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.
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.
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 were 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.
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.
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.
But this is what it looked like up close:
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. 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 … 🔫).
Upon 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.
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.
By the time we reached Boquete, we were done. There had been many legs to this journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.After a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel. We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths. The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive. They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.
Across the street there was a large dusty open field where several children would play pick-up soccer matches. Leo, who was four years old, was in heaven. He just wanted to run around and play with the children. We went to the field and played frisbee, a game they had never seen before. My husband Dean and I enjoyed teaching the local children about frisbee. They caught on quickly – very coordinated and fit but, not a word of English. Ricardo and Eddie proudly showed us two tarantulas. They poked at these shy creatures with a piece of hay until their hairy mandibles grasped the hay. Then the children would swing the spider side to side showing us how the tarantula would hold on. Next the boys showed us the spiders’ casas, pointing and saying to us, ‘Casa! Casa!’, which was a hole in the dry ground. The play continued with Leo getting soaked by the water “pistoles”, kicking the soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.
A few easy days passed which saw us walk lazily all over the town of Boquete and explore its various parks and markets. I bought a huge bag of fruit and vegetables, plus pasta, butter, milk, cheese and eggs, all for less than $20.
One day we stopped into a small place to have some supper. It was a couple of hours after eating there that Leo began to vomit. He could keep nothing down, not even little sips of water. The night hours passed in somewhat of a blurr because we were up with him for hours and hours and praying and worrying for him to improve. At one point he was hot to the touch and he began to moan loudly and said’ please help my belly.’ He also screamed with the cramps, burped, vomited and then fell back to sleep. Then he would begin to vomit or wretch again. I began to get pretty worried. In the morning he became listless and I screamed at Dean to get a taxi…NOW! Destination, the medical clinic.
We walked into the clinic, Dean carrying a listless Leo, and within about five minutes, Leo was hooked up to an IV for re-hydration. The local doctor spoke perfect English because he had been away to the States for a work term. He answered all of our questions and re-assured us that Leo would be fine once he was re-hydrated. The nurse came into the room and tucked a hand-stitched quilt tenderly around Leo. I was left wondering if we would have received this level of care in Halifax. Wait, first we would have had to shovel the driveway, drive the 20 minutes to the children’s hospital and then find parking. Then we’d wait in emerg. It would have likely been hours, depending on the triaging at the time of our arrival. Here, it was minutes and we were the only folks in the clinic and they were totally and completely sweet to us. The fee was so small it was negligible. Leo rested and slept with the IV in his arm. When he was awake, we read to him and told him stories. Later that day, we all walked out of there.
Unfortunately, the vomiting continued shortly after we got back to our hostel, so we had a repeat performance at the clinic. Then we took Leo out to a restaurant and ordered him a bowl of soup. He promptly threw up into the soup bowl. After that, we were super careful. He directed what his tummy could handle. It was in Boquete that Leo had his first ever can of pop. Canada Dry Ginger Ale, of course. And, it stayed down. Boquete was also the place where Leo learned to tie his shoes. Add playing with the tarantula and having an IV re-hydration and it was the place of firsts. We will fondly remember Boquete, even though we had a bit of a scare there.
When I was 16, 17 and 18 Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr. Dad had a skin-tone coloured one. It was super sexy. Not.
The first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A. Let’s face it, Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town. I was 16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified. Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually. We were there on the way home too.
Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops. All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs. A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs. By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.
When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’ June Senior was quite a character. She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.
Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time.When we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen. By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.
Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida. The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you. After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights. It was so strange to see this without snow. Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball. There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.
One day, we met this family on the beach. The Bates’. There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out. They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours. They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant. We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try. That was a fun night. Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too. Sour, sweet and salty all at once. I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night. Luke and I slept on the couches in the den. I was astounded by their generosity. In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us. It was a nice feeling. We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.
Wendy found this beach park for us to go explore. No one was there and it was gorgeous. We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach. Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot. After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair. Oh my, we chuckled. Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction. I’m still not sure about that.
That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible. I have also enjoyed the wondering. The wondering why they are not there.
When it was time to head North, I dreaded it. Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand. The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.
Those trips to Florida were bittersweet. In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip. The travail of teenagers, perhaps?
In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad. Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity. Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding scalp with just his middle sausage-shaped finger. Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee. He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer. With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand. Wendy would hold it. Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat. Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch. Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life. The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting. Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy, ‘We’re both teachers. You must have your facts mixed up. That can’t be right.’ Ooookay. There was one thing about Dad. He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far. Rest in Peace, Dad.
We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds. To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus. Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus. This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge. Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.
We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi. We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price. We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit. The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’. When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage. All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby. They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet. If one rolled over, so would they all.
The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River. After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition. It was a great decision as we had a blast. We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.
This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together. Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain. So fit.
Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike. Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek. From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.
The trek was, of course, amazing. We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba. We saw incredible beauty all around us.
The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train. They could easily bump you off the trail. That would be bad.
We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs. We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back. Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.
After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation. This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything. Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.
We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level. This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass. This was February – so, lots of snow. As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m. There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.
With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain. Step, breath, step, breath. It was slow and steady. Would we ever get there? After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm. He just smiled at me gently. He had done this pass many, many times.
We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters. The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger. Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives. We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today. Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down. A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt. They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not. ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said. ‘You know snow and weather. If you weren’t going, neither were we.’
So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani. Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me. I was very surprised and pleased.
After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.
We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too. So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.
A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close. The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful. It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.
In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world. It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness. Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams. Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.
At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army. To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position. In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am. Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.
A month prior to the event, the march training began. In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods. Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture. The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours. Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie). It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done? ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking. Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’. Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward. It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany. Stay positive and pleasant.Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline. One could never get enough discipline. Am I right?
We went to Nijmegen by bus. It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents. We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen. The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.
One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper. Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them? One will never know.
At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field. We were well taken care of. There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches. I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces. We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again. One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.
While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters. I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister. Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters. Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes. I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk. My friend Mary recently went for a big hike in Ireland. Her feet were fine due to the moleskin application. Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march, hike or walk. Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk. Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected. Game over. On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles. We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way. Song finishes. Rewind. Song begins again. We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate. Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready. There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’ Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it? Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base. Embaaarassing. It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared. I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.
Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done. I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said. Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast asleep until the next early morning.
We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944. So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians. Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades. We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step. Just one more.
Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit. We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth. A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes. Priceless memory.
While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany. For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like. I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us. They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting. They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Bereted, dark-haired head tilted to the ground. Arms swinging. Boots hitting the ground in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing. One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing and boredom and homesickness.
After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.
Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty seven thousand marchers per year. Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.
(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)
I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity. Surely I could have one last beer? This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).
The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau. The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic. Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.
There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff. The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.
So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:
4:30 wake up
5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
7:00 Inspirational Speaker
9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
9:00 Inspirational Speaker
10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)
When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’ Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit. Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable. A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person. Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??! How about a few hours on say, the spine?
We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice). On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day. It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.
Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay. The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality. We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape. Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour. It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a
deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm. The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.
Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries. I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting. How I envied the knees of the younger yogis). Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.
The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak. The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience. It was astounding. A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to. Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state. The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing. At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally. It was a mystical experience.
The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences. I will attempt to explain here:
Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily. Two or three huge barrels of wasted food. Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food. How about stopping the use of trays. People take more food than necessary if given a tray. Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped. So, at least ask people to take less. I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6. Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were. Mom taught us to not waste precious food. So, simply get rid of trays. Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary. One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food. But, nothing changed. It was weird. Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple. This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple. There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple. How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple? To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch. That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!I’m sorry. That’s just wrong. One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies. We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls. The brands and ingredients were hidden from us. This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam. My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet. Make it ALL satvic. Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
Beach platform there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one. It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it. Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms. The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students. Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo. It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea. And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive. We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors. There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep. In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light. But here’s the thing. One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.
So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day. I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul. Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained. In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service). I was never a scholar, so some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? came down to straight memorization.
After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunch time promised after our exam. I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished. I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen. The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam. He asked me: Morgan, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.
Oh my god. I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD. I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section. But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again. There was NO anatomy section on my exam.
So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this. Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity and spirituality. I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate. I wanted the full 500 hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya. Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out.
I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error. There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it. Better to tell them. I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here. I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says. Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on. My hands were visibly shaking now. I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen. Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Morgan. I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now. All is well.
So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in it’s opulence. I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.
When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Morgan?You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.
What the hell. Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race. It had been a long, stressful day.
I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy. I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.
I was basically a basket case by this time. I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map. From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well. I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.
Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation. First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed. He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.
As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me. He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy. Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.
Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing. A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at. Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one. My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot. They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures. During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping. Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day. Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you. One could even be sent home for too little discipline. The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith. She was sent home.
Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt. We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share amoung 300 people. A slight problem for getting laundry done.
Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1). I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects. Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me. My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible. So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night. BONUS. My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself. At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle. I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid). So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night. He asked me if it was truly necessary. I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions. That shut him up. I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.
So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses. One more thing, it was slightly cult-ish. What do I mean by that? Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda. I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID to stay there and perform their trade or profession (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time. Ooookay. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going? They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.
But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life. I will always invite people to join in yoga because it is a wonderful practice which brings calm, wellness and peace.
On that note, here below is a pumpkin person exploring dancer pose in order to bring you a smile…Namaste.
At eight months pregnant, my friend Nancy asked me if wanted to go on a road trip with her to her hometown of Virginia Beach from Leesburg, some four and a half hours away. It was summertime, her two girls were out of school and she wanted to take them down to see their grandparents. We piled into her SUV with snacks and a cooler of drinks, including my ever present bottle of prune juice. You see, at that time, I had been told that one of the keys to a healthy pregnancy was to ensure a daily movement…of… well, the bowels. Always a sucker for health tips, I grasped onto said tip and sure enough, I would have a glass of cool prune juice every morning of my 270 day pregnancy term (I haven’t touched it again, since). Keeping that in mind, when I awoke on the second day of our trip and being out of routine, forgot to take my beloved prune juice, I was more than a little worried by mid-morning when nothing had, as of yet, moved.
Nancy was a nurse. She understood my worry. She asked her youngest daughter, Kerry, to bring me a glass of prune juice. We were seated on the patio, just taking a break after a stroll around the neighbourhood. Out comes eight-year old Kerry with quite a large glass of prune juice. Where I would normally have about four ounces, this was more like ten. Feeling rather touched to be served, I graciously accepted Kerry’s offering and, what the hell, drank it down, hearing Mom’s voice in my head: Waste not, want not, Morgan.
Not long thereafter, Nancy offered to take all of us for a walk on Virginia Beach, about 20 minutes away. We again all got into her vehicle and off we went. Nancy was pointing things out all the way with a look of nostalgia on her face: there was her old school; her old shopping area; her old hangout; her old favorite fast-food joint; her friend’s house. I could feel the vibes of her memories and could almost see a youthful Nancy running along beside us as we slowly toured the neighourhood.
Onto the highway next and up the ramp and over the bridge. Suddenly, my bowels started to feel odd. I must be imaging it, I thought. Everything is fine. Everything is fine, I thought. Next, out seeped a silent but deadly one with the automatic instantaneous human reactions: windows rolled down; four noses into the clean wind; worried eyes; hands over mouths. Sorry, sorry. I seem to be having a reaction to something. I told Nancy and the girls.
My guts churned and roiled and tiny stink-bomb expulsions continued. A few miles later I was bent in two holding my very pregnant middle. Which was difficult in itself. It was like bending over at basketball.
Oh my god Nancy, I have take a dump right now!!!
Nancy told me to hang in there and to let her know when it was a true emergency. She clearly did not understand. My pants would be soiled in a matter of minutes if I didn’t get out of the vehicle and onto a toilet. All I could see out the windows though, was a guard rail and what looked to be a fairly seedy area of the city.
This is truly an emergency, Nancy. I see an Arby’s. Can we go in there?
By this time I wasn’t talking very clearly because I had every part of my anatomy CLENCHED.
Nancy said, Morgan, that’s a really bad part of town. Are you sure?
Yes, Nancy. Hurry!
Nancy pulled in and out I got, walking funny into the Arby’s due to my full-body CLENCH coupled with my huge baby belly. I found the Lady’s room which was just inside the door. In I went and closed and latched the door. Maternity pants down and onto the cool toilet seat. What happened next was not pretty. A bomb went off into that toilet bowl. At that point, the couple of other ladies who had been in the bathroom, made a hasty departure with an OH MY GOD, just outside the door. I can hear you. I thought. Whatever, I had to get this out.
I was on the toilet for a few more minutes and was feeling a whole heck of a lot better. Washing well then waddling out of the Arby’s, there was Nancy with wild eyes, her driver’s window cracked open pushing coins out to a Rastafarian-looking guy who was obviously quite down on his luck. Jenny unlocked my door and I hopped in and off we went to the beach as if nothing had ever happened.
When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, (see post A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂) we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her “Betsy’. Like the one in the picture above (from google images) but our Betsy was dark green. We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first. We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.
We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people. To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical. He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature. When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face. One couldn’t help but be drawn in. Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice. Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring. I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.
We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient. We had tons of storage space in her. Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces. In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water. There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board. We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more. We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)
We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gros Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail. Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.
I have to say, the drive was terrifying. I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.
Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary. A big indulgence, since we were on a very tight budget but which was quite lovely due to the rain and our special occasion.
On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water (see post: A Simple East-Coast Life ) Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days. That was eye-opening. The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom. We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased. Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you. Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold. At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.
In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there. It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too. In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie. It is the southern most tip of Canada.
From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province. We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior. We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers. A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy. We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table. It was a lovely evening of travel talk. When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted. John Shaughnessy would say: No, no. You go right ahead. Good answer, right?Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people. It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: Hello. John Shaughnessy. How are you? It was fascinating comparing military stories with him. We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two. To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent. We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.
In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park. One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure. We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy. We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed. Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East. Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies. That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.
In Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods. We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings. Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.
From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding. The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily. Thank goodness for the airsick bag. The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy. I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.
Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC. It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold. John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not part of his plan to do such a hike. We would miss him. The hike was challenging for sure. The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold. When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation. Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales. At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass. Dean and I had a back pack each. We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike. It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers. We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)).
From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong. The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: Are you Dean Joyce? Dean’s face fell. If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good. You need to call home as soon as possible. Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack. We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.
We arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1994 and kicked around the city for a few days, staying with friends we had met on the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska. But, wanting to experience the true outback, we decided to take the historical Gahn train to the centre.
So, onto the train we got, bound for Alice Springs. On the train, I had some sort of sudden mucous problem and water poured from my nose and eyes. Dean cracked open a smuggled-in bottle of red and after a few sips the mucous stopped flowing. We don’t usually go too far without a nice bottle of red.
The next day, we stepped off the train into a brick wall of heat. Just imagine walking into an oven. Now add about 30 degrees and you have the heat that is Alice Springs. We found a hostel where we rented a small trailer, and spent some time slowly walking around and seeing the sights. There were many aborigines about and we saw a few homes with living room furniture out in the yard where people would sit. One evening we decided to go to a movie and serendipitous, the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert was opening. It had been filmed in Alice and starred Guy Pierce.
Next we decided to hitch-hike to the coast. Some 2776 km away and most of it through arid Australia. We had no idea that arid Australia is deadly. We simply could not fathom it, coming from Canada. Arid Australia is brutally hot, sometimes 50 degrees Celsius and has very few water sources and very little traffic. There are biting ants and other insects, kangaroos, venomous snakes and spiders and the odd dingo about. In Oz, when you see a spider or a snake, you have to assume it is venomous because most are.
We were very lucky, once again. One of the first drivers to see us hitching pulled over. It was an 77 year old man named Lockey. He helped us put our huge packs in his small toyota van. Dean took a seat in the front and I climbed into the single rear seat in the back and immediately became a river of sweat. No air conditioning except the two front windows which were perpetually down and circulating very warm air. It took us five days to travel through the Outback to the east coast. We camped each night in the free campsites that Australia nicely provides so that folks don’t parish in the outback. Lockey drove slowly, necessarily. The scenery was mostly desert-type scrub and four foot high phalic shaped ant hills formed from red sand. Now and then we would see a troop of kangaroos. And the odd bloated dead cow carcass. We were told that the cattle ranches are so vast that there is no way the farmers could fence them, so sometimes cows would get killed by road trains. Oookay.
We would stop in the mid-afternoon for a bite to eat, usually after getting gas. These little gas stations were remote but had everything you could possibly want AND a huge cage of cockatiels and parrots. We would order a sandwich or a burger and a beer. Invariably, the sandwich would arrive with not only sliced beet (yes beet) on it but sometimes grated carrot and a sunny-side up egg sitting on top too. Huh? Where are we??!
Arriving in Bundaberg, Lockey offered for us to stay with him for a few days. We all got along so well and Lockey was a very funny man. He was always making sounds like errrrrk when he opened the fridge door or zzzzzip when he did up his jacket zipper. Lockey had several geckos that were friendly and lived with him informally in his house trailer. They were so cute and made little chirping sounds that Lockey would imitate perfectly. Lockey told us he did 100 push ups per day to stay fit. He had been a Air Navigator in the war. That’s saying something. Lockey’s house trailer was in a trailer park with many other residents. There was a common washing room and shower house close by in one direction and the short trail to the beach in the other direction. We were offered the back of his station wagon to sleep on a foam mattress.
One day we decided to do some laundry. It was dusk as we walked to the wash house. Suddenly there was loud cackling from the tree top above us, almost like an old married couple cackling at a funny tv show. Looking up we shivered to see two flying fox, yes FOX bats that can fly!!! having a gander back at us and cackling over it. Holy shit! Where ARE we??
The next day Dean went for a nice long morning run before the sun became too hot. He was down a dirt road a few miles from Lockey’s place when he realized that he was being watched by an six foot tall kangaroo. He stopped dead in his tracks and with heart racing, tried to figure out what to do. He could not read the roo who was now lazily scratching his chest, licking his lips and staring at Dean. We had been warned to not corner a roo because they will quite easily lean back on their tail and kick you into next week. Dean lowered his eyes and smoothly backed away from the giant roo. Next he ran to the toilets as fast as he could.
Lockey was a retired motor mechanic and we were in need of a car. We decided that trying to get around Australia, which is huge and mostly empty in the centre, we would need a car. Lockey helped us find a very sensible white Toyota Corona. The next day we drove it to a large shopping mall and went inside to watch a movie. Coming out, we were dismayed to find my day pack missing from the rear floor. My passport was in that day pack so, now this was a problem if I ever wanted to get home to Canada.
We drove to a bank of payphones by the side of the road. Is was dusk… Dean was on the phone with the Canadian Consulate when suddenly the sky darkened with some very large entity moving over us. We cowered and looked up to see a sight that will be etched in my brain forever…HUNDREDS of flying foxes moving as in a herd overhead. Holy shit! Where ARE we???! We were informed later that the flying foxes were heading to the fruit orchards. They eat fruit all night. They are fruitatarians. I am not sure if that is a technical term. I am just happy they don’t drink blood or anything.
After we visited the consulate and retrieved my passport, that the kind thief must have sent in we continued with making plans for our next stop. We liked the idea of heading up to Bowen to work on a farm for a bit. Off we went after many many thanks to our host Lockey.
We arrived in Bowen and found a trailer to rent in a park by the sea. Oh my, it was pretty. We only found out later that there was no swimming in the sea due to the box jellyfish, the most deadly creatures in the world. It was box jelly season. Where ARE we??!
We visited a few different farms and had a day here and a day there picking tomatoes, rock melons (cantaloupe), capsicums (green peppers). It was hard bloody work out in the elements.
There were acres and acres of low growing fruit and not one single real shade tree. The water in my precious water bottle was HOT. I thought I was pretty tough but, nowhere near as tough as those career pickers. To say the sun was brutal is a serious understatement. One day, I laid under our car for shade during break. The Oz sun is the very reason why we decided to not live there. It’s just too oppressive. We were finally offered a position working in the barn. It was hard work too, but so much more civilized for we Northern, white-skinned types from cold Canada. It was in the barn that we met the couple who had just returned from India. They told us of the exotic country and amazing food and how they speak English and also how inexpensive it was to travel there compared to Western countries like Oz. We wanted to go there!
We worked in the tomato farm barn for a couple of months and put almost every penny away to save for our tickets to and adventures in India. The only things we would buy were the Ozzie meat pies (omg the BEST thing ever — and they are square just so you remember where you are while eating them. We even discussed importing them to Canada. So good.) We would also buy beer and, okay, groceries. The farmer we worked for would often send us all home with a wonderfully fresh watermelon. We would devour half of it and put the other out for the parrots. Within moments, several brightly coloured parrots would be perched on the watermelon and eating it. Near our trailer, there was an abandoned lot with a mango tree just begging to be picked. We would gather a whole bag of ripe ones and the gorge on them. More delicious than words!
After leaving Bowen, Queensland, we hightailed it to Caines then said, why the hell did we do that? It was horrible with brutal humidity levels up there. From there we went south and climbed Mount Kosciusko and camped for a night at the top. It is only about 2200 m high, (Everest is 8800 m by comparison). We also went to the spectacular Great Barrier Reef for a day and then spent a couple of days in Sydney.
We managed to sell our car for the same amount we bought it for. Score. The sale was touch and go for a bit though because on our way to motor vehicles with our buyer, much to my horror, steam began to come out of the front dash vents. What the??? I was sitting in the back and began to surreptitiously pound Dean’s left arm. He didn’t see what I was seeing. Nor did our buyer. And then the steam stopped and it was all fine. Heart attack!
When we finally went to purchase our flight tickets to India, because of Chinese New Year, we could not fly into India. We could only fly into Nepal. We shrugged: when a couple of billion people celebrate Chinese New Year, it can cause jam ups in the airlines. So, we flew into Nepal and it was one of the best things we ever did. As the Dalai Lama says: remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
We arrived in Kathmandu on Chinese New Year of 1995…but…
Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway. The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now…little white pills. Seasickness be damned. Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego. Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office. With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end. There are so many ways to live. We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds. Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land. Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy. He is a commercial painter in California. He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.
Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup. As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.
Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods. It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.
In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders. I didn’t need to sleep anyway.
On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera. It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua. Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat. He is giggling with glee.
When we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads. They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust. The place smells amazingly sweet because of it. Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing. We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool. They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him. The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture. We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.
I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise: a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face. Holy shit. Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me. I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door. Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.
When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge. We marveled at the temperature of the sea. It was TEPID!!! Who knew the ocean could be tepid?? It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia. The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe. Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand. It was heavenly.
We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us. We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.
We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer. He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay. Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer boy place. When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest. Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door. You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death. There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where. Lovely.
The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma. We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it. At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep. Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo. We walked around the village and then had lunch. It was impossible to relax outside. It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous. Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.
After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence. So cute. I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand. As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees. At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it. My laugh was more of a nervous titter.
Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.
Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence! He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet. It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups. We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.
From my journal, written 13 February 2004
We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel. It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to. One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona). Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap. She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen,candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’ And yes, there will be a post about India.
Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny. Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride. The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam. I noticed. The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus. Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.