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

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.