“TRAVELLING TOURISTS” in VIETNAM

 

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Our time in Vietnam started off on a wonderfully surreal note with meeting our great friends Mike and Kathleen in Ho Chi Minh. HUGE THANK YOU for making the trip to the other side of the world to come play with us. We would travel anywhere anytime with you two. It was a joy to experience Vietnam with you and looking forward to our next trip to explore the places we didn’t get to this this time around.

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It was “PHOtastic” to have M&K with us.

I quickly and easily fell in love with Vietnam. For the incredibly friendly people and the stunning geography. The cuisine was my absolute favorite this trip as well. Which plays a large role in the love of a country when you are eating out for every meal. They also make the best coffee. Even better when you add condensed milk or coconut ice cream.

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Coconut ice cream coffee. YUM

 

Below are only a few of the wonderful people we met while in Vietnam. All truly wanted to make our experience memorable. The Vietnamese are full of kindness with gracious hearts.

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Our guide Quyen for our Ha Long Bay boat cruise.
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One of our guides Mom. They invited us into their home at the end of a trip. She never stopped smiling.

There also remains a strong element of community and keeping it local. Fields of produce were everywhere. Families knee deep in mud planting rice or harvesting other crops. Even some of  the larger resorts have their own fields the size of a city block.

 

Communism certainly has its attributes. Now that Vietnam’s doors are open to foreign investment and travel, the marriage of communism and capitalism has created a pleasurable country to be in. I realize that this is only my perspective as an outsider and corruption remains a concern. One of our guides reported to me that she has a degree in education but would have to pay the school to teach. Hence, she is guiding. It is a means to an end for her as it is a great way to become fluent in English. Her dream is to teach high school English. She is determined to succeed.

Never the less, Vietnam appears to be doing a fairly good job from an outsiders look. Time will tell though, as the amount of effort and funds that is going into the infrastructure of roads, rail and buildings is truly mind blogging. Everywhere one looked there was a crane or cement factory smoke stack on the horizon. New highways and bridges and more to come. It is a booming country in many ways. Can they withstand the corruption that accompanies a capitalist society? If only they could maintain the best of both as they forge ahead?

Tourism is playing a large role in the boom, both with foreigners (especially Chinese), as well as the Vietnamese themselves. The large resorts that are being built in DeNang and Cat Ba are for those with money and not a lot of time. It is not the flash packers such as ourselves that will be sipping drinks beside the infinity pools. I just hope that they are considering sustainable tourism model? Doesn’t look as such as the beaches at Cat Ba have been blown to bits to make room for these massive resorts. Capitalism at its best.

The Vietnamese people are definitely résiliant and strong of will. They were colonized by the Chinese for over a thousand years. Then came the Portugese and the French. Lets not forget the Americans and their agent orange and napalm. Despite all the adversity they have had to over come, they maintain a sense of graciousness and unwavering strength.

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Small museum at Cannon Fort, Cat Ba. Established by the Japanese during WWII then used in subsequent battles by the Vietnamese.
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Shrines were everywhere with a multitude of different offerings. This one was on our boat and the pilot lit some insensé and said a prayer while we left the dock
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The Vietnamese are very patriotic as their flag was everywhere

Vietnam is full of colorful chaos that leaves you mesmerized intermingled with scenes of serenity to keep you calm. Most use “hondas”, the catch term for anything motorized on 2 wheels. The masses cannot afford a car and a pedal bike is too slow. In the cities walking was always an exercise in reflexes and wits, as they would drive those scooters even on sidewalks. I started saying a silent prayer every time we went out, on the advice of a guide. First say a prayer then walk slowly, never stopping and no sudden movements. It really does work. Kind of makes you feel like Moses parting the sea.

 

 

Then moments of beauty would bring stillness and calm.

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We were travelling “tourists” in Vietnam.

Debate to yet occur over a few glasses of wine.  Traveller or tourist? Is there a difference? If so, what makes one a traveller and the other a tourist?

So we triapsed around Vietnam as “travelling tourists” as time and weather was not on our side. There was so much to see, and the country is sooooo long. It was sooooo cold. So our trip consisted of boats, caves, trains, planes, beaches, jungles, mountains, hikes, hand line fishing and bicycles. With a lot of great food, wonderful company and a cucumber face mask thrown in.

 

Country of joy and curiosity

Smiles of genuine friendliness

Welcome hugs that speak of gratitude

Friendships that blossom, with adventure and laughter

Cuisines that are celebrations of taste

Fields to markets, keeping it local

Bicycles and scooters, balanced with silent prayers

Families knee deep in fields of mud, working together

A nation built on community and faith

Investing and building

Exploding with dreams of the future

It was a sad day saying goodbye to Mike and Kathleen. Not one of us were ready to say goodbye to one another or Vietnam. I do want to venture back to Vietnam in the near future. Before the charm and essense is lost to the incredible growth that is occurring there. I want to travel slower and embrace more of the beauty that encompasses Vietnam and her people.

For now I must say farewell to the life of travel as we are at the end of our trip. A last trip to Bangkok before travelling home. It all feels like a dream. A wonderful, exotic and beautiful dream.

Don’t pinch me, cause I don’t want to wake up.

CAMBODIA A PLACE OF HOPE, FORGIVENESS AND HEALING HEARTS

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We are reflections of our past and our future

I went into Cambodia with no expectations. All I knew for sure is that it remains one of the world’s poorest countries, that is was still recovering from a cultural genocide and it was home to the world’s largest religious complex.

What I witnessed was a culture of people who greet you with smiles and grace. Who are resilient and beautiful. People who despite the inequality and poverty that still exists, find faith in their culture and religions. People who have lost entire generations to genocide, remain strong and compassionate. That in their sorrow they have found the capacity to forgive. An environment that shines brilliantly green with fields of rice and other crops. Of fruit trees that are ripe with the taste of sweetness. Temples and ancient trees coexisting, each the skeleton of the other. I witnessed thousands of individuals from every race and religion, gathering in peace and solidarity at a place of worship that has existed for 900 years. I always heard the laughter of children wherever I went. A country where monks of every age tread lightly on earth with grace. Shrines can be found everywhere, as a sacred place to focus the mind and to promote gratitude. Others honoured the ancestors that have passed with offerings of flowers, water, food and incense. A country of citizens who believe in truth. A country of healing hearts that hold forgiveness and compassion tenderly.

Everywhere in the country I would meet men and women selling their wares. Be it a remarque driver wanting to tour you around his city or another selling pineapple. Persistent but always with a great sense of humour. Truth is, many needed those sales to supplement their income so they could perhaps send their children to school.

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Our guide having a nap while we toured the temples. Cambodians have hammocks on hand everywhere.

Then there were the children. Always trying to sell postcards or bamboo flutes. They really pulled on my heart strings. They should be in school. Purchasing their wares would only encourage them to stay out of school. Sadly though, the public education system is said to be corrupt and poorly funded leaving the future generation with little in the way of education. All intellectuals in Cambodia were killed during the genocide, which would play a large role into the poor education system of today. There are many NGOs working hard to educate Cambodia’s youth. Some are succeeding, such as Phare Ponleu Selpak. An NGO that is making a difference in the lives of many youth and their families. If the circus is any indication of their successes, this organization is made of passion and love. Check them out here .

 

Siem Riep was bustling with tourists from everywhere. All drawn here by the Angkor Wat, a Wonder of the World. This temple complex was breathtaking in its scale. At one time home to a million people while London had a population of only 50,000. To walk among these ruins and those of many other temples was a privilege.

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Angkor Wat. A World Wonder and the largest religious complex in the world. Was built in the 13th century as a Hindu temple and is still being used as a Buddhist Temple today.
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Shea in the library of the Angkor complex with the Wat in the background.

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This area truly is the world’s largest hands on museum. I was just as thrilled as my boys to wander all the dark passageways and pretend I was a character in the “Temple of Doom.” So much history collided here and it leaves you with a grand imagination.

Photos from Ta Prohm, Bayon and Phrea Khan

I woke early one morning to join the other thousand of tourists to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. As I sat and gazed at the brilliance of the stars and listened to the quiet hum of early morning chatter in many different dialects, I felt a spiritual sense of peace. So many people from so many backgrounds coming together in awe and wonder. If anything, travel and tourism promotes diversity and peace.

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“The truth is one, though the sages know it as many, God is one, though different religions approach Him differently. Call Him Shiava, Vishnu, Allah, Jesus or any other form of God that you believe in. Our paths may be different. Our destination the same.” Amish Tirpathi

 

Cambodia has been occupied and ravaged with unrest for centuries. The Cambodian Genocide of 1975 to 1979 was the peak of brutality. Pol Pot and his Communist Khmer Rouge Army killed 1.7 million fellow Cambodians. This remains more of a reality than a distant memory. Pol Pot’s twisted mind wanted to create an agrarian communist society. A culture based on farming. He mentally manipulated the minds of young peasant teenagers into believing that anyone who is not of an agriculture background was not worthy. Wearing glasses or having soft hands “proved” you were an intellect and you were murdered. There was an evacuation of all cities to the countryside throughout Cambodia. Even the peasants that survived his reign were put into forced labour under horrendous conditions. Many died of starvation and disease. If any army official disobeyed they were put to death. A choice of killing or be killed. Cambodians are people who are still reflecting and trying to understand what occurred only 40 years ago. Generations were nearly wiped out.

We visited museums and shrines that so harrowingly remind us of the massacre that occurred here. The Killing Fields, 300 total in Cambodia, are now places of remembrance. A place for locals and travellers alike to learn of the atrocities. So those who perished are not forgotten. So we can strive for peace by honouring the past.

The cure for pain is in the pain.

                                                    Rumi

Just outside of Battambang Rowen and I visited Phnom Sampeau. A hillside standing tall and independent around fields of rice. We stood at the entrance of the Killing Caves where so many men, woman, and children were beaten then thrown to their deaths. Inside the cave, amoungst the shrines of skulls and at Buddha statues, incense cleanses the senses and many children play while the monks walk with quiet dignity. The past horrors rattles one spirit, yet the children and the monks balance this with compassion and acceptance. A sense of harmony pervades now.

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One of the many Buddhist Shrines that are now found in the caves.

“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier.

Love everything, you will be happiest.”

             Buddha

In Phom Phen’s Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, tears of sadness fall from my very soul. As I stood beside the killing tree, a place of unimaginable horrors, my thoughts were only of the immense fear and grief only a parent could understand. The remains of the 20,000 killed here are still being recovered. There is the Memorial Stupa that holds the skulls of 14,000. A somber site to behold. Yet, as I walk these grounds I again hear children laughing and playing from the adjacent streets. I see Cambodians themselves remembering and honouring. A sense of forgiveness and hope is heard in the children’s chatter and the beauty of the songbirds as their chorus echoes across the pond.

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Mass grave with offerings left by the many Cambodians who have come to honor their ancestors.
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A pond adjacent to the killing fields brings serenity to a place once filled of nightmares.

When I stood with my children in the Tuol Sleng Museum, a school turned into a prison and place of torture for 12,000 men, women and children, I let my tears fall. I find it hard to even begin to understand what happened here. Photo after photo of so many haunted faces, babies in Mothers’ arms, and children years away from embracing any sense of responsibility. These memories were captured by the Khmer Rouge to identify everyone they would kill. To ensure that the “roots of all generations” were eliminated to creat a pure agrarian society.

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Tuol Sleng Museum. School room turned into prison cells.

My children walked through both these places of immense sorrow with me. They viewed the mass graves, the clothes and bones of so many victims that continue to expose themselves with every heavy rain. We previously discussed the genocide openly with our boys before we visited these two museums. What we might see, read and hear. It was a difficult decision as our youngest did not want to go. The thought of seeing human bones scared him. We spoke of how this story is just as important as the Holocaust. That all the sad stories of war need to be heard so we remember. He did not have to see the human remains if he did not want to.

We listened to the audio guide and/or viewed the next exhibit prior to our children to determine which were appropriate for their ears and young minds. I could not bring myself to listen to all as well. Some stories and photos were too horrific for even myself to absorb.  I understood my child’s hesitation. I also struggle with the raw visual exposure of war museums. However, our past is made from beauty and from madness. Both deserve recognition to try and create a brighter future. Shea did view the many skulls stacked a top one another. There were no nightmares, only questions.

Forgiveness sees wisely. It willingly acknowledges what is unjust, harmful and wrong. It bravely recognizes sufferings of the past, and understands the conditions that brought them about. Forgiveness honours the heart’s greatest dignity. Whenever we are lost, it brings us back to the ground of love. Without forgiveness our lives are chained, forced to carry the sufferings of the past and repeat them with no release.                    Jack Kornfield

We hired a guide at Tuol Sleng Museum who was passionate to share his country’s story of truth. It was just last week that he interviewed one of the female Vietnamese Army Officials who first arrived to Tuol Sleng when Pol Pot was defeated. Her story must be told as it is critical to remind the world of all of the horrors of war. The unimaginable evil that can permeate minds, causing corruption, hate and death. It is only with honouring the truth and remembering the many who perished, that we can find hope and forgiveness.  To read more click here.

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Vietnamese Army and the four children they rescued at Tuol Sleng Prison. The woman, second from the left, was interviewed January 2018.

I held my youngest’s hand as he stood and witnessed the sorrow and pain. He tells me after he has walked through most of both the museums, that he has seen enough.

He asks, “Why? How can people be so mean?”

We all ask why?

How could such hatred happen? How can we let such tragedies continue? Have we not learnt anything from our past haunts? The Holocaust, Ukraine, Rwanda, the North American Aboriginals, and most recently, the Royhinga in Mynamar. How can we as individuals promote peace? How can we help those who are the target of such hate?

Socio-economic inequality, poverty and lack of education can all too easily feed a governments campaign of hate. It is our duty to vote for governments that encourage equality, diversity, education, and adequate health care. We must invest only in corporations that protect human rights in developing countries. It is the corporations and governments that do not care about human rights that also may be funding, directly and indirectly, the very regimes that promote hate. Education is critical to promote peace. We must listen and honor the truths that have been and yet to be told. We must find room in our hearts for forgiveness. We also must assist those who are in less fortunate circumstances. At home and abroad.

As I watch the Cambodian students, in their crisp blue and white uniforms, walk through the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where their ancestors once walked as students themselves; I feel a sense of hope. There are some support groups that are making a difference. See here.  I believe that their Buddhist faith brings them comfort as well. These horrors are very much a part of who they are; they lost entire generations yet they still embrace life with smiles and laughter. They continue to remember and heal.

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Tuol Sleng Museum with school children in the background. They come here to learn a horrific but integral part of their history.

There are still Khmer Rouge Officials who are incarcerated, being convicted as recently as 2012. The courts still have yet to determine the fate of others who have been charged with acts against humanity. Pol Pot died in 1998 and was never held accountable for his spread of hatred and murder.

Our guide is not troubled by these facts. He stated with a sense of resolve, “the outcomes of these courts don’t matter, what matters is that these memories are not lost, we have to uncover and share the truth. To remember. So it will never happen again.” The people of Cambodia hold the pain and suffering with gracious hearts to find forgiveness and release.

The future of Cambodia is uncertain as there is still an unsettling energy with the present government. Human rights still remain a concern. Cambodia is still recovering and in transition. Hope for peace and equality can be found in the dreams and aspirations of the youth. As well as in their faith. Yet, no developing country can do it alone. They need assistance from outside forces that believe in human rights. Even small ventures are making a difference. Such as Sister Srey  in Seim Riep or the Lonely Tree Cafe in Battambang. There are the larger enterprises as well such as the Asia Foundation. Foreign investment within the larger businesses has risen by 800% in the last ten years. Read more here. Lets hope these companies and individuals are considering sustainable investing and protecting the rights of Cambodians and their environment??

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Chum Mey with my boys. He sits almost daily within these old prison walls to share his story and promote peace.

Chum Mey is one of the only handful of survivors of Tuol Sleng Prison. He lost four children and his wife, all murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He shows such incredible courage as he sits a stones throw from the very cell where he was kept and tortured for three years. He sits here most days that the Tuol Sleng Museum is open, to share his story and promote peace. A place where they tried, but never broke his spirit. It is in his smile and the laughter and smiles of the many Cambodian children, that I feel an essense of hope. Hope for individuals and for a country that is still remembering and healing. Hope for peace and equality.

The rest of the world could gain much by honouring Cambodia and their story. Of how they are finding forgiveness in their immense sorrow, and hope in their truths.

We are all citizens of earth. We need to cherish ourselves, one another and all that inhabit this world. Promote peace in all that you do. It’s ripple effect will create change. Encouraging a brighter future for all.

A society cannot know itself if it does not have

an accurate memory of its own history.

                           Youk Chhang   Survivor of the Cambodian Genocide

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TRAVELLING FOOTPRINTS

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We have been travelling for 3 months now and I am struggling with the impact that tourism has on the very countries we are visiting. There is much good that arrives with the masses of tourists, but there is also much stress on the local culture, infrastructure and environment. The phenomenal changes, positive and negative, that tourism brings, to both developed and developing countries, need to be recognized. With tourism on the rise, we really need to consider how we travel and where we spend our money. It makes a difference to the lives of many who call our travel destinations home.

The number of international travellers has doubled since 1996. From 563 million to 1.24 billion in 2016. According to World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and contributes to the global economy by $7.6 trillion US dollars. Creating 292 million jobs world wide. These numbers are expected to grow with the increasing middle class of developing nations.

We have just spent three weeks in Thailand. A country that welcomed 29 million tourists in 2016. An incredible amount of people for any country to absorb. They have grown and changed in many ways with the continued demands that tourism has brought over the last 2 decades. So many visit Thailand for it warm sandy beaches, history, culture and delicious cuisine. The Thais have embraced the tourists with smiles and humour. There is not much that can irritate or upset these friendly and courteous people.

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My experience and the choices I have made during the past 3 months has given me much to reflect on. It is a complex topic where each community has varying needs. Regardless, tourism plays a large role in air, water, noise and land pollution with increasing demands on infrastructure and natural resources. Tourism can impact communities by exploiting the culture, environment and the people. A dark side that few fail to recognize. Or it can influence positive sustainable growth by educating, employing and lifting families out of poverty.

How does tourism affect the very culture we have gone to immerse ourselves in? Is there such a thing a sustainable tourism? Can tourism benefit communities, being socially and environmentally responsible?

My thoughts and observations can be applied anywhere in the world. However, developing nations do have more sensitive needs. Thailand is geographically small but diverse with a population of 69 million. A country that has Porsches speeding past tuk tuks and mansions beside one room shacks.

Since tourism really started to flourish, Thailand has made some incredible improvements. By no means are these a direct result from the travel and tourism industry, but it has had a great influence.

The government, with the help of foreign investors, is investing in infrastructure; rail, highway, air, sea and telecommunications. The Ministry of Health has mandated that by 2030 there will be safe and affordable drinking water, as well as appropriate waste management, for all.

In the early 2000s the government pushed for the Universal Coverage Scheme, with the goal of providing health care for all. There are many private clinics and hospitals which some argue leaves gapping holes in the public system. Regardless, this is an incredible accomplishment for a developing country. Since UCS was created there has been tremendous improvements with infant mortality rates and fewer families living in poverty. Many were previously spending much of their income on health insurance.

Thailand’s education system has also made tremendous improvements in the last 2 decades. Thailands literacy rate is now 96%. There remains inequality to access of quality education depending on where you live and your families income. Charity organizations are working to bridge this gap.

Tourism also puts incredible demands on resources, water and otherwise. Creates further pollution of air, land, noise and water. It can exploit traditional cultures and the land they depend on. When millions of foreigners are also contributing to the pollution, sustainability becomes even more of a challenge. Developing nations do not have the benefit of having existing infrastructure. Foreign investment and charity organizations are needed to assist the governments on all levels to improve and meet the needs of the communities.

Large hotels and resorts have destroyed traditional habitat and create an ever increasing demand on water resources. Many large hotels and resorts are foreign owned and disregard the needs of the community.  There can be a high leakage rate, meaning very little of the profits remain within the local community, much of it leaving the country. There are however, new efforts for green initiatives and a focus on sustainability in the hotel industry. It’s a matter of doing the research. We need to start holding businesses accountable for their environmental and socio-economic impact.

Travel and tourism does provide (directly and indirectly) 15.1% of  Thailands total employment (5,739,000 jobs). There are fewer Thais living in poverty than there was 2 decades ago. The unemployment rate is presently 0.75%.

Some of the travel and tourism jobs exploit and create unfair living and working conditions. Human rights with sexual exploitation and labour intensive industries remains a grave concern. On the brighter side, we also met some very happy and cheerful individuals who were working in tourism, creating opportunities that they may otherwise not have. There are sustainable small business cropping up in unlikely place. What you are paid and what your living conditions are depends on who your employer is.

As tourists, we play a role in mitigating the impact to the countries that we visit. It really comes down to how we choose to spend our money. It is the same concept as at home. In order to protect the local culture, the environment and minimize pollution, we have to keep it local.

Stay in accommodation that is locally owned. Many of the smaller hotels/ hostels employs local staff. Homestays and AirB&Bs remain a better choice that most of the large chain hotels and resorts. The higher end hotels will more than likely be foreign owned with a high rate of foreign leakage.

To help mitigate exploitation do your research. If there is a consistency of rude or unhappy staff in reviews, this usually is a reflection on how they are treated. Most businesses, large and small, have reviews. When you read more than the first few you will see a pattern appear.

When you spend your money at McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafe, or the like, a very small portion your money is remaining in local hands. There are far tastier options for local cuisine at family owned restaurants and street markets. There are small businesses that have been backed by NGOs or foreign individuals that are socially responsible and provide education and employment to the locals.

Steer away from large tour organizations, as most are foreign owned. There are many options of local tours, which provide employment for the community and they are less likely to exploit the culture.

I realize that some foreign investment is needed to encourage sustainable growth. Choose businesses, local or otherwise, that care about the people and environment.

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The best Thai massages we had and they were empowering women who had met unfortunate circumstances earlier in their lives.

I realize that it is difficult to make educated decisions at times, especially in developing countries. One really never knows what experience they are going to have until they are on the adventure. More and more information is out there if you are willing to do the research. However, even then fake reviews and stolen photographs on websites can give you a false impression of what you are really paying for. We have gotten into the habit of booking only one night in advance. Once we have actually laid eyes on the place and met the staff, it is then we choose to continue our stay or move on and find another place to lay our heads. Try to book with the business themselves. Sites such a booking.com take a chunk of profit.

Sometimes you will still be disappointed, and other times pleasantly surprised.

We chose a small family run elephant sanctuary to visit these gentle giants. I went into this with hesitation, struggling with the ethics and morals. I shared this hesitation with my kids. I made sure there was no elephant riding on this tour, as this is where I drew a definite line. Elephant anything in Thailand is a complex issue. The remaining elephants in Thailand would starve without the tourism industry. It is expensive to care for an elephant and the tourist industry provides the income to do so.

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I understood that these majestic creatures were rescued from Myanmar in less than desirable working conditions. These animals can not be left to the wild due to their dependency on humans and there is no habitat to sustain them. They would trample the valuable agricultural farmland and be destroyed themselves very quickly. Now they are cared for in an elephant sanctuary with just enough property to roam a little bit and a small river to bath in.

I knew there was a 10 month old. Prior to the tour I took this families word that the mother was rescued from the logging industry in Myanmar. However, on arrival we were told another female was 7 months pregnant. The father was at this sanctuary as well. I was confused and angry. I asked them why are they breeding them? The answer, “how do we stop them?” I was angry at myself for being blinded. Where did these elephants really come from? Were they truly rescued? I believe so, but with doubt.  I will never know. I should have never contributed to a place that housed young elephants. Regardless, he was with his mother. Not separated like so many other establishments. Although I am disappointed, they were treated with more respect than they would have found elsewhere. I do believe the family is truly trying within the boundaries of income and culture. They need these elephants for income. It still remained difficult to not feel these wonderful beasts should be anywhere else than in the wild.
The reality is that elephants have been part of the SE Asian culture for centuries. Who am I to say any different when we have been using horses for centuries ourselves? We have animals locked up in zoos (and breed them) and keep others for meat in horrendous conditions. These elephants are not chained, there is no riding, no evidence of torture tools and the animals are not trained to do tricks. The mahouts (essentially an elephant’s keeper) seemed happy. Other elephants and their mahouts are are not so lucky in the tourism industry.

The guide knows my sadness, we spoke of it. He commented, “these elephants have been a way of life for us for centuries. Where would they go? They have no where else.” Elephants were originally used as labour, mostly in the logging industry. When this was banned by the government in 1989, the Thais had to find another way to meet the demands of caring for the thousands of elephants that were not wild. Tourism met this need with riding adventures. Through the decades, as more spoke out against the cruelty imposed on the elephants and their mahouts, businesses started to implement a more ethical approach in the way of elephant sanctuaries.

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With a heavy heart I must sadly admit, the joy on my children’s faces as they washed this majestic animal, brought a smile to my own face. The baby elephant will most likely be there doing the same thing day after day, long enough for my grandchildren to meet him. I was part of the sad cycle. Are these elephant sanctuaries ethical? Is this sustainable tourism? It is a complex issue and one that will be debated for years to come. Personally, I will not visit another. I also have great regrets for not doing more ethical elephant research. I may have chose differently or not gone at all.

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We also went on a guided tour into the mountains and jungle of Northern Thailand. I chose this company because they are a small and locally owned. They employ local guides and 10% of their profits go to the communities we visit. This was the best three days in Thailand. We left with memories that will last a life time. It was here where freshly paved roads and electricity were now just connecting the remote mountain villages. That elderly still dressed in traditional attire. The children walked mountain trails to and from school. Where the homes varied of bamboo bungalows to wooden mansions. Toyota trucks parked outside both. Where families still herded their water buffalo in every night. Where blue piping snaked everywhere connecting everyone to the water sources of streams and rivers. Many of the villagers did commute everyday into the district town for work, where life is just the same as anywhere. These villages are a place where the wisdom of old meets the dreams of tomorrow.

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Fresh pavement to connect the mountain villages, making for much safer travel.

Our guide always invited conversation. He was genuine, honest and curious. He has chosen to stay in his village rather than move to the cities like so many others. He supplements his families income of farming with guiding. He also said with a smile of acceptance, “I will never travel like you do. But that is OK. I am happy.” He was sincere when he spoke, accepting the way things are with pride and gratitude.
I feel honoured that my family and I were able to glimpse such a different way of life. Did we exploit them just with the act of being there? I feel we had no more of an influence than the smartphones they were carrying or the TV’s in the homes that could afford it. We were always greeted with smiles and given fruit from their trees.

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All meals were cooked over a fire and often came wrapped in banana leaves

Their culture is changing. Just as the rest of the world is morphing into something that we cannot even begin to comprehend. There is a tidal wave of change that no place on earth will be immune to. It will hit everybody. Media is now almost at every bodies fingertips. No matter nationality or income. The iPhone is only 11 years old, the same age as my youngest. Now even remote villagers who have no electricity are connected with these little pocket computers. Good or bad? That’s for another post.

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Walking amoung the rice fields

One of my favourite things about travelling is meeting people from around the world. Emmersing myself in the deep solve the world kind of conversations with locals and other travellers. It broadens your mind and bridges the gap of ignorance. In the diversity there are solutions.

We all are inhabitants on this spinning planet. We all are responsible for keeping Mother Earth healthy. It is crucial that those of us who are more fortunate educate ourselves and make wise choices to mitigate our footprint. Then we must educate and provide the means, empowering the less fortunate to make wise decisions as well. We cannot expect those living in anguishing poverty to care about their footprint when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

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Shea holding his bright future

I realize that travelling has its impacts. I am far from perfect when it comes to consumption. I know I can do more, by doing less. I will continue to educate myself and my children. I will make an effort to minimize my footprint. I expect better from myself. So as I continue my travels into Cambodia, I am even more conscious of where I spend my money. I want my money to benefit the local community. Supporting healthy change for the citizens and their environment. I will stay and eat at locally owned establishments. I will choose tours that are locally owned. That do not exploit but rather support the community. Every time I drink from a plastic bottle, which is daily due to health risks, my heart sinks a little more. But positive change is happening. There is a movement beginning here in Seim Riep to use refillable water bottles and establishments are providing safe water to do so. There are establishments for travellers that are morally and ethically sustainable while providing much needed opportunities for locals. Things such as these will only continue to grow. If we choose to support them.

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“In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision” Dalai Lama

Maybe I should have stayed home and made no impact? But then these communities would suffer if everyone chose to say home. Tourism is now a life line for many. The travel and tourism industry, no matter in developed or developing nations, will do their best to provide what we ask for. So if we make conscious decisions, they will listen.

Sustainable tourism? Balancing economic growth with protection of culture and environment while considering human and animal rights. We have to all work together to find this balance. Foreign investment, via business or tourist dollar, should benefit local communities, while  protecting cultures and environments. Support the people and their environment with the choices we make. Empower the community with initiatives that employ and educate them, engaging them in the conversation and decision making. We all need to stop and consider our footprint at home and abroad. Internationally, we need to learn from one another. Our mistakes and successes. We need to embrace our differences, learn from them and then make the world a healthier and happier place to live for all. Working together for a cleaner earth for generations to come.

For more information check out the blog on altruistic travelling.

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TAKE ONLY MEMORIES

LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS

Chief Si’ahl

RAW & EXPOSED IN INDIA

DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING
Have Expectancy. Not Expectations.
Expectancy is the emotional knowingness that you have changed and therefore your physical reality will follow suit.
Bashar

In 1992 Gene and I spent 2 months in India. We loved India and how her people opened our eyes and hearts to a side of humanity we did not know existed. We came away more whole in mind and spirit. We wanted our boys to see the diversity and energy of a world that is so very different from ours.

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27 years is a long time. I knew India would not be the same. A society made up of a billion people, who have arguably the most diversity anywhere, could never be constant. When we were planning this trip we thought long and hard about including India in the itinerary. India is a world of incredible wonder, but it comes with many challenges. After much deliberation, we decided on 20 days in India. Delhi, Agra, Jaiselmer, Pushkar and Ranthambore. A triangle trip of tigers, camel treks, Wonders of the World and spiritual experiences.

The essense of India still remains. The color and charisma of India continues to stimulate and push personal boundaries. Watching the world of India is mystifying, intoxicating, stimulating, obnoxious and thrilling. With so many worlds colliding on the streets you leave exhausted and spell bound. However, I underestimated the phenomenonal change that India had gone through during this time.

The difference is that now you are watching it through a haze of pollution and with the sounds of thousands of motorized vehicles and honking horns. It was a game of chance every time you stepped onto the streets of India.

Pollution created stunning colours midday

In the past 25 years India has gone from a population of 888 million to 1.3 billion. With an incredibly fast growing middle class (it has essentially doubled in the past 8 years), there is more consumption, resulting in more pollution. The air is thick, litter is everywhere and the incessant honking of horns leaves you rattled. Cows, pigs and dogs that are seen feeding on the refuse and plastic that is constantly thrown on the streets.

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There are still millions that remain trapped in poverty. It is not as overt as it was many years ago. However, there are still so many that do not have running water or the guarantee that they will eat each day. Too many still have limited opportunity just because of the caste they are born into. There is a shift for equality happening, but slowly. Read more here.

Garbage has had a 2000% increase in 5 years. From 400 tonnes in 2010 to 8700 tonnes per day in Delhi alone. New Delhi is the most polluted city on the planet and it is hard to imagine as I choked on the toxic air, that anything is being done to mitigate this. The day we flew out it was 934 on the Air Quality Index. Schools have closed and flights have been cancelled due to toxic levels and a haze as thick as pea soup. A few years back a “garbage slide” spilt through its walls killing 2 and injuring more. You can find more here and here.

The Indian government is making efforts but the infrastructure remains in its infancy. There is still few treatments for solid waste and proper garbage disposal. Instead of counting yellow trucks while on the train, we played count the number of people defecating in the fields and rail tracks. Sad, but true. But where else are these people to go when government’s efforts still have a long way to go to provide proper education or infrastructure?

India is a country made up of such diversity, thousands of years of social norms, and shifting demographics. Change is happening quickly. It would be extremely difficult for any government to keep up with the ever increasing demands on resources and infrastructure needs.

Those of us who live in developed nations cannot judge. We play a big role in the decay of our planet’s health. We are just fortunate that we do not have a population of over a billion, so it is easier for us to turn our backs to our own mess. We have the knowledge, yet rarely make choices to mitigate our impact on planet earth, as well as our own health.

We were met with beauty and wonder, But also a little too much adversity this trip. Sadly, India challenged us so much that we cut our trip by half. Watching my children become so sick that it actually hurt my heart. We had taken precautions, but everyone of us still fell violently ill. No one was having fun being stuck in a hotel for five days, fighting off dehydration.

Good health care remains an issue for the masses in India. I did not want to find out what our options were if my kids became so dehydrated that medical intervention was needed. My children’s health is first priority. Both my boys have no reserves. They are humans riding chicken legs. Being a nurse can sometimes make things worse. I know how bad things can get.

I love being in control…. I felt completely out of control and it was frightening. At times I felt trapped.

We had to keep postponing moving on to the next adventure because one of us was always too sick to travel. After too many days in an Agra hotel room, our fingers and arse holes were crossed that all were healthy enough to travel the 6 hours by train to get to Ranthambhore. But no it was not to be. It was my turn to fall ill.

We did eventually make it to Ranthambhore. After the tiger safari, we made the family decision to leave India 10 days early. Travelling even further away from an international airport became not an option. The boys were still pecking at food and I could barely keep anything down.

The air pollution played a considerable role in our decision to leave early as well. We had hoped that leaving Delhi to the smaller cities we would find the air more pleasant. Only mildly so. Even in the smaller populated cities, the burning of wood and cow dung left a constant haze that continued to tax our respiratory system.

It is also now much more difficult to get around. Trains are booked months in advance. We ended up cancelling two train trips due to being ill. We hired a car and driver on two occasions instead. First was a ride from hell. Car started smoking an hour into our trip and the driver was just plain nuts. Frightening when you are stuck with this lunatic in a smoking car for 6 hours. The second trip was slightly better. Car was well maintained and our driver had all his faculties.  Just be sure to take their cell phone away first.

The roads do have designated lanes but no one pays attention to them. The only rule is to keep your eyes forward. That bus that is barrelling up 1 inch beside you is not your issue until he is within your frontal vision. Don’t worry about shoulder checking when verring into oncoming traffic. Not necessary, have faith that everyone will get out of your way. Except that bull lying in the middle of the road. He rules the road.

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Strangely, it all seems to work. Driving in India should be designated as another Wonder of the World.

Even though India left us physically and mentally exhausted, she still provided us with opportunities for personal growth and discovery.

We visited the Taj Mahal and stood in awe of this Wonder of the World.

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A visit to Ranthambore left us with smiling hearts to see so many creatures living in their natural habitat.

We met beautiful people who were genuinely concerned for us as we became too ill to leave a hotel for 5 days.

My boys learnt that grit, faith and a whole lot of love can get you through overwhelming adversity. India pushed all our boundaries in many ways. My children met every challenge with courage and curiosity. They remained strong in spirit through it all and I could not be more proud.

The lack of infrastructure left us even more grateful for home.

The constant stimulus found in the streets of India brought a greater appreciation for diversity and we learnt that having faith can turn a harrowing experience into a joy ride.

The pollution and litter left us all questioning our own footprint on this beautiful planet.

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Graveyards were an escape from the chaos. I appreciate that the Indians do not hide the reality of our mortality.

India was wondrous and frustrating. Challenging and beautiful. India also has me looking inward. It’s not always easy to be honest and true to your weaknesses.

I am much older and softer now. Travelling with my kids made me over protective perhaps. The idea of not being in control in an environment that is lacking quality health care produced too much fear for me to accept. I was finding myself becoming critical and ethnocentric. Something I never wanted to become. I could have and should have done more research. Our experience 27 years ago was clouded by a veil that both Gene and I chose not to lift. I am disappointed in myself for my lack of insight and judgement in taking my kids to the most polluted city in the world. Although it was our entry point into India, we very possibly might have had a different experience if we went to Goa instead.

Although I am sad that we did not have the trip we had hoped for, India has illuminated my strengths and weaknesses. I am still processing and reflecting on my experience there. Many mixed emotions clutter my thoughts. India left me raw and exposed. Sometimes it is these experiences that are necessary for further personal growth. Challenging my own expectations of what I wish to see in myself.

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However, what I do know for certain, is that I am thankful we left India when we did. When we stepped off the plane in Bangkok, the intense tension I was holding onto just slipped away.

It took a week in Thailand for my oldest to completely recover. My boys are once again healthy. Laughing and free to play as children should.

Nothing makes my heart sing more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GROUNDING IN GREECE

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Sitting on the ferry on our way back from the Greek island, Naxos. Just spent the first 2 hours of the journey dancing on the deck of the ferry. Moving to the music, the wind, the waves and the sunshine.

I feel wonderful.

Dancing feeds my joy. It is meditation in movement. Dancing has also allowed for some personal space this trip, as one of my intentions was to find solitude in everyday. Not to mention, dancing gets my stink out. Movement to music feeds the spirit and detoxifies the mind and body. Although my kids look at me as if I’m nuts, and I may have embarrassed them on the ferry – I will keep dancing. They will love me more for it. For dancing my stink out, I am calmer and more grounded, making me easier to love.

Meteora weather was fog and pouring rain so we did not get out to explore the monstaries as much as we would have liked. Metorea however, did allow us the time to sleep in and have lazy days after a busy month of travelling. But not the fresh air we were all craving.

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Cobbled trail to the cliffs of Meteora.
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Walking up to the monestary.
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Monestaries built on the cliffs of Meteora.
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East side of Naxos
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Remains of Apollos Temple

Naxos Island was exactly what we needed. We were able to explore the beauty of nature as well as allow more time for some R&R. The island was quiet. One hundred thousand tourists flock to this island in the summer months, but during the winter it is only locals that are wandering about. The old town was fun to explore. Narrow pedestrian only streets lined with snow white buildings and blue shutters, made for a wonderful contrast. One could find marble stones and pillars that once stood as temples, amongst the towns walls. The history is so vast that for centuries the temples themselves were used as quarries for their marble. Many generations pillaged the temples to build their own churches and homes.

Old town streets of Naxos Island

We rented a car to explore the island on its winding roads. Centuries old rock fences, criss crossed the hills like a zebra’s stripes. Goats wandered among the marble cliffs and olive trees. We stopped often to walk the trails where there are fallen statues and temple ruins built to honour the Gods 2600 years ago. We were the only people within miles of these ancient temples. To have these ruins to explore on our own was an honor. When the sun sets and radiates off the island’s white marble hills and aqua blue waters of the Aegean Sea, it is easy to see why Greek God’s were said to have lived here. The energy is old and vibrating.

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Demeters Temple
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North Naxos
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South Naxos
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View from the hills

The sun shines brilliantly off the Aegean Sea as we journey back to Athens. We are the only ones sitting on the deck as it is winter for the locals. I enjoy the days that we “travel” between destinations. It is the journey itself that allows time for reflection. This is when there is a lot of discussion as a family. With excitement we share our experiences, thoughts and emotions on where we have been. The boys have become intrepid travellers and I love seeing the world through their eyes. Travelling has also brought us closer as a family. The bonds run deeper with each experience.

Homework and views from the ferry

So we will arrive in Athens soon. We were in Athens for a short time before heading to Naxos and we all enjoyed the energy it gave off. We look forward to spending a little more time there. We will sit and celebrate Gene’s birthday eating delicious Greek food with the Parthenon in view.

Then in the morning, one last gelato and we fly to India.

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Schmerkeys at the Parthenon.

 

ITALY

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It has been two countries ago since my last post. After helping the kids with their work and then spending the time needed to plan the next adventure, I am done with the media. Travelling takes effort, too much time spent online planning, and when there is down time, I don’t have much energy to get blogging myself. My kids blogs are far more interesting anyhow. They now involve super heroes and evil Doctors

We are presently on a train north of Athens on our way to Meteora. A place where we can hopefully hike and soak up a little nature after being in the cobbled stoned cities for 2 weeks. Chamonix was a long time ago and we are all needing some country fresh air. We also hope to get a little break from travelling and one another. Being together 24/7 takes in toll and we are all feeling it.

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Boys want one of these lifted for off road.

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The kids are getting along well. Playgrounds are scarce so when the bear cub playing gets a little out of hand we have them drop and do 20 push ups or planks for as long as they can hold. Despite all the walking we do everyday, they have lots of energy to expel. If there is some space to run, we let them do so. They are doing parkour off all the buildings and many barriers that exist throughout Europe. The only place we did not let them do so was Venice. Due to the fear Venice may crumble and sink.

Shea had his first sad point and was missing home and his friends. I knew this would come. As it does in wisps for me as well. I take comfort in the smell of fall as I purposefully walk through any pile of colourful fallen leaves. FaceTiming with some family and friends back home helps Shea shake his travel blues.

We spent 10 days in Italy. A varied country with much beauty. We met many friendly Italians but sad to say, a few who took a little more warming up to as well. Perhaps it is because of the intense number of tourists here in Italy. Much more than any where else we have been. Many of them not so considerate themselves.

Both Gene and I agree that the Golden Age of travel was 20 years ago. Before internet made the world smaller, a time when fewer people were travelling, and there was no danger of getting rammed with a blasted selfie stick.

Again I am very happy to be travelling in the side season. Summer would be too intense and lines far too long. The weather has been very pleasant, despite it being winter.

Venice truly is a world wonder. What a foolish place to build a city but the results are dazzling and awe inspiring. You can however, see the results of time that have eroded the foundations of this incredible city. Cracks that creep up it walls and the ever present lean of many of its buildings. During high tide the squares actually flood. They have provided raised platforms to maintain dry feet. Global warming adds another element to the inescapable sinking of Venice. There is a heroic effort occurring to keep it afloat, which is admiring in itself.

 

 

 

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Florence was beautiful and the history in arts enjoyable. But I have to say the number of scooter and motorbikes that race through its streets made for not such a pleasant experience. They could do much better if they made their narrow main streets pedestrian only. Seriously was afraid for our lives on many occasions. The Italians are nuts when it comes to anything motorized.

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Rome was filthy. Garbage everywhere and graffiti on anything that is stationary for more than 5 seconds. Thankfully the Roman history here is nothing less than incredible, making up for Rome’s lesser attributes.

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No selfie sticks used here

We can feel a slight shift as we move south and east. Getting tickets for even the metro is slightly a little more difficult. More people smoking in public places, having to be more careful about what water we consume, and fewer public washrooms; let alone clean ones.

A slow transition that will hopefully have us prepared for India in less than two weeks.

LOVE IN SALZBURG

 

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Salzburg was even more romantic than I remembered. It is easy to imagine a young woman being swept off her feet in such an enchanting place. The cobbled streets are narrow and have many hidden enticing alleys to explore and discover. Couples are mingling and sipping wine outside the numerous small shops. The fortress provides a spectacular back drop against the baroque architecture. Salzburg’s “Old City” is a World Heritage Site as this vibrant city should be cherished.

It is here 27 years ago that I met my husband. In the International Youth Hotel on New Years Eve while dancing on the tables. After a few dates of sharing apple struddle and skating under the stars, I was invited to join him and his best buddy, Doug. To continue travelling through Europe in their VW van. Gas was very expensive then, due to the Iraqi War, so to this day Gene says it was because they needed gas money. May be true, but gas is now cheaper and I am still here.

Much has changed in the past 27 years.

After exploring Europe’s back roads for another 3 months, the van broke down in Portugal and it was time to return home. I went back to my small prairie town and within a week I had bought a one way ticket to the west coast. Never to look back.
We travelled more, went to school. Graduated and formed careers that provide us with the means to live a life of comfort and adventure. Both around the world and in the mountains of our beloved island. Bought a house in a community we love. We married in our backyard 11 years into the relationship. We now have 2 wonderful boys that inspire us to stay young and remain curious.

 

Love has been glorious.

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But not all the time.

There are the amazing views as you stand on the mountains’ summits together, but there is also the deep dark valleys and canyons where it is easy to get lost.

The moments when you are so in love you feel like your heart will burst. Then the dark days where you wonder what the hell happened? As with any adventure, there is struggle and strive. It is all too easy to focus on the hardship and get lost in the cold dark valley. To be fogged in having forgotten your compass. Sometimes it may even be necessary to get lost in order to appreciate the beauty that can be seen above.

Either way, it is vital to find your heart’s map and climb out. Sometimes you may need to be the leader, climbing out first and providing the anchors for your partner. Or you may be the one holding onto the end of the rope. Letting your partner lead the way. Dig deep, persevere and look for the strength that can be found in your spirit. Hold faith in yourself and that of your lover. Show compassion. Find that place in your heart that promotes love and growth.

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In my career as a nurse I often care for elders. Many being married for 50 years plus. I always ask, “what is the secret to a lasting marriage?” I have been given many an answer.

“Have common hobbies.”
“Never go to bed angry”.
“Go to bed angry.”
“Laugh often.”
“Always allow for a second chance.”
“Hold hands everyday.”
“Go on separate vacations.”
“Beer and buddies.”
“Be honest.”
“Friendships that support.”
“Talk.”
“Kiss and hug often.”

There is no one answer. A couple must find their own glue that will bind them together to support a lasting marriage.

Things that matter take effort.

First ask YOURSELF what your own needs are? What can I do MYSELF to fill up my own cup? Take care of your own inner spirit. Don’t expect that someone else will or can do this for you.

Then ask your lover what their dreams are? Truly listen and support them in the ways that they ask of you.

Manage expectations. Be realistic.

Remember no one is perfect. Including yourself.

Together, make a nector list. The accomplishments and life experiences that have made you both who you are independently and as a unit.

Then make a bucket list. Determine how and when you will achieve these dreams.

Check in often. Communicate.

Never stop believing in yourself or your partner.

Life is not always easy, and a lasting marriage is not either. Nothing is constant, and nor should individuals be. If one never changed, life would be much too mundane and boring. Staying curious and striving to better one self should be a life long goal. This includes encouraging your partner to be the very best person they can be. To show compassion, understanding and forgiveness. To promote change. To listen and support the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with.

Keep hiking and climbing. Break through the clouds. For there is always another summit to climb where you can stand together. To soak up the glory that can be found there.

To look back at what has been with admiration. Hold those memories close and find strength in them.

To look forward with joy and wonder. To dream. Holding hands.

Forever cherishing one anothers’ hearts.

Just maybe we will be back to Salzburg in 2041. To celebrate 50 years of love.

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FUN IN FRANCE

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France has been relaxing with its slower pace.  Allowing us to decompress after a very busy first few weeks of travelling. We are staying at our first SERVAS home with wonderful Edith in the area of Ivry on the edge of Paris. SERVAS is an international organization that connects travellers with hosts all over the world to promote peace.

We had arranged this time with Edith before we left on the trip. I was excited about SERVAS as it allows for a true cultural experience. I have not been disappointed. Our first host has been very thoughtful, kind and generous. She has travelled extensively herself so she appreciates the needs of other travellers. From providing incredible French cuisine to washing our laundry. There has been more conversations around the home in French than in English. I have been so proud listening to my boys converse in French fluently. Our host was a teacher as well so she has been wonderful with the boys.

MERCI BEAUCOUP EDITH!!!!

The boys have been great google translators in France. They have not hesitated to converse in french. Their accent does give them away that they are from afar but this brings many smiles to the faces of the locals. I listen with a proud heart.

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The architecture is grand and impressive in Paris. The monuments and castles/ museums have been situated to accent one another. Providing for incredible back drops.

The Norte Dame was illuminated with dancing statues and music.

 

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The Louvre was so massive in size that it was very easy to get lost. The building was originally a fort and castle and is a facinating piece of art itself. To truly see this centuries old museum one would have to be here for at least a month.

 

The Egyptian exhibit was awe inspiring.

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The intricately carved stone statues priceless.

 

The street markets are delightful. The produce bright and colourful. The aromas from the bundles of herbs tickled my senses. The French cheese and breads are delicious. They put are North American renditions to shame. The wines. Oh the wines!!!!

Potatoe vending machines

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From Paris we ventured to Chamonix. An outdoor enthusiast’s Mecca. This village is nestled in the French Alps and the mountains create an incredible backdrop everywhere you look. The cobbled streets would normally be bustling with skiers, bikers, climbers and the like, but it is the side season. Just enough snow to end the hiking/biking season but not enough to ski. The trams to the mountain tops were sitting quiet. We did go for a few hikes into the snow covered forests. It was beautiful and filled our cups up after the hustle and bustle of the cities. To take in the fresh air and hike in the wonder of nature is something we will never take forgranted. The boys had a grand time eating icicles and sledding in the snow.

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I believe we are getting into the travelling groove. As anything in life, it is finding the balance in the transition. The boys continue to amaze us. They have become avid little travellers and roll with the hiccups that accompany travelling. Getting them slowly ready for India in 3 weeks time.

Their education has been fun but challenging at times. Our youngest not always wanting to put the time into his blog. Back home I was often asked, “what about school?” The following got me thinking that it is the everyday things of this trip that are providing the best learning.

I can see a change in both the boys. In their self- confidence and critical thinking. Being able to look at a situation and navigate your way through with confidence will only serve them well in the future. So putting away the books for a few months I feel is well worth it.

We are now on our way to Salzburg, Austria. The very fast and efficient European train system is taking us on a trip down memory lane. I met my hubby in a Salzburg hostel 27 years ago. It is in Salzburg so many years ago where my life took a very different turn. I went down a new path and never looked back. It will be fun to show our kids where it all started.

 

 

 

WE WILL REMEMBER

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Our time spent this Remembrance Day in Vimy and Souchez was powerful. To stand where so many gave their lives so we could have the freedom we share today. It was a spiritual experience that I will forever hold deep within my soul.

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The monument on Vimy Ridge dominates the sky for miles. Built in remembrance of the 66,000 Canadian soldiers killed or missing in action during the Great War.  Canada captured Vimy Ridge after four long days of a brutal battle. At the unbearable loss of 3600 lives. The French and British had previously tried to recapture the ridge from the Germans but with no success. Some believe that this win at Vimy Ridge was the birth of Canada as a nation.

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Statues of peace, hope, liberty, and honour look upon the valley with such sorrow. The landscape is now shaped with the quiet green trenches where the ghosts of so many whisper in the gentle breeze. The serene forest of trees, in a blanket of fog, all planted in memory of each soldier lost. The trumpet filling the air with the sound of loss and grief. The poppies decorating the tomb of the unknown soldier. The names of 11, 285 Canadian soldiers with unknown graves, carved into the brilliant smooth rock.

 

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The history in Northern France holds the ghosts of so many. Villages completely destroyed and 100’s of thousands dead. The horror that occurred here is hard to grasp. The French are resilient and rebuilt with grace and gratitude. They hold the memory of what was close to their hearts.  Thank you Maryse and Bernard for your kindness. You have given us memories that will last a life time.

 

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The Lantern Tower of Notre-Dame-de-Lorrete sends the signal of hope through the night sky, visible in the surrounding countryside for 70 km. Every night since the 1930’s. Built from ashes alongside the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Loretta. Surrounded by the graves of over 44,000 soldiers who fell defending their country.

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The procession of young and old who walk every November 11th the kilometre to the Notre-Dame-de-Lorrete. The bagpipes echo off the Ring of Remembrance, a monument that holds the names of 580,000 soldiers. All who perished in the Great War, in alphabetical order, regardless of nation, rank or religion.

On the return walk to Souchez with a torch in hand. The flames illuminating the night sky with peace and understanding.

“The torch, be yours to hold it high.”

A beautiful and inspiring sight to behold.

There are so many more monuments throughout Europe that honour those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in both Wars. Cemeteries scattered in the towns and in amoungst the fields. Soldiers buried where they died, their graves dug by their comrades in arms.

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I felt honored to stand where so many gave themselves for freedom. For justice, truth and love. I am so blessed to share this experience with my own children. That they are beginning to understand and appreciate history and how it has shaped the world as it is today. So grateful, that it is in their young hearts, hope can be found for the future.

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Listen to the whispers of our ancestors.
For they are telling us to embrace diversity and love. Peace and compassion.
Hold them close and never forget.

We will remember.

 

ENGLISH SMILES

England has been a wonderful country to visit. So much history and the people have been incredibly friendly and fun.

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Cambridge was delightful. Walked the enchanting streets at night that were alive and vibrant. The following day we explored by daylight. I have fallen in love with Cambridge. The cobbled streets, bustling with students and locals alike. Cyclists ruled the roads. Music filled the streets with buskers everywhere or church bells ringing. A bell can weigh up to 2700 lbs. 13 bells are pulled by ropes 2 stories below. The local Bell Ringers continue to practise this century old talent. The ringing takes you back in history. It was sad to say goodbye to Cambridge and our friends who live there. Our thoughts are always with you.

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Upon arrival in London, after the great mystery of train tickets, we found ourselves slightly disoriented when leaving the train station. Took us a while and much help from two locals before we could figure out which bus to catch. Don’t feel too bad though, as the locals keep commenting on how confusing the transit system is even for them. After a few days we are now able to navigate this complex but efficient system. Just before it is time to move on!

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London was not as I expected. So much new in amongst the old architecture. This makes for a beautiful contrast in most cases. The streets are packed with tourists. So happy we are here in the off season. Londoners are friendly and efficient. 11 baristas at a counter the size of Tim Hortons. They moved lines of people through incredibly fast, with a smile and the coffee is much better.

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The Tower of London, home for the Monarchy for 500 years, was impressive. The Line of Kings is an attractive show of King’s armour and horses from centuries ago. Amazing works of art. The Tower also holds the Crown’s Jewels. Quite astonishing the wealth that they have managed to possess through the centuries. They are still taking from the masses as it was no small fee to enter the Tower.

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The Natural History Museum is amazing but one needs at least a week to actually see it all. The building itself is an actual work of art.

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LUCY in the real
LUCY in the real

Took the river boat to Greenwich. Was lovely to see London from this perspective. Fast and efficient. The Thames River is brown and murky. Any marine life would probably have an extra eye. The boat traffic is just a busy as London’s roads.

Checked out Buckingham Palace early the next morning. Boys knocked on the gates, but the Queen never answered.

 

 

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Anna took us on a walking tour of London. She is delightful and a great historian. Her enthusiasm for this beautiful city is contagious. She engaged the kids just like Hagrid does with Potter and his friends. She fed us an incredible meal in her lovely flat. Tacos or taacos, depending if you are English or not.

THANK YOU ANNA. We so appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness.

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A trip to Harry Potter World. Exciting, fun and inspiring. Worth the small fortune.

 

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This missile could travel 12 miles

The Imperial War Museum. Moving and very educational. The Holocost exhibit was heartbreaking and disturbing. They have honored this time of terror in such a way that it shakes your very essence. A piece of history that must never be forgotten. If ever in London be sure to visit the Imperial War Museum. It is a must see.

 

It was an odd change of emotions but then we were off to see the theatre performance of Matilda. WOW! All 4 of us loved this. The actors and actresses were phenomenal. The children on stage were amazing. The singing, dancing, set, lights and audience interaction was a wonderful way to spend our last evening in London. The boys sat on the edge of their seat the entire time.

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London has been well worth the visit, but we are all feeling the effects of a city that never sleeps. The stimulus is constant. This gets the adrenaline flowing. I fell like I am vibrating.

The morning commute on the tube I felt like a sperm fighting amoungst a million others all trying to get to a single egg. One woman’s face was flat against the tube’s door window when they arrived at the platform. Might as well pickle us before we board.

The air is heavy with pollution. Each breath actually takes effort. In the underground it is suffocating. All of us feel like there is an elephant sitting on our chest. Lets hope this is the closest I ever get to heart pain. It is strange to be able to “feel” the air. A city of more than 8 million will have a haze forever over it. Sad that pollution will kill more people this year world wide than anything else.

Soaking up the best parts of a country in a short time. Yep, it can be done. But it is exhausting and so much goes unseen. Would have loved to spend more time, but we would have to win the lottery first. England is very proficient at depleting your pocket book. There is no way one can see everything, so best to appreciate what you can manage in the time that you have. The days are short as well, adding another challenge. This can provide down time in the evening for the kids though.

The boys are proving to be very resilient. Very little time for sitting back and relaxing. Been busy everyday with early mornings and packing in as much as we can. Trying to fit in the schoolwork when on trains or around the dinner table. Apparently Shea seems his parents are not the best teachers he has ever had. They are gaining so much by just observing and doing. With purchases, navigating, and just people watching. The diversity here is wonderful. I have counted as many as 6 different dialects on the bus.

It is now time to move on. Paris is our next stop. We will be getting there by the Eurostar. Travelling at speeds of up to 300km/per hour through the Chunnel. Drop into the underground in London and pop up in Paris. Another adventure awaits us.