready for the day, change into my yoga clothes, and then spend 10 – 15 minutes doing mantra meditation in my room.  I would then eat a light snack (usually fresh fruit) before yoga began at 7am.  Breakfast was served after yoga, around 8:30am, and then I had the entire day to fill my time however I wanted to before evening yoga at 5pm.

A Happy Face in Costa Rica

A Happy Face in Costa Rica

The yoga itself was transformational and healing.  Most days we practiced a slower, deeper vinyasa flow, which was a huge change from the fast-paced, calorie-torching classes I was used to taking back home.  These classes were challenging in an entirely different way.  The postures were held for longer, and the instructors were attentive and made adjustments to you as they needed to.  The evening classes were typically more restorative, and on several occasions emotional.  I was relieved to know that I wasn’t the only one who had ended several classes with tears flowing down the sides of my cheeks while I lay in Savasana.

When I wasn’t in yoga class, I would fill my days with poolside relaxation, reading, writing, journeys into town to buy groceries or to the beach, and self-guided meditation.  I spent one day zip lining, which was thrilling, challenging and empowering, a day in the nearby town of Tamarindo for some shopping and dinner with a few of the girls I had met, and an afternoon in a life-coaching style session with Kevin, where I was able to release a lot of the things I had been holding onto when I arrived at Peace.  I ate whole, healthful foods and drank no alcohol other than one fresh strawberry mojito in Tamarindo and the local beer I had on my last night.  With each passing day I began to feel lighter, as if some previous weight had been lifted.  I began sleeping better, meditating more deeply, and being more mindful of everything I did – including my yoga practise.  I found peace in stillness where I would formerly find unease.  I found relaxation in solitude where I would formerly find anxiety.  It was a beautiful transformation.

Sunset Beach Yoga

Sunset Beach Yoga

WHO I’M BECOMING

I have been home from Peace Retreat for 3 weeks now, and I cannot express my gratitude for the time I spent there enough.  Since returning home, I am a much more calm and mindful person.  I came home to a couple of rude awakenings – my car broke down the day I got back to Calgary and had to be taken in to the shop THREE times to fix the problem, costing me just shy of a thousand dollars.  The stress reaction in my shin returned when I began running again after 3 weeks of rest – meaning that I was to endure another devastating, lengthy period of no running.  And, most traumatic of all, my father ended up back in the hospital for complications due to his illness, and I was told that he may not survive this time.  I was on a plane a few days later to go and say what I thought were my final goodbyes.

Even though life has thrown me several harsh curve balls since returning home, I have been able to handle them all with ease and grace, and I know that I owe this behaviour to my time spent at Peace Retreat.  Experiences that would have formerly crippled me and left me panicking, crying and looking for someone to blame instead brought me to deep breathing and approaching the challenges in a new way.  And guess what?  This is a MUCH more peaceful way to live.

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The main things I learned at Peace Retreat were;

1. Solitude is a blessing, not an inconvenience.  Being peacefully alone with oneself is one of life’s greatest gifts.

2. You have no control over the world around you – you can only control your own reactions to the circumstances before you.

3. Your worth as a human being is not defined by the struggles of the people you love.  It is okay to distance yourself and create the person who YOU want to be instead.  This doesn’t mean that you don’t still love these people.  It just means that you will not let their choices determine your destiny.

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I envision myself headed towards a life filled with even more peace.  I aim to continue meditating through my favourite forms – mantra meditation, art and running – and to continue practicing yoga, but in a new way.  I used to see yoga as a workout…my intention was typically to get my heart rate going and burn lots of calories.  After spending time at Peace Retreat, I now see yoga as a way to connect inward to myself and as a meditative way to connect movement to breath.

I also plan to spend more time alone.  And not alone by laying on the couch watching Netflix and texting my friends…truly alone, in pure, quiet solitude – especially in nature.  My time in Costa Rica has also inspired me to do more solo travel.  It is such a beautiful and empowering thing, and you feel stronger and more confident every single day.  I actually currently have my sights set on Scotland – where I plan to visit one of the amazing girls that I met at Peace Retreat.

If you’re searching for answers, whatever your struggles may be, I hope that, instead of looking for them outside of yourself, you instead turn to seek them inside of yourself.  Whether you need to book a solo retreat to Costa Rica like I did, or go somewhere else, or just take a day to sit with yourself in the comfort of your own home, I promise that you will feel stronger, more peaceful and more balanced if you simply tune in to yourself and give yourself what you need.

You are always ready for Peace.

*Read my detailed review of the Peace Retreat Property here.*

*Interested in doing your own retreat at Peace?  Check out their upcoming retreat called Ready?  Shed!  Glow.  I wish I could go more than anything!*

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What To Wear for Winter Running

As many of you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of winter running.  I love the cool, crisp air, the fresh tracks in snow, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a run in sub-zero temperatures.  Lately, I have received a lot of questions about how I dress for these winter runs.
Shockingly, less is more when Winter Running, because our bodies warm up a surprising amount the second we start moving.  Here is a brief overview of how I will dress based on temperature (posted here in degrees celsius – sorry to my American readers!).
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0° to -5°
-Long Tights (my favourites are Lululemon Wunder Under Pants)
-Moisture Wicking Tank or Tee (my favourite – Lululemon Cool Racerback)
-Light Fleece or Athletic Jacket (my favourite – The North Face Glacier 1/4 Zip Fleece)
-Thin Athletic Socks
-Running Shoes
-5° to -12°
-Long Tights
-Moisture Wicking Tank or Tee
-Long Sleeve Top or Base Layer Top
-Light Fleece or Athletic Jacket (my favourite – The North Face Apex Bionic Jacket)
-Medium Athletic Socks
-Running Shoes
-Lightweight Gloves
-Earmuffs
-Face Cover  (my favourite – Buff Multifunctional Headwear)
-12° to -25°
-Base Layer Top and Bottoms
-Long Tights
-Fleece or Light Sweater
-Light Athletic Jacket
-Medium Athletic Socks
-Running Shoes
-Gloves
-Buff Multifunctional Headwear
-Earmuffs or Toque
-25° and below
This is where I draw the line.  I will opt for an indoor workout such as yoga or an hour at the gym instead.
Tips for Winter Running:
-Less is more.  Leave the bulky clothes at home.  As soon as you get moving, your body will warm up and you will not feel as cold.
-Stay close to home.  During a long run, consider several loops of a shorter route.  This way, you won’t freeze for long if you end up needing to walk home.
-Do your warm up inside so you can get running as soon as you get outside.
-Shower immediately after arriving home.  You’ll be surprised how much more you sweat when you run in the cold, and waiting too long to shower will likely result in catching a chill.
-Bring lip balm and a bank card in case you get injured and need to call for a ride home.
Tips for Running in Snow and on Ice:
-Expect slower times.  Your stabilizer muscles will be working harder on slippery surfaces and it’s not worth a fall to push yourself too hard.
-Run on snow when possible for better traction, but beware that there may be ice underneath.
-Invest in traction footwear like YakTrax for especially slippery days.
-Wear Moisture-Wicking socks.
What are your Winter Running must-haves?  Do you have any go-to indoor workouts for the extremely cold days?
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Playa Negra, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

In January of 2015, I spent 10 days on a solo retreat in the beautiful, funky little beach village of Playa Negra.  I went on this trip for some personal healing in a beautiful setting, but I was provided with so much more than that.  Below is a recap of my time in the town, along with recommendations on Where to Stay, What to Do, and Where to Eat!  The town itself only holds a population of about 200 people, so the selection is limited, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the food, lodging and services offered.

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Where to Stay

My opinion here is obviously biased, because I had the most incredible stay at Peace Retreat during my 10 days in Costa Rica.  (Read more about that experience here.)  I would absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend Peace Retreat first for just about anyone traveling to Playa Negra.  The relaxed vibe, jungle setting, and comforts of home make this an ideal retreat destination.  And the twice daily yoga classes don’t hurt either!

Peace Retreat

Peace Retreat

For those of you looking for a more central, beach-front location right in town, I would recommend checking out Hotel Playa Negra.  I never actually went into the hotel, but I met a few people who were staying there and they had wonderful things to say.  The location couldn’t be more central, is just steps from the beach, and there is a big pool and restaurant on-site that is open seven days a week.

What to Do

1. Playa Negra

Made famous by the 1994 film Endless Summer II, Playa Negra boasts some of the best surf in the country.  Named for its black sand that can be found on the shoreline, Playa Negra is a rugged, earthy, laid-back beach.  There are a few trees if you want to lay in the shade, but otherwise the beach is vast and wide-open.  In January, it wasn’t busy at all, although I did catch word that this isn’t always the case in the busier months.  Bring a beach blanket and waste the day away dozing in the sun, or rent a surf board or paddle board from one of the surf shops just steps from the beach.  Make sure you stay for the sunsets – they are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen!

Playa Negra

Playa Negra

Playa Negra Sunsets

Playa Negra Sunsets

2. Morning Yoga at Peace Retreat

Peace Retreat offers daily yoga classes that are open to the public Monday-Saturday at 7am, and Sunday at 8am.  Entrance is by cash donation, and if you don’t have your own mat, there are plenty available to borrow.  The studio is stunning – walled by screens so that you can enjoy the gorgeous jungle surroundings, sounds, and a gentle breeze.  Be sure to bring your own water bottle and an open mind!  Classes are typically an hour long and are suitable for all levels, even if you’re brand new to yoga.

Peace Retreat Yoga Studio

Peace Retreat Yoga Studio

3. Ziplining with Pura Aventura

I spent a half-day on a Canopy Zipline Tour with Pura Aventura, and it was one of the highlights of my entire time in Costa Rica.  We were picked up from our accommodation, transported to the centre where we met up with the rest of our group, briefed in safety and use of the ziplines, and then guided through 11 incredible ziplines high above the jungle canopy.  The guides were friendly and hilarious, but most importantly they were safety-oriented and extremely competent at what they were doing.  It was the best $50 I spent in Costa Rica.

Ziplining in Guanacaste

Ziplining in Guanacaste

4. Mangrove Paddleboarding

This isn’t actually something that I did during my time in Costa Rica, mostly because I just ran out of time, but it looked absolutely amazing.  I met two fellow travel bloggers at Peace Retreat, Christian and Kevin from WNY Expeditioners, who made a really impressive Video Blog about their experience.  Check it out here.

5. Day Trip to Tamarindo

Tamarindo is about 45 (give or take depending on the roads) minutes away from Playa Negra, and is definitely worth the trip if you’re looking to break up your quiet, contemplative beach time.  Tamarindo is much more populated and a lot busier than Playa Negra.  The population of the actual town is only around 500, but can swell to closer to 5,000 during busy tourist times.  You’ll find lots of shopping, several restaurants and bars, busy beaches, tons of tour companies and an abundance of friendly locals, expats and tourists.  We arrived around noon and left around 9pm which gave us plenty of time to explore, shop, stop for lots of drinks, eats and treats and take in yet another beautiful sunset.

Tamarindo Sunset

Tamarindo Sunset

Where to Eat

1. La Ventana

The closest restaurant to Peace Retreat, La Ventana is the “Starbucks” of Playa Negra.  Incredible coffee, tea, and a breakfast and lunch menu that features fresh, healthy items such as vegetarian curries, nourishing stir-frys, hearty breakfast burritos and organic baked goods.  There is also a small cooler in the shop that retails items such as raw honey, goat’s milk yogurt, and bunches of organic kale.

Rice Noodle Stir Fry at La Ventana

Rice Noodle Stir Fry at La Ventana

2. Jalapeño Taco Grill

Located on the main street in Playa Negra, Jalapeño Taco Grill was a place that I visited many times during my stay in Costa Rica.  ‘Home of the $2 Taco’ (beef or chicken, fish is an extra $1), Jalapeño has an extensive menu that features fresh Mexican items such as tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, fresh guacamole and homemade salsa, and delectable fresh fruit smoothies.  My personal favourites were the $3 Fish Tacos (made with fish that the owner had just caught that morning and was cleaning out back when we arrived), the Beef Burrito, and the Coco Loco smoothie.

$3 Fish Taco

$3 Fish Taco

3. Cafe Playa Negra

Cafe Playa Negra is also right on the main street in town, and is open for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner daily.  They serve Peruvian food, which I knew nothing about before I ate here, but I can now say is probably one of my favourite types of Cuisine.  Think tons of fresh fish and seafood, beef and chicken, lots of vegetables, legumes, corn, potatoes and rice.  Oh – and killer ceviche.  If you’re apprehensive to try the unique Peruvian dishes, there are also many international menu items such as burgers and fries that will satisfy you.  Be sure to order dessert – the cheesecake and lemon meringue pie were amazing.

Seafood Feast at Cafe Playa Negra

Seafood Feast at Cafe Playa Negra

4. Villa Deevena 

I never ate at Villa Deevena, and I am pretty sure I will regret it for the rest of my life.  Located a little off the main road in Playa Negra (closer to Peace Retreat), Villa Deevena is a world-class dining experience that people come from all over Guanacaste to enjoy.  A few of the people I met during my travels had the pleasure of eating here, and they had nothing but incredible things to say.  Prices are higher than the average price of dinner in Costa Rica, but well worth it for the exquisite entrees.  Reservations are recommended.

"Downtown" Playa Negra

“Downtown” Playa Negra

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Mud Hero

Race: Mud Hero 6km Obstacle Race

Location: Canyon Ski Resort, Red Deer, AB

Length: 6km

Date: August 10, 2014

Finishing Time: 1:18:36

Zoomphoto Inc Event Photography

Mud Hero was the kind of race you signed up for in the winter months and then completely forgot about until it was only a few weeks away. We didn’t properly train for it, other than running up to 5k at a lazy pace in preparation. There were several serious runners who were there to race, there were people like us who were there to challenge themselves and try something new, and there were people there who looked as though they had little to no running or obstacle experience, and were just there for a good, muddy time. This is the beauty of Mud Hero.

Still Clean!

Still Clean!

Getting Ready to Go

Getting Ready to Go

And They're Off!

And We’re Off!

That being said, if you aren’t one of the first ones out of the start gate, prepare to spend a lot of time waiting in line for certain obstacles. The course is made up of 15 obstacles in total (they may be adding more in years to come) and includes everything from inflatable slides into mud pits, running overtop of junk cars, balance beams, fireman’s poles and climbing walls. It was pretty incredible to witness the teamwork that went on during this race. Sean was a few seconds ahead of me, and I found myself stuck on one obstacle where I had to hoist myself over a backwards-angled wall that was about as high as my shoulders, and after my third attempt, a stranger behind me who could obviously sense my stress grabbed my butt and helped push me over the wall. I yelled “thank you” as I ran off ahead of her, and I never saw her again. That’s just the type of race it is…strangers grabbing other strangers’ butts all in the name of teamwork.  And mud.

Won't be clean anymore...

Won’t be clean anymore…

Sean Running over the Junk Cars

Sean Running over the Junk Cars

Balance Beam

Balance Beam

Coming up the Big Hill

Coming up the Big Hill

We've been Spotted

We’ve been Spotted

Our finishing time was only a few minutes faster than the average finishing time of almost 1200 people who raced on the same day we did. You will be given a race bib, a timing chip, and a T-Shirt, plus a drink ticket for the beer gardens afterwards, (shoutout to Alley Kat Breweries for providing the most amazing post-race beer of my life!) and a variety of other swag that differs from year to year. Mud Hero is an awesome event for rookies and serious athletes alike, but remember that it is still considered a “fun run” and is not quite as serious as something like Tough Mudder or a Spartan Race.

Mud...

Mud…

More Mud...

More Mud…

The Mud Continues…and Sean is caught observing the Muddy Cleavage

The Mud Continues…and Sean is caught observing the Muddy Cleavage

As far as post-race cleanup goes, there was essentially a large hose suspended above with holes poked in it so that a bunch of runners could rinse off at the same time.  Don’t expect to get too clean doing this, but do try to get the big chunks of things in the mud off (and out) of you.  One of my friends actually found that she had a large earthworm on her chest once she began to rinse off.  You never know what you’ll find!

Sean's pockets are full of mud at this point and his pants won't stay up.

Sean’s pockets are full of mud at this point and his pants won’t stay up.

Climbing the Wall

Climbing the Wall

Rope Crossing

Rope Crossing

Annnd we're coming down!

Annnd we’re coming down!

Tips:

-If you’re serious about completing this race in an impressive time, pick the earliest wave available and get to the front of the start line. Most of our time was wasted by waiting in line for obstacles.

-If you can, bring shoes that you can throw out after the race. Clothes will come clean after a few washes, but I never was able to get my shoes back to 100%, and ended up trashing them a few weeks later.

– Wear as little clothing as possible, and pick something without pockets. Things like multiple layers, pockets, sports bras, and hoods will collect heavy, wet mud, and slow you down substantially.

-Be careful when crawling through the mud or tubes or anything else – I found quite a few safety pins from race bibs open and pointed straight up that would have gone right through my hands and knees if I hadn’t been paying attention.

-Don’t stress about cleaning up afterwards too much. I was lucky just to pull the twigs, leaves and rocks out of my cleavage and butt crack (in front of 100+ strangers, sexy…) and wring the mud out of my shirt. A clean change of clothes for the beer gardens and the drive home are a good idea, but you won’t actually feel clean until you can have a proper shower.  Or 12.

The Home Stretch!

The Home Stretch!

We Did It!

We Did It!

Every Hairstylist's Nightmare.

Every Hairstylist’s Nightmare.

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Six Tips for Staying Motivated to Run

During the first few months of your running journey, there will be times that you won’t feel like heading outside to pound the pavement.  Here are my Top Six Tips for Staying Motivated during this crucial time as a new runner.  (as featured on the RMS Women’s Run Blog)

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1. Register for a Race (or several!)

Putting the money down for a race and writing a date on the calendar is one of the best ways to stay motivated!  As soon as you’ve made a solid commitment to running, it’s a good idea to register for something like a 5k or a fun run within a few months.  Counting down to race day will get you moving on those tough days when you’d rather stay in bed.

2. Use an app like MapMyRun

Any app that tracks and logs your running and allows you to follow and add friends will be a fantastic tool for motivation.  I can’t count the number of times that I have not felt like running, only to get a notification on my phone telling me that one of my friends just completed X Kilometres.  It pushes me to head out the door.

3. Set Goals and ‘Run Rewards’

Set realistic goals, and allow yourself rewards when you reach them.  I treat myself to different things at the end of every 100 km that I log – such as a new workout top or a massage.

4. Get Social

Use social media such as Instagram, Facebook or Bloglovin’ to stay in touch with the running community in your area!  Through photos, videos, advice and words of encouragement, the inspiration and support found in the online running community is incredible.

5. Find a Buddy

Running with a friend, spouse, partner or running club will keep you accountable.  Just make sure that you find a buddy who is around the same level as you so you don’t get discouraged in the beginning.

6. Stick to a Schedule

Whether you’re training for a marathon or are just trying to run for 30 consecutive minutes, setting and sticking to a schedule is crucial.  I typically write a rough schedule for the next 3-4 months (depending on my goals) and then write a detailed, structured, day-by-day schedule every two weeks.  Treat it like a job – if it’s on the calendar, you have to show up!

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What are some of the ways that you stay motivated to run?

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IVHQ Bali FAQ

Back in April, I posted an article called “An Honest Review – My Volunteer Experience With IVHQ & Green Lion Bali”.  This post has been, by far, the single most visited page on this entire blog to date.  I receive several emails every week with questions regarding this program after people read this post, and, while I love to hear from all of you, I thought I would put together a FAQ page with some of the most commonly asked questions – simply to further provide future IVHQers with some good information.

If your questions still remain unanswered after reading this post, please feel free to contact me via email!

Penestanan is Beautiful.

Penestanan is Beautiful.

 

IVHQ BALI FAQ

Did You Feel Safe?

I felt safe 99.9% of the time.  Ubud and Penestanan are very safe places to travel…even for women traveling alone.  However – you can expect to feel slightly uncomfortable at times if you haven’t traveled to a place like Bali before.  There are strange sights, sounds, and smells.  People can be pushy.  Homes do not have high-tech locks and alarm systems like they might in the West.  The road systems are very different, and the craziness of the drivers will make your heart skip a beat at first.  If there is a time that you truly feel unsafe, be sure to let the Green Lion staff know, or, if it comes down to it, get in touch with the IVHQ office.  I highly doubt it would ever come to that, though.  Once you adjust to life in Penestanan, you will be quite relaxed.  (Click here to read “What I Wish I Knew About Penestanan“)

A photo I took from the backseat of the car of the traffic on our way from the airport to the volunteer house.

A photo I took from the back seat of the car of the traffic on our way from the airport to the volunteer house.

What Were The Other Projects Like?

We participated in the Teaching English Programme, so that is the only first hand experience I received with IVHQ Bali.  When it comes to other projects, the only ones I knew people in were Construction and Turtle Conservation.  

The Construction volunteers loved their projects, and, to be completely honest, I would probably participate in the Construction Programme if I could do it all again, simply because I feel like I may have been able to make more of a difference in the short two weeks that I had in Bali.  

The Turtle Conservation volunteers also really enjoyed their projects.  They were with us for the first week of orientation, and then they went to the island of Nusa Penida to work with the turtles.  The only semi-negative thing that they had to say is that Nusa Penida is ridiculously remote.  IVHQ is very flexible – if you have the time, you could always do the Turtle Conservation project for a week, and then participate in another project on the mainland for the duration of your stay.

How Much Money Did You Spend Per Week?

This question is tough, because obviously it depends what you want to do during the week and during your time off on the weekend.  We spent a moderate amount of money – eating most of our meals at the volunteer house (which was included in our fee), but we did eat out for a few meals (like Ibu Rai), spent some time at Kopi Desa Cafe (coffee, drinks, food and wifi), spent some mornings at The Mansion Pool ($3 per person), did a guided weekend hike of Mount Batur (about $30 per person), and had a half-day at the Midas Spa ($50).  Throughout our two weeks, we probably spent about an extra $150 each.  Some people spent less, some people spent more, but I would say that you could expect to spend around $50 – $150 per one week - more if you plan a weekend excursion to the Gili Islands, etc.  (Click Here to see a list of my favourite things to do in Ubud)

Which Vaccines / Prescriptions Did You Get?

We were lucky because our vaccinations and prescriptions were covered by our healthcare plan, so we played it really safe and got everything that was recommended to us, except for Rabies.  (I just had to promise not to snuggle every single dog like I do here in Canada.)

The Vaccines / Prescriptions we got were…

-Hepatitis A Vaccine

-Hepatitis B Vaccine

-Diphtheria Vaccine

-Dukoral Oral Vaccine(Protects from Cholera and Traveler’s Diarrhea)

-Tetanus Vaccine

-Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine (requires two separate shots)

-Azithromycin (Medication to have on hand in case of Bacterial Infection in the stomach – ie. Bali Belly – we never had to use this)

We did NOT get…

-Yellow Fever Vaccine (Not required unless you have been in a Yellow Fever Risk Country)

-Rabies Vaccine (Recommended but we decided against it)

-Malaria Medication 

What Did You Do With Your Valuables?

The only valuables I brought with me were my iPod, cash, camera and passport.  While the volunteer houses are fairly safe, there are a lot of people coming and going throughout the day, and it would be wise to bring a lock for your backpack or suitcase for while you’re out, just in case.  At the end of the day, a bag lock isn’t going to stop someone from ripping into your pack, but it will at least give you some peace of mind.  Try to keep valuables with you when you can, and always carry a photocopy of your passport in case something happens to it.  However, as I have said already, Penestanan is a pretty safe place, and I’d be very surprised to hear that something was ever stolen from the volunteer house.

What Kind Of Clothing Should I Pack? 

Lightweight, quick-dry clothing is best for Bali.  You will be hot, sweaty, and sometimes wet, with limited access to laundry facilities.  Volunteer Travel is not a fashion show.  I mostly wore activewear and outdoor brands such as Nike, Lululemon and Columbia.  You’ll want one or two nice outfits for dinners out, good walking/hiking shoes, comfy clothes for relaxing at the house, and clothes that cover your shoulders and knees for teaching and temple visits.  During volunteer week, you are welcome to wear shorts and tank tops.

I Am Traveling Alone.  Will I Meet People Easily?

Yes.  I have never seen a group of people become as close as our volunteer group did.  It’s been almost a year since we all met, and I have them all on Facebook…several of them have actually traveled to meet up with each other again since then!   Sean and I mostly did our own thing, but most of the other volunteers were traveling alone, and they bonded instantly.  People are friendly, open, and usually in the same boat – the beautiful thing about Solo Travel is that you’re only ever as alone as you want to be.

Our Volunteer Group after the Mount Batur Hike

Our Volunteer Group after the Mount Batur Hike

Do You Feel Like You Actually Made A Difference?

This is always a difficult question to answer.  We were in Bali for two weeks on the Teaching English programme, and the entire first week was dedicated to orientation, so we were actually only teaching in a classroom for a week.  I felt like I was able to connect with certain students, and I was definitely excited when I was able to teach them something, but I think my overall impact would have been greater if I had had more time with the kids.  Like anything, you get out of this experience what you put into it, so if you are passionate and driven to make a significant difference in two weeks, then I am confident that you will.  However, for me personally, if I could do it again, I would focus on a program such as Construction and Renovation so that the difference I was making would be more immediately visible.  But everybody is different.  You will know what to do.

Should I Bring A Lot Of Cash, Or Are ATMs Plentiful?

Bring a little bit of Indonesian Rupiah if you can, just because you’ll be a bit disoriented during your first few days.  However, once you get the lay of the land, it’s very easy to walk to one of the several ATMs located in Ubud.  They’re easy to use and the fees aren’t ridiculously high.  We took additional cash out twice during our two weeks in Bali.

I Am An Older Volunteer.  Will There Be Anyone My Age?

Hopefully!  During our two weeks in Bali, we met 4 ladies who were all over 40 and traveling solo.  It was actually pretty cool to see how some of them gravitated towards women their own age, and some of them were eager to mix in with the younger volunteers.  If you’re concerned about having your own space as a mature volunteer, you may want to consider the private accommodation option, which is where 3 out of 4 of the older women we met were staying.

How Does The Airport Pickup Situation Work?

For us, the airport pickup went very smoothly.  Well, mostly smoothly.  Sean and I were greeted by a very friendly man named Jefri (with our names and “IVHQ” written on a sign), but we did have to wait around for almost an hour for another volunteer who arrived on the same flight as us, but, unfortunately, her luggage did not.  This was nobody’s fault, though.  Jefri helped us with our luggage to his vehicle and then transported us right to our front door of the volunteer house in Penestanan.  We adored him so much that we used him as our driver several more times throughout our stay in Bali!

A picture Sean snapped from the back of a moped in Penestanan (PS - nobody will force you to ride a moped if you don't want to!)

A picture Sean snapped from the back of a moped in Penestanan (PS – Nobody will force you to ride a moped if you don’t want to!)

Hopefully you found this FAQ article helpful.  Please contact me directly if you have any further questions, or if you feel like there’s anything I missed!

Happy Adventuring!

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Adventure To Anywhere Turns 1!

On February 4, 2014, I started a blog without any real aim other than to share my travels and adventures with my friends and family.  Now, just one short year later, I am truly so humbled to see what has become of my little blog.  It now has thousands of followers throughout several platforms, has been featured on various other blogs and websites, and has even led me to a dream that I never believed I’d be able to achieve – being paid to write.

I’d like to take this opportunity to do something that I wouldn’t otherwise do; gloat about how amazing the accomplishments of this little brainchild of mine are…because I am truly so proud of what this blog has become.

The First Photo ever uploaded to adventuretoanywhere.com

The First Photo ever uploaded to adventuretoanywhere.com

The Highlights of Adventure To Anywhere’s First Year

1. Traveling to Asia

The original reason I began writing this blog was to share my experiences while I was traveling through Asia.  The 5 weeks Sean and I spent on our journey were some of the most memorable and life-changing days of my life.  From teaching english in Bali to spending a day with rehabilitated elephants in Chiang Mai, the moments recorded on this blog will be held in my heart forever.

Me and Lily at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Me and Lily at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

2. Being Featured on other Blogs

I’ll never forget the day that I received my first email offer for a guest blogger position on another blog.  Since then, I have been lucky enough to be featured on 5 other blogs, including the Calgary Herald opinion page.  I feel blessed beyond belief to have been offered these opportunities.  To see a full list of Adventure To Anywhere’s Recognitions and Portfolio, click here.

3. My First Paid Writing Gig

Within the first 6 months of Adventure To Anywhere’s life, I received my first offer for a paid writing position with Minube.net.  I am still writing for Minube today, as well as other people and companies who offer either monetary compensation or an exchange of some sort.  The fact that people see actual monetary value in my writing still blows my mind, and I am so grateful.

4. Connecting with so many Amazing People

Through the community of travel, adventure, lifestyle and fitness bloggers, I have met some of the most incredible and inspiring human beings that this world has to offer.  I receive emails daily from people all around the globe reaching out with questions about general travel, specific places I have gone, or programs I have participated in.  This has always been my dream – to help and to inspire others.  Knowing that I am able to do this warms my heart more than I can possibly put into words.

New Friends in Costa Rica

New Friends in Costa Rica

5. Incorporating Running & Lifestyle Articles

As many of you have probably noticed recently, I have been incorporating articles related to Running and Lifestyle into this blog.  Because Adventure To Anywhere started mainly as a Travel and Adventure blog, I was a little bit nervous to make this transition.  But the support I have received has been unbelievable, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to share a wide range of things I am passionate about – and inspire others along the way.

6. Solo Travel to San Diego & Costa Rica

The more I read, wrote and experienced life as a Travel Blogger, the stronger and more confident I began to feel.  Taking the leap into Solo Travel took a lot of guts for me – especially during such a challenging personal year for me.  (More about that later.)  Through the support and the inspiration of the blogging community, I found my confidence to travel solo for the first time in my life, first to San Diego, and then on a 10-day retreat to Costa Rica.  Those experiences have changed my life in such a profound way, and I probably never would have been brave enough to experience them otherwise.

Taking in the beauty of Balboa Park in San Diego

Taking in the beauty of Balboa Park in San Diego

7. Growth in Readership

In just 365 short days, Adventure To Anywhere has managed to build a following of 802 subscribed followers of the Blog itself, 1687 authentic followers on Instagram, 133 Twitter followers, and 147 Facebook Fans.  I still find it hard to believe that there are THAT many people who actually take the time to acknowledge what I post.  I know these numbers aren’t ridiculously high, but I am still pretty freaking proud.  You guys rock.

Backpacking in Waterton

Backpacking in Waterton

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each and every one of you.  Whether you have been following Adventure To Anywhere since day one or this is the first post you’ve read, YOU are the reason for its success.  I would not be who I am without this blog, and this blog would be nothing without all of you incredible readers.  I get to do what I love because of you.

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Reasons I Run

The other day, I was reading an article in Runner’s World Magazine about ways to stay motivated to run.  (So far, motivation hasn’t been a problem for me – I am a full blown addict.)  One of the tips suggested that you make a small list of reasons why you run, and keep it close to your heart at all times, especially during those days that are especially challenging.  The article even suggested writing the list down and putting it somewhere that you will be able to see it every day.

What is it that makes you head out in freezing winter temperatures to pound out a long run?  What inspires you to wake up at the crack of dawn and lace up your shoes?  What motivates you to move when your body is begging you for rest?

I wanted to share with you the reasons why I run.  I think it is important to check in with yourself every now and then and remind yourself why you do what you do.

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1. I Run for Stress Release & Meditation

I truly believe that running is the most incredible form of moving meditation in the world.  I practice all kids of meditation – traditional meditation, mantra meditation, artistic meditation – but running grounds me like nothing else.  Spending an hour listening to your breath and your feet pounding the pavement is therapeutic in itself, and the endorphins don’t suck either!

Running in California

Running in California

 

2. I Run for Weight Loss & Management

This one is no secret.  The majority of runners I have met first began their running journeys as a way to lose excess weight – running burns a ridiculous amount of calories.  I have struggled with my weight and body image throughout my entire life, and running provides me a consistent outlet to help me manage this.

 

3. I Run to Experience a Sense of Community and Build Relationships

Have you ever met someone, and somehow find out that they are a runner, and you instantly become best friends – sharing running tips and stories for hours at a time?  Running quickly creates a sense of community – especially during organized races or in running clubs.  There is just something about a large group of like-minded individuals coming together who all paid a significant sum of money to run a ridiculous distance and completely exhaust themselves.  The bond is actually quite incredible.

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4. I Run to Improve my Long-Term Health & Fitness

Running makes me feel amazing.  I have more energy, better posture, I eat healthier food, I stay hydrated all the time, I sleep well, and I almost always maintain a positive outlook – no matter what life throws at me.  Running works wonders on heart health, bone and muscle health, overall physical health, and mental health, too.  What’s not to love?

 

5. I Run to Feel a Sense of Accomplishment

Nothing can compare to the feeling of setting a new PR, completing a new distance, or crushing 15 kilometres while most of the world is still asleep.   Having a collection of medals, race bibs, photos from events and amazing memories can do a lot for a person’s confidence, especially on days when you’re not feeling 100%.

 

6. I Run to Kill My Inner Critic

My inner critic is a sneaky bitch.  She can come out of nowhere, spitting venom – telling me that I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not motivated enough, NOT ENOUGH in general.  I can’t stand her.  In the past, I’ve let her own me.  She’s taken over my heart and my soul and kept me from doing amazing things.  But when I run, she has no power.  Her words come and go, sliding like water off a duck’s back.  I prove her wrong every day.  She will never own me as long as I run.

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7. I Run for Strength

Running makes me strong – mentally and physically – but mostly mentally.  When faced with day to day issues, heartbreaks, devastations and obstacles, I often find myself thinking back to the last major challenge I overcame in my running life.  And, when I remember how strong I had been then, I can muster up the strength to face whatever is in front of me in that moment.  And it works the opposite way, too – when I’m on a long run and I feel like I can’t possibly put one foot in front of the other for another second – I often like to think back to all of the things life has thrown at me, and remind myself just how strong I am.  If I was able to get through my past, then I can get through the next few miles.

 

8. I Run to Celebrate what I have Overcome

Running is like a celebration – especially racing.  Your heart is full when inspiration is all around you.  You see and meet people running who have overcome or are still battling horrible disease, people who are running through loss and heartbreak, and people who are running just to prove to themselves that they can.  We all have something to celebrate – whether it’s our health, our sobriety, our defeated struggles or just simply our love for running.  And our love for running, in return, brings us a love for life.

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Winter Running can be Beautiful…

 

 

Why do you run?  I invite all of you fellow running bloggers to continue this project and write a list of the reasons why YOU run.  Let’s work to continue to inspire ourselves and each other!

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Peace Retreat Costa Rica Review

IMG_1169 In January of 2015, I had the absolute pleasure of spending 9 nights on a solo, personal retreat at Peace Retreat in the town of Playa Negra, Costa Rica – located in the province of Guanacaste, just over an hour from the Liberia International Airport.  I originally discovered Peace Retreat through my community on Instagram – and after weeks of research and a little convincing from my friends, I decided to book my stay.

The following article is a review of Peace Retreat’s accommodations, grounds, services and yoga studio.  The owner and I did work out an exchange of compensation for these articles, but as always, the opinions here are honest, authentic, and 100% my own.

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The Accommodations

Peace Retreat offers a variety of accommodations, including 4 private rooms in the main house, Casa Yoga, that can occupy between 1-6 guests, depending on which room you choose.  Every suite includes its own private bathroom, storage space, and safe, and the top floor suite also includes a private kitchen and sky deck.  Rates for these rooms range from $80 – $95, and an additional $20 will be added for additional occupants.

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Casa Yoga through the trees

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Om Room

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Om Room

Om Room

Om Room

Om Room

Deck on the second floor

There are also 6 Teakwood Jungle Cabinas on site, which each contain two single beds, storage space, and a safe.  The Cabinas offer access to the community washroom area, which includes several private toilets, showers, and sinks.  The Jungle Cabinas cost $60 per night, with a $15 charge for an additional occupant.

Jungle Cabinas

Jungle Cabinas

During my stay at Peace Retreat, I was accommodated in the Om Room on the second floor in Casa Yoga.  It was beautiful, with a queen bed and a single bed, private bathroom, large dresser and desk, electric safe, ceiling fan, and lots of windows for natural light and a nice breeze at night.  This room could comfortably sleep 3 people.

 

The Grounds & Space

Peace Retreat’s property is large and beautiful – nestled amongst the Tropical Desert of the Nicoya Peninsula.  There are plenty of trees, plants, and creatures such as Iguanas, Geckos, Large Grasshoppers and – yes – big Spiders!  (Don’t worry, during my entire 9 night stay I never found anything in my room other than a few cute little geckos!)

On site you will find a 24-hour access pool, a community kitchen with a fridge, freezer, stovetop and oven, sink, and all cookware and utensils, a public washroom facility, dining and hammock area, free wifi, laundry facilities, a beautiful screened yoga studio with a 70-mat capacity, and a  telephone for local calls.  The staff at Peace Retreat will also be happy to help you arrange activities, shuttles or spa services.

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Peace Retreat Pool

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Buddha Statues

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Seating Area

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Hammock Area

 

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The Community Kitchen

The property is located 15 minutes from “downtown” Playa Negra, which is home to a few restaurants, shops and grocery stores, and just 20 minutes from Playa Negra itself – a beautiful, uncrowded beach perfect for swimming, snorkelling, surfing or suntanning.

Playa Negra

Playa Negra

 

The Services & Offerings

Peace Retreat offers a wide variety of Retreat options, ranging from accommodation only to Yoga and Surf Retreats to Detox and Wellness Retreats.  (See a full list of Retreat Offerings here.)

Peace Retreat also has an amazing volunteer program.  There are two options – a 3 hour per day volunteer option which grants the ability to stay at Peace Retreat for only $15/night, or a 6 hour per day option which grants free accommodation.  I met many of the Peace Retreat volunteers (lovingly referred to as “PeaceKeepers”) during my stay, and they all had wonderful things to say about the program.  Duties of a PeaceKeeper include cleaning, general maintenance of the property, taking care of guests, and utilizing special, individual skills for projects such as teaching yoga or working on social media and marketing, just to name a few examples.

Your stay at Peace Retreat can be as action-packed or as relaxing as you want it to be.  There is a lot of freedom to plan your own activities – whether you want to make day trips to the nearby towns of Tamarindo or Santa Cruz, take Surf Lessons, go zip lining, horseback riding or paddle boarding, soak up a spa experience, participate in life-coaching sessions, or just lounge by the beautiful pool and catch up on your reading.  The Staff of Peace Retreat are available to help you plan whatever it is that you want to experience during your stay.

The Yoga

There are two daily yoga classes offered at Peace Retreat in their beautiful Studio De Paz – one at 7am (8am on Sundays), which is open to the general public and suitable for all levels, and one at 5pm, which is generally a more restorative class and is not normally advertised to the public.  Most classes are 60 minutes, although there were a few that were 90 minutes, and are taught by a variety of instructors including PeaceKeepers who also happen to be certified yoga teachers, local yoga teachers from Playa Negra and area, and Kevin, the owner of Peace Retreat.  Unless you are on a Yoga Retreat Package, yoga classes are by donation.

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Studio De Paz

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Studio De Paz

 

It was a very humbling experience to take part in these daily yoga classes, and to see beginners, advanced students, locals, volunteers and guests alike come together as one for a beautiful 60 minutes of practice.  The studio has plenty of mats, blocks, straps and props – however, if you are able to bring your own yoga setup, it is recommended that you do.

The studio itself is positively stunning.  You’ll be able to feel a refreshing breeze through the screened walls and spend your savasana listening to the jungle life around you.  On many occasions I had to pinch myself to make sure I was actually there.

Tips & Advice

-If you are uneasy about the critters that you will undoubtedly come across in the jungle, I would recommend booking a room in Casa Yoga on the second or third floor, as opposed to the Jungle Cabinas.  While all windows are screened, bugs do sometimes find their way in, and you will be much less likely to find anything in your room if you are higher up.  Also, most of the scariest critters (such as tarantulas) come out after dark, so if you are paranoid like I was during my first few days, just plan to be in your room before 9pm.

One of the large grasshoppers I encountered during my stay

One of the large grasshoppers I encountered during my stay

-Bring a few basic food items with you, especially if you plan to arrive late in the afternoon.  You’ll likely be hungry after a long day of travel, and all restaurants and grocery stores in Playa Negra are a 20 minute walk both ways.  I brought with me a few packets of oatmeal, protein bars, and some of my favourite tea.

-Bring a reusable water bottle.  The tap water at Peace Retreat is safe to drink as it is supplied by a natural spring.

-If you’re a light sleeper, you may find earplugs helpful.  The Retreat is very peaceful, but there are definitely lots of sounds that you may not be used to during the night – such as insects, birds and howler monkeys!

-Bring good, closed-toe walking shoes or hiking boots!  The walk into town is dusty and rocky, especially if you plan to take the shortcut through the jungle path.  Do NOT make the mistake of attempting the Jungle Path in flip flops like I did!

On the Jungle Path

On the Jungle Path

Overall, I would recommend Peace Retreat for absolutely everyone.  Solo travellers, especially solo female travellers, will feel safe, comfortable and taken care of.  Peace Retreat is also the perfect place for couples, groups, girls trips, and families.  If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me directly via email, or visit peaceretreat.ca.

Playa Negra Sunsets

Playa Negra Sunsets

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