Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tragically Hip Misogyny

I was eating lunch today at work and listening to the music that was playing.  Since it was in the back employees can choose any sort of music they want.  Playing today was some sort of electronic dance music.  It incorporated some sort of repetitive electronic music and repetitive lyrics sans melody.  If you haven't gathered by the repetitive use of the word repetitive, I'm not a huge fan.  However, it wasn't the music that got me so angry today.

I can't exactly remember the lyric exactly though I should, since it was repeated for an extended period of time.  The lyric went something like, "I'm a pimp and you my ho."  If that isn't the lyric it certainly is close to being the theme.  It was a sort of boastful claim.  Now I know that music needs to push the limits in order be considered new and edgy.  I also know that the limits have been pushed to a great extent so not much is taboo anymore.  However, I found myself being incredibly offended by the song.  

I know that the term pimp is roughly synonymous with "cool" but I find it to be nothing more than shockingly ignorant and callous; because of course, the word is also a word to describe a man who controls prostitutes.  I am of course, woefully ignorant of the world of prostitution and pimps.  I wouldn't hesitate to say, despite this ignorance, that the relationship between pimps and hoes would best be described as master and slave.  

If some artist wrote a song bragging about having black slaves picking cotton for him he would be severely castigated, and rightly so.  Why then is there absolutely no censure for bragging about what I can only see as fleshmongering?  Maybe I am missing so new definition of the terms pimps and hoes, but I don't think so. 

What is so cool about the pimp and ho lifestyle?  Why is that when dance clubs have their pimp and ho nights, they are widely attended and enjoyed?  Do the guys not see how offensive it is to dress as pimps?  Do the girls not see how degrading be the mindless, trashy dressed, property of the guys?  Do they not care?  

I don't think that I will let the term pimp slide by in conversation anymore.  So unless you're desiring a diatribe on the evil of pimping, I would avoid using the word in my company in anything other than the original, contemptuous context.  I'm not the most ardent of feminists, but I think this is one place that I draw the line.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time's Up.

It's a little too reminiscent of Patch Adams so I decided against it, sort of.  What I thought was to start this blog with a list of euphemisms such as: bought the farm, kicked the can, pushing up daisies, shuffled off this mortal coil, passed away, went to a better place, met their maker, et cetera ad infinitum.  Point is, there seems to be a necessity of avoiding words like death and die.

This point was driven home on Tuesday.  On Monday night my grandma, or Beppe as we call her, went to the hospital with complications arising from cancer.  She has had cancer for years now but it has been kept under control through a specialized treatment that is only available, I think, in Amsterdam and Edmonton.  Because of this treatment she has lived a fairly regular life for the past several years despite having cancer.   

The happy ever after fairy tale seemed to be ending on Monday though.  She became quite sick and suffered from vomiting and other symptoms of malaise.  The doctors told us to "prepare for the worst" as I'm sure they euphemistically put it, when some fluid entered her lungs.  Her children put everything on hold and rushed to be by her side while I sat helpless in Calgary re-appreciating how important this woman is to my life.

Tuesday I spoke with her for what was presumably to be the last time.  This is what spurred me to later think about death and its euphemisms.  My mom had told me that Beppe was at peace with death and obviously understood the severity of her condition.  I was aware and wanted to make sure that she understood how much I love her and how much I appreciate the important role that she's played in my life.  The problem is that there is the unspoken rule that prohibits people from speaking about death.

Death and taxes right?  Everybody knows that it's inevitable.  But consider the following hypothetical situation.  While driving you come across an accident.  You rush to help and discover the driver alive but sufficiently injured that there is obviously no hope whatsoever of survival.  Now in times like these people have a powerful desire to have some last words, to tell friends and family how important they are and that sort of thing.  There are thoughts that need to be vocalized prior to death.  The stereotypical, "tell _____ that I love her" sort of thing. However, when you come to this doomed person do you ask, "Do you have anything that you want me to tell your loved ones?"  or do you lie and say, "Hold on, you're going to be OK."

You might ask the first question but I'm sure that the instinctive reaction is the second comment.  There is almost an imperative that you can't admit death as if it is somehow shameful to die.  Speaking with my Beppe I tried to tell her how much I love her and what she means to me but likely I stated it awkwardly because the whole time I was trying desperately to avoid any words that implied she was about to die.  Thus the past tense became entirely taboo.  I love you is easy but when I tried to tell her how important she's been in my life it sounded too final, like she was important but those times are ending.

She told me that she knew where she was going.  What do I say to that?

Well at the time it was assumed she hadn't long to live but she survived the night and doctors were more optimistic in the morning.  But no matter how optimistic they become she's still mortal.  Hopefully I'll get to speak with her again but it's certain that one day I won't be able to tell her anything more.  I fly tomorrow to go visit.  I will try harder to say what I feel.

The question of this blog is, "why are we so ashamed of death?"  I think that this is a direct quote from Patch Adams, maybe I just can't escape that movie.  That's the question of the blog but I'm instead going to answer a different question, or at least hazard a guess, on the question of how to live life with the knowledge of death. 

I read a great quote by G. K. Chesterton the other day.  It wasn't entirely about this question but it is such a cool quote that I'm going to force it in here anyway.  He said to, "desire life like water and yet drink death like wine."  Writing this quote I see that it fits even less than I had hoped.  He was speaking of courage and how a soldier must act if he is surrounded by enemies and needs to escape.  

In the case of living though we must love life and live to the fullest.  We must desire life like water.  However, the knowledge of death must always temper our actions.  Death has the fantastic ability of focusing on the important things in life and removing the minor details. Nobody on their deathbed stresses about what colour flowers they had at their wedding though many stress about it at the time.  Proximity to death makes things like friends and family of the utmost importance.  My Beppe was at peace because her family was with her on what was believed to be her deathbed.  Her family was there and there was love so she was happy.

So as we live our lives we must be cognizant of death without fearing death.  Look at a clock with a second hand.  Each second that ticks is a second less of life.  The amount of time left is unknown but it is certain that each second that ticks by brings us one second closer to our last. What are you going to do with your time left?  What am I going to do with my time left?

I don't entirely know the answer to the question but I do have a partial answer.  I wish to live so that if I'm denied the opportunity of having last words it won't matter because my friends and family will already know that I love them.  (Because I lived out my love, and to drive the point home, I regularly told them.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life Is More Exciting For Cyclists

Cyclists and drivers are a bit like boys and girls in a grade two classroom.  They are thrust into the same space and told to get along, yet the gulf between the two mentalities is so great that neither side really likes or trusts the other.  I have rejoined the world of cyclists and have once more embraced a car hating attitude.
 The main problem with cars is that they are bigger, stronger, faster and you know that the driver isn't paying as much attention to the road as to his cell phone, radio and hair.  The problem with bikes is that they are slower, harder to see and you know that they are being powered by someone who is slightly insane.  

   As a cyclist I need to proactively guard against careless drivers because I don't really care who's at fault when I'm run over.  Staying alive is a very real priority while biking.  One of the dangers when riding is when people pass when there really isn't room to pass.  Calgary doesn't have a lot of shoulder room on a lot of its roads so at times I feel most comfortable riding in the lane so cars have to change lanes to pass me.  There's a chance that I will delay the driver by half a minute but if that half minute of their time means that I don't die, I think that it's a good deal.  

Today I was biking from the university to the Currie Barracks which conveniently lets me bike down 29th Ave by Foothills Hospital.  This is a great road because there's a fun hill that allows me to get up to high speeds.  I powered past a hapless cyclist while cruising beside the hospital and then started down the hill in a devil may care, hell bent, balls to the wall 60+km/h manner, tucked down so that not one extra molecule of atmospheric friction would delay my trip of insanity.  

I think that drivers often feel the urge to pass a cyclist as soon as possible, even when the cyclist is going above and beyond the speed limit.  On this hill I get going fast enough that often vehicles slow me down so I didn't feel bad at all about leaving the shoulder and riding behind a van in front of me.  I was flying down the hill when the van inexplicably began to slow down.  
It is easy to become accustomed to high velocities, it's a familiarity breeds contempt sort of thing.  Well it's also very easy to quickly become re-aware of the danger of high velocity, just try and stop in a hurry.  

I always figured that a bike should be able to stop twice as fast as a car, but going down that hill the van was definitely slowing down faster than I was.  I was braking as hard as possible without skidding and the van was suddenly very big and very close.  If the driver happened to look in her rear view mirror at that time it probably would have been quite rewarding.  A human face far closer than expected upon looking in the mirror, and a face wearing an expression of panic.  

However, I doubt that she looked back until too late.  I imagine that she looked back just after upon hearing a thump as she was rear ended by a cyclist.  Luckily I had managed to slow my bike down enough; my front tire hits bumper and stops immediately, my inertia compels the back wheel to depart terra firma and I'm airborne, briefly.  Soon, gravity being what it is, I'm reacquainted with my earthbound tendencies.  A quick, ungraceful roll and I stop.  I immediately try and get up, though I think it took a couple of attempts.  

The people in the car behind me ask me if I'm alright, I indicate to the positive.  The car I hit drives on, either unaware of what occurred, or uncaring.  I think that I might have scuffed their bumper so maybe it's good that they didn't stop.  

I regain my senses and try to put my chain back on.  However the back wheel isn't spinning.  A quick inspection reveals the wheel to be bent, more than a little.  Looks like it's the bus for me.
So end of the incident tally.

My body-small scrape on arm and leg but otherwise fully intact
My bike- presumably fine except for the damage to the wheel
My pride- wounded, though strong enough to handle greater damage than that.  Dare I say it? Pride suffers after the fall.  

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blogging Takes Friggin' Practice

I don't want to do the same old thing that so many of my latest, though by no means recent, blogs have done; speculate the reasons for the declining number of posts that I have been doing.  I went to writing multiple times a month to have multiple months pass by without any new posts.  

My failure to post regularly has ironically been partly due to that, I wanted to post a new blog but I couldn't really think of anything to write about other than why I'm not writing much at all.
Well with the idea that beggars can't be choosers, my readers, should there be any of you left, will have to be satisfied with what I put down here.  

I actually found my way to my blog today through a hyperlink on my church's website.  I don't know how I feel about being linked from my church's website.  I mean, my blog isn't really a Christian blog though I do at times write about Christian themes.  But it's similar to my reason to not want a Christian fish or bumper sticker on my car, I don't want people judging Christianity by what or how I drive.  I also don't want people judging my church from my blog.  In both cases I don't really think that I project a bad impression, but it's not the honest impression.  Rather than read my blog, people who want to know about my church should come out and attend. 

The other day in philosophy class we were discussing the end of man by which we mean the end meaning for the existence of humankind.  For example, some would say that pleasure is the ultimate aim, others power, others wealth.  We were discussing Aristotle's view that this ultimate goal should have no further reasons for being a goal.  For this reason he choose happiness as the ultimate end.  Because while you could say the goal of attaining wealth would be to buy things, the desire to buy things would be because owning things makes one happy. But why does one want to be happy?  Well the answer is to be happy.  There are no further reasons.  

Aristotle figured that the ultimate aim needs to be able to stand alone.  He didn't like the idea of an infinite chain of reasons for every action.  One student speculated that perhaps there could be a chain of reasons should the end of man be the satisfaction that comes with achieving each goal.  The prof listened and then said, "So in this case the chief aim of man is to get shit done."  

So really these last two paragraphs were a long winded explanation for this one simple point.  I want to write my blog without worrying that I may cause offense because I'm linked to a church's website.  Should I feel the need to include a curse, I want to do it.  Well I'm not going to worry.  Judging by the quality of this post I should worry about whether people are going to read my blog at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where Did I Lose the Touch?

It is interesting, to me, to consider the songs of the Beatles. One thing that they all have in common is that they are AWESOME! However, it's interesting to note that when the Beatles split up all four members went on to solo careers and none of the music that they did afterwards was as good as what they did together. Granted they put out some good songs but nothing compared to their Beatles material. It was almost as if their was some magic that they had when working together.

I didn't start this blog to teach about the Beatles though. It is just that they are never a bad place to start and I want you to remember the theory that Paul McCartney is only a great songwriter when working with John Lennon and vice versa and that only with George Harrison and Ringo Starr did they manage to create such timeless, universally appreciated music.

I started blogging October 24, 2004 back when Myspace was trendy. My very first blog went as follows:

"This may work.

I will just try to get something actually posted. My last two blogs seem to be lost somewhere in cyberspace. Weird. So don't criticize me if I don't say anything intellegent here. If you are reading this it means I have already accomplished a lot. That is relatively speaking of course."

I posted perhaps every month or so for the next year, my blogs generally being about the same length and quality as that. In late 2005 I moved to Calgary from Kelowna, in early 2006 I moved in with Calvin and Lisa. My blogs grew longer and I feel the quality improved. Later Kevin moved in and, in my opinion, my blogs grew better still. The Chateau Rockingham stage began and my blogs reached a zenith.

Early this year I went traveling and I started posting fewer blogs but I figured that it was due to lack of access to a computer. Later I was tree planting and I wrote fewer and the quality showed a remarkable drop. I thought things would improve upon finishing my season and yet her I am, with a rather poor excuse for a blog. Today, like many days in the recent past, I was thinking of ways I could rectify this yet I have been unable and somewhat unispired to write the simplest of blogs. I wondered what could possibly have changed when I remembered the Beatles. So now I offer to you the conclusion that I am not responsible for any of the great blogs I wrote, it is more the result of the wonderfully creative environment that I was so priviledged to share.

So, that is why my blog now stinks.

I should quit blogging but I was doubly inspired recently. The other day I used a friend's computer and noticed that my blog was bookmarked. This was good for my ego. As well, the other day I got a comment on an old blog that was very flattering indeed. I hope that I will one day write another Great Blog.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I logged on to Myspace today because I was looking for a poem that for some reason came to mind the other day. I am not sure of the copyright laws but I am going to risk the lawsuit (this will come back to haunt me after I've made my millions) and post it here without the consent of the talented author.

Ode to a Sheep I Never Actually Sawr by Calvin French

O Sheep!

Hoary-caped perplexed beast!

Your ears jab out:
The gross, pink thumbs of a half-deformed circus performer.
Your legs thrust earthward:
The jealous, stilletto longing of a spindly hollywood anorexic.
Your triangle face stares stupidly:
The free falling emptiness of a heroin addict's last hit.

I want to jump on you, like MARIO!

Butcher and eat you, like MAD, MAD CONSUMERISM!

Spread your colostrum thick on my morning toast, like A FARM BOY!

O Sheep!

Fattened pusher-out of lambs!

Your young bleat nature's yearning:
The mute rage of a thousand emo boys.

What a great poem. Since I had the desire to write a blog but without any clear subject in mind I decided to reread some of my old posts. Every once in a while I really impressed myself. Not saying that what I did was really impressive, just that I'm easily impressed and biased. For example, on writing a blog about Harry Potter and the addictive qualities of the books I titled my blog "Harry Crack or Crack Potter." What a great double pun! I never did gain good inspiration for this blog so instead I will repost an old poem I wrote about living with Calvin, Kevin and Lisa. I hope you like it, because it's among the best writing that I've ever done.

Last Among Equals by Ed Smith

Last among equals, equals me
When we began our household was 4.
But I snuck in my friend Pride.

Pride is an old friend of mine
But he felt unwelcome here.
For although nearsighted, he recognized Greatness.
And Pride doesn't like his company

In vanity I searched for something that I could do better than my house companions.
In vain I gave up
For the headaches of the schoolboy:
Reading, writing, 'rithmetic.
At best, third best in all.

Oh the shame of Art Nights
Burton Cumming's countenance peers laughingly, tauntingly. In Art I have no equal, for all my roomates surpass me.

Music perhaps? There too I am living in a shadow.
My talent and abilities fail to impress.

If red is anger and blue is sorrow, then I am green.
"It's not easy being green."

Lisa quotes Shakespeare, Keats, and Frost.
Kevin quotes Richard Guy, John Conway, Martin Gardnerr and Kevin Shields.
Calvin quotes Sheldon Brown
Ed quotes a muppet.

Ignorance is bliss they say.
Ed is the happiest member of the house they say.
Oh to be ignorant of my ignorance.
Then I could be merry once again.

"Your knowledge of the Beatles far surpasses ours" Lisa says consolingly.
It's true" I reply, failing to see the laughter in her eyes.

"I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries"
But I cannot reach the same conclusion as The Bard, for I am alone.

"But girls seem to like you" Kevin says.
"Although it's inexplicable" Calvin adds, head up his Asperger's.

The humblest of the house (Though not in the virtuous meaning of the word)
Perhaps here my happiness lies.
As a pilgrim travels miles to be with the guru
As the student desires to be at his teacher's side
So I too can learn and grow. Though offering least, I gain most.
And here can I find my gratitude.

I miss that household quite regularly.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random Thoughts and Experiences From Planting

One thing I like about being up north during the summer is the long days. I am not really sure what time the sun rises but it is still somewhat light at ten in the evening. Another thing is that everybody drives big trucks up here. That's not what I like, it's just that as a result the parking stalls here are all huge which makes for super easy parking.

My first season planting I hated the work. I went back for season two and despised the job. During season three I abhorred it. Season four I loathed it. I kept coming back though. I am in the midst of season five, and I don't mind it so much. People accused me of being a "lifer" back when I abhorred it. Is there any escape for me now?

Typically after the loggers cut down and remove all the trees the mill will gather up the bigger branches and unusable logs into big piles of slash. These are placed at regular intervals along the road. The cut block is planted and in the winter the piles of slash are burned. The next season planters go in and plant the burns where the slash was previously piled. Because it is only the burns being planted, boxes of trees need to be left along the road periodically for when the planter runs out of trees.

Planting burn piles was my task last week but the interesting thing was that it was a helicopter block so I was given a radio to radio in when I needed trees. The helicopter would then fly down and drop some off. The other thing is that I only carried about a litre of water so when I ran out of water I would radio in and the helicopter would fly down so I could refill my bottle. I won't lie, you get a feeling of power ordering water by helicopter, especially with the knowledge that it costs $150 every six minutes of flying time. I think that flying in a helicopter might be the best perk about tree planting.

I read Timeline by Michael Crighton the other day. While planting the worst land of the season I was thinking about time travel. I came up with a hypothetical situation. Imagine that Frank and Joe build a time machine. They want to test it but nothing too drastic so Joe is sent back in time only five minutes. Upon arrival the time machine breaks. Joe is stuck five minutes in the past. Because Joe is always five minutes behind, Frank will never again communicate with him. However, Joe can freely interact with Frank's previous self. So although Frank never actually is in the present with Joe, he will always get new memories of Joe. However, what if Frank and Joe planned on this eventuality. Let's say that Joe takes the time machine at 6:00pm. He goes back in time to 5:55pm. He agrees to meet Frank at Starbucks at 7:00pm. Therefore Frank waits an hour after sending Joe back and goes to Starbucks. Joe arrives in the past and waits an hour and five minutes and then goes to Starbucks. Suddenly they are in the same place at the same time. I'm not sure where my reasoning goes astray. It is just so difficult to conceptualize the aspect of time.

My boss was looking for more planters because we are running a little behind. I have planted with a lot of people but I couldn't think of a single person that hasn't retired from planting. Most have real jobs now. I feel old again. There is one other planter in the camp who has planted more seasons than me, one other who has planted the same. However, because I took two years off my first season was two years before his. My first trees are seven years old this year. The trees that I planted yesterday were big enough that they looked seven years old. Time is ripping by. My beard is the best in camp. This means that despite how I feel, I am a grown up. I hope that one day my life will look a little more grown up. Life is going too quickly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Sun is the Same (in a Relative Way)

Of all the trees that I know of, the best one to hug is the Ponderosa Pine, native to my hometown of Kelowna. The reason being is that the bark smells like vanilla. Of all the insects on Earth, I hate Dendroctonus ponderosa, the Mountain Pine Beetle, the most. Driving from Vancouver to Kelowna this spring I was astonished at how much the pine beetle has ravaged the forest. It eats away at the trees and the trees die, turning an unsightly orange colour. Growing up we would often make the drive between Kelowna and Vancouver and I now sort of consider all the land visible from the highway to be mine. Granted I'm willing to share it, but it really was painful to see the extent of the damage on my trees.

Pulling into Westbank I was astonished by how much construction has gone on since my last visit. It is equally astonishing how popular it is to build hideous buildings. Huge stores that blight the landscape with bigger parking lots; the residential areas are no better. Builders especially like to find attractice hill side plots of land, rip down every tree and dig up a gouge across the hill. It is then ready for huge, characterless houses where people can ensconce themselves in front of their big screen tvs comfortable in the knowledge that their SUV's and toys are safe in the attactched three car garage. They don't mind so much that the natural beauty of the city I love is being raped and destroyed.

I then went and visited my grandparents.  It was great to see them both, and to spend time at their house which is still one of my favourite places in the world.  However, things are changing.  They're both aging and it's not clear how long they'll be able to stay in their house.  Furthermore, the painful truth is that my grandma's memory has really slipped. The same question needs to be answered several times, often in the same hour.

I visited my other grandparents. Also lovely, lovely people. It was nice to see them, as always but they too show the signs of aging. Their walk is a little slower and little bit more stooped. Aging is a hard truth.

I arrived in Calgary and went to the Chateau Rockingham, my home only a few months ago. Since I left one roommate has moved out and another in and another has become engaged. Last night we had a bunch of people over, just like old times. It was a reminder of how sweet life my life was while living here. I don't know how I always luck out and have great roommates but I do. However, the thing with roommates is that they are temporary. Last night we drank a scotch in honour of old times while listening to Chopin's Nocturnes on the record player. It was a scene that we had played out many times before but it might be the very last time it will happen here. Life just keeps rolling on.

Evolutionists teach that rapid changes are detrimental to organisms. They cannot respond and evolve and eventually they die out. I currently feel like I can't evolve to all of the changes that are happening around me. Life is whipping by so quickly. My birthday looming around the corner doesn't make me feel any better. As Lisa so kindly pointed out to me, it's a two pack birthday this year; as in I'll need two packs of candles for my cake because they only come in packs of twenty four but I will be twenty five.

This week I will be time traveling though. Treeplanting was a huge part of my life for several years and after a two year hiatus I return to the woods. Hopefully there, I can briefly find some solace from the changes that are rocking my world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Bunch of Reading, a Little Writing, but no 'rithmatic

Perhaps it is the fact that this keyboard does not let me use apostrophes. For this reason I cannot use contractions without looking like an ignoramus. Writing without apostraphes is harder than I would expect. Or because I have been busy. No, that is definitely not the case. The real reason I have not written a blog in a while is that I just have not gotten around to it.
Another reason is that I do not have anything good to write about. With a little work and more talent than I possess perhaps I could make the last few weeks of my life interesting but it would be hard. What I have been doing is reading. I would like to say that I have been reading mind expanding intelectual stuff but that would be a bit of a stretch. I will let you judge for yourself.

Debt of Honor
-Tom Clancy

The Guardian
Dear John
Three Weeks With My Brother
-Nicholas Sparks

Shakespeare: the World as a Stage
-Bill Bryson

The Last Juror
The King of Torts
A Painted House
-John Grisham

A Wrinkle in Time
-Madeleine L'Engle(I copy/pasted the apostraphe)

The Blue Castle
-Lucy Maud Montgomery

There may be others that I have forgotten. If you add that to the books I read while traveling then I am on par for an average of a book a week for this year, probably my best average since high school.

The Source
-James A. Michener

The Man Who Was Thursday
-G.K Chesterton

-Jane Austen

Without Remorse
-Tom Clancy

A Walk in the Woods
-Bill Bryson

The Partner
-John Grisham

Love in the Time of Cholera
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Here is the good news though. Some of my best stories, in my opinion, are from my tree planting days. Well those days are not over! Like a fool I am going back for another season so starting sometime in May I should have a better blog post than this. Misery always makes for good blogs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Q. What’s The Difference Between Dentistry and Torture?

A 1. With dentistry, the victim foots the bill.

A 2. Torture is prohibited under the Geneva Convention.

A 3. There’s a difference?

About grade six is the best time for dental problems to crop up. That’s when lots of kids, including some of the cool ones, have braces so it’s not so noticeable. Furthermore, during these awkward years you already have to deal with the host of socially uncomfortable situations that accompany puberty, what more damage do a set of railway tracks across the teeth do? And of course I have yet to touch upon the greatest reason for juvenile dental problems; at that age parents foot the bill.

I break here for a brief interlude. In my adolescent years I would sometimes see my friends do certain things and then in my head try and imagine what sort of lecture they would receive once their parents learned of the actions. Well I have a cousin who, as a teenager, one day decided that he had grown tired of his braces. With perhaps little more thought than that, he pulled them off with a pair of pliers. Braces, I’m told, are non-refundable. Of all the lectures I’ve known to occur without actually being present, the tongue-lashing that my cousin received I imagine, must have been the most awesome and the most fearsome.

Well I never needed braces, or any sort of dental work besides a cleaning the entire time that my mom was footing the bill. However, the first time that I went to the dentist after moving out I had four cavities. Six hundred bucks for that, if I remember correctly. My luck hasn’t exactly improved since then.

A few years ago I went to the dentist and was told that I had a major problem. Not major because of the trouble it caused me, rather because every option for correcting the problem required a major bill. One of my lower teeth was a little bit loose, apparently because it was still a baby tooth; however, there was no adult tooth underneath to replace it. Prognosis: it would become looser and looser until it would eventually fall out creating dire problems. There were a variety of options to consider, including braces, but really they weren’t options for every one would cost considerably more than I had to spend on my teeth. I did the natural and ignored the problem.

Well here in Mexico dental care is considerably cheaper and what’s more, Louis’ brother’s father in law is a dentist. So, armed with this close connection I headed to get my teeth looked at. He told me the same thing. The tooth was doomed and could be fixed with a bridge, here the dentist all but shuddered revealing his distaste for that option, or ideally it could be replaced with an implant. The dentist in Canada had also expressed that an implant as being the best solution and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive.

I hadn’t for a second considered an implant in Canada, the quote was so high, but here things cost less. So much less in fact that with the difference in price I could have paid for my entire trip from Canada to Brazil, to Argentina and to Mexico and home again with enough change left over to treat Luis to beer every step of the way. So with that knowledge I found myself the other day sitting in a dentist chair, a lousy place really, to spend a holiday, awaiting the surgery to begin.

The dentist numbed my mouth so the drool could flow out unimpeded and told me, “Si, hay dolor, levanta la mano.” I thought to myself, “Oh if there’s pain I will let you know though it might involve more than just raising my hand.” But of course all I slurred was, “Esla bleian” which is Spanish for, “Just do what you have to do. I’ll pay whatever you ask but please don’t hurt me.”

Once my mouth was sufficiently numb the dentist extracted the tooth. Then the fun began. The implant needs to be attached to something; the obvious choice is the jaw bone. So, the dentist began drilling into my jaw so he could insert a screw that would provide the anchor for the implant. Apparently I have nice, solid, dense bone which meant that for some time the dentist stuck a noisy instrument into my vulnerable mouth, and mined away. The drilled caused unpleasant vibrations but it didn’t really hurt. The assistant used that little suction tool to vacuum up most of the blood.

I can’t say for sure how long this went on except that it was too long. Finally it was time to insert the screw. The screw is just that, a screw. It was a new experience to be sure, a man ratcheting a little screw into my jaw. Once that was completed it was time to be stitched up. I felt the blood leave my head when I watched the little needle enter my mouth, but I managed not to faint. He finished and I didn’t even faint when it came time to pay, though I did have to sit down for a minute.

I was given a prescription for some strong drugs which prevent me from drinking alcohol. Lisa and Luis take sadistic pleasure in drinking beer these days. I drink cavity causing soft drinks. Saturday I return to the dentist to have my stitches out. Monday I fly home to Canada. (Vancouver, not Calgary though.) Over the next four months my bone will heal, and tighten around the screw. Some time after that, I return here to have the implant inserted. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and take my drugs.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mexican Memories

I´m a bit shameless about promoting my blog and today is no different. What I mean to say is that two weeks ago I posted three blogs in two days and so I´m not sure if they were all noticed. One reason that I wonder this is because I thought I would get a few more responses to the "How Romantic Are You?" quiz. So if you count yourself among those who´ve been disappointed by the long time in between this and my last blog, make sure that you are up to date.

So I am no longer in Argentina. I arrived here in Mexico on March 10th. I would have liked more time in Argentina but we flew here for a very good reason. My Mom had her spring break holidays these past two weeks and sister Lisa also was available so we all met together here in Mexico for our first family vacation in many years. Luis was invited to join us as guide and boyfriend. (Lisa´s, not mine.)

Well my mom has already come and left but in that short window of time we saw and did a lot. I don´t have the time or inclination to write everything so I will put down a few highlights. They are in chronological order:

A visit to the symphony. We went to hear the Guadalajara symphony play in a beautiful, historic theatre. The venue was gorgeous and the music better. They played a Bach violin concerto and Vivaldi´s Four Seasons. It was great. The Bach concerto was really enjoyable and to you my readers, I will impart the secret of being able to always recognize music written by Bach. Ready? Each note is absolutely perfect. And as an added delight, the Four Seasons is a great piece of music and they came out for a double encore. All in all an amazing (alliteration) experience and all for the reasonable price of $20. (Front row of first balcony.)

A trip to the town of Tequila. Beautiful little town famous for, well I can´t remember at the moment. Luis has a friend who works for the Jose Cuervo tequila factory. The only day he was available to take us out happened to Friday the 14th so we spent Good Friday trying Tequila and enjoying cheap margaritas. Most people have a healthy fear of Tequila but I´ll let you in to another secret that the Mexicans have been keeping from the rest of the world. They´re exporting the lousy stuff. When Tequila is 100% from the Agave plant it is quite nice, and from what I´m told, doesn´t cause the infamous Tequila hangover. Jimmy Buffet´s "Margaritaville" flowed through my head a good portion of the day.

The Town of Mascota. A friend of ours is from this charming little town. It is located in the dusty hills of Jalisco. We stayed at his farm and drove around. I wore a sombrero. A nice little plaza built for flirting. At night the girls circle the plaza going one way and the guys the other so everybody could check everybody else out. Not that this was a highlight, I just thought it was interesting enough to warrant attention. An added bonus, now I can make fun of my friend for being from such a hick town.

The beach by Puerto Vallarta. I won´t say that I loved Puerto Vallarta. It was just too touristy although there are some beautiful areas of the city that overlook the ocean. Nice beaches too. We went to one a ways out of town to avoid the crowds and aggressive vendors. I went for a swim as soon as I got there but I foolishly choose the empty part of the beach. The sand gave way to rocks as soon as I entered the water. The strong current did a good job of dragging my carcass across the barnacle encrusted rocks. I wouldn´t have gone in the water so far if it weren´t for the fact that I had to pee so badly. Later we discovered the reason the two sides of the beach were so much busier. (Soft, beautiful sand all the way out.) I had a great time and managed to not get too burnt.

So that´s my story. There´s more to hear but at a later date. Signing out, Ed

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Best of Argentina

Sometimes it´s the serendipitous experiences that occur while traveling that are the sweetest. On our last full day in Buenos Aires Luis and I went to the outskirts of the city to explore a market that we had heard about. Our English friends Kate and Jane came along as well. We had heard that this market was less touristy than the one in the center and furthermore it was more of a weekly fair, with horses, live music and other interesting things. When we arrived at the market I was a little disappointed. It was smaller than I expected and there were no horses to be seen anywhere.

It turned out that we had been given some misinformation. The fair was at this time of year on Saturdays not Sundays and so there wasn’t too much to see. I did buy a couple souvenirs though, a couple of matte cups. They were available all over the city but marginally cheaper at this fair. Later Luis heard about a restaurant where there was live music so eventually we headed over to take a look.

The restaurant was a simple affair. The building was considerably longer than wide and so from the street there wasn’t much to see. We walked a fair ways towards the back of the restaurant where there was a small stage and the smell of smoky barbeque filled the air. Now it would have been funny to take Kate and Jane there if they were vegetarians, but they aren’t. They’re vegans.

I was leading the way to through the restaurant feeling quite guilty the whole way. In the back of the restaurant was a small courtyard with a big barbeque where a wide array of meats lay sizzling. This was obviously the sort of restaurant where it was more than the language barrier that kept them from understanding the word vegan. However this restaurant was, as I pointed out, the restaurant that I’ve been looking for my entire life.

We sat down and took a look at the menu. Mixed salad and french fries. They were the only two items on the menu that weren’t meat. Not the only two items that didn’t contain meat, the only two items that weren’t meat. Luis and I ordered the special mixed parrilla; it was, after all, our last day. Kate and Jane each ordered a salad and french fries; they didn’t have any french fries. Our waiter brought us out the regular parrilla by mistake. We clarified that we wanted the special parrilla, with the better cuts, and as our waiter went back to change the order Kate, wondering about the huge quantity of meat, asked Luis, “You told him that that it was just for two people right?”

“Oh yeah,” replied Luis. “That is just for two people.”

Now the beer and barbeque alone would have been enough to make it a memorable experience, but then the band came in and began to play. There were two guitarists, and a drummer. The music was loud and catchy, traditional folk songs. They were all talented musicians, but the drummer was more than that, he was also a talented showman. He had one big drum that he wore with a strap slung over his shoulder. With that one drum though he did more than keep time, hitting the edge of drum for varied sounds and adding flairs, using tables and beer bottles for added interest musically and aesthetically.

The restaurant was soon packed with people although we were the only tourists to be seen. The other patrons were all gauchos, Argentinian cowboys, and their families. Argentina is perhaps the manliest country that I’ve ever seen. There’s the amount of meat that’s consumed, and most of the men sport tough looking facial hair, Buffalo Bill moustaches and the like. They manage to button up at least the bottom two buttons on their shirts, any more might hide the hairiness of their chests. Of course the men kiss each other when they greet which is a little bit brokeback, but they get away with it. I would have died before admitting to them that the week before in Brazil I had a manicure.

It was perhaps the best live music that I’ve ever heard. Everyone was having a good time. One of the older guys caught the eye of a woman and they began to dance some of the traditional dances. The songs and dance steps long familiar and their smiles genuine, they weren’t dancing for the enjoyment of tourists. Both lacked the beauty of youth but there dance was the most authentic and I enjoyed watching them dance more than the other professionals we had already seen.

The music was so good that it couldn’t be ignored. The couple began to dance, everyone would cheer at the end of the songs. One man stood on his chair singing along and gesturing wildly.

I was pretty sure that we were the only tourists there, I was positive when later the drummer came to our table and asked us our names and where we were from. He later announced our presence over the microphone, welcoming us. Everyone smiled and waved. It felt good to be treated as guests, rather than money carrying tourists.

When we left the restaurant after several hours we were brought back up in front of everyone for a picture with the band. Everyone in the restaurant smiled and clapped for us and waved goodbye as we left. The rest of the day I replayed the music in my head and hours later I still felt as full as if I had just finished Thanksgiving dinner. It was truly one of the most memorable traveling experiences of my life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

When Good Vegetarians Die They Go To Heaven,

When bad vegetarians die they go to Argentina. While there we decided to flip the Canada Food Guide pyramid upside down, expand the meat and protein portion and then eliminate all the other food groups, except beer and wine.

I thought that I would be better prepared for Argentina. Often while still in Canada I would visit my friend Jason for a Brazilian style barbeque. Each time he would warn me, “Don’t take too much rice or beans, save room for the meat.” I learned that everything that isn’t meat is just decoration. I thought that I was well prepared for Argentina then, for I knew that Argentina is a country that loves eating meat, often and in large quantities.

Despite this I was surprised to learn that unlike the Brazilians, the Argentinians don’t even pretend to balance the meat with vegetables or fruit. For our first, and highly anticipated, meal in Argentina we ordered the mixed parrilla for two. It was a selection of different types of barbequed meat. The meal was brought to our table on a little barbeque with coals to keep the meal warm while we ate; as for vegetables or potatoes, nowhere to be found. It was delicious.

Argentina is truly a great country. We spent several days in Buenos Aires which proved to be one of my favourite cities that I have visited. The comparison isn’t valid for obvious reasons, but what it most reminded me of is Europe fifty years ago. I mentioned this to some other travelers though and they agreed with me. The buildings are all fairly old but charming. Truth be told the streets are quite dirty and a little smelly; watch where you step because the Porteños love their dogs but not cleaning up after them. Perhaps because it is so far from the United States, there are very few international franchises in the center of Buenos Aires. I saw perhaps one or two MacDonald’s but I don’t remember seeing any Starbucks.

Or maybe another part of the reason for the lack of Starbucks is due to the fact that there are countless little cafés already, each so inviting that I desired to stop at all of them. I think that these cafés are what invoked the comparison with ´50’s Europe. Each café was different and had its own unique charm which is tough to say about Starbucks. The one thing these cafés did have in common is that they were all really cheap, which is also hard to say about Starbucks.

Actually everything in Argentina is cheap which is a plus for someone is traveling for an extended period of time. We took cab a couple of times and sometimes I was wondering if the meter was broken it would rise so slowly. From Puerto Igacu on the Brazilian border we bought bus tickets for Buenos Aires. It’s about a fifteen hour trip so splurged a little and bought tickets for the luxury bus: three commodious, fully reclining seats to a row, and includes meals all for about seventy dollars. How was it you may ask? I don’t know. We had a bit of bad luck with a time change and we missed the bus by a few minutes. We bought tickets for the next bus, losing our money and getting inferior seats. Such is life.

On our first full day in Buenos Aires we met up with some English girls that Luis had met while he was in Africa. By coincidence they happened to be in Buenos Aires at the same time as us. Our first stop was an artisan market. I was tempted by an instrument, similar to a ukulele and to a painting of a tango scene but I left with my wallet as full as before.

We then headed to the cemetery where rests Argentina’s most famous citizen, Eva Peron. The cemetery was unlike any that I had seen before. Certainly only for the rich and influencial, the tombs were like small houses. A large percentage had glass doors so people can look inside. None were identical but the majority had shelves where the coffins lay in plain site. Often there were pictures of the departed and many had steps to the basement where presumably other less important family members were kept. The doors to the tombs were locked although it was unclear whether this was an attempt to keep the living out or the dead in. Some were huge, in one I counted eighteen coffins but with shelf space for a few more. Another had a huge dome that towered at least three stories high.

After seeing these I was somewhat surprised when we came across the tomb of Evita. Much smaller and in a place of little prominence it was however, the most photographed it was the only one that I saw with fresh flowers placed reverently by the doors. We hastened our exit though since it began to rain.

We made our way to the Museo de Bellas Artes, a promising name to be sure. It didn’t disappoint. Entrance to the museum was free, as I feel all museums ought to be. Sometimes when I see works by “great” artists I wonder what makes them great. Here the opposite was often true, I would see works by some unknown artist and wonder why he hadn’t achieved greater fame although to be fair perhaps in my ignorance I was admiring works by an artist who was famous.

I myself have a fairly simple method for judging if a painting is great or not. It is great if I would like to have it in my living room and by this standard there were a lot of great paintings. There were several by the most famous of painters, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Van Gough and one especially lovely painting by Monet, but then I’ve never seen a Monet that wasn’t especially lovely. The gallery was big enough that it deserved multiple visits but due to the brevity of our time in Buenos Aires we never again returned.

After leaving the gallery we stumbled across a couple of street performers. They were performing different tangos and they were great. We watched them for some time. Buenos Aires is the home of the tango and so that evening we went to a tango show. I don’t know if it was poorly advertised but there were only the four of us and then another four people watching the show. Two guys played guitar, one sang and there were a couple performing dances. Despite the small audience they all put lots of heart into the show and it was very enjoyable.

The show went late into the night. At around two in the morning we walked the girls back towards their hostel. We were speaking English and a woman overheard. She asked us where we were from and then proceeded to give us a ten minute history lesson on Argentina. I’m not sure if she was a little bit crazy or if she was just passionate about the origins of Argentina but she definitely added a little colour to the evening.

On the way back to our hostel we decided that the best way to finish the day would be to eat a steak. The nights in Buenos Aires start and end late so it was no problem to find a little restaurant that served up giant slabs of meat at two thirty in the morning. We returned to the hostel tired, full and happy. There were times after that when I didn’t feel tired, but the rest of the time in Argentina I almost always felt full and happy. I would love to return.

Friday, March 7, 2008

So long Brazil.

It would be really hard to say what goes faster while traveling, your time or money. Well the time in Brazil went quickly, I am now in Argentina though I`ve already been considering when I can return to Brazil.

Our last week there was spent with some great friends. We didn`t do a lot of touristy things but visiting with friends proved to be as enjoyable as anything else that I`ve done here. After leaving Sao Paulo we made our way to Foz de Igaçu, famed for the famous waterfalls just a few kilometers away.

The Cataratas do Iguaçu are incredible. I have never been to Niagra falls but I don`t know if I`ll ever make the effort. Iguaçu is a group of over 270 waterfalls, many large and powerful. The falls are on the border between Brazil and Argentina and we spent a good portion of a day on either side. I for one am certainly glad for the invention of the digital camera. Around every corner it seemed that there was a new and better view that I just had to capture. At the end of the first day I had taken over forty pictures, the next day I took another forty or so. Some of them are bound to be good.

A good portion of our last week was spent in buses traversing the immense distances in between the major South American cities. From Sao Paulo to Foz de Igaçu was a twelve hour bus ride. Normally I can sleep almost anywhere but that`s assuming a normal temperature for human life forms which on this bus was assuming too much. It was freezing. I suffered through a couple of hours and until a brief reprive at a bus stop. I don`t know what time it was, probably close to midnight. I really wanted to sleep. We started driving again and I enviously noticed the lady in front of my had brought a blanket. I began to wish that I had a blanket. A short while later I remebered the almost unused sleeping bag that I`ve been packing everywhere. It was stowed under the bus.
The next stop, several cold hours later, I retrieved my sleeping bag and then made my way to a rickety old washroom. There were several people in the washroom but somebody pointed out a stall to me and said something in Portuguese that apparently meant that I could use the stall. I opened the door to find a man sitting on the toilet. Apologizing profusely I shut the door. I was pretty embarassed but people do look pretty ridiculous sitting on the can.
We arrived short of sleep and then almost imediately headed out to the falls. Later that day we bought tickets to Buenos Aires for the following day, Thursday. The company had a sale on so we got a good price for great seats. Instead of four seats to a row, this bus was equipped with three seats to a row. The seats recline almost entirely back allowing for a good night sleep.

Thursday we went to the falls on Argentina´s side and returned to discover that there is an hour time difference between Argentina and Brazil and that we had missed our us by moments. We bought new tickets, for inferior seats and then consoled ourselves with beer. Not a huge deal though, good seats aren`t that important on short journeys such as the fifteen hours or so that we traveled.

Well Buenos Aires is great but you´ll have to hear about it another night because it´s really late and I am tired. This blog needs editting but I need sleep more so that`s that.

Monday, March 3, 2008

So Many Lives to Lead...

It´s happened again. I´ve had another panic about what to do with my life. Before this trip I was sure of what I wanted to do. Take a trip, work for the summer, and then study in the fall. However, after traveling a while I remembered how many other things in life there are that I love. I love traveling. I love meeting new people. I don´t love, but it´s a nice change, getting sunburnt in March. Who would have thought it possible. I like learning new languages, sort of. Jokes are funnier in other languages.

The confusion over what to do with my life isn´t the only thing that is bothering me. Traveling in Brazil has got me thinking about how good I have it in Canada. I always was very thankful for what I had. More than once I have been reminded of how easy my life really is. I was reminded of something that Luis once told me. He commented that in Canada there is nothing stopping a person from achieving any dream. So all I need to do is find a dream. My problem is that there are too many things that I think I would like to do. So I need to find a worthwhile dream and then put all my heart and soul into achieving that dream. I want it to be something bigger than snakes, treking and topless women.

My guts are twisting inside myself and it isn´t food poisoning. I feel stressed out even though I´m on vacations. The question of what to do with my life. Que pena. I´d like to write a good blog tonight but I´m too tired, no lazy. Plus there are other things on my mind as well. Traveling expands the horizons, sometimes broader than one is prepared to see.
The pictures in this blog are irrelevant to the subject but I wanted to post a few things that I´ve seen. The first picture is me and Luis at the top of Cachoeira da Fumaça. The second is Rio de Janeiro. The third is the port of Salvador and the last is another of the waterfalls that we saw on the trek.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Treking In Brazil

The last several days have been perhaps the most memorable of the trip thus far. The excursion began late on Wednesday night when we headed out to the town of Lencois which is several hours west of Salvador by bus. Our bus left the city at 11:30pm and arrived in Lençóis at 5:30am. At the sacrifice of a good sleep we saved ourselves the cost of accomodation for a night. Without a plan or reservation we set out to see what the town had to offer us. Lençóis attracts tourists because it´s the starting point for treking in the national park of Chapada Diamantina which was our destination.
Finding a guide was easier than one might have thought. As we were leaving the bus terminal a man came up to us and asked if we had a guide. After a little bit of discussion, we agreed to hire him. We explored the town a little bit while our guide went to buy supplies for the trip. We agreed on a three day trek that would take us ultimately to both the top and bottom of Cachoeira da Fumaça, the smoking waterfall. It´s of of Brazil´s highest waterfalls but since there is not a huge flow of water the water becomes mist before reaching the bottom thus earning its name.
Finally we set out on the trek. We hiked for a little while, long enough to get hot and sweaty when we came across a stream flowing down a steep but smooth rocky incline. At the bottom was a small pool. Following our guide´s example, we ditched our packs at the top and used the rocks as a natural waterslide before landing in the cool pool below. It was good fun and a refreshing break before we headed up a hill. The next part of the hike was a long, steep climb but at the end we were rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Not like the Brazil of my imagination, the area was somewhat reminiscent of Greece or Italy with the dry rocky terrain and short trees and scrub. The valleys were more verdant and after a rest at the top of the mountain we descended into the valley.
I guess I can´t complain too much about being tired though. Most, actually all except Luis and myself, of the other tourist came to Lençois with big treking backpacks filled with lots of supplies. Luis and I had ditched our big packs at a friend´s house in São Paulo taking only one small pack each. In Lençóis we had downsized further consoladating our stuff into one pack and leaving the other. In this way we took turns carrying the one small backpack, the guide´s big pack with the food and having a break from carrying anything at all. I think at first our guide was nervous when he saw how we planned to trek, one small pack and me only in sandals but once we hit the trail and offered to take turns with his pack it went well. As to my sandals, he was wearing flip flops and couldn´t really make too many complaints.
At the end of the day we arrived at the first camp, close to a small pool that was attractively filled by a waterfall. We swam, ate lunch and I watched and photographed a small green snake that I had almost stepped on. Later with nothing but time on my hands I lay down beside the pool and the snake for a nap. When I went to sleep there were only the three of us there by the pool, myself, Luis and the guide. So you can imagine my surprise to wake up to several other people swimming, two of them young women who were swimming and sunbathing topless. A while later everyone clustered together to look at another snake that the guide had noticed. That could have been the realization of my greatest fantasy as a 13 year old, snakes, a jungle trek and topless women, in that order.
That night we had a delicious dinner while being seranaded by the croaking of frogs. I always loved animals growing up and really I haven´t grown up yet. I have a beard so I can fake it, but really I´m still just a big kid. I grabbed the flashlight and searched the rocks to catch a glimpse of some more Brazilian wildlife. Eventually I found the frog which I guess was somewhat rewarding. A little while later in the evening I heard another frog and couldn´t resist trying to find it as well. Part of me was reluctant though.
So often when I engage in childish whimsy something happens to make me regret giving in to the inner child. I had a sudden vision of me tripping and falling and breaking the flashlight. It wasn´t hard to imagine the guides laughing at the foolish gringo breaking his flashlight on the first night because he was looking for frogs. I ignored these pessimistic thoughts and shined the light down to where I heard the frog croaking. I didn´t fall and break the flashlight, something worse happened.
As soon as I turned on the light I saw a flash of moment on the outskirts of the beam of light. I tried to use the light to track whatever creature was there but it was so fast that I could only catch glimpses of it as it scurried from the light into the darkness. The images I could see though weren´t pleasant. I was sure that I had seen one of these things before on the X Files. Eventually the insect gave up trying to run and instead became totally motionless so I was able to study it closely. I It was some sort of big insect with far too many legs to be benevolent. It was just the sort of animal that I instinctively knew loved warm dark places, specifically the inside of sleeping bags.
We didn´t bring a tent and so I realized my chances weren´t good. I decided to place my bed feet towards the cavern where the insect lived, and to zip tight the zipper. It was my hope that these minimal precautions would be enough to keep my bed from being infested. I later set up my bed in the flatest, softest place available. It was marginally flat but by no means soft. There weren´t a lot of rocks there, the whole area was one large rock. My matteress didn´t offer much protection. It was probably an eighth of an inch thick when it was first made in 1976 but now it offered no more comfort than a layer of two ply toilet paper. I then crawled into my sleeping bag and realize that the zipper was broken and I was entirely at the mercy of that thing.
Eventually I managed to think happy thoughts and drift off into the land of nod. Ten minutes later I woke up my back terribly sore. I roled over onto my side, and marginally more comfortable I fell back to sleep. A while later I woke up, now my side complaining and I had to roll back over onto my back to fall asleep again. I repeated this cycle several times. Every time I woke up I would be aching. I would open my eyes praying that it would be light but more often than not I would open my eyes, see the stars, curse the rock I was sleeping on, roll over and fall back to sleep. When morning came I was glad to get up, though it was likely before seven am. The trip is all about new experiences.
That day was an easy hike of about an hour where we left our back packs and continued on to the base of the waterfall, another two hours or so. It was incredibly beautiful there, and to add to my happiness another pool was there where we could cool down and swim. We spent a few hours there and then hiked back to where our bags were to set up camp.
That night I found a spot where there was a thing layer of sand over the rocks. It wasn´t much but I had learned to be grateful. Later that evening, after dinner, the guides excitedly shouted, "Aranha, aranha!" which I had the misfortune of understanding. "Spider, spider!" I couldn´t resist and headed over to see a huge tarantula. As if there weren´t already enough creepy things to crawl into my bed.
When I set up my bed I realized that in fact my zipper did work, there was a second zipper that opened the other way that I hadn´t seen in the dark. I crawled into my bed grateful for the added protection against insects, snakes, and now spiders. After ten seconds I was roasting and flinging my covers off I took my chances. That night was impossibly, a worse sleep than the night before. I don´t know why, but I woke up twice as many times. I didn´t suffer anything worse than a few mosquito bites though.
We left camp early that day to trek to the top of the waterfall. It was a long fairly steep climb but once again the view from the top made it worthwhile. Eventually we reached the top of the falls. It was crowded with people, many who do a shorter day hike from a different town to reach the falls. A man had set up a little store selling drinks. I somewhat eagerly, somewhat anxiously made my way to the edge of the cliff. Crawling on my stomache the last couple feet I peaked my head over the edge.
Miles below I could see small pond where only yesterday I had swam. The height was incredible. My stomache did tricks as I tried not to think about how far of a fall it was to the bottom. Later from a different vantage point I realized that I hadn´t been lying on a solid cliff, but actually a rock that jutted out from the edge of the cliff. This is likely where the Warner Brothers went when they wrote the Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
We left the top of the mountain and headed back to another town where we caught a car back to Lençóis. I learned that day that guitar legend Jimmy Page owns two houses in Lençóis and on the walk down I sang Led Zeppelin songs and hoped for a chance meeting. In never happened though. We spent a little time exploring, a little time visiting and then had dinner. After dinner we caught the 11:30 bus back to Salvador where I am now, very tired and very smelly but very content. In a few hours we fly to Rio where I can make more memories to share with you, my dedicated reader. (I love you Mom!) Until then, tchau!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Something New Around Every Corner

I have fallen regrettably behind in my blogs. A lot has happened but if you want to hear all of my stories you´ll have to take me out for beer when I get back because I don´t have time to share everything right now.
We left Curitiba and returned to Sao Paulo. The friends we stayed with, Silvia and her daughters Carina, Patricia and Veronica, took us out all around the city. Art museums, parks, historical museums. It´s no surprise that a city the size of Sao Paulo has so much to see. There´s nothing that´s really grand on an international scale, such as the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower, but definitely enough to pass some enjoyable days. Probably the most unforgettable thing though wasn´t one of the museums or parks. On a Friday night we headed out to the Praça da Sé with members of Patricia´s college and career group. There they handed out food to many of the homeless living in the area. They also talked and prayed with the people there. It was sad to see so many people living on the fringes. In Calgary, there´s places to go but here in Brazil there is very little to help people get out of the trap of poverty.
I started writing a blog the other day but it wasn´t going anywhere so I deleted it. I was trying to explain how hard it is to see the inequality of life here. I get a little bit angry when I see the corruption here, and of course I see very little of how much there actually is. I have a renewed appreciation for life in Canada.
After spending a while in Sao Paulo we headed north to the city of Salvador where we are currently. Salvador was formerly a major slave centre and this is reflected in the culture which shows very strong African influence. Salvador is city where music can be heard around every corner. Tonight while walking around the city we passed countless musicians and groups playing in the streets or on small stages. Probably my favourite group was the one that passed us while we were eating dinner. It consisted of four of some of the smallest, skinnest, frailest old men that I´ve seen in a while. One played the accordian, another a drum, the third the triangle and the final and frailest collected money. Their costumes consisted of leather hats and the man collecting the money had a toy pistol in his belt and a wooden rifle that doubled as a cane most of the time.
They played down the street from us and then started walking up the road to where we were eating. Being a "wealthy" tourist in a poor city I had been urged to part with my money all day, for the weakest of reasons. Finally I found some people who were actually doing something, weren´t up in my face demanding money, and furthermore I feel that people of that age ought not to have to work. I didn´t have any small change on me but Louis had two bills, 1 Real and another of 2 Reals. A Real is worth a little more than 50 cents Canadian. As they walked up the street they stopped playing. I didn´t want to give them money for nothing but they had been playing earlier. As I tried to think of what to give they passed by. I called back to the rifleman/money collecter and handed him 1 Real. He accepted it gratefully and then called back to the band to come back and play for us.
Reluctantly, we hadn´t given much, the band came back and started to play. I was thinking to give the other 2 Reals but then inexpicable the rifleman ran off, with surprising speed. We wondered where he had gone, I suggested he ran off with the money. A little while later he returned and the band had headed back down the street and since he never came back we never gave any more money. Down the street though we heard a blast from his rifle leaving us to speculate he used our money to buy a cap for his rifle. I hadn´t my camera with me but I hope that I will see them again and be able to get a picture.
The other great band was made up only of drums played by young guys with long dreads. They made a huge racket but the rhythm was so infectious that even I had the urge to dance. So many more stories to tell, and I´m not so happy with the way this blog has turned out but I´m tired now so I´m going to wrap things up. Soon I´ll be leaving the city to enjoy a hike in the Brazilian forest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who Knew Quitting Your Job and Traveling Could Be This Fun?

-The author pictured by the beach. (Note the cut from falling glass on his forehead)

Well the time is just flying by here in beautiful Brazil. I´ve got enough material for several long, boring blogs but I think that I will try and compact everything into one long boring blog.

I guess I´ll begin with the wedding. I did have to fend off several questions about how my hand was doing. It´s fine people, let´s move on. I was taking a picture while we were driving to the wedding and then my low battery light came on which is an indication that I have approximately sixty seconds left before it dies completely. So I don´t have any good pictures from the wedding but that´s alright. The photographer took all the relevant pictures of the bride and groom and other than those shots there wasn´t a lot worth taking pictures of, only a room full of some of the most beautiful women that I´ve ever seen.

I met a girl, though not at the wedding. Beautiful. A girl so beautiful that it would seem small sacrifice to leave one´s home and country to be with her, which I promptly imagined myself doing. That night I considered and solved all the problems of where we would live, how I would support her etc. The next day I met her boyfriend. He seems nice.

It seemed quite plausible that in a couple of days, with a huge language barrier, I could get a girl to fall for me enough that the even bigger distance barrier would later be broached but I guess it´s a little much to assume that perhaps the most beautiful girl that I´ve ever seen would be single. Ah well. I´m not worried. There´s still a lot of country to visit. (Though meeting a girl is not why I came here, despite what Luis keeps telling everybody)

We later went to the coast and caught a boat for a small island, Ilha do Mel, or Island of Honey. I didn´t eat any honey while there but I did get a taste of the sweet life. The island is very small and most of it is protected park land. There are no cars allowed on the island so the town there is traversed by walking along small trails. We stayed there for one night. The day we arrived we went for a bit of a trek to the far side of the ocean. We explored the islands cave, it takes about 5 seconds to get from the mouth to the back of the cave, and climbed a hill that looks over the island. There was a nice beach there. I suppose most people would rave about the huge expanse of soft white sand and the warm clean water but I think that my favourite part was the crabs that lived on the beach.

They dig little holes where they run when there´s danger. It´s fun to catch them out of their holes and to chase them. I love watching them run sideways. Because I had my camera and money with me we couldn´t go swimming simultaneously so while Luis went for a dip I stayed to watch the crabs and get sunburned.

Later I went for a swim as well. It was my first time in the Atlantic ocean for many years. The last time I went was on a beach in Nova Scotia. What I learned about the Atlantic ocean there is that it´s cold and inhospitable. So I was surprised to enter the Atlantic ocean here and realize that it´s warm and inviting. Well I thought it was hospitable but my watch, did not. My faithful Timex ironman took a licking and quit. Maybe the catch phrase was never meant to apply to digitals.

The next day we left the island for the town of Paranaguá which we promptly left for the town of Marretes where we lingered for less than an hour. The reason for the haste is that we had a train to catch. We had heard about this train ride. It runs in between Curitiba and Marretes, to Paranaguá only on Sundays. Apparently this ride offered spectacular views. We had made plans to catch the train from Curitiba so early on Monday morning, 6:30, we got up to catch the train. We arrived about 5 minutes too late which is why we went to the island first. So now in Marretes we had a train to catch.

I wasn´t too keen to take the train because it cost considerably more than the bus but the money was very well spent. The views were spectacular. We did have a bit of rain and low cloud cover but for the most scenic part of the trip the view was unobstructed.

We returned to Curitiba and went out for Churrascaria at the Recanto Gaucho with our hosts, André, Fernanda and their son Timóteo. I ate half a cow and Luis finished the other half. Later we were allowed into the kitchen to see where the magic is made and take some photos. Then we went home and had ice cream. This morning I was craving bran flakes.

Today has been relaxing. We now have to decide where to go next. Brazil is big, and time is short. We can probably budget two more weeks here and then towards Argentina, where we can really start eating meat, so I realize that I´ll have to come back because this country is amazing.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Don´t Make it Easy On Myself, To Impress the Brazilian Women.

Instead of sightseeing yesterday, Luis and I spent most of the day visiting with Jason and some of his friends and family. I realized once again that I should have brushed up on my Portuguese, and by "brushed up" I mean "learned more than one word. " For most of the time I was listening, understanding one word out of ten, if I was lucky. Portuguese is very similar to Spanish but I don´t speak Spanish particularly well so I would recognize a word, translate it to spanish, then spanish to english by which point I´ve missed twenty other words. However, it wouldn´t matter because I wouldn´t have understood them anyhow.
Later in the afternoon Luis and I went out for beer with Jason´s cousin Daniel and his girlfriend Camilla. Let me just state that the weather was warm and sitting on the patio, the first sip of beer was so good. That´s not the point though. The point is that it was very enjoyable and since Daniel and Camilla spoke slower, or in English, I understood much more. Afterwards we headed back to Jason´s aunt´s house where we were to be met by some of Jason´s friends who had offered to host us. We got back to the house and met our new hosts, a very lovely couple indeed. Before we left for their house I decided to use the facilities.
After using the washroom I walked passed the back door. The thing that I like about houses outside of North America is that they are usually quite unique. It´s impossible to know what might be hidden behind a door or whether a yard will be a tiny concrete patio or a large garden oasis. So with this in mind I decided to poke my head out the window and see what the yard was like. However, the window wasn´t actually opened, jus particularly well cleaned rendering it invisible. I smacked my head against the glass. It was of the thin, quick to shatter variety. The incredibly loud crash quickly summoned a crowd of people to discover what the Canadian goon broke. They found me standing by the window, somewhat dazed, bleeding from my forehead and the back of my hand.
The cut on my forehead was superficial but a falling shard of glass cut open quite a deep wound on the back of my hand. Jason´s aunt thought I should go to the clinic for stitches but I didn´t agree. It´s bad enough to get a reputation as a "clumsy, walking disaster" without having to be known as a "clumsy, walking disaster who faints while getting stitches." I managed to convince everyone that I would be fine and I think that I am. The cut was taped up and it seems to be much better even after 24 hours. The other interesting thing about the incident is that after the shock of the crash I looked down and realized that I had instinctively caught two large shards of glass in my uninjured hand without getting the slightest cut. Catlike reflexes I suppose.
Well I have to go get ready for the wedding, hopefully I´ll manage to make it through the evening without making too big a fool of myself. Granted, I´m quite used to having a room full of people making jokes about me in a language that I don´t understand.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Small Helping of Brazil and a Large Helping of Steak.

It's been far too long since my last blog. I've been busy. This is a history making blog though, perhaps worth the wait, my first blog from Brazil.
The flight went well. It was long but not too tiresome. It wasn't until I saw Brazil from the plane as we descended that I realized what a huge mistake I had made. Speaking with people before I left I lied a little bit. When I said I was really looking forward to my trip it wasn't totally true. I knew that I loved traveling so I was excited to go but I wasn't really looking forward to my trip. But then we were coming in for a landing, I saw a green land stretching out before me and all of a sudden the travel bug hit me, I felt the need to start traveling with little desire to ever return to Canada. When we landed and and I breathed in the warm tropical air what little desire I had to live in Canada again disappeared completely.
At the airport we were met by a friend who had stayed at our house when she came visiting Canada. I knew her but not her two friends. I enjoy making people laugh, and it was long before I inadvertantly won some laughs by the Brazillians. I knew that Brazillians greet with a kiss so I gave Patricia a kiss but I wasn't sure about the other girl who I had never met. In Canada if I were to start kissing girls within a second of introduction I would expect a slap. So I somewhat nervously assessed the situation and decided that I should greet her with a kiss but it ended up being a little bit awkward. They didn't laugh then but it came out later that yes, they were laughing at me.
We spent some time exploring Sao Paulo, the biggest city I've ever seen, and enjoyed some good food and company. I realized that I should have learned a little bit more Portuguese. Traveling is infinitely better if you're able to communicate at least a little bit with the locals. I understand enough to know when they're laughing at me, so I understand what's going on fairly regularly.
We later headed to Curitiba where the wedding is to be. We eventually found a hotel hat was cheap enough to make us happy yet safe looking enough to make Jason happy. Actually, he wasn't really happy with our choice but so far so good. We locked the door at night which is considerably more than we do in Canada so I feel fairly safe.
The one danger I definitely do have to worry about is obesity. Jason and some of his friends and family took us to a restaurant called a churrascaria. What it means is all you can eat food, of the delicious and varied variety of steak. I tried various types of beef, lamb, boar and I don't know what else. All I know is that I can barely move. Apparently the one we went to was mediocre, I'll tell you for sure later on. We intend on trying more of these churrascarias before we leave. Well, I should head back to my hotel soon, scare off any kidnappers and that sort of thing.