Can We Create a New World After COVID-19?

After recently slogging through a day where there was little news other than the latest statistics indicating that our number of coronavirus cases was still increasing, that we would have to keep washing our hands and carry on with our social distancing at least until the end of June, I couldn’t help feeling that life basically sucked. Fortunately, the next day  I was snapped out of my sombre state with these words written by the Indian author and political activist, Arundhati Roy. I get many emails these days relating to COVID-19. Most of them get deleted because after awhile they become repetitive.  However, this one from Greenpeace  with Roy’s insight on what we could expect in the future, caught my attention. It hit upon something that was bothering me: Have we already forgotten about the climate crisis that faced us  before COVID-19 reared its ugly head? We may be hearing that air pollution has decreased in some parts of the world and certain birds and animals we haven’t seen around for awhile are appearing in the almost deserted streets of New York and Paris, but does this mean our climate is now okay and we won’t have to worry about that any more? I doubt it! However, Roy’s words in the following quotation show us that there is an opportunity being offered to our world by the pandemic which I would like to share with you:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It’s a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcusses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And be ready to fight for it.”

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Transforming My Life

What is the one thing we all hate to face throughout our life? In fact some of us hate it so much that we sacrifice our bodies, our minds, and our souls to keep it at bay? If you haven’t guessed by now then you are one of the many who are resisting it, and why you resist it is because you fear it. It’s just in our human nature to fear anything new. Continue reading

Heading North to Cairns

Why do you suppose that Cairns, pronounced Caans by the Aussies , attracts more tourists than ever before? With a population today of about 160,000 she has grown from a sleepy, laid back town to a city of night markets, a modern mall, souvenir shops, restaurants, and an active bar scene in just a few decades. Without question she has become Australia’s major resort town. In fact, she is often likened to Florida! Located in the far North of Queensland, she has two great assets: a tropical climate and home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world… the Great Barrier Reef. With 3,000 reefs and 900 islands stretching for 2,600 kilometers along the northern coast, this coral reef was designated as a World Heritage site in 1981. Ever since, Cairns has been experiencing phenomenal growth.

The promenade along the harbour in Cairns.

The harbour.

Northern Queensland is the only part of Australia that is green all year long. It’s tropical climate gives it two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season is anywhere from December to May when the area will most likely experience torrential downpours, cyclones, and high humidity. The dry season will last anywhere from June to November where there will still be some rain with more sun and less humidity.

When you fly to Cairns from Alice Springs as I did, you can’t help but marvel at the green carpet of forest and the blue water which suddenly replaces the barren expanse of Central Australia. Cairns sits in the midst of a tropical rain forest, and if you haven’t guessed by now she is the main jumping off place for those who want to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

One of many ships heading for the Great Barrier Reef.

The weather and the time of year precipitated a dramatic change of plan for my visit to Cairns. My lack of research beforehand and poor timing which was out of my control were the reasons. Torrential rains and cyclones are the main items on the weather menu for April in Cairns and the north. My first night there it poured rain for over twelve hours causing the wash out of some significant bridges and roads. I  heard before I ever got there that the area had been suffering from more than the usual amount of flooding while the rest of the country seemed to be in a severe drought, especially in the south. However, since Aussies take weather in their stride, unlike us Canadians where it’s often the main topic of conversation, they all assured me that it was not a problem. Nope the Aussies aren’t going to let bad weather interfere with their plans especially cruises and day trips to the Reef. This really isn’t so surprising since this is the main focus and livelihood for many people in Cairns  and the season for cyclones is a long one from December to May.

For two days after my arrival while waiting for the weather to clear, I had an ongoing debate with myself on whether I should even attempt to sign up for a trip to see this world’s wonder. Hadn’t I experienced the same predicament in Ecuador three years ago when I ran into bad weather in March forcing me to abandon the idea of even visiting what is known as the poor man’s Galapagos let alone the Galapagos itself. But I digress. By the second day, although it did start to clear,  the forecast kept changing depending on whom I talked to. I had only five days to play around with. My budget was taking a beating from the high cost of everything, especially tours to World Heritage sites. The last thing I wanted to do was waste my money.  On the one hand, I knew this would be my one and only opportunity to see the Outer Reef, but….and here lay my dilemma. First, there was the risk of even seeing anything since the waters were all churned up from the heavy rains. Second, there was the strong possibility of seasickness… my sea legs are wobbly at best. In fact, all testimonials indicated that before the tours even got underway, seasick pills were handed out for free to keep the tourists from messing up their vessels. Third, I have never been a raving success at snorkelling. Just getting dressed in the necessary gear is a challenge for me. Once I get it all on and plunge into the water, my mask insists on filling up with water causing panic because surely I am going to drown. Thus, the joy of seeing what lives beneath the sea is soon forgotten as I do battle with my snorkel. In the end, these three things, along with the cost, could not convince me that I should sign up for one of those expensive trips.

I had hoped I could master any previous problems I had with snorkelling so I put Cairns on my travel itinerary. After all, how could I go all the way to Australia and not go out to see the Great Barrier Reef? Well as I quickly found out there were other alternatives for me to consider which would be less expensive and not so intimidating. So instead, I opted to take a tour to Fitzroy Island situated  on the fringe of the Outer Reef meaning it was a shorter boat ride and less chance of getting seasick. Great. Moreover, once there I was free to roam around and choose to do whatever I wanted to do. I could even snorkel if I wanted to. There were trails leading to a secret garden in the rain forest and birds to see. There were at least two beaches. I could sign up to see the coral, sea turtles, and tropical fish on the glass bottomed boat, and to top it all off, I would get a delicious picnic lunch. To make this day complete the weather turned out to be almost perfect and the sea was calm. Although fleeting, the thought did occur that perhaps I should have taken the Outer Reef tour after all.

Fitzroy Island

Cathedral tree in the Secret Garden.

Nudy Beach.

Where is the sand? This is all coral.

Somewhere down there is a sea turtle.

Ran into this white cockatoo on one of the trails.

The unsettled weather prevented me from taking in another popular tourist attraction not far from Cairns which I had hoped to do: a trip to the village of Kuranda up a steep ascent into the rain forest on the historic Kuranda Railway. However, part of the rail line had been washed out by the rains. I considered taking  a bus up there, but with the Easter weekend also posing problems with bus schedules that was impossible. No, it simply wasn’t meant to be. Therefore, I missed taking the scenic train ride as well as the option to also take the Cable Car on the way back or to, depending on your first choice. A friend told me how she had saved herself some money by doing the trip on her own by taking either the train or cable car going up and the bus coming down. We agreed that where possible it’s often best to forget the tour which not only costs so much more, but also crams in too much to see in too little time.  Kuranda also offers parks, such as the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park where you can learn about the Djabugay people with dance performances, didgeridoo lessons, talks on natural medicines, and art demonstrations. Then there is a zoo, the Koala Gardens, where only Australian animals are featured, and Birdland Park where the almost extinct cassowary can be found. With so many possibilities for sites to visit and things to do, I would have needed more than a day to do it justice.

The didgeradoo.

Depending how you look at it, this trip could be considered a lost cause because I wasn’t able to see the two most important sites that Cairns is noted for. However, the way I look at it all is that at least I got to see and experience some of it which is always better than none. I also gained some valuable knowledge, not just about Northern Australia, but myself. Southern Aussies will tell you that they sure are different up there in the north. To quote a friend of the hilarious Bill Bryson* who has written two insightful books on Australia:

“They are crazy up there. Madder than cut snakes. You’ll like it up there.”

And, I did like it up there in spite of my setbacks. I don’t have any regrets for going and what I missed. The people were friendly and I didn’t meet any snakes. But as I said, I learned something about myself, too… I should forget the idea of becoming a snorkeler…time to accept my limits. I love being near the ocean but don’t put me in it. I’ll stay on the land and look at the sea from afar.

*Travel writer, Bill Bryson, says Australia is his favourite country. He has written two books on it and the people who live there: In a Sunburned Country and Down Under. I love his sense of humour and recommend these and any others he has written.

A traditional Queensland style home.

Stately building in downtown Cairns.

 

It’s Time For Us to Wake Up

I don’t know about you, but I am getting to the point where I simply don’t want to hear the news these days. All the negativity, the bickering, hate and narrow-mindedness going on all over the world is getting me down. Many of us knowingly or unknowingly are being affected by it for such negativity can be toxic. The question is, “What can we do about it?”

For starters, I have quit listening to any news on television and seldom go onto Facebook these days. About the only thing I do now is quickly scan our daily newspaper in order to give a pass to the recent crime stories, what our political leaders are saying, or Trump’s latest tweet, in my quest to find an uplifting story. Thankfully our own Chronicle Herald…one of the few independent papers left in Canada… has some excellent writers doing a great job of providing us with a flicker of hope that we will find solutions for some of the many problems facing us, not just here in Nova Scotia,but everywhere.

Once upon a time I read and listened to just about everything the media offered. Today we no longer know if the news is real or not, and with so much falling into the realm of ‘gloom and doom’ it all becomes overwhelming. It makes me want to get to Thailand fast to escape it all. However, I have a month before I can do this so I must endure the long, dark days of November and December by finding other diversions. Thus, I find myself looking in the cupboard or fridge for a snack, watching far too many British mysteries on PBS television, reading a good book, exercising my brain by tackling a cross word puzzle, or getting together with good friends. All of this is good and necessary, but I can’t help asking,”Is it enough?” I don’t know about you, but with the sorry state of our world and the lingering knowledge that if we don’t do something quick, our world as we now know it will eventually disappear, is a fact that I can’t ignore.

We know that escaping or ignoring our problems isn’t the answer because they will always come back to haunt us. However, the bottom line is that we want to feel useful…to feel like we are contributing something which will help our world. We feel better about ourselves when we give rather than take. Yet many of us still choose to either ignore the problems or perhaps simply give up in despair because we just don’t know where to start or what we can do. What’s the use in even trying? Let our politicians and other leaders sort it out. I already have enough to do just trying to live my life. These are unfortunate assumptions to make because there always solutions to every problem. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to find the answers.

My guess is it’s part of our human nature to react in this way because we simply are not inclined or possibly not wired to change our old way of doing things. We get too used to being in the comfort zones we have created for ourselves. Changes that take us away from that are scary so are best ignored. However, our world has had enough of this kind of thinking and is calling out for our help. It’s trying to tell us to change our attitude to how we have always treated it. We can’t just keep taking from it; we have to start giving back. So how we can do this is always the all important question.

Recently I’ve been bombarded with self – help techniques for keeping healthy, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Our modern-day sages are bringing back ideas that aren’t new and have been uttered down through the ages by other wise men and women. I find it interesting that the wisdom of old is not that different from that of today. There really is not much new under the sun. Their message is that if we truly want to save our world then we are going to have to change our thinking and, thus, our way of doing things. There are a myriad of enlightened individuals out there who are more than happy to have you sign up for their courses to teach you how. At one time we would buy their books if we wanted to change ourselves for the better. Now we can get more involved by meeting them personally on the Internet.

Just recently a familiar name whose books I read years ago appeared on a video interview announcing his upcoming course on this theme.  The man I am referring to is Neale Walsch, author of the best-selling trilogy of books entitled  Conversations with God”. His books, based on messages he claims came to him from God when he was at a low point in his life, were read by millions and became the impetus for us to consider the whole nature of who or what God is to us. Instead of something from above or external, the concept has become a personal one which we can find within us. This was the beginning of our awakening as to where we fit in to the whole scheme of things. Now he has come out with a fourth book where he says the time has come for each and every one of us to take the next step… to use our true calling in a way that will help our world. It’s now time to go beyond the looking inward and look outward. He doesn’t ask us to throw out all the good wisdom our various religions have given us, but to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. “I could be right but I could be wrong,” is his mantra. He goes on to say that we have been taking ourselves far too seriously by feeling we have to be right all the time.

Walsch’s new message really hit home for me, but instead of signing up for his expensive online course, I will look into buying his new book “Awaken the Species: A New Conversation With God”.

Returning to my realization that there are certain wise ideas that have been with us forever which come back to haunt or help us whenever they are needed, I remember one that has stuck with me throughout my life’s journey. It is something the mythical Greek hero, Ulysses, said: “I am a part of all that I have met.” This speaks volumes to me because in my travels I have learned so much about myself and this world I live in from all the different countries I have visited. I think if everyone could have the opportunity to travel, we would not be facing many of the problems we are facing today. Travel has taught me more than my family, my country or my teachers ever could have, and, yes, I should add any of the courses I’ve taken or books I’ve read. They have all been valuable but it’s the experience of travel that has been my greatest teacher. Think about it. With travel you have to use all your five senses not just your eyes to read about it. More importantly, you have to rely on that sixth sense… intuition. All the knowledge in the world won’t be of much help when faced with difficult circumstances or having to make tough decisions. This one is so important because it depends on faith and let me tell you much of what can happen when travelling depends on how strong your faith is. I would never have chosen to travel solo if I had not had the power of my 6th sense to keep me going. I just had to trust that no matter where I was or what predicament I had to work my way out of that faith in myself and my spiritual guides and God were there to help me.

Another wise saying that comes to mind and is so appropriate as we struggle to deal with the changes that are occurring in our world right now is this by Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Ghandi believed so strongly in the importance of his country to be free of British colonial rule that he sacrificed his family and all his worldly comforts to fight for this in a peaceful manner. He was admired by some but scorned by many at that time, but still he persevered. I am not suggesting that we all follow in the footsteps of Gandhi, but we can take some of his words and actions as a starting point by getting involved in what is going on in our own communities or neighbourhoods.

One final word….we can’t sit back and expect our political leaders to have all the answers to our problems. The system isn’t equipped to allow them to carry out all those wonderful promises they made to us before they were elected to office. We need to start with ourselves and begin the work of making changes within starting with our own thoughts and actions. We need to set an example to our families, friends, and neighbours. We need to banish the negative thinking….judging, blaming, hating… and operate at a higher level of accepting, sharing, and loving. If more of us can do that starting right now, then just maybe we will achieve a world with more peace and harmony.

Mui Ne: A Little Resort Town in Viet Nam

People who visit Mui Ne either love it or hate it.

Before I get into why this is so, let me give you a short description of its location and geography. It’s approximately a four-hour drive northeast of Ho Chi Minh City on the coast of the South China Sea. It’s easy accessibility to the city and its 10 km long beach make it a great seaside escape not only for HCMC residents but also tourists. Over the past 10 years it has morphed from a sleepy fishing village into an over-developed resort town.

The main and only street follows the coastline for 10 km. When approaching it coming from HCMC, you enter from the west which puts you into the actual town of Mui Ne… the main tourist strip with all the fancy resorts. This end of the street is called Nguyen Dinh Chieu which then turns into Huynh Thuc Khang somewhere in the middle. Keep travelling along and you will find yourself in the City of Phan Thiet…also the capital of the province…which is graced with a large harbour dotted with a multitude of colourful fishing boats. Here is the centre for SE Asia’s production of nuac mam or fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

So this is Mui Ne. It’s a one street strip of restaurants, fancy resorts, budget hotels, and restaurants lining both sides of the street and hemmed in by the ocean on one side and sand dunes on the other.

Most people who absolutely love it are the windsurfers. They come from all parts of the world to do their stuff. With more than 200 days out of the year with strong winds coming off the ocean, it’s a surfer’s paradise.

thailand-burma-viet-nam-xavier-2012-452

The red  and white sand dunes are another rave about this place. Coming very close to the strip of beach resorts along the sea, they appear to be in the backyards of many hotels. I just had to go to the end of the garden at my place to see a part of them. The better views are outside the town where you can be right in the midst of them and experience the joy of driving a dune buggy. I preferred to simply walk and observe the buggies as they got mired in the sand. I was attempting to be more ecologically responsible.

On the white dune.

On the white dune.

The Russians love Mui Ne  because they get great package deals to and from their country, and like us Canadians they are eager to escape their harsh winters for some fun in the sun. In fact, they have almost taken over the town as evidenced by the restaurants which serve Russian food. Even the menus are in Russian. Many restaurants, shops and hotels are now Russian owned by expats who have moved there.

Anyone who likes sun and a tropical climate also loves it, especially at this time of the year which is their dry season. For those staying in a four or five-star resort with their own private beach, life at the beach is good. However, for budget travellers a beach isn’t always easily available. If your hotel/hostel has wrangled a deal with one of the bigger hotels or resorts who are willing to let others use what they think is theirs, then you’re in luck. Fortunately, the place where I stayed did have access so I had the beach at my disposal. Although the beach itself is lovely, it is beginning to show some wear and tear. In some spots the sand is disappearing due to erosion. In other places, the beach is being invaded with piles of garbage and cattle who are allowed to roam at will. For me this was not inviting so I merely used the beach to capture a sunset or two. I didn’t bother to sun bathe or go swimming. I may have if I had been staying in one of those swanky resorts who lay claim to a piece of the beach or have their own outdoor pools.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Is it now evident to you what people might hate about Mui Ne? The Russian invasion, the dirty beach, the over-development, and one more thing…the bland food….are the list of complaints I have heard. I have to agree on the dirty beach and the over-development, but the Russians and the food were more than acceptable to me.

I had a young Russian couple next door to my room at Diem, Lien where I stayed. Although their English was limited, I found both Vera and Vasili easy to talk to and curious about Canada. We found we had much in common. Yes, most Russians prefer to keep to themselves, which has earned them a bad reputation, but I have found they are actually shy with other tourists because of their lack of English. I have not and did not encounter any difficult or loud Russians.

As for the food, I found a lovely little restaurant newly opened three months ago, on my first night in Mui Ne. I enjoyed the food and ambience so much that I returned every day from there on. Owned and managed by a young Viet Nam couple with a four-month old baby, who was at first fussy and probably colicky, I indulged in fresh scallops nicely prepared in a garlic sauce, stewed chicken in a clay pot, tasty grilled chicken with morning-glory greens, fresh spring rolls, and for a change, spaghetti carbonara. All the food was prepared by the husband who was a fabulous cook in my opinion. Everything was fresh, tastefully spiced, and reasonably priced. A glass of good Dalat wine was only $1.50. My dinners were consistently at about $5,00 including the wine. The name of this little gem, in amongst all the other similar restaurants along the strip on the Huynh Thuc Khang end on the dune side, was Mui Ne House. They have no website and aren’t on Face Book since they are so new, but if you are ever in Mui Ne then do try to find them. By the way, the baby settled down after that first night and slept peacefully in her hammock from there on.

One more attraction which gets mixed reviews is the Fairy Stream. I wasn’t too excited about seeing it. However, it was part of the tour package I took to see the dunes at sunset so I had no choice. It’s actually a pretty half hour walk…in bare feet…from the sea up to its source. Strange rock formations in various shades of red and white shaped by the water as it meanders through the sand dunes create an unusual and different site every day.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

Strange looking sand formations.

Strange looking sand formations.

Our group.

Our group.

I read in Travelfish that they wouldn’t recommend it because of reports that it was dirty and hazardous. Other than a couple of cows we met along the way, I noticed no garbage at all. Apparently the town authorities have been working on a clean up. One thing which did take me by surprise was the demand from a sweet young woman who was showing us sites and taking our pictures along the way. Little did we know she wasn’t a part of our tour, but a self-employed ‘tout’ who demanded we each pay her 100,000 dong at the end. In Canadian dollars this would be $6,00. Being more budget conscious and perhaps a little more experienced at what was happening here, I immediately spoke up and stated this was way too much money for a half hour of her time. After some haggling, we settled on 20,000 each. To me this was worth her time and the information she was able to share with us. We could have paid her nothing since she wasn’t a part of our tour. Our jeep driver had no English and didn’t accompany us. I doubt if we could have learned anything on our own.

There was one other incident on this tour which took us by surprise. After we had toured the great white dune on our own time, we were told to meet our driver at the jeep by five o’clock so we would have time to catch the sunset at the red dune before heading back to town. After we had all finally assembled to head back, we had to wait. At first we weren’t sure why, but our driver after much discussion with the other jeep drivers informed us simply that the police were asking for money to the tune of 5 million dong or $295 Cdn. I couldn’t believe it! Here, right in front of our eyes, was the corruption you hear about in this and all SE Asian countries. Fortunately, our driver was honest and had the decency to tell us. After a 20 minute wait, we started out only to stop two if not three more times to wait out the police. There was much telephoning and further yelling from the other jeep drivers at each stop until finally our driver informed us with elaborate hand signals that we would be taking another route back to town. There went our opportunity to see the sunset which was to my mind no big deal. It wasn’t until the next day when I met up with a gal who had toured the dunes the day before with a group that actually paid a lower fine…a fine for doing nothing wrong as far as we could tell…that I realized what we had missed. The red dune at sunset is absolutely gorgeous!

I hope I haven’t painted too gloomy a picture of Mui Ne. What impression you come away with is purely a personal one. My eternal optimism sees it for what it is. It has its problems and isn’t perfect. However, I am happy with my time there even though I am not a surfer. Looking back I enjoyed my meals at the Mui Ne House Restaurant immensely, not only for their good food but for the warm greetings I received from the owners. The family who own and manage Diem Lein Hotel were also helpful and hard-working, especially the two sisters. I particularly enjoyed the garden, a little haven of flowers, trees and butterflies, which provided me with a peaceful place to have breakfast each morning. Furthermore, I was able to catch up on my sleep because the building was built like a motel and situated well away from the noisy street traffic. I doubt I’ll ever return to Mui Ne unless I were to use it as a short stopover on my way to HCMC or Dalat… or take up surfing!