Look What’s Happening to Halifax

Look What’s Happening to Halifax

There are times I wonder if there is anything these days escaping the pursuit of constant change. Don’t get me wrong in thinking I am against change because I definitely am not. Change is good, but I do feel that we need to pursue it with some caution.

Lately there has been much talk about all the changes taking place in my birth city…Halifax… the capital of Nova Scotia. Human nature dictates that changes will result in two opposing sides: those who look to the past wanting to keep things as they are and those looking to the future willing to support any kind of change. Halifax is presently facing this problem, but from what I can tell they might be following another human reaction to change…. that of moving from one extreme to the other. “Let’s join the race to become a world-class city at all costs” seems to be the mantra. This is good, but let’s slow down a bit and try to do it with taste.

Historically, the city has shown an inclination to get stuck in the past right up until the early 1970’s when the urge to move forward began with the beautification of its waterfront. When I was growing up in Halifax, Water Street, down by the harbour, was a place to avoid. I always hated that fishy smell. The street was a series of dilapidated grey warehouses, the naval dockyard, seedy taverns, with some notorious ‘red light’ houses thrown into the mix. Then in the 70’s it all went through a huge metamorphosis resulting in the Historic Properties. Our waterfront suddenly had changed into not only a major tourist attraction, but also became accessible to all Haligonians. It had managed to preserve some of the old fish houses and wharves to produce a nice mix of the old and the new.

Other changes took place at that time and well into the 80’s. Some were good others not so. Spring Garden Road became a major shopping area to the detriment of Barrington Street which always had been. The old Capitol Theatre, which my grandfather helped engineer, was demolished resulting in much hue and cry to be replaced by the Maritime Centre, a large modern complex at the bottom of Spring Garden Road. Many of us kids, and adults too, were upset at how the ‘powers that be’ could have torn down such a unique theatre as the Capitol which resembled the inside of a grand old castle.

Perhaps this flurry of changes was too much for conservative old Halifax because for the next few decades, primarily under the mayoralty of Peter Kelly, the city showed little forward movement. Under his leadership any wise planning and growth had come to a screeching halt. Barrington Street became more derelict as retailers moved out to swanky suburban malls, affordable housing became a scarcity as evidenced by the increasing numbers of homeless on the sidewalks of Spring Garden Rd., and few construction sites and cranes were to be seen anywhere.

However for the past several years, the construction tap has been turned on full blast under the leadership of Mike Savage, Halifax’s present mayor. This began with the regional council’s decision to go ahead with the construction of a new convention centre, after many years of wrangling on whether the city should or shouldn’t take the risk of pumping millions of dollars into a new one when they already had one… albeit a small one. Located in the heart of downtown, the Nova Centre has caused traffic chaos and scores of disgruntled restaurant and store owners. Whole streets have been closed for a year or more as the structure endures one delay after another. To satisfy my curiosity, I just had to go see for myself what all the fuss has been about and have to admit I was blown away by what I saw. It’s stunning and should put Halifax up there on the list of world-class cities. It’s definitely had a ripple effect as nearby buildings in the downtown core are either being spiffied up or torn down to be replaced by more modern buildings. I couldn’t help wondering if this really was the staid old city I was so eager to leave 40 years ago?

On a whim, I decided to wander further down to the south end of Barrington Street where my father lived for most of his adult life, and where I spent my first three. I wanted to see if #315, a stately old house where he had his apartment, was still standing. It was… but barely! A huge sign was posted next to the main door indicating that this house and the one next to it is slated for demolition. But hold on… this decree was issued in 2015 and the house is still there because there was another smaller sign stating that these premises have been declared ‘heritage’ houses. It’s not just for personal reasons I want to see these houses saved, but also because they represent an old style of architecture from Halifax’s past which is too rapidly disappearing. I hope the city councillors will consider this and support the Heritage Society rather than another greedy developer.

As I continued to search out other changes in the city, harkening back to my early years, I decided to pay a quick visit to where once my old high school was located. Queen Elizabeth High (QEH) was demolished ten years ago and been replaced with an unusual project called the Common Roots Urban Farm which supports community and marketing gardening for the purpose of promoting health and wellness in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). This is the acronym used for the city of Halifax and the outer regions including Dartmouth…another change which has occurred since I left. Nevertheless, here is a wonderful example of how a prime piece of land in the midst of one of the busiest parts of the city can be used to introduce some rural living into that of the urban.

In case you are wondering what happened to QEH, well the good news is that a gleaming new high school uniting protestant and catholic students under the same roof now stands nearby. When I was a high school student, St. Patrick’s and Queen Elizabeth were rivals just a few blocks away from each other. St. Pat’s has also faced the wrecking ball, leaving a piece of prime land vacant until a decision is made on what its fate will be. Let’s hope it will be a wise choice that will bring more country into the city and be of benefit to all people.

These days my visits to Halifax invariably end up in a quick stop at the new Central Library. This building has garnered accolades and awards for its architecture from all parts of the world. It’s an environmentally sustainable building which can boast of a rooftop terrace growing native plants, and toilets that are flushed with rain water.  An abundance of windows strategically placed on all levels allows the sun to pour in to control the indoor temperature and help reduce electrical costs. All the materials used in its construction are natural. You can really notice the difference when you spend time in this building. For this reason alone, I could spend days there instead of just a hasty stop for a cup of delicious coffee and a home-baked pastry at the Pavia Cafe on the roof top overlooking the harbour.  This library is truly accessible to all citizens providing cultural activities and small rooms which are rented out for other varied purposes. The acoustics are fantastic because no matter how many people pass through its doors or what is taking place inside, the place still feels and sounds like a library…quiet and peaceful. Halifax can be proud of this building.

Yes, the attitude and the look of my home city has certainly changed for the better. Where once it was conservative and rather dowdy, it’s now bright with a positive vibe prevailing. It is fast becoming a ‘world-class’ city and a more desirable one to live in as far as I can see. My one hope is that it doesn’t become too obsessed with trying to outdo other cities. Having lived in Toronto for many years, I certainly don’t want it to make the same mistake that city did by erecting tall office towers and condos, as well as a hideous express way that not only obscures the view of the lake but also cuts it off from the rest of the city. This has left the best part of the city mainly for the enjoyment of the well-heeled and the tourists when a waterfront needs to be accessible to everyone. Halifax, if you truly want to be a world-class city then learn from the mistakes of others by being a leader for what can be better.

To make a slideshow of these pictures, left click on the first one and follow the arrows.

Dalat “Le Petit Paris”

Dalat “Le Petit Paris”

My latest post “A Wonderful Welcome to Viet Nam” mentioned three reasons for returning to this country. It should have been four.

Returning to Dalat is the fourth for me and a good reason for anyone visiting this country for the first time. If you like anything that is reminiscent of Paris or anything French, such as fresh baquettes, colonial architecture, an Eiffel Tower look- alike which happens to be the city’s radio tower, wide, tree-lined boulevards, and just plain old charm, then take a side trip up to Dalat.

Dalat's Eiffel Tower

Dalat’s Eiffel Tower

Discovered and built primarily by the French when they occupied the country in 1912, it was an answer to their search for a retreat to escape the heat of Saigon. Dalat’s location at 4,900 feet above sea level offers a temperate climate where the yearly temperatures hover at 15 to 25 degrees C. It’s no surprise that over the years it has earned another appropriate title…”the city of eternal spring”. If you don’t like this title, then how about “city of a thousand pines”? The city has so many tall pines that you can actually smell them. If it weren’t for the usual traffic woes, I would have a hard time believing I was in Viet Nam.

A nice pine-scented view.

A nice pine-scented view.

My first visit to Dalat was five years ago. The city, I am happy to report, hasn’t lost its charm, and there are little if any signs of climate change. The one and only complaint I have is the constant traffic which is chaotic and noisy as it seems to be no matter where you are in Viet Nam. It’s just the way they drive here, and we either adapt or end up as toast.

There is a motor bike under there.

There is a motor bike under there.

Dalat’s temperate climate in the Lang Biang Mountains has created an ideal place to grow things making it literally the ‘bread basket’ of Viet Nam. All kinds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers can be found growing year round. Their speciality is strawberries, black currants, and artichokes in the produce department, and when it comes to flowers, it has to be hydrangea and roses found just about everywhere throughout the city… lining the boulevards and hanging from lamp posts.

One of the best places to see what grows here is the Dalat City Park located near the Xuan Huong Lake. This lake was created after the construction of one of the area’s many dams resulting in one of the city’s main attractions. If you are one for walking, it’s a 7 km trek all the way around. I got marvellous views of the city from all angles because of the lake’s configuration which resembles a banana.

Looking across the lake to one of Dalat's churches.

Looking across the lake to one of Dalat’s churches.

A view from the other side of the lake.

A view from the other side of the lake.

To some, the Park borders on the kitschy with its ceramic animals placed strategically amongst the flower beds, and the gaudily adorned horse-drawn carriages readily available to transport weary visitors. Nevertheless, the gardens themselves with their variety of flowers and shrubs are absolutely beautiful on a perfectly clear, sunny day such as I had.

Dalat Park entrance.

Dalat Park entrance.

mui-ne-and-dalat-075

Inside the park.

Inside the park.

Coffee is another rapidly growing industry here putting Viet Nam in second place on the list of the world’s coffee producers. Their focus has been the Robusta type used primarily in instant coffee like Nescafe, but since its lofty position as number two coffee producer, the farmers are beginning to move over to the Arabica type and gaining recognition there. Coffee cafes are on every street corner, but most don’t serve Italian or American coffee – just Viet Namese which is very strong and sweetened with condensed milk. I find it ironic that most locals still prefer to drink tea.

Wine production is becoming a serious concern of late. It started with the French in the ’50’s and has now morphed into a viable industry. Dalat wines can be found throughout Viet Nam and Japan and other SE Asian countries are now importing it to good reviews.

Advertising Dalat wine at the Park.

Advertising Dalat wine at the Park.

Dalat, like all cities and towns of a certain size, has a market as one of its central attractions. Nestled between two hills in a tiny valley, it’s a beehive of activity any time of the day or night. Smack in the middle of the city, it’s close to a host of small hotels and hostels and great places to eat. My hotel was probably a ten minute walk away as ‘straight as the crow flies’, but in order to get to it, I had to go down one hill and up the other making my trip much longer. The city is very hilly so walking can be difficult as the streets seem to meander up and down and around. Walking around in circles can be frustrating for those of us who are directionally challenged.

Looking down on the market at night.

Looking down on the market at night.

Every kind of fruit imaginable.

Every kind of fruit imaginable.

In spite of the heavy traffic, Dalat’s air is clean which was a real treat for me. Certainly its lofty location contributes to this, but another reason is because other than growing food, the only industries are in education and scientific research. Many schools were started by the French so Dalat quickly became a learning base for all Indochina. Today there is a large training school for teachers and a thriving university. Tourism is growing, too, as travellers and locals seek a respite from the heat in the south and the cold in the north especially at this time of the year. For the adventurous tourist, there is trekking, canyoning, and mountain biking. There are numerous minority villages to visit for handicrafts, silk farms, six good-sized waterfalls, pagodas, and lastly the number one attraction right now…the Crazy House.

Is it the name or is it the fact that the weird architecture of this house reminds tourists of Gaudi’s creation in Barcelona? Whatever it is, it’s become a ‘must see’ for anyone who visits Dalat. I have to admit I didn’t go to see it this time around because I toured it five years. My husband and I joined in the fun of exploring its maze of tunnels, climbing its ladders, and being constantly surprised by what lay ahead…spiderwebs, mushrooms, strange animals, with everything seemingly sprouting from the trees. A Mrs. Dang Viet Nga, daughter of the successor to Ho Chi Minh as Prime Minister of Viet Nam, received her Ph.D in architecture from Moscow. Her objective was to build a house which would bring people back to nature so she began with a giant banyan tree. It’s absolutely amazing what she has accomplished over the years. She is still alive and her creation has garnered the reputation as one of the world’s most bizarre buildings.

Outside of the Crazy House.

Outside of the Crazy House.

Inside the house.

Inside the house.

Yes, Dalat has much to offer tourists who come here, as well as the people of Viet Nam who are beginning to tour their diverse country now that they have the means to do so. The Viet Namese are romantics at heart so Dalat provides them with the perfect setting for their wedding pictures or a honeymoon. Roses, flower gardens, a beautiful lake setting, and hotels that cater to them, is this not enough? Apparently not, as not only locals, but bus loads of tourists will include a trip to the Valley of Love for even more love theme kitsch. As a mature, solo traveller I might have felt a little out of place so didn’t make the effort.

Dalat does have more serious attractions for visitors, however. The French left behind a noticeable legacy with their catholic churches exemplifying their gothic architecture. They are lovely to look at from the outside but, unfortunately, aren’t open for viewing.

Lovely gothic style church.

A more modern church.

A more modern church.

However, there are numerous elaborate pagodas to visit reflecting the Chinese architecture. They are open for viewing. My choice was to check out the Truc Lam Pagoda. This zen monastery sits on top of a mountain to the south of the city and is easily accessible by cable car. After a hair-raising motor bike ride out to the lift, I was then treated to my own cable car for a 15 minute ride through the lush greenery of the pine forest. I instantly felt at peace and totally safe. What a fantastic view of the city and its environs! The grounds of the monastery were almost as peaceful save for some bus loads of Russian tourists who arrived. This wasn’t a problem for me as the grounds are so spread out and beautifully designed, providing many secluded spaces with tables and benches for sitting and meditating or just getting away from people.

Entrance to the pagoda.

Entrance to the pagoda.

A temple with huge bell.

A temple with huge bell.

Hollyhocks.

Hollyhocks.

These are for real. Not sure what they were.

These are for real. Not sure what they were.

A quiet spot for some meditation.

A quiet spot for some meditation.

Zen affiliates from around the world have donated benches. This is from Canada.

Zen affiliates from around the world have donated benches. This is from Canada.

Descending down a tree-lined path, I came upon Tuyen Lam Lake, another man made lake.

I was surprised to find stalls selling souvenirs and one in particular caught my buyer’s eye. Taking a chance and wandering in, I found some money belts handcrafted by a minority village in the area. They were a decent price so I bought some.  Over to the left, at the end of the lake, I spied some signs advertising food and coffee. Hot and weary, I decided to check them out. I didn’t see anything that whet my appetite until a restaurant advertising classic cars and ‘weasel’ coffee grabbed my interest. In case you don’t know, ‘weasel’ or civet coffee is made from this animal’s poop… and it’s expensive….way too expensive for my budget! However, since I hadn’t had my coffee fix for the day, I decided my caffeine treat would be a mocha latte…made with regular coffee. Yum! I thought this was an appropriate way to end my visit before heading back to the city.

My mocha latte.

Would I return for a third visit? Without a doubt should the occasion arise. Dalat may not have the history and culture of other hot spots, such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi Han, Hue, or Hanoi, but it does have a comfortable climate and enough things to see and do to keep visitors there for at least a few days. Like the French over a century ago, we tourists are searching for a place that not only offers a relief from the sweltering heat, but also some of that irresistible French charm they left behind.

Thanksgiving in Nova Scotia

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

I heard this greeting many times over our Thanksgiving weekend … something I had never consciously heard before. Then again, maybe some people have used this greeting in the past, much like we say Merry Christmas in December, but this year for whatever reasons I took notice, and I’m glad I did.

After a half-dozen or more “Happy Thanksgivings”, I was becoming slightly annoyed. However, upon reflection I can honestly say it began to take on more meaning for me, and I suspect many other Canadians. Why? Because as we sat down to enjoy our turkey dinners, many of us must have realised just how much we have to be thankful for.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find a silver lining in what to be thankful for in this crazy world after tuning in to our local, national, and world news. Often our media leaves us with the impression there are few places left on this planet of ours which aren’t in some state of turmoil…except for where we live, of course!

However, I must not be smug about this for ironically our beautiful Cape Breton was unexpectedly hit with the remnants of hurricane Matthew just as many CBer’s were preparing to sit down for their Thanksgiving feasts. Extensive flooding, fallen trees, and no power for two days have run up a tab of millions of dollars. However, the good rising from this devastation was that no lives were lost, thanks to the resilience of the people.

There is nothing like a disaster such as this to pull people together to help those in need. Last weekend was not just Thanksgiving in Cape Breton, but also the beginning of their International Celtic Colours Festival, an annual event drawing a huge influx of visitors from all over the western world. True to form the people in the community of Eskasoni rallied together ensuring that the concert goers in their town would not be disappointed. Not only were they well fed and feted, but somehow had the power restored so they could see the show. But the people of this enterprising community didn’t stop there: they even managed to build a detour road to get the bus loads of visitors back to their hotels so they wouldn’t  have to spend the night in the community hall. What tremendous organization and teamwork this must have taken!

Fortunately here in Victoria Beach, we were relatively unscathed by Matthew’s final hurrah save for leaves and broken branches littering our yards. We were thankful for the rain which was so desperately needed after a summer of drought reported to be the worst on record in some parts of our province.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

A small waterfall created by the rain.

Further reflection upon this past week’s events have left me feeling unusually thankful for my life right now. I am thankful that Hubby and I got to enjoy Thanksgiving with not one but two delicious turkey dinners, none of which I had to cook! Although we were unable to sit down with family members due to the choices of where we all live, we were delighted to share our dinners with friends. Furthermore, I am especially thankful for where I live which has got to be one of the most awesome places in the world. I can still say this despite all the beautiful places I have witnessed in my world travels. Not to bore you with too many more ‘thankfuls’, I will mention only one more….

Found a grand pumpkin right here on our road.

Autumn of 2016 will definitely go down as one huge surprise. Many of us wondered if we would be rewarded with any significant colour this year because of the drought. By mid September our trees were looking old and tired with many of them shedding their withered leaves far too early. But, lo and behold, about two weeks ago those that still had leaves presented us with a glorious range of reds, oranges, and yellows. This transformation seemed to happen overnight. Somehow sensing this might not last forever, I realised I needed to grab my camera to capture the panorama which would in turn spur me on to completing another post for this blog.

However, when Matthew’s unexpected winds came last weekend, I despaired there would be any autumn colours left to capture. Shortly after the storm had passed as I drove into town, I noticed there was still a decent palette of colour miraculously left behind…just enough to provide me with those much-needed pictures.

Where did all this colour come from, I wondered? There were so many leaves stripped from their branches littering our road and yards, and yet those vivid colours were still evident. As I looked more closely, I realised much of the colour was produced by the abundance of foliage that lines our road, and not from the trees. Shrubs and other plants were climbing up the trunks of the bare trees and the telephone poles. My guess is that it’s climate change at work. Mother Nature is playing havoc with our maples and birches which we have always relied on for our autumn colours, but perhaps now we must look at the smaller plants and climbing vines as our colour source.

In spite of the changes occurring in our world right now… which for some can be down right scary… there are still rays of sunshine peeking through those grey clouds. Let’s hope that as some things wither and die away there will be other things to replace them.

A good example which has nothing to do with our autumn but is appropo for how change is being handled by folks in Nova Scotia is our main provincial newspaper, The Chronicle Herald.  This paper has been in the midst of a strike between the owners and the workers for almost a year with neither side about to give in. Changes in staffing and working conditions have meant many jobs lost and hurt feelings, but the newspaper carries on despite them. To my mind, those who are left are actually improving the paper. Although much smaller, its content has improved. The viewpoint of the owners is more positive than it ever was before the strike so we are seeing more hope and less gloom and doom. Every day I can count on reading an article or two reflecting the positive changes occurring in our province. I am thrilled to see this new direction of The Herald and am truly hopeful that Nova Scotians will be able to handle any future changes which are bound to come.

Shelburne and Lockeport – Two Undiscovered Gems

Shelburne and Lockeport – Two Undiscovered Gems

In the minds of most Nova Scotians one of the worst things about summer is the end of summer. Where does the time go and why is it always the shortest season? Summer is by far the best season for us in Nova Scotia although some might disagree and say fall is better.

I have Hubby to thank for bringing to my attention that the end of our summer was fast approaching, and we had not gone anywhere. We needed to do something about this so came up with the idea to head out to the South Shore. We chose Shelburne which we haven’t visited for several years. Since we only had a day and a night, we had to narrow down our choices on what to see and do. I suggested that if we were going all the way over to Shelburne (about a three-hour drive from Victoria Beach) then we had to visit Lockeport, too. Upon reflection, we both agreed that our choices were good ones. Here are some reasons for saying this.

Historical Significance

An overpowering sense of history is evident in Shelburne, once a thriving shipbuilding town. Walking along its historic waterfront on Dock Street, I found myself being transported back in time to 1783 when the town was established by Loyalists who supported the British. Today it still looks very much like it probably did back then, with its natural environment composed of forest, water and old, grey- wooded blockhouses. There are no power poles and wires to mar this natural landscape. They were all removed in 1994 when the “The Scarlet Letter” was filmed there. Since then, it has been a magnet for other films, such as “Moby Dick” and the TV series adapted from the “The Book of Negros”.

Walk along Dock St.

Walk along Dock St.

Historic buildings from the mid 1700's.

Historic buildings from the mid 1700’s.

Shelburne, originally called Port Roseway, was considered to be an ideal location for the capital of Nova Scotia. In those days it had the largest population of any other Nova Scotian town because of the huge influx of White and Black Loyalists who were fleeing from the American Revolution. Its harbour is the third deepest in the world which isn’t going unnoticed by the cruise ships now docking there. Of course, this is helping the tourist business and beginning to have the residents think about making it one more designation point for the province.

Looking toward the harbour where ships dock.

Looking toward the harbour where ships dock.

Lockeport – the Beaches

Our first stop after a rather unexciting drive along Highway 8 and the 103 was Lockeport. Our stomachs reminded us it was near lunch time so we decided to give the Seagull Family Restaurant a try. We weren’t disappointed after enjoying a delicious seafood chowder and blueberry buckle. I expect the restaurant got its name from the numerous seagulls who entertained us as we ate. They could have been a nuisance but weren’t because a sign leading to the outdoor patio clearly stated not to feed them.

Lunch on the patio of the Seagull Restaurant.

Lunch on the patio of the Seagull Restaurant.

To work off our lunch, we decided to walk the 1.5 kilometre Crescent Beach which was just up the street from the restaurant. With its fine white – sand beach, and the brilliant, sunshiny day such as we had, I thought it has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Nova Scotia, if not the world. The people here like to tell you that at one time it was featured on the back of our Canadian fifty dollar bill.

Crescent Beach

Crescent Beach

Lockeport, often referred to as “An Island to the Sea”, and at one time called the Ragged Islands, was and still is primarily noted for its fishing industry. The town is actually located on one of the islands as well as the mainland and can easily be accessed by a road which follows a narrow spit of land connecting the two. Or you can take the walking bridge.  There is not only gorgeous Crescent Beach but four other beaches nearby. How fortunate for those who not only live there, but also for the visitors who take the time to go there. I have to tell you we felt like we had the whole of Crescent Beach to ourselves the day we were there. I wonder if there were people on the other beaches – something I must explore another time.

Birchtown – A Black Loyalist Centre

Unfortunately, it is Birchtown’s sad history which has made it a destination that no visitor to this area should overlook. If you have read Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes”, then you will understand why I say this. Lest we should forget this moving story, a wonderful new Heritage Centre has been built…thanks to Emira and our two levels of government…. where we can learn about the hardships and injustices of all those who managed to land there. Did you know that at the time of their arrival in Shelburne they represented the largest free Black settlement outside of Africa? It is definitely worth the visit.

The new Black Loyalist Centre.

The new Black Loyalist Centre.

The museum and gallery inside the Centre.

The museum and gallery inside the Centre.

Dining at the Charlotte Lane Cafe

I have heard many good things about this restaurant in Shelburne so have always wanted to eat there. My wish came true, thanks to Hubby, who insisted that we should try it. A winner of many awards, our eating experience did not disappoint. The setting, the expertly prepared food, and the service were superb. Kudos are deserved by not only the co-owner and chef, Roland Glauser, but also the lovely old house with an upscale gift shop. The place was packed so make a reservation. Although eating here can be quite expensive… but no more than any other restaurant of this class…the portions are substantial. I had one of their delicious pasta dishes which I could not finish. Without hesitation, our waitress packed up what was left resulting in another meal the following day which somehow tasted even better.IMG_1748

Accommodations

We stayed at MacKenzie’s Motel and Cabins right on the edge of town on Water St. The best thing about this choice was the breakfast which was included in the price. Although continental and serve yourself, there was plenty of delicious food with seemingly no limit to the amount we could eat. All the baked goodies were home-made… even the brown bread that accompanied the baked beans. Although a tad dated, the premises were well maintained and there was a lovely pool to cool down in after a long day of sight-seeing. This place is definitely good choice for an overnight.

A day and one night were not nearly enough time to see and do all these two towns have to offer. I wish we could have stayed longer to thoroughly experience the history, to walk some of the many trails and beaches, or to take a tour of the harbour. We must definitely keep Shelburne and Lockeport in mind for a future visit.

The Cloud Forest in the Rainy Season

A few days ago I woke up to pouring rain and no electricity. So why should this be such a disaster, you may ask? Well, what if I told you that when I went to bed at 9 o’clock the night before it was raining and there was no power. The first thought I had as I awoke that morning was, “Do I have to face another day of this and can I?” I began to plot my escape.

I guess I should back track here a bit and fill you in on some of the details leading up to this bleak picture. I arrived in Mindo, a small village in the Cloud Forest region of Ecuador, last Wednesday. It’s been raining every day since. Only now as I begin to write this post on Sunday is the sun coming out and looking as though it might last for most of the day. It was yesterday that I was planning to escape to Quito for some sun or at least something to do which I couldn’t see happening here if this rain kept up. However, just when I was getting very serious about following through with my escape plan, the sun did decide to come out (for a little while) as I was eating breakfast. The one thing I have learned about Ecuador by now is that nothing, and I mean nothing, ever happens as you would expect it to. No sooner had the staff stated that we wouldn’t see power until at least noon, the lights flickered back on. That did it for me. I decided I was ‘jumping the gun’ in deciding to leave without giving this place a chance so I went back to my room, grabbed my walking shoes and camera and set out to do some hiking on my own with some advice on where to go from Luis, the owner. I am glad I did.

My walk ended up on the top of the mountain overlooking Mindo where canopy rides with zip lines are the attraction. I’m sure if there had been a person there instead of two unfriendly dogs I would have considered giving it a try. As luck would have it, I was probably fortunate that no one was there because shortly after I heard from a young 23-year-old staying at my place that she didn’t enjoy it because the young folks running it were forcing her to take positions she really didn’t want to take. Instead of feeling exhilarated by the experience as those Cathy and I had met in Banos did, she felt pressured. This gal was very savvy for her age so I took her word for it.

Gushing Rio Mindo after all the rain.

Gushing Rio Mindo after all the rain.

My hike up the mountain

My hike up the mountain

Mindo 156

 

Keeping guard.

Keeping guard.

By the time I got down the hill, I had walked about 10 km. It was well worth the effort because not only did it put me in a better frame of mind, but it gave me an opportunity to think more clearly about my life and where it is going. Nature seems to do that for me; it gives me time to reflect on the things in life that matter.

On the way down.

On the way down.

Walking hazards.

Walking hazards.

Now, I am finishing up this post two days later as I get ready to fly back to Buenos Aires. Mindo was certainly not the highlight of my two months in Ecuador but only because of the rain. I found out that I don’t adjust well to a sub-tropical climate especially in the rainy season. I couldn’t get used to my damp clothes. I am certain that if I had stayed longer I would have sprouted out in mildew. However, I did succeed in getting a mild sinus infection from it. By opting to stay I did manage to see some of what this little place has to offer. For instance, I saw many species of hummingbirds of all shapes and sizes. The downside is I did not get to see any toucans or the very rare long – wattled umbrella bird which looks like a crow with a black wattle and an Elvis quiff.

I also took a very informative tour of a chocolate factory where we not only saw the process of making pure unadulterated chocolate from start to finish, but also got to sample all the chocolate made there in all its forms from the nibs, to the chocolate flavours, the syrup, the tea, and a brownie to die for. It was amazing how energized I felt by the time it was all over. Our guide was right. Eat this kind of chocolate every day and you could easily live to a hundred years or more. I was sorely tempted to go back for a few more tours at $6 a shot (senior prices) just to keep my energy up.

Our guide.

Our guide.

!st stage - the raw cocoa beans.

!st stage – the raw cocoa beans.

Tree of cocoa beans.

Tree of cocoa beans.

The roaster

The roaster

Tempering the chocolate.

Tempering the chocolate.

Finished product and our samples.

Finished product and our samples.

Our final reward.

Our final reward.

Finally on my last few hours on Sunday, my last day there, I had to get out and get a few more hours of the remaining sun before the rain started again as it did in all its fury. I decided to take in one of the many butterfly farms in the area – the Maraposas de Mindo. This was another fairly long walk of 3.5 km. but, hey, what better way to get some exercise and to get the adrenaline moving? The walk was great but I wasn’t overly impressed with this farm. First, I thought it was way overpriced for what I saw. I’ve been to many such farms and seen much better. We were given a very short explanation of the various stages of the butterfly and then just directed to a fairly large enclosed garden where various types of butterflies were flying about. There was no real information after that except for the odd sign stating in Spanish the type of butterfly that we might see. That said, it certainly was very colourful thanks to the blue morpho which could be seen madly flitting about all over the garden. With the eye they made a beautiful display but were impossible to capture on camera.

Didn't get the name of this one which has some blue when his wings were open.

Didn’t get the name of this one which has some blue when his wings were open.

The Blue Morpho

The Blue Morpho who finally settled for a little while on my bag.

There are other things to do and see in Mindo such as, taking in an expensive bird tour if on your own but if with others gets less expensive depending on how many are in your group. If really adventurous, you can try zip lining as I already mentioned, or go on guided overnight hikes right into the cloud forest, or try tubing. There are probably lots more adventures I have not mentioned. It’s one of the best bio-diverse areas in South America so has everything for those who appreciate what nature in all its glory has to offer. Just don’t go in the rainy season and especially in an El Nino year as this year is because you really won’t get to enjoy it as it’s meant to be.

The village of Mindo

The village of Mindo

One of many Swiss styled houses.

One of many Swiss styled houses.

Looking Back on 2015

“The greatest adventure you could ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” These are the words of Oprah Winfrey and she could not have said it better. As an old year passes and a new one begins, I can’t help but be captured by her words of wisdom. Like many of us, I find myself reflecting upon what dreams or goals I have realized this past year. I usually do set out some kind of plan or rough road map of where I want to go in any given year. This has become especially important since I have begun travelling again. So when Hubby and I decided to visit Morocco in April, I knew I just had to take a camel trek into the desert.

This dream goes back to 1970 when I saw my first camel in the Negev Desert while backpacking around Israel.  I never got to actually ride one then but always thought it would be a neat thing to do. Unfortunately, the dream was not what I had envisioned and what the guide books had said it would be. My overnight camel trek to the edge of the Saharan Desert turned out to be one of the most gruelling undertakings I have ever experienced. None the less, it was well worth it, and I would do it again if I had the opportunity. You can read more about my adventure in my April post, A Saharan Adventure.

This adventure and the story I had written about it inspired me to reflect upon all the places I have visited and written about in 2015. For the past two years, Word Press has sent me a summary of all my posts to inform me of which ones garnered the most attention. To my surprise my camel story didn’t get as much attention as I thought it would which may have been because I was unable to publish any pictures with it. Who knows? The stories that got the most views and comments were those I wrote while in Cambodia. Phnom Penh Revisited, Escape to Kampot and Battambang – the Heart and Soul of Cambodia were at the top of my reader’s lists.

Even though it has been Thailand I have headed to for the past eight years, it has always been Cambodia, which I have visited three times, that somehow has impacted me the most and definitely helped me to grow in so many ways. I have nothing but complete admiration for the endurance, openness, and basic sweetness of the Cambodian people. Theirs is a story that is worth the telling and is probably why I am so motivated to write about them and the complex history that has shaped them.

After I return home from my winter travels, my focus changes from travel to adjusting to life in the tiny fishing village of Victoria Beach. My posts over the summer and fall have meandered from short trips taken to places nearby or further afield and to learnings in my own life. Two recent posts entitled A Recipe for Ageing and A Moment of Happiness received more response than I thought they ever would since they were about rather weighty topics. However, I should not be surprised as both of them speak to certain aspects of our human condition, a subject that has always interested me and apparently many of my readers.

I have asked myself if I accomplished most of the things I had set out to do last year this time? I certainly did when it came to travelling but not nearly enough in my writing. Somehow life simply gets in the way of doing more of it, and I must confess that my lack of discipline is also to blame. I shall promise myself to not get too worked up about not accomplishing all I intended by simply putting them on the agenda for 2016. There is still time to get really serious about the writing if I could just learn to let some other things go. Ah, but it’s the ‘letting go’ which is the difficult part.

As I said the travel part and where to travel to is the easy bit. I will be fulfilling another travel dream this coming year by going to South America, specifically to Ecuador. For many years I have read about the wonders of this tiny country but I am not talking about a trip to the Galapagos. What intrigues me is why it’s become a sought after haven for ex-pats, for its indigenous culture, and its social systems. It’s also noted for its crafts and markets so I will be searching out these for my small importing business. In March, I will meet up with Hubby in Buenos Aires in Argentina where we will lap up the life of this very cosmopolitan city and perhaps even learn how to tango. I don’t plan to do too much travelling as that becomes very expensive. Instead I am hoping that by staying close to our small rented studio that I will be able to carry out my goal of doing more writing this coming year. Ideas and comments for what I could write on or improve upon are always welcome.

A very Happy New Year to you all!

 Picture Galley for 2015

 

 

A Recipe for Ageing

With the advent of my 70th birthday this summer and a recent invitation to my 50th class reunion at Mount Allison University in the spring of 2016, the prospect of ageing has been much on my mind. I’ve also been told by more than one psychic that I will live well into my 90’s. Yikes! Moreover, it’s difficult to not think about ageing when looking in the mirror every day or seeing people around me coming down with strange illnesses. My friends and I make jokes about it vowing to never give in to it as our parents did. Not for us the canes, walkers, or, heaven forbid, a nursing home! No way! If we are going to live longer than any previous generation then we want to be healthy so we can enjoy it to the max. We want it all! If we should get sick and have to depend on outside help, we joke about getting a gun or pills or better still get someone to put us in a boat and send us out to sea. All joking aside, however, we know this is not the answer so we worry about how we are going to deal with our remaining years or as some are calling it – our third act in the play of life. Our parents called them “the golden years” but found out they weren’t so golden when they realized what it all entailed.

In a recent article in our daily newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, Jan Wong writes that North America needs to take a more natural approach to ageing instead of resorting to hair dyes, Botox, and tummy tucks. In her words, we need “a cultural revolution on how to grow old”. I think she might be on to something.

So here we are, we women of 60 plus in years, vowing to never check into a nursing home (assisted living might be fine if we can afford it) and wanting to remain healthy so we can maintain our independence. As far as I am concerned, to achieve this we need to be creative about it and work at it or as Wong says initiate a cultural revolution. It won’t just happen unless we are one of the lucky ones like my husband who has inherited a good set of genes. He just turned 80 and is still going strong despite adopting the kind of healthy life style I am advocating. Here is my recipe for healthy longevity.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that we need to open up our minds to what some of the alternatives could be as opposed to relying totally on the medical field which is heavy into using drugs to fix every problem our poor old bodies might develop. This can work for some if they have good medical care and a health plan but for many it doesn’t always work. With prolonged use of multiple drugs, the user’s health often deteriorates resulting in the walkers, wheelchairs, and assisted nursing care which we all want to avoid.

Personally, I prefer to meet the challenge of ageing by using a little prevention, and so over the years I have probably spent a small fortune on supplements and herbs as one way to keep me healthy. In addition to that, I try to eat a balanced diet striving to avoid fast foods and anything that comes in a can or a box. This is very difficult when travelling with Hubby who definitely likes his fast food treats and will use any excuse to get them. While at home, I try to make our meals from scratch as much as I can. My little vegetable garden in the summer helps me to do this.

My vegetable garden.

My vegetable garden.

Perennial garden

Perennial garden

Summer hydrangea

Summer hydrangea

I recently heard Dick Van Dyke, who is now in his 89th year, being interviewed on CBC’s “Q” morning show. He has just written yet another book on the subject of ageing, and his answer to dealing with it is to “keep moving”. He suffers from arthritis throughout his body but refuses to give in to the pain so just keeps moving. He was asked whether he includes romance and sex as one of his physical activities to which he didn’t hesitate to respond that he married his younger wife four years ago after losing his last wife –  not to mention many of his friends. Losing those closest to him was one of the most difficult things he’s had to deal with so his answer was to just keep on dancing with his wife to the tune of life.

What do I do to keep active besides gardening and keeping my house presentable? For many years, I have been doing my own brand of yoga at home which includes interesting postures and lots of stretching. In addition, I try to walk up and down the hills in our little village. However, I can do so much more when I am away travelling because then I usually find myself in the city with no car. To keep within my budget and to get my much-needed exercise, I use my feet instead of taxis or public transportation for moving around.

Good, now we have taken care of how to keep our bodies healthy, but what about our minds?  So much of our behaviour stems from what is going on in our heads. We need to open up our minds and try to see things from a different perspective. Then we can change some of our old beliefs that may no longer serve us very well. One way to do this as I have discovered is through travel. I love seeing new countries that are different from Canada, learning their history and observing how they are living today. Although language is often a barrier, I try to learn as much as I can by finding those who do speak my language or just reading books about whatever country I am visiting.

For those people who haven’t the will or the way to travel, they can stimulate their minds by reading and most importantly get out and about. They can volunteer their services to the community in some area which suits their skills and interests. Some are seeking part-time jobs or setting up their own businesses. We just need to make the effort to get out and join up with others in whatever way we can. We mustn’t stay at home and do nothing feeling like our lives are over.

I am fine when I am travelling as I meet so many interesting people and see so many new sights, but when I get back to Victoria Beach for up to seven months I must find more than just my home and garden to keep my body and mind occupied. This has been a challenge. I have tried working for others such as, at a local coffee shop, an antique store, and a short stint for Efficiency Nova Scotia promoting energy-saving light bulbs. I even tried hiring myself out as a healer in Reiki and chakra balancing but none of these really worked for me. Today I have discovered that I am happiest at work that is related to my travels which has resulted in a small import business and my blog writing.

Stimulating our mental state can help develop a positive attitude towards life if we haven’t already got one. Not everyone sees the glass as “half full” because they are not genetically inclined or simply have not been wired this way. Again by changing our thought patterns, we can change our perspective and begin to see things in a more positive light. It’s all got to do with those thoughts. I am not saying it’s easy to change them, but it can be done consciously by choosing what we think and say, and if it’s negative be aware of it and let it go. We can change that negative thought into something positive. If it’s pouring rain outside and we see it as ruining our day, then it will. Why not look at something positive about it such as how it could be the perfect day to curl up with a good book and read, or whatever else we enjoy doing? Get busy instead of sitting and thinking about how miserable it is outside. For those people who suffer from lack of light, then turn on the lights to brighten up your home.  For every negative thought think something positive instead. If we do this every time we are feeling negative, it will become easier over time. Guaranteed! A positive attitude goes a long way towards fending off depression.

The third and final component we need to nurture if we are going to help this process of ageing is the spiritual. We all have a soul and we need to feed it. The traditional way for us to do that was to attend church every Sunday. Today this is losing favour with most people for many reasons but there are other ways we can do this for our soul. One of them is to never stop growing. We need to keep learning not only about our external world but about ourselves. Who are we and what is it we are passionate about? These are questions I know that I will keep asking myself until that day comes when I choose to leave this world behind. So many people as they grow older after their families have moved away or for whatever other traumatic event or loss that has happened in their lives simply give up growing. They often become the recluses of this world.

This is my recipe for dealing with ageing for the present time, and I can see it lasting well into my 70’s. The question then is what about my 80’s? I am sure they will be more challenging, but I hope I will be able to deal with them in the same way with perhaps a few alterations. All I need to do is look at my husband who is now in his 80’s and showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, sometimes I think he’s becoming better as he ages, at least mentally and spiritually. His physical is beginning to show some wear, but he is still drug free except for a small dosage of blood pressure pills and doesn’t need any help in moving around. He has strong familial genes as does his sister who is just a few years behind him and still looks fabulous.

Hubby and his sister

Hubby and his sister

Hubby and me two years ago in Turkey.

Hubby and me two years ago in Turkey.

If I follow this recipe I know that there is no real guarantee that it will prolong my life and keep me disease free, but at least it will make whatever life I have left a whole lot happier and more at peace with myself and the world around me. It’s certainly something worth striving for, don’t you think?  I would love to receive any comments you might have on this somewhat weighty subject.