Sunday, December 24, 2017

Nov / Dec '17

  • Ending 2017 much more tired than expected.  Slept a lot the first 2 days upon arriving out west.  Had I stayed home, there would have been less pressure but when the view is of the mountains, I expected to be able to get outside and moving pronto.  Not curled up inside.
  • Am less fit as revealed by my recent winter hikes.  Thought I had caught up some when my heel improved but not enough.  Caught me off guard too.  Conditioning is an easy thing to lose and punishing to feel.  Temporarily made better by a couple of fresh chewy chocolate ginger cookies with a mug of coffee with Amarula...
  • The travel claim from D's injury finally did get approved.  Cheque has been received and cashed.  Grateful for insurance.  Despite an injury, D's conditioning remains high.  How unfair is that??!!
  • All the follow up appointments for my gum surgery has been completed.  The procedure went really well and I would not be concerned if I were to need anything else in the future.  As strange as this may sound, I really like my periodontist.  He is super calm and zen.  Want to be more like him.
  • Been cheating quite a bit this holiday with treats (sugar, dairy, wheat etc) and over all caloric intake.  Have enjoyed every bite!  Once we return home in a few days, the clamp down will automatically begin as it is so much easier to be good there.
  • Had a weird thing happen with my cell phone once I got up to the ski condo.  Within 3 minutes I got a text warning that I was at 90% of my data usage, then another showing I was over 5 minutes later.  All the while my phone was just on while it was trying to connect to the wifi.  
  • Thought it had to be an error with my phone (getting old?) as my average monthly usage is around 300 megs / 1 gig.  So didn't think anything of it but logged into my account the next day to check just in case.  Found an overuse charge due to those incidents, so called in to report it.  After the agent looked at my history, the charge was taken off but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened. 
  • My cell phone no longer supports an important travel app I use.  Am going to see if I can work around it.  If not, I will have to consider a newer phone.  The way plans are now in Canada, I would have to sign up for a new one, which will be at least $100 a month.  And depending on the phone I want, would be free or $200 and up.  Will see how my next trip goes and decide after.
  • Our internet at the condo isn't working.  One of the providers pulled out this season, so those users would have signed up with ours and somehow our connection get disconnected.  We've been given a number of general accounts to use in the meantime until they sort this out.  
  • Not crucial for me but D needs a strong connection for his work.  And the ones given are OK for general usage but not for what he needs so he has been tethering off his phone.  Supposed to get a credit for the time up until they get it fixed.  Apparently this is happening all over the mountain.  
  • Am in the midst of cram time for my Spanish.  Will be heading down to Guatemala soon for another week of studies and have been a bit too lax with my homework.  Should have spent energy criticizing myself instead of D...
  • I am happy 2017 is coming to an end.  2018 is another opportunity to test out new ideas and placements.  Let's see if the latest rejig is really the best version ever.  All the best to you and yours!  

Taken from The Peak, Hong Kong

Except this one, which was taken from Hong Kong harbour, Central

Thursday, December 21, 2017


The more I travel, the more I see the increasingly negative effects of tourism on places and people.  Especially when the discrepancy between the tourist and destination country is high.

I knew about the gaps in income, freedom, mobility etc.  and have tried my best to stay and eat at locally run places, despite it not always being comfortable or convenient.  My thought has been that I was there to gain some insight to the local culture, rather than insulate myself with relative luxury.

Despite efforts, in some destinations more than others, I've been automatically labeled as the "rich foreigner" and the "hard sell" or 2 tiered pricing immediately occurs, which I do not appreciate.  It doesn't feel good to be on guard each time you leave your hotel.  It can be a deterrent.  And the surprising discovery was that in some cases, the touts aren't poor, but are trying to act like it, praying on emotions and it works for them.

I've also noticed an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, anger and resentment.  Maybe stemming from consistently being around people who seem carefree, well fed, with no worries or troubles, loose with spending.

It would be difficult to be facing all of this day in and day out while putting in up to 17 hour days all the while trying to keep an enthusiastic front in hope of receiving a good tip.  You can feel and see that expectation, while the local community often do not tip.

In some places, the income potential of those in tourism has outstripped those working in education, health care.  So it has created a situation where villages are losing needed professionals to the tourist trade, leaving schools and hospitals short of key people, thus rendering parts of country under serviced.  An unexpected and unintended consequence of "development and success".

I didn't entirely love my recent time spent in Moshi, Tanzania although I met some really smart and kind people.  Ate some incredible food -- never had Swahili food before and everything I had was so flavourful and delicious!  The infrastructure is at a much higher level than Uganda.  Main roads excellent condition.  Government paid education.  HIV infection rate approx. 5.7% vs 94+%.  Still some burning of plastics but not to the same extent, thankfully!

Had the same driver to and from the airport and after we got through the why I didn't join any tours while there and the sell, we got talking about what I did do with my time.  It was only then that his tone changed and he softened, when I described where I walked, what I ate (knew the Swalihi names and prices by then) and how great and what high value I thought the food was compared to some of the "recommended" places I read about, all of them I ended up going in and immediately turning to leave.

It was then he told me that people will pay much higher rates because they felt that at those places they would be "safer".  To which I questioned, from what?  The hard sell, yes, but from what else, I'm not sure.  I felt that my driver felt somewhat insulted by that action, even though those clients are likely to be good tippers.  A conflict there.

The tourist industry is a huge well oiled machine in Tanzania.  With the cache of Kilimanjaro and access to the Serengeti, there is a consistent influx of people from all over the world who arrive single minded to fulfill their dreams and bucket lists.  Travelling around in rows of Land Rover Defenders.  I didn't like the feel of it and am in no hurry to buy into it.  Don't know why it stood out so much for me here as I've experienced pushy people elsewhere.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Brain Dump cont'd

  • I met a lovely retired couple from Utah on my way to Oban from Glasgow.  We ended up at the same seafood restaurant for lunch and decided to sit together.  They had flown in from Manchester to spend 4 days in Scotland.  A small break from their year of service at a local church.  
  • They silently went to pay for my lunch and when I found out, I had to insisted strongly to pay my own way.  I told them that their gesture alone was something I would cherish and not forget.  Such pure and kind people.  It was their 3rd time doing an oversea church mission.  Once in Brazil and twice in England.  
  • One of their daughters was on the national latin dance team so it was very interesting for me to hear about her training schedule.   Their love for each other and warmth when speaking about family and service literally wraps around you.  It was so nurturing being in their company.  The world needs more people like them.  
  • Sat beside another fun couple on my way back from LA.  They took to calling me "kiddo" and were quite distressed when my luggage was late arriving, even though it had been labelled priority.  They knew that I was dangerously close to missing my next connection.  You should have seen how concerned they were and how disappointed that I wasn't seeing my case.  The care shown by complete strangers has again and again astounded me and given me hope for this world.  
  • For someone who doesn't have to travel for business, I fly a lot -- Have 12 flights on my travel roster.  Two remaining for this year -- Should have been one but I managed to use that flight credit from D's injury.  So that leaves 10 for between Jan - Aug of next year and I'm excited for all of them.  
  • Maybe hard to believe but I will actually work a week more in 2017 than I did in 2016.  And on track to work 2 weeks more in 2018.  A lot depends on how the days fall each month.  As soon as I get my hands on the following year's daytimer, I track yearly minimum working days like a hawk on a spreadsheet as I go into planning mode.  
  • A few years ago, I was at the bottom end of the airline status ladder and when I started to fly to Asia, my airline mileage climbed naturally.  Had never expected to reach top tier this year.  It did make me stop and realized just how many hours of sitting I've done in airplane seats.  D just shakes his head when we sit down to go over my travel calendar.  He still gets to pick and choose the ones he'll join me for. 
  • I get to see and sit by a lot of business travelers.  Some who fly to Asia a few times a month.  And they seem to take everything in stride.  I cannot imagine how hard that would be.  And be functional at the other end immediately for a meeting or presentation.  They are true road warriors.
  • And for sure, sometimes my back and legs suffer for it.  But by in large I quite enjoy the process.  Yup, it's great to have access to the airline lounges and extra leg room seats for free and score the occasional upgrade to first.  However, most important of all, is knowing that my preferred airline will take care of me should things go south.  I rarely ever have to wait long when I have to call in for something.
  • I know where to buy great food to bring on board at certain airports -- Current favorites are from Minneapolis airport Terminal 1.  Smack Shack -- They sell lobster rolls and giant prawn cocktail.  Black Sheep -- Coal fire pizzas.  And Lake Wine Kitchen + Bar for a great blueberry, candied pecan and prosciutto salad that goes along perfect with the prawn cocktail.  For 14+ hr flights, it's nice to have some real food with you.
  • I am super excited for the finalization of the joint venture between Delta and Korean Air.  It will make flying to Asia more comfortable and seamless.  I really like the flight times and level of service that Korean Air offers.  And being optimistic here when I hope for more moderate flight pricing as well.  
  • I don't spend near as much as one might naturally think on my travel each year.  I know what "normal pricing" is and what would constitute a "good deal" for different parts of the world.  Especially nowadays, as I stay in more local establishments, run by individual families.  Makes a big difference, plus the bonus of directly supporting them.
  • When I go back even 4 years ago and compare what I spent then, what those spots are currently charging compared to places I would pick now -- Huge difference in cost.  It has been a mindset change on my end as well.  That is also why the push to learn languages better so I could function more effectively when I find myself in a home stay situation or in more out of the way places where you cannot assume anyone can speak English.
  • My year's worth of flights cost similar in range to a family of 4's 1 to 2 week Disney adventure, depending on whether they are staying on site or off, 5 star or 3.  
  • And I never ever forget, no matter where or what situation I may find myself in, that air travel is a huge privilege.  There are many in the world who will go their entire lives never stepping foot on a airplane because they are unable to afford it.
  • Thank you for indulging me in these last few spewing posts.  I know there is an unprecedented amount of digital noise and chatter that exists in our daily lives and you do not necessarily need more.  

Friday, November 10, 2017


I have been working with a young man at work over the past few months.  He was new to the area and had a real attitude when we first met.  I chalked it up to him being male, 21 years old and probably not wanting to be there.

Recently his mom told me when she dropped him off that he told her that he really liked working with me.  Nothing like a comment like that to make a young man blush.

Guess I had finally made it it through that tough exterior of his with our occasional side conversations about the state of the world.  Although his very primative opinions on the non existence of Palestine made me bite my tongue pretty hard.

So now whenever he comes in, he'll throw something at me, almost like a test, to see if he could teach me a thing or two.  The last subject was Iran, which he really didn't know a whole lot about...oh the chutzpah of a 20 something male...

Then his chronic disease took a turn for the worse and suddenly he was down to 130 lbs.  For a 6 ft 7" guy, that is dramatic.  And I was suddenly struck with the feeling that I was witnessing someone who was wasting away right in front of me.  That realization along with the frightful look in his eyes completely gutted me.

So I took control of the conversation one day when he was trying to explain to me the whole caloric system.  And I told him I didn't care about that.  All I cared about was that if he was capable of only eating 5 tablespoons of something in a day, it needs to be high density, ideally protein and every tablespoon needs to count.

I don't usually speak to someone in such a dictatorial way.  I could tell that my firmness caught him by surprise but I couldn't stand around listening to him tell me how he was trying to eat toast.  All I saw was someone who looked like they were dying.

My mind was working on a plan B, even when I was in Tokyo, should things not have improved by the time I returned.  Subsequently found out that one of his Drs changed up some meds that had known abdominal side effects and he had been eating again since and had regained a number of pounds. 

What a relief.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brain Dump

  • Had been temporarily feeling highly irritable.  Think food additives may have something to do about it and sensitivity to caffeine.  Had completed a detox and forgot that afterwards can be extra affected by even small amounts of substances I do not normally take in.  Supposed to know better.  Hate feeling so volatile.
  • Because of the heightened emotional sensitivity, other things not related to me are bothering me.  Like D's many missed Spanish lessons making me feel like I've made a mistake recommending them to him.  The control freak in me is on overdrive with the lack of accountability I have been witnessing.  For the record, I know I sound completely insane...
  • My mind is also likely preoccupied with an upcoming periodontal procedure (logical or not, I am blaming my electric toothbrush).  We have no coverage for it and nothing specialty dental comes cheap.  But, I will get some days off afterwards, which I don't mind right now.  Good opportunity for an attitude adjustment.  Update:  procedure was short and sweet.  Currently recovering at home.  Thus the extra verbiage... too much time on my hands as I cannot do anything strenuous for 3 days.
  • The irritated state lasted the morning.  Once I got to work and started focusing on my day, things normalized.  Huge reason I continue to grapple with the complete retirement choice.  Am not convinced it would be the healthiest decision for someone like me, who can get carried away living in her mind, despite the vision I saw and felt. 
  • And really, how different would my life be with the extra time I'd gain?  I'd probably still be working out, travelling, studying Spanish.  Maybe more of each but I am not seeing what major new component would come into play that would make life even more full than it already is.  I like the amount of variety I have in my life right now.
  • That travel claim related to D's fracture is still not completed.  They needed more info and through the process, we found out that our medical Dr was retiring as of the end of Oct.  Feel really sad about it as I will miss him so much.  Been with him for the entire 20 years I've been here.  Even though my file is probably only single digit pages thick, I've always trusted him as a practitioner and he always took me seriously.  The community has lost a good one.
  • Same with my dental secretary who retired this summer.  Such a wonderful person.  Because I canceled my appointment, I never got to say goodbye and thank you in person.  And that bothers me.
  • We are currently registered at a local clinic for our "meet and greet" with our potential new MDs in the new year.  I guess there is still a chance they won't like us and we won't have new doctors.  The whole "interview" process feels so ridiculous to me.
  • Am slowly getting caught up with all those health maintenance appointments now.  Eye check is next.  Took the summer off from pretty much everything in that department.  Just didn't want to commit to anything on my off days as D's schedule and all the changes that caused tired both of us out.
  • It doesn't help that we just returned from Tokyo, a city where quiet, calm and politeness permeates.  And then jump right into the reel rock experience.  However, I do not believe that I could ignore the lack of manners displayed by some even at a time when I wasn't extra irritated.  
  • D has had a few interviews.  Nothing has come out of it yet.  And he was right, there has been some improvements at work.  But still not enough.  And for some reason, he isn't finding the numbers of quality of opportunities right now.  It feels like he is starting to lose his confidence.  
  • He has been grappling with the concept of loss.  Aren't we all in our own ways?  Loss of health, loss of opportunities, loss of confidence in our bodies, loss of etc. etc.  I wouldn't consider it a mid life crisis, rather a strong stop and gather status wise.  
  • I hate it when things mess up my work email or cellphone.  Whenever D has some idea of a cool app or update I should have, I am extremely hesitant about adopting it.  Because it has happened enough times that it ends up slowing down my phone or computer or something that should not have been erased ends up getting erased and he can't get it back... just sends me.  And yes, we are dealing with yet another situation right now.
  • There is some good stuff stuck in my brain.  I still remember fondly a conversation I had with a bright young man on a bus in Vietnam en route to Sapa.  Super well versed and wise for his age.  His mom works for an NGO in Denmark and she got an overseas position in Phnom Penh and they were in Vietnam to do a trek as a family.  
  • Ended up bumping into them after the trek (we did different routes) and had an ice coffee with his mom outside on the balcony.  Told her just how impressed I was with the demeanor of her children, how they carried themselves, how smart and mature they were.  She said that they teach them to be but really don't know if it will translate until they get to demonstrate it in the world.  It was also very gratifying for her to see.
  • On the same trip, on a crazy 10 hour or so nighttime sleeper train ride from Hanoi, I ended up in a room with 3 guys (4 bunk beds) and the guy above me watched something on his laptop that the rest of us (based on each of our shocked and disgusted expressions of him) strongly felt resembled porn, as he proceeded to jerk off.  His bed side light throwing the shadow of his actions onto our room door.  
  • The 2 other guys promptly turned and slept away from his direction whereas I wondered who would come to my aid if dude above tried anything.  I placed my confidence on the Aussie guy, whose family took up the room next to us.  When dude above would climb down, he consistently managed to step half way onto my bed, onto my leg, with no apology.  Seriously, I ended up kicking him.  Even then, he never said a word to any of us.  On the way down, I ended up in the same train compartment with the Aussie guy and we had a good laugh about it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How We Turn Out -- More Questions Than Answers

A lot of our friends / colleagues / family are heavily into the child / teen / young adult rearing phases of their lives.  Hearing and seeing how these young people are turning out have given us joy, worry and a lot of unanswered questions.

  • How is it that a child who participates for the first-time-ever at an intro novice cheer team / musical comedy group / dance class end up going to the "nationals" by the end of the year?  Do you not have to work years at a craft anymore to earn your way up to it?  Who is banking all the money at these events?  Parents are paying thousands to send their kids and cannot opt out as they wouldn't want their child to let down the rest of the team.  And all the brouhaha is supposed to elevate your child's self esteem?
  • It amazes me how many parents I come across who are literally "tip toeing" around their kids.  Like they are afraid they would hold them back / curtail their enthusiasm / harm them for life should they speak their mind about whatever.  As a parent, I am expecting them to teach.  They are supposed to have more life experience.  Not speaking up allows their kids to potentially follow an unrealistic route or develop a mindset that isn't congruent with what they will eventually face when they have to try to stand on their own two feet.
  • Why are some parents OK with the prospect of their young adults staying home indefinitely?  Yes, it may be lonely to think of life without some other bodies under the same roof, but isn't that the point of parenthood -- To bring up people who will go forth and be / do something in the world?  Rather than feed your own insecurities or to fill the voids caused by a lack luster marriage?
  • How does someone make it to the age of 18 and not know how to hand wash dishes, or use a washing machine or a vacuum??  When this question comes from another 18 year old who is finding herself having to teach her roommate, it is particularly hilarious.  What were their parents thinking?  Again, if they feel they are deserving of parent of the year awards, I believe they many be holding the wrong parenting measuring sticks.
  • Why are some parents allowing their toddlers and young children speak / yell / screech at such high volumes and even respond back similarly in encouragement?  Why would you want to encourage that when in regular life, you would not be communicating in that manner?
  • Why is it "enduring" when your late teen son managed to lose 3 iphones over the course of a year resulting in 3 out of contract purchases amounting to thousands?  How could that be "cute" and not worthy of a good scolding rather than continuing to be enabling?
  • I don't understand the need to continually complement young girls / women on their looks as if that is all they have to be proud of.  Especially when their look consists of daily applications of half a bottle of foundation and false eyelashes.  Do guys really go for that??!!  Even some of the most naturally beautiful girls have succumbed to that (horrid) look for prom and to me it totally wrecks it. 
  • It feels dangerous to me the habit of rewarding a child and lavishing him / her for no real reason other than they happen to exist.  Some parents are losing their identity and starting to fail in providing a model for what a healthy adult is.  And the child learns they can just sit there and there will be praise.  No effort required to earn it. Every kid just wins.  It feels very warped to me.  

All of the above -- Easy to say when you don't have kids, right?  I have no answers to offer, just select recent observations.  And having also recently sat in a theater full of millennials displaying many of the same characteristics as described above, I don't have a whole lot of confidence in a number of their futures as well functioning people.

The films we saw at the event, however, do inspire.  Check these out if you can.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Learned something interesting this summer while we were away -- My job is more taxing mentally than 4 consecutive hours of private Spanish lessons a day for 5 days.  Whereas an hour of private salsa lesson is harder than my treadmill workout.

When I signed up for all that, I felt apprehensive about my potential concentration level, the amount of energy I'd need, whether it was a mistake to spend summer holidays at school, and if I'd regret not having a more leisurely time.  But, I had also reached a point where not knowing the language beyond the super basics was hindering my future plans.  So it was time to go for it.

In the end the only thing that stood out was the structure that existed with having set class times.  Not used to that much scheduling during vacation so it was less relaxing because of it.  And obviously the daily homework.  Feet hurt from dance -- First real test since my injury.

Ended up with 2 top notch teachers.  Got way more out of both classes than I could have imagined.  My Spanish teacher just started talking to me and because I wasn't going to answer in just "yes / no" or with basic replies, it forced me to learn so I could answer with the depth and variety as if I was speaking to someone in English.  The hours just flew and I wasn't tired at the end.

D opted for 2 hours a day and I could hear that he had had enough by the end of it.  He was a trooper though as I tried to convince him to just lay low for the duration but he didn't want to miss out on the opportunity.  Whereas he was a definite no-go for salsa -- D is not a dancer...

I've had 3 ballroom instructors in Canada and none of them comes close to the one I had in Antigua, Guatemala.  Really pushed me.  And she happens to specialize in "lady styling".  So hard to make it look easy and natural but I so want to learn more from her.

Originally wanted to take 2 hours a day but thankfully I dialed it back because it would have flattened me.  It was private ballet lesson hard.  None of my previous ballroom teachers ever challenged me as much as she did.  Absolutely loved it.  Lit a fire.

Absolutely worth flying down to Guatemala just to learn.  Will be back 2 more times in '18.  And trying to carve time to continue my studies at home.  D started Skype lessons with my Spanish teacher.

We've paid for 20 hours but I haven't used any of it yet.  Not sure if I will or not.  Been too preoccupied with other things.  Good thing I'm good with self study.  Have Spanish movies on as background occasionally to keep the language up in my mind.

Incidentally I found the Spanish spoken in Mexico city quite difficult to understand.  So fast and not a lot of space that my ear could detect in between words.  Felt quite discouraged right away and ended up leading with "thank you for your patience, I just started learning Spanish recently...".

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Exit Plans

As you can imagine, frustration levels are high in D's world right now.  He's not back in Nepal to volunteer like he had intended to be.  Our summer holidays had to change again and again (it did end up pretty great in the end).  All our fall weekend plans were shot.

Then he breaks his heel and my travel plans got cancelled so he feels horrible about that.  He's had to work from home and knows that despite his best efforts, the negativity from work seeps into our space.

There's finally some changes coming down the pipe at his work that is supposed to help.  I'm not optimistic but he actually is.  Can't believe he has lasted this long as his typical pattern is to try and switch to yet another position.  But this time he has stuck it out and I've never seen him work like this.  I'm calling it "back end load" with respect to his career journey.

We sat down to devise a worst case plan for him and it looks like this:

  • His last day of work at this current position will be end of Aug '18.  
  • We will have 2 months expenses as a head start saved extra and I will handle everything financially from that point.
  • He will work on getting our main house into "show condition".


  • D won't be able to find another work opportunity.
  • His current work environment and load does not improve.

Basically, we will not tolerate his current work scene indefinitely.  Our quality of life is suffering.  August '18 was chosen as we both have obligations up to then but won't commit to anything beyond until we know more.  We had originally thought as early as end of this year but it won't work for a number of reasons.

As for the cottage, I want it up on the market next spring and just deal with the capital gains if and when it sells.  I spent all of 1 night up there this year and no longer wish to go back.  Have let it go from my mind and want it gone but will keep the kayaks.

We had a real estate assessment and to our surprise, the suggested selling price was 40K higher than we would have guessed.  In my mind, that more than covers the added capital gains and netting what I expected.

Now I've only done a basic calculation and we may no longer have receipts for many of the capital improvements... As you can probably tell, this is more an emotional decision.

D argues it is very inexpensive to keep it going and he will take responsibility for the continued maintenance of it... yup, with all that extra time he seems to have... In the end, he won't stand in the way if selling it is what I want.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Good News and other stuff

  • D's foot is going to be OK.  I told him if he keeps this up, I'll be trading him in for a newer, shinier model...
  • Having just written that, I have to admit, it was an eye opener realizing just how much D does on a daily basis, despite his long work hours.  It didn't take long before I started to feel like a house elf... I'm quite spoiled.
  • Submitted a travel cancellation insurance claim.  We'll see if I receive anything back for my non refundable hotel stay.  Technically, D was not hospitalized.
  • Had to re-jig my flights out west for Christmas to use the travel credit from the cancel trip.  Shortened my stay to squeeze in a quick 5 day trip before the deadline.
  • 2018 will be a far more adventurous year.  Feel rested enough.  Ready to get going again.
  • Except 2018 will not involve surfing like I originally intended.  Made a ridiculous flight booking error (don't ask, never happened before).  So I will hang out in Lima instead.
  • My car wouldn't start with a boost.  Battery too dead.  So they boosted it enough for D to get her into neutral and she was winched out onto a flatbed truck.  Pretty neat to see.  First time tow for me.  
  • Battery has since been replaced.  Turns out it was the original 2007 battery, so it was time.  
  • Also found out my car audio head unit has died as well.  It can be fixed but the software is old and I don't love how it works.  An aftermarket one is the way we'll go.  
  • Had an opportunity to apply for a part time regulatory role at work.  Seemed like everyone else thought it would be a great idea for me, except for me.  Made some sense on some level but wasn't willing to do any more on my off days, even if it wasn't necessarily difficult.
  • Excellent expedition documentary:  Locked In, First Descent of the Beriman Gorge 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Long Days

  • D has been to the ER twice this month (turning 50 has been rough...).  Mountain bike related and now is dealing with a fractured heel and an air cast for 6 - 8 weeks.  His check in with the ortho fracture clinic is in a  week.  Hoping to hear that it is just a matter of time and no more.
  • So glad we got D's CT results the day before I was due to travel.  Trying to get back home would have been even more stressful, had I made it all the way to Hong Kong.  The airline (Delta) was great and has given me the full value of the ticket to use without penalty.  The challenge is finding time to squeeze another trip in.
  • Another couple of car related maintenance issues out of the blue -- brakes and battery.  We found it incredible how you can have no sign (feel or sound) that brakes are getting close to needing replacing and then suddenly be metal on metal.  My car battery has been drained from my audio/video/gps unit malfunctioning and not turning off.  It will need a tow if a boost doesn't work.  Oh, and she is in the garage. 
  • D has been pushing 70 hr weeks since Feb.  It has caused numerous disruptions to our summer and fall schedules.  He is so tired and understandably house maintenance this year has suffered as a result.  We actually returned all the large drums of asphalt sealant to the hardware store and postponed things until next summer.  
  • My work has been extra busy.  Am at the point where I may need to put a hold on new work.  Brain is feeling tired.  
  • Emotions have been raw since arriving home and finding out an earthquake affected Mexico City just minutes before.  Not for myself, but for those I were in contact with.  The swing from the exhilaration of el Dia de la Independencia to such destruction is severe.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Thoughts: Langtang, Nepal

  • I took the riverside trail, the one that sustained the most damage from the earthquake.  Wasn't a whole lot of information about the state of it but was told it had re-opened.  
  • There is a high level trail that is a harder climb, but relatively unaffected by the quake, a nice clean route.  That was what I had seen pictures and videos of prior.  And assumed it would be similar to what I would experience when the riverside trail re-opened.  Nope. Silly me thought someone would just came in and magically remove all the rock and boulders that have fallen... (facepalm...) 
  • I had the option of taking that high trail on the way down for a change.  If the day hadn't been unusually warm, I would have but that route is completely exposed whereas the riverside one at least had trees so decided to opt for shade (and the tense moments of dodging numerous cows).  Was already sunburned despite wearing 50 spf.  Recommend reapplying often.   
  • On the topic of sun, I got a taste of what can lead to snow blindness.  At one point, on day 3, my guide asked me to take off my sunglasses and try to look at the snowy peak in the distance.  And I could barely.  It was ridiculously bright, beyond the brightest fluorescent white I had ever seen.  Brighter than the sun.  
  • So I can now understand why high altitude trekkers and mountaineers wear glacier style glasses that cover all sides including the top.  When I got high enough, I was bothered by the light that would come in from the sides and the gap at the top.  And I was wearing a running hat too.  The light seemed to defy physics.  
  • Now that I've been once, have already taken steps towards improvement.  Purchased an even warmer rated sleeping bag (-18 C) for starters.  And a candle lantern, so I don't set myself up with potentially burning down a lodge again.  The added ability of a candle to warm and dry up a room would be really welcomed.  
  • Need to build more cardio strength and spend way more time on my feet when training.  I hadn't anticipated such long days nor the need to scramble.  Saw some hikers with some pretty sore looking feet.  Was fortunate that I did not end up with a blister at all.  My legs felt like they were going to explode but no blisters on the feet!
  • I didn't end up needing my Diamox.  I had a variable pharmacy with me just in case.  Don't depend on your guide to be able to administer first aid.  Maybe if you travel with a western level company, they will provide a non local guide who is trained in survival and rescue.  Would recommend you come prepared to take care of yourself.  A wilderness survival first aid course would be great idea.  
  • I had read that Nepal is hard on gear and clothing.  And I would agree.  The ground is incredibly hard, even when you are on dark soil.  I remember looking down at it in confusion because it felt like concrete underfoot.  
  • The rocks are sharp, with no give, even when you think you are stepping on gravel.  It was rare for me to skid on it.  But trip over it, yes.  Very easy to cut clothing and puncture shoes.  The jarring did affect my stomach.  It made it feel uneasy.  I wasn't sick but wasn't hungry much (possible sign of altitude sickness although I slept well, once I got warm enough).  Existed on potatoes and salt, with a couple of eggs in the morning.  And Coke, something I rarely drink when at home.  Needed the caffeine and sugar boost at times.  And pain meds. 
  • Incredible that I did not lose any weight considering how little I was eating.  I expected to be ravenous and living off of dal bhat.  No meat is available in Langtang due to lack of refrigeration.  Didn't have any issues with filtering and treating my drinking water.  An Australian girl got sick from the water on day 1 and thought maybe her water treatment tablets didn't work.  Unfortunately she didn't get better until the end.  
  • Another fellow trekker told me that when I make it over to the Everest or Annapurna regions, it will seem like Disneyland compared to Langtang.  And I will be able to order pizza, steak, pasta, desserts, along with wifi and electricity!  It was nice to be able to commiserate with others.  I met 5 other trekkers, mostly solo women, all first timers to the region too, some quite experienced with trekking.  Was comforting to also hear that they had found it to be much tougher than anticipated the first couple of days.
  • My hiking pole saved me big time.  Had never used one before but found it to be intuitive.  Used it with the carbide tip exposed.  I normally like the downhills but it was so steep at parts, I needed the pole to stop me from tumbling head over heels down.  And I had to descend sideways at some points as well as become tempted to slide down via my behind at others.  I wondered often how the heck I managed to make it up.  
  • Due to a general strike (bandha), my trek had to be cut short by a day.  So I lost the opportunity to try to make it up Tsergo Ri as you needed an extra day for acclimatization.  Was quite disappointed when I found out upon arrival to Kathmandu.  Buses were not running and no traffic was going to be allowed in or out of the city.  However, 2 hours into it, I saw it as a great blessing in disguise!  I don't believe I would have made it.  Not strong enough.
  • Because I had an extra night in Kathmandu, I got to meet D's volunteer team, made up of some real adventurers.  One who was a professional high altitude guide for Everest expeditions!  He was also a heli-ski guide, sailor, avalanche rescue instructor etc. etc.  Couldn't help thinking that I wasn't doing enough with my time and life!
  • I took this trip back in mid Nov '16.  Originally I had a flight back to Nepal booked for Dec '17 but decided to cancel it as I needed this year for recovery.  Even though I'm embarrassingly slow on the uphills and don't cope well with physical pain, there is a strange part of me that wants to find out if I can make it up those heights, to see if I would develop issues with altitude, to finish what I had started last year.  
  • Last but certainly not least, the people of Langtang need our support.  Word is getting out that the area is safe to trek again.  The locals don't want to pack up and move into the city for work.  They want to live in the mountains and provide lodging and food to trekkers.  They need trekkers to return. 
  • Unfortunately the area has attracted some independent trekkers who seem to be a little too overconfident in their abilities.  As a result, a few were reported lost this spring.  One who was last seen heading up Tsergo Ri and a couple (one died) who were found over a month later, having fallen over a cliff, starved, hypothermic and covered in maggots.  
  • I would never attempt this without a guide.  And hired a separate porter (you can opt for a guide/porter combo if budget is an issue) not only to provide needed work, but also for extra safety.  I learned so much from them over the 8 days.  And also from one particular lodge owner (lost 6 family members in the landslide) who philosophized with me over the concept of freedom.
  • Got to hear about their hardships and horror stories of having to leave home to worked in the UAE, India, Qatar.  Having their passports confiscated by their employers, being given highly physical and difficult outdoor jobs that were not what they signed up for.  And how they managed to get out of it.  Neither of them would contemplate out of country work again.
  • Both lost their homes in the earthquake and had to take time off work to rebuild it themselves.  It's not like they have insurance over there.  Saw numerous photos of their children and family.  Received an invitation to stay at their village.  They were very patient with me and my non abilities compared to them.  Nepalis are super human.  Saw smaller stature women porters carrying the same loads as the men.  With no accessible health care, it is literally survival of the fittest. 

Gorgeous Kyanjin Gompa (3900 m) 
with Tsergo Ri (4985 m) in the background

Will be my home base when I get to return.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Realities: Langtang, Nepal

  • There's something about seeing a red body bag that makes things far too clearly real. This was at the start of day 2, when a helicopter went by overhead minutes into my trek, around 8:30 am when I was already weary of another long day ahead.
  • My guide finds out from other guides on their way down that a female trekker from Malaysia had died the night prior after spending the day summiting Tsergo Ri (4985 m / 16354 ft).  I met up with the Malaysian team the next day as they were descending.  As expected, they were all pretty somber.
  • At first glance at the numbers, Tsergo Ri isn't as high as where Everest Base Camp stands at (5364 m / 17600 ft).  But it is the rate of accent that factors in whether altitude sickness will hit hard and fast.
  • Looking at itineraries for Annapura Circuit/Base Camp or EBC, you'll see that groups typically will not reach EBC or ABC until day 8, with typical days that range between 300 m - 450 m elevation gain daily, meaning trekkers will get to their lodging by lunch time or shortly after, with the rest of the day off.
  • Typical Langtang trek itineraries will have you up to to 4985 m by day 4, with the first 2 days each being 1000+ m days due to lack of infrastructure, completely breaching all safe acclimatization guidelines.  Post earthquake, there's even less tea houses to choose from in terms of trying to create shorter days.  
  • I didn't have a 360 m day until day 3 and practically ran it.  It felt so easy compared to the 2 days prior.  Even though it was a higher elevation (3900 m / 12795 ft), had a leisurely lunch, had energy to journal, sat outside, took in lots of sun, it was awesome!  That was what a typical trekking day was supposed to feel like.  And it was the next day, that I too had Tsergo Ri on the schedule, which was a 1085 m gain.
  • No surprise that government sponsored earthquake recovery efforts barely exist or are indefinitely delayed in this area.  It is so much harder to get supplies to.  Stuff have to be bused a long way, then carried up by commercial porters or donkeys.  Helicopters are prohibitive.  
  • Because the big money is in the Everest and Annapurna regions, there will always be huge incentive for the government to take care of those areas first.  And they did, right away.  People in Langtang are still waiting for the 10K per family that was promised to them to help rebuild homes.    
  • I saw porters carrying six to nine 2x6s on their backs.  Some of the older commercial porters were visibly struggling.  I still feel horrible for not having anything useful to offer one gentleman who didn't look very good, who had stopped to rest.  The exhausted look on his face still haunts me.
  • Because of the above, I strongly disagree with the common belief that the Langtang region is the "easiest" of the three.  If you got into trouble, there would be no help for you in the first 2 days because of the incline and terrain.  No place for a helicopter to land.  I'm not sure how one would even be carried down.  It didn't even take an hour for me to realize that I was really out there and it was pretty easy to get hurt, die and disappear.
  • I also received an update about the family that began the trek the same morning as me.  They had their 2 children with them which I thought was pretty amazing.  Looked experienced and fit.  They left at 7:30 am, just as I was sitting down for breakfast.  I caught up to them early on and the husband wasn't looking too good.  Turned out that his family made it up the last rock scramble later that day, 3 hours after I had passed whereby the husband threw up.  
  • It was too dark and dangerous to even contemplate going back down even though that was what you were supposed to do.  If you were on a regular trail, you might be able to, but there was not much regular about day 1.  And where would they go?  It would be at least 5 - 6 hours before seeing any signs of a tea house.  And no way would I attempt it in the dark, I don't care what type of lamp they might have had.  Too easy to walk off a ledge/cliff or break a leg.  Plus they have 2 kids (who by the way were real troupers!) to consider. 
  • They really had no choice but to spend the night and decide next steps in the morning.  Altitude sickness symptoms show stronger during sleeping hours.  Was very relieved to hear he made it through that night and the family promptly descended at first light.

Photo was taken quite far away, with zoom.
I had just reached the top of a small hill when I saw them.
There are 2 commercial porters walking with between six and nine 2x6s on their backs.  
This is the site of the Langtang village landslide/avalanche, 
about 30 m worth of debris and many bodies stilled buried in the rubble and ice.
I was still 30 min away from the start of it and it took about 45 min to cross.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why Langtang, Nepal?

The requirement of all volunteers set by a local disaster relief organization I found is the ability to do long and hard physical work primary with rock, at 11000+ ft altitude with minimal resources and comfort.  No running water, electricity.  Bring your own tent.

You also have to make it to the location on your own dime and time -- 9 hr bus ride (if you are lucky) from Kathmandu followed by a 2 day trek up.  As I couldn't verify much, I decided to test things out by going on a solo trek with a private guide and porter, without whom I would not have made it.

I didn't need a tent for this as we'd be staying at teahouses but I got everything I thought I would need into two 70L North Face duffels.  Had a combined weight limit of 15 kg which wasn't an issue.  I carried a 8 kg day pack with most of the weight being water.

My main sleeping bag was rated for -11 C and it wasn't enough.  My coldest night was ironically on the way down (3200 m / 10498 ft), in a room with 2 opposing windows that were so drafty, (super windy night) you could see from the curtains that some kind of wind tunnel was going on.  That night I used a silk sleeping bag liner and a summer sleeping bag as an outer bag over my warm mummy style one.

On me, I wore my icebreaker base and mid layers, fleece, insulated ski pants, wool socks, thin down jacket and my warmest down jacket on top, a ski neck tube, beanie and wool hat on top and I was still shaking.  It took forever to fall asleep that night.  Note to self:  Pick a room without windows next time, if possible!

The newly rebuild teahouses were made of floorboard instead of the traditional stone.  Families had to do what they could quickly for their sake as well as to get their businesses up and running in time for height of trekking season.  Even so, the season was very slow was what I heard over and over again.  It was obvious that many were struggling.  Trekkers were deterred by the post earthquake damage.

So the build quality wasn't the greatest.  No insulation and none of my bedroom doors closed properly.  Had to resort to using rope to close one door to only 5 inches open.  For sure awkward when you are trying to change or put clothes on after a shower when you room opens up to the main dining area...

My days were long.  Up at 6:15 am, packed up and at breakfast by 7:15 am,  and on the trail by 8 am.  Usually one 10 min tea break.  Half an hour for lunch.  Roll into the next teahouse by 5 pm if I am not having a slower than normal day.

Speaking of showers, don't expect much more than a bucket of warm water in a non insulated and somewhat open air outhouse style space.  From day 1, I decided that no matter how cold or expensive it may be, I would be taking one.

I accepted the risk of having wet hair that may not dry completely or at all, but I just could not skip it even though I had packed family size packages of wet wipes and dry shampoo.  I could tell that my request to buy shower water surprised the lodge owners.  They probably thought I was crazy for bathing at that time of day but you do what you need to do.

7:30 am Kathmandu bus station,
patiently waiting for my "Super Deluxe" bus to arrive.

Sit on the left side on the way up and pick the right side on the way down
for the most dramatic views.

Tip:  Have a headlamp with you at all times.  Those bathrooms are often dark
and could be a walk from where you room or eat.  In this case, through the kitchen.

Or completely open.

Post earthquake newly re-opened trail was covered with rock and debris.  Steep and unforgiving.
I had to take a minute to sort out the proposed route to get to that teahouse
for our tea break and beyond.  Was about 2 hours into my first day.
The phrase "Are you kidding me??!!" was on repeat in my head.

You wouldn't have wanted to be listening in on what was playing in my head 
when I was told that the trail continued up those rocks.  This was at hour 7 of day one.  
Wasn't impressed.  Needed both hands to scramble up.  Had 2 more hours to go.
Stopping wasn't an option.  You had to make it to the first village.

Newly re-opened village of Lama Hotel.
Photo taken morning of day 2 as by the time I got
there, it was starting to get dark and cool and 
you could already see your breath.

No electricity, needed to use my athletic tape to cover all the holes in the walls
between rooms.  Had to kill numerous critters before I could unpack.
Room made of wood, given small candles for light, almost 
burnt the place down when I nodded off before dinner.

Only 1 of 2 solar showers found.  They worked quite well.  
There was the occasional sparking sound that I tried not to think too hard about. 

View from dining area of tea house.
Only room that has heat -- Wood stove.  
Uses scrap wood lower down, yak dung higher up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


"Open up the oceans, jump on in
The masters of the coastlines beckoning
Unfold my only life vest, sink or swim
Through the everlasting worlds begin"

Liquorlip Loaded Gun, Sticky Fingers

A number of trips I took in 2016 involved pieces of preparation for Nepal.

Went to Uganda to see parts of a new country for sure, but also to learn how to camp again in a harsher environment, use a Steripen and pre-filter on unsafe (and horrible tasting) water, becoming accustomed to the lifestyle of having everything with you, testing gear etc.  Dealing with insects that can kill you was just a bonus.

Learned some great things about myself and compact living -- I loved it.  What I wasn't so great at was lugging everything around.  My shoulders have taken a beating over the years and now really dislike having anything over 8 kg on them.  So self supported multi-day backpacking will not be in my future.  I would consider trying to pull a sled for a winter expedition though.

Came away with a tremendous appreciation for the application of solar technology in remote places from both a daily as well as post disaster perspective.  Sure, I've read articles and seen cool pictures of expeditions where members had portable panels hanging on the packs.  But I hadn't anticipated how exasperating it would be trying to charge things via generators.

At that point last year, I didn't even own an extra power pack.  My life has now expanded to recognize the need for portable off grid equipment.  Enter Goal Zero.  My workout room and part of my walk in closet now serves as gear storage.  Along with D's bike packing, we now own 3 tents and I've got my eye on a winter one next.

Quito was my first time at a higher altitude.  My goal was to see how I would do with the teleferico ride up followed by the hike up to Pichincha volcano and if I'd discover any signs of altitude related symptoms.  I knew my goal was slightly higher then 4696 m (15406 ft) but the cost:benefit ratio of trying to get to La Paz, Bolivia instead for a short visit didn't make sense.

Equipped with Diamox (Acetazolamide) and deliberately not taking it the day before, I went for it. It was important for me to feel what the problem symptoms were so I could recognize it.  Had a plan to take meds and descend quickly at first signs.

Fortunately I did not feel the need for the meds.  Was waiting for signs after the teleferico before getting started with the hike.  I saw a number of people gasping for air and found myself doing the same about 3/4 of the way up, where I couldn't take more than 12 -14 steps before needing to stop and let my heart rate slow down.  If I still had hours to go, I would have taken the Diamox for support.

Another major thing I learned was that extra water requirement at higher altitudes is real.  I ran out of water before I made it to the top.  Couldn't believe it as I don't drink much when I hike.  But up there, I was parched even though temps were cool (had hat and gloves on).  Lesson learned the hard way.  It felt very uncomfortable, like my body was getting shrink wrapped from the inside out.  More than I ever felt in the Moroccan desert.  Enough that I practically ran all way back down.

On top of my regular training, we also spent time out west at our local ski hill so I could do hill repeats (530 m).  But alas, the above wasn't enough.  I came back with punctures and tread ripped off my hikers, torn plantar fascia (realized over time), strained soleus, messed up joints in my foot, ankle, knees (all that without ever falling!) and a nasty sunburn at the back of my neck and forearms.

Langtang, Nepal kicked my butt.  The healing is almost there.  The learning and training continue.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

More Firsts

Madrid surprised us.  Very livable, easy to navigate with so much grand architecture, nice parques and better than reasonably priced.

Until now, my only frame of reference for Spain was Barcelona.  Not a great comparison as the region of Catalunya is in a league of its own economically.

Saw some stunning art at the Reina Sofia (those Dalis!) and Prado (knock our socks off exhibit by the Hispanic Society of America, beautifully and intelligently curated).

Goes without saying, ate some great jamon, tapas and boccadilos.  And you cannot go wrong with chirros and chocolat at any time of the day...

There is a tapas stall at the Mercado de San Miguel (forgot the name, but they are the only ones selling the giant olive types) that has a cava sangria drink (sold in a small champagne flute) that has enough alcohol content to knock you over.

The first time we ordered one each and I assumed it was because I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking but D felt it after a couple of sips.  The second time we were there, we shared one and both of us were still spinning after.



Managed to get opening night tickets to Don Giovanni at the Liceu as well as a concert ticket at the Palau many months ago.  Had never attended a performance at either place before.

Ingenious set design for Don Giovanni using modern methods.  I've seen this opera a number of times and their treatment of it at times was even better than the singing, which is saying a lot.

It was almost like they wanted you to just listen, not just look at the main characters and told more of the story visually but silently.  Never experience anything like it before.  Very sophisticated.

Missed the second act due to an untimely metro strike and the need to get back to my apartment to prepare for the flight home the next morning.  But the first half was immensely satisfying.

And the concert the Palau de la Musica did not disappoint either.  The highlight of the main concert hall for many is the glass ceiling.  There is a lovely old time tapas bar behind the modern glass facade of the courtyard that is worth visiting before or after.

Would recommend buying a ticket for anything that happens to be showing, just to get to be in that space.  Tickets are well priced and at times, not much more than the cost of a tour.

This was my 4th visit to Barcelona and a real crime that it took so long for me to embrace the ensaimada with catalan cream... Now I have to make up for lost time.

For the first time ever, Spain has overshadowed France for me.