Our Excitement is not at Bay in San Fancisco! – California & The Canyons

Our Excitement is not at Bay in San Fancisco! – California & The Canyons

Nervous excitement floated around us as our crew arrived in SFO jumping off what will be the #summerofalifetime.  After grabbing snacks and starting to make connections we headed to the beautiful scene that lies outside our windowpanes. The Embassy Suites sits on the bay and is situated next to a lagoon perfect for runs with our staff in the morning. Day one took us across downtown on the famous cable cars to Chinatown where we started to acquaint ourselves with new people on the bus and during dinner, eating a family style meal with people who would soon begin to feel like family.

Day 2 was full of excitement and plenty of opportunities to see spectacular views of San Fran. Alcatraz was enchanting, in a scary maximum-security prison type of way, and informational. Could you imagine being locked in a cell, while staring out at the life you wish you could have right across the bay (the view was out of this world)? Or sitting in a dining hall that was labeled the most dangerous place in Alcatraz because prisoners had access to metal silverware. We were happy to know we didn’t have to be there “for life” and headed along clear waters to Fisherman’s Warf where you could have delicious clam chowder from Boudin and to Ghirardelli’s Square for all the chocolate samples we could want and specialty ice cream. What a dream – only complete with a San Francisco Giants game where we took over a section and had
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Farewell to our Ohana – Hawaii Community Service

Farewell to our Ohana – Hawaii Community Service

Since our last update, everyone has had a chance to put their fancy pants on and celebrate Hawaiian luau style!!   Between scarfing down traditional Hawaiian food and watching amazing stage performances, it was such an awesome atmosphere and time spent with each other at a more formal event.  At the beginning and the end of the performance there were opportunities to get up on stage and Alexa and Olivia did not hesitate to get up in front of everyone and show off their hula skills.

We transitioned from our relaxing night at the luau into two days of environmental work with Eco Maui and our guides Nature Jay and Nature Ray. If you ask anyone on our trip upon finishing up with Eco Maui the responses would be the same, “I LOVE NATURE JAY AND RAY!!!”  Who knew two people could have so much knowledge and such a positive energy to bring to the group, while being so hilarious!!  Between exploring hidden waterfalls and campfire tales, the physical labour in between was done with a smile.  During lunch and snack breaks it wasn’t uncommon for Nature Jay to go foraging in the woods for a ripe selection of hand picked fruits.

Not sure if you know this or not, but stand up paddle boarding is quite the exhilarating exercise!  Everyone managed to stand up even if it was for a short while.  Some of our gymnasts and dancers were even performing impressive backbends.

On our last full day, we became a bunch of
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Hot Spring Serenity – Costa Rica Community Service

Hot Spring Serenity – Costa Rica Community Service

Hola for the last time to our family and friends! Our time here in Costa Rica has sadly come to an end but the memories will live on for many years to come.  As mentioned the last time we spoke, we ended our service on a high note and were able to finish up the beautiful paint job we had started the day before. The abuela (grandma, in English!) that lived in the home we painted with her family was more than thankful for our work. She almost cried, as she was so happy to have a house she was proud to go home to at the end of day.

From there we headed to Ricon de la Vieja, which we learned means “the old women’s corner.”  Our guide led our group to a beautiful, natural hot spring. We all took mud baths together, which was a unique experience to say the least. Covering our bodies in mud is not something we expected to enjoy – but it ended up being a ton of fun and a great way to spend some quality time as a group. The natural hot springs were beautiful and gave us some much needed time to relax. It was like nothing we’d done so far and it was amazing. That night we had a friendly competition which consisted of family feud like questions combined with physical challenges. It was a good day all around.

The following day was our last day and we were determined to make
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Surfing and Sloths! – Costa Rica Community Service

Hello friends and family!

The past couple of days have been a scene out of a movie with gorgeous beaches, exotic animals and a celebratory end to all the hard work we put in on our service projects. This last project was more environmentally friendly as the group rotated between sorting out glass, plastic and cardboard as well as painting new signs. The signs were especially important for warning tourists about the dangers of pollution as well as the off-limit locations where new sea turtle eggs can be found.

We finished up the day with our last surfing lesson where Isabelle lost her GoPro to waist high waves and found it 2 minutes later still recording!

Although we did not see sea turtles in Dominical, we did get to see sooo many more animals in Manuel Antonio where we currently are. Yesterday we spent a much deserved shopping/beach day at the main beach and later on the group went out Banana boating! The boats would go out to a beautiful island cave and turn around where many of us would take a quick dip in the ocean before returning.

Today we went to the National Park and got to see Sloths slumbering around! We also saw Capuchin monkeys, lizards, giant spiders, insects and a Toucan! It got even better when we sat down for lunch at our hotel restaurant, because different monkeys joined us for casual conversation (and bananas of course). Tomorrow we leave to go back to San Jose for Banquet. Talk soon!

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Smiles, Silliness, and Songs in Arizona

 

There is so much to say about the incredible things that happened in the canyons. In Zion, we were inside the valley of the canyons, captivated by the towering red rock above us. As we traveled to Bryce, we ended up on top looking down at the hoodoo rock formations. We even got to see big horn sheep climbing the uneven terrain. Everyone enjoyed the hike and the photo opportunities, especially in their competition to capture the most epic photos of their teams. “Teams,” you say? Yes… IT’S COLOR WAR! Our strong captains led their teams to victory: Jordan and Michelle for the red team and Adam and Devon for the blue. Although the group was physically divided by color for those two days, I have never seen a more unified group of people, despite the competition.

The group would probably tell you that the most laughs and smiles came from the apache relay. But after being separated by teams for the race, the whole trip convened again to play sports and talk on the benches before the winner was revealed.

…B.L.U.E all the way to victory! Congratulations blue team! Red team cheered for the blue and the blue cheered for each of their capable individuals. The blue team cheered “We have Nolyn!,” and lifted him in the air for being such a good-spirited team player, and for adding so much positive attitude to the group dynamic.  Our whole team has proved that they know how to be inclusive, supportive,  and positively
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A New Found Love for Naxos – Backpack Greece, The Islands & Italy

A New Found Love for Naxos – Backpack Greece, The Islands & Italy

Family and friends of Backpack Greece and Italy,

We began our day of touring the Ancient Greek sites of the acropolis-edge of the city.  We hiked up to the top and set eyes on the beautiful Parthenon, which once housed a breathtaking statue of Zeus. We snapped a couple photos before strolling down to the museum which sat on top of an archaeological site. It was cool to see modern renditions of many destroyed Greek statues.  We continued on to dinner in the Plaka district where we yelled Opa and smashed plates on the ground. We roamed around, shopped, and jammed on the ukulele before taking our tired legs to bed in preparation for our ferry to the beautiful island of Naxos!

Upon arrival in Naxos we headed out to the beach to rejuvenate ourselves.  We split up for lunch for a more tropical Greek style meal and took to the water to cool off right after. A few hours later the sun had us weary so we returned to our rooms to shower and prep for dinner in-town. The city was busy and alive as street performers and vendors clustered along the cobblestone roads. What excitement!  We stopped to watch the sunset and under its watchful eye, we played a quick ice breaker of speed dating. After dinner we all gallivanted over to the praised Waffle House for some delicious Waffles and ice cream. We then took our food comas back to the hotel to recharge for mountain biking and scuba
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A Toast to the Amalfi Coast! – ON TOUR European Experience

A Toast to the Amalfi Coast! – ON TOUR European Experience

Imagine the sweet scent of giant Sorrentine lemons. Imagine the bluest waters dotted with sailboats and luxurious yachts.  Imagine the most delicious lemon or watermelon granitas. We left Rome behind and headed toward the Amalfi Coast! We couldn’t believe that this is where we were staying for the next three days. A huge thank you to Westcoast Connection for including in our itinerary what some trip members believe to be the most beautiful place in the world! After our busy touring days in Rome, arriving in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast was a welcome change of pace.

Before our coastal getaway, we stopped at Pompeii, the famous site of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. Trip members were able to tour the pristinely conserved archaeological site and imagine how the peaceful life ended so abruptly. Amidst learning cool facts about Pompeii’s drainage system, trip members took the opportunity to have a little photo shoot imitating the likes of The Beatle’s Abbey Road cover.

Our first full day in Capri was spent doing an island tour with a short ride to the top on the funicular. Unbeknownst to most of our trip members, the most stunning view awaited us at the very top. Stopping for lemon and orange slushies, our guide took us through the winding streets of Capri to the most gorgeous lookout point at the Augustine Gardens. A short photo shoot later, we had some free time to eat lunch, grab a cannoli or two and a scoop of gelato before
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A Tour of Greece, By Land and Sea – Backpack Greece, The Islands & Italy

A Tour of Greece, By Land and Sea – Backpack Greece, The Islands & Italy

Greetings from Greece!

We began our Greek Isles adventure on a ferry to Naxos.  As we docked, the crystal clear water and cliffs was the perfect on this small island for all the adventures we had in store for our group.  We dropped our stuff and changed to head towards the small beach that was a five-minute walk from our hotel for lunch and our first taste of Greek Island beach time.  It did not disappoint!  Our trip members played in the water, sun tanned with their favorite books and sipped on fresh fruit smoothies.  It was a relaxing day and the perfect introduction to Naxos.  That evening, we traveled into the heart of downtown and separated into our groups for dinner.  Claire, Sabrina and Annie all enjoyed fruit filled crepes made fresh while many of the others sampled a trip favorite-gelato with freshly made waffle cones.

Our first full day in Naxos was full of adventure.  Our group went on a bike tour around the island.  The small coastal streets and local eateries whizzed by as we pedaled our way around the island taking in all that Naxos had to offer.  Tess and Leila both earned a perseverance shout out for their resiliency during the ride. That evening after dinner, we visited a “disco”.  Ben and Josh showed off their dancing skills while the other trip members grooved to the music.  As the clock struck midnight, our group sang “Happy Birthday” to trip member Annie and helped her usher in her
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From a Fresh Set of Keys to Zipping Through the Trees – Costa Rica Community Service

From a Fresh Set of Keys to Zipping Through the Trees – Costa Rica Community Service

After three days of mud, sweat and even a few tears (of joy), we can safely say that our first community service project in Santa Anna was a success.  On top of the building project, we also had a crew travel down the street with a staff to help out at a neighbourhood childcare centre for the morning.  They played soccer, blew bubbles, made art and learned a bit of Spanish along the way.  Everyone made it back to the build site for the final hour of construction where trip members had the pleasure of being introduced to Julieta, whose family is receiving the house that has been under construction all summer – she was present on our last day of service to receive the symbolic key to her new home.  Everybody gathered around the freshly dug five-foot trench that had been dug to hold the septic tank… trip members were very proud of (and a bit attached to) this 5 feet-deep hole that had been dug through multiple layers of dirt, clay, roots and eventually bedrocks.  The rock put up a good fight, but it was no match for our team of diggers, every one of whom is now fully certified as a living breathing human jackhammer.  Alas, it was finally time for Julieta to speak to the group on what was, for her, a momentous occasion.  As she began to talk, tears came streaming down her face.  Within seconds of Julieta’s tears, trip members also started tearing up… it
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Closing Days in La Carpio – Costa Rica Community Service

Closing Days in La Carpio – Costa Rica Community Service

You may remember back to a previous blog post in which I described a game called “Assassin”. Trip members were given the task to eliminate a specific person from the game by getting their target to speak a predetermined word. Well, we have been patiently waiting all trip to conclude the game and crown a champion. The deadline of our final dinner was closing in and we still had 2 trip members active in the game. In an epic plot on the bus ride to dinner, Shellie was able to eliminate Matt, causing the whole bus to erupt into cheers and applause – a great way to begin the closing procedures of our trip.

This journey has been an incredible ride. Many trip members have expressed their readiness to go home, and at the same time their deep sadness that our adventure has come to a close. In the past few days we were able to take in the stunning rainforest scenery while rafting down the Pacuare River. The water levels receded just in time to allow us on the river. The rapids did not disappoint and trip members had an awesome time paddling, swimming, and (once) getting stuck on a rock together. We also had the pleasure of spending a few more days with the precious children of La Carpio, as we helped run a day camp at a beautiful property, complete with a pool and fresh mangos off the trees. It doesn’t get more epic than that!

The excitement is high as we spend
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