The Bad Lands & A New Biz 🦖

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

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

HLVW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later we went to the Royal Tyrell Museum.  Leo climbed up the inside of the steel T-Rex and he was giggling to the whole way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Frontier Running (age 29) 👟❄️

‘Nobody puts Baby in the Corner’
~Johnny, Dirty Dancing

While living above the Arctic Circle in the town of Inuvik for a couple of years in the 90s, I got into running.  Yes, running above the Arctic Circle folks.  No corner.  No Baby.  (Not that I’m Baby or anything.)

Dean and I were living in a huge apartment above a Skidoo store (what else would it be?) and we were both working full time: Dean as a Director at the local college and myself as Manager of the medical clinic.  We were out to work by 8:30 each morning, walked home for lunch, and then finished at 6 every evening.  There was very little physical exertion in our days of mostly sitting.

Soon, new friends Mitsy and Byron moved to town and they were into running in a big way.  The way they talked about it, it got me intrigued to possibly start again.  I hadn’t run for a few years.

My first time out, I ran for ten minutes only.  I gradually increased my time.  Before long, I was running 10Ks, except during the very darkest winter months.  The month of December was basically twenty-four hour darkness.  Hibernation or vacation time.

Our first Christmas up there, we flew down to Vancouver and rented a car.  We went to visit my brothers Job and Mark in Sooke, took a peek at Royal Roads Military College (yep, the peacocks were still there, and still distinctly smelly and noisy), tried to have a plate of nachos at the Six Mile Pub (‘Sorry we don’t do them during supper anymore’  I nearly cried at this) and then drove all the way down to Los Angeles over the next two days.  There, we stayed in a small hotel in Hollywood.  So, from the quiet dirt roads of Inuvik to a dozen lanes of traffic on a jammed freeway. Extreme.

We walked around Rodeo Drive, saw the stars in the sidewalk, did some window shopping and from there drove through the desert to Palm Springs.  Circling back through Ojai, we stayed a night with our runner friends Mitsy and Byron.  We had a fun supper with them and marveled at the citrus trees in the backyard, and then we were off north.  First to San Francisco, then to a little town just north of there where we enjoyed walking on the beach in December.  Next, off north again to Vancouver where we stayed in a nice room for New Year’s Eve.  We walked around downtown a bit, then back to our room to watch an in-house movie while lying in a very comfortable bed, feeling like a million bucks.  We then flew back to Inuvik where reality struck hard.  Vacation over.

Inuvik/ Tuk Iceroad
Canadian Geographic

To exercise the dogs, we would get on our snowmobile and drive on the ice-road toward Tuktoyaktuk.  Every year, to facilitate travel and transport of goods from Inuvik and points south, the 150 kms to Tuk, the Territory would build an ‘ice-road’ on the frozen MacKenzie River.  In the most basic sense, it was the plowing of snow to build guard rails and delineate the pure ice roadway.  The scary thing about the ice-road, which was completely dramatic and beautiful, was that if you ever got into a spin out there, it would be a toss up as to which way you had been driving.  It looked exactly alike on both sides of the road – stunted, drunken trees so it was just a guess unless you were smart and traveled with a compass.  Anyway, the dogs would run, full tilt, beside our skidoo for a few kms and back.  They loved it.  Happy lolling tongues the whole way.

Soon enough, there began to be a bit of daylight and then a full twelve hours by March, we would be out running almost daily.  Granted, it was still cold, and it would take about ten minutes to get dressed for the run with layers and layers of athletic Lycra and polypropylene and wool toque and neoprene balaclava, wool mitts and socks, then trail runners.  We would always figure one layer on our legs for each ten degrees below zero and then one extra layer up top.

Next, a drink of water and slathering of exposed skin with Vaseline, leash the dogs and hook them to the coupler and off we’d go.  There were almost no music-playing  devices back then, so, the only real sound would be the funny random noises of the huge ravens, sometimes clucking, gurgling, popping or cawing, depending on their mood or message to be conveyed, and there was our own breathing and foot falls, of course.

raven in flight

We would often do a loop around Inuvik that was about 10K.  It would go along the back road and then a right turn and a gradual hill and we would be on this spectacular ring road.  It was the final frontier, – so, running along it, one could imagine no one else existed at all.  Look left and there were literally millions of acres of wilderness with those black, stunted trees growing every which way and half drunkenly falling down.  PINGOThese were the final trees before the tree line, after which there would be a stark switch to tundra and pingos (dome-shaped mounds consisting of a layer of soil over a large core of ice).  Snow or frost was on every surface, every spruce needle, every power line wire.  It was spectacular and we had it to ourselves until a right turn onto Main Street and back to our apartment.

These days, I don’t run anymore due to sore knees, just a lot of walking.  But, it was a great pass-time while living above the Arctic Circle and I will always fondly remember those days and the final frontier feel.

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 and out of a helicopter; 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, ‘Morg, 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.

***

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: ‘Morgan, 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.

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!)

Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) Cuba 🇨🇺

So, no, woman, no cry.
No, woman, no cry.
I say, oh, little—oh, little darlin’, don’t shed no tears.
No, woman, no cry. Eh.
~Bob Marely

Continued from Crazy Train (part 1)…

My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go.  I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere.  I was determined to go.  I may have mentioned that already.  I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.

When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly.  Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.

Cue the ominous music

The first two days in Cuba were fine.  We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.

It was worsening.

Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band.  I was going to stay and rest, I said.  Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that.  Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed.  After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen.  By the time I walked the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.  I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary place.

Someone in the band saw me crying and he whispered to his band mate.  Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley.  I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music.  I realized again just how much I love Cuba.

However, I could not sleep.

I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect.  I was born on 03-03-66. Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born.  Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born.  My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three).  There were three in my family.  Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well.  The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity.  My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over.

Then, I was having conversations with God. The Player family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced.  My stomach churned with butterflies.  My bowels turned to liquid.  I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…

railroad, abandoned

Things rapidly deteriorated from that point.  Luckily our week was almost up.  Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass.   Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse.  But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight.  I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny.  By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep.  I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.

Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it.  Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them.  It was bizarre.  One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to.  Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly.  I, of course, was oblivious by this point.

Next up….Crazy Train (part 3)

girl on tracks

Cuatro a Cuba 🇨🇺

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

Cuban

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

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

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

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

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

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

cart of lettuce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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or walking around Trinidad IMG_0600

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adios Cuba.  Until next time.IMG_0442

He Sails Away ⛵️

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Aloft

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

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

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

Alderney Island biking

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

Ship in harbour

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

Jaden on the wall

Incredible, Exotic India 🕉

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

THALI

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

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

taj from distance

But this is what it looked like up close:

Taj Mahal Sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.

INUVIK 2

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

(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)

~Remember to leave a comment below…~

 

 

 

Boquete, Panama – a place of firsts 🇵🇦

By the time we reached Boquete, we were done.  There had been many legs to this journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.Panama-physical-mapAfter a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel.  We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths.  The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive.  They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.

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

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

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

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

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

boquete (1)

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

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

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

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

Fort Myers Memories (age 16) 🌴

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

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

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

Valdosta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ooookay.

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

Rest in Peace, Dad.

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Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up….India.