My special treasure

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

This item:

1. Symbolizes access & information

2. Metaphorically holds my travel stories.

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

 This handy gadget is my “beloved universal adapter.”

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

How does it work?

1) Place the plug from home into the adapter socket

2) Select the appropriate country pin

3) Plug it into the wall outlet

VOILA – electrical access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 No electricity = useless gadget adapter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She & I held different definitions & tolerance of danger.

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

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

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

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

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

Travelling Tales & Tunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stay – RIHANNA

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


THE ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA at the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw, Netherlands 

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

Mr. Brightside – THE KILLERS

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

Bailando – ENRIQUE IGLESIAS

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

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

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


Yellow
Submarine – the BEATLES 

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

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

LOVE, CARE, RESCUE in a Thailand Elephant Sanctuary 

My favourite thing to do is travel and volunteer, and having the opportunity to combine both passions is not only a privilege, but a mind-blowing orgasm.
I was struggling on where and what I wanted to do for my upcoming summer vacation. It is of great importance to find a captivating project that fuels my passion.

I accidentally encountered Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary while surfing the net. It met my criteria in selecting a volun-tourism experience which includes:

  • low administrative fees – I want my donation and my efforts to go directly to the cause
  • impact on people & community
  • something to inspire me

“Love, Care, Rescue”

This is the mission statement for this non-profit foundation located 2 hours outside Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

The sanctuary currently has 4 elephants and works with the community to: 

  • provide income for the village by creating homestays for the volunteers to stay
  • rent land and create jobs
  • give back to the community by teaching English at the school, homestays and mahouts*

* mahout is an elephant rider and keeper. Usually a young boy is assigned an elephant early in his life as part of the family profession, passed through generations.

My heart and mind grew more inquisitive as I researched the inspirational work of the sanctuary founders and partners, Kerri and Sombat.

I learned…

Kerri grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Ireland, and always knew she wanted to work with animals. I find it fascinating from a young age she knew “even loosely” that she wanted to dedicate her life to animals (I still am unsure). Her passion earned her a Zoology degree at Queen’s University, Belfast, and subsequently working with SE Asian non-government organizations (NGO).

She established this foundation in 2016 after meeting Sombat at another Thai project. They returned to his home where she learned the tribal Karen language to communicate with the locals, and spread awareness of unethical elephant tourism.

Sombat, the co-founder, head mahout, and Thai national grew up working in the elephant tourist trade. Elephant training is, in his blood. He returned to his village to help return abused elephants to live in their natural habitat. I think it is admirable that one wants to return to his roots, and brave that he wants to change what is considered socially acceptable practices of animal abuse in Asia.

Both are eager in their desire to ensure as many elephants live and receive adequate care, safe conditions, social interaction, and freedom. I love how their project is ethically intrinsic to the Thai community, but expands globally where volunteers can learn more about the Thai culture, and literally get their hands dirty to help out.

There are under 5,000 captive Thai elephants used in the illegal trade for the tourist industry, and live under inhumane slave-like working conditions, the polar opposite of their natural habitat. The mammals spend long hours providing rides and performing to the point of exhaustion. When their long workday is done, the elephants are quarantined with short chains without proper nutrition and healthcare. In contrast, many pet owners I know would never treat their dogs and cats in this manner. Often our beloved pets are part of our family unit, and we would not hesitate to include organic meals and TLC as typical life.   

The 4 resident elephants encompass 3 generations at this time. However, in time with more sponsors the foundation would like to return more elephants to their natural environment.

TOO MEH:

The older grandma elephant is 55 years. As a youth, she worked in the logging industry followed by 2 decades entertaining tourists for elephant rides using an iron saddle with sharp rods that people sit on. Most elephants suffer from back problems due to this equipment. Too Meh, like most elephants are, was chained up alone when not working.

MAE DOH:

She is Too Meh’s daughter & is her 20’s, and worked in tourism. However, Mae Doh spent most of her life captive on a short leash as her tourist camp was not popular.

GEN THONG:

He is Mae’s nephew & Too Meh’s grandson, & is 4 years old. His mom died a horrific death due to wasp sting poisons from a fallen nest. He too, spent his youth alternating elephant rides and jailed.

BOON ROTT:

He was born malnourished, over-worked as a tourist camp performer, & 10 years old.

I am eager to learn more about these strong & amazing creatures during my week internship. I admit, I am apprehensive about the labour-intensive, and 3rd world conditions, realizing I will be working much harder than my typical day at the office.

The program includes cultural immersion, sleeping on the mattress of a homestay family, hiking for several hours in tropical rain season conditions into the forest to feed/observe the elephants (hopefully I don’t end up stepping in their shit as one colleague pointed out), and teaching English to villagers and mahouts daily. I am FREAKED out about all the critters one can come across in the bush (spiders, cockroaches, mice, snakes, serpents, & god knows what else)! I have half a year to alleviate my fears. I will have to focus on my eagerness in meeting my homestay, taste-testing authentic Thai meals, and learn what a typical day of a Karen tribal family is like. My burning question, “will they have electricity to plug in my iPhone?” (yeh, I know pretty sad), but I want that photo of me feeding an elephant a banana. 

Please contact me if you:

  • want to learn more about the program
  • help sponsor me
  • donate any old clothes. The “Volunteers Packing List” suggests multiple changes of attire due to the ruggedness of jungle tropical environment. I plan to leave everything behind for the homestays to re-use when I leave for further backpacking adventures.  

Finally, I will not be riding any elephants, as I would not know if the tour organization had ethical practices. It is not something I ever desired to do. To be honest, I never thought about the inhumane and cruel practices, and I am sure most tourists probably fall under the same ignorance. Next time, you see the happy Instragram selfie of elephant-riding, consider what practices the trainers and organization are following. 

http://www.kselephantsanctuary.org/

Sign the Petition!

Elephants are currently classed under the Draught Animal Act of 1939, a very outdated law which classes elephants as livestock, therefore allowing them to live in inadequate conditions. This petition aims to give elephants a better life by classing them under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.

Sign and share the link:

https://www.change.org/p/the-government-of-thailand-give-domesticated-elephants-stronger-legislation-by-classing-them-under-the-wild-animal-reservation-and-protection-act-1992

When a vacay goes to hell

I booked an all-inclusive Puerto Vallarta package for the Xmas holidays months in advance. I was giddy with excitement dreaming of blue skies, margaritas, digging my bare toes in warm sand, reading trashy beach novels, and relaxation time with my 2 brats. Every evening after household chores, I excitedly researched possible excursions including the Marieta Islands, and pored over every TripAdvisor review.
When I booked, who knew I would be in a boot cast recovering from a broken ankle. Maybe kayaking near the Marieta Islands would be overly-ambitious. I already knew the answer when I asked my orthopaedic surgeon his thoughts on zip-lining, but maybe by miracle he would answer, “of course, take your kids on this fabulous outing!” It was of no surprise, when he replied, “that would not be a good idea.” If only I knew, that was the least of my concerns.

We were leaving the day after school closed for winter break. My son was excited to ski the local mountains before we departed for warmer temperatures. He arrived home limping. I initially assumed it was just a minor fall. At about 9 pm, I heard him crying in the bath, which was very unlike his brusque hockey demeanor. I insisted we visit emergency despite his strong reluctance. It was hours before we were seen, and the great majority in the waiting room were the result of winter activities. There were countless kids accompanied by worried parents with broken bones and/or sprained ligaments as a result of skiing, snowboard, tubing accidents. Adults grimacing as they slowly tried to adjust to their newly acquired accessories (stitches, heavy-duty bandages, crutches and casts). Never seen anything like it!

We were finally seen by the doctor as the 7th hour approached. I was horrified to learn he broke his leg. I initially thought it was a sprain. My son’s pressing question was, “When can I ski again?” In my mind, never was too soon. The doctor noted it was a minor break that would heal within 4 weeks, and he could be back on the slopes this same season. I asked with trepidation if we could still proceed with our vacation noting our flight was departing in a few hours. The doctor replied confidently, “Yes, go as planned. Flying is fine.” He paused, gazing intently at my son, “But you cannot do anything: no fun, pool, no running, just sit and don’t move.” My son’s father berated me about my parenting negligence, and suggested our son not travel. This upset my already tired and stressed son more as he already heard the doctor give the green light to travel, and my kid desired to vacation as planned.

We finally made it home in time for my son to sleep an hour before departing for the airport. There are benefits to being anally prepared. I had already packed. What a relief!

It was challenging manouevering through chaotic airports bursting with Christmas travelers. 2 of the 3 travelers hobbled on crutches and wore boot casts. Thankfully, the flight itself was uneventful.

My belligerent teenage daughter had a spoiled brat fit when we arrived at the resort. She demanded to leave. Our accommodations did not meet the elite standards that she has grown accustomed to with her affluent father and step-mother. Not exactly what a single mom on a frugal budget, who has saved and sacrificed, wants to hear. Devastating!

After dealing with her drama, I headed to Front Desk to request a room change. Being on the 4th floor with no elevator was not the ideal situation. I was relieved the resort offered wheelchair rentals. At that point, I would have paid any price for the equipment. Unfortunately, each time we left the wheelchair on ground level it disappeared. We slowly made our way to Front Desk, waited IM-patiently our turn behind large tour groups, and re-canted the same story about the missing wheelchair(s). I was about to lose my mind wanting to yell, “WHO THE @!@# REMOVES A WHEELCHAIR??!!!??” Obviously, its used by someone in need. Instead the hysterics of me throwing myself on the tiled floor kicking and screaming only remained in my tortured mind.

On our 1st full day, we took a taxi into Bucerias town. Originally, I forbade my son from bringing his new iPhone, but at the last minute I relented. What else would he be doing if he couldn’t swim or frolic around the resort? Somewhere while wheeling over the cobble stone streets his new smartphone must have dropped out of his pocket. He noticed when we were on the cab ride back to the hotel. I screamed at the cabbie to detour back to town. Our search was fruitless. The kids started bickering, blaming each other, and then ganging up against me for becoming frantic. We returned to the resort, and I turned on data to call my phone provider to: 1) determine if the phone was used 2) cancel.

Unfortunately, the hold was unbearably long, and I wondered how much roaming and long distance would cost in addition to the replacement phone. $$$$$. This trip was not how I imagined, and I just wanted to be in my own bed to cry, but I was far away in a foreign country. A drink of any kind was a turn off. I purchased a pack of Camels while waiting for the phone company to answer. As I angrily puffed on a cancer stick, my daughter concerned that I was gone for such an extended period, caught me. She grabbed the smoke stomping on it, and screamed in disappointment.

This was a pivotal moment of our trip. This amazing or disaster-ous vacation could be as happy and carefree or shitty as I wanted it to be for my family. Team Mom needed an attitude adjustment. Woah, I was in the beautiful Bay of Bandera with my children for the Christmas holidays. The heavens called out to me with an exquisite sunset as the purple & pink skyline changed hues. Everything because vivid…the smell of ocean breezes, guests laughing, and tall glorious palm trees. The tropical heat hugged me with love.

The reality of a lost phone is that it’s just a piece of metal that could be replaced. My son had a minor break. I always had a philosophy that at least once in a child’s life they will have a sprain or break, and that moment arrived. In the grand scheme of things, my family was healthy and privileged enough to travel.

Good things starting happening once my attitude changed. The point of a vacation is to enjoy rest and relaxation, removing every day stress. I was adding more to my plate.

My kids started to have fun. We were able to enjoy the large ornate Xmas tree in the lounge. Why didn’t I notice the lights twinkling? My son wheeled himself up and down ramps, enjoying the wheels accelerating down the ramp giving my heart palpitations.

We did not manage a cruise excursion or zip-lining (or even skydiving which I have experienced several times along the Mexican Pacific Ocean), but there were plenty of in-house activities to occupy our time.

My son and I played paddleboard by the main pool even if he was in a wheelchair. At noon daily, the iguanas feasted on fruit salad in the garden. My daughter and I eagerly awaited mid-day aqua aerobics.

The grounds were vast. As a result, I often had a difficult time pinpointing where the kids were located. The obvious choices were any WIFI areas: the outdoor sports lounge by our block (each hotel building was on 1 of 7 blocks), Front Desk, or the secondary lounge a long hobble from our room. My son checked our hometown ski report at every opportunity. There were a variety of food options throughout the day including several snack bars, buffets, and a la carte restaurants (Brazilian meat galore, Italian, Japanese, Asian fusion, Japanese). We binged at all, and especially appreciated the great efforts of their festive Christmas Eve spread. Santa and his elves do not arrive via the chimney, but on jet skis in tropical paradise.

To my amusement, I learned that we were the center of a rumor at the resort. Apparently, my son and I were not were wearing our seatbelts in a motor vehicle collision which led to our current handicapped state. However, my daughter was smart enough to wear her safety belt which was why she could be running carefree through the resort. People seemed to gravitate to us.

I convinced my kids to watch the cheezy evening show held in the outdoor ampitheatre. I even experienced a bit of a romance (which was something I never imagined). Jordan overheard our family banter, and eventually introduced himself. His initial thoughts were that we had a great relationship, and was curious on our family dynamics. He was great with the kids. To my great surprise, I couldn’t believe how much they each confided in him. I convinced Jordan to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch sunset each morning, sometime I was unsuccessful with my brats. I would wait at the sports bar gazing at the moonlight and palm trees’ reflection in the pool wondering if I would be stood up, but I never was. We strolled the beach hand in hand watching the waves crash and the sky lighten. I was able to walk further each day on the soft sand without my cast and most importantly, without pain as my ankle grew stronger. Morning sunset along the ocean is the best, smelling the morning dew, gazing at impressionist hues change from dark to pinks/purples/blues. We got to know each other with various stories. He always had bubblegum pop boy bands playing on his phone. After our morning walks, we said our temporary goodbyes as he headed to play tennis, and I returned to the room to wake my son and daughter to their great annoyance.

On Xmas Eve day, my family met our friends for a vibrant seafood lunch along the bustling Malecon. One cannot help feel a little nostalgic and homesick during the holidays, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces. My son celebrated his 13th birthday on Dec 25th by smearing bright Xmas green cupcake icing on his face :).

Overall, we enjoyed a wonderful and unforgettable time away. It got off to a rough start, but attitude is everything. Puerto Vallarta still remains on of my favorite Mexican destinations. I can only hope to share another visit, but one may be disappointed as I would assume it would not be as eventful. 

Xmas away

As the holiday season approaches, and I gaze out my office window to a dreary grey whiteout winter day I ask myself “do I really want to spend Xmas in Vancouver or away?”

Yes, yes, yes. YES!!!!!! I am travelling far away from both the physical (rain and snow) and emotional (stress and disappointment of the holidays) environment.

I selected Puerto Vallarta due to price, proximity, warm climate, and my deep love for this Mexican city after consulting with friends.
PRICE

I originally researched:

  • A Whistler winter wonderland getaway, but if one does not have accommodation, gondola passes, ski equipment and appropriate winter clothing for the full family, the credit card transactions can easily add up quickly.
  • The clear blue water and white sand of the Mayan Riviera sound heavenly, but since I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it is East Coast, the price escalates. There are no direct flights from my hometown, and I do not want to risk spending my vacation in the congested airport due to layovers and temperamental weather. Also, I was lucky enough to visit recently, and can visit again in the future.
  • I found cheap flights to Hawaii. However, after doing some quick calculations factoring in the weak Canadian dollar, the costs were astronomical.

 PROXIMITY 

Puerto Vallarta is along the Pacific Ocean’s Bay of Banderas and a quick 4.5 direct flight. We leave in the morning, and will be poolside with a margarita by mid-afternoon.

Think about this…

Would you want to sit in traffic commuting to your family Xmas turkey where you hate your in-laws, those bratty nieces & nephews, & then encounter roadblocks on the way back? Holidays can be depressing due to family dynamics or drama.
If you are hosting, there may be additional stresses…

  • When that extra unexpected guest comes, one that you detest. 
  • A visitor with severe dietary restrictions.
  • The turkey does not cook properly. This happened at our family’s potluck Thanksgiving, and as a result we did not eat turkey that evening
  • you forgot to buy a Xmas present for a guest, and there are no stores open.

I will not have those scenarios occur. On Xmas Day, I plan to get up early to book one of the a la carte restaurants after watching sunrise, hit the sandy beaches to work on my tan, and then meander to dinner in my sundress a few steps away. If my kiddies complain about the a la carte, we will snack at the dinner buffet before watching evening entertainment.

WARM CLIMATE

Wikipedia December monthly averages (for the month):

Vancouver:

  • 6 degrees & 6 inches each of snow & rain
  • 18 days of rain

And what about those windstorm power outages? 

My uncle had a power outage a couple years ago. There were not enough candles to illuminate a full house. As a result, hungry shivering guests sat in the dark for hours. We were lucky when the power was eventually restored that same evening. My auntie was not happy when my cousin purchased McDonald’s as a pre-dinner snack.
Puerto Vallarta:

  • 25 degrees
  • 0.8 inches of rain (there is no average snow)
  • less than 2 days for rain.

Even if there is some natural disaster, it will still be warm & my expectations are less.  

LOVE FOR PUERTO VALLARTA

My kids and I visited during Santa Semana during Easter break in 2014. I loved watching the Mexican families barbequing and playing live music on the beach. Our days were as relaxing or busy as we wanted. Sometimes we remained at the resort to read, eat, drink, or swim. When we needed more stimulation, we ventured out on various excursions.

This included: a shopping/tequila tasting tour, travelling on the public bus to Sayulita (surf town, the Malecon (shopping, restaurant & beach boardwalk), and my most memorable activity, skydiving. Imagine dropping from the sky to Xmas dinner. I loved landing on the beach not too far away from my resort.  

This visit, we may take the boat cruises to the Marieta Islands, a group of small volcanic islands.
 CONSULTING WITH FRIENDS

I have never been away for the full holidays, and asked friends who have, for their opinions. They all responded that a trip away especially when it involves sun and sand is fun. Expect that its’ different in a memorable way” especially from those who are used to colder winter holidays. You still are with loved ones, BUT those you CHOOSE to be with during the holidays. Of course, I will visit mine before and after who are not accompanying me. My kids and I also will be meeting friends from home also travelling to Puerto Vallarta, and it will be lovely to meet on Xmas eve in our tropical attire for holiday cheer. The resorts put forth a grand effort with festive celebrations, decorations, delectable food options (perhaps turkey cranberry tacos or burritos), and Santa Claus along with his elves appearances.

Only time will tell if I made the right decision, but I am excited for the adventure and experiences that will await us.

“Are you convinced if going away for Xmas is something to consider?”

Have You Felt Hunger?

Have you felt hunger? I am not referring to I am starving because I forgot to eat breakfast, and craving something like warm apple pie and  ice cream.

“Have you ever lacked the money or resources to provide yourself & family meals? Your body is malnourished & dehydrated. Basic staples, like rice or corn, are a luxury, & needs rationing. Even if you were provided the appropriate ingredients, do you have clean water to prepare your meals? Would you know how to cook zucchini, or chard, for example?”

A special farm in Guatemala addresses these issues. There many people in underdeveloped countries that do not have the knowledge or resources for basic necessities to sustain life. 

Mayan Eco Homestead, is an NGO, a non-profit government organization. This group teaches sustainable “seed to plate” farming skills to malnourished locals, the Mayans.

Guatemala is the 4th highest chronically malnourished country in the world & the highest in Latin American. Hard to believe when you look at the locals who may have pudgy round bodies. Most survive on mainly corn, are nutritionally void, & lack basic resources including sanitized water to survive. Children do not have the energy to focus on school when their bodies are broken down.

Let me give you a little context of where this farm is located…a village up in the hills of San Jose Chacaya, the western highlands of Guatemala. In my opinion…the middle of nowhere!

I was staying in the resort town of Panajachel (often termed as Pana) along beautiful Lago Atitlan. I was originally planning to catch 2 chicken buses, a couple towns away, which I estimate to be a 2 hour commute each way. In Guatemala, chicken buses are the oldest yellow school buses that the USA does not want or deem safe anymore, painted psychedelic colors. You can bring live chickens “hence the name”, crates of eggs, & just about anything else.

My Spanish tutor was supposed to accompany me, & even he, as a local, laughed when I showed him my vague instructions.

Follow the houses with agriculture, up the hill, by the big boulders to the small dirt road on the left, go past the gate until you find the second gate on your left,& then the smaller gate on the right

We were supposed to get lost together, but he ditched me.

There are no house numbers or street addresses. I am confident that I would have gotten lost, if I had attempted the journey alone. Thankfully, I did not need to.

I was relieved when Mayan Eco Homestead’s co-founders, Greg & Lucy Jensen (husband & wife), accompanied by Colin, a board member, picked me up in their air-conditioned van. Even they, stay in town on the weekends, as the commute can be cumbersome.

They are Americans, who consciously removed themselves from the rat race, uprooting their children to live in a 3rd world country. Many conclude what a crazy idea to leave the “American dream,” but I applaud their courage, and truly believe that their vision is a both a gift and opportunity. They are privileged to experience a world & culture far away from what we know, nourish their spirits, while servicing others in need.

It was probably a 40-minute drive with traffic, but it passes quickly due to picturesque landscape. My eyes gazed at the topography, a gorgeous winding hill with volcanos and the sparkling lake as the backdrop. My mouth dropped & stomach churned witnessing how people drive. The narrow roads only allow for one way driving despite cars going in both directions.

Now, what are does the farm actually do to help the indigenous people?

Educate Mayans on how to farm & produce food for their families.

The program starts with a home visit and orientation:

Does the family really want to do this, are they committed, do they qualify, do they understand they will be working? Meticulous record taken occurs including information on the family’s background, education, living conditions including how they wash their clothes, what they eat. The data will eventually be used when EcoHomestead evolves into a larger foundation that encompasses many projects.

The curriculum is 10 hours broken into five 2-hour classes. It is hands on; the Mayans learn by working on the existing farm. They discover the various stages of growth, learn when/how to water, and cut the plants to ensure there is re-harvest for future crops.

The students usually consist of women that arrive in groups. At most, these females may only have Grade 2 education, and this setting provides support for them to flourish. Often they come with their babies strapped to their backs & hunch over the soil. Older children are welcome to play on the fields and in the forest while their mother is learning.

The classes usually take place in the afternoon as they find it best suits Mayan’s schedule. Normally, a wife cooks for their husbands in the morning before they depart for work allowing freedom later in the day.

It has been a learning experience for the co-founders…with trial & error tweaking the program.

The last session includes a cooking class. This component was added when the founders discovered that the locals did not know what to do with their crops. Mayans usually do not each fresh produce. When it is available, they may only use it sparsely, and/or overcook it. The older generation were hesitant to try raw vegetables. The concept of a salad was unusual for them, yet their children were openly excited about it.

They used Juan, a local farmer, as their initial guinea pig. He is now the manager of the project, & trusted face to the attendees. It makes more sense for a fellow Guatemalan than a westerner to lead& inspire residents to participate in the farming program.

After graduation, each family receives a complete box installed in their garden, with compost that is collected from the local hills, vegetable seeds, & a wire fence to prevent animals from munching on the vegetation.

There are monthly follow-ups to ensure the family continues planting and the garden survives.

Fast facts (over the last year):

  • Graduates: 38 families
  • Garden Boxes installed: Of the 45 installed, all 45 are functioning (100%)
  • 2 hour classes taught: 52
  • Follow up Visits: 102
  • People Directly impacted by this garden program: 254
  • Number of visitors to Mayan Eco Homestead: 133 (including ME)
  • Volunteers: 46
  • Volunteer hours: 1,160

Originally, there was another family in partnership with the project, but they have moved on to other travelling adventures. They were more ambitious with their vision. Greg & Lucy with their 4 boys have been working on this for over a year. I liked their conservative philosophy. Focus on the project at hand, “sustainable gardening for Mayans,” and slowly implement improvements over a longer duration when it makes sense. Their resources and budget are limited. They nixed purchasing a cow when their partners made arrangements. They sold the lambs that were over-grazing on the hill. The lambs’ clear cutting may lead to mudslides when the tropical rain season hits. They removed the chickens, but kept the rabbits since their waste is used as worm compost. Future plans: a retaining wall & greenhouse for vegetables to grow throughout the year.

They built a composting toilet that eliminates black water for the caretaker couple who lives full time on the farm. It may sound odd that the couple needed to a washroom tutorial. We, in the developing country, take indoor plumbing for granted.  Their waste will compost into manure for trees. I was relieved that it would not be used as manure for the vegetable garden. I was fascinated by the mechanical intricacies, and surprised how clean, odorless, & civilized this composting toilet was.

What can you do to help?

Mayan EcoHomestead offers weekly all-inclusive volun-tourism programs for $800 US plus flight. The package includes 3-star safe accommodations with WIFI in town, transportation to the farm, & food/water. $250 of the registration fee is donated directly to the project. EcoHomestead will make all the arrangements. Arrive Saturday, Sunday is free chill time, followed by 4 full days, Monday to Thursday, of rolling up your sleeves & playing with dirt. Friday is a fun activity day of touring that includes zip lining from the high hills overlooking beautiful Lake Atilan.

Eventually they want to build a big dorm or possibly small cabins for volunteers to stay on the 2-acre property instead of commuting them back & forth to town.

The ideal volunteer expedition team size is 8 to 12 people, but they have accommodated various numbers. They have catered the program to the age & the keenness of the group. For example, a dental association were excited to cut, move, and build the planks for the planter boxes whereas a mother with her young kids could not manage the labour intensive work. Instead, they can focus on seedlings.

Even if you cannot directly help, consider being a donor.  The organization can provide tax receipts by putting one in touch with another Canadian organization that will re-allocate the funds to the farm. I was meticulous in asking questions about finances.

What I love about this NGO is that it is not a handout. They are educating and empowering Mayans to become self-sufficient.

The farm employing locals and they teach some of the classes. Not only are they helping local families, but they are also installing garden boxes at elementary schools & an elderly feeding program.

One thing I have heard & seen while visiting underdeveloped countries is that there is no hope. Only survival instincts take fold; it is a vicious cycle of poverty.

There can be a amazing domino effect when one sees their neighbours thriving. It allows one to think beyond their existing circumstances, that there are possibilities/hope, if one combines dreams, a little bit of luck/support, and strategy.

The wedding I never attended…

I travelled to the Philippines specifically for a wedding, but I never attended. I was DIS-INVITED!

My sister-in-law’s brother and fiancé, both Vancouver residents, were marrying back in their native country. My brother stayed home as he said the occasion would be too much trouble, but I love travel, adventure, and a good party. I was eager to represent him.

A group of us arrived in Manila after a long 14-hour flight including my sister-in-law, her sister, our children, aunties, and the groom’s mother. We were detained for an extensive period: baggage delayed followed by a no show of our pre-booked driver. It was unbearably hot, and merely standing in the heat was an effort. Despite these obstacles, we were excited to start our holiday. Blue skies and palm trees were in abundance.

We travelled to the groom’s hometown, Bagac, a beautiful beachside village 3 hours away. As we approached, I gazed at the most luscious green trees (mango, cashew, banana), and sparkling blue water. The natural beauty contrasted with the grittiness of town and the odor of garbage burning. My children and I spent 5 days at a secluded resort playing on white sandy beaches, touring the local area via fishing boat and tricycle, admiring amazing sunsets, enjoying cheap massages, and visiting the groom’s family.

I stood out.

Most assumed I was Filipino due to my naturally dark skin, but I am not. They spoke Tagalo. I did not understand, and resulted in mysterious looks. I am sure they were thinking, “Why is that female rude, not responding to my greetings?” My kids and I were the rare few frolicking in the pool and ocean for hours on end. I tanned until I was BLACK. The family, “politely suggested” that I do not become darker before the wedding. White porcelain skin is a sign of affluence and beauty in Asian cultures. I was the anomaly. Many use umbrellas to shade the sun, white cosmetic powder on their dark complexions, and whitening soap. I did not even know that this type of soap existed until my sister-in-law purchased a suitcase full to take home. I threatened her, “If your special soap touches my skin, I may not control my actions.”

Next stop on our itinerary was the bride’s hometown, San Jose City. We squeezed into a van with luggage at our feet, the strong pungent odor of Asian fruit, and delicious deep-fried sugary banana skewers. I reminded myself to be grateful as I plugged my nose. I was lucky to have a seat.

Each time I entered a vehicle, I asked how long it would take to get to our destination? I am unsure why I continually asked as the response was always 3 hours. LIES! Filipino time does not run on a standard western clock. The driver became lost several times. He stopped to ask locals, and they would each point in different directions.

After 6 hours, we finally arrived at the bride’s family home set on acres of land. The view across the farm was breathtaking – vast rice paddy fields and fishing pond.

Both families did not mingle. After a tense lunch, we set off to our hotel. It was blatantly obvious that family blending was not a welcome or easy transition.

The fireworks erupted in the hotel lobby. The bride was unhappy with the lack of support from the groom’s side. Why did we visit the groom’s village immediately upon landing instead of her? She demanded more money to subsidize the wedding.   

I am sure Front Desk thought we were all crazy. Arguments in the lobby and parking lot and “our party” checking in and out several times. It escalated when the bride made a dramatic exit with her uncles. Their car tires screeched – burning rubber. Further debate and tears amongst the groom’s family. His mother wanted to stay to make amends and have peace, but the others wanted to return to their family village.

In the midst of the drama, our driver was busy unloading and reloading our luggage. He noticed hundreds of ants on my suitcases. My sister-in-law exclaimed, “Brenda, your coconuts!!” The family thought it was funny that my children and I hunted for coconuts of all sizes and shapes (pink, green, brown, baby, large) every day as our souvenirs. We tried killing the ant colony with de-sanitizer, but it was ineffective. Aerosol alcohol mists wafting in the air while I was frantically throwing coconuts in the garbage.

This final event added a minor diversion to the family heartache and squabbling.

Eventually, we all agreed to drive back to the village as a cooling off period. I should add another 6 hours away. I had been recuperating from whiplash and travelling for an extensive period was excruciating. It was the most uncomfortable and intense car ride, physically and mentally. There were tears and frantic phone calls. I listened to the family recite the same Catholic prayer again, and again. I am not religious nor am I am immediate family. Awkward bystander.

The groom remained in the city, but his bride went “MIA” for the evening.

Days later, the groom called to say the wedding would proceed, but all HIS guests were “NOT welcome.” This included his frail father, immediate family, cousins who travelled home from other parts of Asia, and our group including his mother from Canada. “Disbelief and upset” are weak descriptions. I tried to be supportive, but really what can one say to comfort.

On the wedding day, a group of us travelled to another beach town and US military base, Subic Bay, in a weak attempt to distract ourselves, forget the drama, and ensure the kiddies had some fun. The children rushed to the pool while the adults watched from the gazebo eating and drinking San Miguel light. Meal portions were tiny. Our skinny plate of nachos was slathered with a disgusting reddish Cheese Whiz spread that is oozed out of a tube. The group eagerly devoured duck fetus eggs instead. You can see the features in the egg. Being a weak-hearted Westerner, I refused to eat this crass food. 

I noticed a bridal coupler and their photographer at the beach. Of course, I had to take photos for Facebook as I told friends and colleagues, that I was travelling to SE Asia for a special wedding. The only wedding, I would be attending would be from a distance.

Despite the unexpected drama, this was one of my favorite holidays. My son asked during our trip, when we would come back. My children and I fell in love with the culture and my sister-in-law’s family. They adopted us as their family. They are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. 

There was upset, but thankfully more laughs, family bonding, sightseeing, spectacular beaches, exploring food and clothing markets, sampling local dishes including the juiciest mangos I have ever had.

Maybe one day, I will be able to share the story of the Filipino wedding I did attend.

 

Boston Marathon – unicorn

The symbol of the Boston Athletic Association and the Boston Marathon is a “unicorn.” It represents an ideal and the pursuit to push oneself.

My husband (now ex) and I started running as a way to spend time together. I suggested ballroom dancing, but he adamantly refused.

We set a goal to qualify to run in Boston after we ran our 1st half marathon. He easily qualified during his 1st marathon in Austin, Texas. I chose the road less travelled (perpetually injured). I ran my 1st race with 2 knee braces; it was a tough learning experience. I felt strong during my 2nd marathon in Victoria, BC, but missed qualifying by 43 seconds. I was heartbroken. I experienced nightmares awakening with the sweats, constantly wondering why I went to the washroom, tied my shoelace, stopped to hydrate, why could I have not run 1 second faster per km (a marathon is 42 km/26.2 miles).

Two weeks before I ran my 3rd, I cheered on my husband as he raced the Boston Marathon. As a long distance runner unable to participate made my burning desire to qualify even stronger.

I finally qualified by running in Vancouver, BC, a few weeks later. My husband dictated that we would return to Boston in 2 years instead of the upcoming. There’s a reason why we are divorced, but that’s a different story.

He registered me for the Kelowna, BC, marathon in hopes that I would re-qualify for the race 2 years out. Depending on the month one qualifies determines how long your qualification lasts for, either 1 or 2 years.

Again, I did not meet the time standards. Although it was advertised as a flat fast course, I struggled. My husband was annoyed that I did not meet the time qualification.

Off to the Boston…

On race day, I woke-up fatigued. I thought to myself, after all the anticipation this is not how I should feel. My vigorous training consisted of high mileage & strength training followed by a 3-week taper. 4 to 5 days prior to the race, my carbo-loaded diet consisted of bananas, bagels, pasta, sports drinks, and throat lozenges to relieve a sore throat. I felt pudgy, and not very athletic.

My husband tired of me fussing in the hotel room tried to push me out the door, “Aren’t you going to be late for your bus?” He was anxious to get back to bed. He wished me good luck. We made plans to meet after the race, but I really had no idea how long it would take me to finish. I had heard many stories about the treacherous course. I planned to wearing a 3hr 50min pace band, but would see how it went.

I slowly walked to the bus-loading zone. It was unbelievable how many runners and yellow buses were lined up one after another. Organized chaos. I sat beside a college student from California. For the next hour, we shared stories about the races we ran, & the ones we aspired to conquer. She told me about walking from Sacramento to Oakville over the course of 3 days to see her boyfriend….just because. Only a fellow long-distance runner would understand. We wished each other good luck after departing the bus in the small town of Hopkington.

Thousands of racers had already made a temporary home for themselves in the outdoor athletes village. I laid out my blanket on the grass, and ate my 2nd bagel of the morning basking in the sun. I did my best not to regurgitate – sick of carbs! Then I curled up, & relaxed for the next few hours. I was in the 2nd wave of runners, and there was plenty of time to loiter and waste away. That soon changed. Suddenly, there was a frantic rush to get to the start line in time. I, along with many athletes, was running to enter the proper corrals as the race had started. Thankfully, I’m petite, and was able to squeeze myself into the moving herd.

I reminded myself about 2 goals as I crossed the Start Line:

  • simply to enjoy every moment of the race. One woman exclaimed, “the 4-hour party is starting!” I wanted to maintain that attitude throughout the race
  • mind over matter. I could not control the events that could occur throughout the course, only how I dealt with them.

Residents lined the streets to cheer on runners. Many families were hosting BBQs, offering beer, and children high-fiving runners. During the first few miles, I tried to slap as many hands as I could until my hand became sore. Already runners including women, were running into the bushes to relieve their heavy bladders as a result of over-hydration. The course started with a long descent, and I had to remind myself not to go out too hard & fast. I needed to save myself for the hills ahead. I tried to use my pace band, but the small white font on orange was too blurry to read.

It was very evident Boston has passion for their beloved Red Sox & the marathoners. The race is held annually on Patriots Day (a long weekend), and approximately 500,000 spectators & 6,000 volunteers offer support. Throughout the race I passed many home-made banners indicating the score of each inning of the Red Sox game. There were many enthusiastic cheers when they won. Anything I could have possibly desired to make myself more comfortable during the race, it was there. People were handing out drinks, freezies, wet-naps, oranges, sponges, vaseline, etc. I took advantage of the majority. In hindsight, I wish I had accepted the vaseline. I experienced bad chafing scars from my fuel belt digging into my waist. One child was exceptionally gleeful when I took his water bottle. I laughed when another kid scolded a runner for slapping him with sticky hands.

My name was written on the side of my arm with black permanent marker. Spectators yelling, “Go Brenda!” Naturally, my initial reaction was to glance backwards each and every time I heard my name.

I felt relaxed, and most miles passed quickly. I am not saying it was easy though. Throughout the course, I experienced various aches & other minor issues. My stomach felt unsettled from the Gatorade & gels early in the race, my Canada cap made my head very sweaty, both my fuel belt and quads increasingly became heavier as I progressed into Boston, soreness in right knee/shin followed by aches in left knee, etc. I pulled in all my strength, & used my mind to help me through the adversities.

Near the halfway mark, I passed through Wellesley College. It’s appropriately dubbed the scream-tunnel. The girls’ cheers were deafening! It definitely was motivation for the upcoming hills in the town of Newton. They begin with a small ascent appropriately named, “Hells Alley.” That is just a taste for what lies ahead. After a decline, it’s followed by a bigger elevation climb.

The legendary Heartbreak Hill begins (or should I say “ends” for some depleted runners) after Mile 20.

Many runners may disagree, but for me on this spectacular day, I did not find the steep hills that difficult. Determined, I climbed slowly & steadily. The crowds motivated me. People screaming, “you can do it, it’s all downhill after you reach the top” in between Red Sox cheers, and closer to the end, “you’ve SURVIVED HEARTBREAK HILL!”

Earlier in the race I passed a man in a wheelchair pushing himself backwards with his feet at a snail’s pace. I thought of this man often as I was becoming increasing more fatigued making my way to the heart of Boston. I concentrated on pace calculations during the last 5 miles to detract my mind from how exhausted I felt. Like a textbook, I asked myself if I ran at “x” pace per mile, what time “y” would I arrive in Boston?

I searched through the massive crowds for my husband. When I finally saw him, it gave me another burst of energy.

I found the last 1/2 mile the most taxing. When I finally could see the finish line, naturally I was very excited, but it also was exasperating to reach. It was CLOSE, but I still had a few more blocks to go. It seemed like forever to complete. When I finally reached the finish line, I was overwhelmed with emotions. The experience is similar to childbirth, PAIN & ELATION simultaneously. It was the most incredible feeling to have the medal placed over my head.

When I finally found my husband, he offered the kindest & most appreciated gesture…a cab ride back to our hotel. Although it would have been quicker to limp the few blocks back, I was thankful to sit in the vehicle. I knew he would ask, but it was a matter of how soon, “How is it possible that it took you so long to qualify, & you couldn’t a few months back? Yet, you managed to re-qualify in Boston, a very strenuous course?”

The best way to summarize the race, is to ask, “Have you ever experienced excitement and preparation for a special event?” The occasion finally arrives, but disappointingly the day is anti-climatic. The Boston Marathon was better than I could have ever possibly imagined, and I am happy that I did not qualify easily. The side effects of an athlete (lost toe nails, sore back, various injuries resulting in physiotherapy, blisters, bruises, early mornings running high mileage in the brutal rain) were worth it!!! When I become demotivated and despondent with the obstacles of life, I think back at my tenacity, commitment, and determination at that time. I did not achieve my goal easily, but the journey was even more fulfilling.

The Boston Marathon is milestone in my life, and I am honored that I set a goal. Through sheer unwavering determination, and a hard work ethic, I earned the prestigious “unicorn medal.”

 

What Yoga Means to me?

I originally started practicing yoga years ago to supplement my long distance running by following the same DVD tutorial again & again. I suffered perpetual injuries from many miles of pounding my weary legs on cement.

At the time, I cannot say yoga was always something I enjoyed. I DID NOT! I did it to counteract physical trauma, and reach my burning desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I accomplished that goal!!!! I needed to stretch after overtraining. However, I found it difficult to focus on poses as it takes inner strength & calmness to hold the postures. I was unbalanced physically and mentally.

I am an oxymoron. I am a hyperactive person, and some may even describe me as a “shit show.” I love whirlwind intensity. My mind and body moves sporadically from place to place; I continually look backwards or forwards. Being in the present, and allowing my mind to rest has been something that I have needed to focus on learning and building in recent years.

Yoga has grounded me to reflect, live in the present, and find inner peace.  

In recent years, I have progressed from the DVD to practice at various studios and individually not only as a physical need, but to strengthen and transcend my mind & soul. I still have erratic moments, but overall, I feel I flow better.

When I travel now, I seek out studios in foreign locations to refine my skills with other like-minded individuals and learn new techniques from other yogis. How wonderful is it to meet other spiritually-inclined beings while practicing in beautiful natural surroundings. I am able to combine my adventurous wanderlust with yoga and quiet meditation. Yin and Yang.

My practice has included…

  • After a day of intense rock climbing steep cliffs to reach remote sandy beaches in the Algarve, Portugal, it was an easy transition to meander from my bustling hostel to an intimate yoga studio to practice with a calming Portuguese instructor. She coached me on positions that I have never tried.
  • Yoga classes in Tucson, Arizona after following the hotel running group through residential communities with cactus and dry semi-arid land as our backdrop
  • Falling asleep during savasana in a tranquil El Salvador studio after an arduous afternoon stumbling through the jungle. I struggled trying to keep up with the local guide in order to reach the Taminique waterfalls. I close my eyes feeling the warm sunlight peaking through the studio’s window slats as night fell while standing in warrior stance. I quickly bonded with my American yogi-doppelganger, and despite living in 2 different countries on 2 different coasts, we have become good friends. We dream to meet again at a yoga retreat in Central America. 
  • A Pacific Northwest coast girl roots lie in the fresh rainforest and mountains. It is only natural for me to complete tree poses next to the lush Whistler spruce, western red cedar, and hemlock watching gondolas pass by.
  • And simply, just taking a moment at the end of each day to chill and self-reflect leaving behind stressful personal and work commitments in the comforts of my own home before my eyes flutter asleep.

I know now, spending even a brief amount of time, even if it’s 15 minutes is an investment in myself.

Yoga is a relationship that I needed to develop to love myself, God, the earth, and the universe. Like most relationships, it is fragile, constantly changing, and the amount of effort puts forth, can lead to a more-rounded “me!” The journey is often the most sacred part rather than reaching the destination. I did not have a pivotal moment when I felt deeply passionately in love with yoga. It simmered, slowly became an integral part of my life, and without, I would be empty.

I love that my practice has progressed to a spiritual union of physical and mental. I am eagerly looking forward to the new journey by registering in the 200 hour Yoga teaching Training immersion this fall to strengthen my practice.

With yoga, I have clarity and focus.

Namaste

 

 

This is no ordinary bag

totebag

  I leave my latest travel adventure with a bittersweet sadness that my extraordinary bag may have seen its’ last trip.

This may look like an ordinary, even cheap, dirty discolored worn bag. I would fiercely argue in opposition. The intricacy of each thread woven together  has created a story of a time and place of my treks…where I was, the process of who I am, and  becoming.

I have taken needles & threads to mend unravelling pockets, holes, and zippers on many occasions after each enriching travel experience.

This bag is literally a metaphor for my life. At one point, I started bright and shiny, yet became tattered through life’s circumstances and decisions. My rough patchwork repairs represent the un-sleekness of my life. I have experienced the adversity and craziness of “1st world problems” in the last few years, and as a result, became worn. Sometimes I allowed myself to be shredded whether unconsciously or consciously, wallowing in self-pity, but eventually through a long arduous process, allowed myself to be patched.

Now, a new spool  will be threaded to create a new travel bag that will be fuller and richer for fresh stories to be told. I truly believe I have been rejuvenated, and a calmer more blissful journey is awaiting me.

However, I will not forget the chaotic memories of this handbag…

  • my beautiful kind-hearted colleague gifted me with this beautiful treasure. Some yearn for expensive Louis Vuitton & Chanel designer purses, but my existence is the experiences of friendships and families whether directly tied to mine or the ones I have met and/or observed in different cultures
  • holding tight a wailing sleep-deprived orphan in my arms for her to fall asleep in the tropical jungle of Riu Dulce, meaning “sweet river.” Food and water are basic necessities, but the tenderness of human touch are just as  important. Everyone should have the comfort of safety, but unfortunately, not many do
  • a milestone birthday and Christmas holidays with my children, or as I lovingly refer to as “my brats,” along  the Bay of Banderas’ warm sandy beaches. I do not always have the typical motherhood privileges to celebrate special moments with my children regularly, and these memories are even more delightful and precious.
  • how many mothers and sons can say they had matching family accessories (2 boot-casts, a pair of crutches, & a wheelchair) maneuvering through cobble stone streets and customs???!!!
  • listening to Calypso beats while eating tender fresh lobster tails during late smoldering hot evenings in Havana with my BBFF, boy best friend forever
  • gutted, betrayed, and scared in the Sea of Cortez because I naïvely trusted the wrong man
  • experiencing euphoria skydiving as the morning sun rose through the misty jungle-covered Sierra Madre Mountains
  • meeting new friends along the black sandy and volatile Pacific Ocean surf of Playa el Tunco
  • the emotional roller coaster of being disinvited to a family wedding in the Philippines, yet building a deeper bond for my sister-in-law and her generous family. In shock, I gazed in a zombie-like state at the most passionate blood-orange sunset;  I am sure Mother Nature was strongly voicing her displeasure at the venom of inter-marriage family feuds.
  • witnessing the captivating elaborate rich processions that commemorate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus during Easter’s Semana Santa in Antigua
  • being in awe and inspired by a family who gave up the American dream to relocate to Guatemala to empower impoverished families to sustain their livelihoods with eco-farming, teaching from “seed to plate”
  • experiencing the generosity from my spin cycle partner in crime who wanted me to revitalize from the chaos of dirty (literally and metaphorically) city life by enjoying his beautiful casita in a remote tranquil peninsula of Belize. I have peaceful memories of climbing the water tower daily with my toast and the largest creamiest avocados to gaze at the aquamarine Mayan Riviera and inhale the fresh morning dew
  • licking my sticky fingers of lingering sweet Figo juicy remnants before rock climbing the rugged Algarve cliffs with newfound friends, who immediately became kindred spirits. The voice in my head whispered eerily, “you fall you die, you fall you die, you fall you die” repeatedly. One may argue braveness or stupidity! Southern Portugal was the final destination where my bag fully disintegrated. The jagged rocks caught onto the canvas material of my bag and the cotton threads of my t-shirt ripping holes. I gathered my physical and mental strength to scrape and pull myself through the narrow rocks, trying not to inhale the hillside dust, and avoid the falling loose pebbles caused by the person climbing ahead of me. The result of the challenging terrain detour (learned afterwards, the caves were an easier reach by kayaks) was the most picturesque private beach with grottos and refreshing Atlantic Ocean water.