It’s all about the Pool – Swan’s Cay Hotel, Bocas del Toro

My friend and specifically asked for accommodation with a pool when booking our Archipielango de Bocas del Toro tour from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

We did this despite knowing that the tour operator’s alternative option on the opposite side of Isla de Colon appeared more swanky. We specifically visited the Gran Hotel Bahia to inspect what we declined, to see what we were missing, and noted the charming wooden balconies and facade. Despite that, we did not regret our decision.

We were happy with an outdoor pool and lounge chairs to rest our weary bodies after playing in the surf and sand. It’s a good Caribbean life when moving from natural surroundings, playa to the man-made environment, pool. This pool is no Las Vegas extravaganza with multiple pool options (party, chill wading, lazy river, swim up bar), but it was well suited for a modest facility. It met our criteria.

The Swan Cay WIFI, to my annoyance never worked within our hotel room, but what really disgusted me was the bathroom light switch. There was a disgusting brown spot on the on/off toggle.

The hotel was undergoing renovations upon arrival. It appeared that a majority of the island retailers, restaurants, and accommodations were in the same frame of mind. I would assume that it was strategic to complete construction during the low season. It was a little annoying to walk past construction workers. I was the paying guest, yet I felt like I was interrupting. At one point, the water was turned off. Thankfully, it did not affect me directly, although other guests were asking to shower. I almost had a slipping mishap due to wet floors.

We were centrally located next to a large park with knotted expansive trees with long vines, touristy gift shops, and cute wooden clapboard restaurants.

I was delighted that Swan’s Cay Hotel offered breakfast (desayuno), but it was a let down. It offered a full buffet spread (fresh fruit, corn hash browns, wieners in tomato sauce, scrambled eggs, pancakes, cereal) with tea, coffee, and juice on the first morning. It was a good mixture of food offerings, but I felt the caliber was a down-grade to reduce costs. For example, the coffee tasted similar to instant and the juice was a crystalline mixture rather than fresh. On the second day, the waiter served us. We had to pick our specific entree. He offered cheese, ham, or vegetarian. I asked for a vegetarian omelette and received ham. My friend requested cheese, but was also served ham.

Overall, I was happy with my accommodation. Perfectly sized pool with a charming courtyard, great location, air conditioning, and even a LCD tv. If there had not been a pool I would have written a very different review.

Sodas Típica – not that typical

Typical food in Costa Rica

Caribbean Sodas Típica offer an economical flavour of unforgettable family home-style dining, usually on what appears to be the small veranda or front yard of a local’s residence.

My friend and I were both on tight budgets while travelling Central American.

Being frugal allowed us to visit Costa Rica and Panama during the low season. It makes sense that the rainforest was very damp during wet season, but on occasion, we enjoyed blue skies and sunshine. In between active sporting pursuits (swimming, beach yoga, hiking national coastal forests, cycling along the shoreline, snorkelling) we nourished our famished bodies with local Afro-Caribbean cuisine.

We managed on a tight budget by stocking up at the grocery store with staples and cervezas, but allotted one hearty restaurant meal per day, and on occasion, “2 for 1 happy hour” drinks.

We were in search of the best soda typica, an authentic Costa Rica homestyle cuisine.

A “typico” means typical in English. Why would one not want to taste test what the locals eat when travelling abroad? I certainly wanted to try as many authentic dishes as possible. As a foreigner, I did not find the standard fare that typical. Caribbean cuisine is not readily available or popular in the Pacific Northwest to my great disappointment.

A typical meal is described to consist of the metaphoric “marriage” of rice, beans, salad, and a meat (chicken, beef, fish, or pork). The majority of sodas are simple open-style cafes with picnic bench seating.

We visited 3 Caribbean sodas during our stay in the carefree eastern beach town of Puerto Viejo. I noticed immediately that this Costa Rican surfer’s haven was more expensive than any other Central American locale I have visited. A typical meal set me back about $6-7 US (no beverage), and that was usually because I order the cheapest item on the menu. These meals should normally be washed down with juice over water.

Payment had to be cash, whether colones or US dollar. There were no Interac or credit card payments accepted.

We would have sampled fare from other establishments, but many were closed during the low season. This was disappointing; however, the 3 Caribbean Sodas we visited offered heartwarming meals.

SODA RIQUISIMO (main strip of town)

It was my first full day in Costa Rica and I was delighted to finally chill after 2 flights, and a long hot bus ride from San Jose.

Soda Risquisimo was not our first soda of choice, but Soda Isma a few storefronts down was closed. This small open air restaurant appeared welcoming, and we did not want to eat at an overpriced restaurant bar.

I ordered the value item, pollo (chicken) and arroz (rice) with beans accompanied by a simple green salad. It was piping hot, just the way I like my meals to be served. I learned learned this was the smallest plates of all the 3 sodas I ate at.

This cafe is smack in the centre of the Puerto Viejo main drag, and there were never any empty seats each time we ate here. I’m unsure of the authenticity since the patrons seemed to be all gringos. Despite that, it was of fairly good value for a popular Costa Rican tourist area ($6 CAN / $2641 colones taxes included). The server did not say anything about my already open beer can, another bonus. It was poor planning on my part, and I could not down a cerveza quickly.

We enjoyed the food and clean atmosphere so much that we returned only hours later for an early 7 am scrambled eggs breakfast before departing for a day trip to Cahuita National Park.

SODA SKEKINA (side streets)

We biked up and down Calle after Calle in search of an open soda for dinner. Many had signs on their closed storefronts indicating they were away, and others were undergoing renovations.

On that particular afternoon I was famished after a full day bike riding the 32km round trip from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita, walking more in the coastal forest, and playing in the swells of Playa Cocles.

I was fed up circling around town in search of cheap eats. It was uncomfortably muggy. We stumbled upon Skekina after persistently biking the side streets. It was a good sign that only locals were seated at the open tables.

It was worth every pedal to this restaurant.

My delicious Caribbean chicken with coconut rice, beans, plantains, and salad were amazingly yummy. I ate everything except the chicken bones. I added the pickled cabbage hot sauce to my plate for an extra kick.

I wish my meal was warmer. I would not doubt that my plate was left sitting on the kitchen counter instead of being delivered to my table immediately after being cooked.

This was also the more expensive sodas ($9 CAN / $3958 colones with taxes).

SODA ISMA (main strip of town)

My friend and I passed this cute bright yellow clapboard restaurant on the main drag over a span of multiple days, and was greatly disappointed each time that it was closed.

We walked by on our first night of our stay in the Caribbean, and continued to re-walk, stroll, and cycle past the restaurant on many occasions.

Isma must have been away on vacation similar to most local establishments over the rain season. When we finally met her she noted she was originally from Nicaragua, and it was a long journey to return home. I wondered if she had visited her native country.

We tried some other sodas in Puerto Viejo. All delicious and hearty, but we knew that they were only highlights of what was to come.

I’m glad we persisted with Soda Isma. I should win award for “tourist stalker” of the year. On our very last evening in Puerto Viejo the lightbulb above the sign was finally lit up. Was this a mirage? If you want something, keep trying. Persistent and determination pays off!

Soda Isma was the best of all Sodas.

There were some challenges when I originally ordered the fish (unavailable). I am flexible, and requested the pork as an alternative (also not offered). I did not dare ask for the Rondon, a spicy run down coconut soup.

I was a little confused. What is available? I feared she was about tell my friend and I she was closed…again.

Her gas stove (or something had blown), and she was waiting for her son to replace it. We asked impatiently, “When? Today? How soon?”

It was storming excessively (lightning, heavy precipitation, thunder) off and on while we awaited our dinner. I was happy to hang out on her open covered porch.

Thankfully, the chicken was already pre-made, and I learned after my meal when I headed to the washroom that she was microwaving all dishes. I would not have known due to the delicious flavorful tastes.

I noted how clean and cute her home and kitchen were as I walked by Isla busily attending to the other diner’s orders. The cleanliness and organization was a sharp contrast to some of the dirty Chinese restaurants I’ve been a patron of.

Our large platter of aromatic Caribbean chicken, beans, creamy coconut rice, and simple salad (fresh tomato’s and cucumbers) were off the charts. I missed the plantains that the previous evening’s soda offered, but this was by far, the juiciest drumstick and thigh. I greedily over-abused the canister of hot peppers and onions soaked in vinegar. I love heat! My mouth was burning from the heat! I was annoyed with myself. Why did I leave my large bottle of water back at Lazy Mon’s beach bar (likely due to the inattention from drinking one too many happy hour drinks)? Despite that I devoured every morsel and grain of coconut rice ($8 CAN / 3500 colones with taxes).

As I am writing, my stomach is growling for more.

I will return home to Canada crazing for homestyle Afro-Caribbean typical hearty meals.

How do I end up at the psych ward on Easter weekend

“What imagines pop up when one thinks of Easter?”

Perhaps religious…the rebirth of Christ OR secular…pastel egg hunts, the chocolate bunny, a hearty family brunch accompanied by mimosas, spring tulips, or long weekend travels.

I assume a psychiatric ward is not one of these images.

“How did I end up at the hospital’s mental health unit on Good Friday?”

When I tell people that my mother is crazy, most respond in agreement, “Yes, my mom is too. Aren’t all parents?”

It is not a topic to debate….“no, you do not understand. I mean cray cray crazy.” Who wants to highlight and explain my family history of mental illness only to be judged. The stigma is only now “slowly” lifting for psychiatric and substance abuse. Ironically, my father was a social worker and psychiatric nurse. He chose a profession in the health industry which spilled into his personal life. As a child, I would hear snippets of his guidance to help my mother’s family members into the appropriate social service programs. It often occurred as a result of incidents escalating out of control. I did not quite understand, but I recall feeling petrified of certain family members and situations.

Danger….Beware.

With that, please understand my reluctance to join a family road trip to enter a time capsule directly to my mother’s past.

I drive her every weekend to visit my father at his care home. He has dementia, and paralyzed to his wheelchair. It is a weekly stressful endeavor due to her erratic and abusive demands. I am often at the brunt at it, but it can expand to other victims. I do not want my mother’s wrath to affect the quality of care given to my father. As a result, I often apologize to the staff of the facility, and return home emotionally depleted. Did I want to immerse myself into further suffering? Frankly, I was excited to visit my father independently while she was away.

My mother wanted her offspring and grandchildren to visit her home town of Port Alberni, in the southern central inlet of Vancouver Island this past Easter. It sounded fun on surface level, and it would be lovely for my teens to participate in family bonding. It’s not often that we share togetherness. Despite that, I originally declined.

Monetary played another factor. It is a rare occurrence for me to travel to the Island due to the excessive cost. In addition, it would be a zoo with all the other mainlanders on Good Friday.

My brother convinced me otherwise.

I attempted to purchase advance reservations the day prior, but it was sold out. Instead, our family spread out into 2 vehicles. Our entourage, brother, sis-in-law, 2 teenagers (my son & niece), baby niece, and mother headed to Horseshoe Bay at an uncivilized hour in hopes to catch the 1st sailing.

The ferry lanes were blocked shortly after emerging from the TransCanada highway making it abundantly clear that the 1st ferry would “not” be on our itinerary. Instead, we parked and meandered to Horseshoe Bay village. It was a pleasant spring morning. After the initial shock of waking up at 4 am wore off, I noticed the beauty of the marina’s soft lights glowing against the black night. The sky slowly lightening, and I breathed in fresh morning dew. It had heavily  stormed on the local mountains the week prior. This contrasted with Easter weekend. The first signs of spring…birds cheerily chirping and pink cherry blossoms fluttering off branches against the calm waters. What a heavenly backdrop as we entered the village’s Starbucks with every other ferry pedestrian on route to the Island. My Americano coffee cup was definitely half FULL.

I was excited as we drove onto the boat’s deck, and so was my son. Normally, he’s sullen (male teenage angst), but even he, was in a jolly mood. Surprisingly, he had not visited Vancouver Island. I have raised 4 children, and felt guilt when he told me that. Was he forgotten as the youngest?! I fondly recall a long, yet memorable day volunteering with my daughter’s elementary class on a field trip to our province’s capital, Victoria, and the historic parliament buildings. Why did I not give him my same time and love?

BC Ferries conjures nostalgic childhood memories of family travels to the Island. My highlight was the moment when my parents would purchase me a “Archie, Betty & Veronica” comic from the gift shop as a rare treat. We would then proceed to the sundeck. The frigid Pacific Northwest wind howled, whipping our hair into our rosy faces. Sadness engulfed me, wishing my dad was with us. My father would be the first one eager for a road trip!

Beautiful British Columbia is an understatement to describe the spectacular views as the vessel moved along glistening Howe Sound with coastal backdrops of rugged snow-capped mountains and rich green forests.

We arrived in Nanaimo and moved onwards to Port Alberni via Highway 19A.

My favorite section of the drive was passing through Cathedral Grove, an outdoor palace of gigantic Douglas firs and red cedar trees. As an avid hiker, I was disappointed we were only passing through, instead of stomping in the enchanted forest.

My mother was dismayed for other reasons. She exclaimed that mankind ruined the environment, and the grove was even more magical and impressive when she was a child!

Throughout the commute, she would offer snippets of childhood. My mother first travelled to the mainland when she was about 9 years. This was similar to my son’s story, where he was seeing Vancouver Island with impressed virgin eyes. A relative in Vancouver had passed away, and my mother’s family needed to pay respects. She also shared a story when my grandfather, Gong Gong, was the very last person to board the ferry. It was departing, but they saw a short “Chinaman” running up the plank, and the boat allowed entry. A sharp contrast to modern day. BC Ferries is a large corporation with formal schedules and safety regulations. No time to wait for tardy latecomers.

Harbour Quay was our 1st stop in Port Alberni. I felt tranquility engulf me as I gazed at the sparkling Somass River. Even the industrial saw mill in the distance looked beautiful. My mother and I finally agreed on something…the natural beauty of this small lumber-driven industry town. She spoke of the hindrance of the foul sewer odor that would waft in the air as the byproduct of logging industry throughout her youth. Thankfully, not today.

My sister-in-law gleefully purchased treats from the bakery advertising “the best donuts on the island.” She agreed by eating 3 sugary pastries in succession as we sat on the pier feeling the sun’s warm rays.

My mother was impatient, similar to a child on Christmas morning, as we lingered on the dock. The water was like glass. Wouldn’t it be lovely to paddle up and down the water? I did not want to leave, soaking in the rugged topography.

She wanted us to see where our roots started at the Beaufort Hotel along Alberni’s main strip. Our great grand-father ran the hotel’s restaurant many moons ago.

My son whispered the only store that was busy on the drag was the cannabis outlet, where people were coming and going. My mom stopped a couple of men in their tracks as they headed to the dispensary. “Yoohoo…I’m Shirley from Vancouver. Where is the Beaufort Hotel?” pounding fists on her puffed chest. I tried to ignore her social awkwardness, but she encountered equally similar personalities. My mother had finally arrived home.

Her face deflated when she discovered the hotel, a piece of her genealogy, had been bulldozed into parkland. My brother noted the excessive video surveillance installed throughout the garden grounds as we walked away. It was now time to start a possible wild goose chase to find her estranged elder brother.

We started by driving to his home, a homeless shelter blocks away, but he was nowhere to be found. My son accompanied his grandmother inside. A female staff covered in filth came out of the kitchen to chat. Every local that we encountered was extremely congenial, unlike the cool urban dwellers I normally encounter. It was easy to conclude from their verbiage and hardened facial frown lines that they all lived blue-collared lives. This man had not been around for months. She offered clues of where to search, but warned he was extremely mean. She noted he always had money, possibly from his bottle collection.

My mom instructed us to drive to his real home. This left my brother and I confused. If one had a dwelling why choose to live at a shelter? We thought the government had confiscated his  residence due to tax arrears. My mother’s brother collected an abundance of sawmill pension and long-term disability cheques that he never cashed. He was awarded further monetary funds when his balls were accidentally crushed (my brother’s description) by a motor vehicle while scrounging for empties at the junk yard.

We drove by a convenience store with an expansive parking lot and a plume of smoke from teens vaping. My mom clarified that this was once her sibling’s commercial property, but had been confiscated by the government. She also pointed out the post office close by. As a young child, she was delegated the duty to pick up mail.

We arrived at his real residence. I was surprised at how clean the property was. Years ago, he was featured in the local paper. City bylaw had issued progressive fines due to the excessive junk that littered the yard and overgrown grass. I observed shadows of clutter in the basement behind the bedsheets that draped the window.

We interrupted the neighbour cleaning his RV. My mother did not give him a choice when we invaded his space. He offered what one would conclude to be an incredulous story, but it was really not that surprising….to us.

The man stuttered as he spoke. It progressively increased when my mother poked at his story. “Yourrr br- brother has notttt bbbbeen home in-nnn someee ttttt-time. Hissss typical rouuuu-routine  was the library for..or warmth until closing and then the community pool to shower. His hot water tank had failed years ago, and never repaired.”

My brother was gleeful, “I told you.” He had seen our cousins, our uncle’s sons at a local Vancouver community pool. Similar situation, high income, yet mentally unstable to use common sense and available finances wisely for general life necessities. It’s not that I did not believe my brother. I just did not engage in their lives as I don’t consider them my family unlike the strong relationships I have with other relatives. “On Sundays, he would visit the Sikh temple for free dinner, but he did not show up one evening. The Sikh community was concerned. They made an attempt to visit him. Eventually bylaw came by, followed by an ambulance, and the paramedics took him to the hospital.” I felt nauseated wondering if he may have passed, and I did not want my mother to deal with this, as she was delighted to visit her roots.

When we learned he was alive, I felt a mixture of relief and selfishness. As a concerned parent and aunt, I wanted to protect the kids. This meant we were going to the hospital. Agh! My niece and son have spent the last couple years in and out of hospital wards, retirement facilities, and cemeteries. It’s bad enough when it’s a loved one, but now we were visiting a stranger.

The neighbour’s wife walked to the front door, and helped me dial the hospital. While I was put on hold, she noted my mother’s brother made their lives miserable. Awkward. I apologized (again) for a person I barely know. I am constantly saying sorry for situations that have nothing to do with me. My mother might be off and sometimes cruel, but not diabolical. He was. I did not want to head to the Alberni Hospital. We discovered he was admitted to the psychiatric ward. The neighbour muttered under her breath, “exactly where he should be.”

Off we went. My son asked if he should wait in the car or enter the hospital. I left it to him, but he decided to investigate. I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and welcoming decor. If I ever became sick, I certainly would want to be a patient. The whole situation was almost comical. My mother’s brother was still on the phone trying to figure out who rung him up only minutes ago, when we entered the ward. He did not recognize my brother and I. However, he welcomed his lost sister as if this was his grand home, offering the hospital common room as if it was his own living area. My brother noted how hospitable and normal our uncle was. I cynically explained that he would have been observed and prescribed high dosages of anti-psychosis medications.

My brother and I wandered in and out of the facility allowing the siblings to catch up. My mom told her brother to call her ANYTIME he needed, for anything. She would help him. I cursed internally, “fuck my life! This doesn’t mean my mother would help because she’s crippled and emotionally unstable. When she says she will bloody help that means my brother and I would do it.”

Our pacing increased and my weary sis-in-law asked the kids to tell their grandma we had to leave to make Victoria in a civilized time. I added, to make a strong statement in support that the baby was crying. Of all times, our teens had to point out, “but the baby is NOT crying.” Seriously… it was only a matter of time before the happy baby’s demeanour would change to tantrum.

My mother escorted by her brother, slowly pushed her walker out of the medical building to the parking lot. He was very pleasant after this reunion. Surreal. We could have been standing outside of a beloved relative’s front yard, exchanging well-wishes for safe travels and good health.

We exited Port Alberni with my mom’s cute childhood home on Arrowsmith Street, surprising still intact, and the grandiose snow-capped Arrow Mountains fading in the distance.

It was an eerily quiet drive to Victoria after she whispered, “I don’t know why life is like that.”

Donation drive for “kindred spirit elephant sanctuary”

Please see the donation drive below for Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary KSES to add a 5th elephant to their beautiful family.

I speak from direct experience that the co-founders of KSES are sincere, relentless, and professional in their plight to help endangered and abused elephants.

I now have visual comparisons of the healthiness and vitality of the KSES elephants compared to the lacklustre ashen circus performers.

Consider donating or even better, visiting the sanctuary in person to volunteer and live amongst the foundations staff, interns, and villagers. I will be frank. Being in the natural habitat was sometimes challenging. Mother Nature is strong willed, but I guarantee, if one is open, the experience will enrich your life!

Dear Brenda,

You may have already heard from social media, but we are fundraising – this time with a difference! We are trying to raise the funds needed to bring home another elephant to join our program and live in the forest together with our current 4 elephants. We NEED to reach our goal and raise $8,064USD/£5628GBP which will cover the costs one very lucky elephant for their first year.

We have been approached by many elephant owners wanting to put their elephants in our program, both from the village we are based in and nearby villages. As you would have seen, the elephant owners can also see the benefit programs such as ours have on the elephants, their caretakers who are able to come home and live with their families and local communities who can all make an income through homestays and job opportunities. Heartbreakingly, we have had to tell the elephant owners that we have not yet secured enough funding to bring more elephants into the program just yet. Once we have raised the required funds, we will be re-approaching the elephant owners to bring one of their elephants into our program.

We are calling on all past guests, volunteers and interns to help us! This is our biggest fundraising effort yet, and with a huge goal to reach, we really do need all the help we can get. I understand that not everyone is in a place to donate, but if you can spare a few pounds/dollars/euros, please do consider making a donation. We are also asking for help with fundraising, if anyone wishes to set-up their own fundraiser to help raise more funds quicker, please do get in touch and we can help and advise with this.

Please also SHARE SHARE SHARE! Share on Facebook, instagram, twitter, email, share with friends and family – the sooner we raise these funds, the sooner we can bring home another life.

Here is the link with all the information, thank you all for all the support over the last 2 years, I hope we can continue to work together for the love of elephants.

https://www.gofundme.com/bring-an-elephant-home-fund

Much love from project,

Kerri, Sombat and the KSES team xx

Kerri McCrea

Manager & Co-Founder of Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

Website: www.kselephantsanctuary.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/kselephantsanctuary

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritelephantsanctuary

Pedro and Portugal

In Summer 2016, I travelled to Portugal for a relaxing beach vacation. As a game, I tried to match as many Pedro’s as possible on Tinder. I met one, the best Pedro.

I gave up a Comboios de Portugal train ticket for a magical and laughter-filled road trip along the rugged Algarve coastline. Pedro was a pure gentleman and I am glad we just kept it platonic. We started a good foundation to a hopefully a long-term friendship.

All good things come to an end, and I returned to the colder temperatures of Canada. I was ecstatic to receive a Valentine’s card today, all the way from the Faro district of Portugal.

Our friendship is a reminder that…

travel is a gift to meet amazing people and cultivate kindred spirit friendships.

I wrote back in hopes to recapture the romanticism of handwritten letters and posted mail.

Dear Pedro,

I could text “What’s App,” but you gave me this idea. Snail mail is more fun. I was delighted to receive your Valentine’s card.

I had a complete meltdown yesterday realizing how alone I was.

I was about to ride the gondola to night ski. Imagine a romantic clear night in the mountains with the full moon, stars and snow glistening all by myself LOL.

But I sliced my finger. I’m going to get graphic…my hand was covered in blood…dripping everywhere. I started panicking and crying. I am a drama queen. I got mad at myself due to the ridiculousness. Who hurts themselves even before they start skiing?

When I was asked twice, who they could call to help me, I realized I had no one to call, never mind someone to hug me. I made it to the Medical Office after struggling to take off my ski boot with one hand. The Doctor glued and bandaged me up. He proceeded to give me a tetanus shot except I couldn’t pull my tight sweatshirt off with my gimp hand, and neither could he. Yes, go ahead and laugh your bloody ass off. Instead of the arm, I got a shot in the ass. I cried harder. FML!

I went home feeling sorry for myself. Receiving your card was the hug that I needed. It made me cry a little more, and laugh.

Thank you! I hope you will write me back the good ole’ fashioned way. Miss you, especially since no one else laughs at my jokes like you do.

Brenda Xoxo

Unforgettable volcán experience

As soon as I knew I was visiting Nicaragua, I decided that my itinerary MUST include volcano boarding also termed “volcano surfing, sand, or ash boarding” at Cerro Negro Volcán.

Travel Mantra:

“Never say no to adventure, and never ever deny opportunities to travel.”

Since I booked my flights (gracias for the gift of reward points) only a couple weeks prior to departure there was not much time to become anxious about attempting this crazy extreme sport. It is the equivalent of snowboarding or sledding except snow is usually light and fluffy. I live 10 minutes from a local ski hill. As a novice skier, I have fallen awkwardly in the snow many times, but luckily winter gear usually involves layers and padding. Even during crappy icy conditions, the impact is not as devastating. I recently skied experiencing poor visibility with hard icy snow/rain pellets hitting my face until I pulled up my balaclava. The wintery conditions is not as challenging as getting hot black ash and shards of volcanic rock embedded in skin.

I stopped reading online reviews indicating crazies would only try this dangerous adrenaline rush. I would form my own opinion in the very near future.

Despite my fears I knew I would regret not doing it. Better to try, rather than returning home with regrets, and wondering.

I based myself in the beautiful Spanish colonial town, León, the picturesque land of many volcáns in Maribios valley.

I specifically booked my accommodations with Bigfoot Hostels. I was enticed when I learned they were the original perfect-er of this sport, and a reasonable $10/night dorm room. Apparently, some mad French dude decided he would cycle as fast as he could down Cerro Negro, but instead crashed his bike. As a result, he spent a considerable amount of time hospitalized. Daryn Webb, the founder of Bigfoot Hostel, perfected the extreme sport in the early 2000’s. Would it surprise anyone when I say he is an Aussie (daredevils by nature)?!!!

There are many tour operators in town, but Bigfoot seemed like the obvious choice. One cannot go wrong when there is a pool in the luscious jungle courtyard and a lively bar with cold Victoria or Toña cervezas to enjoy after a wild day. However, the famous mojitos advertised were unfortunately, disappointing.

On the tour, I learned Cerro Negro is the youngest “the baby” volcano in Central America. It is still very active. Although the last eruption was almost 2 decades ago this fact freaked me out as I looked at the many black mounds of ash and rock surrounding the volcán. It was easy to understand why it’s also dubbed “Black Hill.” If Cerro Negro erupted, I would implode in a fast and furious way and then be buried underneath hot molten lava, singed to death. I was not ready to face that fate.

I gave my friend my last $5 US bill for park entry, which also meant I did not have the luxury to pay a local to carry for my large bulky volcano board, as half the participants did. They easily ascended the balsaltic cinder cone only carrying a rut sack with water and an ugly orange jail jumpsuit.

The hike itself only takes an hour, but I struggled. I had only just arrived in León after a long flight from Canada and still trying to catch my breath. The earth was loose. My feet would slide back on ash and pebbles as I tried to proceed up the steep hill. Thankfully, there were rest stops to hydrate and absorb the delicious panoramic views. Cerro Negro is just a black ashen cone without much vegetation, leaving no obstacles to block the views. The topography presented beyond my eyes were rugged and multi-colors of gold and green hues. Down below were rural areas, and high above were other volcanos set against the bluest of blue skies and puffy marshmallow clouds.

I fell a few times, not surprising for an admitted clutz. The wooden board was awkward to hold with the belligerent wind pushing me back. I skinned my knees falling on jagged rocks, and the first aid attendant cleaned me up. I think it says something when the big open truck includes a kit the size of a carry-on suitcase although he only carried a small bag during the hiking excursion.

As we neared the top it was becoming more narrow, a black triangle shape. I was petrified. What if the board blew out of my hands flying into someone’s head? Even worse, a strong gust of wind would knock me over sending me flying off the steep summit. I would plunge 2,388 ft down.

It was an emotional battle to face the fear butterflies in my stomach. Just when I thought, “I am awesome carrying this heavy board to the peak. I am strong and fierce!” The first aid attendant interrupted my delusional mind. He would carry the board moving forward. The girl behind me also raised concern I would blow away. I did not have enough weight to hold my stance.

We dropped our heavy gear and headed to the impressive open crater. It was an interesting mix of metallic colors. I bent down to touch the hot earth, hearing whispers of sulphuric vapor emissions. I thought the guide was joking when he asked the group to follow him down the steep and narrow pathway into the epic deep crater. I adamantly refused. I along with a few individuals decided it would be wise to stay put. I playfully tried to pose for Virabradrasana (Warrior) 2 away from the volcano edge while my friend snapped pics. Impossible to hold a stance in the gusty winds.

After messing about, waiting for the other groups to proceed, it was finally our time.

We looked hideous in our orange uniforms, bandanas, and goggles. I never want to be incarcerated. These would protect from shards of volcano remnants as we whipped down the steep hill.

A lady asked how we can manipulate the board to go slower. Our guide responded, “there is no such speed. You are meant to go fast!” Her frightened face mirrored mine.

I did not want to be first to go, but certainly not last. Once we were on the slope it honestly did not look so risky compared to standing from the peak, where it appeared to be a drastic vertical drop. I let someone go ahead as his fear was not the sledding, but the bees buzzing around.

My fears re-ignited just as I was about to sit on the sled. Down below, a participant who crashed and burned into a whirlwind of dust. Wipe-out!

Facck me! I proceeded with caution. I slid embarrassingly slow, to the point that I came to a complete stop at several times. I dug my feet into the warm black sand slowing the velocity against the speed of the wind. Other boarders in the adjacent lane were whipping in front of me creating a smoky hazy as I watched in slow motion. I got off my board since I came to a sudden halt before the finish line. 47 seconds, certainly not the fastest, nor the slowest of turtles. I experienced my own eutrophic rush.

The guy who wiped up was sprawled on the ground receiving medical attention. Blood soaked the white gauze, and he emitted a high-pitch obscenity when the alcohol touched his wound to clean up any grime and bacteria.

We all celebrated with a cold Victoria beer. I do not think anyone was more excited to receive a refreshing beverage than the wipe-up guy. He deserved every drop of beer!

The tour guide feigned surprise at this accident. I honestly, find it hard to believe an accident has never occurred. Only a a couple hours later, I met another Bigfoot girl “victim” with a dislocated finger. Despite these incidents, the end result was happy enthustiastic boarders, gleeful by this amazing experience. There was much chatter on the hour ride back to the city for drinks and shooter games.

The tour concluded a ride to Bigfoot Hostel beach house at Las Peñitas beachfor sunset chill vibes after a physically exhausting day. It was a perfect way to end the perfect day.

At the top is a job trail around the rim of the crat, which often emits smoke. A stunning 360-degree panoramic view revealso the chain of active and dormant volcanoes, lined up one after the other, surroundedby blue skies and lush green foliage.

We each

Universidad Centroamericana

I certainly will return to Nicaragua. There are some overnight hikes I would like to conquer, not to mention I never visited the Corn Islands a region along the Caribbean coast that I have y

My travelling yoga mat

My yoga mat travels as my tier 2 necessity similar to a neck pillow and smart phone. Tier 1 are crucial essentials that would eliminate travel via custom departure/entries if not available (passport, cash, credit and bank cards). The reality is, I do not need anything beyond that when I embark on an adventure. Anything else can be purchased if forgotten or lost. Most material items aare more than an individual born in a 3rd world country may ever have.

My yoga practiced has evolved over the years. I would not have considered it part of any regular day, never-mind part of a vacation.

I travelled to Tucson, Arizona many years ago. I practiced at the resort spa only because it was part of the overall wellness spa health experience. My end goal was joining the running group through the rolling hills of the arid desert neighbourhood with rancher homes, the region’s dry plantation, and cacti early each morning. There was nothing more incredible than moving my legs and getting the heart pumping for a desert sunrise. I have always been an early riser. It is my favourite time of the day to soak in the fresh morning dew. The desert air can escalate quickly into unbearable stifling thickness. Our fitness leader was enthusiastic in building a good repoire between the participants.

Running is how I reluctantly started practicing yoga. Specifically pounding the cement excessively as part of marathon training resulted in various injuries forcing me into using yoga as a counterbalance. I had to balance yoga into my training regiment to rehabilitate. It loosened my overexerted tight muscles. Back at home, I often followed the same DVD for downward dog (adho mukha svasasana) and cat/cow stretches. It was a chore, and I never thought about mindfulness. My mind races. It takes much attention to focus on me in that very moment, trying to listen to my body clues.

My cousin, Nelson, laughs, reminding me how I detested yoga. I did. Now it’s part of my daily routine, similar to brushing my teeth.

I am always excited to practice in different parts of the world. My personal preference would be a tropical locale with a shaded terrace overlooking palm trees and tranquil aquamarine jewelled water.

Every instructor brings their own personality and interpretation of the physical asanas. I appreciate any mental awareness tips that I can incorporate into my daily routine. It’s an opportunity to encounter different styles away from the oversaturated Vancouver scene. The Pacific Northwest are stereotyped as yogi vegans. Do not get me wrong, I am privileged to encounter dedicated instructors, but equally enjoy other worldly perspectives.

I researched yoga studios before I traveled to Playa El Tunco, El Salvador during the Semana Santa festivities. Unfortunately, the vinyasa class was disappointingly lethargic despite the beautiful setting. The studio was built with large windows so that an abundance of light shone on yogis just before nightfall settled in. I like a strong practice where the instructor inspires physical and mental alignment. The highlight of this yoga studio visit was meeting my dear friend Lisa, also travelling on a solo trip. We quickly bonded. We are both strong independent, yet vulnerable woman who are often lonely from a lack of companionship and sincerity. We have remained in touch over the past couple of years. Recently meeting in Seattle, Washington, and again in Alburquerque, New Mexico. I carried my mat, but never fulfilled my wish in teaching Lisa a flow class last time we met. Not enough time after fulfilling my original work commitments, and departing unexpectedly. I had images of us breathing in the southwestern natural environment while creating beautiful animal shapes at the bottom edge of the American Rockies. I wanted to practice in her cozy rental casita backyard with the little Buddha statue sending us blessed vibes. She recently asked me to return to El Salvador for a yoga retreat this spring, but I am unable to financially swing a visit as much as I love the area’s rugged black sandy beaches. I have yet to attend a yoga retreat locally or abroad; they are pricey. However, I have dreams of living short-term in an Indian yoga ashram to experience the original rituals and learn more about gods’ mythology, but no immediate plans on the horizon.

I was impressed to discover a yoga room with mats when I had a long layover in the San Francisco airport on route to San Diego, California. It was perfect timing. I had solely concentrated on packing work clothes and business networking opportunities. It was a timely opportunity since I had missed a theory class from my 200-hour Registered Yoga teaching training to attend a work conference. I finally had the time to slowly work through the poses thinking of the benefits and contradictions. I was struggling with the Sanskrit names. If I couldn’t remember the English description how on earth would I pronounce the Indian versions?

During that same California trip, I noticed a small group practicing in the lush hotel garden beside the outdoor pool while I was running on the gym treadmill before my seminars started. I was a little disappointed that when I participated the following morning, class was held inside. The European instructor walked us through Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) releasing my back from hours of sitting in uncomfortable conference room chairs.

Imagine how amazing it is to practice yoga on a Blackcomb / Whistler ski in/out hotel patio with chairlifts and coniferous trees as backdrops.

While in northern Thailand, the volunteers and interns had much time to chill at our treehouse due to the heavy storms. Each day, I led a small group of individuals through a short series to help stretch our bodies after elephant trekking and sleeping on uncomfortable floor mats. After the arduous voluntourism experience I flew to the Gulf of Thailand tropical islands to rejuvenate and completed self-study (svayaya) on the sandy beaches. Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping I slowly walk through a routine in my mind while focusing on breath. I create sequencing routines through imagery. Self discover and play are an important.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, what I had known as “airplane” was termed “flying dragon.” That description sounds more majestic. It was almost a private session with only 2 participants. The teacher was big on adjustments. I love this style of teaching. I am happy to learn if I am not at optimal alignment as I want to improve and avoid injury.

I only recently started packing my own mat to practise while awaiting flight departures. I am sure some passengers may think it’s odd, but my self-care is important. It’s difficult flying. The seats are erect and cramped. I am fortunate that I am petite and can curl up. Despite that, I often exit an airplane with a sore back and tight muscles. Humans are meant to be fluid and need movement, not cramped in tight quarters with poor air circulation. Think back to apes thumping around.

A flight attendant made me check-in my old stinky mat stating I was over the limit with personal items. I should have left it behind at the departure gate in hindsight. Instead, upon landing it was the last item off the baggage carousel. I thought of exiting the airport without it, but I feared Canadian customs would wonder why I left it behind. Would they accuse me of smuggling?

My family and I headed to the desert summer resort in Vernon for a short weekend retreat this past summer. My cousin and son bounced tennis balls courtside. My son tossed me from our match since I missed a number of balls. As a result, I proceeded to incorporate a fusion of asanas with supplementary fitness exercises on the adjacent empty court.

There are many establishments I have encountered that indicate yoga classes as part of their accommodations including the B&B next to my friend’s casita in Corozal Bay, Belize and most recently, the hostel in the fishing town of Las Penitas, Nicaragua. I was excited to be mentored. However, when I inquired the classes had been cancelled due to lack of instructors. Next time, I need to be committed and offer to teach. I thought about it at one hostel, but became shy. I need to overcome my fears, as they are only imaginary fears in my own mind. Is yoga not releasing my own internal toxins whether physical or emotionally?

As I was playing in the Isla de la Brasiles water as sunset approached, an enthusiastic female ran up to me, asking if I was a ballerina. I had worked diligently over the winter moving from half to full on monkey king pose (Hanumasana), or as most people know as “the splits.”

Yoga is about mythology. The little monkey represents determination, love, and devotion. I learned this girl was a fellow Canuck, had trained as a ballerina in her youth, but no longer was flexible. She was impressed by my full expression of this Asana.

My Portugal hostel roommate and I happily attended a yoga class steps away from our stuffy hostel after climbing high into the Algarve coastline steep bluffs. We then descended by butt sliding and crawling through jagged rock formations to the beaches and caves below. The girls in the class wore a skimpy mixture of beach shorts and bikinis dumping bits of sand residue in the studio. This beach bum apparel is normally saved for hot classes. I thought, what a luxury to live in Lagos and own a small yoga studio!

My dream would be to own something similar, possibly a small quaint inn and studio with access to yoga lessons and nature activities for random people to gather, linger, relax, meditate, and laugh.

Budget travel

People often ask how I fund my travels insinuating I have endless cash. I wish I did. It would give me the opportunity to expedite my destination bucket list; however, I would likely still travel in the same manner. My vacations are often unique exploration ventures, and not 5-star Four Season resort experiences. I try to be strategic of where and how I create new adventures for myself.

I’ve listed some ways I have created opportunities:

Couch surfing:

Thankfully I am petite and have friends who want me to visit. A few winters ago, I found an insanely cheap deal to Orlando and spent a week on my friend’s loveseat. It was tight, but I was able to curl up like a domestic feline. I avoided the stereotypical tourist traps (Disneyland and Universal studio attractions), and outlet malls. I am not too fond of shopping. Instead, I alternated leisurely afternoons at the lake or pool.

My meals were often amazing cook-outs. My mouth waters thinking of my friend’s marinated short ribs. There is nothing better than sipping a cold icy beer with the fragrant aromas of barbecued meat wafting in the air. Avoiding restaurants and buying groceries helps the limited bank account.

We did venture out for authentic soul food, or at least, I assume it was. Where else would one find chitterlings? All the dishes were hearty tasting, like all deep-fried food is, except for that unusual dish. Never again! I have never tasted ass or feces, but that’s basically what it is. Pig intestines. Health officials issue warnings about preparation.

Volunteerism:

I have stayed in less than ideal accommodations, but my heart is filled with wonderful cultural memories. I was freaked that I would step on a lizard or fall off the bunk bed in the converted stables of my temporary residence in Arusha, Tanzania. It was chilly when the strong winds and rain drenched my tent, but who can forget camping with zebras grazing while on a safari in the Serengeti.

Volunteering abroad usually involves work that is more laborious and demanding than my usual office day job. However, the experiences have been authentic and enriching.

Fundraising is another way to have registration fees covered. I’ve collected gently used supplies to donate to indigenous families. Someone’s trash could be another’s treasure. More importantly, it’s been an opportunity to educate others about the impoverished lives in underdeveloped countries when I collect foodies. I have been able to share direct experiences with my friends and family. The most amazing notable lesson is that people can live a whole lot better in terms of spiritualness and family closeness without the material items westerners are accustomed to.

Bartering system:

I love bartering concept. Who needs to exchange money? And I am not referring to crypto funds. Why not provide service or goods in exchange for something equally wonderful. I have been given various non-monetary services and goods (accommodation, reward points for example) in exchange for deliveries, house, dog/cat sitting, and child minding. I also earned extra cash during the holidays in my youth. There are desperate people who need baby or animal watchers during the festive Christmas and New Years season.

Work travel:

Business trips can be a grind. Not only do you have a specific agenda to focus on out of town, but it is more than likely the paperwork is accumulating back at work. After all the chaos, use the opportunity to sightsee. Flights are generally expensive. What a wonderful opportunity to have that major expense paid for. When possible, extend your trip an extra day or two if not longer to get rid of that jet lag and explore. It is wonderful to move at a slower pace before heading back home.

Another option is take on a temporary contract position in a new city. As a 19 year old, I applied for a seasonal position in the Rocky Mountains. The accommodations left much to be desired, but rent was included. It was easy to save the majority of my paycheque due to minimal expenses. I was located in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle. I took every free moment to explore the wildlife in Jasper, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise cramming as many friends in a junk car as possible for overnight getaways. It was not difficult to find another coworker with a day off to explore trails close by. We usually hitchhiked to and from our destinations.

Home exchange:

My current home is in a great location. I am a quick drive to the city, local ski hills, mountains, and water. I love the outdoor Westcoast lifestyle and spend every chance I have hiking local mountains,,or cycling the sea wall. Afterwards, I can rest my achy muscles in my very own rooftop whirlpool. The downside is the limited amount of square footage of my strata home. Sometimes I forget how wonderful my home is due to the lack of space.

Realtors say location is everything. I was surprised when someone asked to trade his large beachfront US Virgin Island house for mine. WTF! Are you crazy?!!! My home is humble. However, it is all about supply and demand. It’s difficult to find accommodation in my city, whether short or long term, rentals, purchased, or hotels.

Hostels:

Most people think hostels are for young partying backpackers, and I admit some are chaotic dirty fraternity-like accommodations.

There are options for higher end hostels that suit a more cultured traveller depending on the country.

I could not believe how inexpensive and beautiful the hostels were in Portugal. I stayed in a variety of accommodations that varied from bunk accommodations to a large private room with ensuite. Many facilities were of lovely creative decor and offered amenities (guest lounge, movie room, outdoor rooftop pools, billiards, etc).

It was exhilarating jumping into an indoor pool of soft balls at one Lisbon hostel.

I easily made friends with differing ethnicities, age demographics, solo travellers, couples, friends, and business travellers).

All-inclusive resorts:

I have found some incredibly good deals to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and Cuba. I’ve often wondered how these establishments break even.

There was one year I had promised my cousin I would visit her in Toronto. I’m a bad family member. When I discovered that the full deal (shuttle to the resort, 7 nights of pool, beach, unlimited food and drinks) to the Caribbean was cheaper than a return flight to Toronto, I had to rescind my visit. This is not usually my favourite type of holiday, but resorts do have its benefits. As a single mom, it’s been an affordable way to take my children on holiday.

I have only touched on the cusp of different ways to fund a holiday adventure. There are unlimited options to explore the world on a tight budget if one is savvy.

Guatemala Semana Santa

During Easter 2016 I travelled to El Salvador and Guatemala for a cheap yet culturally enriching adventure. My kids were away skiing in Whistler, and I took advantage of my freedom (woohoo) to participate in the well-celebrated religious processions of Santa Semana in Antigua, tour an ecological farm that educates indigenous Guatemalans on a sustainable seed-to-table lifestyle, and visit my Spanish tutor.

One reason I love travelling is the experience of learning about other cultures and touching certain individuals to gain a different perspective outside of my Canadian bubble. I love the grittiness and adventure of travelling solo, backpacking, volunteering, and living with the locals when possible.

Meeting Jose was an eye-opening experience after months of Spanish lessons via Skype.

PRE-HIKE

When I met Jose on Easter Sunday, I felt an immediate kindred spirit, and wanting to support him as an aunt or parental-like figure. It was very easy to get along with him, similar to our video conferences except now he was physically in front of me. My tutor has an amicable fun personality…chatting away, making jokes. His congeniality was infectious.

Jose made an attempt to pay for his lunch, a delicious Guatemalan chicken soup with a refreshing Gallo cerveza, but I denied him. I was secretly relieved he tried as I was concerned he would try to scam me. I felt guilty for those thoughts, but it has happened.

I did not realize he had arranged with his boss to have the day off. No work = no pay. A North American business proprietor purposely hires cheap Central American workers to avoid benefits and taxes under employment law. I understood the significance and impact to my tutor for taking a vacay day. However, it delighted me to have a tour guide. We laughed in between slurps of broth. After our meal, we walked the dusty streets to Lago de Atitlan.

I learned more about his sad, yet empowering story. I knew a little from snippets of conversations in between Spanish verbs and nouns.

He was born in Honduras. I was surprised when he told me his mother had been a preacher. Mainly because he referred to her as Satan, not Mom, Mother, and certainly not Mommy. I know of some individuals who call their mother by their given name, but never Satan.

When he was a young boy, possibly 9-10 years old, he was hit tragically by a car.

He was shocked to learn he had been in a coma for a month when he finally awakened. He thought he had slept for only 1 evening.

His mother, who was regularly beaten by his step-father, gave him up to an orphanage when Jose was discharged from hospital. He often tried to protect his mother when she was physically abused, but who would help her now? His mother, Satan, promised to visit her eldest child frequently. Every month when all the other boys had family come to visit, Jose waited….and waited. He waited more, anxious and hopeful, but his mother never came.

Her grandmother sold his mother as a young girl; this was typical in their village. Older men buy younger women. As he explained, it was typical for brothers and sisters to have sex. Any sort of inter-family sexual relationship of all ages was common and accepted. To hear the vulnerability and emotion in his voice saddened me as he described the vile acts.

Jose grew hardened from his experiences while yearning for his mother’s love. The orphanage released him at 17 years old. He had graduated, and was ready for adulthood. From his perspective, he was sent away. Ousted from his home. He was too old to continue at the school orphanage. He had no idea of what to do next. He entered the orphanage with nothing, and left with nothing. Where to next? He entered a home for murderers, convicts, rapists. I was very comfortable with Jose, but at this point, I felt a chill run down my spine wondering if he had killed. I asked. He responded, “no.”

Jose was petrified he would be attacked and raped. His room was a locked jail cell with undesirables. After a month of living in fear, he ran away with only the clothes on his back. Although no walk in the park, he felt safer sleeping in the streets. I admire him, his hustle. Some may have given up, accepted their fate to live in a vicious cycle of poverty, and resort to crime. He never had strong mentors to set moral examples, to love, and provide TLC.

He found an unfurnished room. He used the bare ground as his bed, and his shirt as his blanket after sweeping the floor. He was a sweet talker. The Landlord allowed him to pay rent when he gained employment. He charmed “blatantly lied” his way through a cellular phone company interview. Apparently, he had much success and experience in that field. I would not doubt that he flirted with the interviewer, and I would bet money he became more successful than those already working in that position.

One job was insufficient. He found an ad for a bartender position. Although he had no clue what a bartender did, he applied. When he spoke to the owner, he hustled his way into the role. Jose was an extraordinaire cocktail concoction-ist. The interview included testing. The owner asked Jose to create a drink with fire. He asked for a moment to visit the bathroom to research tequila drinks online (3 tequilas and a lighter). Voila!

His future boss asked at what point should the beverage be consumed, “whenever you are ready to decide whether tequila vs fire burns more!” The proprietor was impressed that the drink lit his stomach on fire. Who knew an internal burning sensation is a good reason to hire someone?

During that period, Jose methodically searched the official name directory for his mother at every free opportunity. He was diligent in his goal to reunite with her no matter how long it took.

When his dream finally came to fruition, he was unsure if it was even his parent. He shared no resemblance to his mother nor siblings. He asked the most impactful question that had occupied his heavy heart and mind for years, “Why did she give him up all those years ago? Why did she not visit him as she promised? Why? Why? Why?”

My heart hurt for him, and my stomach fills with knots thinking about his pain. Although he did not say it, I saw his hurt, his rejection, the pain.

He drinks.

He was very open about his excessive drug and alcohol consumption to numb his pain. At first, I tried to discourage his abusive ways although not really my place to lecture. There is a time and place for everything. If he wants, he will stop, and only he can make that decision. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to stand by to watch. After further discussion, learning the full extent of his life, I truly understand why he continues to abuse substances. They are his crutch, a coping mechanism. I am not saying it is right, but I am not going to condone nor judge him. If his mother is Satan, Jose claims he is the Devil.

He shared the dark story of his 2 younger brothers.

Satan repeatedly told his siblings that their elder brother could not be trusted. Jose was NO good. One brother joined a gang. Gangsters kill, and more than likely will be killed. A vicious cycle. As retaliation, the opposing gangsters came after the young man. The family, petrified, hid under the bed. The other brother experienced a superhero moment trying to save his sibling. Both his mother and younger sister witnessed the brutality of their loved ones executed brutally in succession by gunshot. Everything one may imagine and stereotype about Honduran crime and poverty runs through the blood lines of Jose’s heritage. He is determined not to allow it to run through his veins.

I wondered how Jose has not only survived, but how he manages each day…to be. He is relatively normal on surface level, and has attributes (family values, hard work, perseverance) that I admire.

Despite his mother trying to push him away, he moved his mom and extended family to Guatemala. He conscientiously and diligently works to provide financial sustenance for his family, and has been an advocate in helping them find work.

He sees the significance of education despite the strong opposition of family members. He expressed disappointment that his teenage sister, a single mother, quit school, to work physically arduous tasks in the river. He supports his younger 8-year sister with her education. His young brother has down syndrome and does not receive appropriate care. Jose is constantly exasperated wanting them to plan out their future, but they only know survival. Today. Not tomorrow, never mind the future. That is unimaginable.

I witnessed his interactions with his daughter. Playful, loving, yet stern when needed.

We said our temporary goodbyes after a long, yet memorable day. In the morning, he would escort me to Volcan San Pedro. At the peak, he would give me a Spanish lesson where I would describe my hike in español.

HIKING DAY

I admire Jose’s strength & generosity to uphold his family unit. He has the tenacity to achieve his aspirations, BUT his biggest obstacle is himself. His mother is right, he has demons. She fuelled them. The next day was filled with disappointment.

I chose to rest early while Jose partied the night away abusing whatever horrible substances he ingested.

When I awoke, my phone had blown up with texts throughout the evening. “Drinking at the pub, back home, can’t sleep, still drinking, postpone to a later time, very dd rrrunnkk.”

We stopped to purchase snacks and water for the trek after a long delay. His beverage of choice…beer.

His partying (self-affliction) had not finished. He smelled like a drunk tank. I did not realize the extent of his illness. Alcoholism is a debilitating disease. When we approached his home, quatezeles fell out of his pocket in addition to the lost 100Q from the evening before. That did not sit well with me. I gave him 500Q ($85 US) although we originally agreed to a lower amount. I did not want to cheat him for his time knowing his situation, and had planned to provide a generous tip at the end. The money was to pay for his time, the park’s entrance fee, snacks, and it would have left him with plenty of extra cash. I did not expect it to be wasted.

I had eagerly anticipated the visit to Volcan San Pedro. We had discussed the tour often during tutoring sessions by practicing Spanish phrases describing the Volcan and topography. The highlight would be a Spanish tutorial at the peak. Yo subu a la volcan.

This was not the blissful experience I imagined. Hiking brings freedom, and a breather from my own stressful life #firstworldissues. If I had known, I would have arranged for a true professional guide. He suggested I head to the top myself because he was ill.

There was no one in sight. I was uncomfortable hiking myself after reading reports of tourists hijacked for ransom money and I did not want to leave him behind. His face looked ashen. At his insistence, he walked behind me to heave on various occasions. He drank a beer at the beginning, but that was not enough. He rummaged through his wallet, and relieved to find coke in his wallet. It was devastating to watch. I was sad, upset, angry. I did not come to Pana for this shit. NO! I came to visit a tutor and friend. I could have remained in El Salvador. Instead, I went through many obstacles to depart Antigua during Semana Santa. Transport vehicles leaving Easter celebrations during the biggest religious ceremonial processions of the year were extremely uncommon. I went through hoops to ensure I got to Jose before I departed.

As we continued to climb, I stopped to soak in some amazing viewpoints. The blueness is Lake Atitlan and Pana, although further and further away were picturesque from above. Local farmers were attending to their crops and coffee plantations. Some engaged in conversation assuming I was local. No hablo espanol. When we encountered a Netherlands tourist heading down the rugged mountain with his guide, Jose sulked. I was envious this man had reached the top. We were very close, only 45 mins away. Jose clearly showed his displeasure as we chatted at length. Well, mainly he conversed as I eagerly hung on to every word in awe. Jose declared the man was gay ending the rest. Awkward. As the morning progressed, Jose asked if I would pay for more Spanish lessons while I was in Central America. An advance. My answer was simply, no. I was not giving him more money until I finished the lessons I had already paid for. Tough love. If someone shows the desire, then they earn goodness. I would have chose a different ending if he fulfilled his promise. I am not paying for self-destruction. That was a difficult decision adding guilt to my conscience.

We never reached the peak, and re-traced our steps back down to the ferry docks. The boat ride was eerily quiet and we awkwardly split back in town so that Jose could nurse his hangover.

POST HIKE

We met before I left Guatemala to continue our discussions from our first meeting.

I asked some pointed questions that he could ponder. Is it possible, his mother thought she was giving him the best possible life by leaving him? If he examines his life, he is leading the most productive and fruitful one compared to his family members. Both his brothers were brutally murdered, his baby brother has down syndrome, and a lack of caregiving. His 16 year old sister would be living the same cycle of poverty following her mother and grandmother as a teenage single mother without any inclination to educate herself. His mother was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by many vicious men. Why have him live in these unhealthy situations? He voiced his anger for the devil. Why did she not come? I wanted for her? Why did she not speak up? She witnessed many horrible crimes in town. Being a witness is just as bad as being a perpetrator. Is it possible, FEAR? Fear of rape, fear of being beaten again, fear of her family being beaten, sexually assaulted, being crucified. His mom is a stereotypical uneducated Honduran village woman. How could she know what’s right or wrong. How could she make the best parenting decisions for Jose’s if she could not care for herself. All she knows is survival instincts, breathing, food. I played devils advocate. Maybe this tactic would help him decrease his pain.

One cannot have hope, think of tomorrow, only now, today in this circumstance. As we went back and forth sharing our stories, Jose would say, “you are right, Brenda.” I would respond, “I am not. I do not know the answer, I wish I did, but I do want you to let go of your hurt and sadness.”

He may drink and dilute his emotions with drugs and alcohol wasting his brightness.

There is no reason Jose cannot live a productive quality life despite the demons lingering. He is smart, nice looking, funny, a good heart, and family values.

I admire Jose’s strength & generosity to uphold his family unit. I know sobriety is a struggle that he continues to focus on. He’s still my dear friend. One day I’ll return and hope he will accompany when I finally hike about the clouds to reach Volcan San Pedro.

North to South – Rocky Mountains

My passion for hiking first began when I was a 19 year old living as a seasonal worker in the breathing-taking Canadian Rocky Mountains. My roomies and I would slide our feet into our cheap sneakers, only carrying limited water and snacks for day outings. We hitchhiked from Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway, to various terrain. Jasper National Park offered an abundance of choices. It was common for wild animals (deer, elk, moose and brown bears) to meander along the road near our home at Sunwapta Falls Resort, pleasuring tourists. We lived in the moment, and naturally assumed some friendly camper would pick us up from wherever we ended to take us home after an invigorating physical day. The endless safety concerns I would fret about today (becoming lost, injured, attacked by a human predator or animal) never crossed my mind.

We were fearless.

And some may say foolish and reckless.

I placed hiking on hold attending to other priorities as I entered adult life.

I renewed my love of the rugged outdoors in 2016 by returning to the Rockies to experience winter hikes such as the Lake Agnes Teahouse, Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, Banff. I am not as adventurous as I once was. Although I would like to attempt more challenging options I am not an experienced mountaineer. I do not want to be featured on the local evening news. It is not uncommon for naïve quasi-hiker(s) to be saved by my regions’ North Shore rescue team, if lucky. The alternative, death.

While visiting New Mexico I prioritized climbing a mountain as an opportunity to explore the American Southwest terrain and vistas.

I purposely selected Dale Ball Trails located at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as it was in close proximity and feasible under my time restraints. It was a short 5-8 minute drive from the Railyard-Guadalupe district. I decided against my original choice, the longer challenging Atalaya Mountain in Santa Fe National Park trail.

Dale Balls was an easier grade, 3 miles out and back, with an elevation gain of 1300 feet compared to the medium-rated Atalaya, 6 miles out and back, and incline of 1900 feet. Both offered incredible vistas, desert trees, shrubs, rocks, and wild flowers. The morning air was delightful. Fluffy white clouds were set amongst the vibrant blue skies high above the city below. The desert dryness contrasted from the rich green coniferous rainforest I am accustomed to as a native to the Pacific Northwest.

I set my alarm early. I needed to attend to my day’s itemized agenda after physical activity.

My feet would need to move quickly to complete my goal of finishing in an allotted time. As it turned out, I did not need to hustle. I woke up at 4 am (really 3 am in my Pacific Standard zone) well in advance of my alarm, feeling anxious. My heart experienced physically intense palpitations. more I worried that I needed to relax, the anxiousness increased. This is all in my mind. The ironic part is when I hike, run, or practice vigorous yoga, I truly gasp for more oxygen yet feel at peace. I visualize myself soaring eloquently like a bird, relaxed and free during these activities. This hike achieved my desired natural euphoric results, but I needed to earn it.

The majority of online reviews were solid recommendations, but there were a few with pointed complaints. They ranged from: weekend over-population, disrespectful owners not picking up their doggy poop, difficult acclimatization to the thinner mountain air, the easy grade was incorrect and not meant for someone who was not physically fit, strenuous ascent, high altitude, etc etc. Perspective is interesting.

I panted heavily for a good 20 minutes, but that’s not unusual for me when I first start climbing. I live just above sea level. In comparison, Santa Fe is 7200 feet, and Picacho Peak is 8500. That is a high altitude adjustment, and a possible reason I felt nauseated. Lack of sleep and a dual combination head-and-stomach-ache persisted. I considered returning to the car, but I knew my companion would insist on accompanying me, instead of pursuing the view point. Memories of an unsuccessful attempt to San Pedro Volcan in Guatemala with my excessively inebriated tour guide flooded my mind. We never reached the top, and I was disappointed for many reasons. I did not want the same failed results, even if I was not under the influence.

I was resilient, plowing on. I am relieved I did. Although not at my physical and emotional best, soaking in the biting crisp Southwest early morning dew was a natural remedy.

The atmosphere was eerie due to the lack of people on the hill. I guess many outdoor enthusiasts were still asleep. It was only as I descended that I encountered some keen nature enthusiasts accompanied by their dogs.

I panicked when I heard an animal in the near distance, and regretted not researching what possible dangers were prevalent to this area. Would a fox or cougar attack me while in the wild? Roadrunners came to mind, and I wondered if they were dangerous. As it turned out, it was a helicopter flying in the distance.

Signage at the trailhead entrance explained that years ago a river had run through the lower mountainside. I skipped over an assortment of different sized and shaped jagged grey and pink granite rocks at the beginning of the trail, indicating where the water once flowed. The terrain changed from the dehydrated rocky river bed to dry dusty soil.

Dale Balls offered many pathways, but I was eager to reach Picacho Peak to enjoy the 360 panoramic views.

I was surprised at how well-marked the red rocked track was. I started at 29, and sequentially made my way to 30, 31 on a smooth track. After a series of switchbacks I finally reached the top, via 34.

The parks offered small signage maps in addition to the numbered ones at specific locations. This was extremely appreciated. I cannot count the number of times I have gotten lost in my local area due to the lack of signage indicators while focusing on the next step my feet would take due to the roots and rocks.

The views nearing the top were incredible, but also confused me. Are we at the peak? How can it get better than this? It was all spectacular. Even on 34, there were a couple occasions where I could of easy stopped thinking I reached the viewpoint pedestal.

The rugged New Mexico topography was a mountain skyline orgasm when I finally reached the heavenly, Picacho Peak. I treated myself to some solitude gazing in the far distance and yoga asana stretches.

My only regret is that I did not have the luxury of time to visit Atalaya Mountain, and other attractions prominent to the local area.

I got a taste of the spectacular, and know I am meant to return to New Mexico again. I do not know when the opportunity will arise again as there is a time and place for everything; however, when it does I will sieve the moment.

I can now say I have been to both the northern and southern ends of Mother Nature’s magnificent, Rocky Mountains.

I can now say I have been to both the northern and southern ends of Mother Nature’s magnificent, Rocky Mountains.