Monthly Archives: March 2017

Homeward bound 

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I spent the final leg of my journey on the beach in Hua Hin. As weird as it sounds, it took some getting used to, but eventually I settled into the relaxation and savoured the sun and the sea without calamity – that is, until my last day. 

The misfortune I’m about to tell you about is, admittedly, completely due to my own bad judgement. I can only assume that my brain was fried from too much sun and memories of last year’s return trip from Israel, when sand fleas covered my face in bites the night before my flight home. This time would be different, I told myself. This time I wanted to arrive back to the farm looking glam and pretty. What a spectacular backfire!

 The morning I left, I planned a massage, a haircut and a manicure, all of which were great. Things went sideways when I decided to add tattooing my eyebrows to the beauty treatment agenda. Yes, you read that right. I had been thinking about doing something with my moth-eaten brows for awhile but hadn’t really looked into it. In retrospect, to take that leap in Thailand, where I could barely communicate with the aesthetician, defied logic and reason. So many lessons learned! (Or maybe just one lesson: don’t invest in cosmetic tattoos on a whim in a foreign country.) Hence, I will return home with lovely, clean hair, beautiful nails, and strong, exceedingly prominent, slightly lopsided eyebrows. 

I am very embarrassed, and will admit that I am loath to include a picture. I’m not big on pictures of myself at the best of times, but for you dear reader, you who has followed my adventures and made me feel less alone at times when melancholy had found me, for you I will share this sorry (but hopefully someday hilarious) testament to the vagaries of spontaneity. You can find it at the bottom of this post, along with what’s left of my pride. My daughter Sabrina says I’m still beautiful, bless her heart, and that eyebrow tattoos fade and can be repaired. She adds that if all else fails, we can find a nice spot under a bridge for me where I can make a new home.

On a less traumatic note, the trip was great. I have seen spectacular sights and learned new things. I’m healthy but very excited to plant my feet on Canadian soil. I’m excited to reunite with family and friends and Colin’s dog, Diesel. I also am eager to see how my blueberries fared the winter.

As always, sincere heartfelt thanks for reading. Your unfailing support, emails and comments have sustained me through heaven, hell and high water. See you on the flip side! (I’ll be the one with the large dark glasses and a floppy hat.)

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Stormy Daze 

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I stuffed my wet belongings into my wet pack. It had been a rough few days. The latest episode involved me being woken up at 3am in my hostel ‘roof hammock’ by a freak tropical storm that soaked me, body and spirit. The sudden night drenching was funny later, but at the time, I was too disgruntled to be amused. 

My misadventures began with a confrontation between myself and a swindling hostel owner in the Cambodian/Vietnamese border town of Kep which didn’t end well for me. The next morning I hopped a boat bound for the almost unpopulated Koh Tonsai (Rabbit Island) to pitch my tent and regain my happy head space. That night at 2am, I woke up in a perfect cartoon caricature of ‘terrified freeze mode’ to the snapping and snarling of two dogs fighting against my tent wall. Dogs again! I love our canine friends but they have been my nemesis on this trip. My heart pounded and my thoughts raced but a statue couldn’t have been more still. They settled down once dominance was established but not before a few teeth had punctured my flyless tent. Not laying far enough away for my comfort, I maintained a nervous vigil until morning. 

The boatman manning the craft back to the mainland wouldn’t honour my return ticket (because the ticket seller forgot to write my boat number on the back) but I was tired and in no mood to be messed with. Gritting my not so white ivories, I braced my feet in the sand, clamped my hands onto the boat gunnel and wouldn’t let go until the captain accepted my valid ticket and allowed me aboard. He ultimately relented, but only because his only other option was to physically pry my fingers off. Unintimidated, I wobbled past him with all the dignity I could muster and matched his grimace, scowl for scowl. The five Chinese tourists onboard, however, found the whole incident hilarious and cackled uproarously. 

That night, back in Kep, the tropical storm delivered another sleepless night. The dispiriting events, combined with meeting a few solo-travelling young women who had been robbed of money and passports by motorbike snatchings (one of whom had been dragged and held at gun point) settled in my mind – all signs pointed to a change of plan –  I decided to ditch Vietnam and set a course for the Thai Islands to soak up some sun. 

Passing through Bangkok on my way south I met a lovely Taiwanese lady with delicate sensibilities who knew the city well. We feasted on scrumptious red curry seafood, visited art galleries, magnificent temples, and climbed windy towers. And at some point, the cloud that had latched itself onto me was finally blown away. For the most part it has been an incredible trip, full of beautiful experiences and nice people, but I came to the conclusion that wherever you go, there is no escaping  occasional sad and stormy days and the odd bad egg. In the words of Lao Tzu – “life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes, don’t resist them, that only leads to sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”. And in the words of yours truly, –  it’s a welcome relief when the sun burns through the cloud and the spring is back in your step. 

The Killing Fields

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S-21 and the killing fields of Cambodia were marked in my travel guide as a ‘must see’ but until I was there, I had no understanding of what happened. With reverence, I write this post in memory of the lost.

On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rogue, ruled by Pol Pot, defeated the U.S.-backed Cambodian leadership. The already war-torn country had been bombed by the U.S. for the past 8 years in what was called the secret war, and people celebrated the new leadership. But it was short-lived. Within days of taking power the cities were all but deserted as people were forced to leave their homes and possessions to work 16 hours a day in field labour camps. The Khmer Rouge wanted Cambodia returned to a peasant state. Phones were silent and borders were closed. Teachers, doctors, Buddhist monks, anyone displaying any signs of intelligence were captured, tortured into signing false confessions of espionage, and executed. Soft hands and wearing glasses would get you killed. Pol Pot ruled with secrecy, hatred, fear, and violence for a fanatical utopian vision of a pure, classless society.

S-21, now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, was one of 200 prisons where people suffered dehumanizing interrogations and torture by the Khmer Rouge. A former high school, it was converted from a place of laughter and learning to a place of unimaginable atrocities. Between 14,000 and 20,000 people were held there. There are 12 confirmed survivors.

Interrogation room

 Prisoners who didn’t die from torture were blindfolded, bound and taken to Cheoux Ek. Once a peaceful farmers meadow, it became a killing field. Peoples heads were smashed in with hatchets or other tools, and thier necks were slit with with palm fronds because bullets were not to be wasted. They were then thrown into a pit, sometimes still alive, with countless others. If a parent was executed, the whole family was executed so no-one was left to take revenge. Music was played to drown out the screams. Today, after a heavy rain, bones continue to be unearthed. The Stupa, at the centre of the memorial site, holds the skulls of thousands of the victims where people come to honour the dead and search for thier loved ones. There are over 300 killing fields in Cambodia.

In 1979 Vietnamese troops with a Cambodian contingent overthrew Pol Pot. In the four years that the Khmer Rouge were in power, roughly 2,000,000 people, in a population of just over 8,000,000 died under the brutal regime. Despite all the evidence, Pol Pot continued to represent Cambodia in the UN for 12 years after he was thrown from power. It was not until 2009 that the first Khmer Rouge high official was taken to trial. 2009!

The world has turned its eyes away through some of the twentieth centuries worst genocides; Armenia, the holocaust, Ruanda, the list goes on.  Blurred by tears but with eyes open, I touched the faces of the lost through the glass. I have to believe that we can learn from the past. I will remember.

A Little Nuts

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The streets of Cambodia on a bicycle is no place to be timid. The golden rule is stay alert! There is lots of ‘I’m here’ horn beeping, but no road rage. Everybody accepts the fact that everyone else has a right to be there, is just trying to get where they need to be, maneuvers to make space, and proceeds with no feathers ruffled (except of course for the live chickens). I got the hang of claiming my place in the controlled chaos and felt weirdly safer than riding a bike at home. I saw a young girl wobble her way through a busy intersection on a full-sized bike (standing because she couldn’t reach the pedals) with her baby brother in the basket. No one batted an eyelash.  


I now almost always ride to see the sights and only take the bus for long journeys. On one bus trip, I offered the lady sitting beside me some of my watermelon and mango. She politely refused, but returned the courtesy when she pulled out her bag of roasted cockroaches. Mindful of protocol, I thanked the good Buddha she had refused my watermelon. When we were both finished eating, we glanced at each other and burst out laughing. We were each picking our teeth with toothpicks. There is a saying here – “same same, but different”. We got it.   

I’ve never met a fruit I didn’t like and cashew fruit was no different (I didn’t even know cashews had fruit). It was stringy, but juicy, and tasted like a bitter mango with a hint of green pepper (I later found out that most people just make jam out of them or a liqueur called feni). It wasn’t until after I had already consumed several that I discovered what the fruit was, and specifically, that the creepy looking kidney-shaped blob on the end was a cashew nut! 

 I love raw cashews so I bit open the surprisingly tough outer shell with my teeth, and swallowed what I could of the nut. Such a bad move! Immediately my lips, tongue and mouth were coated with a thick, bitter, gluey feel that burned like hades. My stomach turned acidic, my head started to spin, and I thought I was going to pass out. I guzzled water – didn’t help. I dug out my toothbrush and brushed my teeth – didn’t help. I didn’t know what was happening! I took the bandana off my head and wiped out the inside of my mouth with it – helped a little, but the bitter stayed. For the rest of the day I felt sick. Later, I did some research. Turns out,  cashews and poison ivy/oak are siblings. Cashews contain an oily substance between the outer shell and the seed called urushiol, a strong irritant for most people and fatal for some (fortunately not for me). Also under the shell is another layer of highly toxic resin. ‘Raw cashews’ are not actually raw – they are steamed at extremely high temperatures so they can be safely removed from the shell and made edible. Who knew? – Or am I the only one who didn’t know this! After reading some horror stories, I feel pretty lucky that my only after effects were blisters inside my mouth, burnt lips, and a few spots of poison oak on my chin. The moral of the story is – sometimes it’s ok to be a little nuts, and sometimes it’s not!  

 (The other fruit in the picture is lotus fruit that I bought from a lotus farm. You peel off the outside green to reach the pod, which you crack open and squeeze the edible seed out. It was ok. Luckily I tried it before the cashew. The little girl is from my last guesthouse. She would hold her mothers phone, put on music and dance to it. She was adorable). 


Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman ll, a devout but bloodthirsty, teenager who came into power by murdering his great uncle, while riding an elephant. Suryavarman ll revered Vishnu, a deity associated with protection and built the temple in his honour (maybe his uncle should have paid more homage). The literal translation of Angkor Wat is ‘Temple City’. Built in approximately 1113 to 1150, Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire and the largest city in the world until the industrial revolution, boasting hundreds of temples and over 1,000,000 inhabitants. Imagine, all ruled by a homocidal teenager! 

My first impression of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was its imposing grandeur. A large stone walkway crosses a 190 meter wide moat to the main entrance. 

The five towers recreate the earthly image of Mount Meru, the abode of ancient Gods beyond the Himalayas, as told in Hindu mythology. Inside and up close, 3000 luscious heavenly nymphs, each unique, are carved into the rock  and don’t even begin to represent the fascinating decorative design found throughout the fascinating ruins. 

Stretching along the outside walls of the central temple are 800 plus meters of intricate bas-reliefs depicting stories of historical events and ancient mythology with exquisite detail. The most famous is called ‘The Churning of the Milk’ and depicts the Hindu story of creation where the devas (gods) and the asuris (demons) churned the ocean under the head of Vishnu to produce the divine elixir of immortality

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 Taphrum Temple was my favourite. I imagined  what it would be like to make the actual discovery, to just stumble onto a lost temple of such magnitude. I wandered around the enormous roots snaking out of the rock and marvelled how a place can be so completely reclaimed by the jungle. I later found out that Taphrum Temple was the film site of the movie, ‘Tomb Raiders’ with Angelina Jolie. I’m not surprised – what a backdrop!