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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Getting Out of Ourselves

The news from all over the world is harsh and depressing. I've found myself caught in loops of trolling the news and (ack!) reading the comments on the articles. (Side note: the comments, it's so completely soul crushing.) 
How I feel about current events
I knew I had a problem when I'd already cried before 10:30am last Thursday. What I was doing wasn't healthy for me and I was starting to obsess, no matter my good intentions to stand up for those that were being maligned.  A friend of ours invited us out to help an indigenous family that was building a new home with supplies and labour donated by CETAP-Lucy, a foundation and school that helps children with developmental disabilities and Hearts of Gold Foundation, that helps link immigrants from North America to charities here in Cuenca, plus another local charity that I don't know the name of. (Okay I know that's poor English, but I don't care.) Here's a special shout-out to Ric, the friend that invited us and official photographer. I totally forgot to take any pictures at all. The existing house is quite small, maybe 2 metres wide and 4 long. The new house will be double in length and triple in width, with two (maybe three) bedrooms and a nice long combined living/kitchen area.

Here's the some of the family:
Jhon, one of the family's three sons
Junior, another of the sons
Rocio, Angel (volunteers) and Juan Diego, one of the sons
On Saturday we headed out early (not my forte) and met at CETAP-Lucy and headed out to the work site. We'd been told that the conditions weren't ideal, that the lot was steep and the work hard. They hadn't undersold it. The slope of the plot had to be around 45 degrees.and only near the current house was there a path carved into the rock. It took a while to get used to moving up and down the grade, but, surprisingly, I got used to it. (Sort of...)

Super steep
The existing house is (as Ron described) rudimentary, but they now have running water and electricity, which is a definite improvement. Some initial foundation supports had been poured, but the government is improving the road by widening it, which means that the placement of the new house must change, rendering one foundation wall completely useless and required that new posts be poured further down the property. 
Existing house
The kitchen
 Much digging ensued. Rock, clay, stone and soil was slowly chipped away to allow space for the new foundation posts. In addition the garbage that was strewn around the lot was gathered and burned. (This is common here. There is little regard for clouds of toxic smoke in the face of "free" rubbish removal. I don't believe there are sanitation services in that part of town.)
Franny - our intrepid organiser
Me wielding a pick axe
Pedro (a volunteer) and Nellie, the mother
Nellie and Ron
Ric, our official photographer and invitor
Hauling away the rubble with Robert
Rocio (from CETAP-Lucy) and Salvador, the father
Nellie, Robert and Ron working on the solid rock.
Ron, enjoying every minute
Salvador chipping away at the wall of dirt and rock
We spent around four hours on site and managed to clear most of what was necessary to get ready to put in the new posts, which will have to wait for at least another week. The going is slow, the work manual and the technology basic: shovels, pick axes and chisels, for the most part. I know the concrete will be mixed by hand and painstakingly poured, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, but it's a great way to focus on something positive. It also is exhausting and we slept pretty well last night. Sure we have some sore muscles and Ron is sporting a couple of blisters, but it was worth it.

If you would like to help out by donating towards the project please go to Hearts of Gold. CETAP-Lucy is also supported, in part, by donations to Hearts of Gold. Or, if you'd like to volunteer your time, drop me a line and I'll get you in touch with Franny.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What's All This About Home Exchanging?

A few people have asked us about our home exchange experiences. It seems to be a mysterious process that many people feel is a bit risky, and I can see why someone might think that.
Because we offer this...

Our space...

We've done four home exchanges so far. Why? Well, it provides us with free housing in a desired location, as well as the luxury of making our own food and having more space than a tiny hotel room. It also opens up the world to us. We'd never planned on going to Australia so soon, but when we received an offer of a home exchange we thought "why not?"
...we got to visit home...
...see this...
It can be a tricky proposition. There was no way that I was flying for 33 hours (oh, had it only been that little) to stay somewhere for two weeks, so we sent out requests for exchanges in a few other places before we agreed to the original offer.
...have this for a time... that...
How does it work? We belong to HomeLink, a Canadian home exchange company that has been in business since 1953. It's kind of like a dating site, but for homes instead of people. With over 60,000 members, there's a lot of selection all over the world. Once you set up your home's profile and a bit about yourselves you can indicate where you're interested in going and when or you can just leave the field open and see what comes up. If someone wants to exchange with you, they send you an email through the company and you can discuss terms, view the photos of their property and find out a bit about your potential exchange partners. If you like what you see, you can fill in a exchange form and basically swap houses.  There is also a site based in the US, of about an equal size, but hasn't been around as long, called HomeExchange. There are also sites in Europe. The sites charge a fee to join, usually nothing exorbitant, but is a way of filtering out false home swappers etc. this...
You don't have to trade at the same time, you can do non-simultaneous exchanges, meaning you stay in your partners house at some point and they stay at yours at another time. This means you have to be prepared to pay for (or mooch off friends) space somewhere else, but if you're going somewhere that doesn't have an exchange home, no harm no foul, right? 

Is it risky? Well, not really. The statistics support that; damage, theft and fraud track at under 1% of home exchanges. Would you rip someone off who was staying in your own home? The transgressor wouldn't last very long on the home exchange site if they have bad behaviour. You also tend to exchange with people who have properties similar to your own. 

...and experience this!
Find out more: Home Exchange University is an unbiased site that compares home exchange sites (They also have a prior site called Home Exchange Guru).

Home exchange isn't for everyone. You have to be okay with other people being in your home when you're not there. (We look at is as additional security...even if we're not there, we might have guests.) So far we've been really pleased and have only had one dish broken. The rest of the place has been well taken care of. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

I Choose Love

A flower is a flower, not matter its colour.
It was a close thing. I almost succumbed to despair. With all the news lately of mass shootings, bombing, hateful rhetoric, seemingly intelligent people spewing nonsense, it's easy to buckle under the weight. Perhaps, it also is an echo of post vacation blues, I don't know, but both Ron and I were feeling it.

The anger and hate that is floating around is like a miasma; poisoning our hearts and souls. It's palpable and cancerous. It can cut you off at your knees.

We lost a friend recently. He had the amazing gift of being able to hold onto his childlike wonder. He loved to travel and see places both new and ancient, but got the same joy from a custom made Magnum bar or bubble wand. I was thinking about what I wanted to write on his memorial page. It is hard to sum up a person in a few words. They never seem enough, but it was his wonder that got me. That's when it struck me. All of the grey that had been clouding my emotions was due to lack of wonder. Even knowing that that's what all those hate-filled and hate-fueled people wanted, I was choosing to let them win. No more. I'm taking the high road and the hard road.

I choose to stand up for equality, acceptance and understanding. I choose light over dark.. I will not sit quiet and listen to untruths, hate-mongering and self-pity; not even from myself. I choose wonder for this amazing world that we live in; for the people that populate it. I do it for those who have come before and fought the hard fight, for present and future generations, so that they can know that I wasn't weak, sad or despairing; that I live in hope.

Above all else: I choose LOVE.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What We Learned About Traveling

As you can tell, it was a rather epic adventure for us and we learned a lot. It was a surprise to find out that we still had lots to learn about travel, especially when it comes to booking things online.
Yay! We did it...completed an epic 3 month  adventure

What did we learn? 

1. If you book through a third party, you won't get any customer service from anyone. From now on we'll book directly through the airlines and hotels, unless the third party deal is truly unbeatable. (Side note: the tip is to book the window and aisle seat, if you're couple, to try and get the row to yourself actually works, more often than not.)

Airports - you'll learn to hate them
2. Budget airlines aren't worth it. We flew Air Asia and paid for everything: checked bags (because our carry on was over their 7 kilo weight limit), our blanket for our overnight flight (you have to rent it), all food and beverages (you can't bring on "outside" food on their flights), our seat selection (actually getting an assigned seat cost us, whether online or at the airport). If you wanted in-flight entertainment you paid for the programs and if, heaven forbid, you were tech-less, you could rent a tablet from them. Did I miss anything? Oh, yeah, we paid extra to get a full bank of seats each for our overnight flight, but that was actually worth it.

3. Membership has its privileges. We joined the hotel websites and garnered a lot of extras: discounts, free WiFi, breakfast included and even free drinks. We also joined LATAM, a South American airline and have already collected enough kilometres to get to the Galapagos and back.

4. Long haul flights suck. Next time we might consider staying in the layover city for a few days, just to get out of the airplane and get a decent night's sleep. This, of course, is dependent on price, but for such long trips, what's a bit more money?
Lower has my clothes, upper the tech stuff
5. You can travel for long periods of time with just carry-on luggage.  Was there a point where I thought to myself "if I have to wear this one more time, I'll lose it", but it was fairly early on and then went away. That whole thing about "bring half the stuff and twice the money" is fairly accurate - but maybe triple the money, if you're visiting Australia.

Wine, happily, is affordable in Australia
6. WiFi is, apparently, not something that all airports feel is necessary to serve their clients - even those that have an 8 - 12 hour layover in their facility. (At least not free WiFi.) This is unacceptable. There are also hotels out there that feel you should pay for WiFi - also completely unacceptable. (I know - first world problem.)
Wombat...just 'cause it's adorable (& wild)
7. Seeing animals in the wild is WAY better than seeing them in captivity. Comparing my animal encounters from Australia and Thailand makes me appreciate, even more strongly, how wrong it is to keep wild animals in cages and pens. I would rather pay $100 for a chance to see something in the wild than $10 for a guaranteed sighting  at an animal's expense. (Yes, this even applies to the cassowary that I never did catch sight of.)

8. Last, but certainly not least: travel is always worth it, despite the money, hassles, general travel misery, you can't go wrong seeing the world. It makes me more open minded and appreciative of the life I have.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Canada Day - What a difference a year makes

It's no secret that I'm glad to be from Canada. Every year on Canada Day I take stock of what that means to me. True, the past several years have been hard on us liberal thinkers. Our administration didn't represent my own clear definition of what it is to be Canadian: tolerant, humble(ish), giving and considerate. Well, it's a been quite a year. We have said no to fear mongering and intolerance and have stepped back into the sun.
Lord knows that Justin Trudeau won't do everything right, nobody does, but at least he's trying to regain our national dignity. He's got his haters, he's limited by the parameters of our political and legal system, but at least the world is excited to see Canada back at the table. We are leading again, not hiding behind walls and fear.

 Part of President Obama's address to our Parliament:

Like I said, I'm glad to be Canadian, and perhaps we needed Mr. Harper to remind us of what was important to us and what we wouldn't stand for and I suppose, for that, we should be grateful. I just hope that we can stand as a beacon for those fractured, broken and scared societies that are sequestering themselves from the world. We're proof that there is a way back; that we can love our neighbours and that by helping others we actually help ourselves.

So here's to toques, hockey, maple syrup, Nanaimo bars, Caesar's, poutine and strong beer. Happy Canada Day!