Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stories of Survival

We took the zodiacs out around Elephant Island, which is steep and rocky with little actual flat area, and home to a colony of Chinstrap Penguins and one solitary Macaroni Penguin. This is where 22 men of Ernest Shackelton’s crew of the ship called The Endurance were forced to spend the winter in 1916. This is after being on sea for over 400 days and previous to the island surviving in a make shift camp on ice flow after their ship was crushed. They reached Elephant island split between 3 life boats. The entire crew numbered 27 of which 5, including the leader Shackelton set out on an impossible journey of over 800 miles in open sea in one of the life boats to try and reach a whaler station in South Georgia. Once the miraculously reached South Georgia, 3 of them, again including Shackleton, marched for 36 hours straight over dangerous crevasses and unyielding landscape for 30 miles to reach the whaler station. At the end of August, after 3 attempts, Shackelton and crew successfully rescued all 22 men who had been left on Elephant island, for the past 5 months. What all 27 men endured is mind boggling. I encourage you read more about their story online or pick up one of the many books available.

There are many such stories of early explorers, whalers, seal hunters, scientists and so forth that have made astonishing travels to Antarctica. There is a quote that goes “For scientific discovery give me Scott, for speed and efficiency if travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shakelton.” - Sir Raymond Priestly

We will spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at open sea traveling to South Georgia islands. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Littlest Penguin

We have seen and done many great things over the last 2 days. Yesterday was Port Lockroy, former British Base, turned museum (open for 4 months of the year). Today we were at Deception Island, so named as many ships missed the small entrance into the bay of the donut shaped island. It is also an active volcano. We hiked to a volcanic crater here. Later we went for an Antarctic ocean dip in an area where there is geothermal activity which makes about 1.5 metres of the shore warmish as it bubbles up through the sand. It made for a cute picture of me in my swim suit and fluffy fake fur hat and Jason in is swim shorts.

We also visited a huge colony of Chinstrap Penguins numbering around 250,000 with chicks. They take up a huge space from the shore up the cliffs, and it can be a dangerous world for a penguin. This is where I met the little one I call “The Littlest Penguin.” It was a heartbreaking sight. A little tiny baby penguin, covered in downy feathers, abandoned on a penguin path. With wounds on his back, perhaps from a predatory sea bird, struggling to breath and flapping his little flipper.  But there was nothing I could do, and believe me I racked my brains to come up with a solution for this little soul’s suffering. I could not identify his parents, nor would they necessarily take him back in this condition. And with the huge penguin population it is a reality that this occurs. I can only hope he passes away quickly and perhaps fills the belly of some other creature trying to survive. I cried my eyes out for some time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Petermann Island

Today we took the zodiacs out to Petermann Island, where Jean-Baptiste Charcot wintered in 1909 with his boat the Pourquoi-Pas?. The island is home colonies of Gentoo Penguins and Adelie Penguins. Thousands of penguins were all around. The Gentoos are my favorite I think. They build rock nests, and several had chicks at different ages. Jason filmed a Jentoo building his wife a rock nest. We set out a few rocks we had picked up from a short distance away. He was delirious with joy at seeing the four rocks and quickly scooped them up, one at a time, in his bill. Then he spent a few minutes earnestly searching that same area for any more. Once he realized there were no more, he tried to steal a rock from another nest and was promptly bit in the bum. 

The island also has a bright red building which is an emergency refuge in case someone is stranded. We hiked around in our heavy rubber boots. We have the Fort McMurray special; -40 rubber boots, steel toed, with grips on them deeper than the best winter tires. 

I have attended several lectures. I think thus far I have enjoyed the lecture on ice the best. It detailed everything from the chemical composition, how it forms, to bergs, and ice caves. Do you know what a chunk of floating is is called if it is between 1 and 5 meters (area seen above the water)? It is a Bergy Bit. If it is over 5 meters it is an Ice Berg. And if it just a wee thing less than 1 meter visible it is a growler. These ice bergs and chunks are made of fresh water. The portion you see of an ice berg is approximately 1/9 of the total size with the remainder hidden under water. 

Another favorite aspect of the trip is the evening re-cap. Each night the staff do a presentation that combines power point, video, pictures, lecture etc on the days events and sights. The re-cap today had an amazing microscope view of arthropods and plankton shown on the projection screen. One of my favorite things is when they show the footage from their undersea camera (called a ROV) that can go up to a thousand feet. They showed footage tonight that was taken yesterday. We saw amazing creatures; snails with amoebas living on them (they work together; the amoeba gets a free ride through the muck while the snail gets protection because of the amoeba’s stingers), prawn, krill, a tiny octopus, starfish, and so on. 

I am also reading the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer about the true story of Chris McCandles, a vagabond, who travelled across the USA, and who died from suspected starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. I also watched the movie by the same name, and while both are good, I think the book is better as it goes into greater detail. 

Tomorrow promises to be just as exhilarating as all those before it. We are planning a trip to Port Lockroy, where we can actually purchase a few souvenirs. It was a British base that is now a museum, and a post office! 

Click to see the PHOTO ALBUM

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day Among the Bergs

Another glorious day full of adventure! A few facts first; today was +12 celsius, at our further point south we were 67.5 latitude, the Arctic Circle is 66.5 latitude, and water is about -2 celsius (colder than ice, but with the salt it does not all freeze solid). 

We were in dog leg fjord this morning. We were told that last time a vessel was in this particular area was the 1950’s! The National Geographic boat is very nimble and seems to get around easily.

We started the day by kayaking in these great 2 person inflatable kayaks. They have it set up well so you you can easily get in and out of them on a floating platform. Quite honestly Jason did 99% of the paddling but what a view! We were among small ice bergs and chunks of ice. We paddled up to 5 adelie penguins hanging out on the fast ice. In fact we heard later that one of the female staff who does the filming had quite the adventure with one of these little fellows. As she was standing in the zodiac, she felt something hit her in the leg and looking down one of the penguins had jumped in the boat. I guess he wandered around and then jumped off the bow. We also saw more seals lounging on the ice. I dipped my water proof camera into the icy water to try and get a picture of the ice edge. However, with no camera cable I can not download it to see if it worked out. 

After the kayaking we switched back to the zodiac and made a landing on the rocky edge of the Antarctic continent. Our previous landings have been on Antarctic islands but not the main continent. Jason scaled up the rocky scree slope with all this loose rock. It was too steep and high for my liking so I only went a little bit up. I found a nice warm rock, took off my jacket and meditated. What a feeling :)

Now we are back on board, full from lunch, considering a nap, and awaiting a presentation this afternoon on a Oceantis research program, and later tonight a showing of the penguin cartoon Happy Feet. 

I have also managed to squeeze in a short but fabulous book; “The World We Have; A Buddhist Approach to Ecology” by my fave Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh. It has thoughtful insights on the need for environmental protection for both Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. It really points out how if we ignore the environment we ultimately are killing ourselves and discusses some practical ways to make changes. Not just things like recycling (also very important), but how we view the world, how we value ourselves and other beings, how we consume and how we act with either compassion or lack of compassion. A profound excerpt “We have created a society in which the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer, and in which we are so caught up in our immediate problems that we cannot afford to be aware of what is going on with the rest of the human family or our planet earth. In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a  few hours they will be killed” (p. 3) I feel very fortunate to to have all that I have in my life and hope to live each day compassionately and mindfully. This book reminds me of this.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Antarctica is in me, I am in Antarctica

This afternoon we had an amazing experience when the ship docked straight into some solid fast ice. We then descended the gang plank right onto to the ice. Once there Jason and I ate some snow, so Antarctica would be in us as we are in it!

On the ice we saw several ‘crab eater seals’. Their name is actually a mistake, given by an early explorer, as they mostly eat krill. Some had red krill juice around their mouths. Others showed the tell tale signs of violent encounters with leopard seals who had sliced into the skin. The crab eater seals then twist to get free of the grip, and deep incisions are left. There was one lonely Adelie penguin as well. There were some large sea birds, and one actually swooped down on the penguin but no harm was done. 

We made a quick xmas call home to Jason’s family and had a brief chat as it costs about $7.00 USD a minute! I tried my mom and my sister Madeline, but no answer! So Merry Christmas to all via the blog.

PS you can also click on the underlined words above to learn more about it.

Tuxedo Christma

We entered Marguerite Bay this morning and took zodiak boats out to land on Pourquoi-Pas Island. The island is home to around 3000 Adelie Penguins. Those are the super cute little ones that are all black and white. But let’s be honest every singe kind of penguin is cute. We wandered on the island for about two hours watching the penguins, snapping photos, looking and glaciers, and even saw 2 weddel seals.

Many of the penguins had little fluffy grey chicks. Other penguins were sliding, running around, squawking, and so on. The rule is to stay 15 feet from the animals unless they approach you as they did not get the same briefing. You also stay out of the well travelled penguin highway that is all flat smooth snow from the upper area to the water. Like seals, penguins are also little stinkers as well. But you get used to the smell. We are now back on board and in a few hours will try to make another landing. Today the sun does not set at all.

Check out some new photos here: Antarctica Album

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve with humpback whales

We awoke to a glorious display of humpback whales surrounding the boat. One of the staff stated there could be as many as 100 in the surrounding area. We saw a mother and calf right beside the boat. The captain slowed the boat so we could see all the whales very well. They were flapping their fins and tails and blowing out water through their blow holes. 

I was feeling a little sick this morning but it has passed and I am happy to say I have not yet lost my cookies and have not taken any sea sickness medication. Jason is much better as well and joined us for breakfast and lunch.

Tomorrow we should see Antarctica itself. From some of the lectures it seems with the wind and ice is agreeable we will see many awesome sites. I thought I would get in a lot of reading but with the boat movement I am still avoiding it. However, they keep us really busy and of course I have had some naps. At 4pm today we are having Swedish Christmas Tea, 5pm is a lecture on polar seals, dinner is at 7:30. The sunsets at 1:00am and rises at 3:47am. It is really a bizarre feeling!

Just a warning that I may not be able to post for several days as we are heading close to Antarctica now and will be crossing the Antarctic circle. The satellite internet may no longer work. So don't worry if there are periods of days when you don't here from us. It is unlikely that we have been eaten by seals.

Check this out for videos of past national geographic Antarctica trips:

Jason would also like to publicly declare he hates boats but loves that magic shot the doctor gave him. He is actually going to leave the room today and try breakfast!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is it really that bad?

Yes it is. It really is that bad. I am quite sure the Drake Passage is the most miserable section of sea known to mankind. The captain said we are having 25 foot waves. I feel like a lightly whisked egg where as Jason is fully scrambled. 

Last evening seemed fine so I was lulled into thinking how bad could it be? Now I should have seen the warning signs. The railings on every hallway wall, the protective edges on the shelves and tables, the pictures bolted to the walls and even the non-slip material under the place mats. Being jarred awake at around 1:30am by what can only be described as a fair ride I don’t remember agreeing to get on. So I could not sleep and spent the night wandering around and trying to help out poor Jason. He has been sick from 1:30am until 2:00pm today. The only thing that helped was a magic shot from the doctor on board that knocked him out; Gravol and the patch failed. 

I am very fortunate that I have not been sick and have not yet taken any medications. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t feel awesome either and am carefully rationing my tums. And, I do look like a giraffe on the ice trying to stay right side up as I bounce around the hallways of the boat. The 5:30am shower was beyond belief. I made good use of the hand railing and watched as the water sloshed over the edge into the rest of the washroom. I kept thinking I have to get in and out quick as I do not want to be found by the cleaning staff; naked, soapy and knocked out. No one is paid enough for that! The constant rocking makes my brain feel like it is bouncing from one side of my head to the other. I am also convinced it makes me pee more as I must have a mini replica of the Drake Passage sloshing around in my bladder. They lost a few glasses out of the bistro which made for an interesting breakfast. They have also strung up a safety rope between the bistro and the restaurant where the area is open with out railings. 

I spent much of the day napping to make up for the lack of sleep last night. Since my tummy has been a little off I have mostly been eating bread and fruit. Which is about a zillion more than Jason. I believe he has just recently had a banana. I am quite sure that the trip will be worth it and much smoother out of the Drake Passage but I am also quite sure this may be our last boat trip! Tomorrow should bring better weather and less waves, and if you are all lucky, less of my whining.

We are heading towards  Marguerite Bay where we will anchor for at least 2 days, over Christmas. Tomorrow we have a zodiac boat safety briefing in preparation. They actually have lectures, films, camera lessons on board but as I said I spent most of today sleeping.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Beavers & Stinkers

We flew into Ushuaia mid-day and toured around the national park. This is where I learned of the failed 1940’s experiment in which Argentina introduced Canadian beavers  to the country to start a fur trade. I guess they found out 2 things; the fur was not popular and the beavers populated! In fact the guide said there are around 100,000 of them now and they are trying to find ways to control the population. With temperatures moderate temperatures all year long and no natural predators it is beaver paradise.

Then we boarded the cataraman and toured around. We stopped at a few rock outcroppings to watch the birds. We came across of group of seals sunning themselves. Now imagine the most disgusting smell you have ever had the mis-fortune to smell and that might come close to how these little stinkers smell. I was however told that a whale burp is worse. Hopefully I’ll get to see that for myself. 

At 5pm we embarked on the boat. It is a lovely vessel. It is about the size I anticipated and nicer than I thought. It was totally gutted and re-done from a working ice breaker to become the expedition vessel it is now. I can really feel the boat moving but no one is sick yet. I guess we get to go start going through the drake passage tonight. The Drake Passage is known to be the roughest part of the sea. We did hear that on their last trip through it was quite smooth. Time will tell. The extended sun light is wrecking havoc with my mind. It is about 10pm now and it is bright out. I guess the sun sets at 11pm and rises at 4:30am, and the day keeps getting longer as we get closer to south pole. The room on board is nice and compact. It reminds me of what I hope Myrtle, my motor home, turns out like. All the drawers and doors latch so they don’t fly open in rough sea. The food on board is really good so far and we’ve met some super nice people. 

Tomorrow the agenda reads; eating, some films and lectures, digital photography class (maybe helpful with Jason’s new 5D Mark 2 Cannon, that shoots HD movies as well!), tea time, cocktails, watching the sea go by, and the like. It is a few days travel until we start hitting land. We went through the safety drill today so I feel all prepared to evacuate on the life boats, which of course won’t happen. They run a great vessel. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Santiago, Chile

We are just settling in for the night in our hotel in Santiago, Chile. We met with some of the staff of the expedition and there are about 80 guests. Tomorrow we get up at 4:30am and breakfast at 5am and then on to a plane to Ushuaia, Argentina where we will go on a catamaran tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park 

From there we will get onto the boat and start our tour.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Getting ready for Antarctica!

We leave December 20th on our adventure to Antarctica. We go through Santiago Chile then to Argentina and then onto the National Geographic icebreaker were will live for 3 weeks. You can view the boat here: National Geographic Explorer

We have bought all our extra warm items and I have broken in my new winter boots. A lot of people are wondering about the temperatures. Well it is currently summer there so it seems the average is -15 to -30 celsius. Apparently on July 21, 1983 they recorded the coldest temperature at Antarctica at -89 celsius. To view more click here: Antarctica weather

For a nice balance Santiago Chile has be recording +22 to +30 celsius lately. We will stay there for 4 days on the way back from Antarctica. 

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mongoose & Monkeys, Oh my!

So today we went to Buddha Park in Delhi

It has a lovely gold Buddha in the middle of a sprawling park. It was lovely with wild monkeys, mongoose, chipmunks (even in India I can call them right to me!), ducks, geese, parakeets, varied birds, dogs (one with the cutest puppies), and so on. It was great fun, I just wish I had some bananas for those cute monkeys.

Yesterday we went to the Taj Mahal. It was a long trip about 4 hours each way. The Taj is very very pretty with amazing inlay. We basically went to it and viewed the grounds with a guide who explained all the history. Then we took the long ride back. Due to our time limits we had hired a car which was very helpful.

We fly home in the morning and arrive around 5pm, Feb 29, 2008.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Funny observations and Museums

so last night we were at dinner at this busy veg restaurant and it really started to fill up. All tables were full so waiting patrons just accumulated at the front watching for tables. then all of a sudden this eldery Indian woman jsut sat at our table while her friends hovered. We realized our dinner was over and we needed to give up the seats! :)

we have been to the following museums in port blair over the last 2 days; cellular jail, anthropological, and the saw mill.

the cellular jail was fascinating and documented the English occupation of the island and how they set up this huge jail, which according to the monument as quite cruel and house mostly freedom fighters and political prisoners.

The anthropological museum is small but had some interesting artifcats and re-creations of tribal homes. there are 2 Indigenous groups on the islands that have nearly no contact with the outside world and are protected by the government (although there are debates on how well). they are the Sentilese and the Jarawa.

The chatham saw mill was quite interesting. It is a working saw mill and we saw workers in barefeet among the splinters and heavy machinery cutting timber! they have a small forest museum onsite that shows the different wood types.

we leave tomorrow for Delhi via a Chennai

Friday, February 22, 2008

Everyone and their dog, cat and goat are going to Delhi

Well that is how it would seem! We have contacted over 10 hotels and all are fully booked. We found one posh room at the Radisson so we are just taking it. It will be a nice respite for 3 nights before returning home. We are in Delhi Feb 26 and fly home Feb 29.

We finally sorted out our money problem. The hassles of money (finding ATM's that work on CDN cards) and travel times in India are a little tiring. we had to get money western unioned to us as no ATM's will work in Port Blair!!! Thank goodness for Jason's folks making the trek to western union!

We will spend the next few days seeing any sights in Port Blair such as the historic penal colony, museum etc.

Crustacean Crusade

Well we made it to Port Blair and are now doing the money chase again. I HATE India's ATM's. Our cards only work on 2 banks, neither of which are on this island. sigh.... we'll sort it though. Anyways, on to crabs...
Hermit Crabs
We have spent quite a bit of time observing the adorable little hermit crabs on beach 5 and 7 in Havelock. We spent a few hours collecting empty shells and lining them up where the crabs congregate. We even witnessed one switch from his shell to the new one (but he did switch back, a little roomy for his tastes). We then leave the empty shells and nearly all of them disapear within a short time (sheltered in areas away form tourists seeking shells). Quite fun!

The Crazy Crab Canadians
We made a bit of a reputation for ourselves on the island with the next adventure. It started one night when we were in the hut restaurant and these 2 crabs persistently escaped the bin they were held in 3 times! (They were to be dinner). Well we felt so bad we bought those 2, as they are locally caught, and released them into the ocean. I won't pretend it changed the world but it was a wonderful experience. I have always wanted to be able to release crabs but in landlocked Alberta it is not an option. We did the release quietly but word got around and people kept chatting with us about it over the coming days. Many travellers thought we were nuts and others shared stories of feeling bad for the crabs. But I did notice not one crab was purchased that night for dinner. The experience reminds me of one of my favorite touchstones (see below):

As I walked along the seashore, this young boy greeted me. He was tossing stranded starfish back to the deep blue sea. I said, "Tell me why you bother, why you waste your time this way. There's a million stranded starfish, does it matter anyway?"

And he said, "It matters to this one. It deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can't save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I'll return it to the sea. It matters to this one, and it matters to me."

I walked into the classroom, The teacher greeted me. She was helping Johnny study, he was struggling I could see. I said, "Tell me why you bother, why waste your time this way. Johnny's only one of millions, does it matter anyway?"

And she said, "It matters to this one, he deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can't save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I'll help him be what he can be. It matters to this one, and it matters to me."

Monday, February 18, 2008

well, i guess i always wanted to be a vet...

what a day... Jason found a female dog on the beach that was injured and then he came and got me. I immediately realized she must have been recently spayed as her incision was open with part of her intestines hanging out, now covered in sand. It was a horrific site. She had a blue collar on so I held out hope that she had an owner. We ran up the beach to try and locate and owner and we could not.

So I talked with the owner of our resort and he called ahead to a vet in another town a short trip away. Jason got the dog by the collar and walked her up to the resort. From there I wrapped her in plastic and lifted her up (about 40lbs!) and me, her and Jason took an autorickshaw to the vet. It was a bumpy ride and she did well and didn't even try to bite. We got a lot of stares from locals who could see the dog on my lap as we raced through the roads.

The real adventure began when we got to the vet. It was very basic with no running water and only a rusty enamel table but he helped us right away. Ilifted her to the table. The vet tied her muzzle and then Jason and I assisted in the operation. We had to flip her on her side and hold her. That's when I realized there was no anestetic coming. We held her and I stroked her face while the vet cleaned out most of the sand with an antiseptic, pushed it all back in side and stitched her up. He gave her an antibiotic shot and some salve. The smell of blood was pretty bad and I had to change my bloodly clothes when i got back.

Now I was terrified of what we would do with her and had thoughts of her healing in our hut. Thankfully a local woman came rushing in looking for the dog. She explained that the dog was a stray that had been spayed due to the island being overpopulated and that she had her tied up until she healed but that she got away. Her spay was on the 10th so I don't know how her stitches just came out, unless it was perhaps a dog fight. Anyways this woman agreed to take care of her, adminster pain medication and the salve. We may try to visit the dog later. I am very thankful this lady showed up, the vet performed the surgery for free and that we were able to get the dog into the clinic in a autoricksaw.

"What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?" - George Eliot

Sunday, February 17, 2008

the great tuna roll

today i lost any shred of dignity as I was assisted to basically roll into the boat after a great snorkelling trip. Imagine a great big tuna being pulled aboard, but less pretty and less graceful. really it was not my fault. There was no ladder and I have no coordination. I am just glad I made it in rather than being towed 2 hours back ;) The snorkelling was amazing. Lots of coral, like big fan coral, lots of fish too. It was worth it to haul our gear (fins, masks and snorkels) most of the gear for rent here are well used and smaller sized. We will likely go to elephant beach tomorrow to snorkel.

Havelock is much more laid back than the cities. And there is much less poverty here. Perhaps this is due to the smaller number of people to land mass and the vegetation grows well too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The invasion

Well my worst fears were realized last night when i spotted THREE GIANT cockroaches in our hut. And I mean HUGE! One in the bathroom, one in the garbage and one on the mosquito net on my BED!. So i had a rather unrestful sleep. It is amazing what fears you can overcome when there is A. no other accommodation available and B. the sneaky bugs are likely everywhere. Of course every time jason moved I had a little freak out thinking they were in the bed.

Today we snorkelled at the lagoon on beach #7. The bus back was only 5 rupees each (12cents) Jason got motion sickness from the snorkelling so hopefully he will soon be feeling better. (He is having a gravol nap right now). We may catch a boat to another island for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Giving hippies a bad name...

Well Havelock is gorgeous! we did finally sort out some accomadations at 'pristine resort' at about 40/night in these rustic gilligan island 2 story huts (whith shower, toilet, electricity). We were worried last night as we only got one night in an expensive place and everything here is cash. But we got it sorted now.

The entire place is full of wandering hippies. some very nice but some cheap and argumentative with locals, over what amounts to small change at home, which i think is terrible.

We are on #5 beach and will take the government bus to #7 beach to explore tomorrow. We are getting ready to go snorkelling today :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"This is, because that is"

I spent the day contemplating and reading my new wonderful book "Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism" by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The rich are rich because the poor are poor. Now it is not completely as simple as that, but in order to have that $10 t-shirt someone must be paid a meager wage. In order for me to be a social worker someone must be suffering. This is not to say that the rich or middle class are bad and the poor are good, or vice versa. It is also not to say that those with means purposely restrict those with out, (although some certainly do). It is simply to acknowledge that in order to have wealth someone/something pays; low salaries, environmental destruction etc.

And through this I believe we have a responsibility to reduce our negative footprint as much as possible. I think we can begin to accomplish this through being thankful, making informed decisions, and compassionate actions. How we consume, how we earn, how we invest, our words, our actions can all be helpful or hurtful.

"Suffering can have a therapeutic power. It can help us open our eyes. Awareness of suffering encourages us to search for its case, to find out what is going on within us and in society. But we have to be careful. Too much suffering can destroy our capacity to love. We have to know our limits, to stay in touch with things that are dreadful in life and also things that are wonderful." ("Interbeing" - Thich Nhat Hanh)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Both the best and the worst

India is a country of contrast from great beauty to great suffering.

Today began with a lovely breakfast buffet. Then we went to the Kalighat, Hindu, temple And today happens to be a festival "Saraswati Puja" so the temple was PACKED! I some how ended up on a tour junket where we were whisked through all of the things one is supposed to do at the temple. It was rather expensive in the end but it was the only way we would have actually made it through with out waiting hours in line. The guide was excited to tell me that he thinks I will soon have a son. Man did I ever stay away from that fertility cactus he showed me at the temple!!! He was also eager to show us the goat sacrifice which we quickly avoided. (However I did see some ones that had already been sacrificed in a side alley).

After this we went to New Market, which is a 7 block shopping district founded by the British in the 1800's.,_Calcutta We wandered around for a while and looked at the various shops; household items, fabric, souvenirs, and so on. I went to the pharmacy and picked up some antiseptic antihistamine creme for my WICKED mosquito bites. Seriously they are viscous biters. I now wear shoes and repellent.

We came back to the hotel and had a light dinner and then went for our spa treatments. The treatment was 2 hours with a salt scrub and massage and was lovely (and reasonably priced). It was so relaxing.

All around you see the vast economic divide among the very rich Indians and the very poor. The contrast of opulent saris and people in tattered clothing. I suppose this divide exists in Canada but here it is much wider.

In contrast to lovely food, friendly people, rich culture and amazing architecture we also witnessed much on the other side. We saw dogs eating the severed head of another dog (whom I just hope was killed in a car accident - we have only seen people being very kind to the dogs), sweet puppies - chewing on a dead piglet in the garbage heap, elderly women and mothers with infants begging for rupees and children digging through the miles of garbage piles to pull out bits of plastic. The level of poverty continues to break my heart.

"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." - Buddha

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I have found heaven

...& it is the Kolkata Hyatt Hotel.

We arrived here today after taking a sleeper train that left at 4:30am. The train was quite good with 2 sleeper bunks in a private room, and breakfast for the 7 hour trip to Kolkata.

We decided to have a nice hotel here to celebrate my birthday. The Hyatt is AMAZING! Gorgeous rooms, lovely amenities, pool, spa etc. We plan to stay 3 nights here and then go to the Andaman islands. (We are cutting our Darjleeing as it is proving too time consuming to get to.)

We went for this amazing gourmet Italian lunch that had an antipasto buffett (1/2 vegetarian!), then you are served like 7 different hot dishes in small portions (ours were all veg) and then you top it off with a dessert and cheese buffet. I will be full for a week. The vegetarian options in India are just wonderful. We have each booked 2 hour spa treatments for tommorow night.

Tommorow we plan on spending the day exploring the city. With the change in plans I am now researching sites to visit.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Misquitos 1, Capri 0

I have the WORST misquito bites on my feet. They woke me up in the middle of the night. Thankfully I am taking my malaria medication and am now using repellent.

Last night we spent some time at the main temple which was all lit up with little lights. Very beautiful.

I am really enjoying the Indian food, which I was unsure about. I have been eating a lot of 'masala dosa' and naan. We always go to the same restaurant here and it has the filthiest kitchen ever but with so many people in and out the food stays hot and is excellent, and super super cheap.

We have bought a few things; some prayer flags, singing bowl, anklets which the guy had to make bigger and then was shocked he had to make the left one even bigger on account of the size difference since i broke it, a book and 2 cd's.

I did find some high protein bisquits that I fed to a sick dog. they are friendly here but mostly eat from the garbage and since there is not a lot of meat I am not really sure what they eat!

I met the CUTEST baby who hitched a ride with her mom on our auto rickshaw yesterday. So sweet.

We are not sure of the plan today but we leave at 3:30AM to catch a train in Gaya.

on the move

We have booked a train from Gaya to Kolkata (Calcutta) for Sunday early morning. We take a taxi to Gaya. The from there we will spend one night in Kolkata and fly towards Darjleeing.

Today we went to the Mahakala Cave where there is a small cave carved out of the mountain with an ascetic Buddha statue in it. Buddha spent 6 years meditating is this tiny cave. There were tons of cute wild monkeys which I fed bisquits (i could not resist and it gave some money to the man selling them). We will have some cute photos. Then we had milk tea with some lovely monks who also shared with the 2 cats.

I have been trying to find a local charity but there seems to be much debate on whether or not they are honest. It is so difficult to find a way to make a tiny difference here. I suppose paying fair prices for food, goods and hotel helps somewhat but I am still searching for another way.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

sorting out travel plans

Jason is taking the lead on sorting out our travel plans and is currently at a travel agency. We may not make it up to Darjaleeing as it is quite the adventure to get there and then to the Andaman Islands and back to Delhi in our time frame. So by tonight I should know more about our plans.

emergency adverted

After a dodgy autorickshaw ride into Gaya and 5 bank machine attempts we found one that worked. Thank goodness or we would not have money for our hotel etc.

We went to several temples today and one of the loveliest was the Thai one. There was a beautiful sight of some nuns and monks meditating. One of the nuns had a small dog with her in the temple who was quietly at her side thuroughout the meditation. Very sweet.

We've met some nice people and had some illuminating converstations on Buddhism, poverty etc.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

always a classy lass

Well it began last night when i tripped walking home and i fell completely flat on my face like a giant tree. Of course it was in front of tons of locals. As I hit the ground all I could think was please please please no cow poop. Thankfully i hit the one flat, dry and reasonably clean peice of land in India. It was a miracle really. I have a few bruises but I am ok.

Then this morning I puked my face off at the side of the road. Very classy. Several nice locals were worried about me. I think the culprit was taking my malaria medication and thyroid on an empty stomach. And of course it happened one bite into breakfast so i ran out of the restaurant and down to the garbage pile to puke in front of some bewildered dogs. Then of course I had to bury it to prevent the inevitable. I do wish there was some sort of dog food I could buy in this place.

we have hit a little snag as the 2 ATM's do not work with our cards so we are off today to try and find away to get money so we are not stranded! We will probably spend 2 more nights here and then up to Darjleeng i think.

For today I am recovering at the internet cafe at this moment which is only 75 cents an hour. We plan to see the rest of the temples in Bodhgaya today and perhaps a day tour to some Buddhist caves tomorrow.

I don't think we will be able to move on until Monday due to the trains and planes. Jason is attempting to book a plane from gaya to kolkata and then we'll try for a train to Darjleeing

Things are really cheap here. Like today breakfast with 2 meals, 1 side, a milk coffee, a litre of bottled water and a coke (for my upset tummy) was $5CDN

a most beautiful sight...

So today we went to several temples. We went to the main temple which has the sacred Bodhi Tree underwhich Buddha gained enlightenment (it is actually a descendant of the original tree from a sapling that was saved after the original was cute down).

At the site of othe Bodhi tree, as a I was circling the main temple, I came accross two lovely moments. The first was a monk moving an ant out of the way while he was also circling the temple. The second brought tears to my eyes as it was so emotional and beautiful. A monk was standing near the Bodhi tree holding a royal purple humming bird. When I asked if the bird was injured or a pet he replied neither that the bird merely wanted to sit there. It is hard to explain but it was so lovely.

These moments contrast the heart breaking poverty here. So many children, elderly, disabled people and dogs living in difficult circumstances. We plan to donate to one of the local charities but I wish there was more I could do.

Other observations; the food is very very good. at the airport we had McDonald's and even it was good! (Huge veg section and no beef at all! - but there was fish and chicken). I have been eating a mix of western and Indian cuisine. No mater where we have travelled it seems that westerners inspire banana pancakes.

We bought a Tibetan Singing Bowl (Which i am sure I paid too much for but much cheaper than at home and I figure since I support "fair trade" I should also do it while travelling). I am terrible at bargaining too, at least overseas. Jason says I get cheaper as a trip wears on so we'll see. I also bought a great book by my fave Buddhist author Thich Nhatt Hahn on engaged Buddhism.

I also bought a punjabi suit in a lovely dark red/burgandy that reminds me of the color of monk's robes but more ornate. It will be nice to wear as I find it hot (of course the locals have toques on!) However, I don't think anything I do will combat the staring. I look a little odd here.

In other news we switched hotels. The one we had promised soft beds and they are like a board with a sheet. If it was at least cheap I could forgive it but it was the 2nd most expensive here. We switched to a hotel called Siddartha Vihar which is cheaper and costs $20.00 a night. It has it's own bathroom and shower and the beds are still as hard a rock.

PS Excuse any typos.... the spell check does not seem to work!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

we made it to Bodhgaya

Ah.... It began with a flight from Delhi, then a train ride to Gaya (34 rupees each less than one dollar) and then an autorickshaw (tuk tuk) to Bodhgaya. The train was cramped and very hot. I spent a lot of time chatting with some of the local men. The one was rather surprised at my height and thought it was funny that people stared at me. Our seats were built for 8 but 13 crammed in.

We are just settling in and will soon be looking for food. Tommorow we will start to explore the temples and the giant Buddha. The air is hard to breath here. Our hotel is the high end one for the area but still relatively cheap. we may check out another one tommorow. Our current hotel

Electricity has been intermitant here :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Poo on the shoe

So the shoe is Jason's and the poo... who knows? We were walking in Delhi (made it here this morning) and Jason ventures into a park and soon spies a shoe shiner coming over and he knew... the old poo on the shoe scam. You see one guy squirts poo on your shoe while his accomplice shortly after points it out and of course comes to your rescue with his poo on the shoe removal kit. And really, what are you going to do? walk around with poo? it is the perfect scam and cost Jason 200 rupees or $5CDN (from 350).

Delhi is crazy busy. Lots of friendly people chatting you up trying to convince you of a tour, shopping, hotel that this is closed or that etc as people get commission if they bring you in. You can't fault them too much as there is a lot of poverty here.

The weather is very nice and not too hot. Our hotel is the 'best one star in Delhi' Cheap and basic. We had a nice dinner there. The BEST naan bread and some good spicy stuff. Not sure what it was but it was good and vegetarian

Anyways we decided to get out of Delhi to relax in Bodhgaya so we booked a flight for tommorow morning to Patna and then we will catch a train.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Off to India

Our plane departs tonight at 8:45 pm. We stop in London and then on to Delhi. We have not for sure settled where we are staying. We may stay in Delhi for one or 2 nights or we may catch a plane out. Our itinerary will likely be: 

Bodhgaya  This is where Buddha gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree (a descendant of this tree is still there) 

Darjeeling (where you can view Mount Everest) 

Andaman Islands (for snorkelling!)

And back to Delhi for some city time and to see the Taj Mahal (a few hours from Delhi)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Antiques in Rio!

We spent a lovely day wandering in the outdoor once a month antique fair. Along the route we came accross my new favorite store with some of the best examples of mid-century modern peices I have even seen! Then we went to the indoor antique fair which was interesting but not as good as the first one.

The weather is very overcast today. Tommorrow is our last day and I am hoping for lots of sun. Our flight leaves 10:45pm Rio time. So we'll hang out at the pool for the last day :)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rio at night

I hope i am not jinxing it but Rio does not seem nearly as dodgy as all the reports I hear. I of course would not venture to isloated areas. However we just came back from a crepe place and it is now 11:20pm and it was fine. I suppose seeing many big cities with a variety of issues has helped. So we survived the evening in Rio ;)

Tomorrow it is all about antiques!


So we have been in Rio for 2 nights (we fly out on Sunday night). Everyone wears the teeny tiny bikinis.... everyone, grandmas, big girls. it is quite the phenonmenon.

as for veg meals it is rather uninspiring but at least there are options. much of the veg stuff is like pasta, pizza etc. we went to one veg restaruant but it was quite bland

the weather is great 34+ it is a little hot for me actually :)

Today we went to the museum of modern art. Quite a nice building and exhibit.

We spent some time in the pool and had a nap. I know our adventures are so legendary. I just don´t move that fast in this heat.

tommorow we are off to a once a month antique fair and a antique mall :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year´s eve

I forgot to mention that we spent NY on a large 2 story wooden boat on the river, arranged by the lodge for everyone. it was complete with a DJ and drinks. Before this we had a lovely dinner at the lodge. Nice way to ring in the new year!

Amazon Update

Well it has been a fantastic few days. We did so many things! A jungle trek in which we learned about local plants for food and medicine, a snake refuge where they breed and release snakes back to the wild, many many boat trips on the river negro, canoe trip, swimming with the wild pink dolphins, visit to a village and a town, caiman (alligator) spotting and learning to shoot bows and arrows (which gave me a nice burn on the wrist from the string). I have some photos holding the little alligator (they catch them in the river and then let them go) and a picture with the snakes at the refuge. The lodge was lovely and they had terrific food with lots of veg options. The only thing missing was a laundry service and we did not want to trek to the nearest little town to find one. (So later tonight locating a lavanderia/laundry is the #1 priority in Rio).

The weather has been good with sun and warm rain. There have been no major upsets other than some scratches and bug bites. There was a minor set back this morning when the strong Brazil coffee disagreed with me. But I am feeling better and grossly the fish in the river ate all the evidence!

On the way out we took a small float plane, just with us and the pilot, for a 30 minute flight over the river and to Manaus. In Manaus we went to the Amazonian research centre in which the research local flora and fuana. We saw the manatees that are brought in when injured or weak and then are rehabilitated. It was not like a zoo (which i don´t generally like) but more like a preserve. There were some man made lakes with fish, caimans, turtles etc. And running loose all over are these giant guinea pigs!

I am now at the Manaus airport internet cafe and we are off to Rio soon. As luck would have it the first Saturday of the month in Rio has a huge antique fair so I will be there!