Newfoundland. Yes, B’y!

Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food.  The hikes!  Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery.  The colour!  Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned.  The accented lovely way of speaking!  Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?

We were on the escalator heading down to street level at the St John’s airport in early June.  Excited to start our eight days in Newfoundland’s east.  We had butterflies of excitement and I think we may have been holding hands, my love and I.  Dean, hailing from there, was all smiles to be ‘down home’ again to the salt air and the fog, the twang and the good-naturedness of Newfoundlanders. (Pronouced: newfundLANDers)

I was casually scanning the crowd on street level.  My glance fell on a dark-haired man sitting in profile to us on a bench against the wall.  He was smiling, looking around wide-eyed and boyishly swinging his legs back and forth.  Could it be?  I was almost sure it was him but what luck would that be?!  Michael Crummey, I said quietly.  I nudged Dean beside me.  Michael Crummey, I indicated with my chin.  We both said aloud for him then: Michael Crummey!  And he looked at us and smiled with recognition as we arrived at his level.  He and Dean had attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) back in the eighties and played a bit of soccer together.  We had attended Michael’s readings on his books and listened, rapt, while he read from his latest book the last time: Sweetland when he visited Wolfville’s Acadia University in the recent past.  We had pints and shared stories and jokes at Paddy’s Pub.  We were nearly best buds, the three of us.  Well, not really, but it was certainly wonderful to see his smiling face.  He was awaiting his mother and then she joined us and we were introduced.  A moment later we were offered a ride to our hotel and off we went in his car while Michael told us of places not to be missed and I jotted notes on a scrap of paper in the back seat…this was sure to be a great trip and it was that for sure.

Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food.  The hikes!  Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery.  The colour!  Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned.  The accented lovely way of speaking!  Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?

We checked into Hotel Newfoundland and were offered all manner of treats from the lady going by with a cart from the exec lounge.  Don’t want to throw it all away, she said.  We loaded up, then stepped out to look at Signal Hill via the crooked little neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. Boardwalk clutching shear cliffs and spray of salt water with a backdrop of the huge deep St John’s harbour and small icebergs off in the big blue.IMG_0580 (3)

Colourful ancient houses clung impossibly on the hillside of rock and steps galore! as we made our way for the next two hours. Exclaiming at the beauty all the while and sweating while climbing the flights of stairs up the rock face.  I would not have wanted to be the builders of that staircase.  Newfoundlander builders wouldn’t have thought twice about it, likely.  I recalled my barrel-chested, cheerful brother-in-law in his good black leather jacket, hat less, stepping out into the driving, sideways freak icy rain one Christmas in Corner Brook. It’s not FIT! he turned, smiled and shrugged at us watching from the damp doorway or Dean’s eldest brother.

Next, a meal which had us enjoying the lightest, sweetest fish and chips ever and a pint of the local brew at The Duke.  Simply awesome.

Day two, we walked all over the pretty and old, twisty knotted downtown and then up around the University Campus after an incredible brunch at The Rooms Museum Cafe overlooking the harbour.The Rooms Cafe

We met Bill, Dean’s friend from University, at his house and then dropped everything to go take a look at Petty Harbour.  The sun just happened to come out while we were there.  Afterwards, we ate a wonderful steak supper with Bill, then walked back to the hotel still in the day light.  Gotta love the long days of summer.  We then fit in a pint with Michael Crummey and told the tales of our lives, three glasses clinked, then three heads together as we caught up on all the news at the Ship Pub.  We laughed at the memories of Codco who used to hang out at The Ship Inn which was sold and so imaginatively renamed.

Pint with Michael Crummey

Day three, we picked up our rental car after a scrumptious meal at Chinched and off we went to tour the Irish Loop with a stop to hike La Manche trail, part of the East Coast Trail system and see the suspension bridge out in the ghost-town wilderness.  Later that evening, we found a nice B&B and just got in the door when the rain began to pour down.  The owner was a small lively man with a few good stories for us.  Then we enjoyed some rest.

Day four, we ventured into Tickle Cove and did the little trail around the pond IMG_0550 then had a dessert and tea at Maudie’s Cafe, which was sweet.  Later, we found a small hotel room on Bay Roberts and walked for a ways to see the old churches, enjoying a pint overlooking the bay on the route back.

The next morning we were nearly ordered by the hotel manager to do the Shoreline Walk, which we are so glad to have done.  Simply beautiful, with its old stacked rock

IMG_0457foundations and stone cellars from before the town was moved further into the crook of the bay.  At the end of the two hour hike, we came across a diner and enjoyed touton (pronounced TOUT-on) BLTs and fish cakes, the server so talkative she forgot to take our order for several minutes.  It was scrumptious.  There, we overheard an exchange that we are still chuckling about. The server asked a guest how he wanted his eggs.  The Newfoundlander answered: I don’t want to be any trouble but, I’ll have one scrambled and one poached. but I don’t want to be any trouble.  Pause.  The server stood with a look on her face, searching his for a glimmer of fun, then all erupted in laughter.

IMG_0643Day five, we pulled into Trinity and booked a room for two nights in a large house with many rooms all with ensuite bathrooms.  It was like a hostel for adults, said Dean.  We enjoyed swapping stories with some of our house mates and then had food and drink and a stroll around town, marveling again at the use of colour.  Why so much colour we wondered?  It was so that the seafarers could find their way home in the fog, b’y.

mv with sea stacksDay six, we did the Skerwink Hike with its sea stacks and rugged coast, ending the trail beside a pond with a resident otter who made himself known.  This is my pond, he indicated with his snout held high and in our general direction.  Later that evening, we found our way out to the CBC TV Miniseries site of Random PassageIMG_0606 and were tickled to be the only folks there.  I had read these books and LOVED them, a quarter of a century ago living in Corner Brook and being new to the culture.  They shed a ton of light for me.

IMG_0649 (2)Day seven, we were back to St John’s were we met up with one of Dean’s nieces and had tea while catching up on all her news.  We had walked around Quidi Vidi pond to get to her at a little cafe, but first we had met Dean’s friend Bill at The Mallard Cottage for a pint and an incredibly delicious lunch.

Day eight, we were packing up to catch our plane back to Nova Scotia.  Our little tour of Newfoundand’s East coast had been amazing.  Colourful, sweet, homey, rugged and beautiful.  We shall return.

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All photos by Martha Valiquette

Amy Goes West

Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin.  Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.

When my sister Amy was almost 19, her friend convinced her to secretly hitch-hike out to Vancouver from southern Ontario, a trip of over 4000 kms one way.

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The young ladies stitched ‘VAN’ patches to their back packs and with straightened hair and bell bottoms, off they went: flower children off to find themselves.  (The prior year, my brother Matt had gone west with a buddy, hopping on and off rail cars.  It was a trendy thing to do then, to head West and to always ‘hit the ground running!’)

They were lucky to get rides in transport trucks with very attentive and caring knights of the highway who fed them and took them the extra mile to their destination.  They also took them on little side trips to Banff Springs Hotel and to the Okanagan Valley.  The gentlemen put the girls up in a hotel room of their own for two nights…sheer luxury and after four days they were dropped off in Vancouver at a hostel which the men paid for, for a night.  So generous!

The next day, the young women went to see Donna’s uncle in Port Alberni.  He gave them money to stay in a hostel for a further week so they could visit Wreck beach, Gas town and Stanley Park.

The friends walked all over the city seeing various vendors, musicians with tambourines and hippies everywhere as well as trans folks. Amy and Donna didn’t have a clue as to what they were seeing sometimes.

At Stanley Park in Vancouver, the sight there was not the best. The park was strewn with tons of garbage and many youth were strung out and laying around on the grass.  Some folks were meditating or in some sort of drug-induced trance. Everyone was friendly but, it wasn’t anything like what Amy and Donna expected.

At the hostel which was nice and clean and more wholesome, there was a kitchen with folks baking bread.  The meals there were mostly stews and bread.  Sitting in a circle at the hostel, everyone would share stories about where they came from.  There were many minstrel musicians and artists there with a general attitude of living on love, not working and being cool.

Walking through Vancouver one morning, seventeen-year old Donna saw a dance studio with a dancer in the window.  This dancer became her husband and they are still together today, going on to open a water-bed franchise and doing well on the water-bed trend of the eighties.  Remember that?  (Amy reminded me that she had two water beds in her apartment in the eighties where I lived while waiting to get into the army.  My husband Dean installed a waterbed in his residence room at university!)

In Gas town there were many people sitting on the sidewalk and shooting up and doing all manner of weirdness, almost like a mini Woodstock.  They seemed to be doing anything they wanted without a thought for the law.  Long hair, headbands, bare-chest, jeans, cut-off shorts, macrame belts with beaded tail a hanging down the thigh.

Georgie‘ girls would walk by in peasant blouses, long, flowing skirts and hair, floppy hat, beads, bracelets and anklets and Jesus sandals, patched and needle-pointed bell-bottom jeans and no makeup.  No bra.  Some wore moccasins and everyone had a backpack which identified them with sewn-on patches of their home town and of different places they had been. No cell phones. No email. No video games. No social media and no effing selfies. Just patches, music and spoken word. Imagine.

At the white-sand, nude Wreck Beach Amy recognized John from home who was sunbathing nude, stretched out on the fine, warm sand. Amy told him to throw a towel on if he wanted them to speak to him.

Soon the money ran out and Amy needed to get home.  From the ‘free’ phone at the Trans Union office, she called Mom and Dad and begged for airfare, mentioning that she didn’t even have money for food.  Back then, a student could fly across country for under a hundred dollars.

‘Our blond daughter is coming back from finding herself!  Wailed Dad to Mom.

Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin.  Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.

Back home to reality and work at A&W.  Dad and Mom had let Amy, Matt and Mark have the house that summer while they were at the lake for the summer.  Bad move as there were parties galore and the house was getting more and more weathered due to them.  In the seventies when the baby boomers were teens, there were just so many of them about that they took over every aspect of life.  They walked around in packs.  It’s hard to believe now in 2019, that they were ever that young.  The baby boomers are now aging and their vast numbers are taking over the assisted-living homes, seniors resorts and most of Florida. Stores are stocking more and more seniors’ needs: reading glasses, purple shampoo, compression hose, knee-braces, Epsom salts, sore muscle balm, soup and the like.

Anyhoo,  at home, Amy kept an eye-ball peeled for Donna’s dad who was the police chief. She thought she would be killed if he saw her as he was sure to blame Amy for the loss of his daughter to Vancouver…man.

Daisy

(Eva Player – daisy pic – and Google images..thanks again )

The Badlands & A New Biz

Overnight my job is lost due to a fire…it wasn’t long before we struck upon a viable business idea one that is still operating today

After Paddy’s had the fire and I was instantly out of a full-time job, I painted most of the rooms in our house and felt the freedom of deciding what to do with my days.  Every day, after walking my son, Leo, to school, the day would stretch out with all kinds of possibility.

It wasn’t long before Dean and I were kicking around the idea of starting up our own business.  We had noticed the need for a driving school in town, and one thing led to another, and before long we were up and running.  This was ironic due to me having been a Transportation Logistics Officer in the Army.  I had taken courses in military driving, off-roading, convoying, forward delivery points in the field and had even helped set up a heavy trucking school in Germany, teaching the Service Battalion soldiers how to drive the HLVW , (Heavy Logistics Vehicle Wheeled).  These bad boys, as seen below (creds to the guy who signed the pic).

HLVW

I also had all the office-related knowledge: payroll, payables / receivables, customer service and the like.  Dean would be an instructor: he loved to drive and he was both laid-back and had great reflexes.

Just prior to opening doors of our new driving school in June of 2006, while awaiting a few details to solidify, we realized we still had two flights to anywhere in Canada due to cancelled trips of earlier that year.  Dean and I brainstormed over where to go and we finally settled on Calgary with the idea that I would take Leo to The Bad Lands and to see the Dinosaur museum.  I had my old and dear friend, Layla out there and could possibly stay with her for a few days in High River.

Off we flew and rented a car at the Calgary Airport, driving to High River and seeing Layla was amazing.  It had been decades.  We smiled and hugged, and I said, ‘we look the same, just weathered.’ Now, she was married with three boys.  Leo, who was close to seven, was so excited about three instant new buddies.  We walked to meet them after school and Leo was instantly enjoying his new mates as Layla and I got re-acquainted.

I began to notice that Layla was a bit distant.  She didn’t meet my eyes fully.  She didn’t have all of her normal energy.  She was tired and she was keeping me somewhat at arm’s length. We went up in her sons’ tree house and saw a robin staring us down from her house’s rooftop.  We put words in its mouth and then laughed and laughed because we had both been thinking the same thing: ‘Get the fuck out!’  That’s what it was saying to us. ‘Get the fuck out!’  There she was.  Her old self had surfaced briefly.

Later that evening I had the pleasure of meeting her husband.  I immediately sensed that this guy was off.  It was all about him.  She was in a bad marriage and it was all about him.  I felt bad.  (Thankfully, it ended a few years later and now she is rid of him.  They had met in a religious cult which Layla was in for a few years, because of him).

The next day, Leo and I hit the road out to the Bad Lands and finally getting there, were astounded at the beauty of them.  The striations of colour in the sand-stone were incredibly artistic.  We took a walk.

Later we went to the Royal Tyrell Museum which was literally out of this world.  We couldn’t do it justice though as Leo was feeling a bit sick from being in the car.  In the town of Drumheller, Leo climbed up the inside of the steel T-Rex and he was giggling to the whole way.

Later we went to a pool which was the nicest and biggest and funnest pool we had ever been to.  There was a huge foam floating climbing structure to jump off and ropes to swing from and slides to go down.  This must be Alberta, I thought.  At the time, it was very wealthy compared to Nova Scotia.

That night we stayed in a hotel with a Jacuzzi in our room (the clerk, seeing Leo, gave us a free upgrade – he was the cutest!).  We put bathing suits on, got in the tub with the new movie ‘ELF’ on the big screen tv.  We giggled and giggled and this is a fond memory for me because Leo had been feeling some nausea.  He was better and that was a good thing.  I loved to hear him laugh.

The next day we were back at Layla’s, staying in a house of an absent in-law of hers and I made a simple supper for them all to come and enjoy.  I looked out the window to see all four boys on one bike.  Leo was having the time of his life!

We went for a hike in the mountains and had a picnic lunch.  The mountains were spectacular!  The gray jays were everywhere.  We visited a friend of Layla’s with a trampoline and once again, Leo was out there and all the children were laughing and having fun on the trampoline while Layla, Beth and I visited and had coffee. Later Layla made us pate chinoispate chinois and it was delicious (earlier, I had reminded her that it was my favourite childhood meal that mom would make.  I would get home, famished from gymnastics or basketball practise and sit down to Pate.  Scrumptious!)

We then played foosball and watched a doc.  Foosball was a scream, because I was screaming and because I was screaming, so was Layla who also kept looking at me to see if I was for real.  Yep.  I get into it a bit much.

The next day, we walked down by the river and all through the little downtown.  We had lunch at a wonderful diner.

Layla told me she had received a call that her Gramma was on her deathbed in North Bay.  Layla would accompany us to Toronto where she would rent a car and head north.  Sitting on the flight, during the safety briefing, Layla made a face in response to a curt instruction from the flight attendant.  Oh my god, I nearly peed.  She can make me laugh like that and it is just so stupid and funny that there is no rhyme or reason to it.  Layla wasn’t able to rent a car because it was her husband’s credit card (and he wouldn’t allow it).  She took a bus and made it to her Gramma who died just after seeing Layla. She had made it to say good-bye.

Upon returning to Nova Scotia, we began the driving school and it is still running today, twelve years later.  It has been great undertaking with three or four employees whom we generally have a great time with.  Driving instructors tend to be folks retired from other professions.  We have had a retired school principal, a retired teacher, a retired scientist, an ex-airline worker and a retired engineer.  They have taught me a lot over the years and I appreciate them immensely.

I also truly appreciate my old childhood friends.  They are the ones who know you.  Where you came from.  How you were raised.  What you are made of.  Your values.  A genuinely good friend is one you can just pick up with from where you left off.  Even decades later.  I have several of these people in my life and I appreciate them with all my heart.

Cuatro a Cuba 🇨🇺

With the goal of getting back into World Travel now that our wee one is taller than us, we start with the sweet country of Cuba…

With our 18-year old son, Leo, having just finished up his first term of University, and his buddy, Reid, we decided to take a 12-day trip to Cuba…a non-resort trip…not exactly as strenuous as a ‘back-packing’ trip, per se, but a non-resort moving around trip none the less.  And, all in all, it was a fine adventure to finish off 2017 in a unique fashion.  Dean and I were also celebrating 25 years married and we wanted to do something special for the occasion.

We arrived in Havana in mid-December and made a bee-line first to the cadeca to change money, then to the tienda for a cold one each.  We had arranged a driver to take us to our place in Vedado, a trendy area of the city but, he was familiar with ‘Cuba Time’ and had no trouble just chilling until the four of us quenched our thirst after a long, rather sparse flight.  Don’t get me going but what the devil has happened to flights theses days?…I had told the boys of the days of unlimited free boozy drinks on flights and a full hot meal preceded by a warm towel for your face, neck and hands, blankets and pillows and head-sets handed to each traveler.  What the heck happened???  Now we couldn’t even check a bag for free.  The four of us went with carry-on only and had had our sun-screen confiscated at security.  Let’s just read that line again…our sun-screen was confiscated at security.  Why?  Well, it seems since 9 – 11, sun-screen in any family-size container, is a security breech.

I digress.

Our driver happily helped us into his vintage car and off we rolled to our apartment.  Along the way, in a combination of broken English, Spanglish, gesture and sound effects, he told us about the area and his family.  It seemed that he was a nearly pro ping-ponger with four babies (who were now adults) and then we rolled passed the Mental Health Hospital and he put two bent fingers to his right temple and made a creaking sound while moving his fingers back and forth and rolling his eyes.  Ooookay.  Meanwhile, in his back seat sits me with Bipolar1.  I didn’t let on.

Our apartment was ideal and in good proximity to a landmark that we all wanted to check out.  The Nacional Hotel.  It seemed fitting to have our first mojito of the trip there. National Hotel

The bartender happened to be our landlord, so he treated us to a Cubata cocktail as well and a couple of fine cigars for the lads.  His protege was quite a nice-looking guy, very photogenic, and he was fine with me snapping his picture.

Cuban

From there, we walked along the sea wall and marveled at the warm air.walking in Havana with J

It was getting dark and would soon be time to find a place to eat.  We asked a young person who seemed to know some English.  He told us to try Bicky’s and he drew us a little map.  We walked the darkened streets with nary a flat sidewalk and several random ankle-busting holes as well as piles of dog doo and other garbage.  We found it, though.  Its neon-lighted sign beckoning like a lighthouse over choppy seas.  It was an Italian place and we were seated on the balcony.  The place was packed and we got the last table.  When my food arrived, it didn’t look like much: penne pasta in a cream sauce.  Oh my.  It was fabulous.  All of us were happy with our food, but mine was outstanding.  I could barely speak due to my tongue being in love with the taste.  A nice omen of our meals to come.

The next morning, the Senorita arrived to cook us breakfast and we had fun trying to understand each other.  She had not a word of English and would just raise the volume of her Spanish to make us understand.  Luckily, my previous study on duolingo and our old phrase book which we had used in Central America  when Leo was four helped. As well, I employed a healthy and hilarious amount of gesture which I was comfortable with since learning conversational American Sign Language when Leo was a baby. I taught her how to do eggs ‘over-easy’ using my hand as the spatula in my gesticulating.  We had wonderful foods for breakfast: fresh tropical fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, freshly made tropical juices.  Wonderful.

Off we went to walk to the book store which was a couple of miles away in a quiet part of the city.  We walked past many pastel-coloured stucco homes, newly painted with groomed yards and straight fences, often directly beside a very old, grey and crumbling crooked house.  It was odd and interesting.  When we got to Cuba Libro the bookstore, LA HABANA-COMIENZA LA XXV FERIA INTERNACIONAL DEL LIBRO, CUBA 20we were amazed at the wonderful books as well as other offerings there: cookies, coffee and a clean bathroom. It is owned by an expat and has a lively community following with various clubs meeting there and tours too. The lovely server told us how to get a car to take us to Old Havana and so next we were climbing into a red 51 Chevy with clear vinyl covered leather seats.  It was mint.cuban taxi

Because we so enjoyed this man, with no English but a lovely manner, we negotiated with him for the 4.5 hour ride to Trinidad de Cuba for the next morning.  Then we walked around seeing the sights of Old Havana and drinking in the ancient feel of the place.

yellow wall laneIt was commonplace to hear and see vendors yelling and selling their wares which ranged from brooms (which I REALLY wanted – joking) to lettuce (which I also REALLY wanted) to baked crackers and pastries, even home-made ice-cream and shaved meat sandwiches were being sold but the sandwich maker was without gloves and my Western sensibilities would not allow us to avail of them.  I was quite intrigued with the cart of lettuce, and other veggies.  It looked so good and yummy.

cart of lettuce

Our ride to Trinidad (well, Boca actually which is just south of Trinidad) was uneventful except for many bumps due to the non-existent shocks on the 51 Chevy. There were very few vehicles on the highway but we would see horse and buggy from time to time, many sugar-cane fields and not a single fast-food place like there are along our highways.  We stopped about half-way for a bano break and the boys had a quick sandwich.  When we arrived, the taxi-driver asked at several doors to find us a place to stay.  We wanted two rooms with their own bathrooms.  We found them and we met an east-coaster named Erika who was quite eager to get to know us and to talk a blue streak.  While the Senora of the Casa made us a roast chicken lunch, we went swimming in the bay across from our rooms.  Erika came along and continued to ask intriguing questions and I found myself filling her in on our previous travels because she was very interested.

After a fine lunch, we grabbed a taxi to the big beach, Playa Ancon, and had a very sweet time throwing frisbee,

IMG_0647 walking down the beach and when Senor came along to ask if we wanted a drink, I sprung for mojitos for all (perhaps a wee bit extravagant but, sometimes that’s just the way it goes).

img_0534.jpgWhen the sun began to go down we grabbed the last taxi for the 10k back to La Boca and sat on the front porch. Next, there was a bit of a sing-song, as it turned out that Erika could sing beautifully with a rich voice and was very talented on guitar.  She had won an East Coast Music Award and such. http://erikakulnys.com/

Later, all the young folk went off to the Salsa House in Trinidad for a wild time.  We heard them getting in a few hours later and it sounded like they were going to have some stories for us in the morning.  Which they did…along the lines of how much rum one can drink before feeling rather sick…and such.  And, they enjoyed dancing their legs off!

We spent the days either on the beach at Playa Ancon,

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or walking around Trinidad IMG_0600

or hiking in the hills and swimming in small pools near the water falls.

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Leo jumped in from a high ledge and it was really cool.  I should comment that the second hike was very hard.  Walking way down, down, down to get to this pool and waterfall and then up, up, UP to get back to the top where our loyal taxi-driver waited.  My heart nearly burst.  I couldn’t remember a more challenging hike, even when we trekked for 30 days in Nepal…I had been a lot younger then.  That could account for it, I guess.  waterfallOne very good aspect though was that Dean surprised me with a lovely ring for our 25th anniversary, as we sat watching the boys by the waterfall.  Doesn’t get any better than that, in my world.

We also ate a lot of really good food in many different establishments.  Our Trinidad host, Rebeca, was so sweet to us too. She made us an elaborate breakfast each morning which included tropical fruit and juices, fresh-baked pie and pastries, omelettes, coffee with hot milk and chocolate.  She would hug and kiss us regularly, in keeping with her affectionate culture and because we would smile and she could see that we were content.  One morning she had Reid in a tight squeeze to her ample breasts.  He surfaced saying he thought that was called ‘a motorboat’.  We laughed. We breakfasted on her upper terrace and she went up and down the stairs at least a dozen times for us and not allowing us to help. Her granddaughter stole my heart and I gave her little gifts. To return the favour to us, Rebeca gave us a flask of Havana Club and a bottle of red wine.  These would have cost her a heck of a lot and were very generous gifts.

In Trinidad, the boys went to the Iberostar Hotel a few times in order to avail themselves of wifi.  It wasn’t free but nor was it too expensive.  There was also a pool table there which they were able to use a few times.  They would also have a cappuccino or a beer while they got their fill of social media and connecting with loved ones back home.

In the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to Havana to prepare for our journey home to Canada.  Rebeca’s son would take us back to the big city.  Without a word of English, we made our way with him.  He was quite a good driver.  He charged us a very fair rate for the trip.  No English but a lovely persona and a big, quick smile.  If you ever go to Trinidad de Cuba and need a place to stay, have the taxi take you to Casa Rebeca on Cienfuegos.  Highly recommend!

Back in Havana, we found rooms in Centro, just outside of Old Havana.  The landlady was a hurdle and it was apparent that she was a money grabbing opportunist behind her big fake smile.  Can’t have the good ones every time, I guess.  We walked the streets and looked at art, tasted various beers, Dean got a hair cut, and we tried a variety of restaurants and then it was time to grab a taxi to the airport.

Adios Cuba.  Until next time.IMG_0442

He Sails Away

My son and his shipmates walked down the plank and aboard the ship as the Indigenous girl sang a sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.

Here is the story of my son’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a Tall Ship, The Gulden Leeuw (as pictured above. Photo courtesy of Google Images).  My husband, Dean, and I were ever so proud that Leo was selected to go on the ship, but I was also terrified of the whole idea.  Anything could happen while crossing the North Atlantic — it was not to be trifled with.  I was having out-of-body experiences as I imagined some of the more horrible possibilities, but, strangely, I was also very eager for him to be out there and experiencing it.  ‘He will be fine,’ I was told.  ‘That ship crosses the Atlantic all the time.’  They said.  ‘The Captain will ensure that all is well.’  Meanwhile, my eyebrows moved higher and ever higher up my forehead.  It sounds like I am foreshadowing that something bad would happen.  Well, there was one big storm in which Leo told us about working in the galley with smashing dishes and flying carrots (yes, carrots), but other than some foggy days and cool temperatures, all went smoothly on the Golden Love, which is how I renamed the ship in my mind.

The morning they cast off, they smudged all present with smoking sage.  A well-loved Mi’kmaq Chief approached me and with both hands holding the smudging bowl, kindly offered me the cleansing smoke.  I reached out hungrily and pulled it over me.  ‘This will help keep him safe, right?’  I thought. Blessings were bestowed by several Chiefs and Elders and best wishes were wished.  We were asked to go around the crowd and ensure that every one of the 45 participants were given a hug by someone so that they understood how much we love and cherish them.  It was unbelievably touching.  But, I continued to check in with myself that this was my son who we were sending off.  This was my only, cherished son who was about to sail away ACROSS THE NORTH ATLANTIC.  Was I crazy??!  Seems that way.

The time came for Leo and his shipmates to walk down the plank and to board the ship.  An Indigenous girl sang a hauntingly sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.

***

So, here is Leo’s story in a paper for school regarding types of tourism and, in it, he captures the magnitude of the adventure that he successfully undertook. My first guest-writer:

This summer I was involved in a travel project entitled Msit No’Kmaq: All My Relations. It was a travel experience that I applied for in which 45 aboriginal youth sailed across the Atlantic on a tall ship, while being involved in a rigorous sail training program. This crossing took place because of the vessel’s participation in a tall ship race, in which 11 ships race from Halifax to France. A laid-back vacation this was not, as it more closely resembled a work placement at sea, and it involved some of the hardest manual labour to which I have been exposed. I am certainly not complaining, as it was clearly the best and most rewarding trip I have been on.

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The goal of the project was to transform the rag tag group of trainees into a somewhat coherent crew, and this was accomplished by putting us to work during daily “watches,” where that segment of the group would be responsible for running the ship. I absolutely loved it. I can admit that hard manual labour has never really appealed to me, and my work ethic when tackling work like that is not ideal. However, the work on the ship was certainly an exception. Although it is hard work, it is so rewarding in the way that you can immediately see the difference your hard work has made towards the betterment of the vessel or the race. In particular, I loved climbing aloft. While once again hard work, the excitement of being so high above everything really augments any feelings of boredom or longing for leisure into something closer to fulfilment and completeness. You look down to see the ship charging through the wake some 100+ feet below you as you hang on for dear life while tightly wrapping the t’gallant in gaskets.  The intense heeling of the ship interrupted with violent shaking as she smashes through waves ensures that relaxation is never achieved. But relaxation is not the goal while aloft, even if your aching muscles scream that your bunk is more comfortable. The adrenaline is ever present, even when completing such a mundane task as furling a sail.

Aloft

Although deep internal reflection sessions while staring into nothingness were never accomplished by me, I learned a great deal about myself during this crossing, and I think some personal development did indeed take place. The nature of living on a tall ship is conducive to reflective thought, the kind that makes you question the path you’ve set for yourself in life. Sailing is one of those pure pursuits. One of those passions that is enticing and exciting in its infancy, amazing and beautiful in its mastery. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum of sailing while on this voyage. You have the trainees, young men and woman who are taking a leap of faith and trying something completely outside their comfort zone. The beginning of our journey as sailors was raw and unkempt. We threw ourselves into the work and hoped something good would come from it, and of course it did. We kept that ship moving in the right direction, and kept our minds on the right path. We became more and more knowledgeable, skilled, and eager. The thirst for adventure propelled us to reach new heights (literally). On the other hand, there was the crew and captain. Experienced sailors, but many not so experienced at dealing with youth. Experienced or not, they were incredible. The patience, excitement for seeing us learn and grow, the humour, and the deft skill at motivation was beyond anything we could have hoped for. They really made the experience as fantastic as it was. All those pieces fit into the puzzle that made me question what I want out of life. I can say with some certainty that the most important thing I learned about myself is that I want to sail again.  I want to be around the incredible and genuine characters that sailing attracts, and I aspire to someday be one of those characters myself.

As this was a trip for indigenous people, there were some cross-cultural difficulties that came up between crew and trainees. There were some instances when crew accidentally said something offensive or derogatory, but I was very impressed by the common understanding of everyone onboard. People were not quick to judge each other, and understood that the vast cultural differences between many people onboard were likely to result in some uncomfortable moments. It was all handled very maturely. There were also cultural differences among the trainees. Some, like me, didn’t really grow up ensconced in their native culture, and many did. I really learned that I haven’t grown up with my indigenous culture nearly as much as I’d like. That was something largely outside of my control, but it still stings. Being a part of this project has really made me appreciate the rich history that I share with these amazing people, while also helping me fill many of the gaps in my knowledge that are present because of my upbringing. I feel proud to be a part of such an incredible people, whose population has had such a rough go. It prides me to see that so many Indigenous young people are so successful.

The destinations we toured were Falmouth and Alderney, UK, plus Le Havre, France and Paris. I can say with near complete certainty that Alderney is the best place I have ever been. If I was asked to sum it up in one word it would be “authentic.” The people, the geography, the history, even the other tourists there were a breath of fresh air. It is a small island in the English Channel, just off France. With a population of only 2,000, the island has a distinct small-town feel. I have never observed a more impressive group of tourists than I saw on the island of Alderney. Because it lacks a major airport of any kind, most people who come to Alderney are sailboat owners. The demographic who sails their own boat through the English Channel are a completely different type of people than a crowd fresh off a cruise ship, or even a passenger plane. I can recount with great fondness interactions with locals and other tourists and remember always enjoying the conversation. Real, genuine people.

Alderney Island biking

I think this relates to some concepts  especially the allocentric/psychocentric disparity, as well as respecting the wishes of locals and tourism. Alderney is pushing for higher levels of tourism, and I have to wonder if the locals will be happy if many more people start flooding the gates. The laid-back atmosphere may be lost, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. I can also speak to the presence of attractions as well as hidden gems, and I can say with certainty that I experienced them both.

Ship in harbour

Of all the travelling I have done, this trip made me feel the least like a conventional tourist. I think that was due to our rather interesting story and mode of transportation, and the immediate excitement and intrigue locals showed when they learned we had just sailed the Atlantic. That feeling of respect was new, and responsible for a completely different travel experience. A generalization I can make from that experience is that the way you arrive to a new spot is somewhat responsible for the way you feel about your time there. I saw many different demographics of tourists during my time abroad, and I can say that the more allocentric crowd really appeals to me over the psychocentric. There just seems to be a greater feeling of authenticity, a feeling that I strive to exhibit myself.

Jaden on the wall

Incredible, Exotic India 🕉

We sat on the ancient stone steps in the early morning and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters of the Ganges.

We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning.  We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏)  We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters.  Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies.  They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads.  To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness.  I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.pilgrim

From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay.  We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable.  Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water.  This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal.  Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.varanasi

I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal.  Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams.  On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth.  I’m sure Dean had too.  Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically.  We werenalgene nearly emaciated.  I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round.  Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps.  There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.

Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights.  We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.

Scan10164 (2)We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink).  Indians do yogurt incredibly well.

 

 

Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal.  So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra.  It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists.  They told us many wonderful tips and tricks.  One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.

THALI

I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray.  Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali.  We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj.  Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating.  Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.

taj from distance

But this is what it looked like up close:

Taj Mahal Sunrise

This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi.  We took the train and it was also other-worldly.  There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay.  The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering.  There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations.  At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares.  Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.

“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups.  We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks.  A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.

Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”.  He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down.  It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath.  If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again.  Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains.  Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you.  I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.

In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. leper One day, we walked into a luxury hotel.  I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets.  They were also known as The Untouchables.  The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars.  The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.

It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.

When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment.  And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling.  After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.  We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️)  We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).

INUVIKUpon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them.  We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.

The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had.  As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room.  What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind.  So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it.  There was really nothing I could do.  I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway.  Right?

After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.

INUVIK 2

Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day.  Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already.  We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.

(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)

~Remember to leave a comment below…~

Boquete, Panama – a place of firsts

By the time we reached Boquete, we were done.  There had been many legs to this journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.

Panama-physical-mapAfter a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel.  We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths.  The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive.  They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.

Across the street there was a large dusty open field where several children would play pick-up soccer matches.  Leo, who was four years old, was in heaven.  He just wanted to run around and play with the children.  We went to the field and played frisbee, a game they had never seen before. My husband Dean and I enjoyed teaching the local children about frisbee.  They caught on quickly – very coordinated and fit but, not a word of English. Ricardo and Eddie proudly showed us two tarantulas.  They poked at these shy creatures with a piece of hay until their hairy mandibles grasped the hay.  Then the children would swing the spider side to side showing us how the tarantula would hold on.  Next the boys showed us the spiders’ casas, pointing and saying to us, ‘Casa! Casa!’, which was a hole in the dry ground.  The play continued with Leo getting soaked by the water “pistoles”, kicking the soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.

A few easy days passed which saw us walk lazily all over the town of Boquete and explore its various parks and markets.  I bought a huge bag of fruit and vegetables, plus pasta, butter, milk, cheese and eggs, all for less than $20.

One day we stopped into a small place to have some supper.  It was a couple of hours after eating there that Leo began to vomit.  He could keep nothing down, not even little sips of water.  The night hours passed in somewhat of a blurr because we were up with him for hours and hours and praying and worrying for him to improve. At one point he was hot to the touch and he began to moan loudly and said’ please help my belly.’ He also screamed with the cramps, burped, vomited and then fell back to sleep. Then he would begin to vomit or wretch again.  I began to get pretty worried.  In the morning he became listless and I screamed at Dean to get a taxi…NOW!  Destination, the medical clinic.

We walked into the clinic, Dean carrying a listless Leo, and within about five minutes, Leo was hooked up to an IV for re-hydration.  The local doctor spoke perfect English because he had been away to the States for a work term.  He answered all of our questions and re-assured us that Leo would be fine once he was re-hydrated.  The nurse came into the room and tucked a hand-stitched quilt tenderly around Leo.  I was left wondering if we would have received this level of care in Halifax.  Wait, first we would have had to shovel the driveway, drive the 20 minutes to the children’s hospital and then find parking.  Then we’d wait in emerg.  It would have likely been hours, depending on the triaging at the time of our arrival. Here, it was minutes and we were the only folks in the clinic and they were totally and completely sweet to us.  The fee was so small it was negligible.  Leo rested and slept with the IV in his arm.  When he was awake, we read to him and told him stories.  Later that day, we all walked out of there.

Unfortunately, the vomiting continued shortly after we got back to our hostel, so we had a repeat performance at the clinic.  Then we took Leo out to a restaurant and ordered him a bowl of soup.  He promptly threw up into the soup bowl.  After that, we were ‘soup-er‘ careful.  He directed what his tummy could handle.  It was in Boquete that Leo had his first ever can of pop. Canada Dry Ginger Ale, of course.  And, it stayed down. Boquete was also the place where Leo learned to tie his shoes.  Add  playing with the tarantula and having an IV re-hydration and it was the place of firsts.  We will fondly remember Boquete, even though we had a bit of a scare there.

boquete (1)

From Panama we made our way back to Costa Rica to catch our fight home to Canada.  There were several over-land legs to the journey back and it was bitter sweet as we knew our big four-month adventure had come to an end.

We landed in Toronto and made our way west to visit everyone in Leeford…Eva and family, Amy and family, Mark and family who threw a very large and fun 35th birthday for moi, with tons of balloons and with a big cake, singing and story-telling.  We laughed and laughed.  At one point I reached into my jeans and pulled out the grey, worn waist band of my underwear to illustrate the struggle of over-land, back-packer-style travel.  Everyone smiled and nodded.  Now they GOT it!  Some had assumed we were resorting the whole time or something (NOT!).

From there we went to Scarborough to stay with Paulie for several days.  Leo just LOVED being with his big cousins who indulged him so much.  Paulie and I worked on clearing out unneeded stuff so that Paulie and Seth could sell up and move to Leeford.  The nearby vertical slum was pushing them out and Dean and I wanted to help them get going.

Then it was on to Halifax and the launching of our quest for A Simple East Coast Life.

Fort Myers Memories

When 16 to 18, Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr.  Dad had a skin-tone coloured one.  It was super sexy. Not.

skin tine zephyrThe first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A.  Let’s face it,  Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town.  I was  16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the dingy molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified. Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually.  We were there on the way home too.

Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops.  All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs.  A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs.  By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.

Valdosta

When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’  June Senior was quite a character.  She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.

FortMyersBeachFlorida3Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time. Then we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen.  By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.

Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida.  The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you.  After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  It was so strange to see this without snow.  Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball.  There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.  Luke could even spin a basketball for a significant length of time on his finger, then bounce it off his knee and back to his finger.  In basketball practice with Mr. Laset, ball-handling drills had been highly encouraged.  Luke and I would often play hours of 21 in our driveway and when sitting watching a television program, we would often be holding and spinning the ball.

One day, we met this family on the beach.  The Bates’.  There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out.  They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours.  They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant.  We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try.  That was a fun night.  Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too.  Sour, sweet and salty all at once.  I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night.  Luke and I slept on the couches in the den.  I was astounded by their generosity.  In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us.  It was a nice feeling.  We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.

lovers-key-state-parkWendy found this beach park for us to go explore.  No one was there and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach.  Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot.  After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair.  Oh my, we chuckled.  Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction.  I’m still not sure about that.

That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible.  I have also enjoyed the wondering.  The wondering why they are not there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When it was time to head North, I dreaded it.  Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand.  The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.

Those trips to Florida were bittersweet.  In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip.  The travail of teenagers, perhaps?

In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad.  Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity.  Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding pate with just his middle sausage-shaped finger.  Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee.  He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his huge down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer.  With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand.  Wendy would hold it.

Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat.  Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch.  Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life.  The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting.  Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy,  ‘We’re both teachers.  You must have your facts mixed up.  That can’t be right.

Ooookay.

There was one thing about Dad.  He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.

Rest in Peace, Dad. And you too, Wen. ☮️💟🙏

barrie spirit catcher

Namaste, Nepal

We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds.  To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus.  Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus.  This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge.  Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.

Nepal bus
(statis panoramio)  Those are people on top of the bus, just like we were.

We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi.  We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price.  We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.  The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’.  When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage.  All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby.  They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet.  If one rolled over, so would they all.

The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River.  After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition.  It was a great decision as we had a blast.  We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.

kali gondaki
The Kali Gandaki from above.  Translation: Black River. (google images)
rafting
An example of the white water we encountered.  There was lots of calm, drifting too. (google images)

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This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together.  Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain.  So fit.

Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike.  Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek.  From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.Scan10053

The trek was, of course, amazing.  We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba.  We saw incredible beauty all around us.

Scan10064 The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train.  They could easily bump you off the trail.  That would be bad.

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Our guide, Naba, on the inside track of a passing donkey train.

We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs.  We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back.  Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.

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After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation.  This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything.  Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.

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We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level.  This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass.  This was February  – so, lots of snow.  As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m.  There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.

With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain.  Step, breath, step, breath.  It was slow and steady.  Would we ever get there?  After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm.  He just smiled at me gently.  He had done this pass many, many times.

We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters.  The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger.  Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives.  We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today.  Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down.  A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt.  They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not.  ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said.  ‘You know snow and weather.  If you weren’t going, neither were we.’

So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days.  I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani.  Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me.  I was very surprised and pleased.

thorong-la-pass-trekking-map

After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.

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We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too.  So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.

A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close.  The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful.  It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.

Next up….India.

North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River

In 1993 we spent a year in a Northern Community. We had many good times but, there were at least three tragedies while we were there…

In early July 1993 we rolled into Polar River, just north of the sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories.  We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.

We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.

We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy‘ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip.  Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her body to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen. His dark ringlets reached way down his back.  He saw me admiring it and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’  I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real.  Of course my mind flitted back to the Francos marching in perfect formation in Nijmegen a couple of years prior, and singing their old, soulful regimental songs – making the Anglo teams look rag-tag by comparison.  Such was their pride and fervor for their culture.

Anyway, while in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend, Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town.  One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our Northern days.

So, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses.  The houses were built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost.  There was a general store, an all-levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers. The setting was incredibly beautiful.  It felt like the final frontier.

The first thing we did was attend a community feast.  But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch.  It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.

‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought.  They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar.  Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash?  Does he bite?  Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish?  Will he stay outside?’  And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? (It wouldn’t be until 1998, 1999 and 2001 that a baby would be in my belly.) Where are your babies?’ These questions were telling.

At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry.  Allie was quite articulate and confident.  She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.

The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic.  She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.

Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness.  It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets.  New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny young guy from Manitoba.  He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.

One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years of higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week.  It was comical, if a little sad.  It was a big event and it came with big winnings.  Hundreds of dollars were won each week.  I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers.

Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance.  This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her.  Consequently, she wasn’t fully available.  Life in Polar River was both gritty and frustrating.  Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man’.  That child was about seven years old.

Dempster

The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived.  I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house.  That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.

I was calling and whistling. Nothing.  Then, a dirty blue pick-up drove up.  A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’.  And drove off.

I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw:  My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head.  I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.

Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place.  How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada.

The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.

A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle.  He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew.  We called him Delta, after the River Delta where he was born.

Delta
Delta, age 3

Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would.  I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings.  I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments.  I typed minutes to various meetings.  Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.

Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator.  There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.

Little Suzy

One day,  I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog.  This was the second tragic thing to go down.  I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.

She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs.  I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Pierson, which was an hour away.  I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle.  To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town.  She was eight.

We drove as fast as we could toward the Pierson Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it.  She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’   It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds.  A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.

Jordy’s Dead

As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out:  the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races.  He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang.   I picked it up: ‘Hello?’

‘Jordy’s dead’, said a voice.

Click.

Holy shit.  ‘Dean!’ I screamed,  ‘Get up!  Jordy’s dead.’

We spent the next several hours sorting out Jordy’s body at his house.  The RCMP came from Pierson and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect  how he died.  The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.

Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up.  Also,  two of Jordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.

Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly.  I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Jordy’s body odor issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole Jordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.

When we finally left Polar River in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in of Polar River had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?

I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people of Polar River could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove.  I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.

We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry.  He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow.  The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders.  Traditional feasts and celebrations.  His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them.  I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades.  If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little.  Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.

dempser

 

(Thanks to google images for the pics)

Ashram Rant 🕉

I did the 500 hour yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas in two one-month stints separated by a year. I am still confused about my time there.

I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.  I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity.  Surely I could have one last beer?  This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).

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Paradise Island Beach facing West.  Beach Platform is visible on left.

The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau.  The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic.  Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.

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This is the view facing West.  The tops of the Atlantis Resort are visible.

There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff.  The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.

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Advertisement for Yoga Teacher Training.  This is the Beach Platform which we did NOT use.

So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:

  • 4:30 wake up
  • 5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
  • 6:00 Meditation
  • 6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
  • 7:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 8:00 Anatomy
  • 9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
  • 11:00 Karma Yoga (chores, like dish washing, garbage collection, temple preparation, meal preparation)
  • 12:00 Raja Yoga Study or Sanskrit
  • 2:00 Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita teachings
  • 4:00 Asana Practise (Yoga and how to teach)
  • 6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
  • 7:00 Homework
  • 8:00 Meditation
  • 8:30 Chanting
  • 9:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)

When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’  Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit.  Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable.  A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person.  Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??!  How about a few hours on say, the spine?

We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice).  On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day.  It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.STUDYING IN THE GARDEN

Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay.  The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality.  We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape.  Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour.  It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a

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The is the Bay platform where we had Pranayama at 5:00 am

deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm.  The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.

Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries.  I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting.  How I envied the knees of the younger yogis).  Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.

The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak.  The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience.  It was astounding.  A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to.  Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state.  The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing.  At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally.  It was a mystical experience.

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Garden Platform as Temple due to high numbers at the ashram

The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences.  I will attempt to explain here:

  • Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily.  Two or three huge barrels of wasted food.  Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food.  How about stopping the use of trays.  People take more food than necessary if given a tray.  Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped.  So, at least ask people to take less.  I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6.  Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were.  Mom taught us to not waste precious food. So, simply get rid of trays.  Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary.  One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food.  But, nothing changed.  It was weird.  Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
  • Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple.  This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple.  There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple.  How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple?  To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch.  That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!  I’m sorry.  That’s just wrong.  One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies.  We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls.  The brands and ingredients were hidden from us.  This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam.  My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet.  Make it ALL satvic.  Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
  • Beach platform  there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one.  It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it.  Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms.  The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students.  Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo.  It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea.  And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive.  We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
  • Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors.  There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep.  In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light.  But here’s the thing.  One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.

So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day.  I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul.  Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained.  In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service).  I was never a scholar, so  some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? came down to straight memorization.

After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunch time promised after our exam.  I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished.  I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen.  The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam.  He asked me: Morgan, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.

Oh my god.  I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD.  I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section.  But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again.  There was NO anatomy section on my exam.

So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this.  Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity and spirituality.  I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate.  I wanted the full 500 hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out.

I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error.  There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it.  Better to tell them.  I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here.  I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says.  Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on.  My hands were visibly shaking now.  I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen.  Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Morgan.  I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now.  All is well.

 

OM
This is the symbol OM.  It is said that Om is the first sound of the Universe. That it is the sound of creation.

So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in it’s opulence.  I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.

When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Morgan? You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.

FOOD PREP ASHRAMWhat the hell.  Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race.  It had been a long, stressful day.

I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy.  I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.

I was basically a basket case by this time.  I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map.  From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well.  I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.

Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation.  First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed.  He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.

ashram grad
Graduation Ceremony

As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me.  He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy.  Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.

Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing.  A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at.  Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one.  My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot.  They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures.  During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping.  Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day.  Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you.  One could even be sent home for too little discipline.  The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith.  She was sent home.

Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt.  We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share amoung 300 people.  A slight problem for getting laundry done.

Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1).  I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects.  Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me.  My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible.  So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night.  BONUS.  My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself.  At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle.  I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid).  So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night.  He asked me if it was truly necessary.  I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions.  That shut him up.  I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.

ASHRAM PATH

So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses.  One more thing, it was slightly cult-ish. What do I mean by that?  Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda.  I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID to stay there and perform their trade or profession (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time.  Ooookay. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going?  They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.

IMG_1998

***

But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life.  I will always invite people to join in yoga because it is a wonderful practice which brings calm, wellness and peace.

On that note, here below is a pumpkin person exploring dancer pose in order to bring you a smile…Namaste.

pumpkin head

Across Canada in Betsy 🇨🇦

In 1992 we spent four months traveling Canada and Alaska in our 1976 VW Van…

When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, (see post A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂) we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her “Betsy’.  Like the one in the picture above (from google images) but our Betsy was dark green.  We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first.  We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.

dory on dock

We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people.

To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical.  He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature.  When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face.  One couldn’t help but be drawn in.

Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand and great grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice.

Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring.  I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.

We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip.  We wanted to be completely self-sufficient.  We had tons of storage space in her.  Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces.  In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water.  There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board.  We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more.  We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)

gros morne 2
Gros Morne National Park table lands (google images)
gros-morne-pond
Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park (google images)

We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gros Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail.  Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.

Nova Scotia Cabot Trail
Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands.  Photo courtesy of Taylor Marie Brown https://renaissanceaxewoman.wordpress.com/

I have to say, the drive was terrifying.  I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.

 

PEI1Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary.  A big indulgence, since we were on a very tight budget but which was quite lovely due to the rain and our special occasion.

On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water (see post: A Simple East-Coast Life ) Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days.  That was eye-opening.  The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom.  We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased.  Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you.  Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold.

At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.

CANOE BOW

In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there.  It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too.  In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie.  It is the southern most tip of Canada.

Point Pelee
Point Pelee National Park

From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province.  We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior.  We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers.  A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired US Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy.  We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table.  It was a lovely evening of travel talk.  When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted.  John Shaughnessy would say: ‘No, no. You go right ahead.’ Good answer, right?  Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people.  It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: ‘Hello.  John Shaughnessy. How are you?’  It was fascinating comparing military stories with him.  We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two.  To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent.  We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.

In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park.  One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure.  We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy.  We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed.  Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East.  Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies.  That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.

bisonIn Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods.  We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings.  Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.

From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding.  The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily.  Thank goodness for the airsick bag.  The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy.  I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.

virginia falls
Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park (google images)

Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC.  It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold.  John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not paprospectorsrt of his plan to do such a hike.  We would miss him.  The hike was challenging for sure.  The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold.  When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation.  Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales.  At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass.  Dean and I had a back pack each.  We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike.  It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers.  We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)).

From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong.  The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: ‘Are you Dean Joyce?’  Dean’s face fell.  If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good.  ‘You need to call home as soon as possible.’  

Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack.  We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.

We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz🦇

Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover…..
~Men at Work

We arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1994 and kicked around the city for a few days, staying with friends we had met on the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska (Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦. But, wanting to experience the true outback, we decided to take the historical Gahn train to the centre.

gahn with red sand

So, onto the train we got, bound for Alice Springs.  On the train, I had some sort of sudden mucous problem and water poured from my nose and eyes.  Dean cracked open a smuggled-in bottle of red and after a few sips the mucous stopped flowing. (We don’t usually go too far without a nice bottle of red.)

gahn

The next day, we stepped off the train into a brick wall of heat.  Just imagine walking into an oven.  Now add about 300 degrees and you have the heat that is Alice Springs.  We found a hostel where we rented a small trailer, and spent some time slowly walking around and seeing the sights.  There were many aborigines about and we saw a few homes with living room furniture out in the yard where people would sit.  One evening we decided to go to a movie and just by chance, the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert was opening.  It had been filmed in Alice Springs and starred Guy Pierce.  It was a bizarre film which the Ozzies in the cinema found hilarious. Us, not so much.

Next we decided to hitch-hike to the coast.  Some 2776 km away and most of it through arid Australia.  We had no idea that arid Australia is deadly.  We simply could not fathom it, coming from Canada.  Arid Australia is brutally hot, sometimes 50 degrees Celsius and has very few water sources and very little traffic.  There are biting ants and other insects, kangaroos, venomous snakes and spiders and the odd dingo about.  In Oz, when you see a spider or a snake, you have to assume it is venomous because most are.

We were very lucky, once again.  One of the first drivers to see us hitching pulled over. It was an 77 year old man named Lockey.  He helped us put our huge packs in his small Toyota van.  Dean took a seat in the front and I climbed into the single rear seat in the back and immediately became a river of sweat.  No air conditioning except the two front windows which were perpetually down and circulating hot air.  It took us five days (five days!!!) to travel through the Outback to the east coast.  We camped each night in the free campsites that Australia nicely provides so that folks don’t parish in the outback.

Lockey drove slowly, necessarily.  The scenery was mostly desert-type scrub and four foot high phallic shaped ant hills formed from red sand.  Now and then we would see a troop of kangaroos. And the odd bloated dead cow carcass.  We were told that the cattle ranches are so vast that there is no way the farmers could fence them, so sometimes cows would get killed by road trains.  Oookay.  Road trains are very, very long tractor trailer trucks with accordion-type mid-sections.  It was not fun to be passed by a road train and have to man-handle the steering wheel so as not to be sucked under it.

We would stop in the mid-afternoon for a bite to eat, usually after getting gas.  The little gas stations were remote but had everything you could possibly want AND a huge cage of cockatiels and parrots.  We would order a sandwich or a burger and a beer. Invariably, the sandwich would arrive with not only sliced beet (yes beet) on it but sometimes grated carrot and a sunny-side up egg sitting on top. Huh?

Where ARE we??!

Arriving in Bundaberg, Lockey offered for us to stay with him for a few days.  We all got along so well and Lockey was very funny.  He was always making sounds like errrrrk when he opened the fridge door or zzzzzip when he did up his jacket zipper. Lockey had several geckos that were friendly and lived with him informally in his house trailer. They were so cute and made little chirping sounds that Lockey would imitate perfectly. Lockey told us he did 100 push ups per day to stay fit.  He had been a Air Navigator in the war. That’s saying something. Lockey’s house trailer was in a trailer park with many other residents.  There was a common washing room and shower house close by in one direction and the short trail to the beach in the other direction.  We were offered the back of his station wagon to sleep on a foam mattress.

One day we decided to do some laundry.  It was dusk as we walked to the washing house. Suddenly there was loud cackling from the tree top above us, almost like an old married couple cackling at a funny tv show or a progressive bridge game.  Looking up we shivered to see two flying foxes, yes FOX bats that can fly!!! having an upside-down gander back at us and cackling over it.  

Holy shit! Where ARE we??

The next day Dean went for a nice long morning run before the sun became too hot.  He was down a dirt road a few miles from Lockey’s place when he realized that he was being watched by an seven foot tall kangaroo.  He stopped dead in his tracks and with heart racing, tried to figure out what to do.  He could not read the roo who was now lazily scratching his chest, licking his lips and staring at Dean.  We had been warned to not corner a roo because they will quite easily lean back on their tail and kick you into next week.  Dean lowered his eyes and smoothly backed away from the giant roo.  Next he ran to the toilets as fast as he could.

Lockey was a retired motor mechanic and we were in need of a car.  We decided that trying to get around Australia, which is huge and mostly empty in the centre, we would need a car.  Lockey helped us find a very sensible white Toyota Corona.  The next day we drove it to a large shopping mall and went inside to watch a movie.  Coming out, we were dismayed to find my day pack missing from the rear floor.  My passport was in that day pack so, now this was a problem if I ever wanted to get home to Canada.

We drove to a bank of payphones by the side of the road.  Is was dusk… Dean was on the phone with the Canadian Consulate when suddenly the sky darkened with some very large entity moving over us.  We cowered and looked up to see a sight that will be etched in my brain forever…HUNDREDS of flying foxes moving as in a herd overhead.  Holy shit! Where ARE we???!  We were informed later that the flying foxes were heading to the fruit orchards.  They eat fruit all night.  They are fruitatarians.  I am not sure if that is a technical term.  I am just happy they don’t drink blood or anything.

After we visited the consulate and retrieved my passport, that the kind thief must have sent in we continued with making plans for our next stop.  We liked the idea of heading up to Bowen to work on a farm for a bit.  Off we went after many many thanks to our host Lockey.

We arrived in Bowen and found a trailer to rent in a park by the sea.  Oh my, it was pretty.  We only found out later that there was no swimming in the sea due to the box jellyfish, the most deadly creatures in the world.  It was box jelly season.  Where ARE we??!

We visited a few different farms and had a day here and a day there picking tomatoes, rock melons (cantaloupe), capsicums (green peppers).  It was hard bloody work out in the elements.

IMG_5889There were acres and acres of low growing fruit and not one single real shade tree. The water in my precious water bottle was HOT. I thought I was pretty tough but, nowhere near as tough as those career pickers. To say the sun was brutal is a serious understatement.  One day, I laid under our car for shade during break.  The Oz sun is the very reason why we decided to not live there.  It’s just too oppressive.  We were finally offered a position working in the barn.  It was hard work too, but so much more civilized for we Northern, white-skinned types from cold Canada.  It was in the barn that we met the couple who had just returned from India.  They told us of the exotic country and amazing food and how they speak English and also how inexpensive it was to travel there compared to Western countries like Oz.  We wanted to go there!

We worked in the tomato farm barn for a couple of months and put almost every penny away to save for our tickets to and adventures in India.  The only things we would buy were the Ozzie meat pies (omg the BEST thing ever — and they are square just so you remember where you are while eating them.  We even discussed importing them to Canada.  So good.)  We would also buy beer and, okay, groceries.  The farmer we worked for would often send us all home with a wonderfully fresh watermelon.  We would devour half of it and put the other out for the parrots.  Within moments, several brightly coloured parrots would be perched on the watermelon and eating it.  Near our trailer, there was an abandoned lot with a mango tree just begging to be picked.  We would gather a whole bag of ripe ones and the gorge on them.  More delicious than words!

After leaving Bowen, Queensland, we hightailed it to Caines then said, why the hell did we do that?  It was horrible with brutal humidity levels up there.  From there we went south and climbed Mount Kosciusko and camped for a night at the top.  It is only about 2200 m high, (Everest is 8800 m by comparison).  We also went to the spectacular Great Barrier Reef for a day and then spent a couple of days in Sydney.

IMG_5885We managed to sell our car for the same amount we bought it for.  Score.  The sale was touch and go for a bit though because on our way to motor vehicles with our buyer, much to my horror, steam began to come out of the front dash vents.  What the???  I was sitting in the back and began to surreptitiously pound Dean’s left arm.  He didn’t see what I was seeing. Nor did our buyer.  And then the steam stopped and it was all fine. Heart attack!

When we finally went to purchase our flight tickets to India, because of Chinese New Year, we could not fly into India.  We could only fly into Nepal.  We shrugged: when a couple of billion people celebrate Chinese New Year, it can cause jam ups in the airlines. So, we flew into Nepal and it was one of the best things we ever did. As the Dalai Lama says: remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

We arrived in Kathmandu on Chinese New Year of 1995…but…

that’s another story…

Before you leave, here is the link to a blog with an incredible Ozzy bird performing for his mate.  Too cool! Link

La Cucaracha Report ~ Ometepe 🌴 & Costa Rica

I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brother….Little River Band

6 Feb 2004

Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway.  The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now...little white pills.  Seasickness be damned.  Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego.  Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office.  With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end.  There are so many ways to live.  We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds.  Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land.  Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy.  He is a commercial painter in California.  He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.

Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup.  As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.

Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods.  It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.  

In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders.  I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera.  It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua.  Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat.  He is giggling with glee.

gullsWhen we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads.  They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust.  The place smells amazingly sweet because of it.  Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing.  We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool.  They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him.  The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture.  We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.

I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise:  a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face.  Holy shit.  Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me.  I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door.  Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.

When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge.  We marveled at the temperature of the sea.  It was TEPID!!!  Who knew the ocean could be tepid??  It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia.  The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe.  Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand.  It was heavenly.

Dad and Leo CR

We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us.  We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.  mom and leo CR

We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer.  He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay.  Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer-boy place.  When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest.  Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door.  You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death.  There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where.  Lovely.

The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma.  We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it.  At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep.  Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile with kind eyes at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo.   We walked around the village and then had lunch.  It was impossible to relax outside.  It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous.  Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.strangler fig

After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence.  So cute.  I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand.  As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel  to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees.  At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it.  My laugh was more of a nervous titter.

Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.

Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence!  He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet.  It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups.  We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.

From my journal, written 13 February 2004

We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel.  It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to.  One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona).  Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap.  She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen, candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’ 

Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny.  Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride.  The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam.  I noticed.  The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus.  Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Next stop…Panama.

La Cucaracha Report – Honduras 🇭🇳

Our stay in the paradise of West Bay, Roatan gets a little scary when our four-year old gets sick….

4 Jan 2004

We are leaving Guatemala tomorrow morning early!  We are en route to the Bay Islands of Honduras!  Finally.  We will be tropical by noon.  Steaming hot and shedding clothing.

This minute, we have just walked into the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel Restaurant in Antigua – simply for coffee and dessert.  It was Dean’s idea.  A good one – pure decadence.  Rich people are so funny to watch too.  A bonus.  We have ordered a whopping three desserts, two coffees and a milk for Leo.  It could be a late night and we have a long walk after this.

8 Jan 2004

It’s Dean’s 41st birthday and we are enjoying ourselves completely in Roatan, Honduras.  We are in a cabana just a few steps from the most beautiful beach I have ever been on.  Our cabana is an upper apartment with a bedroom, a clean bathroom with hot shower and a kitchenette on one end of the living room.  In the kitchen / living room there is a single bed and a TV / VCR.  We are just now watching the movie Titanic.

It feels great to have some luxury because we had two days of hellish travel from Antigua to Livingston, Guatemala – the dirtiest, ugliest, most disappointing village thus yet and where we had to spend a huge US40 to rent a room with some sanity and cleanliness to it.  It had a nice pool which we swam in in the dark.  We were up at 5 the next morning and on a launch for 1.5 hours to Puerto Barrios in the rain.  From there we jammed into a suburban with two Austrians, two Australians and two Americans.  The driver and navigator were Guatemalans and we Canadians.  Five countries represented by we 10.5 squished travelers in this suburban.  Not bad.

After a couple of hours in the suburban, we came to a town and had to stop for fuel.  We all piled out to use the bathroom facilities in the gas station.  I remember feeling like I had just passed through some kind of black hole from one reality into another.  Stepping into the modern, air-conditioned gas station full of convenience items and candy and bags of doritos and with clean normal toilets, was a real treat almost like Dorothy waking up in Oz — from black and white to colour.  They were even selling brewed coffee with cream.  My point here is that we had been on this trip for a couple of months now and convenience items were few and far between.

This vehicle full of us chatty travelers took us the five hours, over dirt and sand roads with washed out portions, small villages and across the border to San Pedro Sulu, Honduras.  This is where we caught a second class bus. Waiting for the bus to fill and prepare to leave, many entrepreneurial-types came reaching up to our bus window selling their wares.  Everything from large, colourful plastic wash basins to, bars of soap, combs, or coca cola in a small sandwich bag with a straw.  They would never give you the can or the bottle with the coke – they needed to keep it to get the deposit back.  

The bus ride was another four hours to La Ceiba and then just the 90 minutes to this island.  Lastly, a thirty minute taxi ride .  Exhausted, we had no idea where to stay and so settled on a pit of a room for the first night in West End and then found this near perfect place the next morning in West Bay Beach.  This picture is just outside our cabana.

roatan

Cabana Roatana, 11 Jan 2004

Still in paradise.  A few days ago Leo was very sick with high fever, chills and a swollen node in his neck.  Coincidentally, the new owner of this place is a doctor who immediately examined Leo and reported that he had a virus.  He told us that Leo would get worse before he got any better…that night, Leo had hallucinations and was in a bad way but after the doctor examined him again, he reassured us that it wasn’t what we feared most – namely meningitis.  Thank god!  Dean and I both breathed a sigh of relief.  What luck to have an ER doctor right here doing house calls to our cabana on the beach!

Greg, the doc, took a last look at Leo the morning he left for home and was certain that he would be fine in a couple of days.  The sea, sun, sand and fresh air all would help.  

Today is a rainy day so we have stuck pretty close to our cabana.  We did manage a short hike to the tip of the island this morning and it was lovely.  We found some pretty sea shells and bits of coral and Leo held a small crab-like creature for a few minutes. 

West Bay, Roatan, Honduras  14 Jan 2004

Leo is a fairly sick little Gaffer.  He was restless last night and the night before, literally waking up every ten minutes due to his sinuses being blocked.  Dean and I are both bagged because of it.

This morning we got right up and prepared for a trip to the medical clinic in Coxen Hole (a true hole of a town!).  We were lucky to find a very good doctor who spoke English very well.  He examined Leo and concluded after seeing a normal level of platelets in his blood test result that Leo has a viral and bacterial infection. We were given four types of medicine: coaxicilan, col-dex ad, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.  We also bought lots of vitamin C.  The bill came to 68 US dollars.  The fee for the doctor was 400 Lempira which equals about 24 US dollars!!  We picked his brain about all sorts of things and he ruled out malaria and dengue fever.  It was well worth the effort.

Writing this now in 2017, years later, I recall with wonder the completely awful state of the dirt road outside this little clinic in Coxen Hole.  There was litter, bad smells, loose chickens, rusted out cars and then just inside the door, a long line-up of local people waiting patiently with their many, well-behaved children, in order to see the doctor.  As we white westerners walked into the clinic, with our expensive backpacks, watches, sandals and other telltale signs of our comparative wealth and with our very cute white-blond four-year old son, they ushered us swiftly passed the line-up and directly in to see the doctor.  I felt so blessed and privileged.  I felt badly for those waiting but I was deathly afraid for my precious young son whose health was worsening and god only knew why.

After leaving the clinic, we bought a few groceries, ate a bight of lunch, mailed postcards home, got some cash from the bank and then split a taxi back to our cabana with a couple from Alaska.

Talking to them was great fun.  They told us of two mistakes they made and it was exactly as we had done.  They too were conned by the woman named Laurel who asked us to help her at the ferry landing in Coxen Hole.  She came up to me, we were fresh off the boat, and told us all of her money, passport, travelers cheques, visa card, bank card – everything had been stolen…

Now, I would normally be a bit more discerning and ask a few more questions, but, I had just been on that darn ferry boat over to the island.  On the boat, they issued each passenger two little white pills – presumably for sea-sickness.  I get very sea-sick easily and so after asking for clarification on the pills, and receiving an answer in Spanish which I could not decipher, I gobbled down the little white pills and hoped for the best.  Not something I would normally do, but, it had been a long few days since leaving our peaceful Antiqua.  A few minutes later, I was seated on the ferry with Leo asleep on my lap and I realized that I could not feel my face.  It was the strangest feeling.  I also did not have any feelings of sea-sickness at all.  In fact, I felt awesome.  Looking back, I think I was stoned. So, when the con-artist approached us…

We gave her $20 US and the Alaskan couple gave her $30 five days later.  She had told us that her money was coming in to Western Union the next day.  The next mistake for them was getting a taxi to West End and staying in the same pit we did, but they paid for two nights sight unseen.  Bad move!

Sat 17 Jan 2004

Right after breakfast in our cabana of oatmeal and fruit, Dean was asked to help retrieve the hotel’s car from the airport.  His first driving experience of this trip.  The first time he has driven in two months.

Leo asked me to take him snorkeling on the close reef down at the end of the beach.  He has been practicing in the shallows just out from our place.  Now he wanted to see the real thing!  He was very impressed.  He saw some fish and the first outcroppings of coral.  After that, we examined the rock wall at the end of the beach and saw an iguana frozen in stillness.  Leo watched to see if it would move but, no.  We then discussed how iguanas can blend in with their background as a defense mechanism and Leo said, oh you mean camouflage.

Fri 23 Jan 2004

Our holiday here in Roatan has been excellent if we don’t count how sick Leo was with full blown tonsillitis.  We were back and forth to the Coxen Hole medical clinic (called the Jacklin Wood Medical Clinic) three times.  We worked with Dr Raymond first and then with Dr Wood.  They were both excellent.  We also were lucky enough to have the owner here look at him and a guest, Dr Chris, look at him.  We were rich in advice.  All that to say that it was a little scary for a few nights.  For four nights Leo’s throat was so swollen he had a hard time breathing and so woke up, sat up, coughing and sputtering about every fifteen minutes or so.  He was feverish, off and on, for ten days which made the doctors want to take blood tests to rule out dengue and malaria.  Consequently, our little Leo was stuck, like a pin cushion about six times.  The second time we took him in he was given an injection of a strong antibiotic.  On the third visit he received another injection of antibiotic and that night he showed a vast improvement.  Our little guy was quite sick and this was terrifying for us.  I would look at his throat and see that it was nearly completely blocked with ulcers and puss.  Awful!  Thankfully, he is back to normal and sleeping soundly again, much to our huge relief.

While in Roatan, and staying at the cabana, we enjoyed three weeks of bliss (except the ordeal of Leo’s tonsillitis).  Our little upper cabana, a few steps from the sugar-sand beach was very sweet.  We met a few travelers and would have them over to talk about travel and discuss our dreams of future travel.  We met an eighty-year old wealthy man who was traveling like a backpacker because he said it was more interesting.  During the day, we would go swimming in the turquoise waters and Leo would jump in off the dock again and again.  Sometimes, local people would sell us fruit on the beach and sometimes they would sell us cold drinks like a beer and a pop for Leo. At supper time I would cook up a very simple meal for us to enjoy and we would thank the heavens for our good fortune.  As backpackers, how did we afford such a lovely place to stay?  We had found out that the month of January was low-season on Roatan due to the rain.  Using this, we simply asked the owners for a cut rate and offered half the amount.  They went for it, probably because Leo was with us and he was so cute that they likely just wanted us to stay.

Next stop…Nicaragua

Exiting the Arctic ☃️

Having lived three years above the Arctic Circle, Dean’s acceptance into a post-grad program in Toronto sees us driving South on Boxing Day 1996…

On boxing day of 1996 we packed up our tiny little three cylinder Chevrolet Sprint hatchback aptly named Puny, put our two big northern dogs in the backseat (Delta and Grizzly), and started our 7000 km, eight day trip south west to Toronto.  Dean was enrolled in the very expensive nine month intensive Information Technology program at a downtown Toronto school called Information Technology Institute (iti).  We had spent three years above the Arctic Circle living in Polar River first and then Inuvik after that. We had had good employment and a great group of friends but, it was time to move on and start something new.

As we rolled out of Inuvik on the Dempster Highway, in the dead and dark of winter and -35 Celsius, we were not unaware of the risk of travel for the first 800 kms of this road trip south to Dawson City Yukon with just one gas station at Eagle Plains, about half way. The moonlight shone above us and lighted the way over North America’s most northerly and remote highway, which in fact is actually a gravel road.  It was a good omen, I thought, that moon.  It was sure to be a fine trip with a moon like that shining above us and leading us on.

Just to give some idea of our situation in the car.  We had huge Canada Goose parkas on. Large layered mittens, a toque each and Sorel boots rated to -60.  It being so bitingly cold outside, our little car could not keep up.  We just broke even for heat, which means, we were quite chilly for the first couple of days.  Few people had cell phones back then.  A friend in Inuvik had given us his cell phone in case we ran into an emergency.

Not long into the trip, we realized that our front windshield was frosting up, even though the fan and heat were turned on high.  It didn’t take much to figure out that the fan had stopped working.  Our focal point out the front of the car was rapidly diminishing.  I wanted to turn back and get it fixed.  Dean said no, we could do that in Dawson.  Just then Delta and Grizzly lunged into the front seat, their heads and shoulders anyway, because they had sensed a heard of caribou moving methodically across the dim tundra. Our wee vehicle was surrounded by their graceful presence. (Like the picture below, only dark outside).  We felt honoured to be in the midst of their serenity. Delta and Grizzly just wanted to give chase.  On we rolled.

caribou on highway, Dempster Highway, snow, winter
Dempster Highway, caribou crossing, late winter

We pulled into Dawson City Yukon and it was -45 degrees Celcius.  Nothing was open in town so we retreated to the corner of the highway and stayed in a motel there.  Carefully plugging in our car so that there would be every chance that it would start in the morning.  After a satisfying turkey dinner, hot shower and good night’s sleep we breakfasted and clambered back into Puny.  Dead.  Upon examination of the cord we found that someone had stepped on it (probably me) and with the cold, it had snapped. Useless.  We would need a ‘cold start’ at $50. It worked and we rolled out of Dawson on square tires due to the extreme cold.  We were Whitehorse bound with the hopes of getting our heater fan fixed.  In Whitehorse, at Crappy (a Player family nickname for Canadian Tire) we were able to get it repaired.  The service department stayed open late for us and were very kind.

The most remarkable thing about the rest of the trip, which we were already aware of due to several cross-country drives, was the shear vastness and emptiness of our big beautiful country.  The Prairies were endless and so windy that Puny used twice as much fuel as usual. The Prairies in the winter had white-outs and dangerous snow drifts right across the highway. Dean, my Newfoundlander, is an amazing winter driver so I wasn’t too worried, really.

We finally pulled into Toronto seven days later.  Our friend Nee was home and we crashed in with him.  He had found us an apartment right behind his on St. Clair. Excitedly we went to look at it.  Sadly and disappointingly though, it was little more than a slum and was a serious firetrap. It just would not do.  We had stupidly paid the slum-landlord first and last month rent, from afar, sight unseen.  Bad idea.  When we met her she tried to tell us the place was fine: rotten wood floors, drafty old windows, old, dirty paint, crappy old kitchen and ancient wiring.

We told her we wanted our money back.

She and Dean were in the kitchen and  I was standing in the kitchen doorway.  She stamped her foot and said this is ridiculous and tried to get past me through the door.  I stood my ground and filling up the doorway space said not sweetly: Where do you think you’re going?  She turned around and filled out an ad for the apartment telling us that if it were to rent, we would get our money back.  Next, we called the fire marshal who declared the place a fire hazard.  We got our money back.

The next day we found a 2.5 story brick house with a great kitchen, hardwood floors, attic study and a fenced yard in the North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth.  It was ideal and cheaper at $900 a month.

Dean started his program and worked like a dog, ending in nine months as the Valedictorian of his class.  While he did his program, I decided to volunteer at my sister, Eva’s camp as much as possible.  We ended up putting on a week-long boys’ camp which was a lot of work but truly successful and rewarding for everyone involved.  I also helped with small maintenance jobs, errands, painting and cleaning duties. It was a very good summer and it was so fun to be with my big sister and at the camp again.

In the fall we bought our first little house in Milton, Ontario upon the advice of a savvy Real Estate agent and Newfoundlander with an office in Campbellville.  Our side-split bungalow was on an older street with tall trees. Dean had gotten a job as a technology trainer and was traveling a lot.  While he did that, I fashioned a small apartment in our basement and rented it to a nice young couple. Next, there was an offer by Dean’s company for us to move to Virginia. We sold our house to the first people who walked through and off we went to Leesburg, Virginia.  Nine months later, Leo was born. We were over the moon until…but that’s another post.

La Cucaracha Report from Nicaragua 🇳🇮

We regretfully leave our sweet cabana on Roatan for a day of overland travel on ferry, chicken bus and taxi to find a sweet hostel with a peaceful and friendly courtyard in Granada, Nicaragua…

Leaving our sweet little cabana on the pristine sugar sand beach of West Bay, Roatan was difficult. We had spent three weeks there.  Granted, Leo had been quite sick with tonsillitis, but where better for him to be sick? We had the perfect little set-up for him to let his little body work the wonders of healing.  Now it would be on the road again and hoping to find another sweet situation in Granada, Nicaragua.  Here is a picture of a friend we made and us snacking on tiny bananas just in front of our cabana.

Banana Roatana

We were again on the ferry from Coxen Hole (yes, HOLE!) over to La Ceiba and then over land for several legs to Granada.  When we finally pulled up to our hostel, we were exhausted, dusty, tired, hungry and we had to pee.  Don’t get me wrong, we did love travel.  What I am attempting to purvey here is the difficulty of overland and backpacker travel.  It is not all roses.  No, we didn’t have to go to work everyday but, there were hardships and mishaps which made up the journey.  I digress.  We walked into our hostel and smiles quickly found their way onto our faces.  Our hostel was ideal.  There was a large inner courtyard with hammocks.  There was a smallish pool in the courtyard, a telephone with free international calling, free internet and a little café with decent food and coffee.  Above all, there was a very nice atmosphere to this place and many people were already approaching us in order to meet our little four-year old son and magnet of joy: Leo.  Many touches of the blond hair and cheeks.  Leo’s eyes were wide open, taking in all the new faces. He was such a social guy.

We were given a private room with a private bath and we quickly changed out of our dirty clothes.  There was a hand-washing laundry area on the roof and that was one of my first tasks.  While Dean and Leo unpacked and got cleaned up, up I went and enjoyed the effort of getting our travelling clothes washed.  The scene from the roof was of variously shaped roof-lines of all manner of dwelling.  There were calls of roosters and hens and backfiring car engines.  There were smells of burning garbage, which is never pleasant, but which is prevalent.  A note here on our attitudes regarding Leo and his welfare.  One of us was ALWAYS with Leo.  Not once was he, even in a friendly hostel, left with a stranger.  We just had no idea what could happen to him while our backs were turned.  Kidnapped?  Sold? It was a constant worry for me.  I clearly remember the low-level stress of that reality.  Our precious son needed to be watched by us because there are crazies everywhere.  And sometimes it is impossible to detect.  Although, I’m pretty good at detecting it.  Takes one to know one.

We met some interesting folks at this hostel.  Karin from Germany. Peter from Holland and a big guy named Erild from Norway.  We ended up hanging out with them for several days while in Grenada.  We had met Erild of Norway in the Tegucigalpa, (the capital of Honduras) bus station where we started the second day of our journey enroute to Granada from The Bay Islands of Roatan. We shared a taxi ride from the bus station in Managua and after a couple of tries were lucky to find the great hostel here in Granada.

From an email message home:

Jaden-Thumbs-Up

The next day Erild, with his camera, came with us to find a playground for our little ball of pent up energy (I wonder of whom I am referring?) As luck would have it, we found a park with play equipment on the wonderfully breezy banks of the huge, fresh water sea: Lago de Nicaragua and the next day we went to a 600-meter-deep volcanic lake and spent the day at the only hotel there, swimming, basking and eating wonderful fare at the lake side restaurant retreat.

 Laguna-de-Apoyo-2

The taxi ride there was hilarious.  Picture a 250-pound Norwegian squeezed into the tight front seat of a compact rust bucket.  He wasn’t as comfy at the other 4.5 of us in the back seat though: Karin of Germany, Peter of Holland, Dean, Leo and I were tighter than a can of worms.  We bottomed out a couple of times and all cursed in various languages (except Leo, he squealed) in unison.  The taxi driver being Nicaraguan and Leo being a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. meant we had six different nationalities squashed into one little car.

We spent the day at a hectic, large, dusty market in a town called Masaya and upon our return literally ran for the pool and sizzled as we hit the cool water.  I’m still wet as I try my best to put a few lines together about out latest adventures.

Tomorrow we are going on a canopy tour of Mombacho Volcano which is a 45 minute chicken bus trip at a cost of 50 cents each.  The owner here, who has a four-year-old girl, says that Leo will love it.  We’re hoping to see some live forest creatures.  Maybe even a sloth!

From my journal, written 1 Feb 2004:

When we got on the bus this morning there was this gorgeous bright young boy of about ten or so selling squares of nutty snacks, two for one dollar.  They were quite delicious.  I winked at him and he didn’t really know how to react but, finally, he smiled.  We gave him a pair of pants that Leo has out grown.

An email home:

Tuesday 3 Feb 2004

Canopy Tour and Haircut — a good day!

Good Morning Family!

We are leaving this hostel today and will likely not have as easy access to internet in the Pacific Coastal town of San Juan del Sur, Nica.

I couldn’t wait to tell all of you about our adventure yesterday.  It was the coolest thing.  We were in the canopy of the Mombachu Jungle for several hours, walking, sliding, swinging and climbing through the treetops and then abseiling down to the ground again at the very end of it.  Truly awesome.  Leo was gob smacked (as the UKers say), as were we. The guides geared us up with climbing gear and helmets and gave us the very serious safety talk. Leo asked a few questions! “Is this the carabineer that my gloves go on?” We could tell that he was concentrating on understanding all that was said.  It was too cute.  He could sense the seriousness of it.

zip line Nica

He started off a wee bit tentative climbing up the initial ancient, massive tree — the ladder was 100 feet long and just made it to the lowest branches. (We were glad when they told us that the trees were not harmed — they strap the trees with canvas and rubber, instead of nailing them, like some of the other companies). We called to Leo, telling him he was just like Spiderman.  Then we started singing the theme song: “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can…”  That seemed to get him into the spirit of the thing.  From there we stood on a platform, safety tied with the expensive climbing gear, while the three guides prepared us for the first rope slide to the far-off tree.  Leo did that one with a guide but had so much fun and was so unafraid that the guides allowed him to do the next several slides unaccompanied and he even did the Tarzan swing and the 150-foot abseil at the end!  We all had a ball.  The guides decided to DROP me down the tree “Rapido” because of all my crazy antics during the tour.  I thought I was going to die, for a split second there as my heart leaped into my mouth.  But it was fantastic.

On the walk out of the jungle, Barcell, the Senior guide, climbed into a cocoa tree and got us a cocoa fruit.  A football shaped, bright yellow fruit that he then let us sample.  Very interesting.  While the guide was cutting it open we were telling Leo that a Snickers Bar was inside.  ha ha

The road into and out of the park was 30 minutes and was so bumpy we all had a great workout bracing ourselves.  Leo was so wiped out after the tour that he actually fell asleep in my bouncing lap.  It was so bumpy we couldn’t even talk but that wee guy was just pooped!   We were very proud of our little guy.  He is a true adventurer. This is his mother writing though, what else would I say?

Later that day, after a good, hearty lunch, I took Leo for a haircut. The haircut cost Cord 20. about $1.50 (that’s one dollar and fifty cents!!!!) but it was not just a haircut, it was a 45-minute CEREMONY.  The barber, a young, perfectly groomed Nicaraguan man of about 30, was INTO IT.  Seriously INTO IT.  He flicked out that towel. He waved his arms around.  He brushed the blond hair off his face once, twice, three times during the course of the ritualistic haircut.  I was quickly understanding, as I sat and watched the other several clients being beautified: 4 men and 2 small boys, that these people take the male haircut very, very seriously.  The very small boys did not so much as move a muscle for the whole thing.  Conclusion: they have had haircuts of this nature from infancy.  After a brief head massage and then combing, the barber removed the drape, flicked it out and called me over to inspect.  I could see from my seat that it was absolutely perfect and went to hand him the money but no, there was a further step: he unwrapped a shiny new straight razor blade and made a point of me seeing that.  He bent it and examined it, showed it to Leo and then put it into the straight razor.  (at this point I was frantically telling Leo, it’s very, very sharp. You must stay perfectly still.  Freeze, okay?  His big eyes told me that he would obey. With a dab of water all along Leo’s hairline and a flourishing wave of the blade, the finishing touches were made. Then the palm-aid and combing again. This time each hair was placed with the comb.  I had taken three photos by this point.

haircut

Tuesday we will leave for San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast and hopefully get Leo going on the boogie board again.  We will stay there for a few days and then cross the border into Costa Rica and meet friends of ours on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Life is great.  Hope this finds you all happy and wintering well.  We miss you and hope to receive messages from you!  We love news from home!    Next up….San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

La Cucaracha Report – Honduras 🇭🇳

Our stay in the paradise of West Bay, Roatan gets a little scary when our four-year old gets sick….

4 Jan 2004

We are leaving Guatemala tomorrow morning early!  We are en route to the Bay Islands of Honduras!  Finally.  We will be tropical by noon.  Steaming hot and shedding clothing.

This minute, we have just walked into the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel Restaurant in Antigua – simply for coffee and dessert.  It was Dean’s idea.  A good one – pure decadence.  Rich people are so funny to watch too.  A bonus.  We have ordered a whopping three desserts, two coffees and a milk for Leo.  It could be a late night and we have a long walk after this.

8 Jan 2004

It’s Dean’s 41st birthday and we are enjoying ourselves completely in Roatan, Honduras.  We are in a cabana just a few steps from the most beautiful beach I have ever been on.  Our cabana is an upper apartment with a bedroom, a clean bathroom with hot shower and a kitchenette on one end of the living room.  In the kitchen / living room there is a single bed and a TV / VCR.  We are just now watching the movie Titanic.

It feels great to have some luxury because we had two days of hellish travel from Antigua to Livingston, Guatemala – the dirtiest, ugliest, most disappointing village thus yet and where we had to spend a huge US40 to rent a room with some sanity and cleanliness to it.  It had a nice pool which we swam in in the dark.  We were up at 5 the next morning and on a launch for 1.5 hours to Puerto Barrios in the rain.  From there we jammed into a suburban with two Austrians, two Australians and two Americans.  The driver and navigator were Guatemalans and we Canadians.  Five countries represented by we 10.5 squished travelers in this suburban.  Not bad.

After a couple of hours in the suburban, we came to a town and had to stop for fuel.  We all piled out to use the bathroom facilities in the gas station.  I remember feeling like I had just passed through some kind of black hole from one reality into another.  Stepping into the modern, air-conditioned gas station full of convenience items and candy and bags of doritos and with clean normal toilets, was a real treat almost like Dorothy waking up in Oz — from black and white to colour.  They were even selling brewed coffee with cream.  My point here is that we had been on this trip for a couple of months now and convenience items were few and far between.

This vehicle full of us chatty travelers took us the five hours, over dirt and sand roads with washed out portions, small villages and across the border to San Pedro Sulu, Honduras.  This is where we caught a second class bus. Waiting for the bus to fill and prepare to leave, many entrepreneurial-types came reaching up to our bus window selling their wares.  Everything from large, colourful plastic wash basins to, bars of soap, combs, or coca cola in a small sandwich bag with a straw.  They would never give you the can or the bottle with the coke – they needed to keep it to get the deposit back.  

The bus ride was another four hours to La Ceiba and then just the 90 minutes to this island.  Lastly, a thirty minute taxi ride .  Exhausted, we had no idea where to stay and so settled on a pit of a room for the first night in West End and then found this near perfect place the next morning in West Bay Beach.  This picture is just outside our cabana.

roatan

Cabana Roatana, 11 Jan 2004

Still in paradise.  A few days ago Leo was very sick with high fever, chills and a swollen node in his neck.  Coincidentally, the new owner of this place is a doctor who immediately examined Leo and reported that he had a virus.  He told us that Leo would get worse before he got any better…that night, Leo had hallucinations and was in a bad way but after the doctor examined him again, he reassured us that it wasn’t what we feared most – namely meningitis.  Thank god!  Dean and I both breathed a sigh of relief.  What luck to have an ER doctor right here doing house calls to our cabana on the beach!

Greg, the doc, took a last look at Leo the morning he left for home and was certain that he would be fine in a couple of days.  The sea, sun, sand and fresh air all would help.  

Today is a rainy day so we have stuck pretty close to our cabana.  We did manage a short hike to the tip of the island this morning and it was lovely.  We found some pretty sea shells and bits of coral and Leo held a small crab-like creature for a few minutes. 

West Bay, Roatan, Honduras  14 Jan 2004

Leo is a fairly sick little Gaffer.  He was restless last night and the night before, literally waking up every ten minutes due to his sinuses being blocked.  Dean and I are both bagged because of it.

This morning we got right up and prepared for a trip to the medical clinic in Coxen Hole (a true hole of a town!).  We were lucky to find a very good doctor who spoke English very well.  He examined Leo and concluded after seeing a normal level of platelets in his blood test result that Leo has a viral and bacterial infection. We were given four types of medicine: coaxicilan, col-dex ad, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.  We also bought lots of vitamin C.  The bill came to 68 US dollars.  The fee for the doctor was 400 Lempira which equals about 24 US dollars!!  We picked his brain about all sorts of things and he ruled out malaria and dengue fever.  It was well worth the effort.

Writing this now in 2017, years later, I recall with wonder the completely awful state of the dirt road outside this little clinic in Coxen Hole.  There was litter, bad smells, loose chickens, rusted out cars and then just inside the door, a long line-up of local people waiting patiently with their many, well-behaved children, in order to see the doctor.  As we white westerners walked into the clinic, with our expensive backpacks, watches, sandals and other telltale signs of our comparative wealth and with our very cute white-blond four-year old son, they ushered us swiftly passed the line-up and directly in to see the doctor.  I felt so blessed and privileged.  I felt badly for those waiting but I was deathly afraid for my precious young son whose health was worsening and god only knew why.

After leaving the clinic, we bought a few groceries, ate a bight of lunch, mailed postcards home, got some cash from the bank and then split a taxi back to our cabana with a couple from Alaska.

Talking to them was great fun.  They told us of two mistakes they made and it was exactly as we had done.  They too were conned by the woman named Laurel who asked us to help her at the ferry landing in Coxen Hole.  She came up to me, we were fresh off the boat, and told us all of her money, passport, travelers cheques, visa card, bank card – everything had been stolen…

Now, I would normally be a bit more discerning and ask a few more questions, but, I had just been on that darn ferry boat over to the island.  On the boat, they issued each passenger two little white pills – presumably for sea-sickness.  I get very sea-sick easily and so after asking for clarification on the pills, and receiving an answer in Spanish which I could not decipher, I gobbled down the little white pills and hoped for the best.  Not something I would normally do, but, it had been a long few days since leaving our peaceful Antiqua.  A few minutes later, I was seated on the ferry with Leo asleep on my lap and I realized that I could not feel my face.  It was the strangest feeling.  I also did not have any feelings of sea-sickness at all.  In fact, I felt awesome.  Looking back, I think I was stoned. So, when the con-artist approached us…

We gave her $20 US and the Alaskan couple gave her $30 five days later.  She had told us that her money was coming in to Western Union the next day.  The next mistake for them was getting a taxi to West End and staying in the same pit we did, but they paid for two nights sight unseen.  Bad move!

Sat 17 Jan 2004

Right after breakfast in our cabana of oatmeal and fruit, Dean was asked to help retrieve the hotel’s car from the airport.  His first driving experience of this trip.  The first time he has driven in two months.

roatan-2Leo asked me to take him snorkeling on the close reef down at the end of the beach.  He has been practicing in the shallows just out from our place.  Now he wanted to see the real thing!  He was very impressed.  He saw some fish and the first outcroppings of coral.  After that, we examined the rock wall at the end of the beach and saw an iguana frozen in stillness.  Leo watched to see if it would move but, no.  We then discussed how iguanas can blend in with their background as a defense mechanism and Leo said, oh you mean camouflage.

Fri 23 Jan 2004

Our holiday here in Roatan has been excellent if we don’t count how sick Leo was with full blown tonsillitis.  We were back and forth to the Coxen Hole medical clinic (called the Jacklin Wood Medical Clinic) three times.  We worked with Dr Raymond first and then with Dr Wood.  They were both excellent.  We also were lucky enough to have the owner here look at him and a guest, Dr Chris, look at him.  We were rich in advice.  All that to say that it was a little scary for a few nights.  For four nights Leo’s throat was so swollen he had a hard time breathing and so woke up, sat up, coughing and sputtering about every fifteen minutes or so.  He was feverish, off and on, for ten days which made the doctors want to take blood tests to rule out dengue and malaria.  Consequently, our little Leo was stuck, like a pin cushion about six times.  The second time we took him in he was given an injection of a strong antibiotic.  On the third visit he received another injection of antibiotic and that night he showed a vast improvement.  Our little guy was quite sick and this was terrifying for us.  I would look at his throat and see that it was nearly completely blocked with ulcers and puss.  Awful!  Thankfully, he is back to normal and sleeping soundly again, much to our huge relief.

While in Roatan, and staying at the cabana, we enjoyed three weeks of bliss (except the ordeal of Leo’s tonsillitis).  Our little upper cabana, a few steps from the sugar-sand beach was very sweet.  We met a few travelers and would have them over to talk about travel and discuss our dreams of future travel.  We met an eighty-year old wealthy man who was traveling like a backpacker because he said it was more interesting.  During the day, we would go swimming in the turquoise waters and Leo would jump in off the dock again and again.  Sometimes, local people would sell us fruit on the beach and sometimes they would sell us cold drinks like a beer and a pop for Leo. At supper time I would cook up a very simple meal for us to enjoy and we would thank the heavens for our good fortune.  As backpackers, how did we afford such a lovely place to stay?  We had found out that the month of January was low-season on Roatan due to the rain.  Using this, we simply asked the owners for a cut rate and offered half the amount.  They went for it, probably because Leo was with us and he was so cute that they likely just wanted us to stay.

Next stop…Nicaraugua

La Cucaracha Report – Guatemala 🇬🇹

Guatemala was all colour.  We were agog at the tapestries hanging two and three deep on each side of the main street as we arrived in Panajachel.  We spent one day just walking around and looking at all the beautiful crafts.  We bargained for tapestries and later, met a guy heading home to London, Ontario.  He easily agreed to take woven gifts home for us.  That was a relief as it is hard to carry anything extra on a trip such as this.  Every bit of weight counts when it is on your back for hours and miles.

late atitlan

From my journal in 2004:

Dean and I are sitting on the pebble beach of Lake Atitlan while Leo plays with four children – digging by the shore.  The water is clear, cool and extremely deep.  A tiny girl just came by carrying an armful of necklaces and hand woven purses.

Guat Girl with wrapShe is wearing a long wrap embroidered skirt and a colourful top.  Her hair is ink black and braided with colourful ribbons.  Our western clothing is so lifeless next to theirs.  We are constantly asked to purchase their wares.  It gets tiring to have to say no gracious so often.

***

Dean is reading The Princess Bride by William Goldman, aloud to Leo for a goodnight story.  It is superb.  Leo is sitting, utterly enraptured.  It is a great story of love, adventure and survival and it is funny too, as in the movie.

 

Here is an email I wrote home.

 

Happy New Year from Antigua, Guatemala!

 

Dean, Leo and I are well, happy and fat with good food, drink, sun, travel and relaxing.  It simply doesn’t get much better than this!  Here’s hoping that all of you have enjoyed the holiday season to the absolute fullest!

 

Before I give you an update about what the devil we have been up to, I would like to tell you that our four-year old Leo enjoyed a lovely, little Christmas in Palenque Town, Chiapas, Mexico.  He went to bed only after laying out a stocking and a note to Santa at the end of his bed and leaving a huge piece of chocolate loaf for he and his reindeer on the bureau.  He awoke, bright and early to find the stocking full of goodies and a brand new Lego racer toy, exactly the one that he had wished for!  Imagine that. lego racer smile Here is his big smile even though his Christmas loot was quite small. The box was just a little bit squished but that was understandable, since Santa had his sled packed as tightly as our backpacks have been.  We then spent Christmas day at the amazing Mayan, jungle enshrouded ruins of Palenque.  Leo ran in, out, up and down the ancient stairs, passageways, tombs and temples and squealed at how cool it all was.  Just like a great big fort!  We took the earliest bus and therefore arrived quite early in the day and so were able to enjoy the ancient ruins without crowds.  It was a very special Christmas.  Later, we met and tried our best to communicate with an Italian family.  The only Italian we speak, though, sadly: spaghetti, ravioli, fettucine, did not really work itself well into the conversation.  There was a lot of gesturing and Leo found this very funny.

 

We have completed a lot of little adventures since Christmas but the highlights have been hiking for several hours, on a tiny, cliffside footpath, around the huge and wonderful Lake Atitlan on New Years Eve day and marvelling at the volcanoes.  We did this hike with Bo and Tine from Denmark.  I nearly had five heart-attacks as Dean carried Leo on his shoulders for the steepest part of the trail.  If Dean had slipped, it would have been certain death as the drop was hundreds of meters and the steep angle of the hill, combined with the loose scree, would not have allowed for him to stop.  I seriously could not look.  Dean was so nonchalant about the whole thing.  He is not one bit worried about heights and he is very sure-footed. Me, not so much.  It was a very hot day and the dust was extreme.  By the time we were done, I was a wreck.  We ate a nice lunch – I should say, we FELL on a nice lunch and devoured it.  It was at a lakeside restaurant and quite lovely.

lake-atitlan-swim

Next we swam in the very deep (340 meters!!), crystal clean, cool waters of Lake Atitlan and then made our way back to our hostel in Panajachel.

 

I should mention that on the way to our hostel, I happened to come across a vendor selling friend chicken and another vendor selling family size (this is what they call 1 litre bottles – family size!!!) bottles of Gallo beer.gallo  Guess what we were having for supper: chicken and beer.  Yum.  It was the best darn chicken and beer I have ever had.  We made a picnic of it in our room – the only furniture being our bed, we put a blanket on the floor and after cleaning up in our cold-water only bathroom, we sat down for our feast.  Just then…BANG!…BANG!…BANG!.  It seems that gunshot was the mode of celebration.  It didn’t really matter.  We were exhausted and slept easily through all the noise.

 

Another great but simple memory will be the ride from the lake to this beautiful city of Antigua.  We were on a chicken bus, which became quite crowded at one point — probably 200 bodies were on this converted school bus.  This tiny little Mayan girl found herself sitting next to me (Dean and Leo were somehow in the seat behind me).  She was a sleepy little thing. She looked up at me with the sweetest eyes, checking me out, then she simply curled into my side and fell asleep like a warm, soft, little cat.  Her exhausted mommy, with three other small ones around her, gave me a huge, toothless smile and on we rolled through the countryside. We peered out the windows agog at the patchwork fields of vegetables on terraced hillsides seemingly too steep to climb, some had to be at least a 70-degree incline.

 

The last highlight has to be watching Leo playing with the various children and other traveling families whom we have come to know as we go.  We were lucky enough to be in the room next to a Quebecois family with three children, two boys age 7 and 9, and a girl aged 13, in San Augustino, Mexico.

 

Leo would awaken each morning with the first light and jump up asking if the boys were up yet.  They had boogie boards, which they took the time to teach Leo how to use.  He is such a little fish.  It’s great.  At that beach Dean had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time for a pick up game of bare-footed beach soccer with five Mexico City students.  He held his own pretty good too!

We will leave Antigua tomorrow or the next day for Rio Dulce and then to the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Here’s wishing you all the best of love, and hugs and hoping, once again, to hear all your special news. ~Morgan, Dean and Leo in Guatemala

 

Writing this in 2017, I fondly remember our time in Guatemala.  On Jan 4th we climbed a steaming volcano.  Going up the hill was somewhat tough, especially the last forty minutes on the scree of the cone.  There were high winds and it was cool.  Leo did very well.  I was terrified at the top as people neared the steaming hole to take a look.  I wouldn’t go near it and held fast to Leo.  Coming down was a blast: sliding on the scree and giggling all the way down.

The only part I did not like was the Guatemalan Caribbean.  Back then, anyway, it was not in good shape there.  A lot of garbage everywhere in town and all along the beaches.  A lot of over-drinking by the local people.  Hostels we looked at were unclean and untidy.  When we arrived there, it had been raining and so there was a lot of mud everywhere too.  We were exhausted and ended up splurging and spending $40 US to stay in a proper hotel room in Livingston.  There was a pool and even though it was after dark, we all went for a very relaxing swim in the pool.  We felt like a million bucks having splurged but truly enjoyed the luxury.  So, perhaps our impression of Livingston was just our perception and tainted by rain, mud and exhaustion.  I hope so.

Up Next…Honduras

La Cucaracha Report – Mexico 🇲🇽

With a golden handshake from IBM we embark on a four month backpacking trip in Mexico and Central America…with four-year old Leo…mostly amazing

We arrived at the Guadalajara airport late in November of 2003.  We were tired and stunned from the long day of travel.  We left our dark; quiet Atlantic Canadian home, by taxi at 4:30 in the morning with Leo, aged four, almost impossible to awaken at that hour.  His little body just did not agree with getting up before dawn.

 

After stopping and waiting for hours and changing planes in Toronto and Houston, we were just starting a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America.  Thank goodness for the small soccer ball we brought and the vastness of space in the airports for recreating with Leo.  We didn’t even know the Spanish word for bathroom and I was busting to go pee.  It didn’t help that Leo was asleep in my arms, his head on my shoulders with his little body sitting right on my bladder.  I looked around the surprisingly clean and normal looking airport.  I guess I was expecting something much, much worse.  Dirtier.  More people. The weight of my four-year-old was already breaking my arms. I was also feeling weighted down with money belt, fanny pack, day pack and neck pouch and it was all quite cumbersome when retrieving documents and money.

 

We had no reservations for a night in a hotel room.  I couldn’t examine the guidebook or my handy-dandy phrase book because both of my hands were holding Leo.  Dean was nearby.  He was chatting (with some hint of urgency and fear behind his voice – that I could detect or maybe just imagined because that was how I was feeling) with a blond woman dressed in tight jeans and shit-kicker, pointy-toe black boots.  She spoke a heavily Euro- accented English.  She was Polish and her name was Jalo.  She could see that we needed assistance.  She was trying to help.  Another man came over.  He was Mexican.  He too spoke English and saw that we needed help.  Was it that obvious?  I felt a little better…not so scared.  People would help us find our way.  It was like that everywhere.  Good things would happen if you were good to others.  The Universe would unfold to help you.  I was always saying that to Leo.

 

We asked Jalo if she knew of the small surfing and fishing town of Sayulita. Our first destination.  She did and then she related a story, which we would recall later about how to bargain for a room in the off-season.  She paid $40 per night for a seaside room instead of the initial quote of $100.  Score!

 

The Customs line was moving slowly but, the Mexican man made a phone call on his cell phone and made a reservation for us at the Best Western.  He told us that the price was 950 pesos or about $95 US.  We shrugged and went with it.  It was a lot to spend but we couldn’t be choosy just then.  We could make up for it later in the trip. We thanked the two of them profusely.  Mucho, mucho gracias!  The next thing we knew we had cleared Customs, used the bano (no supplied toilet paper) and were swept onto a torn vinyl rear seat of a rusted out, dusty, creaky old shit-box, with no seat belts and no remnants of seatbelts.  Having learned, in advance, that we should pay only 50 pesos for the ride to the Best Western.  Our precious child, Leo was between us, unbelted, no car seat, sleeping as we whirred through the dark and deserted streets of Guadalajara.  My arms were tight around his little belly. The billboards were for products we have never heard of except, of course, Corona.  Nothing looks familiar except, of course, Corona. Guess what I was wishing for just then? Of course, Corona. Thank goodness we had, at least, tasted this beer or we would likely feel very, very out of place.  I had this large lump of fear in my body as we raced along with this old Mexican cabby who spoke no English.  Had we made a good decision to come on this trip? Were we taking our only, precious, preschool son and ourselves into a needlessly dangerous situation?  I swallowed the fear, smiled and leaned in closer to Dean.  We were a team.  We would be fine.  We’d been to INDIA for goodness sakes.  We could handle Mexico.  All would be better when the sun came up.

 

The hotel room was a shade on the tight side but it was clean and had thick curtains.  There were no signs of animal life under the beds or in the bano.  We showered and got into bed.  Dean turned on the television.  All Spanish except for CNN.  We fell into bed, cuddled up and fell asleep until 10:00 the next morning.

 

The traffic noise started very early and somewhat awakened me.  Leo and Dean were still fast asleep.  When Leo awakened we allowed him to turn on the television and watch some Spanish cartoons while we organized ourselves for venturing out and having breakfast and making our way to the First Class bus station.  We were not used to how we had packed our backpacks and didn’t know exactly where things were.  We brought too much shit with us and yet, managed to forget the small pile of tiny toys we had set aside for Leo.   He was not at all happy about this oversight.  Thank goodness we brought a couple of different balls, including his dollar-store suction cup ball and a small soccer ball (both of which will be with us for the whole four-month trip) and a pack of cards and the children’s version of Rush Hour by Binary Arts.  I made him a couple of toys out of string and carabineer hooks.  That seemed to help.

 

The hotel restaurant looked inviting and, even better, smelled like good coffee.  In we went and out came the phrase book and the journal.  We were about to enjoy our first Mexican desayuno.  This is what I had written in the journal about what we did next…

 

We enjoyed a marabioso desayuno—huevos rancheros y café negro para mia y café con leche para Dean.  Hotcakes y leche fria para “el”– Leo.  We are here! Finally, we are in Mexico!  Yahoo!

 

After breakfast we packed up and grabbed a taxi to the bus station where we were lucky to find an English speaking Mexican to help us with the purchase of our tickets, first-class, to Puerto Vallarta.  The bus was pure luxury.  Videos, fully reclining seats, air-conditioning, pillow and throw-blankets.  As Dean and Leo jokingly would say, This isn’t a bus, it’s a bed! ha ha.  The tickets cost us about 850 pesos total.   Once we were in the countryside I was agog at the beauty of the hills.  Leo slept almost the whole way.

 

We arrived in Vallarta at around 7:30 pm and paid 280 pesos for a taxi to Sayulita (a very bad price! Considering the local buses cost around $2.)  As we rolled into town I couldn’t believe how sweet this little town appeared – all colourful stucco, cobbled streets and hanging wares for sale.

 

 Back home we had rented out our Halifax house to a young businessman from Montreal and to that end had made several trips into the attic and the basement with our personal things – we had left him a furnished, neat-as-a-pin house.  Everything included: linens, plates, cutlery, pots and pans.  Our car was parked in the driveway with most of the insurance coverage removed.   Having set up a bit of an apartment in the basement and locked the kitchen door, we slept the night before the flight down there in order to leave the upstairs beds made fresh for his arrival.  We had put so much effort into the trip already:  Relatives taking care of the dogs in Newfoundland – a special trip to get them there.  A friend on the street was picking up and sorting our mail and bills. Her son would shovel the snow from the sidewalk.  Other friends acting as landlords and troubleshooters during our absence.  All our bills were on automatic payment, except Visa, which our friend would open and email us the total so we could pay it, on-line.  The Internet had transformed long-term travel.  All that work was forgotten as we went forward and found new adventures in this strange, hot and interesting land.

 

Sayulita, Mexico.  Leo, Dean and I are sitting in a beachside, open-air restaurant.  We have been here for the day and have booked and paid for a small apartment with kitchen that I was able to get for $30 a night, down from $80 a night.  Dean was very happy about my efforts.  A good deal, or so it seems thus far.  It’s a bed and breakfast place but the owner has cut out breakfast as part of the deal.  No biggy.  One of the patrons, upon leaving, a young surfer guy, said he had eaten about as much ham bread as he could handle.  We chuckled at that.

 

We awoke this a.m. to gunfire at 05:37!! We had expected something because today is a Mexican holiday: Revolution Day.  There was also a parade in which all of the village school children were in revolution costume—disturbingly dressed like Mexican soldiers.

 

Friday 21.11.03 We are at a café across from our apartment and we’ve just ordered breakfast…inflation is on the rise in this town.  Everything is a tad more expensive than it should be and the sandwich boards and menu prices have all been recently increased, as in evident by the telltale stickers over the original prices.

 

There was a man selling fruit off the back of a truck with a loud speaker to announce his wares.  I bought a few bananas and oranges for ~60 cents.  Fruit is still a good deal.  I had a bit of a hard time bargaining with him because of the language barrier but it was fun and got a few smiles from him.

 

Dean was just reading to Leo as a medium into his siesta.  It was the middle of the day and so hot it was impossible to stay out of doors.  Leo said, instead of watching television everyday, I want to read.  I love this book.  We were reading A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle.  It was one of my favourites as a child too, which is special.

 

I was feeling a little disenchanted this morning, with travel.  It’s much more expensive than we thought and it is over-run.  The people are being exploited; the children walk around eating DORITOS and other junk like Coca-cola.  There are empty plastic water bottles everywhere you turn.  I actually said to Dean, Let’s go to Europe.  To Portugal.  He just laughed.  He knows my moods.

 

After breakfast though, we went to Playa del Muerta (beach of the dead, so named because to get there one must hike through the cemetery).  It is about a 10-minute walk south of here.  What a beautiful beach for children.  Leo was in the water for about 1-½ hours straight.  We did some floats together.  The waves crashed right over his head and washed him along and he just giggled.  He did have a bit of a hard time with the salty water stinging his eyes but then he started to accept it.  There is another slight annoyance:  jellyfish tentacles, which have broken away from the fish and they sting a tiny bit as they brush the skin.  It is akin to the bite of red ants but not quite as bad.  There’s not much to be done.  In the event of a serious sting, rubbing hot sand and /or peeing on the area takes care of it.

john-and-jaden-walking-to-san-pancho

 

Sunday 30 Nov 2003 an email message to home:

 

Hola!

How is everyone up there in reality-land?  It was so good to read your news just now.  I’m sitting here in my bikini and sarong and have a tear glistening in my eyes to hear news of our loved ones from their respective homes.  Thanks so much for letting us know how you’re doing…

 

As for us…life could not get much more hellish.  It’s all just more of the same old stuff.  Sun. Sand. Sea. Little Adventures.  Cheap Corona (65 cents each) yadda, yadda, yadda.  I think we’re all getting a little too fat with all the burritos, tacos and nachos.

 

Leo’s foot is completely heeled and the flip-flops and salt water were the ticket. (Leo had stepped on a fire ant which had promptly stung him and made him cry.  There was a tiny sore on the bottom of his foot which hurt him badly.)

 

So the other night I couldn’t sleep after hitting the pillow at around 8:30 pm, I awoke in the wee hours to read while Dean and Leo snored away. (I just finished that particular book, a good one for someone like me, by Po Bronson, WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE?) and my eye caught movement above the edge of my book…el cucaracha (yes cockroach!) and he was a cool 4 inches long, at least.  There he was, just a crawling along the windowsill and then along the top of the bathroom doorframe and then do-da-do across the wall and along the floor.  At that point I had scrambled up off the mattress and grabbed Dean’s shoe and lo siento (so sorry) el cucarache…it was exactly then that he met his demise. SLAP and CRUNCH.

 

Enough details for you?  We have seen lots of weird and wonderful insect, flora and fauna life here.  Some not so pretty, as I just related. Definitely not in Kansas anymore.  The geckos are super cute but do send a shiver down one’s spine when one sees them out of the corner of one’s eye…can anyone relate?

 

We are scheduled to hop a bus south in a couple of days.  We’re just going to hop along day by day, or every couple of days, and stay here and there and get into some more authentic-type situations and out of tourist land. The Spanish lessons have been most helpful and we’re both feeling pretty good about our ability to buy bus tickets, food, beer, necessities, find a hotel room and ask directions to the bano and all that.  I’m sure we’ll be picking up more as the days slide by.  It is amazing how much our French has come in handy when learning to conjugate verbs and what not.  There are many similarities.

 

Dean is doing fabulously and you’d never know he had a hernia removed last month.  He went for another run today and is getting back into shape.  He’s very happy about that.  Swimming has been very helpful too.

 

Gotta run!  Time is up…

Love and hugs and best wishes,

 

Morgan, Dean and Leo

 

Saturday 13 Dec 2003

 

La Cucaracha Report

 

Buenos Dias!!!, one and all….

 

Sorry it’s been so long and so quiet…but get ready for a small tome.  We have so much material you may as well start yawning right now!  First of all, this key board really sucks so don’t expect proper punctuation and capitals at the beginning of all sentences…shall we move past that—okay where the heck is the question mark…forget it.

 

Secondly, we’re now down in Puerto Escondido on the southern rim of the pacific in Oaxaca state –pronounced wah haka. and all is well and very very hot.  as they say in Australia, its stinking hot…I am sitting here while Leo is having his daily siesta, I have an ice cold marguerita next to the key board but can’t find my shaker of salt.  oh well.  life is tough.  This is only my third marguerita of this whole trip so don’t go envisioning us partying all the time.  the only reason I mention it is to add that I am dying with the flu.  Dean just passed it on to me and Leo will likely be next.  it is weird having a runny nose, fever and the chills in this kind of climate.  the pool and the ocean and the cheap coronas and marguerites really help though. ha ha ha

 

we spent a week in a town called Barra de Navidad, which was wonderful.  We stayed at a hotel owned and operated by a German man who was an Olympic swimmer in the 60s.  He was always commenting to us on Leo’s swimming ability –which, by the way, he is now swimming like a little fish—and during a soccer match that he and Dean went to, he admitted his past.  He then offered to give Leo a couple of lessons in the hotel pool.  we were literally jumping for joy to have this world record holder, Gerhard Henz, give our little sweety a couple of lessons.  it went very well and will always be remembered.  Barra and the HOTEL DELPHIN is quite the spot.  The town has been built on a huge sand bar and has a nice calm beach which, when we weren’t in Gerhard’s pool, we were in the ocean.  the soccer match, mentioned above was between the national women’s team for Mexico and the Barra men’s team.  score 0 – 0.

 

soccer-on-the-beach-mexico

 

To get down here to Escondido, which by the way, is the most beautiful beach town we have been in yet, we had to take a 14 hour, very crowded, second-class bus from Manzanillo to Acapulco.  Leo slept the whole way, some of it on our laps and when some people got off the bus we would switch around and grab some zzzs in a free seat.  that was when Dean’s flu decided to hit so he was suffering even worse than I.  it may have been that we were seated right beside the toilets at the back of the bus and the door continuously slapped open and shut –in tune with my eyelids– and when it was open there was this no deliciouso perfume wafting over us and the toilet itself spoke to us, all night, much like a sucking chest wound.  not pretty. no guapo.  definitely not.

little-shoes-out-the-window

 

in Acapulco we really treated ourselves in taking Leo to a huge air-conditioned shopping mall and buying him three new toys.  he has been such a trooper and hardly ever complaining.  we then had a huge meal at a good restaurant where the wait staff couldn’t pull their eyes off Leo and kept saying el guapo, el muy guapo…translation –he’s beautiful, he’s very beautiful.  these people love children so much, it is unbelievable.  They embrace us as a family and very much respect our little travelling unit. it is lovely.

 

from Acapulco we got on a five-hour bus ride to a tiny town and found a clean hotel, then went out for a meal.  it was amazing in this little town. the road side restaurant had no printed menu so this waitress or owner had to come over and tell us, in a sweet little voice with a few words here and there in English, what she had to offer –which wasn’t much–but it was all they had and we enjoyed it.  hand-patted, flour tortillas with beans and cheese.  Leo had a huge fried banana with honey and a fresh squeezed orange juice.  the juicer was exactly like the one mom used to use at the lake. after that we fell into our beds like the dead.  fireworks woke us up around 7 am.  some sort of celebration going on.  There’s a lot of those this time of year.

 

Next, the sweet voiced patron from the night before showed us, on her own initiative, to the bus station and made sure we were getting on the correct but to Escondido.  unfortunately, the only bus available was a chicken bus…now our adventures were getting very interesting.  Here’s the lay out of the bus.  dirty, noisy, broken seats, no bathroom and definitely no pre-packaged little bagged lunch and cold soft drink like they gave us on first class from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.  thank goodness it was only a 7-hour journey with many, many mucho milk stops. suffice to say we have now tried several different levels of restroom in various tiny, dusty, sleepy towns down the Mexican pacific coast.

 

At one point, I was thinking about all you musicians out there as a smiling hombre boarded the bus with guitar and I couldn’t help myself but yelled out, musica, musica…he was all over us like a fat cucaracha on a discarded smarty.  he stood in the aisle, beside us, on a very bumpy ride and played several heartfelt Mexican tunes.  when he paused I, of course, ¨ asked him to play feliz navidad and HE DID!  when he came to the English part…I wanna wish you a merry Christmas…he paused and I belted it out.  great acoustics too, that chicken bus.  it was something of an authentic experience, I like to think.  then, he shook our hands and we offered him a small tip and he was off…

musica-mexico

 

Escondido has been wonderful.  We have met up with our friend Sharon from Campbellville who is here for three months.  she is going to accompany us for a little while, as we go on our next little trek to Oaxaca City for Christmas and, perhaps New years.  it has been great with Sharon.  we did a couple hour, nice beach walk with her and all along the cliff side on a stone walk way with many hand carved stairways and bridges.  we stopped for a dip in a sandy-bottomed rocky little cove with water as warm as …well, you can guess.  A far cry from the north Atlantic.  yesterday we walked the length of the beach in the opposite direction to a shallow, wavy cove and just rolled around and frolicked in the waves.  Leo loved it.  Later Leo met and played with four little Mexican girls on the beach across from our hotel and as the sun went down they played chase and mirra, mirra.  Lots of giggles and touching of his blonde hair.

jaden-and-levi-jumping-on-beach-mexico

 

other than feeling yucky with this head cold or flu or whatever, it has been an amazing time so far.  we are all doing wonderfully and think of all of you often.

 

We would so love to hear the news from home and hope that you will save up your best moments and pass them along.

 

All the best from down here… bye for now.

Leo is now playing with bubbles with several other children.  The language of play is universal and wonderful.  We are in San Cristobal where it is chilly and it is our 11th anniversary today, Christmas Eve.  We are having coffee and pastries as well as chocolate rum balls in a warm local bakery.  The rum balls melt in the mouth and are the best I have ever tasted.  I will dream about them.  There is an artist from New York sitting next to us: Victoria Behm, and, of course, she has taken to our little Leo, who is so sweet and friendly.  She sees my mole-skin journal and asks if I would like a sketch for my journal.  Sure.

sketch

http://vbehm.tumblr.com/

Next stop: Guatemala.