Friday, December 31, 2010

Pinch me, 2010

It's the last day of 2010.  To say that 2010 has been an adventurous year would be an understatement!  After a rough few years, 2010 has really made the rough times "worth it".

It started out fairly uneventfully, but then spring came and I went to my first girl guide camp.  Then I found out I was chosen to go on the NOLS month long backpacking and whitewater canoeing adventure.  A work trip to Vietnam that was memorable, being headhunted by one of the world's leading sports companies, a whirlwind "go see" trip to Germany, and here I am finishing the year in Florida with a great guy (damn you Murphy and your laws!)

As cheesy as it sounds, I feel like I've had it all this year.  And I don't want to take a hint of advantage of it and want to appreciate it every step along the way.

Less than a month from now, I'll be living in Germany starting another adventure and chapter of my life.  Well, 2010, you've proved to be amazing.  2011, you have big shoes to fill!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Landing a new job, the 2010 way.

Next month, I'll be moving to Germany.  Three months ago, I'd have called you insane for even suggesting such wildness.  Though I've spent a lot of 2010 figuring out "what next?" I never would have imagined a transatlantic move in my future.  But now, the contract is signed, the movers are scheduled and I'm super excited to be starting this new chapter in my life.

What's more incredible, is that I didn't go looking for this opportunity, it came looking for me!  Never in a million years did I imagine that when I signed up for LinkedIn, did I think it would lead me to a job. With an amazing and leading world renown company no less!  But a very incomplete profile and being part of a relevant industry group led the recruiter to me and here I am, the most exciting opportunity of my life! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

When it's meant to be...

It's funny, 3 months ago, if you told me I was going to move overseas, I would have killed myself laughing.  However, in the strange ways that life works, I'll be moving to Germany in 2 months.  Even though I've signed my contract and given notice at work, it still doesn't seem real.

It's not very often you change your job and home at the same time.  Never mind doing it halfway around the world.  Needless to say, there are things a ton of things to do and think about.  Remarkably, it's not nearly as hard as I would have imagined.  I say this with a large caveat though... it's not as hard when you get help.  Because I've signed on with an awesome company, I'm offered a relocation package that will make transitioning to my new life a whole lot easier.  Like movers.  That will come and pack all my stuff and unpack at the other end.  And a relocation person.  Quite possibly, the best thing ever offered.  I have an assigned relocation person that will help me survive in my new surroundings.  Her job is to show me around the area, set up appointments for apartments, help me buy a car, set me up with a bank account and almost anything else I need to manage my new life in a foreign land.  This service, is worth it's weight in gold.  I couldn't imagine manoevering thru this without a support person. 

I feel like there's more I should be doing right now.  But so far, I have to say, it's been smooth.  Things I thought would be difficult, like selling my car or getting out of cell phone contracts, have been ridiculously easy (the cell phone contract got transfered within an hour of being posted on craigslist and I've sold the car to a friend at a really good price in exchange for keeping it until I leave)  I guess it's all testament to the fact that when something is meant to be, it will be.  It'll happen. 

Still, it's hard to accept this is my life and this is happening.  I'm in awe, but I love it and cherish it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

New adventures

2010 has been a hell of a year. And in a good way. If anyone told me back in January, how my 2010 would turn out, I’d have slapped them silly.

It started out quietly enough, but after the adventures and excitement of my previous 2 years, it was much appreciated. The first big thing to have happened was of course my Yukon adventure. The next big thing that happened, was (I think) partially due to my Yukon adventure.

You see, when I was in the Yukon, I spent some time reflecting on life and thinking about which direction I was going to take it in. Part of that process was thinking of things I’d still like to experience in life. On that list was live and work overseas. I didn’t really have a plan as to what that would look like, but I thought I’d throw it on the list and figure it out later.

Well, 2 weeks later, the universe appeared to have figured it out for me. Less than 2 weeks later, I was on a work trip to Asia and received an email from an inhouse recruiter at Adidas. They were looking for someone with experience in the outdoor industry. Once I got more information, the job description was exactly what I was qualified for. And so, after 2 months of interviews and a quick trip to Herzogenerauch, Germany, the job was offered to me and the contract is signed.

I’m absolutely scared to death. New job, new place, new country. But it feels right. The timing in my life is perfect for this and I had no doubts on accepting the job. But it’s a big change.

I have a few fears like “will I ever be able to learn German?” Though I had a German grandmother and my mom speaks German, growing in a multicultured family meant streamlining languages and we didn’t get taught German. I do know some things like “excuse me, do you have an electrical outlet” and “this is a tablecloth” but I’m pretty sure that won’t get me very far.

I also fear developing a sudden love of euro pop and crocs. Thankfully, with the internet, I should be safe in avoiding those.
I’m sure I’ll have a ton of stories as I get ready for this new adventure, so stay tuned!!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Putting it out to the Universe

2010 has been an adventure.  Thankfully NOT in the way 2009 was an adventure.  Albeit 2009 was a necessary adventure to get me to where I am now, I'm thrilled to be finally emotionally balanced and not embarrasing myself by taking trapeze classes or wandering the world  to find myself or buying every shoe invented by mankind to make myself feel beter (they were all fun in their own way, but really? Am I ever going to strut around in 6" black patent Louboutins anytime soon?)

And so came 2010.  I started to breathe a little easier and think about the nasty "D" word I had to deal with during 2009.

The highlight thus far for sure was my NOLS Leadership course in the Yukon.  During that amazing experience, I had a chance to finally sit back and reflect on some of what I want in life.  Or at least, some of what I hope to experience.  I called it my "wish list" (bucket list is for old people and cheezy Jack Nicholson movies).  I wrote a few things and "put it out to the universe".  I'm not religious and I wouldn't even call myself spiritual.  My mom raised us with a deeply ingrained philosophy of "if it's meant to be, it'll be" and so I stand by that. 

Well, it seems like at least one of the things just might be meant to be.  I don't want to jinx anything quite yet, but one of those things is almost sure to happen.  I should know for sure next week :)  More details then!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guest post on a mentor's blog!

I was recently asked by a mentor (and friend) to write a piece for her blog on my Yukon experience.  Nancy was my very awesome money coach for a time (until she moved to the NWT, good for her, not so much for me or my bank account...)  Nancy regularly posts money philosophy questions on her blog and one day I commented about how since I've been back from the Yukon I've been re-evaluating my life and how much "stuff" is required to live and find happiness.  I was truly honored to be asked to write the piece.  Here's the link.

Yukon backcountry is a money coach

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Post Summer Blahs

It's less than a week to go until the official end of summer and I'm already feeling the post summer blahs.  To be fair, I've only just got over my jet lag from my recent trip and I'm still processing my monthlong Yukon adventure.  But still.  I can feel the post summer blahs starting to take effect.  It's either that or the fact that I'm not used to sitting still anymore.  Considering it's been two and a half years since my life has been this "quiet".  Either scenario is likely.

The great thing about being an adult is that the post summer blahs start a little bit later than when we were kids.  For me, I could distinctly remember the summer blahs setting in a few days before school started.  Yes, there was the excitement of new school clothes and school supplies but once those were all ready to go and the sun was still shining but the nights were getting shorter and colder, you could feel that the end of summer was imminent.  And it felt.... blah. 

At least as an adult, we get to postpone the summer blahs a few weeks.  But still... it's an awkward feeling, isn't it?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Backpacking- Part 2

I made it thru week 1.  No small feat.  By this point we seem to have walked endless miles and have gone up (and back down) what feels like a million feet of elevation.  I haven't showered or used toilet paper in a week.  Oddly enough, none of this bothers me.  Partly because I know everyone else is in the same boat and partially because I'm too exhausted to care.

So far, I've learned a lot about myself.  One thing of which is that when I do something, I do it all the way.  Until this trip (I'm embarassed to say) I hadn't been backpack camping. To make matters worse, I believe I told an ex-boyfriend once that "if hell froze over" I wasn't going to backpacking.  Incidentally, I said the same thing when he mentioned wanting to go to India, as Murphy and his law have it, I've been there 5 times.  I'm pretty sure I must be insane to have never backpacked before and do a 2 week long trip as my first outing.  go big or go home.  That's me.

Because this trip is a course, specifically a leadership course, there are classes every day.  In addition, we gather around and talk about our goals and challenges.  Hands down my biggest goal (and challenge) is to just make it through the backpacking.  If I do this, it will be the biggest accomplishment I'll have achieved so far.  Thinking about the other challenges I've managed to conquer in the past few years, I think that no mountain or heavy pack will stand in my way.

Though the hikes are physically challenging, they don't kill me. I may be the slowest going uphill, but I manage to find comfort in my slow but very steady pace.  I manage to accept that this isn't a race and stop apologizing for being at the back of the pack. 

I start to find my groove, I might be the slowest hiker, but everyone in my tent group looks forward to my cooking shifts.  I become the backcountry baker extraordinaire! Pizza, pies, cinammon buns, you name it!

Eventually, it becomes my day to be leader of the day.  I'm going to have to lead a group of 4 other students that are a hell of a lot better than me at hiking!  Not intimidating at all.... right?

One of the many things my mentor/instructor instills in me is to keep being me, as a leader.  ie I don't need a lobotomy or act like Stalin to be an effective leader.  She claims that anyone can be taught to read a map but natural leadership, self awareness and the ability to build culture within a group (so she claims I bring...) are not things easily taught.  To say I'm insecure about this new role, is an understatement.  I hid my insecurities well and get our group there in one piece.  In the end, I delegated where I needed too and overall kept the group in good spirits.  wow! 

My newfound confidence slips by day 12.  Clearly, someone must want me dead.  Why else would you explain that I have to hike up 1700ft of elevation before the effect of my coffee sinks in? By the end of the day, there are 2 puffy cushions where my kneecaps used to be and I'm convinced I'll freeze to death since it starts to snow.  It's early August, I should be sitting on my deck sipping raspberry mojitos, not worrying about hypothermia.  What point was I trying to prove again???

The last day of the hiking portion, I find my groove again.  There's light at the end of the tunnel!!!! I'm not at the back of the pack anymore.  I'm now at the front.   Still with my slow and steady pace.  by the time I get to camp, I'm ecstatic.  I'm so proud I managed to finish this.  In the end, it was 109km of backpacking gaining 17,000ft of elevation with a 47lb pack.  Besides the obvious sense of accomplishment, I feel tough as nails!  Along the way, I've even picked up some self confidence and leadership skills.  All this and we're only halfway thru this adventure!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

4 countries, 6 days

Ever since I stepped on my first plane at the age of 7, which, incidentally, had to make an emergency landing because a piece of satellite crashed into the windshield causing the plane to decompress, but I digress... I love flying.

Whenever I knew I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, I'd be so excited I couldn't sleep the night before. 

I also love my job.  I love it for a lot of reasons, one of which is that a couple of times a year, I get to travel for work.  Work has taken me to places I would have never imagined: India (5 times... a place I said I would never go to!), Israel, Hong Kong, China and Thailand.  Though I've done at least 2 business trips a year for the last 6 years, I still get excited to go away. 

As anyone that's ever traveled for work knows, it's hardly a party.  The days are long, busy and travel (especially thru random small indian airports) can be frustrating.  But that doesn't deter me.  I still get excited at the fact that work pays for me to go overseas and represent them. 

This trip is particularly short; all of 6 days.  But in those 6 days, my collegue and I will be hitting up 4 countries: Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Taiwan.  That's a new record, even for me.  I'm excited to go to Vietnam and Taiwan despite they're only 2 nights and 1 night respectively.

I did however, get warned that crossing roads in Hanoi requires nerves of steel. That should be interesting....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

NOLS Yukon- Part I- Week 1 of Backpacking

The morning after meeting our instructors, all 14 students headed to the NOLS warehouse.  This was the official first day of the course.  Before setting off, we had to pack our food rations and get our gear all setup.  Though I'd never backpacked before, I knew that weight was obviously an issue and I'd have to forgo some of life's luxuries.  Me and the word travelling light have never really been friends, but in the past few years, with so many trips under my belt, I thought I had a good handle on what "travelling light" meant.  Clearly, I was wrong.  Though we were going to be backpacking for 2 weeks, I was instructed to pack: rain pants, hiking pants, long johns, pants to wear around camp, a t-shirt, a warm fleece, wind shell, 2 pair of socks, 2 pair of underwear and a rain jacket.  That's it. The motto goes "Ounces equals pounds and pounds equals pain".  But I had so many questions like "What about deodorant".  Deodorant, I was told, had to be foresakened.  I had just accepted the fact that toilet paper wasn't going to be in my future for a month (a source of great anxiety) and now I had to accept the fact that I was going to be deodorant-less too????  I think not.  And so, I accepted the deodorant as my 2oz of "luxury" item and brought it along. 

Once we got seperated into our tent groups, we got all of our group food and gear and seperated it all out.  Final pack weight for the road? 47lbs.  Life on my back for the next two weeks equaled 47lbs.  This brings new meaning to the word minimalism.

We got to our trailhead late the first night.  The agenda for the morning was set: first class at 9am. 

Our first class was on how to go to the bathroom in the woods.  The most important factors were to be at least 200ft from camp and any sources of water (to avoid human waste contaminating water sources)  Our instructor taught a graphic course on all of the "natural" toilet paper options.  Rocks, moss, leaves and pinecones were all presented.  Never in a million years did I think that a pine cone would be a valid substitute for toilet paper.  I was wrong and I'll never look at pine cones the same again.  Additionally, in order to avoid bears, we'd have to be heading out to our bathroom spots in groups of at least 3.  I was nervous.  I was convinced that I was going to have performance anxiety and would not be going to the bathroom anytime soon.  This was all way too much.

After class ended, we got split up into our hiking groups and headed off.  First order of the day? Hike up 2000ft on an old mining cart trail, with my new 47lb elephant. 

Made it thru the hike.  My 2 tentmates are awesome.  We're all trying to settle into this new world of backpacking.  We quickly learn the importance of flat tent camp spots.  I wonder why they make everything for backpacking so... slippery.  Tent floor + thermarest + sleeping bags are all made of slippery fabrics.  This seems like a bad idea.  I feel like an oiled up caterpillar trying to squirm across a greased surface.  The logistics of this combined with an incline do not bode well.  Luckily, my tent mates are in the same situation and we go into hysterics about this.  So much so that we disturb the other tent groups.  Whoops.

I'm unclear as to why they call what we're doing "hiking".  Hiking to me means following some trail or having an end destination.  We have neither of those.  I'm told this is normal.  I suggest the official name for this be called "wandering" as this seems much more accurate. 

By day 3, I'm convinced that if the "wanders" don't kill me, surely the mosquitos will.  Still don't quite grasp the concept of going up a mountain only to come back down again and going to a lake that looks just like the last lake.  However, I'm here to keep an open mind.

I had visions of all of our food being dehydrated muck that I wouldn't be able to stand.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had a fair amount of normal things.  Staples like oats, flour, rice, spices, etc... We're given some recipes and suggestions on what to make.  I just might be in my element now and make homemade pizza over a single burner stove in the rain.  I'm starting to earn my hardcore points now.  However, because of said rain, my feet are cold and wet and are quickly approaching hypothermia.  The instructor notices this and helps solve my issue, by taking my cold, wet feet onto his chest to keep them warm.  Who knew?

It's the last day before the re-ration.  We have to be at a certain spot by a certain point to get our new food for the week.  In order to get there though, we have to hike about 12km.  On the map this doesn't look terrible.  No elevation gain, no problem.  What the map didn't show though was the bushes.  For 10 hours, we bushwhack.  And cross rivers.  About 8 times.  About 10 minutes before we get to our destination, I attempt to cross over a large fallen log.  I get stuck and my foot sinks about 10 inches into mud.  I want to die.  Right here, right now, on this log.  I have a quiet cry behind my sunglasses and pray no one sees me.  What was I thinking?  I may have made it 7 days with mosquitos, gnats, hiking up and down scree, crossing rivers all with my 47lb elephant.  I may have a tatoo on my body that says "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" and I sure am putting it to the test right now...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 1 of my Yukon adventure!

I'm sitting in the gold rush saloon reflecting back on my first day and enjoying my last glass of wine for the next month.

25 years ago, my mom's boyfriend at the time, sent me to camp. His motives were to mainly be rid of me and my 13 year old attitude and angst. I had no idea what I was getting into or what it all involved. Imagine my surprise that among other things, it involved a 10 day canoe trip. Being the guy he was, he set me up with all my gear. I was the only person on that camp bus with their own paddle. A birds eye birch panel at that. I had never stepped foot in a canoe. Here I was with my own paddle!

When I got off the camp bus, the counsellors didn't know what to make of me. I showed up in a matching outfit, earrings, hair done with my own paddle.

The experience was one of the best in my life and it was the catalyst for me to enjoy a lifetime of outdoor pursuits. (and no, I haven't given up earrings!)

Today, was my Yukon trip orientation. Picking up clues from 25 years ago, I left the earrings and makeup at home. When I got here earlier this afternoon, I had an intense moment of "oh my god, I can't do this" thankfully, I breathed through it and it passed.

I met my 14 other classmates and 3 instructors. Oddly enough, one of the girls (19 if she's lucky) showed up with earrings. Well, if you can call a giant paperclip, zipper pull and bulldog clip earrings- they were in her ears)

I feel a smidge less intimidated. No one else seems to have done a trip as big as this before. As a matter if fact, most of the other students seemed shocked and so intimidated to even ask questions.

One of my first questions was the lack of toilet paper. It turns out we'll be practicing a modified bidet method: a squirt bottle. After the orientation, me and a girl a thousand times more brash than me went to the store for the perfect water bottle. Small, light, with a squeeze lid. After all, you don't want to use your regular water bottle for fear of cross contamination!

Tomorrow is gear check an rationing. Then we drive to our trail head and camp. The "real work begins Wednesday. We'll be backpacking through the Wheaton river valley until august 10th. Then we come back into town, switch for our canoe gear and paddle the highland river. I can finally say that after 3 months of getting myself worked up, I'm excited!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fashion Anti-Christ

In 4 short days, I'll be in the Yukon for a month.  For the past 3 months, I've been getting into shape, learning about myself, and experiencing every emotion from excitement to fear to anxiety.  As of tonight, all my gear is packed and ready to go.  The packing list that the school sent me is easily 12 pages long. I'm still not sure how one goes about wearing 3 pair of underwear, one pair of pants, 2 t-shrits and a pair of shorts for 30 days.  It's also hard to imagine wearing a puff jacket and long johns and sleeping in a -15C sleeping bag when all of the weather reports I find suggest that the temperature will only go as low as 7C. But the kicker, the biggest kicker of them all? crocs.. 

Since their introduction into this world, I've cringed at crocs.  Their oversized bulkiness, their primary colors, their overall FUGNESS.  I'm all about things with function and I "get" that crocs float, are lightweight and are great for boating/padding.  Fine.  Then that's where they shall be worn.  Is it acceptable for them to be worn as casualwear walking down the street?  Hell to the no. When I got a facebook invite to join the group "I don't care how comfortable you are, you look like a dumbass in those crocs" I eagerly signed up.

So imagine my panic and anxiety, when crocs were listed on my packing list "must bring" as a lightweight shoe option.  It was almost as bad as discovering that, for the next month, I won't be using toilet paper, but instead will be using "nature's toilet paper" (which happens to be smooth stones, sticks, spruce cones, leaves, moss and snow- incidentally I'm allergic to trees... but let's not go there)  I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle this bit of information (the crocs, the toilet paper, I'll deal with later-  I'm thinking that smuggling contraband toilet paper might just be necessary)

And then, like a beacon of hope, an email from one of my best girlfriends showed up in my inbox.  Until then, I suffered silently.  I let no one know my dilemma.  So when I got her email, I almost cried.  Native Shoes are made from the same lightweight floatable (incidentally, environmentally unfriendly pvc) material but have some style infused into them.  I was excited.  I could pull this off!  Look, floating, light shoes that won't make me look like a German tourist!  There was hope.

A few weeks ago, I set out on a mission to get myself a pair.  I thought of how I'd be the envy of the group.  Well, it turns out all of the main street hipsters threw a wrench into my vision.  There's not a pair to be found in the city. Or online.  Or thru bribery.  I went into the Main Street Shop (Anti-Social) and innocently enquired about my saviours.  The cantankerous owner of the shop (maybe that's why it's called Anti-Social?) barked at me without even looking up at me.  No hope of getting any until August.  At the earliest.  All hope was lost.

I tried to find SOME way of justifying wearing crocs.  What if I don't get red ones (red crocs seems to be the international symbol of "I'm a German tourist")  What if I disguise them? What if there's no photographic evidence, maybe it wouldn't have happened?  I just couldn't do it.  What's worse, is that my instructions are that said shoes must fit with a pair of socks.  Because I insisted on geting the cushiest, comfiest socks, my socks add about 2 shoe sizes to my feet.  Wow.  This was going to be a sexy look.

I went into the crocs store on Robson (trying not to pass out from the off-gasing of the pvc fumes) and tried not to panic.  It was hard.  The first rack I almost walked into was high heeled crocs.  I can't even justify that with a sarcastic comment, so I won't.  I settled on a cute(ish) pair of crocs that can pass as boat shoes.  If you squint and ignore the matte plastic sheen of the pvc and whiteout the "crocs" logo, they don't look so bad.  But with hiking socks?  Well, maybe if I don't mention to anyone on my trip that I went to fashion school, I won't get arrested by the fashion police...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fear of the unknown

Two weeks tomorrow marks the official start of my  Yukon Grand Adventure .  In the past 3 months that I found out I was chosen for this course (from a work sponsored program) I've gone through a lot of emotions: excitement, nervousness, anxiety and fear.  I'm not even sure how I've managed to find time for these emotions since pretty much all I've been doing is training for this trip.  I know that this trip will be a one of a lifetime adventure for me, and even though I haven't even left yet, I've learned a lot about myself.

I realize that one of my greatest fears in life is a fear of the unknown.  My ex used to call me a control freak and after some soul searching while getting ready for this adventure,  I'm happy to learn, that's not accurate at all.  I don't need to be in control of a situation nor do I need things to go "my way".  I admit though, that I do like to be prepared and have an idea of what to expect when doing something.  Ironic, really, considering that a lot of the things I do are pretty spontaneous.   However, I`ve figured out that even in spontaneous situations, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

What I do know about this adventure, is that it`s 30 days long, involves backpacking, whitewater canoeing and carrying a backpack so heavy that anyone I`ve talked to that`s backpacked laughed at (an 85L pack with an average weight of 60lbs) and that, is pretty much all I know about what I`ll be doing for a month.  Needless to say, with my new admission of fear of the unknown, I`m scared shitless.

I have no doubt that all will end well and I`ll come back with some amazing stories (I`ve even started a pool at work where collegues can try to guess the cockamammy adventures I might find myself in) but until I get on that trail, my mind is going to run wild with possibilities.  Possibilities like:

  • What will my fellow students be like? It seems like I might be by far the oldest student as the average age of the students is 18-25.
  • Have I prepared enough? Or am I going to realize partway thru I'm ridiculously out of shape and can't handle it (so far, my practice hikes are with a 40lb pack)
  • Am I completely off my rocker for even signing up for doing this.  All signs point to yes:  I've never even backpack camped, what made me think it'd be a good idea to do it for a month???
  • Will I have the right equipment?  Everything they've suggested seems to assume it will be freezing in the Yukon.  All information I've found suggests the temperature should be between 5 and 20C.  However, they're insistent I bring a sleeping bag rated to -15C.  Considering I bake when I sleep and weight is of the utmost importance (a bag this warm is MASSIVE) I question this.
  • Am I going to be able to stand not washing my hair for 30 days.  I know there will be lakes to swim in and surely they'll be freezing, but how often will we find them?
  • Will I be able to survive without toilet paper for a month.  I can't believe this is even a possibility.  After I was accepted and read through the boatload of information (that still didn't tell me much) I read the part about the "no toilet paper" rule.  I almost died.  I never even considered this an option.  Of course, I knew to be ready for the woods etc... but no toilet paper?  Instead, we're to use "nature's toilet paper" which includes smooth stones, spruce cones, moss, leaves and snow.  First off, I'm allergic to trees so I'm pretty sure that cancels out that option.  I can't say I've ever looked at a rock and thought "now that is the PERFECT shape for ass wiping".  Honestly, the toilet practices are the single thing that gives me the most anxiety.  I'm really not sure how this is going to shake out (for lack of a better word)
I have no doubt that this will build character and I'll probably come out of it with a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and hopefully no meltdowns- I get emotional if I'm over tired)  Never in my life have I faced such a physically daunting task, nor have I ever faced something this big where I really don't have much clue what to expect.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World tour- 2010

Be careful what you wish for.  I've learned this over the years.  I've learned that that guy Murphy and his laws exist for a reason.  I love to travel.  I always have.  It doesn't matter that my first time on a plane at the age of 6, a piece of sattelite broke the cockpit window, the plane decompressed and had to make an emergency landing in London, England (the flight was from Llubjana to Montreal).  Ever since, I've had the travel bug.

I love that my job involves international travel.  Usually, twice a year, I get to go on a plane and work in some pretty random places: be it India, Israel or industrial towns in China.  Even though I've travelled a ton, I still get excited going to the airport.  However, after 2009, I was determined to "pace" my travel a little.  2009 was a busy travel year even for me!  Looking back, I spent most of 2009 either packing or unpacking, jet lagged or getting over jet lag. 

It started with a trip to Cozumel, Mexico in January, after that a business trip to China in April, another business trip to China and Thailand (with a week for pleasure added on) in June, China again in September, and finally Chile and Argentina in November.  Add to that the stress of through a divorce and being a bridesmaid in my brother's wedding to the mix and you have what was an insane year.

So this year, I was determined that 2010 be a lot "calmer".  And it was looking pretty good... until now!  So far this year, I've only had one trip to Asia in April.  Then I added this exciting (albeit unexpected) trip to the Yukon.  And another business trip which I expected.  As it turns out, I get back from the Yukon and 5 days later hope on a plane and head to Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.  I was already wondering how I was going to survive the shock of going from zero civilization to Hong Kong when my middle brother announced he's getting married.  This September.  In Scotland.  I understand their urgency (visas etc...) and since our family is tiny, I really want to (and will be) there for him.  As it turns out, I'll get back from Hong Kong and 48 hours later, hop back onto a plane to head to Scotland.  When did life become this hectic?  and exciting? and most of all, how did I become such a world traveller?!?!?! Despite a full passport, it continues to baffle (and amaze) me....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The conundrum of where your clothes are made

I’ll always be thankful for a number of things. No matter how bad some days get or how sorry I’ll feel for myself at times, I know that in the global scope of things, I really have nothing to complain about. I’m thankful that I’ll always have food to eat, running water and that as much as I’d love to earn more money, I’m galaxies away from making $0.22 per hour. Most of my perspective has come thru travelling and mostly from work travel. I work in the clothing business and visit factories overseas a couple of times a year.

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a clothing factory, it’s not a pleasant place to be. Between the constant noise and humming of the machinery, to the dust from all the textiles to the heat of the steaming equipment, it’s a good setting to develop a headache pretty quickly. Add to that a steamy 3rd world location off the beaten path and it becomes downright torturous. My visits typically consist of visiting with factory managers and merchandisers and involve very little time on the factory floor. But the times I do spend on the factory floor, I’ve felt close to fainting and am grateful for the cold glass of water and air conditioning at the end of my day. Unfortunately, the workers don’t get the same luxury.

For the most part, clothing manufacturing is done by women (exception being India where there are still a majority of male sewers) Sewing a garment is not something that typically requires a lot of skill. You may not know how to sew a pair of jeans or a t-shirt, but when it comes down to mass production work, you don’t really need to. Each part of the garment is broken down into single operations. A pair of jeans may easily pass thru the hands of 30 different workers. One to sew the back pocket, one to sew the zipper, one to sew the belt loops etc… Imagine the monotony of sitting at a sewing machine, day in, day out, sewing only a zipper or belt loops. Imagine doing that in the heat of the summer when humidity is 95% and the outside temperature is in the upper 30’s Celcius. And now, imagine your paycheque… Depending on the country, you can expect to make the equivalent of $0.50-$1.00 per hour. Some countries and areas are more and some, sadly less. For instance, in Bangladesh, as of 2008, you could expect to make $0.22 an hour as an apparel factory worker.

Sadly, most of us have become addicted to cheap, affordable, disposable goods. I get asked a lot why there aren’t more factories in Canada and why more things aren’t made in Canada. To say it’s a complex matter, is an understatement. Say for instance, those new cotton pants you bought. You look at the label, and it’s made in China. In order for that pant to be made in Canada, the fabric would have to be purchased. Sadly, Canada doesn’t have any cotton fields. Chances are, you’d have to buy that fabric from somewhere else. Likely from China, or if you were lucky and found that there are still places that make fabric in the US, from the US. In order to bring that fabric to Canada, the government is going to charge you duties. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any textile mills left in Canada, but the government is still going to charge you 20% duty on that fabric. Now it comes time to cut and sew that fabric into pants. Assuming you’ve found a factory that is still around and has the machinery you need and still has staff. In BC, the minimum wage is $8 per hour. Would you sit at a machine all day to sew for $8 per hour? Yeah, neither would I. So, in order to actually get workers, Canadian manufacturers typically pay in the $12 per hour range (give or take and this is a very broad generalization) If you consider that labour is the typically the most expensive component of a garment, there is a 10 times premium to making that garment in Canada. If that pant cost $3 to make in China, it would mean it would cost about $30 to make in Canada. If you factor in retail markup, licensing etc…. that EASILY tacks on $60 to the retail price of a garment. If you’ve just paid $50 for those made in China pants, would you be willing to pay $110 for those same pants in Canada?

Essentially, the 3rd world has become a pool of cheap labour, and how can we support that, right? Well, if you think of it this way… the worker that’s sitting down at that machine in China, making $1 per hour sewing your pants? Well, if she weren’t doing that, she’d likely still be in her home village, working on her parents farm struggling for the entire family to get by. Their home would likely not have indoor heating or plumbing nor could they afford for any of the girls to go to school (priority still goes to men) This girl, and millions like her, leave their home villages around the age of 18 to go work “in the city” they travel thousands of miles away from home to get work in a factory so they can support their families back home (and build up a savings for themselves) Factories have set up dormitories and provide food for the workers. This isn’t just for the apparel business, but pretty much for anything made in China. The workers will work “in the city” typically until their mid 20’s. After which they return home, marry and have kids. Until that time, they are able to send home somewhere around half of their income to their families. To be fair, not a great life. However, if us “westerners” weren’t addicted to our cheap consumer goods, there would be no demand for the goods nor their labour.

Ironically, there since there has been such a demand for consumer goods in the last 10 years, it’s putting upward pressure on the cost of labour. Recently, there have been strikes and protests about the low wages in Southern China. So much so that companies who make cars and electronics have boosted pay by almost double. This will undoubtedly affect other areas of manufacturing and the cost of your jeans will go up. Is it a bad thing? In my opinion, no. Pay the workers a living wage allowing them to support themselves and their family, seems fair. However, because people have gotten used to paying $50 for their pants, are they now going to want to pay $60 or $70? I’m sure some retailers will think not and then manufacture their goods in a country where the cost of production is cheaper, like the $0.22 per hour Bangladeshi factories.

After all these years in the garment industry, I’m still torn on what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” It’s not as cut and dry as I once thought. Anyone would agree that sweatshops are bad, and in my experience, I’ve only come across one place that would be considered a sweatshop (thankfully a place that no one I’ve ever worked with has used!) Most large brands (Nike, Levi’s, Banana Republic etc…) have independent auditors to make sure that all of their vendors abide by certain codes of conduct. This is a checkpoint to make sure that workers basic human and safety rights are looked after (ie no child labour, no locked doors, no “excessive” overtimes etc…) and once that’s met, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong? To me, obviously $1.00 per hour seems like slave labour, but if a worker earns that and is more than what they’d normally earn and can send money home, is that wrong?

One thing that is wrong to me is when brands, companies etc… go from country to country in search of cheaper and cheaper labor. So if you start noticing that more and more of your clothing is Made in Cambodia, or Vietnam or Bangladesh, you’ll know that the workers in China were successful in getting a raise…

Monday, May 17, 2010

Can't start a fire without a spark

I was never very good at dating.  I could never figure out all of the little nuances, games, flirtations that so many other girls have dialed.  My theory's always been that if I can't be great at something, why do it at all.  With that theory in mind, I just don't even bother with the dating games and just try to be myself. It's not a theory I would recommend per se, as I've dated a number of guys in the past year and I still continue to date.

The thing that amazes me most about dating is the fact that someone can go from 60 to 0 in the matter of a day.  Most of the time, I don't clue in to the moment (thing, act etc...) where something turned.  Until recently.  I don't think it could have been more obvious.

I had gone on a few dates with this guy.  He seemed nice enough, called me almost every day, text messaged me daily and seemed interested to my untrained eye.  Then I got a text message.

The text message said that it turned out we had a few friends in common.  To make a long story short, the friends were my ex brother and sister in law.  After I recovered from the shock (what were the chances?) I wasn't too worried, after all, there shouldn't be any reason this should be an issue.  I can't say I didn't leave the family amicably because when D walked out, I never heard from his family again.  After mulling it over, I wasn't too bothered.

I saw M the next night and we laughed about the commonality and I thought that was it.  Since it had been our 6th or so date, we almost kissed when we said goodnight.  I say almost, because just as we were about to kiss, he started laughing.  That hardly does wonders for a girl's ego, but there he was laughing in a very awkward way.  I left his place with an uncomfortable feeling.  Then the next day, I got an email saying that he didn't feel there was any spark or chemistry with me. Yep.  This is my dating life.  If nothing else, great fodder for stories!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

12 weeks to get into the shape of my life

In exactly 84 days, I'll be in the Yukon starting my epic journey of backpacking and canoeing.  I've already received a zillion documents from what I can expect (60-70km of hiking with a 60lb pack on my back), to how I should be prepared (workouts 3-5 times per week) to an intense packing list of stuff to bring (a mosquito hat!) 

Now that this is very "real" and I have a deadline, I'm concentrating my efforts into getting into the shape of my life.  I like to think that I'm already in reasonably good shape, but in the last year, I've definately enjoyed good food and wine more than I have the intense workouts that I used to. 

Partially because I'm clumsy, and partially because I have the stiffest/tightest muscles known to man, I usually end up hurting myself if I do a gym workout or any kind of non-stretching focus classes.  As much as my body NEEDS yoga, it's not gonna satisfy my cardio or muscle building needs.  In my constant quest of finding the perfect workout that I won't hate, get bored of and can afford, I found the Dailey Method.  

The Dailey Method has been the perfect mix of stretching, strengthening and for lack of a better word, sheer torture.  It's a one hour class of core conditioning, strengthening and stretching.  If I had to sum it up, it's like a Pilates class on crack.  Yes, there's a lot of ab work, but I've never done a Pilates class that makes me sweat like the Dailey Method.  During class, my legs shake, I feel muscles in my butt that I never knew existed and at times, I'm convinced that death wouldn't be as painful as holding a stomach crunch position for more than a minute straight.  The next day, I feel like someone's punched me in the gut.  But the thing is (and I'm showing my masochist side here...) it feels good.  And as much as it hurts doing it, the next day I (mostly) feel great.  I'm convinced that the Dailey Method is going to be an important part in helping me get in shape for my Grand Adventure.  Well, at least until I'm ready to start practicing hikes with a 60lb pack on my back...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Adventure of a lifetime...

I’ve experienced a fair number of crazy things in my lifetime. Some of them self induced (paragliding, trapeze lessons, drum lessons, getting a tattoo) some of them not (having been to 24 schools between Kindergarten and high school graduation, having Bell’s palsy as a kid, having a piece of satellite break the cockpit window and needing to make an emergency landing the first time I ever went on a plane just to name a few)

So it’s safe to say, that I like a life of adventure. That’s not to say that I don’t crave stability. I do. I’ve now been at the same job for over 6 years, the same apartment for just about 5 years and relationships? Well, that’s a work in progress. A few years ago, at this point in my life, I thought I’d be thinking about having a family and house of my own. An adventure in it’s own right, for sure, but I certainly would have never predicted the adventure I’m about to embark on.

I work for a fantastic company that’s always treated me great. I’ve always felt fortunate to have the work/life balance that I’ve experienced the past 6 years. My company has a program where they sponsor a couple of people per year to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School. I’m not sure how many applicants apply, but I do know it’s a very prestigious thing to be selected. Last month, on a bit of a whim, I decided to apply. Imagine my surprise (joy, and honor) when I was actually selected to go. For one month at the end of July, I’m going to be in the absolute middle of nowhere (somewhere in the Yukon) on the expedition of a lifetime.

The expedition starts with a two week hike. That’s right. Two weeks of backpack wilderness camping/hiking. It’s then followed by two weeks of white water canoeing. And no, I’ve never backpack camped in my life. I applied for the program to have something to push myself for. The past couple of years have pushed me emotionally, but it’s time to challenge myself physically.

The last time I did something remotely close to this was when I was 13. Well, it certainly wasn’t my decision, nor did I embrace it, but more than 20 years later, I realize how valuable it was. My mom’s boyfriend at the time, Jim, decided he was tired of my 13 year old attitude and sarcasm. So, in order for him and my mom to have a bit of a peaceful summer, I got sent to summer camp. I was used to growing up and spending my summers in the city so I didn’t have the first clue about camp. I got sent to camp for a month, and in that month, there was a 10 day canoe trip component. I’d never stepped foot in a canoe, how was I going to sit in one for 10 days? Jim outfitted me with everything I needed and then some. I got sent to camp with my own paddle, camping dishes, hiking boots you name it. I showed up for the camp bus in my matching outfit with matching earrings and my own paddle. It’s safe to say, I got laughed at.

All of the counselors oohed and aahhed over my paddle. I must be serious if I got sent to camp with my own paddle. Though I didn’t embrace the idea of camp, when I’m pushed into a “sink or swim” situation, I know how to pull it together. The first week of camp was spent teaching us how to prepare for our 10 day canoe trip. Our trip was going to be in Temagami and was going to involve over 70km of paddling. Once we took off, I was excited to see what my fancy paddle could do. To sum up, that 10 day canoe trip and month long camp changed my life. They opened me to the world of the outdoors and my lifelong appreciation for it.

Over 20 years later, I find myself with a similar opportunity. One month, 2 weeks in a canoe and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. I’m scared to death. What if I don’t make it? What if I’m the weakest one in the class? But aside from the physical challenge, I want to be able to push myself mentally as well. The past couple of years have made me realize that somewhere along the line in my adult life, I forgot to get some self confidence. Something as life changing as this, is bound to find me some. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The art of flirting

Flirting is an art. And just like any art, it’s subjective. Hard to judge if someone is good, bad or indifferent at it. An art, which I’m convinced, I’m TERRIBLE at. How am I convinced? A few weeks ago, I was at a bar with friends. A guy came up to my girlfriend and I and asked us to talk to his friend (I know, I know…) apparently his friend had just been dumped by his girlfriend and we were recruited to cheer him up. In exchange for our services, we’d be bought a drink.

The guy did genuinely look depressed. He was sitting in a suit at the edge of the bar practically crying into his gin and tonic. It didn’t get more depressing for him than this. Enter my friend (blonde, pretty, the works) she smiles at him flirtatiously and we both say “hi” she with that little extra twinkle in her eye (note- she is attached) Some mild exchange continues and then she says to him “I love your suit, I love a guy in a suit, soooooo sexy” that talked him off the edge a bit and he actually smiled. Wow. Is this what flirting was? I’m so lost. I thought that just randomly going up and talking to someone was flirting enough. Clearly. I. was wrong.

Genuinely feeling sorry for the guy (he really was in rough shape) I tried to prod the situation a bit. What did he do? What brought him here? Etc… then I just turned and told him “look, clearly whatever it is you’re upset about is serious. But I’m telling you, no girl/guy/job/whatever is worth being that upset over. You look like you’re about to step off the edge. Yes, life sucks sometimes, but we can make it through” I’m pretty sure that right there sealed my “F” in flirting. He then opened up and told me about this girl in Japan he was seeing and broke his heart, blah blah blah… I sincerely told him I was sorry for him. But if it made him feel any better, a year ago that day, my husband (at the time) walked out. Yes, he also happened to be the biggest douche in the world and a lot of the past year was crazy, but here I was out with friends (albeit a year later) with a smile on my face. Surely if I could do it, he could. Oddly enough, this cheered him up. Basically, I made him feel better by my crappy story. It made me feel better that though I was a failure at flirting, I could at least cheer someone up.

Flash forward a few weeks later… I host a dinner party at my place and invite a fellow over who I’ve met once and curious to get to know. There’s chatting and I’m attempting to flirt. I suspect there’s some flirting back. A comment here about my meticulously grommed eyebrows, a touchy tap on the shoulder on the way to the washroom, decent eye contact, you get the idea. I was trying to make it seem like I was flirting back. Did I deliver? Who knows! I guess I’ll wait to see if he calls, or do I call him? Oh god. That brings on a whole other game!!!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Life lists

When I went to South America late last year, I met up with a friend of a good friend of mine in Mendoza. We were both traveling through South America alone so appreciated the company for a few days of someone who spoke English. It’s amazing the things you get to talking about with someone you don’t know that well over bottles of Malbec on the beautiful sidewalk patios of Mendoza. My time in Mendoza is one of the fondest memories of my trip. Not just for the daily philosophical conversations over wine, but for the peacefulness I encountered and adventures which included paragliding and getting a tattoo hungover, 2 hours before I had to leave for the airport to make my way back home. But I digress….

One of the many conversations that were had between him and I were life lists. Yes, life lists, bucket lists, whatever you want to call them, seem to be all the rage these days, but it’s something most of us, at least informally, have contemplated. I’ve always had ideas of things that would be on my life list but I have to say, most of them involved trying something adventurous (going skydiving) or going to a specific place (overwater bungalow in Tahiti). When comparing our life lists, I realized how item specific my list was. Though his had a ton of adventurous things, there was a lot of things money couldn’t buy on his list. Such as being a parent, getting married etc… He also told me that he had written his down, if only to remember things that were, for at least a time, significant enough to contemplate. I’m still new to the concept of idea to written thing, so I was sceptical. And, while I was at it, thought that I’d add some non-material things to my list.

It was such a perfect time to contemplate such things since my trip to South America was to celebrate the fact that I survived such a turbulent (albeit short) marriage and my time in South America was to be introspective and get some rest. So I wrote. And wrote. And I was surprised that I ended up with over 50 things on my list and over half of them were “experience” based rather than an activity/place/adventure.

I have to say, I surprised myself at some of my answers (feeling good about my body, become fluent in Spanish, be in love with someone who is in love with me back). A lot of the items I can control (owning an original piece of art, volunteering in a 3rd world country for an extended period of time, having one year income in savings) And a lot of them are up to fate (having a balanced relationship, being a parent)

To not lose sight though, I also wrote a list of things I’ve already done to appreciate everything I’ve experienced so far. I have no idea whether I’ll get to experience even half of the items on the list, but it sure was a great experience to think about it and get it all down! Now, if only I could stop adding to the list…

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why online dating is bad for the ego…

Dating is never easy. Anyone that says they love dating must be lying or a masochist. Dating before there were online dating sites wasn’t fun, but I’m convinced with the onset of online dating, things are even worse.
For starters before online dating, the only way you’d know if someone was interested in you, there had to be some face to face (or at least phone to phone) interaction. Then, presuming there was mutual interest, a date would ensue. Repeat until one or both parties were bored and then there would be a conversation about ending things.

These days, with online dating, the whole face to face thing is eliminated. Thereby making the process very cold and anonomys. Online dating is a virtual dating catalogue. Flip the pages until you find an item you like. For the most part, I think men are better at accepting rejection than women are. For most of our life, we’ve been used to having to fend men off. I don’t mean in an arrogant, cocky way, but from high school on, boys are the ones that primarily show interest and us women are the decision makers of whether we’ll accept or not. Sure, some girls have defied that and instigated asking the guys out, but I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s been the guys for the majority of our lives. So with this very unused muscle of rejection, we’re introduced with online dating.

I’ve signed up with eharmony. I’ve heard and tried some other dating sites over the years, but eharmony seemed like it would weed out at least some of the flakes out there. And, besides, all those tv commercials couldn’t be wrong, could they? I should mention that the point of me signing up wasn’t to find marriage or co-habitation anytime soon, but it would be nice to have someone to hang with on some weekends and who might even humor my like of foreign movies (and I’d even be willing to watch a hockey game or two in exchange). Unlike other sites, eharmony sends you matches, you can’t randomly search or view everyone. There is apparently some loose science to it based on a very intensive questionnaire you fill in. So, a few months ago, I signed up, and I waited. And waited…

Then I discovered that there’s a little feature on eharmony called “closed”. Matches have a few options once they view you: do nothing, send you multiple choice questions or “close” you. Closing someone means that you’re not even interested in getting to know that person for whatever reason. When you close someone, there are several (reasonable) choices: they don’t have pics posted, they live too far away, the age difference is too large, you’re pursuing another relationship and other. My problem lays with other. It turns out that in just over 3 months, I’ve been “closed” nearly 500 times. On average, I’ve been sent about 5 matches a day (some a few more, quite often less). That’s right, I’ve been shut down 500 times. My little unused rejection muscle is suddenly being overworked! The best part about “other” is I have no idea what I’m doing wrong! I like to think that my pictures captured the essence of what I looked like in a variety of settings (travel, activities etc…) and my write up gave an accurate glimpse of my interests and what I’m like. Granted, I’m not the most photogenic person, but I hardly look like Cruella DeVille! I’ve been shut down by guys I wouldn’t look twice at and guys who, when I read their profile thought we had a lot in common.

I hardly have an abundance of self esteem, but I do know that I’d be considered a pretty damn good catch: I’m gainfully employed, well traveled and have a brain I like to use, but it seems like over 95% of the guys out there aren’t even interested in giving me the time of day! Well, if nothing else, at least my rejection muscle is getting exercised. Maybe a little too much, I think it’s time to give it a break…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Never say never

Years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I were talking about trips we’d like to take. He mentioned that he’d like to go to India. My reply to his revelation was something along the lines of “if India is the last place on earth, I don’t think I would want to go”. It just never occurred to me as a place to take a vacation or visit. To me, I’d rather be surrounded by beautiful beaches or amazing waterfalls.

After breaking up with him, I changed jobs and my new job came with the opportunity to travel. Imagine my surprise when my first trip was to India! (Life never ceases to be ironic) Though it had never been a draw for me to go before, I jump at the opportunity to go anywhere and go with an open mind.

I landed in Bombay (or Mumbai as it’s now officially called though all the locals still refer to it as Bombay) at 3am on October 27, 2005. After travelling nearly 24 hours, I walked out of the airport and nearly all of my senses were attacked at once! My glasses fogged up, the air smelled like a landfill and I was being yelled at and accosted by people from every which way offering me hotels, taxis and to take my bags. It was like a foreshadowing of things to come of my time spent in India.

It was my first business trip and only my 2nd time travelling alone (the first being to Bolivia in 2000) I don’t get intimidated easily, so I wasn’t all that afraid. When I walked out of the airport (If you don’t have a plane ticket, you’re not allowed to go into the airport, this is checked by security guards at the entrance verifying you have a ticket) I was to meet someone who I met once for about 2 minutes. There was no sight of him. After 10 minutes of manoeuvring the crowd and avoiding everyone accosted me, I went to the rep of the hotel I was staying in. They checked my reservation and it was made for the next night. I had no room. Luckily, they were able to find me a room and accommodate me.

A few hours later, I woke up in my room at the Hyatt. The room was amazing. Beautiful marble floors, modern d├ęcor and a comfy bed with enough pillows for a small village. The cost of hotel rooms in Bombay is astounding. The cost of that room was over US$300. The cost of rooms in Bombay was second only to Paris and London. And, because nothing works fast in India, the demand of hotel rooms far exceeded the supply, hence the prices.

The first thing I did after waking up was open the bedroom curtains to see what view I had. I think I figured out why all international flights landed and took off in the wee (dark) hours of the morning. Before me, was the largest slum in the world. As far as the eye can see, all you could see were huts made of cardboard with kids playing with chickens in the dry mud barefoot. I was shocked.

I knew that there was a large amount of poverty in India and because I had been to Bolivia before, thought I was prepared for it. As many places as I’ve been to since, nothing can prepare you for the poverty in India, specifically Bombay.

The city is about 600 sq km, or about the size of San Francisco. It’s the 2nd most populated city in the world. Officially, the population is somewhere around 14 million (but likely closer to double that) Getting from the airport to downtown (about 20km) can easily take 2 hours (even 3 in rush hour)

A condo in Juhu beach (an upscale trendy area with lots of Bollywood types) can easily run in the US$500K. Cover at the disco at the Marriott is US$25. Yet, there is by far more poverty here than any other place I’ve been to. In Bombay, I’ve seen a woman bathe her child in an open sewer, seen lepers on the street begging for money and a 4 year old girl weaving in and out of traffic selling bootlegged English books.

I have never felt such guilt in all my travels than the time I’ve spent in Bombay. While I have a nice comfortable life, there are millions (just in that city) with no access to running water, entire families sleeping in a cardboard shack on the side of the road and kids who will never be able to go to school. The only thing separating me between that lady bathing her kid in the sewer is fate. And, in the 5 times I’ve been to Bombay, I’ve never been more thankful of my life.

Friday, March 19, 2010

10 Dream Trips

While I was driving to work today in an anti-histamine induced haze, I got to thinking about all the places I’d rather be. Well, at least anywhere with non-pollenating trees that have been making my life hell lately! I’ve been lucky enough to travel a ton over the past 10 years. Even luckier is that I get to travel for work. Maybe it’s because I’ve traveled so much that to me, staying in a generic hotel room is a soulless and boring as it gets. So everytime I go away for pleasure, I try to find the most unique (and cheap) accommodations I can.

Because of this strategy, I’ve stayed at some pretty cool places!  
An eco lodge on a white sand beach in Mexico,
the most luxurious lodge you could imagine that you get to by rafting in/out
a couple of very jumpy nights in an actual treehouse,
a posada in Argentina on an olive plantation,
a restored lodge in an old fishing village in India 
and an amazing place in Thailand with my own semi-private pool

However, anyone that knows me, knows I’m constantly researching new places for new adventures. Who knows if I’ll ever get to them all, but here are some amazing dream trips:

Haad Tien resort- Koh Tao Thailand

This place has it’s own 350m amazing white sand beach, it’s on a nature preserve and has some amazing simple but luxurious bungalows. It’s totally private yet close enough to the local town. Koh Tao is one of the smaller islands in the Phang Nga Bay and supposed to not be as touristy as Koh Samui or the gong show that is Phuket (well, not all of Phuket is a gong show, only Patong) Koh Tao is known for world renown diving and has some hiking and rock climbing too. For me, this would be more of a mellow place to snorkel, get massages (Thai Massages are awesome!), go for bikes/hikes and hopefully go there with someone you’re romantic with. If you’ve never been to Thailand, be sure to do a cooking class or two. So easy and you’ll cook better than your local Thai place in a day or two!

Amazon Tupana Jungle Lodge- near Manaus Brazil

Next February, my mom is turning 60. I told her to pick somewhere on the map (within reason) and I’d make her dream trip happen. She shocked me when she said her dream trip would be to the Amazon in Brazil. In researching places, I came upon this place. To get here, you have to get to Manaus which is the nearest large town to the Amazon. They pick you up and take you to the lodge in motorized canoes (ie no paddling required) You can do accommodations alone, or they have 2-4 night packages that include hikes, fishing trips, river tours (where you can see pink dolphins, caimans, monkeys etc…) The 4 night package has a “jungle survival” package where you build a tent out of materials found in the jungle. Not quite sure mom’s ready for that yet though!
  Hotel Mawimbi,Holbox, Mexico

After 3 times in Mexico (Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and Cozumel) I don’t really feel the need to see more of Mexico (especially the likes of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan etc…) but this place seems incredible! To get there, you fly into Cancun (which is usually cheap) take a bus to Chiquila and take a ferry to Holbox (pronounced Whole-bosh) On Holbox, there are no atms or cars. There are however cabs. But the cabs are golf carts! Holbox is still relatively untouristy and will likely never have massive resorts since it’s tiny. The main draw here is the beach and a relaxed vacation. Again, an ideal place for scuba divers because at certain times of year, nurse sharks are in the waters. I picture myself here in a hammock on the beach lounging in the shade with a great book and margarita in hand. If you don’t scuba dive, it’s probably not the most active vacation, though as a non-scuba diver myself, I’m sure I’d find ways to keep busy by snorkeling, kayaking or hiring a sailboat.

 Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle area, Thailand

Truly a once in a lifetime experience, this place looks beyond incredible. This place involves luxiourous accommodations in the middle of nowhere, gourmet meals, massages and elephant trekking. It doesn’t get more unique than this. Located in Northern Thailand’s Golden Triangle area (where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet), you’re in the middle of the jungle (which, from my time in Costa Rica is really noisy!) The accommodations are super luxurious tents with jungle views and a huge outdoor deck. Though it’s all inclusive, it’s not in the “wear a bracelet and eat a buffet way”.  Your meals, drinks, elephant trekking and massages are included. Of course, this comes at a price! For a 2 night all inclusive stay it’ll set you back about $2000 (Canadian) so you might have to take out a loan!

Le Taha’a island resort, Taha’a island Poynesia Le Taha'a

One of my ultimate must do before I die trips is to stay in an overwater Bungalow in the South Pacific.  I picked Tahaa’a island as my dream desitnation because it produces 25 tons of vanilla a year. Anyone that knows me knows a) I love to bake and b) base a lot of my trips on food. Oh, and I love orchids too. And vanilla is an orchid! Taha’a island is pretty remote and pretty rugged. Yet the acccomodations are totally luxurious. Probably not a place to visit on your own because it looks too damn romantic! You wouldn’t even need to leave your room. Ever! You have the beautiful green ocean right off your room. Heaven!

Sayari Camp Serengeti, Tanzania

Another once in a lifetime trip would be a trip to the Serengeti. I picked Sayari as a dream place because it claims to be off the tourist track but there is still some off road driving allowed in spots. Imagine being in the absolute middle of nowhere and seeing hippos, lions, leopard and elephants? And amazing Serengeti sunsets? I picked this place too because it has the perfect mix of luxury in natural surroundings. Looks incredible! One day….

Madagascar would be an amazing place to visit. There are entire species of animals which only exist in Madagascar. The Eden lodge is powered on solar energy (therefore lessens the guilt a bit from the carbon emissions of getting there) Again, the draw of this place is the isolation of it, but still somewhat luxurious accommodations. All of the bungalows are beachfront and since it’s solar powered, there is no air conditioning. The only cooling is the ocean breeze. This seems like an amazing place to go after hiking through all of the rain forests in Madagascar!

Chica Brava Surf Camp, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Since I took a surf in Oregon a few years ago, I’m hooked on surfing. Then I took private classes in Costa Rica and I got hooked on WARM water surfing. Now, it just seems like pure torture to me to surf cold water. The last time I surfed, it was my first time getting up on a hard board (a feat of which I’m quite proud!) So, I’m sure that another intense camp would improve me that much more! Chica Brava is a surf camp in Southern Nicaragua about 30 minutes north of the Costa Rican border. The waters are warm and the surf is consistent. What’s better is that this is a place a girl can go on her own since it’s an all girl surf camp. The accommodations are hardly luxurious, but it would be an amazing experience to build up surf skills!

 The Spa Koh Chang Resort, Koh Chang, Thailand

Koh Chang is the 2nd largest island in Thailand and 85% of the island is protected rainforest. It’s only opened up to tourism since 2000 and as yet, 2/3 of the tourists are Thai. This means that the presence of tuk tuk’s, tailors and lady-boys is probably less (in Patong, I once heard a lady-boy solicit himself by saying “you wanna get F&)(*(@ by lady-boy- words NO ONE should have to hear!) I picked the Spa because I’d love to do a vacation that focuses on relaxation. I usually have a ridiculously hard time relaxing on vacation and want to experience everything, whether it’s paragliding off a mountain, or waterfall rapelling. Staying somewhere like this resort, would force me to relax. It wouldn’t be that hard since they fill your time with yoga and massage. They also offer health/detox and fasting plans but I have way too little self disclipline to attempt that on a vacation. This could very luckly be part of my next Thailand trip.

Private Mountain Casitas, Boracay, Philippines

Since Hong Kong seems to be my second home as of late (in 2009, I went there 3 times for work) One time, I’d like to tack on a visit to the Philippines since airfare from Hong Kong to Philippines is inexpensive. This seems like the perfect place to destress. Borcay is arguably, one of the 10 best beaches in the world. Boracay is a great place for any beach activities like diving, sailing and a great place to try kiteboarding or skimboarding. I picked private mountain, because, well it’s private! And once you brave the uphill walk to get there, you’re blessed with incredible views of the beach.

I’d love to think that I’ll get to all of these places in this lifetime. To me, traveling is always a catalyst for great memories and great stories! There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of running off the side of a mountain (Mendoza, Argentina) getting robbed on Christmas Day (Samana, Dominican) or being questioned for 3 hours by Israeli security (Frankfurt, Germany) Well, there’s my list, time to start knocking off a few of the items!