Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Aug Update

  • A girl I went to school with has been diagnosed with colon cancer.  You'd never know from looking at her because she runs and is vibrant.  They have operated and after a course of chemo, have told her to go home and enjoy her time...  She isn't taking it laying down.  I don't know where she finds it in her to do all the things she is doing and participate in a public campaign to bring awareness to others who are also suffering.  I don't know that I would have the strength and drive. My heart just breaks for her. 
  • We had a freak storm in our cottage area that created a significant flood.  Water from 2 nearby streams overflowed its banks and entered the crawlspace.  Not enough to reach the ceiling of it, but enough to submerge our water pump.  When we flicked on the breaker, nothing happened.  Called the plumber who told D that we have a 50:50 chance it will come back once it has had a chance to dry up -- a couple of weeks.  Fingers crossed.  For them to install a new one will be around $800.  D is reading up on how to DIY.  So it was a quick up and down for us, after packing for what was to be 4 day stay.  We could have stayed and used stream water for the toilet and municipal water for everything else but opted to come home as there was work we wanted to do.
  • Got our chimney assessed and apparently there is a problem with the cap and flashing.  The fellow we need now is a mason, who may not have room to fit us in this year.  
  • We have started having no drive weekends and are enjoying it very much.
  • This has been an unusually cool summer.  We like it because it has been great to use minimal AC but anyone I know with pools haven't been.
  • I am looking forward to the day when practicing violin isn't accompanied with clenched teeth!
  • Since I've publicly declared that I had no idea what to do with next year, ideas have been rushing in.  Will have to remember that trick for next time.  I live too much in my head.
  • I've gone mad and have ramped up the rest of the year's travel plans to crazy levels.  Try not to judge me too harshly...
  • Continuing with the water theme, we will have an opportunity to see what monsoon season is like shortly.  Will report back.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick Notes: Morocco

  • Did not at any point feel uncomfortable in any city or village I visited.  Sure you will probably stand out as a foreigner but the looks I got were not aggressive at all, simply observation.  Even walking back to the hotel late at night in Marrakesh was no issue for me.  I dressed conservatively -- Long pants, 3/4 sleeves. 
  • I severely underestimated the distances between interior locales even though I have experience driving through our Rocky Mountains here in Canada as well as in Colorado.  Going through the Atlas mountains took a long time.
  • Don't underestimate the dryness.  I was surprised with small signs of heat exhaustion when I thought I was doing well.  Moisture will evaporate so looking/waiting for signs of sweating won't be accurate.  Funny enough, thirst was less for me.  Again, not a good sign.  Although I took fewer rehydration tablets than in SE Asia.
  • Hotels have great signs with facts on water consumption.  Wish I had taken a picture of one.  They are very smartly done.  Seems obvious now, that a country like Morocco would be way more aware of and advanced in water conservation than we are in Canada.  
  • They are currently dealing with significant water table decreases due to the amount of agriculture they do.  I couldn't believe they grow watermelon in the desert??!!  Also the extensive export orange tree groves drink up a lot.
  • I found Moroccan family men to be so very present and dedicated to their families.  It was really lovely to witness. Felt very warm to me. 
  • Was amazed how women there could be so covered up (black!) and not be wanting to fall over from heat.  Maybe they did but I did not see it in their eyes.  Women didn't look at me at all.  They made sure they looked straight ahead when walking with their spouses who did look.  Noticed that when they would walk by other female visitors also.  I don't know what that means. 
  • Next time I visit, I will go during Feb/Mar when temperatures are much cooler.  It was mid - high 40s Celsius in the desert.  A lot fewer tourists though. 
  • I would also try and fly into Ouarzazate, hop on a 4 x 4 from there straight to the camels and fly out of Agadir.  It was wonderful to be in a "resort" city after being in the desert.
  • Fascinated with how the various nomadic Berber people have adapted to live and survive in the desert environment.  I'm drawn to harsh climates and civilizations who thrive in such extremes.  Bought a beautiful small handmade rug by a Tuareg woman.  
  • Each year rug stores personnel (many from nomadic backgrounds themselves) will go on a 3 month caravan to visit various nomadic groups to source out new rugs.  That is how many women contribute to their household.  They weave in between all the regular work.  So one piece takes months with each region having their own distinctive style and texture.  So very different from Turkish rugs.
  • I would love to participate in a desert caravan.  There is so much to learn about that type of travel and life.  For example, drinking tea vs water, using rose water to refresh (really works!), indigo dye all over which acts as sunblock and deodorant -- Thus the descriptor "Blue men of the desert".
  • Personally I do not feel a need to return to Marrakesh again.  Would like to spend more time in Casablanca.  Such extremes between the rich and poor there.
  • Having said that, the orange juice vendors in Marrakesh (Jemaa el-Fna) are a hoot.  Some come across as cheesy salesmen and some genuinely are fun loving people.  After buying a glass from a particularly friendly guy, I got to go behind his stall and climbed up on the platform so that he could give me directions to a restaurant.  (during one of the times where I took time off from the group)
  • There is a 1000 MAD currency limit in and out of the country.  It's not much and is easy to go over, like I did.  
  • Had no real issues anywhere in the country including the airports -- Always carry toilet paper, hand sanitizer.  Pharmacies are professional and helpful.  I drank tap water.
  • If you make even a small effort to speak French or Moroccan Arabic, doors open.
  • The roads are excellent!!!  I could not get over it.  We need to bring their road construction teams over to Canada.  Great, new equipment.  Beautiful paving.  (Remember I was Vietnam and Cambodia earlier this year)
  • And finally, for those like me who cannot get over/enough of the concept of goats in trees...here's a way better picture than I was able to get, courtesy of a friend.  Really shows just how strong Argan trees are to be able to support all that weight without bending much, if at all.  I can't help but smile when I look at this.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Group vs Solo

My trip to Morocco took the form of a small group tour.  Long time readers will hopefully have gathered that I tend to enjoy going at it alone.  I like the challenge of learning about a new place, how things work, how to communicate, how to get around etc. 

Since this continues to be a year of new stuff, I thought, why not try group travel and see what it is all about, after communicating with a number of people who swear by this form of travel.  I chose what I felt was a good company who offered unique itineraries. 

We were a group of 11 (me being the odd one out).  Stayed at very nice establishments (also something that I don't do a whole lot of anymore, preferring apartments and smaller locally owned guesthouses), ate at nice, upmarket restaurants.

For what was supposed to be a more immersive experience, surprisingly, we were discouraged from eating street food (didn't stop me)...And ironically only 3 people did not get sick -- Two who took medication from day 1 as a preventive (?!) and one who is a vegetarian.

In the 2 weeks or so, we covered a serious amount of ground.  There were many long travel days (9+ hours) on comfortable, private transportation.  With vastly changing scenery to view and nice people to converse with, each day went by much quicker than the itinerary would otherwise suggest on paper.

By the end of the trip, I did feel like I learned more about my travel companions than the local culture.  Cost wise, it was higher than what I could have done on my own mainly due to the class of accommodations and having a full time guide (fabulous guy).  I found the amount of sitting tiring.  When I have a chance to return, I know exactly how I would do it next time.

I also learned that a large motivating factor for those in my group were to meet people first, while seeing a new place a close second.  And in my instance, there didn't seem to be a lot of advance preparation nor interest in learning the local language.  Most were quite happy to be moved along, contained within a safe bubble even though I neither saw nor experienced anything that made me feel threatened.

There were a number of instances where I did deviate from the schedule to do my own thing (I Had to -- The regimentation was getting to me), to the surprise of the others and I know some them took it personally.

Realized quickly that there was an unspoken expectation that we'd all stick together.  The first evening I decided to miss dinner, I got a call in my room from a fellow traveler wondering where I was!  She meant well.  Was concerned that I'd starve if I missed supper and wouldn't take no for an answer...

I enjoy discovering things on my own without being told what to expect beforehand.  Funny, considering how much I like control.  Along the same lines, disliking change but having no problem thrusting myself in new places.  Not sure I'll ever be able to reconcile that in myself.

Certainly I'm not saying that style of traveling is a "bad" thing.  It's one way to go about seeing the world.  And I would commend anyone who gets out there and does so in whichever form they prefer.  It's perhaps not the route that works for me the best.

Now I can say that I've tried and it wasn't for me.  It's also continued confirmation that the way I've approached my travel is still preferable even though it means A Lot of preparation.  Never hurts to question old assumptions as I intend to keep growing as a person.

Having everything organized for you wasn't so "easy" for me either.  I found it more difficult to be woken up so early every day.  To eat at certain hours.  Needing to be conscious of a schedule.  To be taken places without having to think.  All opposite from what I do when away.  I prefer free flow time.  It feels more creative and leaves plenty of room for discovery and to be surprised.  Though, I learned more history and saw places I would not have chosen to do on my own.

I did find my travel companions to be pretty great people.  Well traveled, generous, good sense of humor.  Will for sure keep in touch with most of them.  In fact, had a generous invitation to stay with a couple who have a summer home in the Adirondacks.

And after hearing me go on about how I enjoy solo travel, am working with another couple to plan their first self guided vacation to Iceland.  And the lady who called me about missing dinner is anxiously waiting for my report on Habitat once I make it back from the build, as she is interested in getting involved too.

Meeting all of them was a definite highlight.  I know that by not continuing to participate in this type of travel will mean missing out on meeting more potential friends.  However, I would not have met them if I hadn't given it a go in the first place.  So I'm grateful for the trait that propels me to try new things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Life Lately


  • The donation I made to a family in Cambodia back in Feb has finally been totally fulfilled.  I'm still getting used to the cycle of life there and differences in time perception.  Just received the pictures and am pleased with the results -- Turned out better than I imagined.  Hoping there will be an opportunity to meet up with them when I get to return.
  • I'm feeling somewhat lost with what I want to accomplish next year.  Seriously drawing a blank.  Have been trying out various ideas mentally, waiting for some emotional response and have been receiving just lukewarm ones, which isn't good enough.  Maybe I just need to stop trying so hard and trust that it will come.  Continue to think too far into the future is going to wreck my summer.
  • The 2015 dates I've submitted to the potential volunteer placement I mentioned earlier have not been accepted.  Found another opportunity recently with a much smaller organization, less organized who wasn't able to confirm dates until 4 - 6 months out.  That has been difficult for me as I plan a year plus in advance.  Taking a chunk of time off without pay, alone, requires planning, not to mention working around all the other stuff I tend to want to do in a year.
  • D has started interviewing with outside companies, mainly ones that are smaller who offer more direct control, impact and (hopefully) flexibility -- Though he will have to work even harder.  Those types of companies won't be able to offer any defined benefit pension plans but base salary will be higher, not enough to totally off set it but he is OK with that.  I'm OK with it because I've had enough of the negativity.  And financially we will be fine. 
  • In previous years, I have been quite frustrated at the number of changes D seems to make with respect to his work as I interpreted parts of it as an inability to stick with something for the long term along with being a bit of a "work divo".  Maybe I was just lucky that I picked the right field?  Since returning from a number of developing countries, I see it now as how fortunate he is to have the freedom to be able to exercise his options with no real dire consequences.
  • It looks like I will have to temporarily move to a new office location for  3 - 5 months in order to allow for the extensive renovation that the new owners have planned to be executed.  Originally, they said it could be done around us but now it has been determined it would be easier and quicker if we weren't there.  The roller coaster ride continues.  Nothing I cannot manage.  In the big scheme of things, not really even a blip.
  • Got to test out the antibiotics I got from my great new travel Dr on my last trip.  They worked the best out of what everyone else I met (who didn't see one) were taking -- One dose vs 10 days. And taking less specific antibiotics contributes to the larger problem of development of bacterial resistance. 
  • So much for "toning things down" this year travel wise.  Decided that it made sense to move up a short trip slotted for next year to this fall, before Delta's new Skymiles rules change over in Jan '15.  I'm covering a lot of ground this year.
  • On a related note, decided to try Airbnb, to great disappointment.  Signed on and reserved an apartment (have to pay in full) with no issues.  But 2 weeks later, was locked out of my account and forced to go through their "Verify ID" initiative which demands the upload of my drivers license and passport in order to have access again.  Therefore I had no way to even cancel or email my host.  Quite the "Charlie Foxtrot" as they say in aviation lingo.  I did not divulge my information and subsequently called their help desk to sort it out.  They had no idea I was locked out of everything...
  • I hoped to have had short hair for Morocco but there were just enough long layers in it to prevent a solid 8 inches from being cut and donated in time.  Upon closer inspection, I may have to trim it a few times and allow it to all grow to one length before proceeding.  That may mean donation won't be happening until next year.
  • Been gradually changing over personal use products (toothpaste etc.) over to natural sources.  Once you switch, it is scary just how harsh the products I used to use come across now.  Cannot believe I brushed with Colgate and Crest for so many years!  It's "Tom's of Maine" for us now.
  • Have had to replace the fridge at the cottage.  The original one that came with it was old when we bought the place 11 years ago.  It has been dying a slow death so we felt it was smarter to replace it before we lost food.  We went with a very basic model for about $670 taxes in, delivered and old one removed.
  • Starting to look at replacement cars for D, just for research purposes as we had time and happened to be right there.  We are going to stick with Subaru.  No decisions needed for hopefully another 4 years for D.  Test drove about 7 vehicles and decided that the larger engine is definitely the way to go for us.  Learned that if you buy an older Outback model (2008), it will need premium gas whereas a 2010 one, won't.  Also found out that the trade in value on D's car (2004) isn't enough to tempt us to do anything anytime soon.
  • Considering taking a year off of heavy research and traveling.  Think it would be good for me to step away as I've gotten into a heavy pattern in the last 4 years.  Could I actually follow through with it?  Kind of makes me nervous just thinking about it which makes me believe it would be a good thing.  Might ease into it with a reduction year first.  The money part is easy -- To the bank.  The slightly irrational part is, what am I going to do with all that time??? 
  • We finally mastered making homemade broth, from, of all things -- Turkey necks.  Cannot begin to recount how much money and time we've spent on various types of bones etc. and ended up with just watery uninspiring stuff.  Was in line at a local farmer's market and the lady in front of me started telling me how she learned to use every part of the animal in her home country and even though she could make broth with anything she wanted now, she still chooses turkey necks.   And having tried what feels like everything under the sun, we would have to agree. 
  • Need to update our wills.  Not sure if a whole re-write is in order or a codicil will suffice. 
  • Met up with my friend who had asked if I'd be willing to co-administer the trust for their children.  They have a lot of work to do before I can say yes or no as their knowledge of the whole process is too basic to be able to make strong decisions about their estate.  
  • I am trying to get a chimney/fireplace contractor to the house to take a look at our chimney as we've been hearing dripping noises when it rains moderate - heavy.  No damage is occurring (that we know of) other than signs of dampness in the actual inside of the fireplace.  It was an old ornamental coal burning fireplace, not the steel insert ones (like Vermont Castings) we have available nowadays.  The chimney was rebuild when we moved in along with a custom made stainless steel liner and cap.   It's a cosy atmospheric thing but not something that can be used to heat our entire house.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Completed


This picture doesn't look real.
Think it has something to do with the heat.

Sand Storm!
Had my head covered, with sunglasses but that still wasn't enough.

Arrived!

My ride.  He was so gentle.
The camel has superseded the donkey as my favorite animal.

I cannot even begin to describe the quality of the silence.
It was stunningly peaceful.



Goats...

...In Trees...extremely thorny Argan Trees

Shepherd of all those goats

So nice to spend time by the coast

Fishing port

The smell...






Women's cooperative Argan oil.
When I learned about how small the nut was and
how much work went into extracting the oil,
understood why my small bottle in Canada would cost $45.


Missing all the noise and hustle and bustle



Animal market


Could not get over how trucks are loaded.
Scary on the highways.

God, Nation, King

Hurray to all those who guessed Morocco!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Continued Contrasts









Tombs

Look Up

Stork's nest

Getting completely lost





Serene morning view from hotel balcony

Random highway stop







Young Shepherd


Communal water


Cool mail boxes

Serious shopping cart