Thoughts from Ruth – Bali


Full Moon Ceremony

Indonesia, a country with 13,466 islands, 922 of which are inhabited, and a population the size of the United States is an incredibly diverse country. One of the most beloved islands Bali, was where we chose to spend our two months. The inhabitants of this small island were indeed a warm, generous, humble, reverent, authentic group of people. ‘How are you? Where are you from? How long will you be staying in Bali? Where will you go after here?’ ‘We hope you come back to Bali again’. These were conversations we had daily in the communities where we stayed as we were greeted with smiles from everyone we met. This island ,also referred to as the island of the Gods, is a culturally rich place of carved stone temples, green rice fields ,flower petal offerings, processions of colorfully garbed locals burying their dead , incense burning, flowing water, traditional dance and music. Everything from the volcanoes in the middle of Bali, to the springs of fresh water flowing from the mountains has a spiritual meaning. Hinduism has morphed into ancestor worship and animism combined. With Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity all actively practiced in Indonesia, every – other week is a national holiday making education and productivity difficult.

Although Bali has been known for its agricultural land of lush green terraced rice fields and flowing streams, development is changing the face of Bali. Tourism is quickly becoming the main source of income for people. Subsistence farmers are selling out to developers, mainly Chinese, who build private villas with swimming pools in the middle of rice fields interrupting complex irrigation systems that flow from the mountains to the fields all across the island. Bali is facing many of the same issues we have seen everywhere else we have visited- water shortages, development of agricultural land, changing values because of an increase in tourism, foreigners buying up land, plastic pollution.

Flip flops were the shoe of choice for all of Bali. We learned to take our shoes off when entering public places such as shops or restaurants. Beautifully smooth white tiled floors covered all of the public and private spaces. Flip flops were lined up at the entrance to many of these public spaces creating a relaxed, comfortable environment with a reverence for cleanliness and order.

Our journey began on the north end of Bali in a sleepy little fishing village called Pemuteran. Public transport was very poor on the island so many people were employed as private drivers to efficiently move tourists around the island. We wove in and out of traffic on the narrow highway that wound through villages along the coastline. Scooters and large hauling trucks travel bumper to bumper for most of each day. Horns are used to communicate and although it looks like chaos, everyone seems to understand the unwritten rules of the road. No one seems to get angry or impatient. We did, however see four major traffic accidents in the two months we were on the island. Locals say that several tourists die each month driving scooters. It is all part of life on the island that has grown exponentially in the last few years with thousands of tourists flocking to it each year.

An occasional ceremony can be seen marching down the middle of the street, such as a funeral cremation ceremony, with a long line of pedestrians and scooters behind. A large part of the Balinese income is spent on ceremonies with births, weddings, and funerals taking days to prepare for and many mouths to feed before and after. They are a culture that gathers to celebrate or to support with neighbors, family and friends.

We stayed in a family compound or home stay with Buggy, Ilou and their children.If they have the money and space in their family compound, an Indonesian family will build a few rooms with en suites to rent out to travellers. There is usually a shared kitchen and a common area or pool to hang out by which is a great place to meet fellow travellers. Buggy’s retired father, a fisherman, and his wife lived behind our place and tended the family chickens and pigs as well as the gardens. Buggy’s brother had died leaving an 18 year old niece behind, so she lived in the family compound and helped in the home-stay. Their compound had the family temple in front where incense was burned and offerings of rice and flowers were placed regularly throughout each day. It opened up into a beautiful courtyard garden with simple fountains, pools of fish and lily pads, flowering bushes and chickens with baby chicks free to roam around. Every morning the roosters woke up the village, crowing from the highest point in the family temples. Buggy’s wife also supplemented their income with sewing fashionable ceremonial blouses for the neighbour ladies.


Buggy and Ilou’s fish dinner

Luke, Jacob, and Naomi were able to take their advanced diving certification in Pemuteran. It included a night dive and a drift dive at Menjangan Island, one of the most pristine diving sites in the world, or it used to be….. The island still has a coral wall intact with some large species of fan and vase coral. Much of the coral was damaged when fishermen used cyanide and dynamite to catch fish. This is a practise that has been banned, but a huge shipload of explosives coming from Malaysia was confiscated by officials when we were there, so it appears fishermen may still be fishing this way. Two years ago the damaging warm water of El Nino (two degrees warmer) bleached a lot of the corals in the Indian Ocean. Since then a coral reef restoration project has been established. It is called the Bio-Rock which uses a gentle electrical charge to enhance coral growth and improve survival rates for small fish and baby coral. Fifty underwater metal sculptures were at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Pemuteran growing baby coral, attracting families of small fish. You can even get your name welded on if you make a donation to the cause. We spent many hours snorkelling through the bio-rock a few meters from shore which was a five minute walk from our place.

Diving was our main reason for coming to this part of the island. The fish were spectacular with vibrant colors, patterns and many varieties that we had never seen before. Most Balinese do not learn to swim. It is sad to think that so many live their whole lives next to the sea never having the opportunity to experience the beauty underwater.

Ilu, our dive master was a great ambassador for the Bali Dive Academy. He was doing his part to promote garbage clean up and education regarding plastics and recycling in the local school his children attend. Unfortunately we saw diapers and candy wrappers at 30 meters under the ocean. Snorkelling over the bio-rock you could look up and see pools of garbage floating just off shore. Jacob, Naomi and Mark got up early one morning to go out fishing with a local fisherman and everywhere they looked there was garbage floating in the water. We were sad to see the extent of the plastic problem in Bali. Indonesia is next to China in being one of the biggest consumers of plastic and all of it ends up in the ocean as they do not have a proper garbage disposal system. This is a very big problem as many fish, turtles and mammals are feeling the effects of the plastic and micro plastics as the plastic break apart.

A youth movement called Bye Bye Plastic was started by two teenage girls who attend a local Green School near Ubud. These girls are challenging their villages and government to ban single use plastic bags on the island by 2018. They were featured on a TED talk and have now got the promise from their government to ban plastic bags in Bali.

We were invited to several ceremonies while we stayed at Van Karning Bungalows. The 50 year old neighbor, a local restaurant and spa owner, passed away because of alcoholism and his cremation ceremony was going on across the alley from us. Chairs from the restaurant were piled in a corner to make room for guests that flowed through their compound day and night to mourn. Anywhere between 20 and 50 people hung out in their compound visiting or sleeping on mats for over ten days while they prepared for his cremation ceremony. He was placed on a special bed of ice waiting for a good day for cremation according to the Balinese calendar. In every family compound there is an outdoor bed surrounded by curtains that will be used for family members during the grieving period. If someone is wealthy enough they are cremated alone, but the majority are cremated in a mass cremation which only happens a few times a year. Bodies are buried and then dug up for the mass cremation on days decided by the priests. Many locals discussed how important this cremation ceremony was in their culture.

One evening we ventured across the alley where over 100 people were gathered around as a knife ceremony was performed to the beat of drums and gamelan playing along with singing, chanting and dancing. The daughters and wife of the deceased worked themselves into a frenzy welding a Kris knife, appearing to go into a trance to help their father transition to the spirit world. They then paraded through the house and said they were talking to their father and that he was happy and ok in the spirit world.

Another ceremony we attended was the full moon ceremony at the large village temple in Pemuteran. The majority of the village turned up driving scooters with women and children piled on the back, carrying offerings in colorful baskets on their heads. The offerings contained fruit, cakes, money, rice and other small gifts to be blessed. People visited, local dancers performed, gamelan bands played and stand up comedians kept the crowd entertained. Local teenagers texted on their phones and young men gambled in the courtyard. It was a colorful event with women wearing lace fitted tops, brightly colored yellow and pink, patterned sarongs and scarves belting their outfits. The men wore white shirts, white head scarves and dark or white sarongs often decorated with gold thread. The smell of incense permeated the entire area.

We found a great little cafe in Pemuteran that sat about ten people comfortably, situated on the main strip of town. We nicknamed it the “micro-cheepy”. It was one of the best cafes in town and had awesome young gals working there. We discovered that it was owned by a teacher and his wife who were not able to have children so they decided to invest their time and money into teaching young girls how to cook, waitress, and speak English with tourists. Their teacher shared that many girls in the smaller communities were not finishing school because they were getting pregnant at age14 to 16 and ending up married at a very young age. In the Bali culture girls join their husband’s families and so many parents are not interested in investing money into educating their daughters. The teacher asked me to join him later that week to see the local school. I did a small English exercise with a lovely group of sixteen year olds who were all very excited to share their stories of what life was like for them on Bali. Learning English is the key to getting good paying jobs for both girls and boys.

Women work hard on Bali cooking, cleaning, looking after children, and often holding down a full time job. Grandparents who live in the family compound help with child care while the mothers work. The youngest boy inherits everything from his parents, and he has the responsibility of looking after and living with his parents as they age.

Our boys decided to stay longer in Pemuteran because they were invited to play soccer with the local men’s team who were practising for a weekend competition. They also got to play with the local volleyball team which apparently was quite good. The men were all very friendly and welcoming but the boys were surprised that they all lit up cigarettes when they subbed off the field for a ‘water break’. Someone told us that 80% of men smoke in Bali.

On our last night at Van Karning, Buggy and Ilou cooked us a beautiful meal with the fish that our crew caught during the morning fishing trip. We had grilled fish, coconut fish satay, fish soup, rice and veggies. Our meal was shared with a family from France who were travelling through Bali on their spring break.

It didn’t take long to catch onto the fact that everyone had similar names. We met many Ketuts, Ilous, Kadeks, Geddes. People are named according to the order of birth in their families so if you are a fourth born, you are a Ketut. At one point we felt like we were dating two Ketuts because there were two drivers phoning us and offering to take us to our next destination or program for the day. We had to name them Ketut No.1 and Ketut No. 2 to differentiate them.
Ketut No. 2 was a retired carver and grandfather with a diabetic wife and many grandchildren. My friend, Tanya, from Calgary had met Ketut when she was in Bali in November at a writer’s conference. He was her driver and had carved several wooden hair pins for us to take home for her. We ended up using Ketut No.2 for quite a few trips around Ubud to see painters, carvers, jewelry makers and fire dancers.

Our next stop was an organic farm called Side by Side run by a local farmer, Ketut No.1. He has groups of students from international schools in Singapore who come to help with weeding, planting of rice fields, building projects as well as to learn about sustainable agriculture. An American art teacher, Pamela, supports this project and helps to organize fundraising and communication with international groups. The money goes towards supporting local farm families who farm in a coop. Ketut and his sister Ilou grew up in a family of eight among the poorest in Bali as rice farmers near Tirtiganga. Ilou was the eldest and never finished school because her mother needed help at home with all of the children. Her husband died when her children were young making it a very difficult life for her. Now that her children are grown and working, she takes care of her 80 year old mother and cooks at Side by Side when needed. Ketut, her youngest brother, is a passionate organic farmer trying to educate children in the local schools about the environment, plastic recycling, and sustainable agriculture. Ketut explained how farmers are growing GMO rice which has poor nutritional value and is not very drought resistant. The land has been depleted due to chemicals and pesticides sprayed since the 70s on the crops. An NGO organization called Sawah Bali was running studies on heritage varieties of rice to promote a change back to non- GMO black and red seeds.


Cleaning fish ponds at Side by Side

Ketut also had extensive knowledge about natural medicinal plants growing on the compound. His grandparents taught him about these plants when he was a child. We helped Ketut in his gardens pulling weeds and cleaned up fish ponds on the property. Our room was an open-air space over the fish pond with the sound of nature all around. Ilou cooked yummy organic meals with fresh juices- avocado, lime, and watermelon grown on the farm. Nasi Campur, a traditional local dish, made up of a buffet of foods including chicken satay, peanut sauce, rice, beans with sprouts, tempeh ( a fermented soya dish) was what we had for supper most evenings.

Ketut took us on several outings. We visited the water temple at Tirtiganga and walked through gardens surrounding a royal palace with two spring fed swimming pools where we swam. All of the local teenagers were swimming in the shallow pool because most Balinese never learn to swim. Ketut led us through rice fields and along flowing irrigation systems to get back home. We walked past farmers working in their rice fields and children flying homemade kites made out of plastic bags. There is a village on Bali where 6000 white herons come to roost each evening. This sacred place has a steady stream of tourists at 5:30pm to watch the birds settle in for the evening. Men take advantage of the tourist crowd and demonstrate cock fight training while the tourists wait. Our girls were not impressed!


Water Temple

Ketut also took us to the thousand step temple which was more like 1563(not that we were counting) steps up the side of a volcano. Water from a mountain spring at the top was collected as holy water and brought down in bottles to be used for home ceremonies. A troupe of monkeys was at the top trying to steal everyone’s snacks. Many locals made the trek up the mountain to pray, offer thanks with small offerings of rice and flowers, and receive a blessing from the priest. Women in flip flops and tight fitting sarongs carried baskets of offerings on their heads all the way up the mountain!

We spent another day visiting a chocolate factory that was producing organic chocolate where they roast and process their own cacao and make it into very tasty chocolate. Unfortunately climate change was making it hard to grow cacao this year so they were short on beans. We also stopped at a family operated sea salt factory. A very poor man collected sea water, dried and concentrated it to produce sea salt for eating and bathing. It was a lot of work for a product that is relatively inexpensive for people to buy. We had a few concerns about what else was concentrated in the salt, as there was no process of purification except for the sun. Naomi and Mark had one more trip with Ketut trying to summit Mount Agung, the highest volcano on the island. They left at 3:00am but due to rain and fogs were not able to make it to the top.

We said goodbye to our new friends at Side by Side and re-joined the boys once again in Tulamben where an American Cargo Ship rests at the bottom of the ocean a few meters off shore. This was our first experience diving a wreck and what a thrill to see fish swimming through this old ship. Our most memorable dive was waking up at dawn to hit the water at sunrise. The rays of the morning sun penetrated the depths of the ocean as we watched schools of bumper fish, brightly colored coral attached to the wreck and many other beautiful fish swimming in and around the area. We did our last few family dives together and prepared for the boys departure to Singapore. Naomi aced her final math exam which we all celebrated, especially her teacher Luke!

The boys decided to use their newly honed travel skills and venture out on their own. Although we were sad this part of our trip was over, we realized they needed their independence to explore and discover on their own while we finished school work with the girls.

We headed south to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. Ubud is known for its’ beautiful green terraced rice fields, spectacular yoga centers, awesome spas, and art. It became more famous following the filming of Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts rides her bike through the rice fields and visits a wise old ‘Ketut’ for advise on love. We stayed at another home stay belonging to Kadeck, a vibrant little woman, born and raised just outside of Ubud. I booked a bike tour with one of the local companies biking from the volcano at Lake Batur down through the villages to Ubud; I didn’t realize that I had booked a company owned by a fellow who used to date Kadeck. He lost track of her and had not been in touch with her since high school. She broke his heart, marrying a young fellow from Ubud who was a painter. Who knew we would be involved in reuniting two people with a local love story.


Local love story

Women have to get up early to shop at the fresh markets on Bali. Produce was delivered all over the island by scooter starting in the North at 3:00am. I joined Kadek on the back of her scooter for a trip to the local Ubud market at 7:00am and people were packing up by 8:00. Kadek used to have a table at the market, so she stopped to visit with all of her friends. They laughed at us because Kadek was a good two feet shorter than me and looked like my child. Kadek had a 21 year old son attending University in Denpasar who needed to go every two weeks to Singapore for cancer treatment. It was difficult for her, but she accepted that this was a part of their journey.

Ubud is surrounded by several villages all of which specialize in a particular art form. We visited villages that were separated according to the art form they practised and handed down to their children. There were villages of carvers, silversmiths, painters, kite makers, coconut carvers, weavers, batik painters, traditional dancers, bone carvers, furniture makers, glass blowers, stone carvers; so much talent in this area .A big problem for these artists is to keep up with the rapid pace of changing fashions. A lot of the local stores were filled with art, but there was no sign of shoppers.

Many people come to Ubud to attend writer’s conferences or to improve their painting, carving or cooking skills. There was also a huge yoga training center in Ubud called the Yoga Barn where the girls and I attended many classes with other travellers. We happened to be in Ubud during a food festival discussing topics on food sustainability, organic food, food trends as well as marketing Indonesian food globally.

A highlight for us was travelling from Ubud to Java for the night to climb an active volcano. Hundreds of tourists leave their beds at 1:00am to trek up Kiawah Ijen on East Java to view sulphur mines and beautiful blue flames at sunrise on the summit.

There are several active volcanoes on the island that have erupted and left rivers of molten rock over the years. A reverence for these sleeping giants is evident, especially for Mount Agung and Batur. A lot of fish died in the fresh waters of Lake Batur after the volcano erupted several years ago.


Earthquake revealed temple

Our final destination on Bali was at the beaches of Canguu. We stayed at another home stay/surf school with a young family, Wayan and Epi and their two adorable little girls, Chandra and Daya and Wayan’s Mom. Naomi learned quickly with Wayan as a surf instructor and got up early every other day to hit the water. It was awesome to see her gaining confidence and improving daily.

Finally, a visit to Tanah Lot temple at sunset completed our time on Bali. We walked passed coffee shops with sleepy civets on their counters waiting to eat coffee beans to poop out for tourists to enjoy in their morning cups of Lewak coffee. Bali, what a place!!!!!


Thoughts from Ruth – South Africa



Southern-most tip of Africa

South Africa (SA) did not feel like Africa, well at least not the Africa Mark and I experienced in 1993. During our last trip to the continent we volunteered for eight months in refugee camps in North East Kenya as well as at a leprosy hospital and a vet clinic in Addis Ababa. We drove on bumpy dirt roads, ate at street restaurants set up in shacks, used outdoor squat toilets and had access to very limited products. We were also visibly the minority wherever we went. Driving throughout this country, we were amazed at the infrastructure as well as the high quality restaurants, great places to stay and availability of goods. The highways were nicer than the ones I travel on to visit my Mom in Saskatchewan and they were significantly better than Westside Road (which I guess isn’t saying too much). There were funky coffee shops and trendy restaurants on every corner. In preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup many new coffee shops and restaurants opened. Apparently these places flourished because 40 more opened in Cape Town (CT) this year alone. Our dollar was extremely strong here, so we indulged in cafe lattes, delectable baked treats, artisan bread, and excellent food and wine. Shopping was readily available in malls filled with familiar shops such as The Body Shop, H&M, Zara… to name a few (not that we could fit anything more into our backpacks). The whole vibe felt very Vancouverish. SA is classified as a developing country but with our privileged white skin, it sure felt like a first world country to us.


V&A Harbor, Cape Town


Sedgefield sundowner on the Garden Route

We were met at the airport by friends of ours, Melanie and Maciej Hrabar, with bags of SA goodies that soon became standard fare for us while visiting. We had to pace ourselves with the rusks (biscotti type biscuit), chutney, biltong (SA jerky), and wine. Maciej was born and raised in SA and is of Polish/Afrikaans descent while Melanie is a Swiss friend who lived with us in Invermere several years ago. I’m always wondering what prompts people to uproot and leave their home countries. Maciej’s great grandfather was a cabinet minister in the Polish government who fled to Africa when the Nazis invaded. We have heard of many WW2 refugees of various descents in each continent we have travelled. Melanie works for an NGO based out of Switzerland called GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) and Maciej is a financial consultant for corporations which basically means he sorts out their accounting messes. As a communications and international relations specialist, Melanie’s work takes her travelling to third world countries meeting with governments to introduce a product for malnourished populations in Africa, India, and Asia. Team “M” were our travel coordinators, tour guides, and cheerleaders while we were in Africa and our amazing experience was thanks to them.


Melanie, our classy travel coordinator


Maciej and Millie looking over Cape Town

Driving to our flat in Cape Town (CT) Maciej explained to us the various people groups in SA and the politically correct way to refer to them. There are black (Indigenous), colored (Indian and mixed), and white (mixed European- German, British, French, Dutch) people. We were amazed at the CT bubble with a majority of white people populating it and the Western Cape, as we were expecting to be the minority once we touched down on African soil. During the apartheid government there was a Group Areas Act that separated people based on their race. The act assigned racial groups to different residential and business sections of urban areas starting in 1950 and was not abolished until 1991. At that time there were laws to arrest non-whites for living in the “wrong” areas such as Sea Point, one of the most beautiful parts of CT, where we stayed. Elana Rosenfeld shared a book with me called Postcards from South Africa by Rayda Jacobs. It is a collection of autobiographical short stories about a “colored” Muslim woman, with a white father who was deported to Canada in the 80’s because she had an illegal “white card” that allowed her to get a better job and go in “white only” areas. Black people also had a pass book that they had to show to police on demand and were also arrested for being in “white only” areas. The result of this long history of legalized segregation is that there are still areas that are predominantly white, colored or black.

By the mid 70’s the apartheid government had created a racist state where black and white people were not allowed to marry, befriend, or live in the same cities. Ever watched the 2009 science fiction thriller District Nine? Well it was based on District Six which was a township in the middle of CT. During the 1970’s bulldozers came in and pushed over all of the shacks and houses in District Six forcing 60,000 colored and black people to relocate to the windy flats on the outskirts of CT. This area remains undeveloped today with only grass fields marking its original place. The government stated that the townships were slums, but really they didn’t want Africans owning land in the cities. Many white Afrikaans children grew up believing that black people were dangerous, communist, and atheist.


Soweto Township Greeters

To add further tension to the situation, in 1974 the government legislated that English and Afrikaans would be the languages used to teach in urban areas because black children’s education was being paid for by white English and Afrikaans-speaking tax payers in those areas. (Today only 20% of the country’s population is paying taxes.)The teachers and students protested with a peace march that led to a police massacre of teenagers outside of Johannesburg in a township called Soweto. Police opened fire with no warning killing hundreds of teenagers. For many kids it was more about a day off school rather than a concern for their education, but watching friends die that day sparked a fire in the hearts of those that remained. Hector Pieterson, a thirteen year old boy, was shot and killed while participating in the march. A photograph of a young boy carrying Hector’s limp body, his crying sister running beside, enraged the world. The world pushed back by suspending SA from the UN in 1974, not allowing them to take part in the Olympics, international soccer, cricket or rugby (1964-1992) and placed an arms and trade embargo on them. Townships at the edge of all of the big cities still exist today and most do not have indoor toilets or running water, but they all have T.V. and of course everyone has a cell phone! Sadly, other than visiting with service workers, we never got to know any black people in SA. We tried to find a volunteer experience so that we could get to know some of these people, but nothing panned out.


Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum

The tension between races is slowly disappearing in SA. Several parents we talked to with teenagers said their kids had no concept of racism, a huge contrast from the generations before them. Public schools are now mixed and we saw many rainbow colored groups of teenagers hanging out. Unfortunately, there are still those who have attitudes of oppression and racism. Melanie told us a story of their gardener, a man from Mozambique, who worked for several years for people who had never shown him where the toilet was, never offered him a drink of water, and never paid him a proper wage. Many immigrants from poor neighboring countries are working for $25.00 a day, living in dangerous townships, and working under very poor working conditions. Unfortunately, they are more willing to work for cheaper wages than the black South Africans, much like the foreign workers in Canada.

Many of our SA friends who have immigrated to Canada have told us stories about how unsafe SA is, especially for the white minority. Crime rates are still very high in the country, but luckily we never experienced any unsafe situations. We were careful at night and avoided unsafe areas in the cities. It was difficult to get used to bars on doors and windows in every place we stayed. High security fences and locked gates secured all of the living spaces in the cities. (There were, however, no screens on the windows-no bugs!) I approached an elderly Afrikaans woman from behind, in a small rural grocery store parking lot, as she got into her car. I was waiting for her to close her door so I could hop into our van. She jumped and looked visibly frightened when she noticed someone standing behind her. I said “ Sorry, I see that I frightened you.” She replied “Yes, I guess I still have Joburg fear in me.”

DSC_0776 (1).jpg

Red Candelabra on Robberg Peninsula

DSC_0710 (1).jpg

Surfing at Victoria Bay

Our first three weeks were spent in a beautiful CT apartment graciously loaned to us by Gina and Gareth Mannheimer’s parents from Namibia. It was located in Seapoint across from the Seapoint Promenade and a short drive to the FIFA stadium and the V&A Waterfront (think Granville Island). South Africans are proud of Cape Town because it is  spectacular on many levels. Our friends live in Noordhoek, a small village half an hour out of Cape Town. Chapman’s Peak Drive to Noordhoek is one of the most stunning, scenic coastal roads we have seen including the Oregon-California Coast. The backdrop of Table Mountain with its tablecloth clouds, Lion’s head, and Signal Hill all added to the beauty of CT.


Swimming with African Penguins at Boulder Beach

It took us almost a week to get over jet lag due to a 48 hour transit time from Miami to Toronto to Addis Ababa to Cape Town and a 6 hr time change. This was our toughest travel leg so far. Highlights of our first week were: sundowners and food fair at Cape Town Wineries, swimming with African Penguins at Boulder Beach, hiking the Silver Mine lookout over Cape Town, sundowner walks on white sandy beaches (walking the beaches is not part of the black or colored culture, so once again we were surrounded by white people), wine tour along the Stellenbosch wine route and, suppers with team M.


Walking the dogs at Noordhoek

Naomi and Jacob were excited to have their friends join them in CT for the second week. Aviva Rosenfeld and Brody Gray have been on their own adventure, sailing around the world for nine months on a tall ship with Class Afloat. We watched them cruise into the V&A harbor with Aviva waving a flag in a motorized dingy leading the 70 meter long, Gulden Leeuw Dutch tall ship. It was an emotional site to see 40 young sailors perched high up on the masts waving to their parents who had travelled half way around the world to hang out with them for a week. They docked their majestic ship in the V&A harbour to stretch their sea legs, enjoy some fresh produce, lots of ice-cream, and take a break after a 33 day stretch at sea. Our kids hung out with several Floaties from various countries and a few became part of our crew for the week. Elana and Greg also joined us in CT. We attended a professional soccer game in the FIFA World Cup stadium, wandered into a Goldfish concert at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, surfed at Muizenberg beach, shopped at the Biscuitmill Market, ate and danced at a braai at Mzoli’s in a township outside CT, enjoyed sundowners at Cape Town Wineries ,plus ate a lot of great food! Elana organized a graffiti art tour in CT. Two travel designers pulled up in shiny new Land Rovers for our “urban” safari. The Land Rovers seemed like overkill in the city but they did come in handy when we drove over curbs to park on sidewalks or pulled a u-ball at busy intersections. In 2014 the SA government hired international graffiti artists to paint on several buildings in CT. Their art work made statements about many of the social and political issues that are a part of SA’s history.


Graffiti tour with the Floaties


Jacob and Brody with Class Afloat


Naomi and Aviva at the V&A Harbor

The following week, we said goodbye to the Class Afloat, Elana and Greg and headed back to Muizenberg beach to try some more surfing. Towards the end of the kid’s lesson, we heard a loud siren blaring and everyone started leaving the water. We looked up to see the white shark flag flying. Needless to say no one felt like going back in the water after the sirens went off. Only one brave soul continued to surf, enjoying the waves all to himself, not minding the great white shark in the distance. It sure was an effective way to clear the water on a busy afternoon.

DSC_0454.jpg DSC_0529.jpg

Our next adventure was road trippin’ along the Garden Route up the coast. We had a 9 passenger van that we sqeezed 11 in when the Floaties were in town. Again we marvelled at the beautiful highways and quaint tourist towns all along the route. Biodiversity is alive and well in SA. It is classified as a Conservation International biodiversity hotspot with more than 9000 plant species and 70% endemic to this area. SA’s fynbos is the world’s richest floral kingdom. I think this must have been the original Garden of Eden because it sure was spectacular with the variety of plants, birds, aquatic life, animals and insects. Highlights of our road trip were: a traditional thatched roof farmhouse stay, great white shark diving with 55 resident white sharks in Mossel Bay, bungee jumping from the highest bridge-bungee jump in the world- brave boys, cave spelunking in 1.5 to 2 million old Congo caves-where they had an old concert hall in the 1800’s- just imagine the acoustics, ostrich farms near Oudtshoorn (it used to be the fashion to have an ostrich feather in your hat in the 1880’s, now people love ostriches for their lean meat), checking out the Karoo, surfing Victoria Bay, hiking Robberg Peninsula, Natures Valley and Knysna forest.


World’s highest bridge jump


216m high free fall!

The last part of our stay in SA was at a private game reserve called Olifants North. This park is a five hour drive north of Johannesburg bordering Kruger Park. Maciej’s parents were both architects who loved the bush. They designed a group of traditional looking huts that were supposed to be “one step up from the bush”, but I would say it was more like ten steps up! Everything was very comfortable and modern, far from roughing it. Our meals had to be planned in advance for our 12 day stay as the nearest grocery store was an hour away. With Melanie’s organizational skills and a good joint effort from team Zehnder we had some fantastic meals. We even had a bit of food left over. For a few days we shared the park with just two other vehicles which made for many “up close and personal” experiences with the animals. You could spot giraffes, elephants and zebras while soaking in the new infinity pool overlooking the park. We shared three huts and a main house with kitchen, living room and deck. The houses were right in the park, so wildlife could wander through at any given time, as was evident from all of the trees the elephants had pushed over in the yard. Our transportation was a 9-seater open air land cruiser with a tarp for sun protection. We had visits from civets and porcupines in the evenings and could hear the lions roar as we drifted off to sleep. Highlights were spotting 74 different species in the game park, watching three male lions, two females and three cubs at a wildebeest kill, witnessing teenage lions mating, watching giraffes drink at a waterhole, warthog families running with tails in the air, elephants pushing over huge trees ,teenage giraffes neck wrestling, roller birds, storks, owls, kingfishers, bee catchers, baby zebras, wild cape dogs, wild cats, leopards, night drives with a red spotlight, sundowner beer, and sunrise coffee with rusks. Unfortunately a rhino was poached in the park two days before we arrived. Rhino and elephant poaching are still on the rise despite anti-poaching units patrolling the parks. We think the rest of the rhinos must have been hiding because we didn’t manage to spot any. What a privilege it was to watch all of these exotic animals in their natural habitat.

photo 5.JPG

12 days worth of food for eight people!


Olifants North Safari

We drove back to dangerous Johannesburg “ the city of gold ” which is the financial hub of SA. We picked a route through Pilgrim’s Rest to check out Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window. I had booked a tour of Soweto for the next day and Simon, a 72 year old black man born and raised in Soweto, was our tour guide. He drove us through all the areas in Soweto including Nelson Mandela’s House, the place of the Soweto uprising and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela still live in Soweto. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world to have two people who have won a Nobel Peace Prize living on the same street. We all left feeling like we had a better understanding of the apartheid years in SA.

DSC_1730 (1).jpg

Soweto Towers

Nelson Mandela is revered as an amazing human being for peacefully leading a divided nation to democracy after so many years of segregation. Anyone you talk to will say how much he was respected for his part in uniting this rainbow nation. He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for opposing apartheid. President de Klerk released him from Robben Island in 1990 at the age of 71 after 27 years in prison. He was married to “the struggle”, the fight to free his people from oppression. His loyalty to the ANC party cost him his family, his freedom, and his career as a lawyer. While in prison he learned how to speak and read Afrikaans so that he could speak to the hearts as well as the minds of his oppressors. Rather than being bitter, he chose forgiveness and modeled inclusiveness in his cabinet and staff. Three marriages and five children later, he died in 2013 at 95 years of age. His second wife, Winnie, was also very involved as a political activist, sacrificing much of her freedom for many years. In my opinion his wives were “heros” too for raising their children as single Moms. Nelson was the first democratically elected black president of SA in 1994, the first year black’s were allowed to vote. Many white people left in the early 90’s for fear that blacks would run them into the ocean, but Mandela was able to maintain political stability for several years.

photo 2.JPG

Nelson Mandela Square, Johannesburg

Unfortunately, the political situation is not great at the moment. Jacob Zuma appears to be another “Donald Trump” with multiple charges against him for corruption, rape, tax evasion, as well as a lack of concern for the environment and women’s issues (he currently has four wives). People are disillusioned, but because of their political history, loyalty to the ANC runs deep, especially in the older generation. A few days after we left the country President Zuma axed nine of his cabinet ministers. The rainbow nation is once again out protesting in the streets asking for his resignation. If SA can stabilize politically, it will have it all!


Horses in striped pyjamas


Rush hour


Africa goodbye party!


2 months left and Mark is starting to loose it…

Thoughts from Ruth – Bolivia


Salt Flats, Bolivia


Pimenta, my favorite Spider gal


Women moving dirt in their blankets- Isle Del Sole, Bolivia

Our time in Bolivia has been rich with new experiences and interesting relationships. Being here for an extended period of time, as well as volunteering, has given us a deeper appreciation of the culture and the people who live in Bolivia. Our first month was spent volunteering with Up Close Bolivia, a family run organization that is involved in many social projects in their community working with vulnerable populations such as women, children, and people with mental or physical disabilities. Emma, a caring, humorous Brit, along with her Bolivian husband Rolando, run the organization with their two teenage children Belle and David. It has been a privilege to see first- hand the impact this family has had on their community. They live one half hour outside of La Paz city in a sleepy little village called Jupipina overlooking a river, fields of flowers, and the Andes Mountains.  Colibri (Hummingbird) campground is also on their property and many tourists stay for a few days or a few weeks in little A-frame cabins just below where we lived. There is a constant flow of people through the Mendoza’s doors on any given day.  We were welcomed into a community of 14 European and 3 Bolivian volunteers who soon became our friends.  Many parties, movie nights, and pot luck suppers enabled us to get to know each other quickly. Our kids jumped right in and had a blast socializing with this gang. We were sad to say goodbye to all of them as they travelled back to their families for Christmas. A few stayed on and we celebrated Christmas with them as well as with several local families.  The overwhelming hospitality displayed by the Mendozas to many young foreigners and locals alike made our stay particularly memorable.


Rolando’s Birthday


Bowling with the Up Close Bolivia gang

The girls and I spent our time volunteering in a preschool. We organized gross motor games for children, as well as helped with their daily care. There are no ugly babies in Bolivia, I guarantee! We fell in love with their beautiful round faces, brown sparkling eyes and impish ways. Another program we assisted with was a state-run social services center, Albergue, where children are cared for until their families are stable for them to return. Many come from very abusive homes or have been involved in human trafficking and are happy to have a diversion away from the stress and sadness in their little lives. It was rewarding to be able to coax smiles and giggles out of them with games and activities.  I also worked alongside other physiotherapists at a horse therapy project for special needs children at the University giving them experience riding horses and improving their gross motor skills, fine motor skills and attention deficits. Social and emotional support was provided to these families by volunteer psychology students on campus. The program was run by a lively, dedicated vet named Felix, who ended up winning the Golden Bolivian award for all of his volunteer contributions to kids in La Paz. Television crews showed up one day to film us all celebrating with him. I was pulled aside for an interview to discuss his work, but the news crew quickly recognized my confused face as they fired questions at me in Spanish. Emma came to my rescue and took over the interview.


Felix working with two special needs children


Bolivian Beauties

Mark and the boys spent their month working at the La Paz Zoo which was situated in Mallasa, a twenty minute bus ride away. The boys worked with a Bolivian vet, Emerson, who was in charge of animal enrichment projects and feeding while Mark shadowed the other vets on staff who oversaw animal health. The boys also got involved in some soccer coaching as well as helping to run activities for the older children at Albergue.


Dr. Doolittle


Up Close Bolivia Volunteers

Fourteen years ago the women of Mallasa  (the Mallasa Mother’s Group) banded together to blockade the road preventing all of the garbage from La Paz to pass to Mallasa where it was being dumped. These women transformed their village and successfully were able to clean up their backyard which eventually became home to the La Paz Zoo. Now Mallasa has a huge influx of visitors from La Paz every weekend and on holidays to visit the zoo and recreate in the beautiful parks. What a story of bravery and determination about women who are often marginalized in Bolivian society.


Mallasa Mother’s Group hosting a year end thank you for the volunteers

It is difficult to be a woman in Bolivia. Statistics are staggering of physical abuse in the homes. A large number of women suffer from some form of domestic violence and as a result, many are leaving their husbands to raise children on their own. The women of Mallasa are a brave group of women who not only advocated for cleaning up their backyard, but also started the Valley of The Moon Children’s Center with the help of the Mendoza family. Women run and operate the preschool and hire mainly single mothers to teach as “Tias”.


Two Tias

Tias are trained in early childhood education before starting work at the center. In the past, many of these children were left at home alone all day while their mothers worked to be able to feed and clothe them. When the center opened a lot of the students were malnourished as their mothers did not have the money or energy to care for them properly. Over the past fourteen years the preschool has become a huge success. The children are fed extremely well during the course of the day. Their daily routines enhance healthy social skills as well as stimulating the children’s minds and bodies with various activities. Recently they had one of their graduates begin university in La Paz, a very rewarding time for the Mendoza family to see the results of years of support. Many of these children are now thriving with consistent nutrition and healthy social routines. The volunteers assist with meal preparation and distribution as well as leading creative and physical activities for the children. Because we were here in December, we participated in the year-end graduation ceremony as well as the annual Christmas party. Mark was dressed as “Papa Noel” to give out gifts to the children that the girls had helped to purchase and wrap. He was a good sport and only made a few kids cry with his satin outfit and freakish beard.

DSC_7951.jpg     DSC_7913.jpg

We really enjoyed La Paz city, a crazy city of 1 million people buzzing with traditional and modern culture side by side.  The city was built in a canyon at 3200 meters altitude climbing to 4060 meters up steep mountain sides.  El Alto, another city of over 1 million, is on the altiplano above and flows right into La Paz below. Seeing the Chilitas (country women) dressed in their traditional clothing consisting of a bolar hat, decorative shawl, sweater, pleated skirt, and a working apron over top,never got tiring. The women carry children and produce on their backs in colourful cloths, walking many miles to sell their products. We saw them up at 5:00 am waiting by the side of the road for a bus to take them to sell their produce at city markets. Several gondolas or “telefericos” have been installed in the city to aid in moving people between the altiplano (flat highlands) and the valley below, assisting somewhat in the crazy flow of traffic.


La Paz Teleferico

Unfortunately, the big city of La Paz ran out of water the week we arrived. This created a lot of sickness among the volunteers as well as stress for the Mendoza family. Water rationing was in place for several weeks until holding tanks were ready to collect rain water and to store water when the taps were running. People were very upset with the government because there was no warning until the reservoirs were almost completely empty. Late rains and reduced glacial melt are part of the reason that the reservoirs got to a critically low level. Friends of ours were without water for 22 days at their homes. They had to line up with buckets once a week to get water for household use and everyone was buying drinking water. For the first few weeks our taps were turned off for a few days at a time, so we were saving water to flush toilets and wash dishes. It made us appreciate our water back home.

A special surprise for my kids was having their Grandmother travel half way across the world to be with us for a month over Christmas. My Mom will be 79 in February, and I am very proud of her bravery and sense of adventure at her age. She participated in all of our trips, travelling to the Amazon after Christmas, sleeping under a mosquito net in the jungle, floating down the “pampas” river to watch all the birds and animals in the jungle. We also spent several days in the Salt Flats of Bolivia seeing the amazing landscape to the south- salt flats the size of Belgium, deserts, geysers, hot springs, lagoons full of flamingos, snow-capped Andes Mountains, and active volcanoes. It was a great month with many wonderful memories. Acclimatizing to the high altitude is very difficult for young people, but Mom adapted very quickly, resting for the first few days to get used to the thin air. There was only one incident where I walked too quickly up an incline for several blocks to reach the teleferico and it took her all day to recuperate. Well oxygenated air is something we all take for granted!!


Amazon with Grandma


Rafting in the Amazon


Attempting a perspective picture….. classic Salt Flats

Our interpreters Justa and Willy were our guardians while we lived in Jupipina. They helped us organize taxis, book trips, and attempted to teach us Spanish. The kids all learned very quickly, but Mark and I struggled with our old brains and poor memories. I thought I was doing pretty well, but the kids told me I was just saying English words with an unusual accent.  Justa, a kind, authentic soul, was willing to help us day or night. She welcomed us with open arms and supported us in our volunteer work on the days she wasn’t teaching flute lessons at the Conservatory or playing in the La Paz orchestra. It was Justa who was worrying about us getting home from the Salt Flats when all of the roads were closed for the Dakar race, a South American cross country motor-cross rally race that was cruising through the city with thousands of participants. Willy organized many opportunities for the boys to play walleyball (volleyball in a squash court) and indoor soccer with his friends. These two were also our tour guides around La Paz teaching us how to use the teleferico, the mini buses, and taking us to El Alto, the dangerous city on the plateau above La Paz ( picture scarecrows hanging from the powerlines to warn thieves of the communal/vigilante justice system).


Willie and his Mom Lydia saying farewell to Naomi

One of the first people I met in Bolivia was a young 26 year old gal named Cassandra. She ended up being a wonderful role model and soccer coach for the girls. I was assessing her knee injury at a charity event in the city when we quickly got to know each other and she offered to help the girls with some soccer skills. She shared with us her journey as a young girl playing soccer in Bolivia before many girls were playing the sport. Cassandra along with her Dad started a soccer academy for girls and created a whole series of skill based training programs which eventually led to the first professional woman’s soccer team called the Ninfas. Not only can this girl play soccer, but she was Ms. La Paz a couple of years ago and recently got an audition for “The Voice”. You can look her up on YouTube under Cassandra Camacho to listen to her recently recorded cover songs. It was a privilege to meet this gal who also cooked us a lovely authentic Bolivian meal on Christmas Eve.


Cassandra and the girls after practise

Willie has been our right hand man. He organized several beautiful dinners for us, two at the home of his parents. We also attended a championship professional soccer match between the two top Bolivian teams with Willie and his Father. What an experience to hear the cheering of crazy fans and to watch very dramatic players play soccer. The fans were singing, throwing confetti, releasing yellow smoke bombs and chanting. Somebody was getting “injured” on the field every few minutes. The captain was taken off on a stretcher in the first few minutes of the game but came back on soon after to play the whole game. We were very fortunate to have Willy as our interpreter as his volunteer work with Up Close coincided exactly with ours. He has worked several years for the UN in Bolivia as well as for UNICEF and is hoping to one day be the head of volunteers in Bolivia for the UN. Working with our crazy crew may have changed his mind….


Willie and his Dad cheering for opposing teams: The Strongest vs Boliviar

Christmas day was spent with several volunteers and families that live in Bolivia. One family has been living and working in Bolivia for 14 years. They have established a program for women working in the brothels across from the International Airport. Sadly, many of these girls have been sexually abused at a young age and or have run away from home with no means to support themselves. Within 48 hrs of leaving home, most of them find themselves in prostitution. Some of these women are also single Mom’s and are trying to make money to clothe and feed their children. The program at Sutisana is multifaceted. Women are given counselling, workshops on computer skills and self care, hot lunches, child care, after school support for their children and a chance at a new career. A sewing workshop has been established where beautiful purses, shirts and bags are created. Selling these products gives these women a steady salary as well as health care benefits for their families. The women are supported as they chose, with courage, to step out of a way of life that is very demoralizing for them and their children. Lives are transformed as they realize they have options and are no longer slaves to a way of life they have lived for so long. We visited their workshop a few times and helped count inventory in their store. They also have an online store that will ship to Canada☺

I really knew nothing about Bolivia before we arrived and I was very surprised at the diversity in landscape as well as culture. On our trips out of La Paz we saw some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. The Salt Flats and Lagoons to the south full of flamingos were spectacular with volcanoes and Andes Mountain ranges in the background. Rurrenabaque in the heart of the Amazon was also unbelievable.  Cruising down the Beni River and observing all of the diversity of wildlife in the wetlands was very surreal. The kids counted over 100 Caiman along the river and many squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, exotic birds, capabara ( picture giant size rats without tails!!!), and several groups of pink river dolphins.  Isle Del Sol was like stepping back in time with no cars, chilitas dressed in traditional clothing tending to donkeys, llamas, and sheep, Inca ruins (including a human sacrificial table) and very little infrastructure on the island. This island sits in the middle of Lake Titicaca, the largest fresh water, alpine lake in the world.


Woman with her livestock – Lake Titicaca


Flamingo Lagoon, Bolivia

We thought the quality of food in Bolivia was very good with all of the produce and meat having intense flavour. Carrots, potatoes (all 400 varieties), chicken, fruit all tasted fantastic. A typical Bolivian dinner included rice, at least two types of boiled potatoes, corn, and a bit of meat. This high carb diet was challenging for my slow metabolism! Although the food tasted great, their cuisine was very basic and didn’t have a lot of variety.

Leaving Jupipina was like leaving home all over again. After two months, we all felt very comfortable in our little green house in the mountains. Sadly we said goodbye to the Mendoza family, Justa, Willy, the remaining volunteers, and pressed on to the next part of our journey.

Following a two and a half hour ride in a taxi down the death road highway, we arrived at our new home, La Senda Verde. The lush green jungle at 1200 meters was a sharp contrast to the hoodoos and alpine landscape in La Paz. A world full of exotic animal sounds greeted us at the wildlife refuge once we crossed the river on a rickety swinging bridge. We stepped into a long corridor that was enclosed with chain link fence. It became apparent very quickly that we were the ones encaged and the animals were free to roam. This refuge is home to 700 animals and was established because of a need in Bolivia to find a safe home for animals that have been trafficked. All the animals were trafficked as pets and confiscated by officials. Due to the possibility that these animals could infect a healthy population of wild animals, Bolivia has a law stating that they are not allowed to be released. The animals are extremely well looked after and for the most part are happy with their new homes. Wheelbarrows full of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are brought in daily. The volunteers looked longingly at all of the food that was wheeled past, as our food was good, but very basic and high in carbs. One morning I could smell banana bread cooking and was really looking forward to having it at lunch. There was no banana bread on our table for lunch or supper but the next morning the macaws and parrots were treated to banana bread for breakfast.


Feeding time


Feeding Tappy

To be honest I wasn’t too keen about spending two weeks shlepping out cages and feeding wild animals. It was outside of my comfort zone to have parrots landing on my head and shoulders and various species of monkeys crawling all over me, but the volunteers we met made the whole experience worthwhile. Once again we got to know another amazing group of 30 people who came from many parts of South America as well as Europe. There were even two Canadians there with us. Caring hearts attracts these kids to this type of project. They loved the animals and were very kind to old ladies like me too! We took turns cleaning dishes, feeding and observing the various animals. The prep kitchen was buzzing with people three times a day at feeding time. There were over 11 different species of monkeys alone with the majority being the intelligent Capuchins. They also had a huge contingency of several different species of parakeets, parrots, and macaws. I woke up to “hola” and sexy whistling each dawn which I thought was coming from Mark but eventually realized  it was the birds making all the fuss. Some of the more unique animals were the tapir, capybara, margays, ocelots, toucans, puma and spectacle bears. Vicky, the owner, had recently recorded a sad story of one of the bears who was beaten in Cochabamba and as a result lost his eyesight. Senda Verde was asking the government to pass a law to protect these rare bears and to name the law after this particular bear so that his suffering would not be in vain.


Playing with Maho

It was surreal to walk to our house and have a spider monkey climb up wanting to snuggle for a few moments. Some of them fell asleep in our arms. We learned that we had to be cautious with a few of these animals because one in particular had a bi-polar personality and could switch from a loving pet to a crazy wild beast in a matter of seconds. Sylva was the Spider Monkey that I tried to stay clear of. Hannah was enjoying a hug from her and just finished saying how incredible it was to get hugged so tightly by a monkey when Sylva had a tantrum and started biting her on the arms. My brave girl just stood there and waited for Sylva to calm down. Another volunteer lured Sylva away and Hannah was able to escape with only small injuries. On another occasion the front door was left open and Luke and Hannah were upstairs reading. They looked up to find a spider monkey swinging from the balcony inside the house. Luke managed to shoo her out the door before she got into too much mischief. We were pretty sure it was Sylva as we witnessed her checking all of the latches to see who had left their door open. I also gave a wide berth to the spider monkeys at the vet clinic because they liked to pee on me from a distance and some had exceptional aim.


Hannah and Sylva


Hannah feeding the Yellow Squirrel Monkeys


Luke feeding Cappy

We all fell in love with Maho, a baby howler monkey who was being monkey-sat by Emily, a Swiss/American volunteer. We were not sure who Jacob enjoyed spending time with more Maho or Emily. He spent countless hours wrestling and running after Maho and hanging out with Emily. Since Maho had the same colour of red hair as Jacob we were thinking that perhaps they were related….. Jacob’s behaviour often resembled Maho’s as well…hmmm


Jacob with his brother from another mother….


Exotic animals at Senda Verde


Naomi taking Tattoo for his morning walk

Did I mention that they had a rat problem there? The refuge was situated beside a river and with all of the food available the rat population was thriving. I have a huge fear of rats, so I found it very uncomfortable eating dinner and watching a rat crawl up the outside screen. Thankfully the rats mostly kept to areaswhere the food was plentiful outside near the feeding areas and animal prep kitchen, but there was also an incident with rats in the human kitchen too ahh………..

I survived the death road on a downhill mountain bike.  What a beautiful, scary experience, but the t-shirt was well worth it. Hundreds of people used to die every year on this road which was the main highway connecting the low lands to La Paz as it was only 3 meters wide in sections with 400 meter drops off the edge. Passing a bus on some sections was almost impossible. Again, I was proud of my brave girls who navigated with little problem. Naomi did one end-o over the handlebars and Mark fell off his bike at one point but fortunately it was early on in the trip before the stakes got high! The boys had ridden the road earlier on with kids from Up Close so it was just the four of us left to conquer the road along with my adopted daughter, Nina from Edmonton. We started with 6 inches of snow at the top and ended in the jungle at 26 °C, a change of altitude of over 6000meters. What a day of adrenalin and excitement. The views were spectacular and well worth risking my life for.


Biking The Death Road


Halfway on The Death Road


Death Road, Bolivia

The grand finale of our time in Coroico was riding the Flying Fox zip line at 85km/hr through the Amazon canopy hundreds of meters above the valley floor. We waved to the puma at Senda Verde as we whizzed over the reserve below, a thrilling end to a great time in the Yungas region of Bolivia. After two weeks at the wildlife reserve we returned to La Paz for a final farewell BBQ and birthday party for Naomi with Willie’s family.  We also hit our favourite cafe, Cafe Del Mundo, which the kids had been dreaming of while eating rice and buns at Senda Verde and said farewell to our two lovely adopted daughters Emily and Nina. We flew on to Miami for a five night lay over to restock our wardrobes and make plans for our trip to South Africa.


Emily ( adopted daughter from Switzerland) and the girls ready to zipline….


Nina (adopted daughter from Edmonton)


Farewell with the Vargas family

Not all learning comes from a classroom

This was a persuasive speech that Naomi wrote for her English class. We thought it captured the spirit of the trip well and also covered some of the major points of the trip so far so we decided to post it. Enjoy!

While hiking on Isla De Sol in Bolivia over looking the largest alpine lake in the world,  we stopped and sat down on a stone table used for sacrificing humans in Inca times. You don’t get that close to history in social studies class. “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”, a quote from Mark Twain. Not all learning comes from a class room.  Not all education comes from text books or lectures. Education can also come from travelling and experiencing the world. School is important, but it can’t teach us everything. I have been travelling for six months and have learned more about the world than I ever would have sitting and listening to a teacher. I have learnt about global politics, environmental issues,  and different cultures. I have learnt about history, languages, and different cuisines. My social skills have grown immensely as well as my perspective on the world today. Not only does travelling educate you but it also gives you adventure. Travelling challenges you in ways school never could.

Sure politics can be taught from a text book, but it is different when you experience it first hand. While learning to surf in California, I had many political conversations with locals about the election of Donald Trump. I learned about their political system, how it works and how it doesn’t, how their politics compares to Canada’s and how it effects other countries. When volunteering at a children’s home in Bolivia I heard how their leader, Evo Morales, started out as a  good president. At first Evo was very good to the 37 indigenous groups. However, he changed over time and is now trying to build a hydro electric dam in a national park that will flood an area where many indigenous people live. Now the indigenous groups are united against him and are threatening civil unrest. I learned how he eliminated his opposition and changed the constitution so he could stay in power longer. Travelling has taught me a lot about politics and how it effects individuals.

Temperate rain forests, tropical rain forests, deserts, boreal forests, grasslands, coral reefs. These are some of the different biomes I have experienced while travelling. When you travel not only do you encounter different environments but also you see how global warming is takings its toll on our earth. I have seen that the coral reefs are starting to bleach and die, I have seen glaciers starting to recede and disappear, and I can see that the rainy season isn’t that rainy anymore. In many developing countries there are heaps of garbage that flood the streets, rivers, and lakes. There are water shortages all over the world. California, Bolivia, South Africa, Ethiopia are all in droughts. You don’t fully understand or care about these problems until you have seen or experienced them. In La Paz Bolivia I have seen crowds of people lined up behind trucks with buckets waiting to get water for their families. In fact, I have been one of those people. I have seen the military handing out jugs of water to people who have been with out it for 20 days in a row. Seeing and experiencing these situations can teach you more than science class ever could.

Where do you think you would learn more? Looking up pictures and information on spider monkeys online, or helping take care of rescued monkeys at a wild animal refuge in the Bolivian jungle.  What would impact you more? Researching online the disappearance of sea stars along the west coast of North America, or sailing with a local  from Haida Gwaii who has seen these dramatic, and rapid changes in our oceans.

There are so many different cultures that we don’t learn about in school. When you travel you are immersed in some of these cultures. You learn about different social expectations, religions, traditions, foods, and arts. While you travel you make connections and new friends from around the world. I have made friends from Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Switzerland, France, Norway, and even Canada. Though you might not stay in touch with all the people you meet you can still learn a lot  from them. They can teach you about their cultures, like how you are supposed to greet someone or about how their education system works.

In social studies class you learn a little European and Canadian history, but when you travel you can go to the historic places and museums to learn even more. While travelling on Haida GwaiiI I visited three abandoned first nations village sites and was given the history by a local Haida. I learned more about the devastation of European contact than I would have listening to a teacher drone on about certain dates and names.

Viajar puede animarle a aprender nuevos idiomas ( traveling may encourage you learn new languages)! Learning a new language opens so many opportunities for meeting new people or getting to know a place better. In school you may take a French or Spanish class but if you aren’t speaking the language every day, you don’t progress much. Travelling improved my Spanish much faster then it would have sitting in french class, because I needed it.

Feeding spider monkeys at a wild animal refuge, volunteering at a home for children removed from abusive or neglectful homes, helping woman and children who have been trafficked, sailing through Gwaii Haanas, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are only some of the life changing experiences I have had while travelling. From theses experiences I have learnt about biology, global politics, environment, cultures, history, and languages.  They have given me perspective, confidence, and individuality. Not all learning happens in a classroom. Education comes from life experiences so go travelling, go experience the world, go get an education.

Thoughts from Ruth – Grateful for the journey



3 months in… – Oceanside, California

A year-long world trip with our family has been a dream of Mark and mine for many years. Ever since we took a year and traveled as a young married couple in 1992-1993 we thought we may one day repeat our experience with our family in tow. Travelling is an activity that we both enjoy and our adventurous spirits are always excited by another chance to see new places and meet new people. What an amazing way to kick off my 50th year and celebrate 25+ years of marriage. We are very grateful for the opportunity to do this trip and have many people who have come along side us and encouraged us to make it possible. Both Mark and I have awesome people who work with us who are very capable of carrying on without us for a year. Our businesses are thriving and we are grateful for all of our employees’ hard work. We also have an amazing house sitter who is enjoying our place just as much as we are enjoying our journey. It is only because of our trust and confidence in them that we are able to relax and cherish this time with our family. Our community and families were very supportive of our decision to travel. We had many people encouraging us before we left town saying they were surprised that four teenagers wanted to spend a year with their parents. Most days we think this was a great idea, but we do have our moments when we wonder what the heck we were thinking!

Although this is an incredible opportunity, nothing is gained without sacrifice. Luke sacrificed going into a co-op program at U of A and also graduating with his peers in the mechanical engineering program. Jacob forfeited moving on to university with his peers. Naomi sacrificed attending school for Grade 11, an important academic year. Hannah gave up transitioning to high school with her peers. Mark recently opened a brand new vet facility in Invermere and gave up working in this beautiful building during its first year of operation. And I reluctantly sacrificed a year of cooking, laundry, and housework….We are grateful that each family member chose family time and adventures together, as we travel the world and make lifetime memories. This year is about slowing down, being grateful, and enjoying each other and the fruits of our labour.

The first leg of our journey was in a motor home which we nicknamed the Zehnderprise or the Moho. A man named Doug (he reminded me of my Dad) renovated the Moho for us. This was the first confirmation that our trip was meant to be. We had approached many people about taking on the task of renovating the Moho, but nobody wanted to tackle the job.  Doug literally showed up on our doorstep in May during a Wings Over The Rockies bird tour on our farm. He had recently moved to the Columbia Valley and was a retired RV repair man. We quickly got his number and he began getting our 30 foot 1999 Fleetwood RV ready for departure. He installed a queen bunk in the back, checked all the appliances and gave us the RV 101 condensed version of how to run and operate an RV. (Being avid backpackers, we just had a couple of tents and a 1970’s 16ft. Bolar to camp in for soccer trips.) We could not have fit six adults in this machine without the expertise Doug provided.

By mid-July we were finally ready to launch the Zehnderprise to explore the Yukon, a wee bit of Alaska, the B.C. West Coast, and the USA West Coast. I have realized that what interests me most as we travel are  stories of the people that live in each place, as well as enjoying the beauty and diversity in the nature unique to each area. Our first leg of the journey was through Northern B.C. and the Yukon. Several long days of driving took us up to the far North to take in beautiful vistas of alpine landscapes and rugged mountain ranges. My favorite drive was from Haynes Junction, B.C. to Haynes, Alaska with glimpses of Kluane National Park along the way. I also loved Whitehorse where we spent many days seeing the sites and took in a great fiddling concert at the McBride Museum. Whitehorse is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with lots of hiking, biking, and fishing.


Kluane National Park – Yukon


Drive to Haynes, Alaska

We were fortunate to spend a few days in Dawson Creek with my cousin and her family who have lived and worked with indigenous people in Fort McPherson for the past 25 years. The indigenous’ story is a painful one as the cultural landscape changed from a proud, self sufficient, culturally complex people group to one of residential schools and rampant diseases post contact with Europeans. Evidence of this broken past is still apparent today with alcoholism and high suicide rates.  We stopped at many cultural centres along the way that were celebrating the art and culture of the past and trying to build pride in the next generation as they celebrate their heritage and a way of life that respects the natural world. Beautiful art is emerging as younger generations are being trained in carving, hide tanning, beading, and story-telling.

Another common thread throughout many of the places we have visited in the north is improving food sources and sustainability with growing food locally. The cultural center in Dawson City has just started a community garden for native youth to learn how to grow and market vegetables to improve the diet of many locals. For too long cheep junk food has been consumed instead of expensive fresh produce that is trucked up from the interior of B.C.

I enjoyed learning all about the history of the Klondike Gold Rush from 1896-1899 which was a crazy time period for the Yukon. Men embarked on harrowing voyages in search of striking it rich with hopes of ending their search for wealth and power. What is left is a legacy of bravery, adventure, and broken dreams. Overnight the North was populated with thousands of men looking for a quick way to strike it rich. By the time most of them made the trek climbing mountains and forging rivers, all of the claims had been staked and their only choice was to go home or to work for those who had bought the claims. With all of those men, came similar issues to the oil rigs in northern Alberta, too many men, with too much money, and too much idle time. Gambling and fast living were a big part of that history. We visited Diamond Tooth Gertie’s  Gambling Hall, Canada’s first casino, to watch the Can Can show.  Because of the gold rush, many families eventually relocated to the North bringing with them women and children. Writers such as Pierre Burton, Robert Service and Jack London got their start in Dawson City. A thriving music and art scene is still evident in Dawson city today. We enjoyed an art walk through the town highlighting many local artists as well as a local music festival showcasing many budding musicians.

The next part of our journey took us to Atlin, B.C. which was a beautiful small town (population 300 ) on a huge, deep lake surrounded by glaciers and mountains. We thought Invermere was small, but Atlin had no bank, just  three ATMs that had a withdrawal cap of $20.00, and only one out of the three ATMs worked. Naomi and Mark both got lucky and caught a couple of huge lake trout (35lbs. and 28lbs.), which we ate over the course of a few months. We chuckled as the lady at the information center “welcoming visitors” left two families waiting on the doorstep so that she could go for lunch. It seemed silly in such a small town with tourism as its main industry.  Apparently they take their lunch hour very seriously in this small tourist town. Jane Wilder, a former Invermerite, gave us a lovely tour of her house and garden and a brief overview of the area. She was considering house sitting for us in Invermere while we were away, so it was a coincidence to end up in her back yard. We also ran into a colleague of Nancy Newhouse and Trevor Kinley’s who was a biologist from Nelson. He joined us on a hike up Monarch Mountain overlooking   Atlin Lake and the surrounding glaciers.


Two successful fishermen – Atlin, B.C.

On our journey back south, just north of Dease Lake, we had a little accident with the Zehnderprise.  Mark had a run in with a tree and ended up pulling the back bumper off. I was so proud of team Zehnder as our three men quickly repaired the hind end of the motor home. It was very impressive how well Mark had planned ahead and equipped our house on wheels with all the necessary tools. He pulled out a cordless drill, rivets, screw drivers, glue, duct tape… Only Mark and his capable crew could make a repair of this magnitude out in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service and no electricity. It would have been a long drive back to Watson Lake to find a tow vehicle to carry the Zehnderprise out of the woods.

From Prince Rupert we took the ferry over to Haida Gwaii. As we travelled across I met two physios who gave us lots of information about the island and suggested I read “The Golden Spruce” by John Valliant. I was immersed into the world of Grant Hadwin, a logger who became infamous by cutting down the sacred 300 year old golden spruce in an effort to raise awareness of the massive clear cutting that was going on in the old growth forests on the coast in the 80s and 90s. I learned about the Haida people and how sacred this rare, unique tree was to them. Coming from Saskatchewan the whole concept of logging is foreign to me. My parents planted and cared for every single tree that surrounds our homestead in Saskatchewan and they would never have dreamed of cutting down a tree unless it was old or sick. The author discussed the history of logging and how our need to bring order and light to spaces as well as the desire to build has driven this whole industry.  This is a story of greed, betrayal, myth, and perhaps some mental illness in Hadwin’s case. As we visited many of the places described in Valliant’s book, the story came alive for me and I relived the complex issues surrounding the story of the Golden Spruce.

We were expecting to see a very healthy native community in Haida Gwaii, but some of the stories we heard once we arrived were different. Alcohol is still a huge problem among the native communities and one local told us that some of the carvers have been known to sell their tools in front of the liquor store to get money for alcohol and later buy their tools back with an agreement to give a percentage of their earnings to the person who bought the tools. So sad to think of how alcohol has a hold on their lives and livelihood. Now that the fishing and forestry industries have receded, unemployment is a big problem. Tourism has become the main source of income for many locals.


Jacob helping the Balancing Rock – Haida Gwaii

A very special privilege was to see a reconciliation pole being carved for UBC with five carvers taking two years (ten man years) to complete. The project was overseen by master carver Jim Hart. It was scheduled to be erected October 15th on the UBC campus as a symbol in memory of over 150,000 indigenous children who were sent to residential schools between 1883-1996. Many young carvers were working alongside the master carver on the pole.  Jim Hart’s son was among these young men and he commented on what a privilege it was to be working on such a huge, beautiful tree. His humility and reverence for the tree he was carving made an impression on us all.

A new generation is emerging on Haida Gwaii as young Watchmen in the Gwaii Hanaas Park teach visitors about the ancient ways of the Haida culture. A young Haida man toured us through the UNESCO Heritage Site at SGaang  Gwaay describing how the Raven and Eagle clans operated and how stories and dances were passed down as currency along a matriarchal lineage. Beautiful mortuary poles from the late 18th and early 19th centuries were still standing at many of the sites.

We were fortunate to travel through the park on a 40ft. restored wooden sail boat called the Piraeus. What a privilege to share the journey with two archaeologists, Ann and Tom, who were both very knowledgeable about the Haida culture and sites. When I first met Ann I jokingly said “ Hi, we are the huge family with four teenagers that is here to spoil your trip!” They would have had the Piraeus all to themselves if we had not booked at the last minute. Ann just looked at me and said “Yup” and walked away. I thought maybe she hadn’t heard what I said, but we later laughed about it as she told us that she had heard me and that Tom was mortified of her response. In the end, I think they were happy to have us along.


Daphne with Ann and Tom in the background – Gwaii Hanaas

Ann had been a professor of archaeology at the University in New Mexico for many years and we were all excited when she found a Haida artefact at one of the sites. Captain Bill planned on handing the tool over to the museum in Skidegate when we returned. We also had the most amazing cook with us, Daphne, a Mexican woman who studied culinary arts at Concordia and once had her own restaurant in Montreal. I appreciated all of the great food and amazing smells that wafted up from the galley. She cooked up her famous kelp lasagne that is still on the menu at the Canoe restaurant in Toronto. We also stopped for a bag of her favourite coffee on our way to the boat and guess what she picked up…. Kicking Horse Z-Wrangler!! Although we enjoyed the park, the weather did not cooperate for us to be able to raise the sails, which was very disappointing for me. However, the beauty of the islands, the diversity of the aquatic and bird life, and the interesting Haida culture made these islands a magical place to visit.

Our paths diverged for a few weeks as the girls and I headed to Vancouver Island and the boys stayed on Haida Gwaii. The Zehnderprise was stuck on the island for ten days due to a change in the fall B.C. Ferry schedule that we hadn’t anticipated. We enjoyed the inside passage from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on an overnight B.C. ferry. Our accommodation was very modest as we rolled our sleeping bags and mats out on the carpeted floor. Once we landed at Port Hardy, Naomi   took the wheel and drove part of the way to Victoria until we hit the four- lane, 120kmh highway outside of Nanaimo.  Considering it was her first highway driving with her new “L” she managed extremely well.

photo 1.JPG

Time with the Overmans – Victoria

Our time on Vancouver Island was spent doing school work as well as visiting the Restons and my Cousin Arlene’s families. We enjoyed two beautiful hikes with the Overmans and a peaceful stay in Driftwood Cabin overlooking Reston’s garden.  A highlight was being present for the official welcome of the Royal couple to Canada. It was interesting to hear that they had an itinerary that included  many of the same areas we had just visited on our summer tour:  Vancouver, Whitehorse, Carcross, Bella Bella, Kelowna, Haida Gwaii, and a day in Victoria on a SALT’s boat (three of our kids have sailed many times with this group). They could have asked us to plan their itinerary for them! We were particularly honoured to have a wave from Kate and William as they walked past us on the red carpet at the legislative building in Victoria.


Waiting for Kate and William – Victoria

We were reunited with the fellows in Langley at the end of September. They had made a quick trip to Kelowna to stay with Mark’s Dad for a few days while he got a pacemaker implanted. It was definitely God’s timing as they were on their way to Langley when they got the call that Fritz was being flown to Kelowna for an emergency surgery. It was easy to reroute to Kelowna on the way down from Prince George and spend a few days with Grandpa while he had his surgery.

My gracious cousin, Joanne, and her husband Mick, hosted us in Langley for over two weeks as we sorted out the last few homeschooling, insurance, banking, car and Moho repair, and health issues before we left the country. Mark had been having a lot of roaming arthritic pain and a nerve root irritation radiating into his right arm. We were grateful for a quick referral to a rheumatologist in Vancouver from a young doctor on Haida Gwaii. We were concerned about rheumatoid arthritis, but all of his tests were negative and the specialist felt it was more of a poly-myalgic rheumatica.  Thankfully he has been able to manage his symptoms with over the counter anti-inflammatories.

It was awesome to have a break from the motor home before heading south down the west coast. We all appreciated having our own bedrooms and lots of space in the backyard and house after sharing the 30 ft. motor home space for two months.  We were treated to lattes and yummy treats, a giant hot tub, a tennis court, and a weekend at the beach house on Whitby Island. My Mom flew down for a weekend to visit with us and we walked/biked the sea wall at Stanley Park together.


Whitby Island beach house – Washington

There were many family meals with my Aunt Ella and cousins as well as a “Fly over Canada” night that my Aunt insisted on taking us to.  This meant we could take the “drive across Canada” off of our itinerary 😉  I am so thankful for this time we had together as my 84 year old Auntie  had a massive stroke and passed away on January 31, 2017. I often walked across the pasture to visit her as a child in Saskatchewan and she drove me all over Vancouver looking for a wedding dress 26 years ago. She was larger than life, generous beyond measure, hard working and adventurous.  Her legacy of how to age with grace, beauty and resilience has been an incredible example to me.

photo 3.JPG

Teaching Aunt Ella how to take a selfie – White Rock, B.C.

photo 3 (1).JPG

Aunt Ella with her grandson, great-grandson, and my mom Mayvis – Vancouver

Our drive around the Olympic Peninsula and down the Washington-Oregon coast was rather wet.  Originally we had planned to be heading south in mid September, but because of several issues our departure was delayed until mid October. Highlights were the Redwoods, Canon Beach, Scenic Capes, Tillimook Cheese Factory, the Columbia Gorge, and an NBA game in Portland. The rugged, wild pacific coast did not disappoint us in all of its glory. Narrowly escaping two tornadoes that touched down a few km from where we were travelling made us very grateful for safety on our journey and kept the trip exciting.


Scenic Capes – Oregon Coast

Near the end of October we crossed the border to California where the classic California scenes soon became apparent. The sun came out and we started passing VW vans driven by long haired surf dudes with surfboards attached to the roofs. I’m not sure if it was my imagination or not, but I’m pretty sure I heard the Beach Boys blaring from their boom boxes. We camped at many beautiful State Parks on beaches along the coast. Getting through San Francisco and Los Angeles safely was one of our main concerns as we made our way down the number one.  Mark spent many hours researching what the best route and time of day was to pass through these two large cities in a 30ft. motor home towing a 16ft. car. We decided to unhook the car and drive through separately.  Mark and Luke bravely navigated through both cities without an incident.


Driving the California Coast

After a stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium   (we saw Dori’s kelp forest home from “Finding Dori”) ,an amazing place to visit, we headed on to San Diego. We were content to stay put for several weeks in Encinitas, a small surf town outside of San Diego.  The kids rented wet suits and surf boards to try surf lessons with a local legend, Matt. He got the kids standing up on their boards on their first lesson. They swallowed a lot of salt water, but were proud of their progress over a few days. Like skiing, there are many levels of competency with surfing as well as a whole bunch of etiquette to learn. The kids learned a lot trying to read the waves and figure out the timing. The waves were always changing and each beach could be very different at any given time on any given day. We relied on the local 7-10 year olds to show us the safest places to catch the waves.

DSC_7765 (1).jpg

Luke deciding he would rather ski – Encinitas, California


Hannah getting Mark ready for our company – Encinitas, California

Everyone was happy to see some familiar faces from home when we met up with the Pitaoulis crew. We spent one weekend at a campground with Kirk and Kerilyn Pitaoulis and their kids. Our gang had a blast surfing and playing ping pong with them. Later in the week the Van de Kemps arrived and we all gathered for a few meals together. The Van de Kemps were given the low down on the Zehnderprise and we passed the torch (keys) to them to start the return voyage home. It was a sad farewell to the Zehnderprise, which had been our home for so many months, but we knew it was in good hands.  Aaron’s Dad drove us to the airport with our pared-down gear (carry on backpacks) and we waved good-bye to begin the next part of our adventure.



Surfin’ with the Kirkmeister – Oceanside, California


Farewell Party with the Van de Kemps – Encinitas, California



Bolivia here we come – San Diego Airport

Day 190

January 31, 2017

So I just got my bag searched. We were in the Coachabamba airport on our way to Miami. Coachabamba is known for its cocaine industry, so when the security guard came across a bag of white, fluffy things he got suspicious. He repeatedly asked me (gestured, because he couldn’t speak English) what they were? Do you eat them? Is it chocolate? I couldn’t respond. I was too busy turning beet red, and laughing to the point of tears. Everyone else was waved through. I was the last one at the table as “Curious George” meticulously dissected the suspicious objects, looked at them very closely, and smelled them. I was holding my breath hoping he wouldn’t taste them! I was a little worried when he called in some of his colleagues to assist him in his examination. How in the world was I supposed to explain to them what they were for? I tried the English word, Spanish word, gestures, even Google translate! After about 20 minutes they reluctantly let me through, though I’m pretty sure they still didn’t get it. Who knew tampons could cause so much trouble.


The Bolivian Vignettes Episode I: No Water


As you may have heard on the news, Bolivia is currently experiencing a water crisis. I thought I will share the information I have surrounding the problem, as well as our own personal experience with it.

The worst of the water shortage in Bolivia is in it’s capital city La Paz. The rest of Bolivia has also been affected, especially in the rural desert areas, but the large population of 2 million in the La Paz-El Alto area has had the worst of the drought. When we first got to Bolivia, the water restrictions had just been put in place. When the word came down from the government that there was a water shortage, the people were shocked! The government suddenly cut off the water and some of the population went without any water for 20+ days without any warning or time to prepare. There had been no communication from the government about any kind of water problems until suddenly they simply turned off the taps and told people that the three water reserves for the city were at 5%, 8%, and 8%. Currently, there is a 1 day on, 2 days off restriction for water usage for the La Paz population. To get water on the off days, the people have to line up with buckets behind tankers where the military distributes water.

There are many rumours circulating among the locals surrounding the cause of the water shortage. The main cause has been a lack of rain and receding glaciers. It is currently supposed to be the rainy season in Bolivia, but the whole time we have been here it has only rained a few times. In Bolivia’s already dry climate, the drought is even more noticeable. People are most upset with the government over their poor water management. Some lighter restrictions could have been imposed long before the reserves were so depleted. The bare minimum the government could have done would have been to alert the people to the fact that there was a crisis before suddenly cutting off the water supply. Some people are saying that the government diverted lots of water out of the reserves last year due to heavy rain instead of finding a way to store the extra water. Another far more scandalous rumour is that the government, despite knowing of the water shortage, has been selling large amounts of water to a Chinese mining company to use in their mine. The truth of this is uncertain, but I have heard it from a few of the locals giving me a sense that people are frustrated with the current government over more than just water.

During our first few weeks in Bolivia, we were also limited to the 1 day on, 2 days off water schedule. We only used tap water for showers and washing dishes. All our drinking water was bottled in order to avoid getting sick. The volunteer compound that our house was in had a 6000 L fresh water tank on top of a 25,000 L grey water tank which they used to recycle as much water as possible. In order maintain water supply to the volunteer compound outside of the restrictions, the grey water tank was drained, sanitized, and refilled with fresh water. Since then, we have had a consistent supply of water. Interestingly, the amount of sickness among the 15 or so volunteers increased drastically once the water restrictions were in place. We speculate that there was some sort of contamination of the water in all the confusion of the crisis.

With the glaciers continuing to recede and droughts affecting more and more countries, I do not see any simple fix to the water problems Bolivia is experiencing. Perhaps they will have to import water from other countries, or figure out how to get water from the rain forest up to the Altiplano. Currently they are building a new reservoir and trying to educate the people to be more water conscious, but if the glaciers keep receding and the trend of global droughts continues, La Paz and Bolivia will have a difficult future ahead.

No Water - Millasa, Bolivia.jpg

People lining up for water in Mallasa, Bolivia

CBC article:

The Way to Portland (October 14-17, 2016)


The rain started on our first night around the Olympic Peninsula. For the first few days it wasn’t heavy enough to keep us from the main tourist attractions. We were able to visit at the Sol Duc Hot Springs, take a picture with the world’s largest sitka spruce tree, and go for a scenic drive around the lake near Quinault Lake. It wasn’t until we were on our way out of Quinault Lake that the winds started. It fell onto my shoulders to pilot the Zehnderprise through the storm as Dad’s neck and arm pain was aggravated by driving. There was so much rain that the windshield wipers had trouble keeping up. The winds were strong enough that I had to anticipate when the gusts would come in order to counter steer and keep us going straight. Why would we risk driving in this weather you ask? The weather channels were predicting a huge storm with hurricane force winds that was coming towards the peninsula and was scheduled to hit the coast within 24 hours. We decided that we would rather be in Portland by the time the storm hit, rather than along the exposed coast, so we made a break for it. It turned out that we had made the correct decision as we narrowly escaped two different tornados that touched down in towns we had passed through not 12 hours before.


Piloting through the storm

We found a camping spot in Vancouver (not Vancouver BC) only 15 mins from Portland. We were able to see a lot of Portland in 3 days despite the fact that it rained most of the time we were there. We visited some of the many gardens there including the Chinese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. The purchase of various concert tickets was attempted without any result, but we were able to see an NBA pre-season game between the Portland Trailblazers and the Denver Nuggets. Jake tried to buy a Blazers hat, but for some reason our Canadian debit cards wouldn’t work with their machine. The game was exciting to watch!


NBA preseason game

Of all the touristy things we did in Portland, my favourite was visiting Powel’s City of Books. The book store is a huge three story building that is about the size of a Costco warehouse. The books are separated into 10 different rooms, based on genre, with each room being the size of a regular sized book store. The first time we went, we lost track of time and spent 2 hours wandering through the many different rooms, with as many books as trees in the rainforest.


Staying at a truck stop on the way out of town

We spent two more days in Portland returning to Powel’s each day only to discover more isles full of more books. We also took an afternoon drive through the Columbia Valley Gorge which was meaningful to us as it is the headwaters of the Columbia River that runs through Invermere. Fall colours were evident along the riverbanks and we stopped at many stunning waterfalls along the drive. I really enjoyed Portland and thought it was a city with a lot of character. There were lots of tourist things to occupy our time and great food from the food trucks to occupy our stomachs. I would say Portland feels very similar to Vancouver (yes BC), though I preferred the Canadian city myself. Cool place though!


Columbia River Gorge

Day 123

November 27, 2016 
We all seem to take turns getting sick. Luke, Jake and I were all sick for a few days, now it’s Naomi’s turn. Bolivia is hard on people’s stomaches. 
Mom, Dad and I went with Willy, our Spanish teacher, to his church. It was really cool with lots of loud, high energy, dancing and singing. Afterwards we went to a Bolivian restaurant, which was so good. It was a 4 course meal for 35 Bolivianos per person which is about 7 Canadian dollars.
The boys made it down the World’s Most Dangerous Road on mountain bikes and then they stayed in a Hostel overnight with some of the volunteers. One of the girls wiped out and didn’t remember anything about the trip. She also got a road rash from her spill. It was a three hour downhill bike ride from 6000 meters down to the Amazon. 
We are starting to plan what we are going to do after we are done in Bolivia in mid January. It is a difficult decision but it looks like we are heading to Africa

Day 115

November 18, 2016

Day 2 of our new routine.  

Mom and I went back to Valley of the Moon, Naomi was sick so she didn’t come, and the boys went to the zoo again.They feed us a lot of really good food at the children’s center. We went back to the same classes that we were in yesterday. Mom and I took the bus on our own which was an interesting experience. I think once we start our Spanish lessons everything will seem easier. 

My day is from 8-1, and with the time change I have been really tired. 

Mom made soup for dinner, apparently it was a lot harder because the boiling point is different here due to the high altitude.