Monday, September 19, 2016

Aug / Sept

  • Am officially sick and tired of hot climates.  Maxed out on it during our 3rd annual end of summer return to Thailand.  Missing the cold right now.  Next year, sticking with locales with temps of 25 C and less.
  • The food was superb as expected.  Even did some climbing on Railay.  Plenty of scrapes and bruises to show for it too.  And oh so sore for days afterwards.  I don't deal with physical pain with a lot of grace, so it has felt torturous.  It was D's first time and he did awesome.  The lines we did were definitely not beginner level (was supposed to be).  I can tell you for sure that I did not make it look easy!
  • Next year's travel schedule has shaped up nicely.  Much easier. Taking a year off from the heavy stuff.  Not committing to any ventures in the developing world.  Shouldn't require any form of specialty meds as a result.  My kidneys and liver will be happy for the break. 
  • Am still feeling the necessity for more recovery time.  There's a lot of stuff swimming around inside that needs to be arranged, made sense of, and ordered.  It is both surprising and annoying that it is now Sept and I am feeling this way but it isn't something I can will away.  I'm looking forward to eventually moving past this.  
  • We've been out west for 6 days as well.  Courtesy of a ridiculous flight deal.  First time seeing what our ski area looks like in the summer.  Neat to be able to hike up to the top.  I really struggled with the uphills but found the downhill running to be super fun.  D was the reverse.  
  • Didn't particular love our time spent down in the city there.  Found the people to be generally stressed and downright angry.  Why we never noticed the near rage during the winter, could be because the many visiting skiers out number the locals?  This experience has definitely impacted our ideas of living out there full time.  Very glad we went out.
  • We knew that there has been an increasing spread between the numbers of lifestyle retirees who have migrated into the interior and the numbers of long time residents who are being squeezed out of the city due to escalating real estate prices and cost of living.  
  • Historically, this area was not a wealthy one.  Nowadays, it is known for its vineyards, orchards, golf courses and retirement communities, drawing many from across Canada as well as the pacific north west of the US with its year round attractions. 
  • We are planning to return again next summer.  I want to see what it's like at the beginning of July and have another opportunity to do some more hiking and organizing at the condo.  






Sunday, August 21, 2016

Super Human Inspiration


If you were as captured as I was with the film, you can follow
the team race this year's UTMB in 5 days. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Recent

  • To the young woman working the food truck who deliberately wore a low cut top, knowing she would have to lean over constantly to talk to customers... I would love for her to believe one day that cleavage will only get you so far.  That having depth of character and is far more alluring, attractive and sexy than a temporary carnal fix.  That leaving something to mystery is a more powerful aphrodisiac then letting everything hang out. 
  • Along the same lines, great to see current actresses like Gal Gadot, Alicia Vikander be and portray intelligent, strong women on and off the screen, without the need to bare it all to attract attention.  They continue the lineage of other talented actresses like Rachel McAdams and Natalie Portman.  
  • Current "retirement" definition for D involves another 4 years and change worth of full time work.  Afterwards, transitioning to 6 month contracts with the rest of the year off.  He foresees ample time to pursue his burgeoning bikepacking interest as well as having the funds to go on some pretty cool expeditions around the world.  If this plan works for him, this will be his definition of "retirement".  He is looking forward to the time where he has the option of spending all of his net take home pay.   His plan is golden as long as his back stays stable and strong.
  • Now that he is fairly comfortable in his new role at work (almost exactly the one he was offered out west, minus the travel, when we went through the relocation exercise a couple of years back), I can see his energy, sense of humour and enthusiasm come back.  He tells me that the work load and stress level is far far less than before.  So much so, we are open to starting our art classes again this fall -- Something we've both missed.  
  • I've been living my version of "retirement" life for a few years now.  It's going well, with some small fine tuning of my office procedures each year.  Sure I do get those days where I want to totally pack it in, but those are caused more from my extra curricular activities than work itself.  When I get tired, I tend to want to retreat from everything.
  • By far my biggest challenges in recent years has come from the type of travelling I do.  My mind signs up for things that my body doesn't always recover quickly from.  The disaster relief placement in Asia (mental/emotional) and visit to Uganda (physical) were the toughest on my system.  It took months for me to feel like myself again.  I thought I had things spaced out well this year but completely underestimated the amount of recovery time.  Know to do things differently now.  
  • Something good has come out of those challenges though.  When I was in Rio, and was surrounded by the many noises and sounds that go with living in a favela, I slept like a baby the entire week. Without the need of ear plugs (impossible in Uganda) despite lack of sound insulation and music being played from 4:30 pm through to 6:30 am from Thursdays onwards. Would never have guessed that my time there would help me catch up so much.
  • When I am ready to fully stop working, we envision a 2 home solution whereby we spend most of our year out west while summer and fall would be spent at our cottage with a cross country drive in between.  We are not sure if it will work and for how long.  Selling the main house will free up some dollars that will get socked away in investments.  The running costs of the other 2 places are quite minimal.  It's the driving that I'm not sure of.  The intention is to camp along the way, with no rush.  I know of a couple who drove down to Texas to spend 4 months each year and continued to do so until their early 70's.  Maybe we'll have what it takes too.
  • The reasoning for the above is to be able to take advantage of the best that the 2 provinces have to offer.  The west may have mountains but it doesn't have the scope of fresh water that Ontario has.  If this 2 home arrangement doesn't work, then we will pull out of Ontario for good and upgrade our place out west.  There is a chance we might just do that anyways.  An extra 100K spent will buy the bigger space we'd want.  
  • Both of our living size requirements have changed in the last couple of years.  For me, spurred on by travel experiences existing with less and less and for D, his fascination with tiny homes and bikepacking.  Travel at that point in our lives will involve fewer flights and longer stays, which will be quite a bit less pricey than my yearly travel budget.  And with both of us willingly continuing to work part time will mean no touching of principal but know it is there to work for us when we are ready. However illogical it may be, neither of us (mainly me) are ready to place financial limits on dreams, old, current or undiscovered.  
  • I've toyed with the idea of using next year to re-visit favourite places instead of diving in head first to mostly new locales.  It's tough to fight against yourself and your leanings.  Can you believe that I have no actual purchased flights for 2017 yet?  There are 2 points flights booked ages ago on the schedule that can be removed anytime.  
  • My annual travel doctor appointment is in 3 months and I usually show up with a list of places for the following year so we can discuss medical needs.  If I continue on my current course, there will be nothing new to add to my current medical kit outside of updating my typhoid shot. That's not a negative thing.  An "easy" travel year for me can still be seen as a heavy one for many others.
  • I have one last challenge slated for the end of the year to prepare for.  As counter-intuitive as it may sound, I've actually added 2 more things to my schedule to help me reach that goal with less stress.  It isn't my way to ask for help often so I see this move as a sign of maturity.  Fear does motivate!
  • I bought a new laptop -- My old one is still functioning but has started to get really hot and that got me concerned it is close to burning itself out soon.  Welcome to the family my Asus Zenbook.  Impressed so far with how light and silent it is.  Jury is still out on Windows 10...
  • I cannot end this post without a comment on the horrors that have occurred around the world recently, affecting a number of beloved countries.  Understanding how spreading terror works wasn't really what I expected my brain to want to sense out.   
  • The owners of the various apartments we have rented in Istanbul, Nice, Munich and their loved ones were not directly affected.  Understandably they are feeling shock and outrage but all are determined to continue to live their lives freely and not to let that seed of disruption grow and overtake their minds and lives.   

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Her name is...







No, I'm not currently there right now, but I wish I was. 
What a dynamic city -- Have never seen so many fit and toned people -- Incredibly inspiring.
Stayed at a family run guesthouse high up in a favela.
Maybe saw 2 mosquitoes total...Main roads are great...
Unbelievably efficient airport.
City is beautiful and seafront super clean...
Unlike what has been portrayed on the news.
Gotta love the media...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Uganda 3

  • Despite the challenges encountered in the country, I really enjoyed the act of camping.  Felt very cocooned in my tent with all my stuff somewhat organized around me.  Didn't enjoy packing up and taking everything down frequently.  Am definitely more of a pitch a tent and stay put type of person. 
  • My back felt surprisingly good sleeping on the ground.  I had some concerns with developing back pain but fortunately nothing manifested.  Prior to my arrival, I even practiced camping in my living room -- That's just how committed (crazy...) I am! 
  • Others I met would literally just stay one night -- Arriving later in the day and then up at 5 - 6 am to pack up and go.  Some of them have been on the move for at least a month, doing jeep or motorcycle touring across an impressive amount of the continent.  Covering a ton of ground, that's for sure, but not something that would appeal to me at that pace.
  • It did feel weird being the one left behind though, being the only one not packing up and moving on.  Felt seriously let down for a while, like I was missing out on something really cool.  Something I hadn't expected to feel, considering how far I had already journeyed to get there.  Peer pressure!
  • There is definitely a certain "breed" of people who tour Africa for long periods of time.  Not scientific but there seemed to be a good number of introverts.  Because of the sheer size of the continent, you spend an inordinate amount of time on the road.  I've never done a road trip that lasted more than 3 weeks.  And certainly none under such harsh conditions.  I don't know how relaxing it would be given the pollution, noise etc. Those people are far more hard core than I think I could ever be. 
  • Wouldn't do another safari again.  The opportunity came up last minute and I made some changes to make it happen.  Once it got going, I realized how much experience I already had with respect to seeing the various animals compared to others in my group.  I couldn't believe that some had never seen a giraffe or elephant before!  
  • The amount of sitting and the long days ( 6:15 am - 6 pm for 3 days) made me glad to get back to camp each night.  I would have be totally happy just staying there, keeping an eye out for the hippos and warthogs and taking walks down to the river.  There were surprisingly few bugs at the safari camp.
  • Lots of expats in the country working for the very numerous NGOs, UN based agencies, in development, healthcare (very inventive and smart HIV/AIDS poster campaign in central Kampala), human rights.  For the majority of them, this was their first placement -- Not what I would consider a soft landing.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

Uganda 2

  • The traffic was pretty atrocious.  And when there isn't air conditioning, it meant windows were all open (mosquito nets at night) and everyone gets to breathe in the not-so-nice air and exhaust for hours.  I had to leave at 4:30 pm to catch a 11:35 pm flight, just because it was rush hour.  Only to travel 51 km!
  • The airport in Entebbe had multiple layers of security.  Stage 1 was at the entrance to the road leading into the airport where everyone gets out, car gets checked, walk through metal detector, handbags checked.  Stage 2 was outside of the airport, passport check only 2 hours before flight when the airline instructions were the usual 3 hours prior, so lots of people outside waiting.  Once allowed in, xray and metal detector again.  Stage 3 was passport control after check in.  Stage 4 was pre-boarding 2 hours before flight with yet another xray check and then they take your boarding pass and you sit in a secured room...No wonder the duty free shops and coffee shops looked so empty.  You basically have no time to wander.  
  • As much as the above may sound intense, it really wasn't -- Just tedious.  I didn't feel like their procedures made me feel that much safer. The security officers were nowhere trained to what you'd find at Ben Gurion.  
  • I was fortunate enough to have lounge access, so I was exempt from being herded into the room prematurely.  And I got even luckier on the way to Africa as I was upgraded at the gate by KLM to their world business class from Amsterdam to Entebbe (10 hrs).  A great experience and a touch of luxury before my adventure. Priority luggage did not exist, at least for my particular flight.  It was one of the last to come out.  At least it wasn't covered in shampoo, like many others were as someone checked 2 large containers of the pumped stuff, but did not think to lock the pump...
  • This was the first time I saw a separate area of the airport just for UN planes.  It was impressive.  Throughout the parts of the country I got to see, there was so much UN presence in terms of development of land and various programs.  Their plaques are everywhere -- I have an appreciate of the extent of the need but it was almost disturbing, like the country has lost its identity.  Couldn't help but think of the word "colonization".
  • Voluntarily contending with no air conditioning, hot water, erratic electricity and pervasive red dirt/dust was also new and challenging.  The strong sun was tiring.  And breathing in heavy dusty warm air takes effort.  The cool shower at the end of the day was very much a relief.
  • The heat did get to me.  Got to the point where I almost couldn't move anymore and had a lot of trouble getting my breathing and heart rate down. And even scarier were the thoughts that started to come to mind.  Thoughts like " I think I'm in trouble", "It would be a good idea to yell out for someone", "Don't sit down!".  And the scariest thing was the feeling of numbness and detachment that started to come on where I didn't feel discomfort, which made it all too easy to want to sit or lie down.  I was on an uphill trail, full sun.
  • And to think it happened 3 days after I couldn't sleep because I felt too chilled.  Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this heat thing... I do feel some weakness from that day.  As D puts it, I'm still spinning the right way, but have been knocked off my axis a bit.  Will have time this summer to heal up.
  • Tsetse flies, schistosomiasis/bilharzia, yellow fever, malaria...A sample of the tiny sized things found in Eastern Africa that can make you very ill.  Makes me super appreciate living in a 4 season climate.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Uganda

  • Uganda was tough on my system.  Took a week for my lungs to detox all the soot and dust and pollution from my lungs.  Hadn't anticipated the amount of plastic being burnt at all hours every day of the week.  It was relentless and deeply bothersome.  It was enough that I would not consider a long term volunteer placement there despite really connecting with the people and issues.
  • Learned an awful lot about what it is like to exist with unreliable energy (think generator) and climate fluctuations that had me both near heat stroke and unable to sleep from the chill.  Who would have thought that a low of 16 C would have me wearing hats, gloves, merino and 2 pairs of socks??!!  Luckily I was able to rent a blanket for the next night.  The level of discomfort was really distressing for me.  It was my fault for deciding last minute not to bring a light sleeping bag, just a silk liner.  Did have both a foam and blow up sleeping mats though.  Never considered an emergency blanket or bivy for what I thought I was getting into, but believe me, I have pretty much everything now!  
  • Despite not having camped for decades, I think I did pretty well.  My tent and footprint did great.  Lived through rain, thunder, strong winds (super surprised as how persistent the wind was there).  Found out the North Face duffels are quite insulating.  My chocolate did not melt despite daytime highs of 27+C and even hotter in my tent.  I couldn't stay inside much after 8 am and could not re-enter until almost 4:30 pm. There was very little shade found.  Most trees are surrounded by 6+ ft termite mounds and I was not going any where close to those.
  • The ground was crazy hard.  I could not get my tent pegs even 1 cm into it.  Luckily I got some help before the winds came and ended up having to use a rock that took both hands to hold to get the pegs in.  Bent more than a few and seriously dented the rest.  Mental note to look for better pegs for different conditions to have on hand.  
  • Decided that I'm not a fan of carrying heavy gear.  I'm an ultralight packer as it is, so this will spill into future trips like this.  Don't think it will be a huge issue as the places I'm planning to go will not involve long traverses weighted down.  I really admire people who walk around with huge packs like it is nothing.  I'm small boned, so it doesn't take much to make up a significant percentage of my body weight.
  • It was no fun having to worry about not having electricity to charge devices and batteries running out prematurely.  A couple of girls in my group had battery back up and solar solutions.  Am well on my way to building my own. Am not going to be caught out like that again.  The learning continues...
  • The Sound -- I found the country to be So Loud.  Ear plugs became a norm at nights.  I found the decibel level of regular conversation too high for my comfort.  On the other hand, I love listening to the sheer amount of singing that occurs daily.  I had no idea what the words meant but it was beautiful and uplifting to witness. 
  • After 12+ years and many miles in the air, my Bose noise canceling headphones have taken their last breath.  Am quite sad about it because it has done so well for me and still look so new.  
  • I turned them in for what I had originally decided as the QC 25 but after another trial listen, I went for the ear bud version QC 20 (same price), because they simply sounded better (love them!), despite some disturbing reviews.  I just couldn't spend money on something that didn't wow me sound wise.  I'll deal with any consequences of that decision.  You receive about $111 towards the new set when you turn in your old one. Something they absolutely do not have to do.  
  • I've finally added captions to the photos in my last post.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notion

I harboured a vague notion of how cool it would be to live my days cycling with the rising and setting of the sun.  To become one with nature's frequencies and rhythm.  To adapt to a less rushed, more organic way of living...

Reality hasn't always matched my vivid internal hopes and dreams.  Thankfully there have been many moments where it has superseded the most optimistic ideals.


You won't find as many big game animals in Uganda compared to
some of the other more popular safari areas in Africa because during 
Idi Amin's reign, members of his army and villagers alike starved 
and had to resort to killing and eating game animals to survive. 

Great strides have been made to rebuild and preserve their parks,
as well as continuing to target poachers.

The authorities realized it was smarter, in the long run to preserve.
As we were told, they stood to make more money for projects from
showing a monkey 100 times rather than killing and eating it once.

6:30 am sunrise along the banks of the Nile River,
awaiting the first ferry of the day.

I know this is very hard to see, but was trying to capture 
(understandably without flash),  one of the hippos who came up 
from the banks of the Nile to the camp to eat the grass.
A girl I met while brushing teeth (open air washrooms) were 
heading back to our tents when we almost walked into it.  
We were within 3 ft.  It was silent when moving, but a crazy loud eater!
We discovered just how effective our leaping back reflexes were...

You can kind of make out its back side.  
For scale, the height of the hippo was about 5 ft.
Absolute highlight of the trip.
That and being chased by a baby warthog at the camp also.
Those little guys come at you like bullets!
Yes, you could choose to stay at a place where a manned and 
secured perimeter is provided, but where is the fun in that?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New

I've been upgrading and acquiring new gear like it was free lately.  Currently in awe of Arc'teryx, with just how much a North Face basecamp duffel can hold and how Marmot continues to design things that makes so much sense.  A couple of pieces might go back but the majority has become integrated into our lives already.

"We are going about this backwards." D said, with respect to our desire to begin camping again.  "People tend to start to with it, with the aim of owning a cottage someday, so they don't have to camp."

Apparently this has already confused people, who haven't held back their surprise and comments of "You guys are crazy...Why would you want to start camping, much less bike (D) or travel (Me) camping?"

Well, the answer is pretty simple, at least in my mind.  I'm preparing for bigger things, that will require I be stronger and more self supporting.  And I love the idea of having everything you need with you and the simplicity of tent living.  Although the last time I did a multi day hiking/camping trip was in high school.

The last few years has seen good strides with respect to my management of mosquito and heat issues. Combining those gains with physical endurance in more challenging destinations seems like a natural progression.  The continued belief of -- You want to Do more?  Then you must Be more...

I have to admit, it has been fun buying and preparing.  Whether I/we can live up to the demands of what our new gear can withstand remains to be seen.  There will be a number of opportunities this year to get pretty uncomfortable, to flush out all those pretty mental idealizations...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Discrepancy

It has been a while since I've worked on a project with new people for an extended period of time.  The last group stood out in my mind because of the high percentage of people whose bios just did not match the energy given off in real life.  In fact, it was nowhere close!  How could that be?  Did they realize how differently they presented?

Despite it being many months ago, my mind has returned to this discrepancy again and again, like attempting to solve one of those impossible puzzles -- Likely from fear I might also be projecting a similar personality gap and managing to completely confuse everyone I meet?

Perhaps part of it is that I also assume that by the time you reach a certain decade of your life, you also attain some knowing, congruence, acceptance of oneself?

OK, I'm blabbering -- How about a couple of examples?

On paper, this woman reads incredible.  The amount of personal achievements worldwide and local, is beyond inspiring.  All the while upholding what was full time but is now, a serious part time career.  I couldn't wait to meet such a powerhouse person.

When we finally met, it confused me.  The energy, presence and vitality I expected, that came through in the emails and write ups weren't there.  And it wasn't a matter of someone being humble but you can still sense real power and strength underneath.

I couldn't sense very much that gave me a feeling of confidence, and I'm usually quite astute about this sort of thing, especially in person.  For the duration of the project, the primary energy I did pick up was one of low grade confusion rather than leadership.  Was definitely stumped by this one.

It was like someone else had come in to speak the role in place of.  I would never have guessed that she would have had the organizational skills to do everything listed in her CV.

The second person also presented herself as an "expert" traveler who has experienced "extreme" situations.  Again, reads like a real hard core, seasoned, worldly, super strong woman.  Couldn't wait to meet her and share stories of being on the road.

Turned out that there was so much insecurity there, she couldn't stop talking about everything and anything just to fill time.  I had to move out of ear shot because my life energy was getting drained in her presence.

As for being a seasoned traveler, she was surprisingly unprepared but managed to spin it as a positive thing, being spontaneous.  And that it was a sign of being street smart to attain a local SIM card so one can walk around in a strange new locale holding a phone up to get a signal...

It is actually quite scary to me that people are listening to her advice about travel and finance.  I bit my tongue on a lot of the money stuff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Resolve

For the sake of my sanity and work schedule, I've had to say no to a pretty cool opportunity to do some work in another disaster recovery area of the world.  This was a project I had hoped to be have been involved with last year, but it got cancelled due to political reasons.

About a month ago, I got an email letting me know it was going to be a go this fall.  Of course I got all excited and immediately started to see what I could do to make it happen.  Since the news, it has been a month of such mental torture for me trying to justify, modify, push my way to a solution. I was literally giving myself headaches and bad sleep.

Feeling much relieved since I declined.  D has stepped up and will be joining the team.  I can't be more excited for him as this will be his first experience volunteering overseas and is a difficult one to start with, as the conditions are super basic (no running water, bring your own tent etc.) but he is up for the challenge.

I'll be in the country as well as I had flights booked since last Dec but our timing will be off by about 1 1/2 weeks.  Will be in another recovery area, very different and more remote.  As much as it would have been great to share a single experience together, I feel it will be special to be able to watch things unfold separately.  

Am also proud to announce that I made a change to my travel schedule for the better.  Better meaning easier and more nurturing.  I have been feeling emotionally tired still and finally admitted that I needed a re-charge.  Things were going fine at work etc. but felt like I was lagging a bit inside, somewhat detached, out of sync as well.  Nothing really serious but just slightly off.  

Even though what I had planned wasn't "crazy" or extreme, it was stressing me out with the amount of preparation I was anticipating.  So I cancelled it and replaced it with a tried and true. Outside of overindulging on rich foods, I feel centered and totally in my body, if you know what I mean.  It was perfect for me, just what I needed.  Good to be reminded of some of the best of human development.




 








 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bloopers


  • The last time I traveled with a laptop was 3 years ago.  Managed to completely forget it was in my backpack going through xray at the airport.  The people behind me gave me the "first time traveler looks and sighs". 
  • Over contributed to my RSP in error... So now I know all about those crazy forms you'll need to fill out just so that you can pay the interest from the time it all started to when it was withdrawn...
  • Ate too many potato chips of a new brand and flavor -- Something in it turned me into a freaky anxiety filled monster -- It was horrible.  Couldn't get it together.  Literally walking into walls.
  • Purchases a couple of items (2 different occasions) only because I thought they were on sale. First time, I read the wrong tag...Second time, a wrong tag was placed...The amount I "overpaid" wasn't enough to return but ironically occurred at the same store.
  • Managed to drop a skewer directly down the kitchen sink drain!  It's still there as our kitchen sink pipe does not have that bottom removable part (old house) -- How's that for technical?!
  • I followed it up with dropping a calligraphy nib down our powder room sink while cleaning it -- D salvaged this one using a magnet.

Fortunately life hasn't been completely out of whack.

  • I discovered winter trail hiking/running while out west this season and really took to it.  Loved being in elevation and outdoors.  The climbs were challenging especially after snowfall, but the light, silence and air made up for it.  
  • It was embarrassing to discover just how little ground I covered due to all the uphills when I thought and felt like I was working so very hard.  Seriously, I think I was the only one not wearing a coat.  D came out with me a couple of times and used some sort of tracking thing on his phone so that's how I know.  
  • A real positive that has come from it, is a commitment to work on cardio more. I'll need to if I want to do any type of multi day trekking in altitude.  It was just the push I needed.
  • The only cautions I would pass along are -- Should you also be doing this at a ski resort, remember that significant amounts of snow fall there and you could easily be waist deep in it if you venture off the path even a little (2 face plants first day) and even deeper should you fall into a tree well.  Plus there is that whole thing of potentially dying in one...
  • Bring a whistle, phone, snacks and extra grips for your shoes.  I'm actually considering a small collapsible shovel as well.  In my case, only saw 3 people in 9 days on the lessor used trails. Probably didn't help that I was out first thing in the mornings.







Sunday, February 21, 2016

February

  • D's surgery and recovery went smoothly.  So well, he has been skiing a bunch of times since and just left recently for another 2 week stint.
  • It has been an usually mild winter.  No complaints from me, despite investing in new snow tires.  Went with Continental this time around.  In the couple of times I drove in the messy thick stuff, it has already done better than my previous Pirelli set. 
  • I finally got my hair (10 inches) cut off to donate.  No layers afterwards as the journey to get it back to one uniform length after the last cut took way too long.  Sure, it may have looked better but I hope to still have plenty of time left in my life to be creative with my hair once it no longer qualifies for donation.  In reality, I pull my hair back 90% of the time, so who really cares about layers?
  • After missing a couple of seasons out west, I made sure I was to go this year.  Snow conditions have been great and I'll get to try out a couple of new sports and get to stay for 10 days.
  • I'm happy with the results of my increased strength training (mostly body weight exercises).  It has made a noticeable difference all around and I hope to continue the improvements.
  • Probably due to the heat and physical work load while away as well as the decrease appetite; not surprisingly, I lost almost 5 lbs.  It's totally OK with me as I had gained a few stubborn ones (courtesy of the halva/halawa likely) during my time in Israel and Palestine and could not shake it even with my workouts.  Disturbing how easily that can happen.
  • D's new work position is going really well -- I know I report this every time at the start...But I do feel the difference in him and in me.  Time will tell.  
  • My taxes are ready to go -- Waiting for D to get his info from work. We file separately but I need his net income.  Will be getting some money back -- Part of it due to an over payment of taxes on my part (miscalculation) and from extra charitable donations.  
  • I did catch up with my girlfriend regarding the difficulties of re-entry post volunteer placements.  She has since radically changed her work (self-employed) and has simplified a number of processes there.  The bonus being higher cash flow and less mental worry.  We discussed just how much mental clutter we can needlessly impose on ourselves -- Not much of it all that "real" when it comes right down to it.  I am thrilled at how light she sounds and how her truth and focus just rings out of her voice.
  • This will be a passport renewal year for me.  With most countries in the world requiring expiry dates 6+ months from the date of return, I have to get organized the year before as I have things consistently booked.  Like to give at least a month for it to be done, even though "official" processing time is 10 business days.  I've heard too many stories of people showing up expecting 10 days and finding out that they are experiencing higher than normal volumes...I won't take that risk as there is a lot at stake.   

Monday, February 15, 2016

Return

I reached out to a girlfriend of mine who spent 2 volunteer stints in Haiti shortly after the last earthquake, for advice as I remembered her describing the disorientation she felt after her 2nd return.

It had been a real difference for her compared to the first time when she returned feeling pumped up and raring to go.  Instead, she returned feeling ungrounded and down for at least a few months if my memory serves.

Felt what I think were similar sensations -- Numbness, mental detachment along with profound sadness during and after -- And gave it time to continue working through me once I returned home.  Luckily the worse of it coincided with a non-crazy period at work, thus making my emotional return gentler.

I wonder if this is what I will need to work on next -- The mental-emotional preparation?  Not exactly sure just how to do that, other than to gain more experience and ask others how they cope, which is why I want to talk to her about it.

Situations that lead to the "cleaving open" of oneself emotionally to reveal deep compassion (among other things) can be heart wrenching and uncomfortable.  However, has served to reinforce my deepest foundations as a person.  And this last experience continued to advance that.

And I've noticed how differently being immersed in discomfort play out in people.  From becoming very quiet and literally running away to spend more time alone (me) to feeling the need to talk non stop to acting out negatively when it seems contrary to their persona. Adversity can be such a self discovery process.

My relationship with food shifted on this trip.  I felt a low to low-moderate amount of hunger each day while working abroad.  Coming from a country where I rarely get to feel any real hunger, it was a change.

The heat was certainly a factor but so was the depth of my sadness and guilt.  My appetite during the day wasn't what it usually is, which for me has normally meant 2 meals a day.

For the majority of days, I ate one egg in the morning, not because I was hungry at 6 am, but because I needed something in my stomach before taking my malaria meds.   Then later, would pick through lunch after rejecting any snacks and have 1/3rd of what my normal dinner serving would be. 

Seriously, I felt quite good doing the above.  I found eating vegetarian when I did eat lunch made me more physically productive afterwards in the heat compared to the days I would eat a small piece of chicken or fish, for example. 

Having been home for a while, I initially continued the lower caloric intake out of habit but am missing the amount of physical activity.  My workouts and paid work, despite them rating much harder in a number of ways, also doesn't seem enough.  Am missing the slow burn.  Maybe I need to start volunteering on a farm?

D and I discussed the number of food things we habitually do because we "can", because it is convenient, serves as a treat etc. when in reality those things don't necessarily rank very high in our experience scale to be worth putting in our mouth or spending any money on.

It's not a frugality move as much as a further questioning of our inner motives, including the habits of eating because it is a certain time, before any signs of hunger.  D and I can have quite different eating cycles and for the sake of eating together, one or both of us may not be feeling any real need to eat but will because it is close enough or we are in a social setting or it has just been prepared.

At first, coming back from a place where true hunger is a reality of daily living, our seemingly benign habits at home literally turned my stomach and to be honest, disgusted me -- Even though I'd hardly describe our daily lifestyle as food indulgent. 

So moving forward, we are committed to becoming more conscious of our decision making with respect to our relationship with food.  If I am going to eat out, I want to feel a real hunger for it -- The experience, the type of food, not just because I'm feeling hungry.  There is a difference. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Let's Begin

My sense of time is off.  It's only February and I feel like far more of the year have passed.  I'm currently fighting with myself and the perpetual temptation to fit in more to an already beautifully balanced year (if I do say so myself).  That's nothing new.

Call it delusional or optimistic.  Either way it is distracting and I've already spent too much time already and it is only February.  I need to stop, step back and get present again.  There's a lot of cool things to look forward to this year that require my immediate attention.

I've been missing on what I'm going to call "developed beauty".  Beauty that has space to grow from having basic needs met.  Architecture, art, music.  I'm missing the best of human development. And also the light of the far north -- Unfortunately no plans there this year.  It's not from lack of trying.  Some things just fall in place and others just don't despite the wanting.

I've spent the last few years immersing myself in high density chaos, learning to thrive and adapt to it.  Grateful for the opportunities that have presented itself which have far exceeded my widest expectations.  Couldn't have been able to dream up anything near the depth of what I've experienced.

Looks like I may have finally figured out what works for me in high heat and humidity.  Am still in disbelief with how well I did last time.  Worked hard for long hours with no negative fall out after.  It has taken 7 visits over 2 years to high temperature places but it appears my system is finally showing signs of quick adaptation.

Glad I didn't give up.  The last set of pictures would have never happened had I did. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Unable to Describe

The photos below may show the environment accurately but comes nowhere close to emitting the feelings I got from being there.  This was my first experience being in a disaster recovery zone and it won't be the last.  There is something so raw and visceral about witnessing the aftermath of nature's fury and destruction. 

Not a day went by where I did not tear up walking through the areas to my work site.  The people there are a lot more resilient and handled their situation with far more grace than I could.  I don't know where they find their strength and courage.  Even though I've been back for a while, just the thought of it still elicits strong emotions.  It has taken some time to process.











 





Saturday, December 19, 2015

Travel Memories 2015

  • In Bangkok, asking our 2nd taxi driver how he was in Khmer instead of Thai...Both he and D turned to look at me with the utmost look of confusion on their faces.  It took me a few seconds to wonder why?  Don't ask me where it came from when I haven't been to Cambodia for almost 2 years.
  • Having our 1st taxi from the airport break down in the middle of the freeway at around 11:30 pm en route to our apartment in Bangkok.  A bit adventurous trying to get out of the car.
  • Remember how I was disgusted at the men at the Yangon ferry terminal, and refused to buy a ticket to Dala due to their greed?  I'm unhappy to say that the corruption has gotten worse.  Yes, the prices that are being demanded are still more than affordable for us, but that's not the point.  I'll never forget the little boy who refused a 1 USD tip because he felt he didn't work hard enough for it.
  • My seatmate on a flight from Tokyo to Singapore.  We ended up talking for almost 8 hours about art, him bringing up 3 boys who live all around the world (he was on his way to go diving with one of them), his professional music career, karate, the cello, his cabin on Puget Sound...Super positive individual.
  • Walking from terminal 1 to 3 at Changi airport at 4 am, hoping to catch this before my flight home, only to find out that the exhibit is Landside, not airside!!!  Once you've crossed over passport control, you are not allowed back!!!  I was disappointed, so consider yourself warned should you be transiting through while it is still on.
  • Getting a small hug from the wife of a couple whose restaurant I ate at on 3 occasions in Koh Lanta.  Culturally it is not really done and she surprised me greatly (even though I have no issues with hugging) as I would have never expected it.  She is the kindest soul I've met in Thailand.  I wouldn't return to the island other than to see her again.  I think she is kinda expecting me to return next year.  Her husband tried to take a picture of me discreetly but his phone gave him away.  I even got to meet Grandma.
  • The frozen Great Slave lake in Yellowknife and the crisp air.  You bet I'm keeping an eye out for any seat sales. Our winter hasn't really started here, but I've read that they are expecting the ice road to be open at around the same time.
  • Took my first flight on the LCC (low cost airline) Air Asia.  The flight and service was fine.  Boarding can be a bit crazy as I couldn't always understand the English announcements.  What did bother me some was the seemingly relentless requests to change seats so that friends and families could sit together.  Being a low cost airline means you have to pay a few dollars to choose your seat, which I did.  Turns out I am in the minority.  Once people realize and understood that I did pay to sit where I was, they backed off.  We are talking about $4 dollars each way...It made sense for me to pay it because I couldn't trust that they wouldn't oversell and I would end up without a seat and miss my much more expensive overseas flight home.
  • Getting mild food poisoning (again) in Singapore the day before my long journey home.  Not bad enough for drugs but what is it with Singapore and me?
  • Leaving Singapore continues to be great experience.  The cab driver was super nice and even waited until I made it into the terminal and waving before he drove off.  
  • The welcome and smile I would get from the waiter at the Yangon restaurant I frequented after my initial attempt with saying thank you and good bye in Burmese.  I always find it frustrating and sad at the same time on my last visit when I'm trying to tell them in limited language and a lot of gesturing that I am leaving for home and that I will come back right away the next I return.  
  • The super nice restaurateur in Balat (Istanbul) who fed D and I so so well for the week.   He would come right out of the front door to greet us.  Can't wait to go back there too.  So many places and moments that touched our hearts this year.
  • Shared tables are the norm in Hong Kong and can be more than a little intimidating when they just tell you where to sit and the table is so small that you are touching knees with the guy across from you.  I held my own when it came to eating though.  Be prepared for impatient looks and expressions if you cannot spit out your order fast enough.  I really took to the vibe in HK.  You can feel the collective brain power of the people there.
  • I was and still am pretty gutted by what I witnessed in Palestine.  Was so angry I shook from it weeks after and I know I'm far from being the only one.  Makes you feel like you have to take action.  Here's a superb film that does an excellent job illustrating the different facets of understanding in the region.  
  • Spent a great day with an architectural student who wants to design affordable housing in the favelas of southern Bogota.  One thing I noticed right away from Bogotanos is when they are listening as well as speaking to you, will look you directly in the eye and hold the gaze throughout.  You have their total attention.  At first it felt a bit intimidating.  Later, I came to appreciate it.  Made me realize how we don't do it to that extent here at home.  
  • The friendly young Israeli woman who helped me purchase my ticket on the tram so I could get to Yad Vashem.  (The guy behind me in line had a sour and impatient expression and couldn't be bothered to help when I told him that I suspected the machine wasn't functioning.  He later ended up in line behind me again as I guess it didn't work for him either.)  She was on her way home on a couple of days leave from a 3 year volunteer commitment teaching children at a rural school.  She explained how much Israelis love to give back and help and I felt that truth ring through her so clearly.  What a great welcome after my first full day spent in Bethlehem and Ramallah.  It is just unfortunate the Israeli government will not allow their citizens to enter Palestine.  However, it doesn't stop Jews from all around the world from entering and seeing for themselves what is going on there.
  • Upon leaving Jenin, I had my first experience with the power of fighter jets.  Frequent military patrols and exercises occur in that region of the country and our van shook, surprising all of us. 
  • The guinea pig races in Bogota!  Could watch them all day.
  • Having lunch and splitting our plates with a guy on the same graffiti tour in Bogota.  The restaurant was recommended during the tour and had a beautiful graffiti mural in front.  He hailed from Boston and is a masters level Botanist attending a conference.  Was going to be heading to the Philippines for 3 weeks to study rice.  We shared plates of lamb, salmon, quinoa and ratatouille at a tapas restaurant.  He was good company.
  • How the homeless people of Bogota aren't demanding or aggressively soliciting.  I experience way worse at home here.  I was eating a plate of lechona (purchased from a street vendor) while standing on the sidewalk.  A homeless man walked by and he looked really hungry.  He didn't even look at me and continued to walk to the nearby garbage bin and started sifting through.  I couldn't finish the serving and went over to towards the garbage.  As I didn't presume he would want it, I made the move to throw it out when he looked at me.  I nodded and motioned to him the plate and he smiled and took it from me.  I gestured if he wanted more as I was ready to buy him a new plate but he was content and thanked me. 
  • I discovered the awesomeness of the airport lounge shower.  Call me a slow learner as there has been ample opportunity to avail myself of this opportunity but it never occurred to me until recently -- And that included being stuck at JFK for 12 hours in July due to thunderstorms...Could have used a therapeutic shower then!  They are actually quite luxurious and not like what I had imagined in my mind (pictures of yucky gym showers) even though you'd think I'd know and expect better.  There are dedicated staff that clean them after each use.  You get fluffy towels, 5 tubes of toiletries, a separate change area, washroom and shower stall with a rain shower head.  It felt like a mini spa.  You bet I've been analyzing my future flights to see when and where I will be able to fit one in next!  I cannot describe just how good it feels after a 14 hour flight.
  • I had a recent incident of being deliberately overcharged.  On the way back to the Krabi airport, I was hoping to catch the airport bus (90 baht) instead of a taxi (400 baht) but I wasn't sure exactly how to do so as there aren't marked signs as to where to wait.  My hotel told me to just stand on a particular corner and wave it down when I see it come down the road.  So I was there super early in the morning so I wouldn't miss it.  A Thai lady was waiting as well and it turned out she was going to the airport too, for work.  I ask if she was taking local transport (50 baht) and she was and it was OK if I followed her.   All was good.  When the open air truck came along and the driver asked where we were going and agreed to take us, we got on.  Then he came around and told me that it was going to cost 100 baht (lesson for next time, confirm the price before getting on, although I took local transport all week with no issues).  My Thai friend launched into a rebuttal and even though I could not understand what he said, the way he looked at me said that he told her that I was a foreigner who was leaving and could afford it.  She got quite red in the face.  By the time we got to the airport, the truck was 3/4 full and only the 2 of us hopped off.  An idea struck me and as we were getting down, I told her that I was going to pay for her.  When the driver met us in the back, I stood if plain view of everyone and told him loud and clear that I was paying for myself and my friend and clearly handed him 100 baht and repeated it.  My friend gave him the look of death while I said it.  Thais do not like to lose face in front of others, so he silently took my 100 baht and you should have seen his face when I thanked him in perfect Thai... He doesn't need to know that I couldn't say much more...
  • I'm cheating here as the picture below isn't from 2015, but 2014, from my Habitat build.  It's one of my favorite ones as it represents so much.  The blocks we built with, the rebar we bent, the tea we were served multiple times each day at the site.  The smell of the wood was wonderful.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December

  • It turns out that the extended health benefit package at D's new company is no where close to what we have been used to.  So the search has begun for potential supplemental insurance.
  • When D worked there previously, the coverage was comparable.  But they have recently slashed the policies and has continued to do so for 2016.  Had we known the details of that, we (D) would have negotiated differently. 
  • I will be working with the travel and regular pharmacy to check what this new policy will/won't cover, specifically the pricey inoculations (Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies) that I will likely be renewing every 3 years.  Update:  It seems to be comparable for more conventional drugs (i.e. epipen) but have just found out there is zero coverage for my travel shots (ouch!).
  • We have started a new savings account for extended health as I have a good idea of what we spend each year to keep well.  Unfortunately our health care system is more of a disease care model and to practice prevention does cost out of pocket. 
  • Looking back on the year expense wise, the biggest costs have been in the auto department.  New brakes, new winter tires etc.  
  • Normally at this time of year, I'm working on filling our "working" accounts but I'm not sure about the extent of the need this year as our cash flow will be higher.  Am going to think about it some more.
  • Only 9 leaf bags this year compared to last year's 15 (or 50, like it felt like...).  Hurray for strong wind!
  • D made a judgement error of assuming that prices would be similar for an oil change and tire swap at the dealership vs. our local place... bad call... cost more than double what it should have.      
  • After requiring yet another bearing replacement, we have decided to send a letter to Infiniti Canada describing our experiences with their brand.  It was covered under warranty but our point is that it shouldn't need it when it is so young (75K)?!  The last bearing we replaced was at 150K on the Subaru.    
  • If you haven't yet seen "The Theory of Everything" please do.  I've just had my 3rd viewing and it continues to move me to tears.  Why this film  as well as "The Imitation Game" and "American Sniper" didn't sweep the Academy awards is beyond me.  I honestly couldn't make it through the first 30 min of "Birdman".
  • My getaway wasn't as relaxing as hoped (something about getting bit on the eyelid and having a dog become interested in my shoulder bag and elbow... neither necessitated official treatment thankfully) although I did return feeling stronger and stumbled upon a few gems for another time.