Amy Goes West in 1974

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.

img_3751-1

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 )

Bucket List in REVERSE, Baby! (and NOBODY puts Baby in a corner, remember?!) ⏳📜💭

We’re here for a good time
Not a long time
So have a good time
The sun can’t shine every day…
~Trooper

This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio.  The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life.  So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future.  It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far.  I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!

Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond).  No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.

  1. Eloped to marry my best-friend and we are celebrated 26 years this year (2019);
  2. Had a son and stayed home to raise him for his first five years;
  3. Trekked for a month in Nepal in the Himalayas;
  4. Traveled by VW Van all over Canada, including the North West Territories and Yukon and into Alaska, visiting one national park in each province, territory and in Alaska;
  5. Hiked the 3-day Chilkoot Trail from Bennett, B.C. to Skagway, Alaska;
  6. Traveled and worked on a farm in Australia;
  7. Visited the Taj Mahal; and witnessed pilgrims bathing in the Ganges in India at dawn;
  8. Backpacked with our 4-year old throughout Mexico’s West Coast and most of Central America;
  9. Moved to a small Nova Scotian town without jobs and made our lives from scratch with our four-year old because we wanted him to be able to walk to school safely;
  10. Founded and incorporated a small education-services business that is now 13 years old and employs three others besides myself;
  11. Posted a listing on AirBnb and have hosted folks from all over the world;
  12. Started a school garden with a friend and made a blog about it and taught children how to sow, germinate, water, grow, harvest and save seeds from it;
  13. Had an eating disorder in my teens that gives me great compassion for that type of suffering today and a hope and am open to help others get over it;
  14. Lived and worked in Germany for three years and visiting most countries near there;
  15. Lived in Virginia, USA for two years then packed a large U-Haul and drove home to Canada and we were glad to be home (sorry American friends, no offence);
  16. Took a gondola ride in Venice and then got somewhat lost in its ancient twisty turny laneways;
  17. Drove from Germany into Czechoslovakia just after the 1989 removal of the Berlin wall and witnessed a country coming alive;
  18. Had three big dogs (not all at once) and a cat who were cherished as part of our family;
  19. Visited the Great Barrier Reef in Australia;
  20. Completed the PADI dive licence which was very difficult for me due to my claustrophobic tendencies.  (I no longer dive but I love to snorkel);
  21. Rappelled down a cliff on basic training in 1986 in Chilliwack, B.C. (9 PLATOON DOGS OF WAR!)Rappelling was terrifying to me due to a fear of height;
  22. Rappelled out of a helicopter on a special training day;
  23. Joined a group seven-day biking trip through France and gained a very sore bottom;
  24. Marched in the International Nijemgen Marches in Holland in 1989.  160 km over four days;
  25. Skied in the Swiss and the Austrian Alps;
  26. Own a house out-right with my husband;
  27. While living in the Arctic hand-built several high-fired, clay pots and still have some of them over 25 years later;
  28. Taught my son to speak American sign-language before he could speak;
  29. Was sporty and a scholar at school, for the most part;
  30. Completed Advanced Yoga Teacher Training at an ashram in the Bahamas;
  31. Taught yoga for several months then gave it up because it just didn’t suit me and it took a lot of courage to admit that;
  32. Joined a book club and read daily;
  33. Took several horse-archery ground training lessons and loved it;
  34. Mastered a hand-stand with no wall;
  35. Made yogurt from raw farm-fresh milk for years;
  36. Joined the Army and stayed in for 6 years, leaving honourably as a Captain;
  37. Completed Recruit Term at Military College in Sooke, B.C. and it was tough;
  38. Completed Off-Road driver training in the Army;
  39. Shot a fire-arm with fairly good accuracy, and cleaned it, stripped it and reassembled it blindfolded;
  40. Completed the Officer Challenge twice (only woman): 75 km trek over 24 hours with 18 mini-competitions, in combat gear;
  41. Was awarded the Sword of achievement for Junior Officer of the Year while in the army;
  42. Besides my first language of English, I can communicate somewhat in French, German, Spanish and American Sign-language;
  43. Studied dance for several years as a girl and still love to dance;
  44. Was a gymnast in elementary school and won a silver medal in a competition for the county;
  45. Have traveled by jet, helicopter, ferry, ship, sail boat, canoe, kayak, car, truck and train, including a train across most of Canada for days and into the heart of Australia on the Gahn;
  46. Hitch-hiked successfully in Canada and Australia;
  47. Witnessed flying foxes by the thousands in Australia;
  48. Have driven back and forth across Canada (several times) including solo enroute to Logistics training in the Army in 1988;
  49. Have been to all Provinces of Canada and two of the territories;
  50. Have lived and worked north of the 66th parallel, two hours North of the Arctic Circle;
  51. Was ‘Screeched In’ in Newfoundland where my husband is from;
  52. Hiked Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland and met curious Elk while on top of its tablelands;
  53. Sewed some clothing and curtains with a sewing machine, self-taught then decided I wouldn’t be doing that again;
  54. Learned how to cut a basic haircut from my sister;
  55. Met a harem of Bison in a National Park in Alberta;
  56. Miscarried my second son, late, which was heart-breaking but which helps me to cherish given life;
  57.  Learned how to read music and play piano and the flute;
  58. Met, hugged and kissed Deepak Chopra before he was very famous; and
  59. Love nature and simple times and love to laugh and be silly

Leave a comment with your top 5 or 10 Reverse Bucket List items…Come On….Go ahead.  I know you want to!!!

 

(picture of view from top of Gros Morne Mountain is from google images…thank you)

A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance, (Army Part 5) 🥂

We were spending all kinds of time together, working and exploring Europe but, it wasn’t turning into romance. So, I did something about it…

Continued from A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance (Army Part 4)

So we began our careers together as young platoon commanders and it was busy – the learning curve was vast and challenging and not without sweat and tears.  We attended daily meetings and orders groups.  We went to gun-camps and field exercises together.  We did physical fitness tests; challenges like rappelling off the jump tower (where my friend Dan, with his ultra confidence in me and enthusiastic persistence locked eyes with me until I took the step to certain death and / or broken legs) and out of a helicopter (ditto); and long marches.  We had TGIF gatherings and formal Mess dinners together and soon we started hanging out as friends.  We would drive to neighbouring countries, cities, towns and villages.  We would check out various restaurants and go for hikes or to a soccer match.  We would find English movies to watch in various Movie houses.  One of our favourite places to go was Strasbourg, France.  It was so beautiful and medieval. We also loved going to the baths at Baden-Baden.

baths

We would stay at the baths for a few hours and walk on the crooked cobble-stone lane ways until we found a little bistro. Famished from the baths.

At Christmas time, feeling that I had just finally settled in, I thought I may not go home back over the pond.  I would just stay and catch up on work and have a quiet time, solo.  My apartment phone rang.  When I answered it my eldest brother Matt’s unmistakable voice asked my why I wouldn’t be coming home.  In his deep, slow drawl he said, ‘Marnie, I almost died a few months ago.  I’ve just re-learned how to walk.  You really need to come home.  We’re going to have a big Player Family Christmas party.  You can stay with us.  Come home, okay?’

My biggest brother had had a near fatal car accident outside of town up at the lake.  He was driving his new convertible and somehow it flipped, throwing him a distance.  He landed on his head and was knocked out for days.  When he came to, he couldn’t speak properly and he couldn’t walk.  He and June persevered, as they would, being who they are – tough and hardworking.  They pulled through.  June ran the business while Matt did physio and recouped mentally.  He would later tell hilarious stories about his time in the hospital.  How he would jumble his words and meaning and sayings.  Of course, all the nurses loved him.  He made everyone laugh.

So, of course I went home and I enjoyed every minute of the catching up and the hyper-ness of being with all the personalities of my big, wonderful family.  Silently observing as we all fell into our various roles: the little sister (that was me), the big brother, the joker, the musician entertainer, the nurturer, the best friend to all…we all had a place in the woven fabric of our big family.

***

Out on a field exercise once we had to do the Junior Officer Challenge.  It was twenty-four hours and 75 km with eighteen mini-competition posts along the way.  Fifty Junior Officers started out.  We nick-named it the Okey-Dokey Challenge.   The other female officers and many of the male officers dropped out — mostly due to wicked blisters and injuries.  Dean and I did the whole thing together.  I was the only woman to finish.  The picture here is of us at the last ‘competition’ – wine tasting.  Dean and I were seated on a bench, side by side.  Luckily, I got to do it again the following year but, not Dean.  He had been posted to CFB Baden as the Quarter Master of 3RCR.  So, that year, I did most of it with Scott Spinner, also from Walden.

okey-dokey-1990

All this time we were spending together though, didn’t turn into romance.  Then I found out that my Dean had a girl-friend back home in Newfoundland.  Geez.  What would I do about that.  I was in love with him.

Then it hit me: make him jealous.

That is what I did.

I started dating gorgeous specimens whom I would meet around base or at the Officers’ Mess.  Each hunk I met and dated, I made sure to introduce to Dean: Pete, Greg, Chris, Fraser.  Dean would prickle slightly when I would bring a new guy to him to meet.  This went on for about eighteen months.

One Friday, I had made a date with Fraser — a gorgeous, sweet-natured, blue-eyed, muscled helicopter pilot and I was to meet him later at the Mess.  Mid-morning, I was in my office when in walks Dean and sits down.  He then did something he had never done before.  He asked me to go to a soccer banquet with him later that evening.  Bristling, I asked him if this was a date.  ‘Yes’, he said.

I was so mad.

I called him an asshole.

He looked at me with shock of his face.  I asked him if he thought I had nothing going on on a Friday night.  I told him about my date with Fraser and that no, I couldn’t go to his silly banquet.  I was seething.

Later I was with Fraser all I was doing was talking about Dean and how much he angered me.  How could he really expect me to be just available to him, just like that.  I went on and on.  Fraser looked at me and gently but firmly said: ‘M, go to the banquet.  Don’t worry about me.  Just go.’

Off I went.  The banquet was in a restaurant just up the street from my apartment.  After the banquet, Dean and I walked the cobble-stone street to my apartment, arm-in-arm.

We have been together ever since.

That was 1990.  It is now 2018 and we just celebrated 25 years married while on a trip to Cuba. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

After we started dating, we began to go away on weekend or week-long trips.  We went skiing in the Swiss Alps, staying at a chalet.  The Alps were beyond belief.  We would ride various lifts up to the peak, spend a couple hours skiing up there, then ski down to a chalet for lunch and a beer – the scenery from the chalet was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Spectacular.  After refreshments, we would ski for a couple more hours in the middle of the alps and then ski down to the base where we would find the lodge and end our day.  It was blissful.

swiss alps skiing

Another trip found us in the Austrian Alps on Officer Adventure Training.  Well subsidized.  The Austrian Alps were also spectacular.  This time we were staying in a quaint village that looked like something from a painting or a Christmas card.  So picturesque with its crooked, old stone buildings, shutters, balconies, cobble stones, wrought iron and of course, the layer of pure white snow on every surface and not a flat roof in sight.

austria
Another trip we went on together though was to Corfu, Greece.  We had two weeks at an all-inclusive resort and we had an amazing trip.  The trip ended with the two of us exchanging identical rings on a hill in an olive grove.  We were now engaged to be married.  Oh happy day!

corfu

In Greece, we met an older couple named Mary and David from Scotland.  They made the mistake of inviting us to their home to visit some day.  Well, we went.  We flew into London on a military air craft.  We saw Les Miserables, a Tottenham soccer match and we walked and explored all around parts of London.  We went to Harrods and stayed in a B & B.  Then we took a bus north to Glasgow.  Mary and David handed us a shot of whiskey as we arrived at their house.  For the next couple of days, they toured us around the countryside to see ruins of Castles, Inverary Village,

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom

boutiques and tea shops.  In one shop, I bought a lavender coloured kilt that I later wore to be married in.  Dean bought a deer-stocker hat. We went to the pictures one night and then it was over.  We headed back to London and flew back to Germany.  One regret is that we did not get over to Ireland.  To date, we have still not been to Ireland and we would truly like to go.

Capt MMV
My little brother took this picture of me in my dress tans.  Taken outside my apartment in Lahr-Schwartzwald, Germany 1990

Somewhere in there, my younger brother Luke came to Germany and stayed in my apartment with me for a number of months, sleeping on my roll-away cot.  I look back on that time with regret because I feel that I didn’t spend enough quality time with him while he was there.  My attentions were focused elsewhere and I was sometimes rather stressed with pressures at work, which came out in tetchiness with him.  Luke was able to pick up a serving job and use my bike to get to the Caserne where the cafe was. One nice time we had was to head down to the Bondensee in Switzerland where we had a bit of time together by the water.  I was doing my dive licence at that time and needed to conduct a deep dive.  Because the visibility at depth was about nil, it was fairly intense and I had to talk to myself the whole time to stay calm.  After getting my SCUBA licence, I never dove again.  It just wasn’t something that I liked doing, after all.  While I was deployed on exercise for several weeks, Luke went home to Canada.  I missed him bitterly after he was gone.  He had met a very sweet lady who herself was ready to head home and I thought they would be together forever, but, alas, one never knows.

bodesea

It was about this stage in our young relationship that we started to discuss the idea of getting out of the army.  We would make our own way out on civvie street.  We had no real idea what we would do for jobs, but, we knew for certain that we did not want to be ‘in’ any longer.

We were honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces in March of 92 and moved in with Dean’s parents into their 800 square foot house in Newfoundland.  A few months later we started another adventure…travelling all over Canada and into Alaska in our 1976 VW Van named ‘Betsy’ that we brought home from Germany.  Ahhh, but, that’s another post…

(Please note, all photos, except the one of us drinking wine in combats, are from google images and my thanks to those who took the pictures!)

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.

20398331_1266797553446636_2745664672689553408_n(1)

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…~

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

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.