Donation drive for “kindred spirit elephant sanctuary”

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

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

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

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

Dear Brenda,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love from project,

Kerri, Sombat and the KSES team xx

Kerri McCrea

Manager & Co-Founder of Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

Website: www.kselephantsanctuary.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/kselephantsanctuary

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

Pedro and Portugal

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

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

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

Our friendship is a reminder that…

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

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

Dear Pedro,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Xoxo

Unforgettable volcán experience

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

Travel Mantra:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We each

Universidad Centroamericana

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

My travelling yoga mat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget travel

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

I’ve listed some ways I have created opportunities:

Couch surfing:

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

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

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

Volunteerism:

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

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

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

Bartering system:

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

Work travel:

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

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

Home exchange:

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

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

Hostels:

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

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

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

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

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

All-inclusive resorts:

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

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

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

Guatemala Semana Santa

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

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

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

PRE-HIKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He drinks.

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

He shared the dark story of his 2 younger brothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIKING DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POST HIKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

North to South – Rocky Mountains

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

We were fearless.

And some may say foolish and reckless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”