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.

My auntie, airports, & goodbyes

I was still in the air while my next flight in Colorado was boarding for New Mexico. All I could think of was, “I might not make my flight. And I have to pee really really bad, and in a level of excruciating discomfort. How am I going to walk off the 747 aircraft?”

I had strategically packed carry-on, but my baggage converted to “checked” due to the lack of overhead space. Next obstacle upon landing…impatiently waiting for my luggage to be unloaded on the bridge. A United Airlines staff reassured me that it would be quick, and my gate was mere steps away. Could he not see me awkwardly squeezing my legs dancing around due to my full bladder, and this would prevent me from walking briskly?

All this seems ridiculous now.

It was late, but the airport was bustling.

Although my time was limited it suddenly stilled as text messages populated.

“She’s gone.”

Those words will always haunt me.

I was in a state of shock trying to comprehend what was going on. My auntie (Guu Gzeh) passed suddenly in a tragic accident. I later learned an excessive speeding motor vehicle hit her.

I called my cousin immediately, who is my emergency contact and lifeline to any situation. “What is going on? What should I do?” I felt like zombie. I still do not know how to feel. Surreal. I went through the motions to board my next flight, the last passenger on. I had 1 minute, not knowing what to do. Work and my friend were already waiting for me less than an hour away.

I sat watching planes move in a methodical fashion on the tarmac awaiting their turn for take off. This contrasted with the life of my family. In seconds, it was demeaned into chaos.

This is a bad joke and I felt like laughing. Laughter and tears overwhelmed me. “This is not real” continued to populate in my mind. What the fuck is going on?!! This cannot be, it’s not. NO.

Santa gave my Guu Gzeh an amazing present last Christmas, a new liver to extend the longevity and quality of her life, and she spent the holidays in the hospital undergoing a dangerous operation.

She had been ill, in-and-out of the hospital for years. Out-patient dialysis appointments occupied her time, and hampered her.

I laugh thinking of the time, she matter-of-factly had a soliloquy, truly trying to understand our ridiculous drinking patterns while my cousin and I stood before her hospital bed. She never indulged, and the irony of the situation. It’s true. Some of my worse hangovers have been with my brother and cousins. Foolish kids, but I like to think we have matured as we take on more life obligations. We spend our time together in more civilized ways.

The majority of winter 2017 was spent recuperating, and her hubby, my uncle (Guu Gjurng) had to care for her. She told me with a sigh that she was not keen on his cooking. I assume that would be a good reason to get healthy quickly, and she did! Her heart and mind were determined to fight the physical battle.

She had purchased an Alaskan cruise package a few years ago. It made perfect sense for her and my uncle to have a holiday on a floating hotel with all the services a small town could offer, including medical resources if needed. However, her doctor advised her against travelling (too risky), and indicated medical insurance would not cover her. She tried not to act disappointed when she told me that she forfeited the money, but the possibilities of future vacations would be available after surgery.

The lengthy recuperation period seemed to be worth it.

I often used her as a solid example and reasoning for my crippled mother to consider knee surgery. She adamantly refuses. Look at Guu Gzeh. She’s happy and healthy again, enjoying long walks and travelling. Who just went to NYC only a few weeks ago? She was making travel plans which included her husband and Aunt Selina, to see her granddaughter in Japan next or following year. My Aunt Selina and I spat about this last weekend when I encouraged her to consider sooner than later. She accused me of calling her old, which I adamantly did not. I just want her to have the fun and frolic time she deserves, especially since travel fuels me. My heart is numb worried about how devastated that Aunt Selina lost her bestie since she is a single senior with many idiosyncrasies.

My Guu Gzeh was a hard worker, kind, and the epitome of family values.

When she was young, she and her siblings living in Hong Kong, were forced to work to survive. Guu Gzeh and her baby sister, Aunt Selina, worked together. Guu Gzeh (along with other kind female workers) would often take on more tasks so that her little sibling could sleep.

When I was little my grandparents, brother and I would often walk to her house to meet our cousins for fast food treats and family fun at McDonalds while our immigrant parents were hard at work ensuring the foundation for our futures. We were a little pudgy as our grandparents overindulged us. My auntie tenderly cared for my swollen arm on the occasion it got caught under an indoor play structure during one unfortunate visit. Many people think my love for McDonalds is disgusting, but it brings back nostalgic childhood memories.

My brother as a teenager stayed in her household when things were tough in our family home. She offered me the same love and shelter, the complete opposite of my mother’s behaviour, when I went through a nasty divorce. Although I never accepted, knowing that she cared and encouraged me, helped my emotional state.

I appreciated that my auntie continued to chat with me in our native tongue, Cantonese. She never gave up on my abilities to understand even if sometimes I would not comprehend every detail.

She was very beautiful when she was young resembling my grandmother (mama). My younger cousin, Lisa, shares their lovely features. I recall a glamorous happy picture of my auntie and uncle snapped on their wedding day in Hong Kong. I remember it specifically because my father would express annoyance when I was a child that he was not in attendance as the eldest brother (not feeling any respect) despite the fact he was already abroad.

I try to compose myself. I know life is not fair, but why now? After being on a medical waitlist for an organ, she was given a priceless gift to finally live well and extend her life. I truly do not understand. Why?

I yearn to return home to be with my family. I am in American airport purgatory with my own vulnerable thoughts, but extremely grateful thankful to my cousin who arranged an earlier flight home for me.

Since the Pacific Northwest coastal weather has dropped in the last few weeks I have been wearing the cozy purple robe again that she gave me as a Xmas present years ago. I always thought it was a lovely practical gift. Now, it brings on new meaning.

I will slide my arms through the long sleeves, pull the soft fabric tighter and hope that she feels my love, respect, and regrets of not telling her that I loved her or saw her more. And that my family, especially my uncle and her sons will get through this.

May she rest in peace with my grandparents.

Goodbye for now, but never forgotten.

My auntie resisting the ceremonial pork ceremony.

Family gatherings

Strong beautiful females

My father’s gift

My father has given me many wonderful things and valuable lessons throughout my life, but most sacred to my heart are my 2 passports.

My Canadian and UK passports represent freedom, opportunity, adventure, and most of all my father’s legacy.

My father was born outside of Macau, at the time a Portuguese territory, to a poor family with 6 children. There was a 7th child, but he passed early on. As I was growing up, my dad spoke of the hardships he and his 5 siblings endured with a yearning in his voice. His mother, my mama, “grandmother” had once enjoyed a leisurely and opulent lifestyle that included servants, but communist China ripped that from her and future offspring.

My father as the eldest son was sent away to work at a young age. He often told the story of staying with another family to earn wages to support his parents and brothers /sisters, but he also was naughty, as any young boy should be. He started a fire. As a result, his working tenure was quickly terminated shaming his family.

Thankfully my father redeemed himself from his brief arsonist career. He proudly told my brother and I that he served as a policeman (even if it was just traffic officiating duties) as a young man in Hong Kong. We all fondly enjoyed looking at my dad’s black and white photo of him in police uniform.

Both Hong Kong and Macau were respectively, British and Portugeuese territory, during the majority of his life. In 1999, both islands transferred sovereignty back to China, and each are now named Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. They are not considered separate countries, although in my mind, mainly for personal reasons, and for others, they are. Both have individual governments, political parties, currency, police enforcement, languages, etc. Even the Quebecoic separatists in Canada have not reached the status to have their own currency.

My heart and mind were filled with nostalgia when I visited both “countries” as an adult in 2008. I only wish my father could have accompanied me on the trip.

I felt my deceased grandparents, “mama” grandmother and “yehyeh” grandfather surrounding me throughout my holiday. My nose filled with my yehyeh‘s intense smell of moth balls. As a child, the unique odor was nauseating, but now I think lovingly of my “yehyeh”, and my eyes well with tears. My grandparents played an integral part of my childhood. They raised and spoiled a brood of bratty grandchildren while our tired parents were away at work. They are a part of who I am by instilling a disciplined work ethic and family values.

Hong Kong is ying and yang, East meets West, derelict slums vs ostenstatiously rich surroundings. I saw my own upbringing in an immigrant Vancouver neighbourhood as I wandered through the streets of Hong Kong, noting the many laundry lines strung along dirty apartment building windows.

The exotic Portugeuse foods of Macau were familiar to my palate. I closed my eyes to breathe in the aromas and allowed the textures to touch my tongue. A mental time machine allowed me to return to my childhood home with my daddy cooking family meals. How often did my father cook my mother, brother, and I, tender cow’s tongue. He often used used staples (rice, soy, ginger, and various spices) prevalent in Macanese cuisine, a wonderful fusion of Chinese, Portuguese, Indian, Malayasian, and African influences. I will forever miss his homemade spicy chili peppered tofu with ground beef and green onions served with a bowl of steamed rice. This was often followed by a sweet creamy green or red bean popsicle dessert (the western equivalent would be frozen Greek yogurt pops). I have spent the greater part of my life in Chinese restaurants, and none compare to my dad’s version of this comforting tofu meal.

Egg custard tarts were standard fare at my grandparents home just like people have on hand a loaf of sliced bread and butter. My mouth watered after seeing bakery after bakery with the buttery flaky pastry filled with a creamy egg custard filling. My “dai buell goh” older cousin, who lived in Macau, guided us through beautiful colonial neighbourhoods with colorful architecture, the ruins of St. Paul, and of course pointed out the large casinos along the marina. My dad never raised the word “gambling” as part of his childhood or life history. I guess, one does not have the luxury to gamble when living in poverty, and merely surviving. As fabulous as Macau was, the moment that caught my attention was standing in the a humble street with old buildings, where my cousin noted this was where his mom and my aunt, “Goo jeh,” and Uncle Ken gathered. Oddly, I don’t even know why we never called Uncle Ken by his Chinese name ranking.

My dad’s place of birth gave him the opportunity to immigrate to Surrey, England where he studied to be a nurse. I do not know exactly what year, but my guess was the early 60’s.

He attended Royal Holloway College and the campus properties included the Sanitorium. Some of the information I pieced together from my mom’s vague memory of what my father had told her. My parents had not met yet. From Google (what did one do before the internet? Encylopedias just didn’t cut it!), I learned that this was a women’s only college originally opened in the mid-1800’s by Queen Victoria. Thomas Holloway, an affluent Victorian medicinal entrepreneur and philatrophist founded the buildings. By the mid-1940’s, the college admitted male postgraduate students, and in 1965, around 100 of the 1st male undergraduates. I wonder was my dad part of this initial under-grad group, and what a milestone that he was a student in this pivotal era.

I did not care when my father shared stories at the time, and as a result I cannot answer the questions I now have. Now, my heart breaks that I did not listen intently, and naturally, if I did not pay attention, I certainly was not inquisitive to ask random meaningless questions like:

⦁ What type of food did you eat (fish & chips, bangers & mash)? Did you miss Chinese?

⦁ Was it scary watching the mentally insane or did they know something we do not, frequenting a higher world?

⦁ What was the campus like? The beautiful Victorian architecture sounds charming to study under. How did you end up here (physically and emotionally)?

⦁ Did you socialize with the Londoners, go to the pub, date ?

⦁ Did people treat you differently? Was it lonely without your family & the familiarities of them? Not only were you different due to your ethnicity, yellow skin (although my dad is actually a dark brown complexion), but also due to your male gender

The 60’s was the era of the Beattles. My father was not impressed; he had collections of classical records. He exclaimed the horror of that hideous loud racous rock & roll. Imagine to be in the thick of the historic Beattlemania at the appropriate age to enjoy the frenzy, yet despising it. I looked at pictures of my handsome dad in his black rimmed glasses in nurses uniform sitting next to some attractive caucausian female nurses. Totally not cool. I was jealous on behalf of my mother.

My dad had the opportunity to immigrate to the USA or Canada. He chose the latter, Canadian, eh! He feared conscription and the Vietnam war. I am grateful for this. I am proud Canadian, and my home country is a blending of many cultures, and overall, accepting of individuals choices.

I only learned recently that my dad’s journey led to India. Who knew? I pushed my dad in wheelchair to the wall-sized world map in the nursing home lunch room to point out places I visited and desired to travel to, and the cities he had made home throughout his life. My brother stated to dad, “How was Calcultta? Do you remember?” The city where English and Indian collide, and possibly my father’s roots. I grew up being told Indian blood was part of my ancenstory from my grandmother’s side (hence our dark skin tones, and no one every believing I am Chinese). However, when I raise this with my cousins they say I am incorrect. Perhaps, middle Eastern heritage.

A Canadian Immigrant Visa # 7747 was issued in his British Passport (a United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland) in London on the 11th of Dec 1968 allowing a Canadian Port of Entry until the 23rd of April 1969. I love touching the offical royal navy blue hard cover. There was a quality and workmanship that we do not see today, and I skip a breath thinking this is where my mother’s life existence were to change. I showed my brother, he said who wants that? Perfect, no sibling fights for my dad’s documentation. We obviously have different ideologies, each important. Although, I can see his point. England has been suffering recession, repercussions of Brexit, and terrorism. My brother and I have different personalities. He loves family road trips, and I have no patience for driving hours and hours. This is something my dad also enjoyed immensely. We would take long tedious family road trips and weekend drives. There are pieces of my dads personality in both my brother and I.

My dad headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, as a psychiatric nurse. Bitter cold winters of minus 30 degrees and blustery mosquito summers of plus 30 degrees weather. I assume it was late winter/early spring 1969 as the immigrant “landed” stamp indicates International Airport, Montreal On March 2 of that year. It was only a temporary residence.

My dad eventually settled in Western Canada’s oldest cities, New Westminster, and worked at Riverview Hospital, at one time a model of psychiatric care. Unpolitically correct, “where all the cray crays were housed,” and I would assume as a man progressing through his psychiatric nursing career, the place to work with the best practioners, and to help those most in need along the beautiful Fraser & Coquitlam rivers.

When he started “courting” my mom, my cousins told me he often came over to play home-made board games. My mother has been consistent over the years that she hates games. When questioned, she interrogated me in return. “Who said that? Daddy? When? I hate games! I don’t remember.” I prefer the old fashioned and sweet romanticized version of events.

My dad is also responsible for helping his parents, my yehyeh and mama, and his siblings immigrate to Canada. Not bad for the little boy who started his childhood with some matches shaming his family.

Everything that represents my family, and opportunities my brother and I have are due to my dad (and mother). My dad taught me how to ride a bike and drive his tiny Honda Hyundai, the Pony. The patience this man had. I ripped the rear view mirror off the car because I was a little bratty bitch before we even started off. The reason we had that little vehicle was due to my brother. At 14 years of age, he stole the family station wagon and crashed it into another vehicle. He’s lucky he didn’t kill himself or anyone. My brother and I were complete assholes (but I like to think he was the bigger one LOL).

When my brother and I were children, although e never set foot on an airplane until I was in my Gr. 8th year, and certainly not, England, my dad applied to obtain UK passports for us. I never even held a Canadian passport until my late 30’s when immigration law forced me too (if I wanted to leave the country). I travelled everywhere with my UK/EU passport.

My dad wanted my brother and I to have the freedom to make choices and gain opportunities not only as a Canadian, but globally. This is how I come to have dual citizenship. I am proud to hold both, and they symbolize my father’s life journey and immigration through 3 continents, Asia, Europe, and North America.

The price is right

It may seem odd that I sleep with a hockey stick. I planned to tuck it into my bed sheets just like a teddy bear, but it feels more appropriate that it remains on top of the comforter. Does this make me a bit eccentric?!!!! All I know is that it makes me happeee, and that’s what matters.

I love saying I sleep with Carey Price. His stick. Well, his goalie stick. I am a big fan, and even my household wifi name is “thepriceisright.”

This goalie stick is more than a fan’s appreciation for a British Columbia boy who played an integral part in the Canadian men’s hockey team goal medal win in Sochi…Eh!

This hockey stick represents friendship, love, hope, and resilience.

My friend knew I was despondent.

I had cried for days because my teenage boy chose to live his father. All my life I wanted to be a mom. In my opinion, that is the greatest gift and most important responsibility and career one can ever hold. There is nothing more blessed than raising a child, even when one is awakened in the middle of the wee hours of the night to offer comfort and care. I experienced such joy in volunteering at my former stepchildren, and then my kiddies’ schools. It was a delight meeting their friends. I loved thinking of fun birthday parties to host, and whimsical cakes I would “attempt” to bake. Somehow, what I wanted never resulted in what is my current state.

Now, my son is a belligerent teenager. He did not like the rules of my household, and chose to live in one without structure. This is worse than a love relationship disintegrating. I worry about my kid. I fear he will not have the guidance that every teen should be entitled to. I want him to learn skills and good morals to become a young man. My heart breaks. I feel like a complete failure. Without even bearing my soul, Trev knew it would lighten my spirits and also, my son, when he eventually comes home (I can hope) and will be excited to have an Olympian’s hockey stick.

My friend hand-delivered the stick to me, door to door, from interior BC to Van-city.

My heart warms when I think of this beautiful gesture of friendship, and encouragement.

The stick itself represents hard work and dedication.

I love that goalies acrobatically move. Holding this stick blows my mind away. I’m 5’2” and this equipment rises above my head. It’s heavy when I lift it. I scrutinize the CCM emblazoned, the methodical manner the stick is taped, and the many black scuff mark caused by insanely strong slap shots. If a puck can move at 70mph+, the goalie better damn well use that stick to stop the puck. I cannot even fathom, with all the equipment (skates and the bulky padding) how one could move gracefully?? I have been lucky to attend NHL games to watch Carey Price as well as other goalies move gracefully, almost as if dancing on ice. It’s magical!

I wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. I feel lonely without having my house full and miss the kid who used to giggle and have fun. I cry in despair. I hope that my son does not miss out on the fabulous opportunities that life has to offer. I want him to find something that excites him, and and exhibit integrity and dedication. I grasp for the stick when I become overwhelmed with racing thoughts. I feel the resilience within it. It reminds me to be strong, to live my best life, and keep loving.

I hear Trev saying, “please whatever you do not give up on your son.”

Koh Pha Nga-non Moon

I enjoyed 5 blissful days in Koh Pha Nga, located in the beautiful Gulf of Thailand. It is a notorious party island during Full Moon. Despite the popularity of specific dates pertaining to full and half moon I was relieved to arrive outside of these hedonistic festivities and miss the crazy intoxicated revelers.

My friend, Brian, and I woke up at an ungodly morning hour to catch the 1-hour flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui. I truly appreciated that my companion was also in a cathartic state. There’s nothing worse than a super happy full of zest over-caffeinated person at the crack of dawn jabbering incessantly (say that sentence out loud really fast). We had experienced a whirlwind long weekend sightseeing and partying in the chaotic Thailand capital city. I was ready to strip down to my bikini, dig my toes in the white sand, smell coconut sunscreen, and transform into my BrendaBeachBum persona.

It was a lot of effort for a short flight. Our Uber to Suvarnabhumi Airport was weirdly more expensive than my taxicab into city center with less traffic. Maybe the cabbie factored in the the most stunning morning sunrise behind the city skyscrapers in the fare.

It was quite clear that tropical idyllic relaxation time started immediately upon landing in Koh Samui. Time slowed in a chill way. We purchased a combo shuttle and ferry ticket to Koh Pha Ngan. My stomach became queasy when I walked the sketchy plank without any railing onto the ferry. I was unsure how deep the Gulf of Thailand was (I learned later, it’s embarrassingly shallow) or if sharks were prevalent. It is ironic that many of my adventures lead to surfer destinations since I am a novice swimmer.

The boat ride was perfection. I gazed at the green luscious foliage of Koh Samui fading away as we headed further into the jeweled turquoise body of water. The warm sea breeze offered a cooling sensation again the hot sun. Thong Sala Pier arrived too soon. I was content sunbathing with my head resting on my backpack and legs haphazardly splayed out on the boat rails. Upon docking, we found another shuttle van to transport us to my friend’s favorite accommodation, JB Huts. He had raved for months about “his magical place.” It was a nauseating 40 minute ride, ascending and descending winding valleys to our final destination, Haad Yao and the coral reef. I was relieved to finally arrive at our accommodation as I stumbled out of the van with my baggage. My friend was warmly greeted by Bella, the friendly proprietor, “welcome back!”

The faded rustic bungalows were located across the road from the beach and very convenient 7/11. It was part of our daily routine to stop in to purchase cold beverages, snacks, mosquito spray, sunscreen, and of course much needed H2O.

The natural surroundings were exquisite. It was delightful gently swaying in a hammock with journal in hand. Our private balcony in the green hills offered incredible views of the blue water in the distance, tropical lush foliage, tall palm trees, and the “bonus” pool mere steps from our front door. I say bonus as it was an amazing surprise, even for Brian, that there was a beautiful brand new pool that was rarely used by guests on the property. In my own dream mind, I morphed into a mermaid. It was heavenly to alternate from mother nature’s wonder (sand and ocean) to a clean man-made body of water (a pool that was really my large bathtub). I detested the decrepit interior of our hut particularly the dank filthy washroom, and avoided showering.

Brian was excited to show me his favorite tropical beach, comparing his previous photos of past trips to our current view. Not much had changed. There were many magnificent bluebird days. I contently practiced yoga asanas. Finding “my dristi” focal point was easier from the inlet of the South China Sea than in a yoga studio.

We enjoyed ridiculous cheap massages on a covered beach terrace. Mid-afternoon massages are similar to naps on a hot and humid sunny day: guilty pleasures! There’s nothing more luxurious than to lounge in the shade while a masseuse kneads the stress knots out of your body.

Island life included early relaxing mornings, but not the crack of dawn-type itinerary. We avoided specific agendas, but somehow fell into a music shuffle routine: lackadaisical days, cold beers, bountiful white sandy beaches. It was a given that each evening, sunset would be spent on the beach. Sometimes a leisurely stroll, but usually sitting at patio tables with a happy hour drink in hand. My “boy” BBFF and I have travelled to many exotic destinations, and he knows that I never miss an opportunity to watch sun preparing to move on to other parts of the earth. My perfect “dristi” is when the sun moves below the horizon causing the colors of the sky to burst into various hues before twilight brings dusk.

We tried initially to dine at House People, a Thai/Indonesian restaurant, but the waiters noted they were full, despite 4-5 empty tables. When we finally had the opportunity to enjoy dinner I listened to the same spiel continue again and again. Many hungry diners were turned away. I am relieved we persisted. The food was delicious. My Lombok Curry, an infusion of potatoes, veggies, prawns, Indonesian spices in a yellow curry and white wine sauce was warm, creamy and hearty. I refrained from licking my bowl. Despite the establishment being away from the water, it upheld a chill beach hut vibe, creatively arranged with soft lighting, sand, and palm trees.

There was not much night life in tranquil, Haad Yao, a contrast to Haad Rin, where the Full Moon party takes place. Despite that we managed to find some interesting spots to amuse ourselves each evening.

We ascended the steep road to the High Life Bungalow Resort walking sluggishly from the aftermath of rich Thai meals. The patio resto/bar was set upon a cliff that overlooked the soft glowing lights from the beachfront bungalows and restaurants down below. We enjoyed chill music. I was ecstatic to finally find a really good tropical drink. One would assume that paradise would offer amazing creamy banana daiquiris, but that was not the case. The bartender made me a delicious frothy banana concoction. Not cheap especially for SE Asia, but refreshing to enjoy an adult smoothie. Quality vs Quantity.

I loved one particular establishment that hung hammocks over dining tables. DJ tunes spun loudly while we danced with other happy tourists on the sand. On another late afternoon, we sat in the back of an open truck as it headed up a huge vertical incline to a 3-tiered rooftop mountain patio on the bluffs. Breathtaking. What it would feel like to fly?

We spent a couple of mornings walking to 2 different waterfalls. That’s right, we used our feet to get to our destination in the high humidity and temperatures.

It took about an hour to arrive at Wang Sai waterfall, thankfully just off the road. I was drenched with sweat, a similar state to hot yoga practice. I hesitantly entered the little pool of water, not knowing the conditions. How deep? Sharp jagged rocks? Leeches? I was paranoid from spending Part I of my trip in the mountainous border of Thailand / Mynamar during monsoon season. Once, I got my bearings I allowed the cool refreshing waterfall to shower me. Morning delight!

We headed to the Mae Haad beach to stroll along the long sand bar connecting to pristine Koh Ma island. Brian reminisced about snorkelling with his friend. That particular day we explored the greater part of the island’s northeastern beaches. We worked up a huge appetite for local curries and seafood as we headed to Reggae Village and Haad Salad waterfront, apparently an old pirates hideout.

We completed an epic trek to the interior of the island to explore Phaeng Waterfall. I love walking as it gives one an opportunity to really see local surroundings.

The jungle hike offered some cardio intensive climbs to various view points and waterfalls. Unfortunately the falls itself were disappointing. They were only a trickle, but there were some pools that were perfect resting spots as we slowly climbed to the top. The view at the peak was worth the effort, offering a panorama sight. We detoured, getting lost on the way down from the view point. I was becoming deliriously dehydrated. Brian had already finished his bottle of water, and I shared what little I had left with him.

Although I was happy to explore the island by feet I was relieved when we found a songthaew, an open truck type of cab. As soon as I set my exhausted sweaty body into the seat, the heavy rain pulsed down to the earth. I was exhausted. Upon arrival at JB Hut, I sank into the worn cushions enjoying simplest pleasures: truly tasting the sweet nectar and texture of my fresh mango smoothie. My breathing slowed as I watched the heavy rain drip down the awning. There is something comforting and romantic about tropical rainstorms, morphing my mind and body into stillness.

Brian had planned to leave earlier than me for his next destination, but I was excited he extended his stay. I was becoming a little restless and wanted to experience the outdoor Thailand party, Shiva Moon. It was not something I wanted to attend solo after hearing about the fallout of these parties. Our cabbie offered to help us buy drugs (anything we wanted), but not my scene. I later saw first-hand the aftermath. There were a number of westerners limping with crutches, bruised, and bandages up. Too much drugs/alcohol, and/or the results of insane drivers. The party experience ended up being low key due to the lack of tourists, but we made up for it by dancing crazily. It was an interesting dynamic…families with young kids and people with helium balloons for a high. I experienced a glimpse of my future amazing life ahead in Koh Samui, fire shows. The Thai fire dance performers are incredibly Cirque du Soleil-esque-like spinning and throwing fire balls and batons.

Before I knew it, our time together came to an abrupt end, and we parted ways. I have not had an opportunity to preserve all the sights and memories we created together. The sad part is that although it was only a couple months ago I am losing the vividness of the moments shared.

I have not even seen my dear friend since he returned home, and I miss him much. However, I know when I do, I’ll ask him, “where next?”

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