My beloved travel diary

My dear friend, Alex, gifted me with encouragement, a travel journal, “Be Wild & Wonderful” and much needed mosquito spray when she dropped me off at the seabus terminal as I embarked on a solo voluntourism adventure the summer of 2015. The soft purple cover was shiny, and filled with crisp, clear, blank pages.

I stuffed it into my worn canvas tote bag, and proceeded to manoeuvre my heavy suitcase and 55L knapsack, both overstuffed with donated supplies, through Vancouver’s public transportation system to YVR airport. I was already sticky from the heat although I had only showered shortly before leaving my cozy home. It would be the last hot shower I would have in some time. If I was struggling in my clean and organized hometown, how would I manage in gritty Central America without knowing Español or the ways of the land and people? I was petrified, but determined to proceed.

This journal became my crutch, just like Linus in Charlie Brown, holding his beloved security blankie.

This diary has since travelled several time zones, countries, and continents over the last couple of years fulfilling my wanderlust. It has given me great comfort and solace when I suffered homesickness (especially worrying for my bratty kids), the courage to face new adventures, braveness to adapt to unfamiliar social situations when either encountering locals of the region or fellow travellers from around the world, and immersing myself in unfamiliar surroundings and cultural situations. Travelling is amazingly addictive, but sometimes can be isolating and challenging.

I have travelled solo, with family and friends abroad, enjoyed local getaways, and the occasional work trip. For some reason, I never packed my journal for trips in Canada or the USA. I regret not putting my pen to paper for each and every journey regardless of location, reason, or duration. All have been incredible, but there is something magical about backpacking to exotic places for the purpose of participating in eco and volun-tourism projects.

I wrote about the long hot dusty days spent at the remote Casa Guatemala orphanage (www.casa-guatemala.org) in the jungles of Riu Dulce “meaning sweet river” when I returned each afternoon by open launcha to my temporary home. The decrepit Backpackers Hostel was located at the bottom of a long bridge leading into Fronteras town. Every night, I was awakened to the thundering sounds of vehicles driving into the walls of my room. Well that’s how I felt as I jerked up, startled in the middle of the night.

It was not easy; I struggled in many aspects. The natural environment was stunning, but life was the polar opposite to the civilized world I am accustomed to. I discovered a former volunteer’s blog (www.twobadtourists.com) while researching this NGO. The writer described rambunctious children as “Spider-Man” climbing exterior walls of the school buildings built on stilts above the murky water. At the time, I thought it was an exaggeration. It was not, to my disbelief and exhaustion. I was exasperated experiencing first hand the high energy levels of the Guatemalan children who loved to take advantage of me. During recess I could settle some kids down by tracing their hands in my journal, but how easily it could turn poorly. It only took one bratty child waiting in line to poke at the student next to him/her, for all hell to break loose. A Spanish intern coached me to command authority in the classroom by sternly warn the youngsters, “SILENCIO!” In return, I comforted her during a meltdown. She had left unopened packaged cookies in her hostel room. The mice immediately initiated her internship upon arrival (hour 1 of day 1). They feasted leaving crumbs everywhere. Since I am anal, I had intently pre-read the TripAdvisor reviews of the Hostel and the orientation guide for the non-profit school and medical clinic set upon the banks of the river. Scorpions, poisonous snakes, mice, cockroaches, and god knows what else were prevalent. I half-slept with my mosquito and bug sprays squeezed in the palm of my hands every night, fretting. I did not leave any food in my room, but I did not know how to prevent the cockroaches from visiting. arrrrrrgghhh!

I originally planned to return to the school excited to see the children again, and determined to overcome my challenges the following summer. I spent months engaged in Spanish lessons with a Honduran tutor to enhance my interactions with the locals. I excitedly mapped out various possible itineraries after each work day and after my household/children chores were completed. How many Quetzales was I willing to spare to transport myself from eastern Guatemala to Ruinas de Copán, the Mayan archaeological site in Western Honduras? A coach bus would be ideally more comfortable, but a chicken bus would be more economical. I tried to remind myself that it would be fun people watching the odd mix of gringos and Guatemalans. However, I was not confident that would outweigh motion sickness. There was a high probability that I would stand in bus aisles with my arms outstretched gripping the ceiling bars as we whipped around bumpy roads without air-conditioning for long periods. After sightseeing the ruins I could slowly meander to the northern Carribean town of La Ceiba. I would eventually venture to the tropical Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras via ferry where I planned to spend days frolicking in the sun and sand. In the end, I cancelled my return trip due to family sandwich generation issues. My father had spent the greater part of the winter and spring hospitalized. Although his deteriorating health stabilized slightly, and we figured out an action plan, I did not feel comfortable staying in isolated tropical wilderness with limited access to the world (especially contact to home), and a long return bus ride to Guatemala City airport. Wifi was spotty in Rio Dulce, but virtually non-existence further down the water on the orphanage grounds.

Instead I headed to Europe after a 7 year hiatus (layovers in airports do not count regardless of the length). Although across the Atlantic Ocean, a continent away from home, my criteria of easy transportation routes home within a 24 hour period, internet access, and English language were easily met. I felt guilty leaving my stressful life filled with obligations and not fulfilling my eco-social goals, but I really needed fun, rest and relaxation. My journal writings were became a little sketchy because each day was filled with vibrant and social interactions.

On another occasion, I returned to Guatemala for the Semana Santa holy processions in colonial Antigua. If I ever find that one to marry me, I have already planned to honeymoon here. How romantic it would be to walk hand-in-hand along the cobble stone streets enjoying colonial architecture after enjoying a glass of vino. This trip would be followed by the white sandy remote beaches of Little and Big Corn Islands in Nicaragua. Part of my Easter Spring break included an educational orientation of Eco Homestead, now Cultiva (www.cultivainternational.org) in Sololá, Guatemala. I was picked up the Jensens and an organization’s board member in Lake Atitlan after heartwarming and heartbreaking days spent with my Spanish tutor. One learns quickly how cruel life can be, but the resilience in some individuals are powerful values I would like to uphold.

The Jensen’s van climbed the rugged terrain of the Guatemalan highlands moving above the volcanic crater. The views were breathtaking! I held on to every visual sight in the distance, and each word that these humanitarians emitted. They bravely gave up their American dream lives (defying what is considered acceptable normalcy) to teach sustainable seed-to-mouth farming to the Mayans.

The purpose of eco and volunteer efforts are not to change what is, but to empower the people with what they already have. The land had fertile soil for vegetation that can nourish impoverished bodies and their families. This agricultural project was not a handout, but an educational exercise that encouraged local Mayans to learn about crop and self growth. One day, I will return to participate from step one of building the garden box with plywood pieces to teaching the locals that the fruits of their labour can feed them and provide sustenance for their family.

Most recently, I volunteered at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary (www.kselephantsanctuary.org), Amphoe Mae Chaem, Thailand. Another non-profit organization, basically in the middle of no where. I wonder if the wildlife interns, zoologists, and mahouts (elephant keepers) laughed at tourists like me? Stopping in wildness to scrutinize a dead rat or dried amphibian made me cringe while they became impassioned. I think our group would all agree that the daily forest hikes to feed and observe the 4 darling elephants foraging and ripping trees down delighted all of us. The mahouts and mammals affectionate interactions are vivid in my memory, but my writings preserve these special moments. I diligently wrote daily when we were marooned at volunteer base camp, a large treehouse, after every elephant trek. I knew when I booked my trip it was the beginning of rain season, but it did not deter me from registering.

I do not normally go back to re-read my scribbles and garbled writings. However, I plan to replace this diary to chronicle what’s next. I am enjoying the freedom of not knowing, and researching random exotic places that peak my interest.

Lessons learned: I will not repeat a rookie mistake. Rollerballs gel pens are ergonomically friendlier since the ink glides on paper when writing extensively, but will bleed if the diary gets wet. Use a good ole-fashioned cheap ballpoint pen and store the writings in a large ziplock bag.

Everyone should travel alone at some point in their life and document their activities. It is an educational privilege to see the world, and learn about people and cultures particularly in a non-traditional holiday. Most of all, it teaches oneself about oneself. Each experience was an opportunity for self-spiritual growth. You do not know your true you until you are tested to the limits.

Svadhyaya is a term often used in yoga to define “self-study.” It is one of the 5 niyamas that promote healthy living and eventually leads to infinite consciousness. Conservation travel is my path to lead to this. There are so many circumstances that have arisen that tested my limits, and my journal stands witness to many of these. It has made me appreciate what I have taken for granted, and compassion to understand others circumstances.

I thank Alex for her dear friendship and my beloved diary. Pen to paper was an impetus to start this blog that I had only talked and procrastinated about. My booklet is not as bright and shiny as it once was. The worn cover with bleeding ink on crumpled pages are symbolic for the contrast of grittiness and beauty that I hold in my heart and memories.

August 2015-September 2017

Belize-Caye Caulker, Corozal

El Salvador

Guatemala (loved it so much I returned a second time)

Scotland

Calgary, Rocky Mountains, Okanagon, Whistler, Canada

San Diego, Seattle, Leavenworth, USA

Portugal

Thailand

Hong Kong

Seattle long weekend frolic

I have not visited Seattle in quite some time although it is a quick 3 hour drive. The low Canadian dollar and Trump presidency has been a turn off. Instead, I have focused on international destinations in the last couple of years. However, my American friend who was staying in the local area, gave me ample reason to visit. We originally met in El Salvador, and immediately I felt a kindred spirit friendship since our first encounter.

My windshields wipers profusely cleared the heavy Pacific Northwest downpour as I passed various towns heading south from Vancouver, Canada to Seattle, USA. Although it was slippery (first big rain in a while), it was a blessing. The rain cleared the thick haze lingering in the air from the many devastating wild fires.

Mother Nature must like me. The gloomy grey let up allowing sunshine and blue skies to appear as I approached the outskirts of city center.

The homes and vehicles were modest, yet charming, in the artsy Fremont neighborhood. I found it interesting to learn the area is known as the “Centre of the Universe” as it’s located centrally in the Seattle, just north of downtown. That is a bold statement!

My friend had mentioned that her rental home was undergoing maintenance. A huge understatement. It was chaos upon arrival. Workers were power washing the exterior, trying to remove years of paint. Paint chips, debris, and dust were scattered everywhere, both inside and outside, and the front hallway was wet. My friend’s temporary basement suite was clean, cozy, and cute despite the dilapidated appearance of the facade.

We headed to the Saturday Ballard Art Market after some laughter and tears while munching on Trader Joe’s pita chips and goat cheese paired with an Okanagon Pinot Noir.

The Art Walk was not clearly identified. It was only halfway into our stroll that we learned there was a small map with participating retailers. Ohhhh, a treasure hunt to find the Art Walk. I assumed it would be a large open market with artisans showcasing their craft whether musical performances, cinema, and/or art. This event was understated. We entered some galleries without being greeted. Others clearly were excited to participate in the event offering wine and sparkling water. A painter in one gallery asked patrons what 3 colors created their happiness, gleefully noting it was not often she left her studio. The audience participated in her creativity as she expressed the feedback from her paint palette to brush to canvass. We hesitatingly headed into a dark basement store that replicated a museum. It housed an eclectic assortment of bowling pins, Ouija necklaces, glass eye balls, bear heads mounted on the wall, antique globes, insects frozen in amber, etc.

We faced a dilemma determining where to grab a bite and drink after our jaunt. Too many options. The restaurants (no building appeared taller than 2-stories)  all looked inviting, each with charming soft lights illuminating through the windows onto candlelit dining tables. Music echoed into the streets while happy revellers bar-hopped.

We settled into Macleod’s Scottish pub known for its great scotch offerings, but disappointingly it did not offer traditional fare. No Haggis, Tatties, and Neeps on the menu. We settled on the largest fish and chips platter I have set my eyes on and grilled fish tacos. I give the restaurant kudos. The fish in my tacos was a generous serving, cooked with a lovely light tender texture served with fresh crisp garnishes. We completed one last short stroll around the quaint streets before heading home for more girly banter before calling it a night.

We got off to a late start the following morning, exactly what a lazy weekend morning should be. I was ready for Sunday Funday when we finally got out the door for the hour’s drive to Bridal Veil Falls in Snohomish County. My friend had hiked the challenging trail to Lake Serene that serves the waterfall the weekend prior. Our walk along a well-marked pathway with a slight ascent, must have been a stroll for her in comparison. I cannot be disappointed we did not make our way to Lake Serene as I declared the evening before “I did not want to physically and mentally exert myself in anyway. NO scrambling, crawling, pulling myself on chains, and/or using ladders to reach our destination.”

The robust waterfall cascaded down the granite rocks was impressive.

I had not learned my lesson from the previous weekend enjoying the luscious forest in Squamish, Canada. Why did I not wear my bikini to refresh myself in the pools of water in Mount Index? Hiking in Washington State, USA differed immensely from the tropical island waterfall trails I had visited only last month in the amazing Gulf of Thailand. The air was fresh and crisp vs humid and sticky. The pool water was clean, clear, and cool compared to murky green. The waterfall was actually a high pressured waterfall not a trickle.

I originally thought we would return to the city to eat street food at Fremont’s European-esque Sunday market. Practicing positive non-attachment, “vairagya” allows one an opportunity to be explore allowing other forms of goodness to soak in.

We spontaneously decided to drive another hour plus away to Leavenworth, America’s version of the German Swiss Alps in Central Washington.

The scenic drive through rolling hills into the valley was exquisite. The background of the Cascade Mountains were enhanced with the changing coloured leaves of autumn approaching. Our time was limited as my friend needed to work that evening.

Fuelling our depleted stomachs after a hike was number one on our agenda when we reached the charming and romantic Bavarian-styled town. My criteria was a patio pronto. We settled on the narrow balcony of Mozart’s Steakhouse, ordering an un-European-like spicy Cajun chicken sandwich accompanied with a very expensive German draft beer. The restaurant crest was officially stamped onto the burger bun! The patio was overshadowed by large umbrellas hampering our view of the Alpine buildings and streets below.

We returned to Front Street, but did not have the luxury to explore and meander leisurely through shops. I do regret not purchasing the plastic military figurines in yoga asanas in a cutest gift shop. It would have made a fun stocking stuffer for my girl. As limited as time can be, there is always time for sweets. Leavenworth’s candy shop was filled with buckets of salt water taffy and shelves of sugar bugs and chocolate.

We almost did not head down to the water, but seized the opportunity when we learned it was only a few minutes stroll from the village shops.

It would have been a huge loss in our day’s itinerary had we not walked through Waterfront Park to Wenatchee River. I was surprised how shallow the water was especially since tubing and rafting are popular summer activities. Maybe the tour groups head further out. An adventurous man completed a mountain bike trick somersaulting into the water photobombing my Instragram. Another was calmly paddle boarding in the distance. End of summer frolicking time with terrain that included rugged mountain views reflecting in the water. Stunning.

We headed back to the city as sun set behind the hills. I had planned to walk to the Fremont resto-bars for a drink while my friend analyzed work data, but I was happily depleted. Ironic that I had an itinerary that focused around the trendy Fremont neighbourhood, yet those plans turned fruitless. I purposely did not include the typical, yet fantastic Pike Street Market. It’s effortless to return.

I woke early the next day hugging my friend goodbye (we will reunite in a couple months) and grateful I was moving against weekday rush-hour traffic. I slowly headed North stopping for groceries, gas, and the Seattle Premium outlets. Despite the strong US currency against a weaker Canadian dollar there are still deals and a variety of merchandise making even day trips worthwhile.

I had forgotten about the wonders of my American neighbour, Seattle. Thank you for an amazing long weekend!

Stawamus Chief Mountain – Squamish

Apparently there was a heat wave in the Lower Mainland. Environment Canada issued a special advisory for people in areas including Howe Sound, Squamish, and Whistler to be extra cautious due to the high temperatures and poor air quality from the raging forest fires throughout the province of British Columbia. I only learned about the emergency warning “after” our Squamish Chief hike while waiting for the outhouse bathroom.

Yikes!

Thankfully, my friend and I did not feel the vicious heat or experience any respiratory issues. Maybe we were already polluted from too much alcohol consumption over the years. I actually found it cooler in the woods, outside of direct sunlight, and away from my greenhouse home back in the city. The day was clear with blue skies in contrast to the haze and smoke I am now enduring. I think the winds blew it in later that evening.

We were clear in our goal of an ascent to Squamish peak 1 only, the easiest of the three climbs.

He was the only one who agreed to accompany me, and the only who probably should not have. My friend was on his 15th day of non-chemotherapy treatment, finally feeling amazing, and itching to stretch his legs in the mountains. The next day he checked right back into the Cancer Agency for another round. We walked slowly taking as many water and snack breaks as he needed. His fitness level has significantly diminished, but he looked well and happy. Thank goodness.

I was apprehensive. I would not be able to carry a solid muscular 6’3″ man if he passed out nor did I want to carry the guilt. However, if I was in his shoes, I would probably do the same. Choose to “live the life I love” by being in Mother Nature’s divine forest breaking a sweat.

The irony is that I asked people who were more than physically capable, been on this trail before, and/or indicated an interest. I was greeted with a consistent response, “NO.” Excuses included, “too steep, afraid of heights, that’s a lot of effort, lets hike something more local instead, I don’t have enough time.” Blah blah. NO excuses has a new meaning.

The start of the climb was more gruelling than the latter section of Peak 1. The wooden steps reminded me of a slightly easier version of the Grouse Grind, Vancouver’s local mountain and relentless stairway to hell. I was relieved to walk the dusty dirt path trail instead of the man-made portion even if it meant I had to pay more attention stepping over rocks.

I was hesitant climbing the smooth slippery rocks, ladders, and pulling my body up and down chains with trepidation. My stomach was filled with butterflies, terrified to look down in case I plunged down the shiny rocks into a deep dark gully. There was not many places I could grip my hands and feet safety as we approached the summit. Whose bloody idea was this??!! It was on the tip of my tongue to tell my friend to go up without me. The best part of the hiking, is the community of encouragement. Someone felt my fear, and cheered me on. “You are only steps away. It would be pointless to stop now.” I believe in “Pay it Forward,” and reciprocated to others who equally looked defeated and exasperated. Trust me, it is all worth it!

We were rewarded with the most spectacular view of Howe Sound, small islands, mountain ranges in the distance, and the town of Squamish down below from the top of South peak.

The water down below glimmered.

Immediately we rested by sprawling our bodies out on the warm and smooth granite, allowing the sun’s rays to shine on us while watching fellow hikers on the next peak climb the heavens to a higher peak. At one point I dropped my phone in nervousness when snapping a picture of the rugged landscape. I needed to stop acting sketchy or I really would lose my iPhone, or worse, lose my balance and plunge into the gully.

Tourists were happily feeding little chipmunks their snacks as the little animals scooted in and out of rock crevices. Their sense of smell was amazing. They would scoot out each time someone pulled out their snacks.

It took me a while to figure out the multi-colours flags zig-zagging back and forth in the water were kite boarders.

My only regret was that we didn’t bring our bathing suits to refresh ourselves under the waterfalls at the end of a great hike, or planned a camp out. It would have been perfect to end the day with cold beers watching sunset before falling asleep under the beautiful night skyline.

Instead I treated myself with grease after my arduous hike.

My mouth had been watering thinking of poutine since the day before. My growling stomach became worse on the descent down, dehydrated and famished. I refrained from snacking (probably not the wisest idea) anticipating warm rich poutine while my friend imagined beer-battered fish and chips. Stopping at the food shack near Britannia Beach would be our secondary reward for huffing and puffing in the woods.

Unfortunately, there was a hiccup in our food goal. Long weekend Labour Day traffic on the Sea to Sky. All the weekend tourists and partiers were heading home. Sigh!

We finally arrived at Mountain Woman, but their menu was sparse. No burgers, no grilled cheese, no fish & chips (to my friend’s disappointment. I was relieved that they could scrape up enough chips to make small poutine. The staff was snarky, but my friend said he would be too, if he was standing in a small hot kitchen all day during a heat wave. The outdoor temperature was 33 degress so god knows how stifling it was in their kitchen. She threatened to close the doors before taking our order.

My poutine was rich with dark gravy and squeaky cheese curds. If there was one flaw, it is that the cheese and gravy were not layered. If the cheese curds are sitting on top of the fries and gravy it’s not gonna melt. I want a long cheese string texture that stretches from tray to fork to mouth.

Although the boss lady threatened evening closure she kept sales going, and we watched people happily licking large chocolate covered ice cream cones. There was still some food left! They looked refreshing. Too bad the poutine already swelled my tummy.

There was no better way to end a perfect day, but to fly through the Sea to Sky Hwy with my car windows rolled down allowing that fresh ocean breeze to whip through my hair as we watched Island ferries head towards Horseshoe Bay while the sun was setting behind the mountains creating an impressionist glow over Howe Sound.

Thailand Elephant Sanctuary – Volun and Eco Tourism

I was happy I chose the backseat of the open passenger truck (songthaew) to view the picturesque topography of this Thailand mountainous region close to the Myanmar border. I loved feeling the warm wind on my body. The vehicle climbed up rolling hills as we approached the Karen tribal village, where I would call my home for the week. When I gazed out, I viewed luscious green foliage, banana trees, and fields upon fields of emerald rice paddies as well as large corn stalks growing in the fields. If only I was not so afraid to drop my iPhone out the window in order to take a panoramic photo as the truck sped over bumpy unpaved roads. My stomach was in butterflies from both excitement and leaping up and down the treacherous paths. My knuckles turned white as I held onto the truck bars tightly. I was lucky enough to enjoy a different perspective on foot of this beautiful land when I walked back to the village after helping the long-term English interns teach at the local elementary school. The “Hokey Pokey” always goes well to engage the youngsters in any foreign country. It adds a fun dimension after teaching the kids about basic body anatomy in English. I was grateful these children, although still rambunctious, didn’t actually scale the walls as they did when I volunteered at an orphanage in Riu Dulce, Gautemala.

My pinnacle moment was meeting the beautiful elephants.

The 4 elephants are majestic, kind, and playful. Each had their own distinct personality.

It was extremely intimidating feeding them especially the little naughty one, Gen Thong. I heard many stories of his playfulness. Be aware and frightened! However, during my stay he was a sweet cutie pie. Despite that I still dropped banana after banana in nervousness feeding him. This continued throughout each daily feeding.

I related to the maturity of the grandmother elephant, Too Meh, since I was older than the elephant sanctuary founders, interns, and volunteers. Hopefully, I am as wise and grateful.

Each day, I was given an elephant to write about in the “elephant diaries” to chronicle their daily patterns in an informal way. Usually I chose Gen Thong (youngest) and Too Meh (eldest).

One day we witnessed Bon Rott and Mae Doom flirting, trunk upon trunk, playful with one another. Animal love, and eventually in a year or two when Bon Rott is old enough, possibly a baby will be the result of elephant mating. The thought has crossed my mind to return for the an elephant birth.

I was in awe of the maturity and tenderness the young mahouts exhibited caring for their elephants. I walked by a popular Gulf of Thailand elephant tourist attraction yesterday and noted the difference between the sad malnourished and chained-together circus elephants and the 4 well cared mammals at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary. I am glad I have been informed about poor working conditions as I probably would not have noticed how sad these performers looked (head hung down, tight chain, aged skin).

I was equally impressed by the passion Kerri and Sombat, co-founders of the Kindred Spirit Elephant sanctuary exhibited to ethical elephant care, ecology, and the Karen tribes in Mae Chaem.

I loved walking from base camp (a big open tree house) over the rickety bridge above the river, through the village homes saying hello ‘da blue da blue’ to the locals who fed me comforting meals. All the ingredients are fresh…pigs, chickens, ox, and local produce picked in the first. It was mushroom season, and it was prevalent in many of the dishes. The villagers know the ways of the rugged land, and are resourceful in using the local creatures and vegetation to nourish themselves. I was grateful that they did not serve some of their typical fare, like caterpillars. “Gross..Shiver.”

We skipped over rocks in the creek making a big ascent to the mountainside to find the elephants daily. While hiking there was plenty of time to anticipate the majestic mammals that awaited us.

I’m not going to say it was a Disneyland or all-inclusive holiday. It was not. Far from it.

I had a bout of homesickness mid-week. It rained and rained, torrential downpour for about 36 hours. That morning we crossed the river as we normally did, except the water was now a rich brown from silt, cold, and waist deep instead of thigh high. Kerri described it as the beautiful chocolate river in Willy Wonka’s “Charlie and Chocolate Factory.” At the time I had a very differing description. After spending the morning drenched, it was almost comical when I slipped in the mud making a big descent heading into elephant shit. The following day I fell into the rice paddy field. I was extremely paranoid of critters. A leech sucked my blood on another outing. I scraped my body on jagged rock and sharp tree branches dramatically trying to remove the ant colony that appeared on arms and hands. Their were dead rats and lizards along the track. The ecology wilderness interns were always fascinatingly excited to see these creatures. No plumbing. Squat toilets were a nightmare to a westerner like me. I was too afraid to go to the outdoor washroom in the middle of the night, and squatted in my garbage can. Yeah, I know disgusting. The malnourished dogs were in heat, and kept me out with their scrapping. When I finally fell asleep the bloody roosters would start cock-a-coodling at an ungodly hour of 3 am. My final straw was eating vermicelli with ants.

Part of voluntourism and an ecological trip includes meeting new people. I will never forget Emily, a beautiful English girl. I’m talking beauty from within although she is a also a very attractive female.

We started and completed the volunteer trip together. I wish I would have had her courage and adventurous spirit at her age. This was her 2nd volunteer trip in two summers. She made me laugh, and feel close to my kids (although they were physically distant) when I felt lonely. I learned so much from her. I like to believe our friendship was reciprocal, and that I gave her encouragement and mentorship. She crawled into my room the first evening when she was scared, and I comforted her when she was missing her mom and boyfriend. Cellular service was a rarity, and we couldn’t readily keep in touch with the outside world. We all left our smart phones on one side of the the base hut in hopes of hearing from loved ones. Waiting for a message was similar to watching paint dry.

I loved the affection my homestay family exhibited. Wife and husband were always smiling and laughing. My homestay dad had a wicked black sense of humour. He also gave me a welcoming Giju Buddhist blessing ceremony common in tribal villages. His mother, described as crazed, was often lying about on her home’s outdoor steps chewing Betel nut. It is supposed to give one a high, and in her generation, the juice would stain ones teeth. This was a sign of beauty. Although her skin was aged and leathered from the harsh weather elements of the sun, I could tell she was once a beautiful woman.

Each volunteer has a mentor intern or staff to accompany us to dinner. Jade, an extroverted English girl with dreadlocks and a passion for Elephant activism was over-the-moon when their daughter deep-fried banana fritters and donuts. Jade ecstatically announced to each and every person we came across our warm and heavenly dessert. tried to be more humble when talking to the other interns and volunteers about my first welcome meal.

The natural surroundings are stunning, raw, and vivid just like my experience at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary. I rarely see butterflies, and it brought me back to childhood seeing beautiful speckled butterflies fluttering.

As I write this, I’m overlooking the river currents flow rapidly while listening to the strong pitter-patter of the rain hit the metal roof, and trickle off the edge. It is calming looking at mist covering the hillside ahead. I wish I could bottle up this memory and feeling of bliss to share with my friends and families back home.

The whole experience was vivid, raw, educational, rewarding, challenging, and unforgettable.

Scotland spring break 2017

How to manage what would be considered an expensive trip to Scotland?

Tips and other random stuff for a family vacay.

I took my 2 bratty teens to Scotland for 2017 spring break, and thought these 10 notable and random items would help future families.

1. British Pound: I took advantage that the Sterling had been plummeting since the June 2016 Brexit referendum. Surprisingly it was more economical to travel to the UK for spring break than any other sun destination I had explored.

2. Rent a flat in a fabulous area of Edinburgh: I found a charming and bright 2 bedroom flat on Dublin Lane road in the Broughton Market area of Edinburgh. It actually was semi-3 bedrooms as it had a large kitchen with adjoining family room with a pull-out couch. My bedroom overlooked another flat with ivy winding up the exterior walls. I loved walking around on the cobblestone streets of this neighbourhood soaking in the romantic gardens, wrought iron gates, and steps leading to ornate door knobs. We were located in a residential part of town, but within walking distance to notable areas. It was a short ten minute walk to Waverly train station, Scott monument and shopping on Princes Street, and the Royal Mile. It helped to have a washer and dryer to clean out clothes. When my kids fought as siblings do, I tried to hold my breath, and not scream. Why, did I spend all this money for unappreciative youngsters? Instead, I separated them taking each on an a solo parent outing while the other chilled in the flat. My son and I strolled the romantic Walkway to Leith observing the ducks in the water. My girl and I window shopped in John Lewis since it was high on her Scotland bucket list. I was actually proud that this girl who had no idea where Edinburgh and Glasgow was, made a list of establishments she wanted to sightsee.

3. Tesco and Marks & Sparks: Neither chain is available in North American, and I love the variety and UK grocery offerings. We loaded up on the usual staples of bread, peanut butter, pasta, but also purchased items not common in Canada including scotch pies and Pimms. My son discovered Irn-Bru, a local soda, and even searched for it when we returned home. I found it to be a disgusting sugary cotton candy taste.

4. Find a hotel in a central location of Glasgow that includes a hearty English breakie (cuppa tea, blood pudding, beans, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash brown): This will warm your cold bones when you become chilled. We walked all over and were steps to the touristy Sauchiehall Street lined with cafes, bars, and restaurant, wonderful shopping on Buchanan Street in the grey and dampness. I also found a hotel that included a rooftop gym and sauna to work off the heavy cholestral meals. Indian restaurants with a variety of rich delicious spicy options are common, but I learned that most Muslim establishments do not serve alcohol. One can BYOB though. I will pay the $4-5 CAN per can in Vancouver as a stocking stuffer for him. One great option with Indian fare is that my daughter could order vegan. I learned that Glasgow has a high number of vegan restaurants. As a meat eater, I was surprised how rich and creative mac and cheese, shepherds pie, garlic toast, mash potatoes, veggie burgers could taste. Food orgasm.

5. Brellie and wellies: We were very lucky to experience sunny weather for our first week’s stay in Edinburgh. It was glorious to walk through centuries old side streets into cafes, pubs, gift shops selling tartan kilts. It actually rained more heavily in my home city while we were away in Edinburgh. However, when we moved to Glasgow by train (only an hour train commute) the wet weather and huge gusts of winds kicked in. I went through 3 umbrellas within 24 hours. My kids banned me from purchasing another stating I didn’t know how to properly use one. I do not recall my college offering Umbrella 101, and I’m from a rainforest region.

6. Learn some Scottish lingo: The Scots have a very thick accent, and I rarely understood what they were saying. At least the Irish can make a case they are speaking Gaelic. I’m Canadian, eh, and was confused. It was difficult not to be a conspicuous tourist looking at a map on the streets. Most people were very friendly offering directions except I became more confused when they talked to me. I tried emailing the AirBnb host for instructions on how to turn off the oven range. That led to an amusing written exchange about the oven “hob” and knob. She did leave a “wee dram” shot of scotch whisky) for me, shortbread and UK malt balls, “malteasers” for my kiddies which helped ease my confusion.

7. Walking Tour: It was difficult convincing my wayward teenagers to sign up for a walking tour in Edinburgh. We had to skip the ghost tour, unfortunately. This afternoon one was one of the best ways to see the city, and learn random facts about history and certain areas. It was led by a passionate architectural student. The group paid by tips. The guide can provide a suggestion for tip payment. How else would my kids and I learn there is a significance to a brick mosaic heart on the ground outside St. Giles cathedral that we stomped on walking by several times touring. She told them to spit on it for good luck. The heart of the midlothian is where public executions took place. The town folk would spit on there to support those being executed. We also learned where shit face drunk came from. Residents would throw their human waste from chamber pots out at certain time that coincided with bars closing. They would yell, “gaurdy-loo” dirty water to warn people, but those that had over indulged looked up instead of running away.

8. Museums are free: I still am in disbelief that the suggested entrance fee is a mere $5 GBP. What an economical, and educational way to engage my teenagers with the likes of Salvador Dali, Danish painters, Picasso, and impressionist artists. Instead they quickly learned each museum offered wifi. Oh well, I tried. My favourite museum, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, was located on Queen Street, only blocks away from my Edinburgh accommodation. I quickly forgot how wonderful school-aged children have the opportunity to be artistically educated when a zillion field trip groups were running up and down huge zebra and elephant re-creations in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. I had to remind myself that I enjoyed a more serene experience on my safari in the Serengeti. I learned about a group of Glasgow artists called the “Glasgow boy” here while listening to the faint sounds of the 1 pm organist who played in the main hall. It was enchanting walking through stain glasses museums with extraordinary architecture.

9. Highlands: I was debating an overnight trip, but settled on a long one day tour. I am glad I chose the shorter as my kids thought it was boring. Really?!! This is why millions of tourists visit Scotland. I guess I was that disengaged in my youth. Maybe seeing the highest mountain region in the British Isles, Ben Nevis, and Loch Ness where the legendary the Nessie monster will mean something as the age. If not, I think the liked the warm salty and vinegary chips (thick French fries) when we stopped for lunch. I had never heard of Highland cattle. Are they ever adorable with their Highland cattle with long horns and thick long shiny coats.

10. Primark: This may sound silly, but we loved this department store so much that we visited various locations throughout each day of our holiday. My son had a budget of $150 CAN to buy something nice to wear. He filled his backpack with multiple items including sneakers, jeans, a belt, t-shirts. What a difference from the $300 CAN Nordstrom jeans his father purchased for him recently. His father and I are obviously on different incomes. My girl was in awe of the $2 GBP jeans she bought and all the undies/thongs purchased for basically pennies.

My only regret with this holiday is that we did not extend our stop in London. We transferred through Heathrow, and I thought why, why? Years ago, we spent a delightful time making our base in south Kensington, and touring around each day.

I am considering London for next Spring Break.

Bangkok chaos

I have not decided if I love Bangkok or not. I certainly had a blast on my 3 night long weekend visit, experiencing a cultural whirlwind of this exotic cosmopolitan city.

I arrived after a long day travelling from the rural Mae Chaem mountainous region (closer to the Thailand/Myanmar border) sitting in a songthaew for 5 plus hours. The first part of my day’s journey included topography of stunning green emerald foliage overlooking rice paddies fields. I half-fell asleep hanging on tightly to the open truck bars as I bounced up and down as we manoeuvred from the unpaved treacherous path to the paved rolling highway. I was sad to say goodbye to the young English interns I met at the Karen tribal village elephant sanctuary, but excited for my upcoming adventures.

Thai taxi drivers whip around quickly, and we arrived at Chiang Mai International airport slightly ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, I could not change my Thai Airways flight to an earlier time, and sat in the domestic section drinking a Chang’s and snacking on broad beans. I was thoroughly impressed with Thai airways. The plane was clean and new, and I couldn’t believe for a short flight passengers were served a warm chicken cream cheese wrap with tea, coffee, water, and/or juice by a welcoming stewardess. This would not happen on any domestic North American flight.

It was close to 11 pm when I finally got out of the Suvarnabhumi Airport. It was chaos with tired passengers exiting the plane to cram into the shuttle leading to baggage claim and exit.

I had signed up for Uber, but since I was a virgin user I decided to cab. Uber $375 TBH vs taxi $500 TBH which equates to about a couple of Canadian dollars difference. After being in a small Karen tribal village without plumbing and western comforts I just wanted to see my friend, a familiar face, and have a nice cool drink ASAP.

He took me to one of his favourite Bangkok bars, Wong’s place, a tiny after hours hole-in-the-wall establishment that played retro 80’s music (Guns n Roses, Bon Jovi, etc.). I almost did not want to sit as it looked dirty, but thankfully, it was dimly lit by red lanterns so I couldn’t see the grunge well. This bar reminded me of old Chinatown gangster movies where if one loses a gambling bet, one would not hesitate to cut off your fingers.

We moved on to the seedy Patpong night market. I returned another evening to enjoy the most delicious, spicy, and crispy Pad Thai for $40 TBH ($1.50 CAN). The market was winding down when we arrived, but my friend indicated the prices are higher than other local markets. Nothing to mourn. Tents and poles were being collapsed. It was annoying how many vendors tried to sell Ping Pong sex shows. I was not interested in the least, and I have read they will scam you into expensive drinks. I did have a peek through some open doors and glazed windows of ugly Thai girls gyrating. The whole thing is curious in a sad way. Most establishments looked empty inside. We enjoyed a drink at an open bar instead to people watch. A lady boy with stilettos was excitedly dancing in the streets. I observed some older men alone or with a Thai lady. We accidentally discovered the gay district was within stumbling distance.

My friend and I shared a private bunk bed room at the Lub D hostel in Silom. The next morning, we woke up early to visit a local Indian temple and walk through the morning fruit and vegetable Silom Soi market observing locals purchasing their daily goods. We enjoyed a moist juicy beef brisket with rice breakfast for $50 TBH from a street stall. One can eat really well on a budget by dining at food trucks.

Next on our itinerary was the 40 minute commute along the BTS skytrain to the Chatuchak Market. I was very impressed by the cleanliness, speed, passengers lining up civilly, economical fare, and most of air-conditioned trains. We wandered through the neighbouring park (no comparison to European outdoor delights) meandering into the popular Market. It was busy with a flux of people since it was already later in the morning. I cooled down with a refreshing Silom flavoured ice cream while window shopping at the stalls. Agggh-Taste testing dried durian fruit was a horror! I did walk away with bags of dried mango, candy, and loose tea leaves. After a successful and sticky (from the humidity) shopping expedition we headed to other tourist destinations.

This included Erawan shrine, The Erawan Shrine, formally Thao Maha Phrom, a Hindu shrine that houses a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu god of creation Lord Brahma, and most recently known for a deadly pipe bomb in 2016. My family particularly my grandparents followed Buddhism, and I observed the same traditions with incense and offerings.

Then off to the Buddhist Temple of the impressive Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho. The Buddha is XXXL. I was in awe of the magnificence of it all.

Now I have to speak about what I really detest about Bangkok. Traffic! It’s insanity. There is no downtown or central area that I am aware of. Anything we wanted to sight see was at least 30, if not 60 plus minutes away, and always in opposite directions.

I also was always blowing my nose. Each time I had a delicious spicy meal, I would start sniffing. Yes, I am a week westerner, and could not handle the fiery heat. I can’t even blame it on the pollution. My home town in Canada was actually rater higher in pollution than cities in China and Los Angeles this summer due to wild fires.

I was on a cheap backpackers budget.

I blew it all away on one drink 710 TBH ($26 CAN) at the famous Skybar, or otherwise knows as the “Hangover bar” its famous for being part of sequel 2. The cocktail basically was entry to the 63rd rooftop terrace to watch the sun set on fall on the chaotic city. This beverage cost more than any accommodation I booked throughout my time in Thailand ranging from $12-$20 CAN per night for bungalows, hostel private and shared accommodation. My friend reminded me to sip S L O W L Y. Thankfully it was a short walk from our hostel along Silom road. We watched the natural daylight turn to dusk. The city lights illuminated surrounding skyscrapers and smaller buildings in the distance. Earlier in the day I thought the Chao Phraya river was a very unromantic sight with a disdainful brown color likely from the silt. From above as we were suspended 400 plus feet in the air it looked peaceful snaking through the large city. The contrast of day and night were a metaphor for elegance and sophistication of this beautiful Neoclassical inspired building and some to the gritty streets below. There is a dress code at this elegant bar. I found much amusement pointing out who pulled together their backpacker attire to gain entrance, and who really was a sophisticated affluent individual.

We partied on infamous Khao San Road. What a blast people watching crazy alcohol and drug infused partiers. I do not even get how laughing gas is a high. It was offered tone when I was in the hospital, and made me nauseated. Although Khao San was a sight to see I preferred the 2’d floor patios that offered live bands, and we eventually stumbled upon a street parallel, Soi Rambuttri.It was lit with romantic lighting, and a more chill vibe to relax on patios watching life pass by.

My favourite attraction was Chinatown with the frenzy and exotic pungent odors. I feel up delicacies like birds nest and shark fin soup. Very unethical, but my grandparents household included what people would consider unusual ingredients for herbal medicals.

There are many other attractions I highlighted as must sees before I left home, but ran of out time. I missed out on the Bang Nam Pheung floating market and renting a bicycle to see the local villages through the Lungs of Bangkok island. I also really wanted to see the Pak Khlong flower market, visit MBK shopping mall in Siam Paragon, and a leisurely boat cruise along the Chao Phraya river.

Thankfully I made a point of visiting the Grand Palace. Although my friend was disappointed his e-cig was taken away. It’s illegal. However, I pointed out the ypolice may have been lenient because the thought I was a Thai national. The consequence could be bribery, jail, and/or expensive fine. We experienced a huge downpour, but it cleared up quickly after we became drenched. It was fascinating watching the parade of Thais dressed in black for a period of a years’ mourning for the King’s passing.

I left on a high note. My departing flight for Koh Phangan was at sunrise. I witnessed the most stunning skyline of pinks and purples as we drove to the airport. My head and body were still not awake, and was as hazy as the sky.

I guess one day I will have to return since Bangkok has definitely not fulfilled my travel desire and curiosity. I survived Bangkok calamity Part 1!

360 views in Koh Phangan, Thailand

I’s quite the bumpy ride up to the 360 Skybar at Phangan Utopia resort. I would not suggest drinking too much or it will be a nauseating return down to the main roads of Koh Phangan island. It’s worth the trek, with some parallels to a rickety wooden roller coaster ride.

What’s at the top?

One will be greeted with brilliance.

I loved that the previous day I walked kilometres from my bungalows, up and down rolling hills to Koh Ma beach in 29 degree heat. My reward was frolicking in the warm waters, allowing the suns heat to dry me off while strolling on the sandbar to the little adjoining island.

I was able to get another beautiful perspective of Koh Ma beach and the Gulf of Thailand extending for miles upon miles from up top in the heavens. I was surprised that there were no boats in the calm waters.

There are 3 viewing levels from 360. Unfortunately, it was not high season and the top bar was closed. However, one can still walk up to enjoy the Panoramic views on the highest tier. It just meant I was getting my physical exercise returning to the bar on the main level to order another tropical drink.

I was able to enjoy tranquility for a brief period until a loud group of tourists walked into (literally) the area I was seated interrupting my peace. I like my personal space, and the roof deck is vast. I’m not sure why they needed to intrude. My stomach became a little queasy when one guy climbed up on the edge and was balancing himself while taking selfies. One huge gust of strong wind would take him over the edge, but I would expect he would not soar gracefully like the beautiful tropical birds.

I bet this place is bumping during high peak season. I envision hot tanned guys with toned abs and pretty girls in their colorful bikinis and flowers adorning their sun kissed hair, holding tropical beverages poured into coconut. A party atmosphere with people laughing, flirting, and dancing in the clouds as the sun set changing the sky various shades of pinks, purples, and amber colours. Unfortunately, on this particular day the thick heavy clouds hid the sun, and sunset was a bust.

I thought there was an infinity pool within the bar area that one could pay to use, and purchase drinks for the afternoon, but that was not the case. I was disappointed about that. Maybe it’s another bar, Secret, that I was hoping to also visit that offers pool service. Despite the lack of pool, my visit to 360 to enjoy a banana daiquiri (potassium replenishment after a long hike to the waterfalls) followed by a frozen mango beverage, was spectacular and relaxing. The balcony ledge was wide enough that I was able to lie on it, soaking up the suns rays while resting my head, thinking how wonderful Thailand island life is.

Living the dream in Tropical Paradise!

The Charms of Flying & Airports

Most people detest airports and flights for varying reasons from stringent custom rules, unfriendly intimidating officers, jet lag, lost luggage, and long lines causing worries of delays and missed flights. Dry airless planes will frighten the average person, never mind the germ-a-phobe. 

I vehemently disagree, despite the long list that I have endured throughout my flying career. I happily will accept these minor inconveniences to travel a long distance in a short time to explore the world. I feel freedom as soon as I clear customs. I feel as if I am entering a free neutral zone. The heavy weight on my shoulders are lifted of burden, obligation, and stress. Finally, I can purely focus on me fulfilling my wanderlust, and quality moments with my travel companions. 

Travel represents excitement and opportunities.

I find it difficult to sleep the evening prior to a vacation in eager anticipation. Each journey whether a solo trek, with friends, family, or meeting a special person in a familiar or undiscovered place will hold a special tale. Detours will occur, and sometimes that is part of the wonderful adventure. The unknown builds character filling my heart with a bag of mixed memories (happiness, fun, sorrow) shaping who I am today.

I share snippets of past journeys: 
I was 12 years old when my family (parents, brother, grandparents, and cousin) flew to Waikiki, Hawaii. That was my first trip on an airplane. My next had to wait a long period well over another decade. It was a big deal for a child of immigrants living in a working-class neighborhood to fly off to such an exotic tropical place. I did not know of many families that travelled more than a couple hours away from our city, never mind on a plane. Those kids that had flown, were usually on a one-way flight from their home country to immigrate into Canada. Flights are now a common expectation and convenient form of transportation for me now, but the novelty has not been lost. I still remembered being offered a glass of wine with my meal on route to Hawaii although I was clearly underage. “Miss, red or white?” That was when alcoholic beverages were offered complimentary with North American airlines. Now many airlines charge for soda, and the basic human necessity, H20. I felt very special to be greeted upon arrival with leis and vaguely recall walking through the arrival terminal with eagerness. 

Not all travel memories are filled with innocent childhood nostalgia. I entered a travel shuttle heading to the Cabo, Mexico, airport, sobbing after saying goodbye to a boyfriend who didn’t deserve me and a fading bruise on both my face and heart. It was a blessing in disguise, the demise of our relationship. The American girl beside me holding an alcoholic beverage handed it to me, indicating, “I think you need this more than I do.” She cheered me up distracting me from my thoughts by talking about grad school and her adventures.

After a long journey from Africa, 10 hours in the Amsterdam airport seemed luxurious. It’s amazing how much time I frivolously wasted in the airport casino playing slots. Ironically, I often say, “I’m too cheap to gamble.” The only reason I removed myself was to head to the airport food court. Something as simple as seeing the familiar Golden Arches of McDonalds after weeks in a 3rd world country was comforting.
I think my girlfriend recalls the flight to Amsterdam as more amusing. I took a muscle relaxer to alleviate the pain and stiffness from whiplash. That year, I was an innocent bystander in 2 car accidents. I ended up falling asleep on a passenger who looked like the Uni-Bomber. This poor man that I not only labelled, just finished months of working in the bush explaining the scruffy appearance, but also used his shoulder as my body pillow. I had a great relaxing slumber snoring away. I would assume I drooled too, as I often do whenever I nap on an airplane. 
That same trip we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya without any luggage. It was expected to arrive the following day, except we were on route early to our volunteer orphanage placement in Arusha, Tanzania. Over the previous months, we had collected specific goods and supply donations for the children and appropriate apparel for ourselves. The shuttle driver agreed to make a pit stop back to the airport where we entered the chaotic security clearance again running to the small dingy office that “supposedly” held our baggage. We easily worked up a sweat due to the heat, adding to the perpetuating steamy body odor stink throughout Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Watch YouTube – Jamie Foxx,The Africa Smell. His stand-up description “god-damn musky funk” is funny, but one cannot truly understand unless it is experienced (sniffed) directly first hand. It all came together. We finally claimed our late baggage after some challenges with language barriers. What a relief!   

I am normally a poor sleeper, but I experienced another fantastic slumber in the Mexico City airport on route from LAX to San Salvador. I spread out on hard plastic chairs quickly heading to zzzz dreamland due to travel exhaustion. Although I set my phone alarm, I completely missed the buzzing despite my head directly resting on my knapsack pocket that held my iPhone. My only saving grace was that the building air conditioning kicked in. As a result, I awoke when I experienced the chills. It was a quick awakening when I realized how little, if any, time, I had to figure out my departure gate.

Recently, I wrote and wrote until my fingers became numb holding my pen too tightly on a 9-hour London flight from Heathrow back to Canadian soil maximizing the opportunity of uninterrupted time. I crafted my Toastmasters speech using my travel adapter as a metaphor for the many continents I’ve visited. I became inspired when my hand felt the universal adapter as I rummaged through my carry-on purse searching for my ear buds. I eventually advanced through 3 contests with this speech, each time embellishing my stories to captivate and encourage audience laughter. I eventually got ousted, but was proud of how I did. I also utilized the time to finalize a travel blog story that I had been procrastinating, and finished a Ben Affleck movie. I am that passenger who embarrassingly cries profusely when watching romantic dramas 
I blissfully took advantage of the Yoga Room in the San Francisco International rport awaiting my next flight. It was wonderful to focus on hip and heart opening poses after being confined to cramped airplane seating. I self-cared for my physical body while practicing the traditional yoga-lineage sequence, Surya Namaskar A & B. Why don’t more airports include Yoga rooms as part of their facilities for people to loosen their bones & muscles?  

Whenever possible, I book the aisle seat as I like the flexibility of getting up without disturbing my fellow aisle mates. I was not too pleased when I was asked to switch to the middle seat even if it was a short Las Vegas flight to LAX. I find being confined in between 2 people to be a claustrophobic nightmare. However, when the lady explained that she was the guardian for a high school band travelling (poor her!), and one of the musicians was ill. I felt empathy. Who does not feel that self-induced sickness after being in Sin City from overindulgence. Even worse as an adult chaperoning a belligerent adolescent. I know I did after 6 full days in Vegas, which was 4 days too long, partying with my cray cray friends who I love dearly. It was a week of drama and fun-filled Geordie Shore moments.  
Last summer when I was on route to Portugal I sat down in my pre-booked aisle seat, and the lady next to me clapped enthusiastically as she introduced herself. NO lie. That’s the type of seat companion I want for 10 hours. After she cheered, she exclaimed she was praying for a petite person like me. It was a bonus that I was ready for a drink before my nap. It’s amazing how one can become close friends for a brief moment and then waving, a permanent good-bye half a day later. She and her brother were heading to Africa for a safari to celebrate his milestone 40th birthday. Since a safari has been a fulfilled bucket-list item (check) I was more than happy to share my experience in the Seregenti. I told stories of lions mating (it’s fast…nano-seconds), wildebeest migration, waking up to full-bellied pregnant zebras grazing outside my tent. I also took the opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics, volun-tourism.

This was not the first time I have experienced clapping on a plane. It’s not uncommon for passengers to clap when the pilot lands particularly after a turbulent flight. However, it’s not usual practice to clap for the flyers. Head to Boston for Patriots Day long weekend. It’s an official state holiday commemorating the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, and the prestigious Boston Marathon, has been held for over a century since April 19, 1897. I have been privileged to enjoy the Marathon and long weekend festivities as both a spectator and runner. It truly is an honor when a plane full of people starts clapping, acknowledging that those marathoners participating in an elite well-respected celebratory race earned their registration in search of the Marathon’s unicorn symbol, pursuit of an ideal.

By luck, 3 of 5 flights were first class when I travelled to Central America a couple summers ago. I looked forward to that experience as much as my holiday itself. I did not want to get off the plane. Customer service differs immensely, mainly there is service compared to the lack of, in economy class. One truly is treated as a human being, rather than cattle. I still cannot believe I was actually given a specialty mixed drink in a real glass and fresh linen WITH a smile. I shared a lovely conversation with my seat companion on route from Belize City to Atlanta. She was a single mom, a novelist, and someone who was very thoughtful in educating and culturing her children. One of the most wonderful aspects of travelling is encountering kindred spirits, even for a brief moment, who enlighten you on life.
The customs security dogs were sniffing baggage and passengers in the Guatemala City La Aurora International City Airport. Although I know I had nothing to be concerned about, I always feel a tad intimidated especially as an ethnic female travelling solo to dangerous countries. The twinge of anxiousness elevated to full on panic when the dog targeted my tote bag. Faccck – I have nothing to hide. I’m just an innocent friendly Canadian girl, eh. The customs agent examined my bag, and pulled out a flimsy plastic bag filled with corn tortillas. I guess the dog was hungry. I am trying for the life of me to remember where I got the tortillas from. I do not like the taste of corn tortillas, much preferring flour, but thought it would be strategic to carry them with me in case my stomach started growling for a long travel day.   

For any of those who live in cold climates that experience a snowy winter there is great happiness to venture off to a tropical beach. There is a challenging dilemma on whether to pack that bulky parka with the furry hood and cozy Uggs made of sheep-skin fleece. There was one Arctic cold winter where I decided against carrying those unnecessary items to Cuba. I looked ridiculous in my light-hoodie, thin tights, and flip flops with teeth chattering and body convulsing (please not, convulsing, not shivering) while crossing the street from the airport terminal to wait for the train to head home.As I write, memories flood me. I would not trade any of my experiences. I find it luxurious to have that time to meander through the airport retail shops, finish a smutty beach novel on long flights.
Next time your itinerary does not go as planned look at the glass half full. Your luggage went missing, only means you should check out the local shops. The reality is it is only stuff. Delayed flight. Use the opportunity to meander through the airport, finish the last chapter of the summer beach novel or read the work materials you brought along, chat to your travel companion over a local beer, or maybe meet a fellow passenger and share life stories. One interesting thing about strangers is that either one plays the therapist or patient role. I usually play the former, and have learned intriguing secrets about people which helps me examine life. Be still while calmly watching planes land, park, and depart. How often in life does one have an opportunity for quiet solitude?

I will be flying off in the upcoming weeks, and my stories are a reminder to keep an open mind if I run into any obstacles. Change is part of the charm of travelling.

My special treasure

I have a tiny pouch that holds a special treasure that has travelled to multiple continents.    

This item:

1. Symbolizes access & information

2. Metaphorically holds my travel stories.

I purchased this apparatus from my local drug store for about $30 CAN years ago. It may not be of great monetary value, but it is sentimental, and of great use to me.

 This handy gadget is my “beloved universal adapter.”

Some of the country and continent names imprinted have rubbed off, leaving behind significant memories of journeys enjoyed.

How does it work?

1) Place the plug from home into the adapter socket

2) Select the appropriate country pin

3) Plug it into the wall outlet

VOILA – electrical access

Many countries use different voltages. A standard outlet in North America is about 120V (voltage), but the rest of the world (Europe, Asia, Australia) doubles to 200-240V.

My electrician friend explained that if I plugged my standard North American 120V plug directly into a European outlet (remember it’s a DOUBLE WHOPPER), it would BLOW UP!!! Therefore, it is crucial that the unit is a “combined” plug adapter AND voltage converter.

My travel blog pseudonym and hashtag is BrendaBeachBum, not BombingBrenda.

I will take you around the world offering snippets of my adapter’s travels…

Many moons ago, I was married with 4 young brats. We were lucky enough to tour the lovely southwest Ireland coastline. My family & I spent many wet days hiking through rolling hills, in search of the pot of gold left behind by the lucky leprechauns at the end of the rainbow.

An abundance of precipitation creates the luscious emerald green meadows, but that also meant 6 pairs of wet muddy shoes to clean. A mother’s workday never ends! I attempted to dry my family’s shoes, but initially, I did not have my converter. It was very unfortunate that the airline lost our baggage. I blew a fuse in “each and every” quaint village B&B that we were guests. The plug load would not withstand the demands of my 120v hairdryer. Some of us continued to wear soggy trainers as we set about our travels each morning. Jameson Irish whisky can warm chilled bones, but not wet feet. We were all relieved, especially the innkeepers, when our luggage along with the universal adapter finally arrived.

I really wanted to use the adapter in East Africa, but I faced other challenges. Power outages were prevalent at the Tanzania communal volunteer residence I temporarily called home.

 No electricity = useless gadget adapter.

I realized how one takes electricity for granted. The blackouts made me appreciate a more simplistic life. In general, my expectations decreased. Who needs light? I was just happy and relieved (literally) when I came across a functional flushing toilet. I shudder with embarrassment thinking about the bathroom pit stop on route to a traditional Maasai village. There was not even an outhouse. I un-discretely relieved myself in the middle of the barren desert trying to squat behind a scrawny cactus. When nature calls, it calls.

I was relieved my camera “unethically” used disposable AA batteries, and I was able to preserve photo memories of the Serengeti safari. I witnessed blue bum monkeys swinging eloquently from branch to branch, full belly pregnant zebras grazing outside our tents, lions mating (it’s almost faster than blinking), to the breathtaking wildebeest migration. My mouth drops reminiscing about Mother Nature’s animal children at work.

During the infrequent periods that I was able to find power in Kenya & Tanzania, I selected the standard British 3-pin rectangular or simply known as plug G (13 amp).

 In the Philippines, I was happy to refrain from the tools fuelled by electrical currents to enjoy the tropical beach. My general routine was to wake up, brush teeth, only to reverse good dental hygiene by tasting the sweet nectar of ripe mangos while swaying in a hammock tied between palm trees overlooking the South China Sea. My biggest concern was avoiding large dense coconuts falling on my head. However, my sis-n-law, over-utilized the adapter, following a high maintenance Kardashian-esque beauty regiment.

By the time we reached the capital city, Manila, my hair tangled in knots after not combing it for weeks. Our group decided to go out dancing. My sis-n-law made me over. She patiently curled my hair with the flat iron. The best part of an au natural “I just don’t care” non-beauty routine is my beach bum appearance drastically improved by simply blow drying my hair, picking a smart outfit, and putting on some make up. The compliments flowed. “Wow, you look stunning.”

I was able to overindulge in social media pleasures posting an obscene amount of pictures of my daughter and I messing around in the popular United Kingdom’s bright red telephone booths that we encountered in Edinburgh. I thought pay phones (similar to the antiquated typewriter) were museum item exhibits. My adapter helped charge my Iphone allowing me to snap photos of Loch Ness, the Highlands countryside, and artery clogging traditional English breakies (blood pudding, bacon, sausages, beans on toast, tomato, hash, eggs, button mushrooms) with a steaming cuppa of Earl Grey tea. I have no pictures of the “mythical” monster, Nessie. That moment is forever engrained in memory.

I backpacked through Portugal as a solo wander-luster. As fabulous as trekking across the world is, I became homesick and cherished contact with my family. Although my kids were jet setting in the Big Apple, it is important that we all remain in communication. Using the adapter, smartphone, & WIFI helped.

It was strategic to use my iPhone with WIFI to help navigate through the seven hills of the coastal capital city, Lisboa, in search of the best rooftop sunset views of the skyline. If one looked out far enough they can see where the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) meets the Atlantic Ocean. I loved watching the sky create impressions of varying hues: purple, blues, pinks, reds, and oranges surrounding the terracotta rooftops.

During breakfast, I debated if I should charge my phone or head past Ponta de Piedade to catch breathtaking views over the rugged bluffs one last time before departing Lagos.

I told my roomie that I planned to forego my purchased Eurail ticket through the Algarve to catch a ride with a local man I met on Tinder the day before.

She raised concern, “Are you crazy!?!! What if he’s a murderer? Very sketchy to go on a road trip with a stranger” I re-assured her, “its fine, we know each now…since we met yesterday.” That did not convince her, I continued to respond defensively, “this is no more dangerous than you travelling over steep rocky steps to the bluffs for the afternoon booze cruise with random strangers while you are limping in a boot cast & crutches. I enjoyed a “sober” boat trip days earlier, and my stomach experienced queasiness. It was calm in the caves, but we experienced rough waves further into the Atlantic Ocean as the wind fiercely whipped around.”

She & I held different definitions & tolerance of danger.

 Pedro picked me up as planned. He shared tales of local village fishermen’ violent deaths, stumbling as they climbed steep rocking cliffs, and being sucked into the ocean’s turbulent currents while we drove up the rugged coastline to Lisbon. We stopped to watch surfers moving athletically and acrobatically on the violent waves.

The picturesque views enhanced the taste of the juicy figs that he picked for me from his father’s gardens.

He remained a perfect gentleman up until the time he dropped me off at my Lisboa hostel.

We remain friends, and made a pact. In 2022, if we each remain partner-less, and although we have no romantic interest in one another, we will marry. Our vows will include: “I will make him laugh, and he will grow figs for me.” I do not want to be a solo adventurer forever, and practically, single supplement fees are expensive.

The beauty of this universal adapter is the amount of electricity that feeds through, and the power that it sparks within me as I visit more countries to create memorable stories. 

Travelling Tales & Tunes

Certain songs and musical genres connect me to past travel adventures and particular periods throughout my life. 

Brown Eyed Girl – VAN MORRISON, GYPSY KINGS, and SPIRIT of the WEST

I think back with great fondness of being a young naive 19 year old working in a rustic remote resort situated halfway between Jasper and the magnificent Columbia Ice Fields. 

I lived a sheltered and strict existence prior to this experience. This was my first time away from home. My parents were displeased, to say the least. I was only allowed a sleepover once during childhood on the evening of my high school graduation. Typically, my curfew was 5 pm sharp, when my parents served dinner. God forbid I came home later than when the sky turned dark. There was hell to pay. 
A group of us after long shifts, piled into an old beater vehicle that the rare dorm resident owned, to head to a local Jasper bar for cheap drinks (when Long Island iced teas, creamy Brown cows, and Paralyzers were popular). An important milestone for a teenager living in Alberta is that the legal drinking age is 18 years old. This is one year younger than the majority of Canadian provinces.

Throughout my high school career, I was always the kid who had to be squished and hidden between multiple bodies piled in a car to ensure as many friends as possible could tag along, and this still continued despite in my early adult years. The downfalls of being petite. Despite this inconvenience, I participated in the evening fun when I was not working or hiking early the following morning. I often wandered down the nature pathways to enjoy the strong waterfalls and currents of Sunwapta Falls since it was close by and convenient. I was more ambitious to attempt difficult Rocky Mountain terrain on days off. These trails had an an abundance of vibrant wildflowers, brown bears, and fresh waterfalls, but were only accessible by hitchhiking. I would never allow my children to indulge in these risky activities! No seat belts and hitching to hike in the bush without the proper attire and equipment. Thankfully, driving laws have become more stringent and penalties astronomical since my youth. I shudder to think if the driver erred on the side of caution, and refrained from drinking…too much. The mountain roads were dark, narrow, whipping around and around with steep descents. Only the natural lights of constellations twinkling navigated us back to our bunk beds in the middle of no where. I do not ever recall the acronym, DD, Designated Driver, because to my knowledge the term, Drunk Driving, did this not exist. At least it was never discussed back in the day. 

It was a carefree time in my youth. Living in Jasper’s National Park played a pivotal role in my life where my passion of the outdoors grew, and still continues to this day. I have happily chosen to live in an area which is conveniently accessible to the city centre yet within walking distance to the waterfront, mere steps to a creek with a forest of Douglas Firs and Western Cedar trees, and a short drive to the local hills that offer paradise to skiers, boarders, and hikers. 

I’m Gonna be (500 miles) THE PROCLAIMERS & Skyfall – ADELE 

The Proclaimers, a Scottish band, also brings nolstagic memories of Jasper and more recently, newly created ones of a family tour to the Highlands. Of course, I should start with the natural environment: crisp air on dewy mornings, multiple rainbows appearing when the sun brightened up the heavens after dark clouds released heavy rains on volcanic rugged glens and calming loches. On a lighter more ridiculous side, I wondered for the greater part of the day if James, our tour guide, and most Scottish men followed the tradition of not wearing underwear underneath kilts. It was extremely nippy in the Highlands, especially when we reached the valleys and snow-covered mountains of Glencoe. I was concerned that we may witness something I certainly did not want to see. I was relieved when James noted he wore undergarments later in trip. He also explained that men started wearing kilts as it didn’t make sense to wear pants. The temperamental wet climate was not the best environment for pants, easily becoming soaked. I am still pondering this; I am unsure how this makes sense. Damp pants VS cold bare and damp legs? 

And of course, James Bond 007, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, bring espionage and intrigue to the idyllic Scottish countryside. The irony. 


Stay – RIHANNA

Despite the 4-5 years that have passed since this song was released, I refuse to listen, even to this day. It represents a tumultuous and evil time in my life. I think of Cabo, where the calming Sea of Cortez and the volatile Pacific Ocean meet, and I start to feel anxious. My now ex-boyfriend at the time had moved to Mexico. I spent much time in Baja California continuing a long distance relationship. My memories are dark and soulless, differing from the typical sun burnt vacationing tourist, who may have had one too many sickly sweet margaritas. He recklessly manoeuvred our jet ski under the famous Arch through the shallow water, driving the Mexican authorities and tour operators to frantically and furiously send us a stern warning. Only after we returned to land did he tell me about a recent jet accident where a girl flew off and drowned. My ex lived his life as a suicide mission that I eventually decided not to watch. During this time, my ex-husband who is also a lawyer, was suing me. It was not the first nor the last attempt. I could not find suitable counsel as many law firms that I contacted would not speak to me after taking his name. He had either made contact first or used their services for his other ongoing family court proceedings with a previous partner. The song represents the devastation, of loving strongly and whole heartedly the wrong men. Metaphorically, the devil effects of a cheap bottle of tequila with the worm at the bottom. I wake up from this repeated nightmare in beads of sweat, hiccuping with a vicious hangover. My pores and greasy hair reek of sickly alcohol and vomit. Both men attempted to batter and drain me financially, physically, and emotionally. Despite going to hell and back, I choose to crawl back, making my own happiness, despite being told and shown repeatedly by both, how stupid and useless I was. 


THE ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA at the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw, Netherlands 

A beautiful music hall with its historical significance and full orchestra playing soothing classical music is my sweet lullaby to fall asleep. One may think I’m bored and ignorant to the great composers like Bach, Mozart, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff. That is not the case. I spent my childhood studying with dedication (yearning for my parents approval) to be a classical pianist, but unfortunately, I did not have the ear of my talented, yet lazy brother. I am delighted that I felt my first born child and daughter kick at the Concertgebouw. It felt like bubbles popping in my stomach. She may have felt as safe and relaxed in my womb as I did on that magical night.

Mr. Brightside – THE KILLERS

I always loved this song and the Killers’ epic Hot Fuss album. However, now each time I listen to this song I think of a recent late summer’s evening on the breezy rooftop patio overlooking red terracotta roofs, white washed walls of the town’s buildings and cathedral towards the Atlantic Ocean of Lagos, Portugal. We begged front desk staff, the fabulous cook (Travis), and other hostellers to participate in the family night seafood BBQ. Travis did not disappoint serving grilled salmon and a local Portuguese fish. It was my first time trying one of my favourite fruits, figs, on the BBQ. The juices oozed succulence and sweetness. The most fantastic thing about travelling is how quickly the new people one meets becomes friends. Christina and Nena were my Brazilian roomies, and who I appreciate for making a request for white sangria on that particular evening. It had a light sparkling texture, and I could not refrain from overindulging on the sliced crisp tart green apples. 

Bailando – ENRIQUE IGLESIAS

I close my eyes witnessing a chaotic large group of tourists, my BFF Brian, and my 2 young kids, frolicking in the a huge pool in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba. I reminisce of the most exquisite beaches I have ever encountered. The sand was as soft fresh snow or as white pre-sifted flour; the Caribbean Sea the most clean and clear aqua-turquoise colour that extended for miles. I am grateful to have experienced this jewelled body of water, and the antique vibrant-coloured American cars on our hour journey to our resort. 

Duele El Corazon and any other Spanish song by ENRIQUE IGLESIAS and other Latino artists 

I spent a week volunteering at a jungle Guatemalan orphanage in Riu Dulce “sweet river.” Every morning, Armando would take me, other children, various food supplies, equipment, furniture, amongst other items by uncovered lancha during tropical rain season which I UN-fondly experienced. The kids where bright, wild, and no exaggeration, some literally climbed the building walls. As bare as my accommodations were, they were still luxurious in comparison to the orphanage. The restaurant at the Backpackers Hostel , my short term, was frequented by locals on the weekend. Spanish dance music blared , echoing from one river establishment to another. 


Yellow
Submarine – the BEATLES 

I always had this stereotypical imagine of the dirty industrial city of Liverpool, but I loved visiting here. And it was not due to the Beatle-mania and museum. I thought it was a very walkable and real city with much character. Everyone I encountered was friendly. 

I could probably end up writing a non-fictional novel on this subject, but the above outlines some eclectic highlights of various music artists over centuries encompassing multiple time zones, and most of all events leading to who I have evolved into today.