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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    (Relaxnews) - Experts predict that 2014 will be the year of the bike, as cycling continues to gain fans worldwide. Following the trend, a number of countries are touting their merits as cyclotourism destinations. Below, a selection of some of the most breathtaking cycling vacations to take this season.

    quebec cycling vacation
    Spanning over 406 km and connecting the two capital cities, the Avenue Verte ("Green Avenue") is a bike path appropriate for both beginners and advanced cyclists. The route crosses through a variety of landscapes and passes by several castles, cathedrals and villages. Naturally, cyclists must board a boat between Dieppe (France) and Newhaven (UK) to make their way across the Channel. Think of the four-hour crossing as a chance for your legs to recover.

    quebec cycling vacation
    Cyclists can take in the natural beauty of the Canadian province across all or part of its 5,000km of bike paths. Four circuits in particular provide a complete picture of the best Quebec has to offer: the Tour de la Gaspésie, the Véloroute des Bleuets, the Parc linéaire des Bois-Francs and the P'tit Train du Nord. More adventurous bikers can opt to fly like E.T. on a VéloVolant. At an attraction in the Eastern Township, cyclists enjoy a view over the forest from a pedal bike suspended from a cable overhead.

    japan cycling city
    The Japanese archipelago is home to a number of paths for biking, and even Tokyo has a developed network of bike paths, set apart from its dense motor traffic. Several tour operators offer cycling tours through the capital. Cyclists interested in more rural rides can explore the Kibi region or make the pilgrimage to the 88 temples on Shikoku Island.

    austria biking tour
    The "Bikeshaukel," a 660-km off-road bike trail across of the Austrian state of Tyrol, will be inaugurated this summer. The path was made possible through the cooperation of 16 communities, which will run 18 different cable cars that will allow cyclists to start their bike ride from on high. Those who prefer to cycle on less of an incline can ride along the Danube, between Vienna and Passau at the German border.

    spain biking tour
    Along with flamenco dancing and paella, Spain is home to over 100 Via Verdes. These "Green Ways," accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists, were built over former railways and stretch across 2,000km in total. There are paths for all levels of cycling expertise and fitness, and individual circuits ranging in length from 2km to 100km.

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    James O'Malley may reside in the United Kingdom but he might as well be an honorary Canadian.

    The London-based journalist recently made his first trip to the Great White North, according to his post on Medium. By the sounds of it, he wasn't sure what to expect.

    "Before I landed here, Canada was more of an abstract idea than a place  —  somewhere that I’d only seen in films and on TV, mostly as a cheaper location double for somewhere in the United States," wrote O'Malley.

    But after spending three weeks in Ontario, O'Malley condensed the highlights of his vacation — er, holiday — into a three-minute clip of all things Canadiana.

    In the his video, he hangs out with a polar bear, moose, and "an extremely competitive hockey mom" in-between bouts of snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sledding and driving on the ice road. The video's amassed nearly 400,000 views in two days after appearing on Reddit and YouTube.

    O'Malley told Redditors he was in Northern Ontario for two weeks to meet his girlfriend's family and in Toronto for another week. But most readers were more interested with the amount of activities he managed to cram in 21 days.

    "You did more exciting things in three weeks than my entire 23 year existence living in Toronto," wrote one user.

    "I've lived in rural area of Canada my whole life, and 90% of this stuff I haven't done. Jealous. And I've never heard of kite skiing, and now want to try it," wrote another.

    And while users applauded O'Malley's adventures, others said he had missed some quintessential experiences. And by that, we mean he didn't show himself eating poutine.

    "As a Canadian, I approve....although not having poutine is a mark against this otherwise great video. Sorry."

    Still, 50/51 experiences is still pretty good in our books.

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    If you're one of the many Canadian travellers who may have waited to the last minute to book your March Break getaway, you're still in luck. At, we offer a variety of family friendly travel options that are sure to please every member of the household, including the popular March Break destinations below.

    MONT TREMBLENT, QUEBEC - Just a short drive outside Montreal, Mont Tremblent is a great destination for families who want to take advantage of the (still very prevalent) winter weather. The ski resort has over 90 trails open this season along with skating, dogsledding and nightly sliding activities - amazing outdoor fun for families who want embrace the winter.

    MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA - If you prefer to escape the cold, you can do so in only a few hours by heading down to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Many associate Myrtle Beach with relaxation thanks to its many beaches and golf courses. While it's a great place to rejuvenate, it's definitely not a quiet town. In fact, there's plenty to get the heart racing - take the family to the city's theme parks, race around the Nascar SpeedPark or join an alligator tour for a firsthand look at those big snappers.

    PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO - If your family is looking to enjoy a relaxing March Break on the beach, Puerto Vallarta is a great option for a last minute 'fly and flop.' Spend your day lying poolside or swimming in the sea, and your evening watching local shows and enjoying authentic Mexican cuisine. And while it is a family vacation, not every moment of your trip needs to be spent together - some resorts, like the Plaza Pelicanos Club, have special 'Kids Clubs' where kids can play and burn off energy while parents can catch up on some much needed R&R.

    ORLANDO, FLORIDA - Last but not least is Canadian favourite Orlando. With four theme parks, two water parks, over 20 themed resort hotels, and temperatures in the mid-to-high 20 degree Celsius range throughout March, an Orlando family vacation is indeed magical.

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    Friends of a former Montreal couple say they are still in shock after learning Muktesh Mukherjee, 42, and Xiaomo Bai, 37, were on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing over the weekend.

    “When I found out they were on the plane, it was a shock,” said Robert Godmer, a Montreal real estate agent who sold the couple a home when they lived in Montreal 10 years ago.

    “We were waiting and waiting for the news. We hope there will only be good news,” he said, adding that he kept in touch with the couple even after they moved away from Montreal.

    “They were very nice people — very good people. They always accepted me and trusted me.”

    One of the couple’s close friends, Matthew McConkey, told CBC Radio’s As It Happens that he’s shocked, but resigned, about the situation.

    “I’m personally fairly realistic about what the eventual outcome of what this will be.… It’s unreal. When something like this happens in the world, it catches people’s attention and people say, ‘Oh it didn’t happen to me,’ or ‘I don’t know anyone on that flight.’ It’s one of those situations where I can’t say that this time,” McConkey said through tears from his home in Washington.

    A '21st-century family'

    Mukherjee and Bai lived in Beijing and were returning from vacation in Vietnam to their two sons, Mirav, 8 and Miles, 4.

    The couple got married and lived in Montreal for several years before moving to Chicago, and ultimately Beijing.

    “They are the 21st-century family. Muktesh was born in India, Xiaomo was born in China. They were living in Beijing, with grandparents and family living all over the world,” McConkey said, adding that Muktesh met his wife while he was on a business trip in Beijing.

    McConkey said Bai’s parents lived in Beijing, too, and they had strong family values.

    “They loved to travel. They were a very tight-knit family unit. They did everything for the kids.”

    McConkey also said that whenever he travelled to Beijing for work, Mukherjee was the first person he called.

    “Muktesh was one of these guys who always had a smile on his face. He was always up for doing something.”

    McConkey last saw the couple and their sons during his last trip to China about a month ago. They’d made plans to meet again this summer in the U.S.

    “I sat on the apartment floor for an hour talking to the boys. I remember walking out the door, and turning back to Mirav and saying, ‘I’ll see you this summer at my house because your mom and dad are going to bring you.’”

    McConkey said the couple’s sons are in the care of their grandparents.

    “The difficulty right now is dealing with the children, and what to tell them.… They were a lovely couple and I’m going to miss them dearly, and my heart goes out to those children. Their innocence is going to be lost very soon.”

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    (Relaxnews) - Editors and travel experts at Lonely Planet have curated an interesting list of off-grid cottages, treehouses and 'earthships' spanning Costa Rica, South Africa, Tanzania to Russia in a list they call the top 10 eco-stays for 2014.

    With Earth Hour, World Water Day and Earth Day drawing near, the list serves as a useful guide for travellers looking to green their vacations and support sustainable outfits and travel operators.

    Taking the top spot is the Lapa Rios eco-lodge in Costa Rica. Set in the heart of the rainforest in the country’s Osa Peninsula, the property consists of 16 private bungalows built from locally harvested materials that offer luxurious guilt-free accommodations.

    The 930-acre tract of land is an incredibly rich ecosystem, home to nearly three percent of the world’s biodiversity. Guests of the Lapa Rios lodge are invited to explore their natural surroundings in guided rainforest hikes and bird-watching treks, or while kayaking, surfing and whale watching.

    Amenities include private outdoor decks with rain showers and hammocks, king size beds, indoor bathroom and showers, and a central pool.

    Other interesting eco-friendly accommodations on the list includes the Chole Minji, which describes itself as a “castaway fantasy” and “jungle island retreat” for the seven treehouse accommodations built on a remote island off the Tanzanian coast.

    Built into baobab and tamarind trees, all of the thatch-roofed treehouses are designed to offer views of the sea and offer king-sized beds.

    And an 'earthship' in New Mexico, which Lonely Planet describes as “equal parts Gaudi masterpiece and Dr Seuss whimsy,” offers accommodations in the desert that are completely off-grid. Built from recycled materials, the collection of buildings is powered by solar panels, rain and snow-collecting cisterns, and a greenhouse for self-sufficiency.

    The off-grid hotel is part of a larger Earthships project that aims to serve as an international model on sustainable, self-sufficient communities.
    Here are the top 10 eco-stays of 2014, according to Lonely Planet:

    For the full list, visit

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    CORTEGADA, Spain-AFP) - For sale: hamlet in Spain. Needs work. Price: zero euros.

    Like thousands of abandoned villages in Spain, A Barca -- with its 12 crumbling stone homes covered in moss and ivy -- is seeking a new owner to bring it back to life.

    Local officials in Spain's verdant northwestern region of Galicia hope to give away the hamlet, which is nestled in a hillside overlooking the Mino river near the Portuguese border.

    The successful applicant must present a development project for the village, which dates back to the 15th century, that will preserve all of its buildings.

    Several proposals have already been made but Avelino Luis de Francisco Martinez, the mayor of Cortegada, the municipality that oversees A Barca, said he would prefer a tourism project.

    "Something that would provide work to villagers and local businesses," he said.

    The residents of A Barca left in the 1960s when a dam was built, which flooded their farmland.

    But most of Spain's abandoned hamlets have been deserted by residents who moved to larger cities or better land for farming.

    Spain's National Statistics Institute estimates that there are around 2,900 empty villages across the country, according to Rafael Canales, the manager of a website specialising in the sale of deserted hamlets called

    Over half are in Galicia, a largely rural region that is home to the famous pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, and the neighbouring region of Asturias.

    Spain's lengthy economic downturn, which has sent the jobless rate soaring to just over 26 percent, has pushed more owners to put their properties up for sale.

    "We count as our clients many writers, painters or rural tourism professionals," said Canales.

    Mark Adkinson, the British manager of a rival online portal called, said his company had identified 400 abandoned villages in the eastern part of Galicia alone.

    When Adkinson, who is based 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Cortegada, finds an empty village he starts searching for its owners.
    The task is sometimes difficult, even impossible.

    Often the owners of abandoned properties moved away long ago and have not been heard from since. In other cases property deeds have been lost and can't easily be found.

    "It also happens sometimes that owners themselves come to us and propose putting their property up for sale," said Adkinson, a former livestock breeder from Lancashire who has lived in Galicia for nearly three decades.

    - Foreign interest -
    The abandoned villages are especially appealing to foreigners like Neil Christie, a 60-year-old retired Briton who used to work in television.
    He bought three stone houses and a granary raised on rock pillars -- typical in the northwest of Spain -- that make up the hamlet of Arrunada in Asturias for 45,000 euros ($62,000).

    Christie has spent the past four years restoring the main house, located amid green pastures some 30 kilometres south of the Atlantic coat.

    He hopes to move in at the end of the year.

    "I wanted to flee the stress of London. This was just a bunch of ruins. But I would never be able to buy something similar in England," he said.

    "It is a very pretty region. People are very nice. There is a real quality of life," he added.

    Britons are among the foreigners who have shown the most interest in buying Spain's abandoned hamlets.

    But Norwegians, Americans, Germans, Russians and even Mexicans have also made purchases, said real estate agent Jose Armando Rodil Lopez.

    "In general, once you cross the barrier of 80,000 euros, the potential buyers are foreigners," he explained during a tour of the hamlet of Pena Vella, also in the Asturias.

    The hamlet, which is on sale for 62,000 euros, is made up of five stone houses with slate roofs surrounded by pine and eucalyptus trees.
    "A family used to live here. Some of them made knives, others were carpenters and farmers," said Rodil Lopez.

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    As families anguish over the uncertain fate of loved one missing on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, one woman is expressing her relief on Twitter after her boyfriend narrowly missed boarding the ill-fated plane.

    On Friday, Cylithria Dubois, a U.S. businesswoman, called her business partner and boyfriend to let her know she was feeling ill and overworked. Her boyfriend, who has only been identified as "Kaiden" by multiple media outlets, begrudgingly agreed he would pick up the slack, causing him to miss flight MH370 which disappeared mysteriously hours later.

    "Kaiden" was travelling with two other people, according to the International Business Times. Neither of his companions made their scheduled flight. When Dubois realized her boyfriend was scheduled to fly on the missing plane, she took to Twitter to get in touch.

    Nearly 90 minutes later after her rush of tweets, "Kaiden" replied.

    Afterwards, the couple focused their tweets on the missing 239 passengers and cabin crew.

    In an email statement to Reuters, Dubois said she didn't want to draw attention to themselves and says focus should be on those who are still unaccounted for.

    "I am deeply chagrined by the attention that Kaiden and I drew upon ourselves with our tweets," said Dubois. "At a time when the focus should be upon those aboard the ill-fated flight and their loved ones, I feel rather dumb speaking at all."

    She later released a statement via her personal blog:

    If I had one thing to say to anyone enduring through the loss of Flight MH370 it would be I am so very sorry. I am sorry for your pains, your troubles, your sorrows, and fears. I am sorry for any losses you endure. I am sorry you had to even know of myself or Kaiden and our connection to a flight neither of us were on. May courage, comfort and compassion blanket each of you. I honor your loved ones. I honor each of you. I’m deeply sorry for all you’re going through.

    Dubois's boyfriend also tweeted a few telling moments of clarity after realizing his girlfriend might have just saved his live.

    It's still uncertain what happened to the 777-200 Boeing passenger jet as concrete evidence on the investigation has been scarce since Saturday. Rescue crews from Vietnam, Malaysia, China and the U.S. are entering their fifth day of the search but have yet to come across any evidence of the plane.

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    Travel to New York City and you're bound to cross at least one person snapping a photo at any given time of the day. It's part of the Big Apple's touristy charm but probably super frustrating for locals who have to duck in and out of frame to avoid ruining someone's picture.

    Then there are the locals who embrace every photo op as an opportunity to photobomb. Case in point: "Tonight Show Host" Jimmy Fallon and his pal Jon Hamm. In Fallon's segment, "Tonight Show Celebrity Photobomb", the late-night show host and Hamm took to the top of the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan to photobomb some tourists.

    "We asked them if they wanted to get their photos taken. We told them it was for the NBC "Top of the Rock" website. We were lying," said Fallon.

    And make no mistake, these were not your run-of-the-mill photobombs. There were piggybacks, pop-ups and we're pretty sure Fallon and Hamm might have coined the first ever "lady-and-the-tramp" photobomb. Watch the whole thing unfold below:

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    Paris, still the world's no.1 tourist destination

    (PARIS-AFP) - Some 32.3 million tourists say France's city of light and romance can't be beat.

    Paris was once again last year the world's top tourist destination, the regional tourism body said on Monday, citing hotel occupancies.

    Despite some tough global economic conditions, it said 2013 was a very good year for tourism in Paris and the surrounding Ile-de-France region, with foreign visitors at "the highest level in 10 years".

    The nearly 15.5 million foreign visitors to the French capital represented an 8.2 percent increase from 2012. The largest number (2.1 million) came across the Channel from Britain, followed by the Americans, Germans, Italians and Chinese.

    It also marked the first time the Chinese topped the list of tourists from Asia with 881,000 flocking to Paris, surpassing the Japanese.

    There was also a nearly 21-percent increase in visitors from the Middle East, according to the Ile-de-France Regional Tourism Committee.

    Ironically, it was the French themselves who seemed less enthusiastic about visiting their world famous capital last year, with the number of French tourists in Parisian hotels dropping by 7.5 percent from 2012.

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    HONG KONG - Within an industry notorious for impoverishing shareholders and irking customers, Malaysia Airlines has stood out for its years of restructurings and losses. The company now has global recognition of a far more unfavourable kind after one of its jets disappeared four days ago with 239 people aboard.

    There has been no suggestion that the unrelenting financial pressures faced by the airline and its 19,000 employees somehow played a role in the disappearance of flight MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. But the revelation this week that the jet's co-pilot allowed two female passengers to ride in the cockpit for the duration of a flight two years ago has invited scrutiny of the professionalism of top-level staff.

    Among Asian carriers, Malaysia Airlines has built a reputation for high-standard service and safety since being founded in 1937, bagging an array of industry awards in recent years for its food, cabin crew and overall service. Its most recent fatal incident was nearly two decades ago, when one of its planes crashed near the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34.

    Yet the accolades in the past decade have not been sufficient to halt the ebb of customers and revenue to low-cost competitors, mostly notably to AirAsia founded in 2001 by Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes. The nimbler discount competitors have expanded rapidly, while Malaysia Airlines has been like a supertanker, slow to change direction. State ownership and a powerful union have impeded efforts to adapt.

    Travellers are likely to "shun" the airline in reaction to "an incident of such proportion" as a jet vanishing, said Shukor Yusof, aviation analyst at S&P Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. "It's going to make things even worse," he said.

    The company will also suffer as executives focus their attention on searching for the plane and dealing with the international media attention rather than running the business, he said.

    Malaysia Airlines lost contact with the Boeing 777 jet less than an hour into a six-hour flight that was scheduled to land in Beijing about 6.30 a.m. on Saturday. After days of contradictory accounts, authorities acknowledged Wednesday they don't know which direction the plane was heading when it disappeared, vastly complicating efforts to find it.

    Shares of Malaysian Airlines System, the carrier's holding company, plunged as much as 20 per cent Monday. The share price has been on a downward run for a decade that mirrors its financial challenges and today is about a tenth of its value in March 2004.

    A sub-branch of Beijing Youth Travel Service said bookings to Malaysia are now 20 per cent below usual for the time of the year.

    "In the past 3 days, about 20 or 30 clients in our single outlet have already cancelled their bookings with Malaysia Airlines simply because they thought it's not safe," said a travel agent who identified herself as Ms. Liu.

    The apparent disaster is also a defining test for the carrier's chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, who took the helm in September 2011 with the aim of returning Malaysia Airlines to profit.

    Ahmad Jauhari, who became CEO with little airline experience having spent most of his career at Malaysian power companies, decided against grounding the carrier's other 777 jets. The Boeing 777 has an excellent safety record. Its first fatalities occurred last year, some 20 years since the 777 went into service, when an Asiana jet crash landed in San Francisco, possibly due to pilot error.

    Including Ahmad Jauhari's overhaul, Malaysia Airlines management has tried four major restructurings in the past 12 years.

    The financial woes are a combination of mismanagement, government interference and a shortage of professionals to run the airline, said Shukor. "The problem is its inability to compete effectively. They always had easy money coming their way."

    The first restructuring, in 2002, shifted the airline's debt to the government. Three subsequent plans, including the latest launched in 2011, were aimed at stemming losses with steps such as axing unprofitable routes.

    The recovery strategy in an updated business plan from June 2012 exhorts the company to both "win back customers" and have a "relentless cost focus."

    Last month, the airline reported its fourth straight quarterly loss.

    From 2007 to 2010, the company's average operating profit margin was 0.1 per cent, according to credit rating agency Moody's, meaning every $100 of revenue generated a tenth of a cent of profit. For regional rival Singapore Airlines the figure was 8.3 per cent and 7 per cent for Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways.

    Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, has urged the government to sell the airline to private investors.

    "If it's government money, nobody cares," he told Malaysia's state news agency last year.

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    Who knew that Canada has the largest concentration of snakes in the world?

    Jeff Turner, for one. He and his wife Sue are behind the new CBC nature show "Wild Canada," which weaves a plethora of fun facts about our fair country throughout the four-part series, along with visually stunning footage of wildlife ranging from humpback whales to flying squirrels.

    The Turners are seasoned Canadian filmmakers who have worked on world-renowned nature docs like "Planet Earth" and "Frozen Planet" for the BBC. Their team shot almost 500 hours of footage across every corner of the country for "Wild Canada."

    We caught up with Turner to discover more fascinating tidbits about Canada. (Hint: we may have more lakes than people.) We also chatted about his encounters with friendly Canucks, and his very, very close encounter with a Grizzly in the northern Yukon.

    HuffPost Canada TV: Why did you decide to do a show focused on Canada?
    Jeff Turner: We know a lot about Canada, we know there are some pretty amazing parts that people haven't seen before. And nobody had ever really done Canada as a whole, as one unit, before.

    Why do you think that is? That seems strange, doesn't it?
    It does, in a way. I think there are two parts to it. The first part is, internally, in Canada, we tend to take it for granted a lot of the time. We accept what we have and we don't often think about all of the amazing diversity and wildlife. I think that's one reason. Another reason is, within the world community, and I've encountered a bit of this working in the UK for the BBC and places like that, there tends to be a preconception about what Canada is, that it's just trees and tundra. I think there isn't a tendency to think there's a lot here that they don't know about.

    What do you think viewers would be most surprised to see when they tune in to the show?
    I hope they'll be surprised by the range of the habitats and wildlife that we have in Canada. I think they'll surprised to learn things like we have the largest concentration of snakes in the world, we have the largest gathering of humpback whales in the world, we have more coastline than any other country on the planet, we have most of the fresh water, more lakes than we have people. There are a lot of really unique aspects to Canada.

    How long did you spend filming this?
    The filming took the better part of two years. The whole project took us three years, from start to finish.

    What were some of the most challenging shots to get?
    One of the sequences I'm most proud of for the series is the opening sequence in Episode 1, which features the humpbacks and capelin. That was really a lot to try to cover. We had an underwater crew, we had a crew on the top-side with high-speed cameras, we even had another crew in helicopters. There was a lot that went into capturing that behaviour. That's something that hasn't really been done before, that underwater shot of humpbacks feeding. I'm really pleased with what we managed to accomplish there.

    How do you know how to be at the right place at the right time to get these shots?
    There's a lot of research that goes into these programs. We spend six months researching before we even pick up a camera. All of that planning goes into picking a window of time when the behaviour is happening, and then you just get out there and hope you're there when it happens.

    Do you have any interesting anecdotes about waiting in the field waiting to capture these moments?
    I had a spectacular moment when I had a grizzly bear come up about two metres away when we were filming in the north Yukon. That was a really amazing time. It was a beautiful place that I don't think too many people even know about -- right on the Arctic Circle, there's a place where grizzly bears are chasing salmon down just like they do on the coast of B.C. It's a protected place, the bears aren't hunted. The bears are quite tolerant of people. If you're careful and go about everything very gently, they kind of just accept you and carry on with what they're doing. On this one particular day we had this one bear came right up to us, right on this ledge above where we were sitting. He was no more than six feet away -- it's not an exaggeration. He just stood there and looked at us, and the snow was falling. It was just a beautiful moment. It was very calm. I got the most amazing shot of him, because I had the camera. It's in the program in the second episode. It's one of my favourite images.

    Did you ever feel threatened or in danger at any point during filming?
    No. Not from any of the wildlife. We work at not creating any stressful situations or getting too close to them. We have big photo lenses. We can work a long ways from wildlife. Our job is to be there to see what they're doing and not get in the way. We're trying to find natural behaviours, and we don't want to be influencing what's happening.

    Who do you think the show will appeal to?
    Well hopefully it will appeal to everybody! Mothers, fathers, families. Some of the people who have seen it have said that it's wonderful family entertainment, and have told us how much their kids love it.

    Is there anything else you think viewers would be interested in hearing about the show?
    I think one of the great things we found working in Canada was how welcoming and wonderful all of the people were wherever we went. It doesn't matter what corner of the country we were in, we were always welcomed with open arms. That says a lot about the wonderful country we live in here.

    "Wild Canada" premieres on CBC on Thursday, March 13 at 8 p.m. ET.

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    black bear smithers

    SMITHERS, B.C. - A mother black bear and her triplet cubs are now snoring through the remainder of their hibernation in Smithers, B.C., oblivious to the frantic arrangements underway outside their den.

    Northern Lights Wildlife Society is scrambling to raise $4,000 to upgrade its grizzly bear enclosure after accepting the entire family into the shelter that usually only cares for very young cubs.

    Spokeswoman Tanja Landry says the facility is willing to rehabilitate the animals, but safety upgrades must be made to accommodate the mother bear.

    She says none of the volunteers wants to confront the protective bear as she emerges from her new den in about a month.

    A dog excavated the mother and cubs from their original, Prince George-area den last Sunday, and the drowsy adult climbed a tree, leaving the cubs helpless on the ground.

    A conservation officer arranged for the whole family to be tranquilized and moved to the Smithers shelter, where all the animals are now said to be resting. (CFTK)

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    A giant sculpture that will light up with the help of people’s cellphones is being installed over downtown Vancouver to coincide with the upcoming TED Conference.

    Janet Echelman’s 745-foot wide installation — made of soft netting — will be suspended between the roof of the 24-storey Fairmont Waterfront Hotel and the Vancouver Convention Centre where TED2014 is being held. Work began on Tuesday.

    Story continues after slideshow:

    The influential TED Conference, which features international speakers like Bill Gates and astronaut Chris Hadfield, will be in Vancouver for the first time March 17-21.

    Echelman, who is from Boston, aims to create sculptures that are durable and permanent but also react to the wind.

    During the day, the sculpture will flow with the wind, “blending in with clouds and sky,” Echelman told the TED blog. When the sun sets, it will “come alive with illumination.”

    People will be able to choreograph the lighting of the sculpture overhead by waving their mobile device, thanks to a collaboration with Aaron Koblin, a creative director at Google Creative Lab.

    "We all carry devices in our pockets that have an enormous power to connect with other people around the world," said Koblin. “But rarely do we get a chance to use it to connect and create with people standing next to us."

    Echelman created a similar piece for the Richmond Olympic Oval but this one, titled Skies Painted With Unnumbered Sparks, is 10 times bigger. She told the TED blog the current sculpture is specifically designed for the Vancouver waterfront: “It’s like a custom-knitted sweater for the city.”

    janet echelman richmond oval

    The Burrard Arts Foundation, which supports public art in Vancouver, raised more than $25,000 through Kickstarter to support installation costs. Depending on their pledge, supporters received T-shirts, limited edition signed prints or etched carvings.

    Autodesk, a leader in 3D design and engineering software, sponsored Echelman’s sculpture, and also helped her model and test her plans.

    Echelman has created pieces in cities around the world. Last year, Oprah’s ‘O’ Magazine gave her top spot in its list of “50 Things That Will Make You Say WOW!

    The installation is scheduled to be officially unveiled Saturday, March 17 at 7 p.m. It will be on display until March 23, then will travel to different cities.

    The 1,200 seats for TED Vancouver, which cost $7,500 US, are sold out but the talks will be streamed live for accredited schools, community centres or non-profit groups.

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    As a winter storm pummels the eastern half of Canada, many of us are probably longing to be anywhere that doesn't look like the inside of a snow globe.

    When it comes to warm, non-snowy destinations, the first place to come to most Canadians' minds is Florida. Now, it's no secret that Canucks love the Sunshine State — roughly 3.7 million Canadians visited the state in 2013.

    It's also no secret the majority of those 3.7 million were probably snow birds. You know, the typical, older travellers from the Great White North who flock to warmer pastures come every winter.

    You can count "This Hour Has 22 Minutes'" Mrs. Enid as one of those snow birds. During her trip to Florida, the show's character, played by Cathy Jones, highlights the best of the best and worst of the state.

    Some of the positives: Sunshine, sand, warmth and beaches, oranges, alligators and a 40 oz of duty-free liquor. Oh and not getting shot. "Which is the most you can ask from Florida," quips Jones' character.

    The negatives? So. Many. Old. People. With. Speedos.

    You can watch the rest of Enid's trip in the clip above.

    This Hour Has 22 Minutes airs on CBC TV Tuesday nights at 8:30 p.m. Catch more clips of the show on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Forget everything you think you know about Mexican food — and start focusing on authentic ingredients.

    "What you see is what you get [in Mexican cuisine] – there’s nothing to mask the flavours and it’s all about fresh, really good ingredients," says Montreal-based chef and author Chuck Hughes. "The key thing about Mexican foods is that you’ll always have an element of salt, spice and lime – that trifecta. When you combine that with pork or seafood or fish, it’s just a winning combination."

    Hughes, who's known for his Food Network Canada series "Chuck's Week Off," hosted an online chat on March 6, answering viewers' questions about cooking Mexican food.

    There's no doubt Mexican food is one of the most popular cuisines in North America, but for anyone who loves authentic Mexican cooking, you know there are a lot more ingredients than taco shells and cheese that go into crafting the perfect dish.

    Fatty and cheesy burritos and chimichanga may not be what Mexicans actually eat, and for the most part Mexican food can be pretty healthy. Hughes, k adds Mexican dishes use fresh vegetables, corn (for salsas and soughs) and plenty of seafood.

    Whether he's travelling Mexico for his show or making his own meals at home, Hughes is a huge advocate for eating more Mexican food on a daily basis.

    "There’s something to be said about Mexico in that it’s not a culture where they use much fat – a lot of the flavour comes from spice, acidity and salt but not necessarily much of it is fat," Hughes tells the Huffington Post Canada.

    And if you're afraid of getting your hands dirty in so-called spicy Mexican hot sauces, don't be. Hughes says sauces and salsas can be both sweet and spicy — ideal for people who sweat at the thought of habanero peppers.

    Ready to start cooking? Here are 11 ingredients you need to have in your kitchen before attempting Mexican cuisine:

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    Queso Oaxaca
    Queso oaxaca is a type of Mexican cheese that looks (and is stringy) like mozzarella cheese. Used in everything from quesadillas to pupusas (pictured here), this cheese has become a staple for authentic Mexican cooking.

    Crema is the Mexican version of sour cream, made from buttermilk and cream. The same colour and texture of sour cream, this can be used for soups, tacos or anything else that needs that slightly rich and tangy taste.

    Peppers Of All Sorts
    Whether you're eating a hot sauce made from habanero peppers or adding freshly cut green or red chilies to your meals, keeping things spicy is 100 per cent Mexican approved.

    Known as the Latin cousin of ricotta cheese, requesón can either be made dry and firm or moist and runny. And as it turns out, you can even make your own from milk and orange juice.

    Corn Masa
    Masa is Spanish for dough, so if you're in the mood to try some authentic tortillas, make sure they're made with corn. Corn masa can be used for chips, tortillas and Mexican cookies.

    There's a reason why we expect a bowl of guac and chips when we go to a Mexican restaurant. Avocados are a stape in Mexican cooking and can made into soups, tangy guacamole and deep-fried for tacos. On top of this, avocados (when eaten moderately) are pretty great for you.

    Nopales is a type of cactus used in Mexican cuisine. Bought either fresh, bottled or pickled, nopales are used for soups, meat dishes and taco fillings.

    Mexican tomatillo fruits are similar to gooseberries and can be eaten fried, boiled or steamed. Another Mexican staple, they are also commonly used for making sauces and salsas ... and kind of look like green tomatoes!

    Pico De Gallo
    Pico de gallo is the Mexican way of saying salsa — an uncooked "salad" made from tomatoes, cilantro, chilies and onions. Want to impress someone at your next Mexican restaurant outing? Order a bowl of pico de gallo with chips.

    Hot Sauce
    If you can handle the heat, hot sauce is a must-have for cooking, dipping and spreading. Whether it's traditional, store-bought or made at home with minimal spice, chef Chuck Hughes suggests adding some kind of zing to your dish.

    Probably one of the most used ingredients in Mexican cuisine, limes can top your tacos and nachos or make your margaritas taste 10 times better.

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  • 03/12/14--12:30: What Is Cascadia, Anyway?
  • You have probably heard the odd rumble about a place called Cascadia, but has anyone ever really explained what it was?

    Cascadia is an independence movement and proposed country combining Washington and Oregon states as well as British Columbia, according to a grassroots group called Cascadia Now!

    So what would life be like for British Columbians if we lived in Cascadia?

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    When it comes to UFO sightings, Vancouver is apparently the place to be.

    Vancouverites spotted 116 UFOs — more than any other Canadian city, according to the 2013 Canadian UFO Survey released Monday. Toronto and Winnipeg round out the top three with 111 and 39 reported sightings respectively.

    As a province, B.C. reported 298 sightings, behind only Ontario's 480, according to the annual study by Ufology Research of Manitoba.

    There were a total of 1,180 sightings in the country in 2013, equaling to about three per day. This number has only been topped by 2012, which saw close to 2,000 sightings and was likely due to the hype surrounding The Rapture.

    "We suspect this was an anomaly, and likely due to many people excited about the so-called “end of the world” in 2012 according to the Mayan Calendar," the report states.

    Of all 2013's sightings, just under two per cent were "close encounters," meaning most cases only involved seeing a distant object in the sky.

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    Mainstream retailers are starting to accept bitcoin, but a pair of tusks from an adult woolly mammoth has to be one of the strangest — and coolest? — items you can buy so far with the digital currency.

    Richard Marcus, a dealer in Vancouver, is selling the tusks for Ƀ273.446, or $175,000 US.

    woolly mammoth tusks

    The tusks were excavated by a small gold mining operation outside of Dawson City, Yukon in the mid-late 1980s, according to the listing, as well as a YouTube video of the discovery.

    The tusks measure 8.5 and 9.5 feet long, and weigh about 120 lbs. each.

    Trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1989, when the United Nations passed an international treaty to protect African and Indian elephants who had been hunted to the brink of extinction. But buying and selling mammoth or mastodon tusks is legal because the animals are extinct.

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    It was announced last week that Queen -- well, Brian May and Roger Taylor -- are going on a world tour. Possibly the last of their career. If it wasn't for the gaping hole left by Freddie Mercury, this would have the word "epic" written all over it.

    But what is an epic gig anyway?

    As a teenager growing up in the 1990s, I desperately wanted to have seen The Beatles play New York's Shea Stadium on Aug. 15, 1965. [] And now, I sit whiling away another rainy day in Vancouver, wishing I had been at London's Wembley Stadium in 1985, when Queen gave the world's greatest live performance in the history of rock for Live Aid.

    It's tempting to think it's all been downhill since then. But I refuse to believe we need rockers to die young and audiences exceeding 100,000 to qualify a gig as epic. Nor, as Live 8 proved, does global poverty alone an epic performance make. With that in mind, I've narrowed down my own top three epic gigs:

    • Foo Fighters at Hammerstein Ballroom, New York 2003

    • Basement Jaxx at The Other Stage, Glastonbury 2004.

    • Mumford & Sons at The Gorge Amphitheatre, Sasquatch! 2013

    So what made these gigs epic?

    Loud noises

    The music has to thrash through me. I want to be rocked, literally. At Mumford & Sons, I danced my feet off to bluegrass banjos. The Foo Fighters had me headbanging so much I had whiplash for a week. At Basement Jaxx, we jumped around like maniacs to Where's Your Head At.

    Location, location, location

    The venue must be special. This is a given at Glastonbury, which always feels unique, presumably because of all those ley lines, and at Sasquatch, which is situated in a spectacular river gorge that takes your breath away at sunset. But the venue can also be more intimate. Seeing the Foo Fighters at the Hammerstein Ballroom meant I was headbanging only a few feet from Dave Grohl -- how cool is that?

    the gorge sasquatch

    The Gorge in Washington, site of Sasquatch!

    A one-off

    No one will ever see this gig again. Festivals are a perfect example. Basement Jaxx and Mumford & Sons were only playing one night at Glastonbury and Sasquatch. The Foo Fighters did play the Ballroom a couple of nights -- but I had no idea until now. It doesn't matter -- to me, it felt like a one-off and that's what counts.

    Twist of fate

    On the day of the Foo Fighters gig, I had no idea who they were and didn't have a ticket. We were visiting a friend in New York, who thought it might be fun. Miraculously, we procured tickets from a tout outside. He got in trouble for selling them too cheaply. We got into the gig. The rest is history.

    At Glastonbury 2004, Basement Jaxx were scheduled to play at the same time as Paul McCartney. And everyone went to see McCartney. Except us. Instead, we got right to the front of the Jaxx gig and danced like crazy, bonding as outcasts with others who had chosen electronic dance over Beatles classics. And McCartney? Apparently, he sucked.

    Finally, to Mumford & Sons at Sasquatch and possibly the most meaningful gig of my entire life. In contrast, the months before Sasquatch were some of the worst in my life. My father and my grandmother had both died. I had been ill. Life had completely sucked for a long time. But I was trying to embrace life again, so here I was camping, drinking and gigging with a small group of festival friends.

    I did my best to enjoy myself, but the sad distractions were always there. The Arctic Monkeys, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Sigur Ros, The xx, Bloc Party... all great, but none quite made it through the haze. On the third day, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros briefly broke through with their song Home, exactly reflecting my feelings towards the world in that moment.

    dancing concert

    The author and a friend dancing to Mumford & Sons.

    Then Mumford & Sons took to the stage. The reason we bought the ticket. The reason we had fought and won our way to the best position, close enough to the front and central to the singer, with an unobstructed view and plenty of room to dance. It's hard to describe what happened next. Mumford played their infectiously energetic but emotional melodies, while we danced bluegrass country jigs till we dropped.

    An enormous wave of euphoria scooped us up and we rode it with abandon. This was crowdsurfing for the soul. By the time Dust Bowl Dance rolled around, we were completely ecstatic and exhausted. It was already one of my best gigs of all time.

    But then came the encore. A cover of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain. Mumford & Sons, joined now by the Zeros, were inexplicably singing the one song that meant the most to me at that moment.

    I didn't have a lot in common with my father. But as a teenager, I did, for a while, share his love of Formula 1 motor racing. We would watch the Grand Prix on the BBC together every week, cheering for Britain's Damon Hill, even though we secretly preferred Brazil's Ayrton Senna. And the theme tune of that Grand Prix show? The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.

    sasquatch mumford and sons

    Mumford & Sons on stage at Sasquatch.

    Fast forward to Sasquatch, and my feelings transcended the euphoria I had previously felt. Suddenly Mumford & Sons were speaking directly to me with this song. Lyrics about being separated from someone you love, despite the chain that binds you, took on a whole new meaning. The universe was speaking directly to me.

    For the first time in months, I felt entirely, truly happy.

    In the end, a gig can be so much more than just words and lyrics. It can transcend a mere entertainment experience. It can speak to you in ways you never imagined. And that's why we'll be getting a Queen ticket. Because having tasted that truly epic feeling, I know it exists and I have to hope there is more to come -- and this time, I intend to chase it.

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  • 03/13/14--05:26: Why "Voluntourism" Matters
  • By John Julian

    Over the past couple of weeks a remarkable thing happened in cyberspace. A blog post about international development (yes, international development!) went viral, generating more than two million hits. The piece was written by a young American named Pippa Biddle, and in it she expressed thoughtful criticism of "voluntourism" -- the phenomenon that sees westerners of all age groups, but particularly young people, travelling to the developing world to "help".

    The piece is controversial, in part, because she addresses the issue through a lens of race and privilege, but her central thesis is a good one. It is hard to argue with her assessment that anyone who thinks that the best way to build a school in Ghana or to run an orphanage in Tanzania is to bring in a plane load of students from North America is sadly mistaken. Almost as sad are those young people who sincerely believe that they are changing lives and saving the world by sharing their meagre, inadequate skills.

    Though I agree with much of what she says, I think Pippa Biddle is missing one essential point. The mature and thoughtful attitude she has developed on this topic is a direct result of the experiences she has had through her volunteer work overseas. Without her fumbling efforts overseas, she would never have gained the wisdom to support development in the south in a way that does not reinforce the systemic imbalance of power and privilege that is so much a part of our well-intentioned efforts to help. If there is fault to be found, it is the failure of the organizations that send young people abroad to properly define the objectives of those visits.

    If young people understand that they are visiting the developing world to learn, not to teach; if they can approach their travels with humility, not arrogance; if they believe that the value of their visit is to make contact with and gain understanding of other cultures; and if they grasp the fact that they are able to make these visits because they come from an enormously privileged part of the world where it is possible for a young person to access a plane ticket and travel money, not because they have skills or knowledge that is not readily available in the country they are visiting; then visits or exchanges between young people can be really positive.

    CCA micro enterprise development intern Lisa Prince participates enthusiastically in a workshop teaching women to build their own fuel efficient stoves in Northern Uganda.

    When it comes to international development, I am an old dog. I have been at it for nearly 30 years and I would like to believe that I have developed wisdom, patience, and a set of realistic expectations as a result of my experience. But those are not always good attributes in international development.

    I fully believe that there is a powerful link between youth and our efforts to create a better world. Young people bring passion, creativity, willingness to sacrifice, and even a hopeful naiveté to this work. They bring open hearts, and if properly selected and prepared for international work -- open minds. I know this because I have been responsible for sending more than 175 young people to live and work in the developing world over the past two decades and the results often inspire me and make me proud.

    Let's be clear. We do not send high school students on three-week junkets to build schools. Ours is an internship program for young professionals -- recent grads who are carefully selected for specific skills. About half of our participants have masters degrees -- in business, environmental studies, as well as international development -- and the majority already have some experience travelling or living in the developing world. But even with these impressive credentials we try to be clear that they are going overseas not to lead, but to follow -- to work for local supervisors to support the work of locally-owned and managed organizations -- co-operatives and credit unions for the most part.

    For the intern, the experience involves a wild mix of triumph, frustration, epiphany and pain. After six months to a year working in the developing world, I have never seen an intern come home completely unchanged. And they take those changes into the next phase of their lives. For some there is a career in international development. Others go into teaching or law, or higher academia. But they take with them a respect for the people they have worked with overseas, and an understanding that we didn't earn the privileges we enjoy -- we just got lucky.

    I know that the internship experience benefits the participants. The experience looks good on a resume and it helps them find jobs or get into graduate or professional school. I know it benefits our partners in the south to have extra sets of skilled hands at their disposal. But I also think it benefits all of us as a society to live and work with people who have this hard-won understanding of the tolerance and co-operation that we need to build a better world.

    Sadly, our ability to continue to offer these experiences is in jeopardy. For the past 18 years the Canadian government has supported international internships through a program administered by the Canadian International Development Agency -- now the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD). The funding for the program has dried up this year, and there is an ominous silence on the topic from the government side. There has been no official cancellation of the internship program, but neither has there been any action or sign that the program is still alive. As the months pass, it seems clear that we will not see very many young interns in the field next year.

    Without this modest funding, we can still send interns abroad, but it could push us back towards the "voluntourism" that Pippa Biddle is so concerned about. Our program is based on merit and a careful match of skills to positions. We don't want to replace that with a system where the primary qualification is the ability to come up with the money.

    So, Pippa Biddle, thank you for striking a chord or in some cases hitting a nerve. Done wrong, international work experiences can reinforce the imbalances of power and privilege that are the cause inequity around the world. But done right, they can push us toward a world where understanding breeds tolerance and co-operation.

    John Julian is Director of International Communications and Policy at the Canadian Co-operative Association.


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