Friday, 21 February 2014

On Coming Home

On Coming Home – 48 hours in Walkerton

Of course, when one sets out to travel all the talk is of leaving and being on the road. Who wants to give thought to coming home – all is forward thrust. But landing does happen, home in this case, and it has had its ups and downs.

Our friend Joel, is the only one who brought up “returning” one night before we left (he’d dropped in some jammin’). He had travelled decades ago as a much younger man, to some of the same places we visited. He told us that it would take only a day or two to get comfortable enough in a new place (true, we discovered), but that when we came home we’d be revisiting all we’d seen… and it could throw us “off”.  This, so far, has not been the case for me. Possibly because I did go through an experience similar to Joel’s when I returned from my West Indies, Carriacou Marine School year at the tender age of 18. It was my first introduction to poverty, and coming home seemed to magnify our western consumptive, wasteful, society. I recall feeling shattered – maybe it was my beliefs, and sense of surety and security that were ultimately being shattered. So maybe this is a case of “been there, done that”. As adults, we knew what we were getting into, and had pretty accurate ideas about what we would see. We were not shocked by what we saw, nor were we then “stunned” upon our return.  However, don’t get me wrong, the experience of coming home has been a little bumpy.

“Going home”. The process really started when we flew out of the Bangkok airport for San Francisco on Jan 21st. Setting foot on American soil felt so familiar, so comforting. We looked at each other and said “welcome home” – even though we still had miles, and days to go. We were close enough culturally to feel our country’s embrace.

We took our time coming home. We took 2 blessed, peaceful days with Russ and Heather – luxuriating in a soft bed and hot water (bath and hot tub). We backed our car out of their garage, poked around in all our camping gear, and joyfully put on jeans and shirts we had not seen for months (we REALLY missed our jeans overseas). There was thrill in a fresh wardrobe and a dab of Chris’s perfume oil, to say nothing of strong, hot, dark-roast coffee. Russ took us to his property (27 acres) near Monterey where he and Heather are planning to build. Russ has a great sense of style and exquisite taste – with the help of architect and designers he will create a space I predict will become one with the hilly landscape, be beautifully welcoming, and simply stunning (and I mean simply). We can’t wait to return!
Heather with Giovanni and Mia


We visited my first cousin, Dianne, and her partner Ari in LA. It has been a number of years since we’ve seen her and their 2 adopted cuties, Gillian and Johnathon, 4 and 5 respectively. Anyone with kids can intuit what this means – we were swept up into family life. Ice cream cones, pasta for dinner, ballet lessons, bedtime negotiations, “go to the bathroom before we leave”, the Krispy Kreme donut shop, chasing kids down the street (Bar was particularly adept at this), and helping to get shoes on. It was busy, but because it was during the work week we had a full day to ourselves – to somewhat nostalgically drink Vietnamese coffees at the Grand Casino cafĂ©, and bike along Venice Beach. As kids, my sister and I spent a lot of fun time with Dianne and her sister Mary Jean, and it was special to be in her home, to connect with her family, and get a sense of her community (near Culver City). We drove away in sunshine, so happy we had made the effort to stop by. So glad for a very cozy bed (it might be some time before we stop noticing how comfy people’s beds are) and the gift of family.
Venice beach from the pier

For 40$ you too can get a medical marijuana assessment
from these guys, "The Green Doctors". Venice Beach

My beautiful cousin - Dianne. Dinner - Culver City

Gillian - the cutest climber!
Johnathon staring down the statue in front of the famous
Culver Hotel.
 Highway 10 out of LA took us to the desert; near Joshua Tree National Park, and I have to thank Facebook for this. About 4 years ago, Trish Drynan let me know that there was a FB page for Carriacou Marine School where I spent my Grade 13 year. I joined, and for some time journeyed down memory lane looking at the hundreds of photos old students had posted (nice to revisit yourself as a cute, tanned, wrinkle-free teenager). I became “friends” with a number of my mid-70s classmates, including a then-boy I spent many late nights with – up all hours chatting the passionate energy of youth. We tried dating once we returned to Toronto, and I have clear memories of dinners at his cute apartment on College close to Maple Leaf Gardens, and a Muddy Waters concert, crashed by Johnny Winters.  Our dating did not last long, and we have not been in touch since, but now, thanks to modern technology I was getting a wee window into Geoff’s new life living in the desert. It was clear we had some things in common – his simple, off-grid home reminding us of our cabin in Big Bay. He is an artist, and I found his work attractive; I could imagine buying his gorgeous handmade feather earrings for Ruby (which I did; she LOVED them in addition to looking fantastic in them). He invited us to visit – which is always interesting, and a little unnerving – even though we had not seen each other for close to 40 years, and we heeded the “call”. Our reunion was truly sweet.

Geoff, and the desert land, were a gift. We were ministered to, body and soul. He offered us a narrow sleeping space in a trailer on his small acreage, tucked in amongst golden boulders, an expanse of sky, cacti and Joshua trees. I cooked us dinners on his small gas stove in the trailer, so reminiscent of our much-missed Bunkie, and we slept like babes. I think he worried that what he had to share might be too rustic; we felt so at home.  He left us for an entire day, went to his work, and directed us to let the land “work” on us. He could tell we were travel weary, and could imagine that we might be carrying some negative energies or emotions given the nature and histories of the places we’d visited. He offered us his home, his native teachings and ceremony, and the support to “let go” in the very real sense of that phrase. Bar and I let ourselves sink into the land, spending time apart, and loosening what had to tighten to travel. We were given the space, physical and temporal, to tend to ourselves as we needed, to relax, rest, and ponder. We could feel that we were becoming “lighter”; essential, exquisite preparation for re-union with family, especially Char & Ruby. We ultimately arrived in TO less “needy”; in a lovely, light, at-peace kinda’ space so that we were much more able to respond to any needs the kids might have and simply have some fun. Ask them – we had a blast. We loved each other up, hanging, talking and laughing. We have Geoff, and the desert to thank.  Plus, we sealed the pact of lifelong friendship, all 3 of us, possibly the greatest blessing of all. AHO. Namaste.

Desert sunrise

With my good old/new friend Geoff in front of his sweat lodge

With Char - truly happy reunion time

Brunch with the peeps (from L to R) at Mitzie's: Ruby, Emma Martin-Carver, Emily
Stewart-Wilson (Ruby's housemate), me and Charlie
Fresh juice at "The Beet" - Ruby's workplace -
never tasted so good.

Happy times at "The Beet". Note the earrings -
absolutely stunning. Made by our friend Geoff.

And then we came home, physically home, to the white landscape of Canadian winter. My composure and “chill” vanishing within minutes. As Joel predicted, the going got tough (although I think for different reasons), and I somewhat embarrassingly succumbed to frustration, moodiness, and fatigue. I thank my friend Ruth for offering counsel a few days ago: be gentle with self, go slow and take time. This has become my current mantra, ask Bar, my still full backpack on the living room rug has garnered comment and unpacking it is 1 of the few things on today’s to-do list. We have both been reactive and even argumentative, although at and about different things. No one warned us that there would be about 100 pieces of mail needing attention, or that re-stocking the fridge would be so costly.  Now that we are here, I get it – it will take many days to undue all that was done to make space in our home for our house-sitter Brooke (who, by the way, did an excellent job), and to unpack. Last night I cooked in my kitchen which proved to be extremely grounding; Barry did dishes and washed the floor and the place started to feel “familiar”. This is re-integration, and in spite of all the longing for this moment, I’ve been a little blind-sided. I hope others get this!

There is still so much “echo” from our adventure. It is ringing in our ears. I think our feet are, metaphorically, still moving even though our bodies have stopped. Our lessons are still sinking in. Leslie talked of the freedom of travel, something that now makes perfect sense. Now we get what that means as the car gets booked in for tire change, the small debt gets assessed, and the driveway gets shoveled. We’ll get there – the place of stillness where we are fully present in this land and with these responsibilities, maybe even a little changed by all we have experienced. I am very aware, and appreciative, of the freedom from employment I currently still have. Ideas for small projects are popping up all the time. We have some time to make sense of “life anew”, and make some plans for the future and, budget willing, a bit more travel.  Wish for us patience, grace, and maybe some humour. It has been an AMAZING, wild, beautiful, exciting, shared, roller coaster ride. We have given and we have received. The Partner Ship (our car, in case you missed that) and our partnership still going strong – both maybe needing a wee rest and a bit of TLC after all the miles. Blessings abound and we are deeply grateful. XOXO

Home - a full-on Canadian winter was waiting.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Angkor Wat

This UNESCO World Heritage site features Khmer architecture and most of what we say was built 12-13th century. The scope of Angkor Wat, the biggest temple complex, is mind boggling - our photos will not do it justice. We spent 3 days touring temples, one day on peddle bikes, and 2 days with the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk (sorry, can't remember the name) to take us to some more remote sites. Driving through the countryside was as delightful as visiting the temples, although much chillier! The challenge, however, much like in India, is dodging the persistent, relentless, requests to buy souvenirs or eat in someone's shop. This aspect of travel in Cambodia wore us down, in time. Maybe with the end in site, our defenses start to come down. 

Day 1 -Angkor Wat early in the morning (we left our hotel, on bikes, at 5:30am):

Heading to Angkor Thom, a complex of numerous temples and terraces, through the South gate (best restored gate. All of these temples have 4 gates - one in each of the cardinal directions. They also have very similar layouts and many have moats).

Bayon Temple - famous for its "big head" statues. It was hot, but stunningly beautiful. A great place to just sit and watch.

Phimeanakas Temple

Baphuon Temple
Notice how small Barry is - just to the left of the corner.

Hot, tired, and managing a cold.

Terrace of Elephants


Day 2 -Pre Rup: I can no longer set this up on the left! Drive me crazy. And what's with the bold?

Banteay Srey - this is the oldest of all the temples. It was built in the 9th century. It is also the smallest, but has some of the most amazing carvings. Stone is sandstone and laterite, for you geology buffs.

On this 2nd day we also hiked 1.5km up to the river of 1000 lingas. A linga is a rather phallic structure, usually associated with Shiva (we saw LOTS of them in India). I have not posted photos, as ours are not all that great. We also toured an NGO - the Angkor Biodiversity Conservation Centre - a rescue facility for Cambodian animals that have been kept as pets, injured, or confiscated from poachers.

Day 3: Ta Prohm

Angkor Wat revisited. The place is so big and impressive, it is recommended you visit it twice. We are so glad we went back... there are over 600m of stone carved bas reliefs. We walked around the first wall (just after the moat) to enter through the south gate. Nice to get this perspective, plus you see no one.