The currency of trust

27 10 2015

Who do you trust? Only your closest family and friends? Everyone until they do something to lose your trust? Our elected politicians?

I’m usually the type of person who trusts almost anyone, unless there’s a good reason not to. In addition to being an idealist, I attribute this mindset to refusing to live in fear…and rarely watching the television news. I worked at a bakery where we regularly gave people IOUs and allowed people to send payment in the mail, and they did (usually along with a thank you card). I attended a small university where we’d leave our laptops in the library when we went to the cafeteria for dinner. My undergrad research suggests that I’m in the minority.

In 1960, 58% of Americans agreed that most people can be trusted, but by 1993, this proportion declined by a third to 37% (Putnam, 1995). Social trust is considered one of the four dimensions of the broader study of “social capital,” along with informal social ties, formal social ties and norms of collective action (Liu and Besser, 2003). Social capital encompasses the features of social organisation that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Putnam, 1995). While social capital contributes to safer, healthier, more civically engaged communities, Putnam argues that it is on its decline. One of his explanations is greater mobility, or the “re-potting hypothesis” meaning that if we disrupt our roots, it also disrupts our acquisition of social capital; when you move, you basically start at zero.

In the past 10 months, I’ve been moving around quite a lot, so I could only expect my trust bank account would be quite low. When you are a stranger and are surrounded by strangers, and you are taught not to talk to strangers, there is no reason for trust to be pre-existent or for there to be even much potential for it to grow, because this would require talking to strangers. But when trust does emerge, it is a delightful surprise that has enriched my travels.

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Tea and tajine

22 09 2015

As I sit in Marrakech on my last day in Morocco, too hot to move anything more than my hands, I’m thinking about my last 6 weeks in this crazy country. I think it has been the most “different” place I have traveled, in comparison to the culture I grew up in. As a solo Caucasian female (three characteristics that make me stick out in the crowd), my travels have been far from easy and have required constant diligence. But with this experience, I leave Morocco tomorrow with much more than the 10 kg carry on that will be on my back – figuratively and also probably literally, but hopefully Ryan Air doesn’t notice the latter.

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Delightful detours

30 05 2015

My posts here are so sporadic that I don’t expect anyone to actually follow them because more often than not, there’s nothing to follow. So much for my career as a blog writer. I did briefly consider it as a convenient source of income while travelling, but thankfully I’ve found alternative employment. I don’t think I would be good at it anyway and I don’t much like writing because I feel like I have to. Amidst an ever-intensifying snowstorm of online content, I’d rather wait until I have something to say. And at present, I thought I’d try to help alleviate my parents of the burden of questions with ambiguous answers – like what I’m doing and when I’ll be home. The latter I don’t know. However, the former I can elaborate on.

Today pretty much hits the 5-month mark for my time in Spain. When I arrived at the end of December, I planned to stay in Barcelona for a couple months, then continue to the south of Spain – cycling around and working at hostels along the way in hopes of figuring out if I might want to start a hostel myself. I enjoyed my first two months of working at a hostel here in Barcelona and learned A LOT! Among many other things, I learned about the tourism climate in Barcelona – mass tourism of a predominantly international crowd. According to The Guardian, Barcelona hosted 7.5 million tourists last year, almost four times the number of inhabitants. So, the people are coming (whether Barcelona residents like it or not) and if a hostel is in a half decent location offering a half decent service, the people will come. There is little incentive to have flexible policies or offer particularly good value. Very seldom are there repeat customers. Online reviews, like Trip Advisor, helps keep business in check to some extent. However, I think sometimes these reviews carry too much importance, and a high-rating business could be more attributed to strategic social media, rather than good overall management. Or worse, one bad review from an impossible-to-please customer can be a huge detriment to a new business. This rant could continue, but I realize it’s a tangent, so I’ll summarize in saying that running a hostel in Barcelona is dramatically different than running a hostel in small town Ontario, or at least I hope it would be. Or course, there are transferable skills, but hopefully, a different approach – more personal, more human, more consideration of the long-term, rather than, to quote Steve Miller, a “Take the Money and Run” mentality. I would want to operate a business that ensures long-term repeat patrons, and considers the long-term effects on the community.

So, after working and living in a hostel for two and a half months (in Barcelona, then Tarragona), then living in various hostels for another month, I was ready to take a break from the scene. I’d planned to work on some farms – get back to nature and my rural roots for a bit and be more immersed in Spanish culture (since the multiculturalism of the city tends to have a diluting effect in this regard. Then, just as I was about to say goodbye to Barcelona, the opportunity arose to help out at a craft brewery while the head brewer was away for a couple months. I had been volunteering there sporadically since January or so, and what can I say, I can’t say no to learning new things, working with interesting and intelligent people, and of course, craft beer. Further, taking an unexpected detour is rarely something I’ll decline. And I felt lucky to be presented with such a sought-after opportunity in such a trendy (sometimes too trendy) industry. So, I found a shared apartment and actually started living in Barcelona, rather than being a tourist. I also picked up a part-time job at a recently-opened brewhouse called Black Lab that I had frequented. Staffing requirements quickly turned this job to full-time temporarily, but I’m now thankfully back to part-time so I can enjoy the summer festivities . So, basically half my work hours helping make beer and the other half selling and educating people about it, so maybe a bit too much beer in my life, but nonetheless nice complements. While I’m a bit afraid of the onset of the summer temperatures that locals speak of, I’m hoping my body acclimatizes.

Not sure how long I’ll continue along this detour, but I trust my capacity for reflection well enough not to worry much about it for now. After all, as some cliche probably goes, life is a detour. And while only hindsight will be able to tell, it might not even be a detour at all.





Carnaval in Cadaques

23 02 2015

Last week, I welcomed my sister to Barcelona for an all too short 10-day visit. We spent the first half in Barcelona – walking tours, Parc Guell, hanging out at my favourite craft brewery – Edge Brewing, biking around (even doubling on occasion, much to Lindsay’s fright), and exploring the different barrios of the city.

At Gaudi's Parc Guell (the free part of course!)

At Gaudi’s Parc Guell (the free part of course!)

The most delicious dessert ever...Lindsay, let me know if you can replicate it!

The most delicious dessert ever at a Napoli pizza place in the Gothic quarter. The best pizza in Barcelona too!

The second half, we hit the open road, and I had a much needed break from the city. We headed up Costa Brava, first to Palamos, then on to beautiful and breathtaking Cadaques and Cap de Creus. Then, we crossed into France (ssshh, don’t tell the car rental people) to the small, artsy town of Ceret, nestled in the Pyrenees, and then spent our final night in Girona, and drove the steep and winding road up Montserrat before returning the car in the afternoon. In total, about a 700 km journey, not much by Canadian standards for 4 days, but we definitely saw a lot.

Our favourite stops were Cadaques, drinking wine at Cap de Creus, lunch and self-serve wine tasting an agricultural cooperative in the wine region of Emporda, a lovely lunch by the historic bridge in Besalu, the Dali museum in Figueres, live music in Girona, the unnerving drive up Montserrat, and being caught in the middle of Carnaval parades in both Barcelona and Cadaques.

Beautiful Cadaques

Beautiful Cadaques

Lindsay in Cadaques

Lindsay in Cadaques

Contemplating the oddities of Dali in Figueres

Contemplating the oddities of Dali in Figueres

Could Lindsay look any more excited about the Michelin-recommended restaurant in Besalu

Could Lindsay look any more excited about the Michelin-recommended restaurant in Besalu?

Eating a cloud - love when not really knowing what you ordered turns out well!

Eating a cloud – love when not really knowing what you ordered turns out well!

Live music by UK singer/songwriter Ben Owen in Girona

Live music by UK singer/songwriter Ben Owen in Girona

Wine and vermouth on tap in a supermarket. Not sure if you can see the prices, but it's 1.17 euros/L of wine, and about 3 euros/L of vermouth!

Wine and vermouth on tap in a supermarket. Not sure if you can see the prices, but it’s 1.17 euros/L of wine, and about 3 euros/L of vermouth!

Yup, that's 18 C!

Yup, that’s 18 C! Not bad at all!

Contemplated the "serrated mountain"

Contemplated the “serrated mountain”

At Montserrat

At Montserrat

Breathtaking Montserrat, just 1/2 hour from Barcelona. Definitely worth the frightening drive up!

Breathtaking Montserrat, just 1/2 hour from Barcelona. Definitely worth the frightening drive up!

Carnaval is a big street party that occurs just before Lent starts, especially celebrated in highly Catholic places like Brazil, Mexico and Spain. So, the idea is they have a big party before enduring six weeks of penance. Sitges (just south of Barcelona) is the place to go for Carnaval. Thinking that this scene might be a little too crazy for two small town gals, we headed north up Costa Brava for a more relaxed rendezvous.

Carnaval parade in Barcelona...

At Carnaval parade in Barcelona…

Everyone joins in the fun!

Everyone joins in the fun!

But of course there was no escaping such a highly observed celebration, nor would we want to. When we arrived in Cadaques in early afternoon, there were large speakers set up in the street, pumping upbeat tuns (the likes of the Beatles and Gloria Gaynor) and filling the town with a cheerful ambience. Everything was either closed or closing early. And then, while walking down a narrow street along the sea, we were suddenly caught off guard by an oncoming parade – basically groups of friends dressed in similar costumes, drinking and dancing on themed floats. Not too many tourists about, mostly locals doing as they do best and having a good time. After this, we headed off to see Cap de Creus for a couple hours. Upon returning to Cadaques, the speakers were taken down and we were surprised that the town was so quiet after such a festive afternoon. Where were the party people? We never really found out, maybe having siestas or partying in their homes.

The Carnaval parade in Cadaques

The Carnaval parade in Cadaques

 

We did find out that there was going to be a big fiesta that night from about 11 PM until 6 AM, and it seemed as the whole town, young and old, would be going. While a decent uphill trek up from the main town centre, it was fairly easy to find – between asking people in street and following the crowds. I was curious more than anything and had no idea as to what to expect. We found ourselves in a large indoor gym, with a bar set up in the back corner and stage at the front with a band setting up. We arrived around 11:30, still very early by Spanish standards, so people were still coming and many just partying in the parking lot – looking much like a tailgate party if you ask me. The scene felt oddly familiar, much like the Lion’s Head street dance (bearing particular semblance to the year it got rained out and moved to the arena), or Halloween party at the Tobermory Legion, or an open wedding dance.

A gym...

A gym…

...and a band is all you need in a small town!

…and a band is all you need!

 

So, maybe I’m in a different country and among people speaking a different language, but as it turns out, small town fun is small town fun! No need for a fancy venue, just some music and maybe some costumes on occasion, because it’s really the people, young and old, who make the party!





A Catalunya

13 01 2015

After a nice ten months on the Bruce Peninsula, I’m on the road again. This time, I’ve come to Spain on a working holiday visa, which means I can live and work in Spain for one year, and move freely throughout the EU during this time.

I hope this next chapter is full of both learning and adventure! My main goal is to work in different hostels in hopes of figuring out if this type of work is for me, and gathering ideas about what makes a successful hostel. For the first couple months or so, I will be helping a friend who is taking over ownership and management of a hostel in Barcelona.

Some of my secondary goals are:

  • To learn Spanish and about different cultural perspectives
  • To explore the rural landscape of Spain (and possibly beyond) by bicycle
  • To do some climbing (a skill I’ve wanted to develop for some time)
  • To visit organic farms, social enterprises and other innovative businesses working towards sustainable development
  • To explore some other nearby countries, such as Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey
  • To work as necessary (in other words, maintain sufficient funds to have food to eat, a bed to sleep, and to continue traveling for as long as I want)

But enough talk about future plans and ideals, and more talk about the here and now. Some highlights so far…

  • An unexpected tire change in Toronto led to an hour delay in arriving to Montreal. On one hand, I missed my trans-Atlantic connection. On the other hand, Air Canada paid for my hotel and I was able to squeeze in a visit with some friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.
  • And because I was so highly inconvenienced by the extra 24 hours in Montreal, I was upgraded to business class for the 7-hour flight to Brussels. This upgrade meant sparkling wine upon boarding, my own individual pod where I could lay down, pillow and duvet, two relatively good meals served on real dinnerware with a white tablecloth, warm, moist towels for freshening up, and more.

    Business class on Air Canada Flight 9552

    Business class on Air Canada Flight 9552

  • Bringing in the new year with a international group of strangers who soon became friends in Placa Catalunya, amidst thousands of people from all over the world, Cava (Catalan sparkling wine) being sprayed into the crowd, and not arriving back to the hostel until the time when I would normally wake up (and I’m not a particularly early riser).
    Our NYE feast - Melba toast with creme de brie, hummus, some type of canned fish and Catalan red wine

    Our NYE feast – Melba toast with creme de brie, hummus, some type of canned fish and Catalan red wine

    Sharing Placa Catalunya with thousands at the stroke of midnight

    Sharing Placa Catalunya with thousands at the stroke of midnight

  • Visiting some nearby towns about an hour or so northeast of Barcelona – Amer, Banyoles, Castellfollit, Besalu, learning some basic Catalan & much about Catalan culture

    The 12th-century Romanesque bridge over the Fluvia river in the historic town of Besalú

    The 12th-century Romanesque bridge over the Fluvia river in the historic town of Besalú

  • In Spain, the main Christmas celebration and biggest gift giving day is on Jan. 6, and not Dec. 25. Rather than having Santa Claus as we do in North America, Spanish children receive gifts from the three kings on their return journey from Bethlehem. So, on the evening of Jan. 5, there is the Cavalcada de Reis, or the Three Kings Parade – the biggest and most spectacular parade that I’ve ever seen! In Barcelona, about 500,000 people attend, it includes 12 floats or “carrozas” and it stretches over 1 km! It is designed and performed by professional artists of theatre, music, dance and circus, and includes 1200 costume participants and 26 dance routines! And the final float in the end of the parade had a canon shooting out candy into the crowd. Although I didn’t see this first hand, I was even told that some serious parade-goers bring a step ladder and an umbrella to catch the candy! Here is a glimpse of the extravagant floats… (Note that these photos definitely do not do them justice!)

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  • So far, I have done two walking tours (one of the Barri Gotic and the other an alternative tour of street art and squats) and a tour of Santa Maria del Mar (led by my friend Ignasi who works there), slowing learning more and more about Barceona
  • After quite a few flavourless cans of Estrellas and a few more slightly better bottles of Moritz (the Epidor, a stronger version is yet another step up), I found craft beer in Barcelona – Edge Brewing! Unfortunately, at 20 euros, as of yet, the growler is out of my budget.

    The facilities at Edge Brewing. Small by many standards, but quite large and advanced compared to our manual techniques at the Firehall Brewing

    The facilities at Edge Brewing. Small by many standards, but quite large and advanced compared to our manual techniques at the Firehall Brewing

  • And this past Saturday, running to La Barceloneta, going for a swim and basking in the sunshine

    A sunny, warm winter day at Barceloneta, just a 20-minute run (my speed!) from the hostel

    A sunny, warm winter day at Barceloneta, just a 20-minute run (my speed!) from the hostel





On humility

20 01 2014

Travelling is always somewhat of a humbling experience. You step outside your ordinary, comfortable routine and embark on new territory of unknowns – a new landscape, new friends, and often a new culture, a new language, and new customs. Amidst these novelties, I often return to a state of childhood, eyes wide and ready to see, do, learn and discover all the new things.

This latest adventure has been no exception, and once again, I have found myself humbled on a number of fronts:

1. Mechanical matters

Quite frankly, I know very little about how vehicles work, and I’ll be the first to admit it. However, I know how to check my oil and maybe that’s enough for my ego to sometimes get away on me. But when you drive a vehicle that’s older than you are, it often requires more TLC than that. Driving down the road, there have been various mysterious rumbles that have left me humble, completely dumbfounded as to what it could be. In such a circumstance, I’ll often pull over, look, listen and smell, and call Dad at the earliest convenience. Further, whenever we visit a mechanic, I try to ask as many questions as I can, which is likely a source of annoyance for the mechanic who is just trying to do the job as efficiently as possible. I haven’t had this luxury since entering Mexico though due to the language barrier.

Some of our mechanical troubles have been easily fixed with a bit of 20W50, others a bit more complicated – spark plug cables, or “cables para bujia” so I learned.  But the turned out to be more difficult to source than they were to install, and Joni is back to her usual purr. While I’m still riding the ego boost of changing the spark plug cables by myself, I know my next humbling encounter is never far down the road.

2. The curse of Babel

Hablo un poquito español, or at least enough to get by, but unfortunately it ends there, at least for the time being. So, I’ve become familiar with the experience of being completely unaware of a conversation that is happening in your midst. As we have met and become friends with more locals, this occurrence has become more frequent. It can be an unsettling feeling not to understand, and sometimes a bit of narcissistic paranoia sets in as you wonder, “Are they talking about me?” They probably aren’t. So, sometimes it is still interesting to try to understand, and other times ignorance is bliss, and you can embrace the opportunity to occupy your mind with other matters.

Often, or at least in times of confidence, I will pose my question or request in Spanish. Of course, I have already mentally recited my question or phrase a dozen times beforehand. Sometimes I’m successful and get what I need. Other times, the interaction results in confusion by one or both parties – either they don’t understand me, or they respond and I don’t understand their response. If I’m feeling determined, I might ask for them to repeat it more slowly. Alternatively, I might just say, “Si, gracias,” and walk away identifying all their possible responses.

Regardless of whatever comical or confusing circumstances occur, it is certain that to learn a language, you must take some risks and at times feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed by how much you still have yet to learn.

3. Mother Earth

Since our departure two and half months ago, the landscapes we have seen have been nothing short of extraordinary. From the towering giants in the Redwoods to the vast depths of the Grand Canyon to the thunderous tides of the Pacific, I’ve been amazed, repeatedly. As of late, whilst living on the beach in El Pescadero, the ocean in particular has been a source of humility.

A few days ago, Olivia and I had the opportunity to swim with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, just off shore from La Paz, where they winter. They are the largest known species of fish, spanning as long as 12.5 meters and weighing up to 79,000 pounds. While they are gentle giants, being within arm’s reach of such massive creatures can be a bit unnerving. However, one can be granted piece of mind knowing they are filter feeders that eat plankton rather than people. What an unforgettable experience!

The gentle giants of the Sea of Cortez (Photo credit: http://www.bajainsider.com)

A more commonplace yet equally humbling experience for me these days is being pummelled by waves. Whether swimming or on the fairly rare occurrence of attempted surfing, the feeling is as close as I ever hope to be to taking a ride in a washing machine. This morning, I had a particularly unsettling encounter when we went for a swim. Swimming out wasn’t too bad, and it can be surprisingly easy to swim through the waves if you dive beneath the surface. Further, we were quite enjoying our time riding the large, but soft swells when beyond the break. Only when we decided to head back to shore did we find ourselves repeatedly pummelled by break after break, with barely enough time to catch our breath in between. Not an experience I hope to repeat, but nevertheless a good reminder of how mightily Mother Nature can be.

As the Tao Te Ching reminds us, “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.” Experiences such as these either gently or quite brutally remind me of all that I don’t know and have yet to learn. And this curious, humble and child-like perspective is one that I hope to bring home and maintain long after my travels end. But if it does fade, I am certain that another brush with humility is just around the corner.





The brink of the Baja

12 12 2013

Gazing out at yet another mesmerizing Pacific sunset, going down at Ocean Beach in San Diego, not only does this moment mark another 360 degree rotation of the Earth’s axis, but also the ending of a chapter, the first chapter of our journey. It’s been 6 weeks since we left, and according to Joni’s odometer, it’s been about 7,000 km since we left Vancouver. We’ve travelled through Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and California, approximately following this route.

We’ve enjoyed the Columbia Gorge, steamy hot springs, the Oregon coast, the majestic Redwoods (especially Fern Canyon), the streets and street cars of San Francisco, connecting with faces new and old in Big Sur, countless flights of beer, the farm folk of Ojai, the geological wonders and magnificent panoramas of Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, the bright lights of Vegas, the desert winds of the Mojave, new friends and bouldering in Joshua Tree, the saving grace of nice people of Slab City and now the sunshine of San Diego.

Sadly, our trio has now became a duo as Jenelle flew back to family and frigid temperatures in Ontario. Nonetheless, our journey continues and a new chapter begins as we enter new land – Mexico! But before getting to that, we’ll take a brief pause here to slap on some new brake pads, do laundry, mail our Christmas letters, and show you a few snaps from the past 7,000 kilometres.

Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - the backdrop to the Jurassic Park films. Thanks for sending us this way, Shandel!

Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – the backdrop to the Jurassic Park films. Thanks for sending us this way, Shandel!

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A bearded forest creature we encountered in Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

A bearded forest creature we encountered in Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Don is the best trolley driver in San Fran!

Don is the best trolley driver in San Fran!

Frolicking by the seaside in Santa Barbara

Frolicking by the seaside in Santa Barbara

 

Enjoying a flight of Figueroa Mountain brew. Notice Firehall product placement!

Enjoying a flight of Figueroa Mountain brew. Notice Firehall product placement!

Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park

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Where's Westy?

Where’s Westy?

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Stirring up the dust

Stirring up the dust

Atop Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley NP

Atop Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley NP

The most stunning sunset I've ever seen at Dante's View, Death Valley

The most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen at Dante’s View, Death Valley

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Soaring into the Grand Canyon at Ooh Aah Point

Soaring into the Grand Canyon at Ooh Aah Point

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The deserted Mojave Desert

The deserted Mojave Desert

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

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Salvation Mountain (as you might recall from "Into the Wild")

Salvation Mountain (as you might recall from “Into the Wild”)

Our attempt to summit Salvation Mountain failed, or rather, it succeeded but not without getting stuck on top. The chains were worth a try, but weren't enough. Thanks to the Slab City folks for the tug.

Our attempt to summit Salvation Mountain failed, or rather, it succeeded but not without getting stuck on top. The chains were worth a try, but they weren’t enough. Shovel neither.

But thanks to the pleasant and friendly residents of Slab City for the gentle tug, we were eventually able to get off the top of Salvation Moutain and continue down the road and to the coast. Better go enjoy the sand and sunshine before the Earth makes another rotation!

Why don’t we drive through the night,
And we’ll wake up down in Mexico…