Hidden Gems and Small Town Tales

There is such beauty in each of life’s perfect seasons … and such joy in simply uncovering and experiencing that beauty.

You’re welcome to join me on this journey of discovery as I explore the stories of life’s seasons and the people and places they belong to.

And since every story needs a beginning, let’s get started …

A Sugar Point Moment!

Mystical Little Lake Manitou

by Lisa Lysen 

Deep in the heart of Saskatchewan, Canada, nestled between Saskatoon and Regina, lies a little known magical body of water!

Little Lake Manitou has been shrouded in folklore and tales of mystical healing powers since its discovery almost two hundred years ago. Even the name Manitou, an indigenous word meaning Great Spirit, suggests reverence and honor.

Reportedly first stumbled upon in 1837 the legend goes like this:

In a desperate attempt to escape the horrors of a smallpox epidemic plaguing Canada’s early settlers and subsequently Indigenous people, a group of First Nations families left civilization to travel west through the unexplored country.

As they came upon the shores of an unknown lake, it became tragically obvious that some of their youths had contracted the deadly and very contagious disease.

With no hope at all for the boys’ survival, they saw leaving them behind as their only choice, thus protecting others from a terrible illness and certain death.

A shelter was built next to the lake and the youths, provided with as much comfort as possible were left to await their inevitable fate.

Hot, thirsty and alone they made their way together to the lake’s edge for a drink. The feel of the water on their hands and faces as they cupped it to their mouths was soothing and they were lured in a little farther.

As they stepped into the waters of Little Lake Manitou they relaxed and felt so comforted they couldn’t bring themselves to return to shore.

In spite of being weak, their bodies wracked with a terrible illness, they had no fear of drowning. The lake kept them buoyant and as the water quietly worked its magic, they floated and rested, eventually falling asleep in Manitou’s gentle arms.

They awoke several hours later, refreshed and feeling some relief from the agony of the disease that had been stealing away their lives and destroying their healthy young bodies.

After a few more days of bathing in the mystical waters, the boys were miraculously free of smallpox.

They quickly rejoined their people and returned to the lake to rejoice in what they felt could only be the work of the Great Spirit.

To celebrate the miracle of the young boys’ recoveries, what we now know to be the 3rdlargest body of saltwater in the world, was christened “Little Lake Manitou”.

Originally formed by glaciers during the latest ice age, Little Lake Manitou is a dying lake, fed by underground springs. It is 13.4 km 2 (5.2 sq. miles) in surface area with an average depth of 3.8 m (12 ft.).

A dying or terminal lake happens when there is no inflow or outflow. No creeks, streams or rivers connect to Little Lake Manitou. With its waters never being replenished and continuously escaping through seepage and evaporation, it is expected to one day dry up.

However, having no flow has resulted in Little Lake Manitou being very rich in minerals.

Salt levels are measured at half that of the Dead Sea, explaining why floating on the surface is so easy.

As well as being high in salinity, the lake is also abundant in naturally occurring magnesium, potassium, silica, calcium, and sulfate.  Copper gives Lake Manitou an intriguing reddish tinge and might be the reason many afflicted with arthritis find a dip in its waters to be so soothing.

But it’s not only those suffering arthritis who’ve reported feeling better. Resting in the lake for a few hours every day has been credited with curing eczema and other skin conditions over time, as well as with healing numerous types of infection, including gangrene. Bathing in the lake has been reported to have once cured an infection so severe that amputation would have been the next step.

Its soothing waters have been recommended to help with anxiety-disorders and stress-related illnesses.

Tales of healing power have earned Little Lake Manitou the reputation of being Canada’s Dead Sea and tourist attractions are being developed along its shoreline in the towns of Watrous and Manitou Beach.

A sandy beach, European-type spa, mineral baths, golf course, a historic “Dance land”, award-winning hotels, delicious cuisine, bird sanctuary, an “Artist walk” and shopping that highlights local artists are only a few of the attractions to be found.

From the event of its discovery in 1837 Little Lake Manitou has been a place where people go to heal and celebrate. And while no actual scientific studies have been done on the long term effects of taking a dip in the unusual copper-colored waters, many will tell you their personal experiences have been nothing short of magical.

Without a doubt, though visiting this charming little town with all it’s attractions and friendly enthusiasm is simply magical in itself!

Photo courtesy of Pixels Images


Christmas in Carlyle – Charles Dickens Style!

By Lisa Lysen

Magic and enchantment are scattered all throughout Saskatchewan, Canada any time of year but it’s hard to beat the old-world charm of Carlyle in December.

Every December this town of about 1400 people celebrates the essence of community, coming alive with holiday spirit.

And for two bewitching days Carlyle, Saskatchewan is transformed into a page from a storybook as it annually steps back in time to host Canada’s only Dickens Festival.

Brimming with a mix of creativity, nostalgia, and theatrics, Main Street proudly takes center-stage. Props, costumes, and townspeople turned thespian enthusiastically convert this pretty prairie community to a scene from the 1800s. 

With a little imagination, it’s very easy to believe you’re walking the cobblestone roads of long ago London!

A horse-drawn carriage ambles along, driven by a stately gentleman in top hat and tails. A lovely Victorian lady by his side offers rides to anyone who may be looking for a quaint little adventure or perhaps just feeling weary of walking.

But although a carriage ride is a charming accent to the day’s fun, walking is really where the fanciful happens!

Shopkeepers dressed in costume stand out on sidewalks, ringing bells and luring passers-by in to see their wares.

“Ye Olde Gang Market” showcases local artisans, its cheerfully decorated booths overflowing with unique crafts and handiwork.

“Tiny Tim’s Taste Tour” serves free holiday baking, chocolate, and other goodies all the way up and down Main Street.

There’s a contagious atmosphere of excitement that takes the crispness out of the winter air for a time as you stroll along.

But if carolers singing and music playing doesn’t do enough to warm things up for you there are street vendors along the way serving hot beverages, “bangers”, chili, baked potatoes, even smoked turkey legs!

Father Christmas or Bob Cratchit may stop to chat on street corners and Ebeneezer Scrooge makes his appearance, too. Bobbies are on patrol watching for the Artful Dodger and other “ragamuffins”.

Just a short jaunt off Main Street, around the corner and down the lane, a local church hosts afternoon Victorian tea. And stepping into this pretty little church for tea honestly feels like stepping into an old-fashioned Christmas card!

Handmade patchwork quilts hang on the walls over top tables adorned with jars of homemade jams and hand-sewn crafts. Adding to the fun, everyone entering is loaned a hand-decorated Victorian hat to set the mood.

Dainties, pinwheel sandwiches and all sorts of tasty treats are laid out and best of all, there’s Christmas pudding galore!

Further into the heart of town is Carlyle’s “Festival of Trees”, a very breathtaking sight! Another interesting venue worth checking out is the “Rusty Relics Museum”, giving a little insight into the town’s own history.

Back on Main Street, the community hall, all dressed up in old-world style is transformed to “Fezziwig’s Pub”.  A great bar menu and continuous live music make it an easy place to settle and enjoy.

Festive touches all over town lend to the holiday spirit that is everywhere.

Friday evening the Santa Claus parade escorts its famous guest into Carlyle. And as Santa arrives new activities are added to the celebrations.

The Dickens Festival is designed to be special for everyone in the family with plenty of children’s entertainment, including magicians! Saturday morning begins with “Breakfast with Santa”, photos and a free skate with the elderly celebrity.

But the biggest highlight of the Dicken’s Festival happens in the evenings, with Carlyle’s own musical version of “A Christmas Carole”. Local talent comes together to put on a great show that’s both fun and entertaining! And the story’s just a little different every year, too, as imaginative spins are creatively put on this classic tale.

The time, creativity, hard work, and community spirit that go into making the Dickens Festival a success each year truly represents what small-town magic and Saskatchewan are all about.


A Beautiful Summertime Getaway …

Lundar Provincial Park!

By Lisa Lysen

The smell of wood smoke drifts in the air as twigs and logs crackle and light up the night sky. There’s nothing like a campfire after a day of swimming and relaxing on the beach!

Lundar Provincial Park, about an hour outside Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with its 32 electrically serviced campsites offers a little piece of paradise to anyone who appreciates a relaxing getaway.

The picturesque sites are always well-maintained, the park quiet and clean. Add to that a magnificent lake, sandy beach, playground, and volleyball nets and you have a perfect place for a family holiday.

Lake Manitoba is ideal for swimming, kiteboarding, tubing, canoeing, and kayaking. Bike and walking trails through Lundar Provincial Park and along the rustic shoreline lead to cottage country on either side.

A scenic walk along the area’s Interpretive Trail will give you an interesting hour or so of exploring bush and adjacent marshland. Deer are plentiful, as are birds, chipmunks, and squirrels, but be prepared to meet the occasional snake!  

Every day a beautiful new masterpiece paints itself across the sky as the sun sets over the lake. And morning sunrises are equally enchanting. Heaven for anyone with a camera or just a love of nature!

But as secluded and far away from hustle and bustle as it all feels the towns of Lundar and Eriksdale are each only about 15 minutes away. There’s also a golf course just a short drive down the road, complete with clubhouse and restaurant.

And if the weather takes a turn for the worse, taking in the Lundar Museum can liven up a rainy afternoon.

For so many reasons, Lundar Provincial Park is a great getaway destination!


Discover Costa Rica – A Tropical Adventure

by Lisa Lysen

Thank you to Travelista Club for publishing this article on your website!

“Welcome to Costa Rica – Slow Down and Relax!” …  better words could not have greeted us on our way to charming Playas del Coco, Guanacaste Province, one of Costa Rica’s oldest beach communities! And with warm tropical air casting a spell to melt any lingering thoughts of Canadian snowbanks, things already felt magical! Although for us, the magic had begun before we’d left home. This, our first trip to Central America, was a gift from our daughter and son-in-law. They were excited to show us all there is to fall in love with, in this Latin-American paradise. And as we were soon to discover, that’s quite a list!

Costa Rica Is Best Known For:

  • Some of the prettiest beaches in the world, both white and black sand
  • Tropical jungles, rainforests, waterfalls, beautiful flora, and fauna
  • Mountains and 67 volcanoes – some of them still active!
  • Exotic cats (like Ocelots and Jaguars)
  • Monkeys! There are so many monkeys!
  • Creepier creatures, too – crocodiles and 22 varieties of venomous snakes
  • Sloths (one of my favorites … it’s just crazy cute how slow they are!)
  • Coffee (another favorite … I’m kind of a sloth without it … but not quite so cute!)

First Stop – our condo units!

Where To Stay In Playas Del Coco:

Because tourism is one of Costa Rica’s leading industries, there’s no shortage of beautiful accommodations. Of the many in Playas del Coco, a few near downtown minutes from Coco Beach area:

  • Pacifico Beach Club
  • Hotel Coco Palms
  • Green Forest of Coco Beach Studios
  • Bendicion

Clean and upscale, with all amenities, our condo was perfect! Beautifully landscaped grounds showcased tropical flowers, plants, and trees to remind us we’d left the ice and snow and cold behind. Whimsically winding pools, connected by fountains and hot tubs made relaxing in the warm Costa Rican sunshine so very tempting and so very easy.

And Playas del Coco’s location is perfect for enjoying life as a beach bum! Scenic walks lead to the Pacific Ocean for snorkeling, diving, fishing, sunset cruises and more. A little more walking reveals the heart of Playas del Coco, alive with music, food, tantalizing smells, atmosphere, and all-around enchanting Costa Rican culture. Accessible by car as well!

But we soon discovered there was even more fun waiting just outside Playas del Coco.

Best Things About Guanacaste Province, Near Playas Del Coco?

Eco-Adventure Parks

With breathtaking ocean and jungle views, zip-lining from mountain-top to mountain-top in Costa Rica is an amazing experience! And as if the exhilaration of zipping through the air 60 seconds/mile isn’t excitement enough, we actually exited our adventure by dropping onto a suspension bridge hanging over a pond filled with crocodiles!

But zip-lining is only part of what Guanacaste’s eco-adventure parks offer. There are off-roading ATV tours, a zoo featuring tropical birds, monkeys, sloths, and wildcats. Butterfly gardens! And educational enclosures with reptiles, snakes and some of the cutest, if also most poisonous little frogs you’ve ever seen.

Zipping mountain to mountain!

African Safari Parks

Hectares of Costa Rican countryside have been set aside for African safaris, complete with zebras. giraffes, warthogs and more! We had a blast!

What does a giraffe say when it whispers “sweet nothings” in your ear?

Explore Guanacaste

A picturesque journey by car unveils so much beauty and even more adventure surrounding Playas del Coco. Monkey trails alone are an adventure! Waterfall tours and kayaking venues dot the landscape. And for scuba enthusiasts, there are leatherback turtles, rainbows of colors in tropical fish and maybe even some sharks to keep things interesting! For me, simply relaxing in the peacefulness of the secluded sandy beaches was pretty irresistible.

Costa Rica has some of the prettiest beaches in the world!

Deep-Sea Fishing

When the 4 of us boarded a fishing boat and, along with 2 crew set out to experience the Pacific Ocean, it was a perfect dream come true – gentle waves, blue skies, tropical sunshine, and a soothing, salty breeze. I never expected by day’s end to be telling my first ever fishing story … and describing what it’s like to reel in a 60+ pound monster! We’ve heard it’s pretty rare, but thanks to an amazing crew and no doubt some beginner’s luck, we each caught a Mahi-Mahi … although, with or without a catch, our day on the ocean would have been magical!

The Best Of It?

From the moment we arrived until the moment we left, the friendliness and welcoming ways of the people we met rivaled the charm and beauty of the intoxicatingly beautiful country we were visiting. And we had no trouble finding someone to chat with us in English wherever we went. That might be because we did lots of touristy things. One tip I’m taking back for next time, though is to learn at least a little of the language!

What Languages Are Spoken In Costa Rica?

  • Spanish is the official language, spoken by almost everyone
  • Costa Rican slang is called “Pachuco”
  • Costa Ricans are “Ticos” (males) and “Ticas” (female)
  • Travelers are “Gringos” and “Gringas”
  • You also hear Jamaican Patois (Mekatelyu), a Creole-English language
  • There are many dialects of ancient, pre-Columbian indigenous languages
  • Plautdietsch is spoken in areas of Mennonite settlement
  • You may hear “thou” instead of “you”; a remnant of “olde” English brought to Costa Rica by Quakers
  • Immigration continues to introduce new languages to this tropical paradise

Costa Rica’s natural beauty depends on being an eco-friendly, environmentally-conscious culture. Because of this and because so much nature abounds, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Things To Remember In Costa Rica:

  • Don’t feed the monkeys. It’s against the law.
  • Or touch tiny frogs. Some are venomous and that’s just nasty!
  • Don’t forget bug spray. Mosquitoes and insects love Costa Rica, too!
  • Don’t remove sand dollars, seashells or flora, and fauna. It’s illegal.
  • Don’t forget sandals on the beautiful black beaches. They get very hot!
  • Or closed-toed shoes for jungle tours! There are ants – not toxic, but annoying!
  • Don’t underestimate the power of rip-tides or high surf. Drowning is a danger.

Black sand beaches – very beautiful and very hot! Remember your sandals!

Our visit to Playas del Coco, Guanacaste Province, and Costa Rica was simply enchanting. We had a beautiful holiday … a gift I will always cherish and a memory I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for!