Down time – Pacific Ocean

Today I woke up with really sore feet. Well it is really no wonder since I have been walking up a storm. I decided to sleep in a bit before finally hauling myself out of bed to find my way to the breakfast buffet. I had a bit of a miscommunication with my sister which really got me down.

I ended up spending the rest of the morning in the chapel, the quietest place I could find on the ship, collecting my thoughts. After a few hours of thinking and meditating, I pulled myself out of my head and took notice of the room I had holed myself up in. the carpet was deep blue and the above the alter there was an artistic collage of a tree of sorts. I glanced around the small square room and realized there was not a cross to be found. Other than a stack of bibles in the corner, there was nothing really religious about this space at all. There was something remarkably solemn and sacred going on in there but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.

After getting myself into a more positive head space, I opened the book Melanie had given me to read. A Womans Worth by Marianne Williamson. It was inspiring to say the least and I felt a might stronger in spirit than when I walked in that room. With a more forgiving state of mind, I went back to the room hoping to find my family. I learned that they had gone ashore without me so I laid down to have a rest while I waited for their return.

Grateful for sacredness.

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The Big Fish – Victoria, BC

I am sitting on the last ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and I have barely caught my breath. I ran. After bringing in a 40 pound halibut in Pedder Bay, Shawn sped as fast as his VW Westphalia could go. Our fishing guide was clearly capable of creating excitement on land and on sea. For a few minutes I was sweating, sure that there was no way I was going to make the boat. Infact, I was the last person to board and the ship was chocoblock. It was tight.

It was a beautiful day to be in the water and although we really only caught one keeper, she was a gooder at 46 inches long. I would have liked to have tasted some of that sweet flakey fish but the transport would have been too much of a pain. I left it as a tip to Shawn contributing to his winter stash. Besides, I have been eating fish every day since I arrived. Ahhh how I love seafood. Even the worst sushi here on the coast is better than the stuff we get in landlocked Edmonton. I even went to one place twice, as a thank you to both of my kind and gracious hosts.

It was my first time to Victoria and it was much as I would have imagined. The flowers were in full bloom and the leaves were just starting to turn. There was every form of weather you could have hoped for except for snow. Thank goodness we didn’t see any of that. I was glad that most of the days were sunny and calm, making for some serene walks in the capitol city of British Columbia.

One thing that made a very strong impression on me was how friendly and polite everyone seemed to be. I was constantly caught off guard with cheerful greetings from every demographic. Now I am generally the one who spreads kind hellos to strangers without hesitation, but here they beat me to it every single time. Even the tourists have caught on. When I remarked on this phenomenon, it was a Winnipeg native who agreed it was a common occurrence here and was really quite contagious. A good habit I think it is time for me to revive.

Over here on the island the fruit is pretty flavorful but some of the prices are higher than I would have expected. All in all, I suppose the cost is higher but it is clearly reflective of the standard of living. Even the bums are friendlier. There are certainly more of them.

I went on a few good walks and was mystified by how quickly it was to immerse oneself in nature from just about anywhere in the city. The public transit was fantastic and the bus drivers were so kind I had to control myself from hugging them.

The coffee culture here is out of control. It’s a serious force to be reckoned with everywhere except for inside the sushi restaurants (they deliver caffeine in the form of green tea). The almighty java bean certainly dominated much of my visit either talking about it, drinking it, making it, or searching it out. It was bizarre to witness that at any given time, 3 out of 4 people walking on the street are carrying a cup of joe. Even the kids seem to be drinking it! I guess there are worse things to be addicted to.

It was wonderful to spend some time reflecting on the past few years with my good friend Petra who has started life anew here on the island. I guess talking it out really puts perspective on it and allows me to put stuff in the past. We are both in similar places of departure from an old self that no longer seems to fit. There was a time when I was sad about letting go, but I guess when one is ready, it becomes more of a relief.

I am starting to get excited about my trip to Asia. I am not quite there yet as I still have a few more goodbyes to make. I am on my way to visit some extended family in Vancouver from whom I have been apart from for way too long. We have lots of catching up to do over the next couple days, including meeting my cousins new babies for the first time.

I see the night lights of Vancouver dazzling the horizon of blackness. My old stomping grounds. It will be weird to revisit this part of my history. I finished high school here and needless to say, there are some key memories hidden in the crevices.

Grateful for movement.

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Approaching the Day That Never Was – Bering Sea

Every night the time goes back an hour. This has been going on for days and to be honest, I don’t even know what time it is, what day it is, or even what month it is. I am so mixed up. But here’s the kicker. On my laptop it says 3:26am Wednesday Sept 23. But in actuality, it is 10:27pm Tuesday Sept 22. In a matter of hours, it will be Thursday. Yes, you heard me right. Wednesday Sept 23 doesn’t exist for me. We are just about to cross the International Date Line.

Today I worked out after breakfast then went for a second breakfast consisting of more protein. It came in the shape of an omlette and was stuffed with spinach, mushroom, onion, and tomato. Next I headed with m passport to the Japanese Immigration area where we had to get finger printed and photographed. It was a little strange but was quick and painless.

I settled into a seat at the coffee bar and intended to read but ended up playing cards instead. It was a form of rummy that I hadn’t played before but I thoroughly enjoyed learning and the conversation with my teachers. Jack and Jane met on a blind date 49 years ago. They even said I could use the blender in their room to make green smoothies if I wanted. J They said they knew right away that the other was the one. I was fascinated. They were very cute together and seemed well matched.

I read a little while before lunch in near the back of the ship. We are really motoring right now and in some areas you can really feel it. Our table was pretty loud with the engines nearby and the not so subtle vibration made for an interesting meal. I learned that I like iced tea with milk but that I still don’t love brussel sprouts.

I made my way back to the coffee bar again to read a little more but ended up getting distracted too much to really get into my book. People watching on cruiseships should really be an Olympic sport. It can also be quite entertaining to eavesdrop on conversations happening at the next table. That is, if you understand the language. I was sandwiched between a couple speaking Japanese and another speaking Spanish. I did my best to practice my Spanish but realize that these two were too quick for me as they bantered while playing monopoly.

I was elated to learn that the boys at the coffee bar would let me create a new drink. I had seen this recipe in my fitness magazine and was excited to try it out. I just so happened to have all the ingredients in my room so I went to retrieve them. They seemed apprehensive when I unloaded my bag on the counter. But their curiosity overcame them and they blended the banana, pear, walnuts, yogurt, ice and two shots of espresso in the vitamix. My Banana Coffee Crunch was tasty indeed and I thanked them profusely before hurrying off to my movie. I watched “Game 6” with Micheal Keaton but I didn’t love it. I am glad it was short.

I attempted a nap when I came back to the room and found Marshan sleeping. I tossed and turned so eventually I gave up because it just didn’t take. I slipped up to the gym for a little walk before dinner.

We were meeting Janet and Greg from Australia at the Pacific Moon restaurant at 6:30pm. I turned up and the others were already there. After a bit of arm twisting, the staff finally got it together and seated us. It was not the best table, that is for sure. It was an even heavier vibration than the one at lunch and apparently 3 groups had already asked to be moved from it. We were already short on time so I suggested we just sit there and “pretend we are on a boat”. Greg and I laughed, remembering our fishing trip in Ketchikan.

Dinner was scrumptious but the atmosphere and service were lacking. I would not likely go there again. It was the least organized and inviting of all the restaurants I had been to so far. I did happen to have the most delicate and finest textured calamari I have ever tasted in my life. It made every other squid that has passed my lips seem inferior by far. So perfectly tender!

We ate up our meals then bid each other adieu as they were going to a different show than us. Marshan and I wanted to see the professional pickpocket, Bob Arno. It was intriguing and actually quite educational to watch him demonstrate how thieves work. The profiling and psychology of the whole concept appealed to me. I made several mental notes on the tips he was sharing to ensure I don’t ever become a victim of this crime.

I am really feeling quite tired lately especially since the time keeps on changing. Now we have lost an entire day! I have been trying to adjust myself naturally but it isn’t so easy. I think the fact that I am exercising is helping regulate me a lot though so I will make sure to keep that top priority.

Grateful for the International Date Line.

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Ocean Community Building – Middle of the Ocean

Energy still lagging a little, I took it easy in the gym today. It was the first day I didn’t do any weight training. The seas are getting rougher and today seemed like the worst yet. As I sat next to the window in the coffee bar, the white frothy waves kept me mesmerized. The ocean churned like a giant blender and even onboard this megaliner, I could feel it. The captain has altered our course so as to avoid the typhoon but we still feel some of the effects of it.

We ate lunch in the dining room once again which I find is a little nicer than fighting the crowds in the troughs. It’s the an eating competition up there on the Lido deck and it’s not hard to see who is winning. I am glad to have withdrew my entry. I haven’t taken a meal at the buffet for over a week. My hips have noticed.

I spent most of the afternoon at the coffee bar reading quietly in the corner. At the present moment I am in the middle of “the power of positive thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale. I picked it up at a garage sale before I left home and now I can’t put it down. It’s very uplifting.

After eating dinner, we hurried off to the show which was the second production show I have seen onboard. It was called “Words and Music” and was inspired by broadway musicals. I didn’t love it as I found it too lackluster compared to the other nights vibrancy. The stage and props didn’t change and even the costumes were not all that special. If it would have been easier to escape without disturbing a whole row of people, I would have left after the first 10 mins. As it were, I sat there through the entire hour trying hard not to fall asleep.

There was a late night Friday night movie in the theater so we stocked up on chocolate brownies (still warm!), cookies and milk. It was a veritable chocolate feast! We took our stash down to our seats to wait for the show to start. Needless to say, the sugar mountain didn’t make it even to the opening credits. I felt a pang of guilt as licked my gooey fingers and slurped up the last of my tall glass of ice cold milk. Sure enough, I crashed about half way through the movie. And how. It was a serious struggle not to slide right off my seat onto the floor into a sleepy puddle.

To be honest, I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow.

Grateful for sweet highs and lows.

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Dream Day Dream – East China Sea Day

I slept in for the first time in a long time which surprised me. I suppose my dreams are becoming more active which wakes me less rested. I ate then worked out before meeting up with some friends for lunch. We reviewed some health facts and figures then enjoyed the elaborate dessert buffet. I found my old card playing friends who invited me for a few rounds. I didn’t win but I didn’t lose.

I went through the Japanese Immigration process once again before making an appointment with the fitness dude. We talked a lot about different strategies I could use to balance out my system. I admit I sure did feel a lot better on leaving that meeting. I realized after seeing the stats from the electronic health scan that I am not in as bad of shape as I thought. Infact, most of the facts and knowledge that he shared, I had already learned. It’s just a matter of putting it into practice. Besides all that, its nice to have encouragement even when you are on the right track.

After eating dinner, I made my way to the main attraction for the night. Martin, my favorite entertainer of late, was making his debut in the Princess Theatre so I went to support. I nestled in front and center between Megan and Marshan. We all clapped loudly in appreciation as Martin tickled the ivories with his tribute to Elton John. Not a huge EJ fan but I still quite enjoyed the show, especially when he played his rendition of “Your Song”.

I tumbled into bed with music in my head. It was a good day.

Grateful for authenticity.

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Sea day in the South China Sea

This morning I woke up and skipped the gym to watch the cooking show. I was disappointed to learn that they changed the scheduled one and were doing the one I had already watched so I left. I found my way to the coffee bar instead where I ran in to a bunch of familiar faces. I am finding that this is not the best place for me to write anymore because everyone seems to want to talk all the time.

Next I watched the auction in the atrium which they were putting on to help those in distress in the Philippines. A lot of the crew onboard are from there and have family or friends who have been affected by the recent typhoons. I often wonder if the landslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes that have been so rampant in this area of the world lately will strike while I am here. I wonder but I don’t worry.

After lunch, I spent a couple hours in the coffee bar chatting with Megan who is leaving the ship soon. We took a break from our girl talk and slipped into the Arts and Crafts session next door in Savoy. We walked out with some handsome bookmarks with travel themes. I was quite impressed with my creativity.

After grabbing a bite in the buffet upstairs, I popped up to the gym for a spell. It was dead mostly because I think it was formal night again. I wandered down to visit Martin in Crooners where he sang “Stand by Me” as per my request. I stopped in to visit JT as he was hosting a Michael Jackson Tribute night. I listened to Billy Jean and had a chuckle as the oldies tore up the dance floor. It was the busiest I had ever seen it up there! I guess old MJ still lives strong in everyone’s heart, young and old.

Grateful for tributes.

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Cabin Fever – Sea Day

I decided to get room service to start my day off in a lazy way. No longer feeling the urge to battle it out for the treadmills in the morning. I have been leaving my workouts to the afternoon which means I don’t have that high to run me through the day. Instead I make a visit to the coffee bar for a buzz. After all, I have lots of punches left on my coffee card and Megan left me hers too! I decided I had better start drinking them up.

I wrote a letter to my mom and visited with some friends from the gym who said they’d missed me. I also met another older couple who were interested in my adventure. Needless to say, I have gotten a little behind in my writing because of all this visiting that is going on. I decided I had better get better at being anti-social if I wanted to get anything done. I guess my focus has been lacking. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I have been on a ship for a month.

After lunch, I wandered around aimlessly until I got inspired to get my butt to the gym. I had dinner then went to the captains party. Its always a bit of a gong show when the Captain is paying for the drinks. People seem to go a little hog wild and the energy becomes something like a Frat party. I ended up going to see Martin sing for a while. While he was belting out the tunes, I got inspired to do a little singing myself. Oh yes…It was Karaoke Mania once again! I was determined not to mess it up this time. I ended up sing Stand By Me with flair and received many compliments afterwards. I wondered if they we privy to my previous blunder and thought I had been practicing like mad.

My favorite show, Ports of Call, was on again so I went to enjoy it for the last time. It was good but I got bored and left before it was finished. My attention span is not very good these days. There was an Island Party up on the top deck so I paid it a visit. The buffet was the best I had all cruise and I admit, I kinda overdid it. I went to bed with a bit of a tummy ache and had a stern chat with my self control who clearly decided to take the night off. No more holidays for you!!

Grateful for singing.

 

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Getting Dirty to get Clean – Nha Trang, Vietnam

After eating a quick breakfast, a group of us met in the coffee bar to tender ashore to Nha Trang, Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had not done even the least bit of research. All I knew is that for currency they use the “dong” and I only knew that because it was a question of the day for the Breakfast Show. Apparently the dong is not a very strong currency so most shops and vendors prefer the almighty US dollar to their own dong.

Instantly, I was impressed by the blast of humid warm air as I stepped off the ship. I looked around and noticed that there were lots of small green mountains. I was delighted that it was so pretty and there was lots of nature to be had.

We took a shuttle to Dam Market which was in the middle of this small beach/fishing town. It was cluttered and busy in every way. There were some areas with very strong fishy smells which we moved away from pretty quickly. I also saw some snakes in bottles of drink and wondered if this was their version of the worm in the tequila.

Nha Trang is poorer than most of the other ports we’d been to which also means that the prices are lower. I found some beautiful Asian dresses to buy and got them for under ten dollars each. They were Vietnamese style and looked elegant and fun to wear. I was excited to wear them because along with being beautiful, they were extremely comfortable. Infact, people weren’t sure if they were supposed to be pajamas or not.

Next we took a taxi to the mud baths where we signed up for the full meal deal. How could we not when it was under 15 dollars for several hours of healing? First we had a cleansing shower then we were directed to a big tub which they began filling with the mineral mud. The mud was thick and goopy and warm. I have to admit that it was a really neat feeling glurping around in a tub of mucky goodness.

We were given buckets to make sure we were completely covered and smothered. I was happy to have a waterproof camera to capture the messy silliness. It was so much fun that I had to keep reminding myself it was good for me too. In fact, there was a moment we were gently hushed because we were laughing too loud. Opps! We tried to find the sacred spirituality of the ritual stifling our giggles as best we could.

After 15 minutes of soaking in the mineral mud, we were directed to rinse off all mud. I was pretty surprised at some of the places I was finding the gritty sludge. Just to be sure we got every last speck, we entered the high pressure spray. Think car wash but for people. I did run through the car wash once and can attest that it is a lot nicer when its people size. Next we soaked for a half hour in a warm mineral bath before heading to the big swimming pool and waterfall.

After our swim, it was time to get our 6 dollar massage. The room was small and narrow and dimly lit. I asked the thin Vietnamese girl who was assigned to me to turn off the fans that were aimed at the massage table. I am a rarity, I know, because she looked a little puzzled when I tried to explain that I was cold. She shrugged and did as I asked then proceeded to knead away. At one point, it was like her hands changed completely and I wondered what new technique this was. Then, I realized that she was actually walking on my back! It was the first time I had that and I couldn’t help but be scared that she was going to fall off. It was a neat experience indeed.

Afterwards, we all grabbed a drink at a café we saw that looked decent. I had a coconut, top chopped off and a straw stuck in it. The sweet coconut water was refreshing and sweet. I left the others to head across the street to a small beauty salon that didn‘t look like it had seen a customer all day. I tried to communicate with the young ladies that I wanted a manicure and pedicure. After a few minutes, they got to work, one on my hands and one on my feet. They did a great job so I paid them double. Considering the whole treatment cost only 3 it was small change for me but it seemed to mean a lot to them.

The others picked me up just as I was finishing and we walked down to the beach area. I didn’t want to go in the sand because of my fresh pedicure so I stood on the boardwalk while the others stuck their feet in the sea. We all took a cab back to the tender port and finally got back to the ship.

I ended up feeling a little impatient and cranky that night and no matter where I went, I couldn’t shake it. After trying several venues and shows, I just went to bed and hoped to sleep it off. I reasoned that it may be all those toxins coming out from the mud baths. Who can say for sure. All I know is that I sure did sleep well.

Grateful for mud baths.

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It’s beginning to feel NOT like Christmas- Koh Phangan,Thailand

A few weeks ago I was asked to housesit for Sam while she went back to England for the holidays. It was a wonderful move for me because her charming home is situated on a very secluded beach.Although it is about half the size of where I was living, the quietude and simplicity is well worth the trade.

I am taking care of her two dogs who don’t love my cat and keep chasing her up the tree. Luckily my lovely neighbors whom I have become quite fond of keep helping me rescue her. Its quite cute when Naema is wobbling around on Andreas’ shoulders coaxing down my frightened feline.

I guess I should be grateful that natural predators are her biggest worry now that I have moved away from the main road. There are a lot of crippled animals on this little island and a serious stray dog problem. Today I watched a pregnant dog die after being hit by a motorbike. I tried to console my laundry lady who was quite upset about losing her dog. I wanted to tell her it was probably for the best but I am sure the sentiment would have gotten lost in translation. I opted to go the actions speak louder than words route and bought her flowers instead.

Everyone on my beach is in a silent retreat for a couple weeks so there is not a lot of opportunity for chitchat. There may be a chance that I am spending too much time alone. I have begun feeling a bit isolated and lonely. It really hit me hard on Xmas day when for the first time in my life, I missed the snow. I spent the morning feeling sorry for myself until I decided to make some presents for my silent neighbors.

Here on Koh Phangan Christmas is not a big deal and other than a few token Happy Holiday signs near the touristy restaurants, the holidays may pass you by completely. You can imagine how glad when Gaby from Argentina arrived on the island. Having only met online, I was a tad timid with my not so wonderful track record with Argentines. But I reasoned that as two single woman travelers, we should stick together. It took about 5 seconds after I climbed into the taxi with her to realize that Gabriella and Carmella are like two peas in a pod.

We adventured down to Haad Rin for their version of an Xmas party. It turned out to be identical to a typical Full Moon party with hundreds of wannabe Santas running around. I had a chuckle at just how “merry” some of my counterparts were and ended up gifting my hat (which had been gifted to me earlier that day at the internet café) to one of them. Gaby, who has a penchant for Aussies, had her first FMP romance with the lucky recipient. The two of them looked adorable in their matching hats so I wasn’t so sad to have lost my playmate. I found some new friends and even spun some fire before packing it in for an early (3am) night.

Grateful for Christmas spirit.

 

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Cooking Thai and Travel Into Laos – Vientiane, Laos

The Sunday market on Walking Street in Chiang Mai did turn out to be massive and I got entirely overwhelmed by it all. But again, I managed to spend baht only on food and services rather than useless souvenirs I will regret later. I tasted a bunch of different flavors from the hundreds of choices including 10 baht pad thai (just ok) and 20 baht passion fruit/apple/watermelon smoothie (yummy time!) and 1 baht coconut pumpkin sticky rice in banana leaves (drool). By the end of night I felt I earned a serious massage having navigated the shoulder to shoulder packed crowds. For 120 baht I got a nice hour long massage in one of the rows of recliners set up.

The next day, I took a cooking class at “AsiaScenic” which included an educational field trip to the food market. Gay, our young bubbly teacher, took us into her garden and told us about all the spices and herbs she grew there. Our group of 10 young traveler all chose different dishes so we got to learn almost the entire spectrum on offer. My selections included spring rolls, pad see uw, coconut milk soup, massaman curry, deep fried banana and what turned out to be my favorite, chicken with cashew nuts. The whole day was exciting and I thoroughly enjoyed not only preparing my dishes but eating them too. Everything turned out perfectly and I couldn’t believe that I was responsible for creating such flavorful fare with such little effort. I am really looking forward to cooking these again in my own kitchen for future dinner parties.

The next day, I decided to head over to Laos for a spell as my Thai visa was about to run out. A small group of us (some friends I had met down in Koh Phangan) climbed aboard the night bus for the 12 hour journey. Unfortunately for me, I was seated in the top very back by the window which I believe was the coldest place on the bus. I watched “Where the Wild Things Are” on the laptop before trying unsuccessfully to contort myself into a decent sleeping position.

In the morning, we were dropped off at the bus station where we got a tuk tuk to take us the 10 minutes to the Thai-Laos border. After getting stamped out of Thailand, we got on a shuttle which carted us over the “Friendship Bridge” over the Mekong River. I paid the $42 dollars for a visa (Canadians have to pay substantially more than any other country for a Laos visa) and happily walked on into a new country.

We were all pretty exhausted and I was really looking forward to getting some rest in Vientiane (literally “City of Sandalwood”). I would have gladly overpaid for a bed to sleep in but the others I was with were hell bent on finding a good deal. After scoping out a dozen guesthouses and hotels, we finally found one we could all agree on which happened to have a great view of the river. We grabbed a quick bite at the Joma bakery before I packed it in for the night. I zoned out a bit in front of the TV which was showing some awful Ben Stiller movie before passing out.

It’s a new day now and I am back at the Joma café as I write this. I am feeling a little sad because this morning I watched a cat get hit and killed by a car. I didn’t cry but I felt really really empty and cold as I watched her body twitch and convulse as her spirit left her. I said a little prayer for the dead cat as a local walked over casually picking her up by her tail and flinging her off the road. I hope I never get so numb to death.

I am going to go for a wander in this very French influenced town and look for a place to get a massage. Its certainly much more European here than I expected and the place is chockablock with tourists. It is a interesting fusion of French Asian but still, I am very well aware of the basic quality of life here.

Grateful for affect.

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