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Monday, December 05, 2016

The Habituation and Rehabilitation of a Beautiful Baby Black Market Monkey

It's no secret that i get tickled pink at the chance to teach people a word in english they've never heard before. However in my last two days at the lodge I found myself teaching a word to some guides and staff that i wish i didn't have to teach, the word "habituated".

This all began two days before i left when a girl came up to the lodge with a tiny monkey clinging to her. It was then that the whole story came out. She had bought the baby monkey for about $5 USD and had been keeping it as a pet for 6 mths. After some soul searching and hearing that Tahuayo helps with rehabilitation, she handed the monkey over to the people at the lodge.

The monkey is set to join Dorilla and Chippa at the research centre but before that happens there needs to be some serious rehabilitation work that needs to be done. This baby monkey had become too habituated to humans and lacked skills and behavior of its own species.

So the staff at the lodge set a plan into motion to prepare this monkey for life in the wild and not as someones pet. It was decided that every afternoon the monkey would be brought out and have practice climbing at a nearby tree. It had been kept on the floor of someones home and fed the wrong diet so there was work that needed to be done.

The first afternoon the guides brought her out and put her in a tree to practice. Initially she could climb but didn't want to and kept coming down the tree. But by the end of her session she was climbing higher and higher and was taking her first step towards behaving more like her wild counterparts.

Unfortunately in Iquitos this is all too common. Every animal sanctuary has signs warning people to never buy a baby monkey as a pet. Because the person who sold the monkey likely killed the mother and buying from them is just fueling the industry.

As cute as the baby monkey was swinging from limb to limb and licking insects from its fingers, a thought came to my mind that i couldn't shake off. Which word in the dictionary did i feel a growing disdain for, the word "habituated" or "anthropomophize"?

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Terrifying Yet Tantalizing Tango with Trust Above the Treetops

If you were to ask me if there was any one excursion or activity that represented this whole season in my life, one word comes to mind: CANOPY ZIPLINE.  

Firstly they hook you up to a harness and get you to sit in it. Then one feels the exhilarating feeling of being raised higher and higher into the air. Until you look down and the jungle floor is starting to look like a dot. Within minutes one finds themselves 40 meters above ground level and being helped onto the actual platform where the zipline is. All the butterflies in your stomach start to bounce around as if they were playing in one of those big bouncy castles.

 After being hooked up to the zipline itself you are then told to JUMP. It's at this point that some visitors start crying and there have been a few (very rare) that actually can't go through with it. But the ones that do jump are rewarded with an up-close and personal encounter with nature that is beyond ethereal.

So much of this parallels my journey of making an exodus from Vancouver and giving my all mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially to make that daring jump and do all God has called me to do.  There was no guarantees if by making this move it would be the biggest mistake of my life or leaping off the diving board into one of the richest experiences one could possibly have. 

Trust is a theme that is woven into both the experience of being on the canopy zipline and the journey of making this incredible adventure happen. My guides securely hook me up then give me the thumbs up signal that it is OK to jump. They've done this a million times with so many visitors and not one accident. Yet I'm 40 feet above the jungle floor and anything that goes wrong would be instant death my head tells me. My emotions are whirling around like laundry in a washing machine. Thus begins a terrifying yet tantalizing tango with trust.

Even before I got to the jungle, there were many signs along the way that this was the path. Many of the things I needed like knee high socks, insect repellent, a hat with a brim, raincoat, flights from Santiago to Lima etc. All these things I would find deeply discounted or on clearance. Yet with all these signs my inner doubts pounded within my mind like a noisy construction drill. However, in the end I chose to trust and clear those doubts out of my mind the same way my jungle guides clear the bush with one whack of a machete. 

The cost to come as a volunteer may have been 75 USD a day but the return on the price that I paid is an infinite times what I paid out. Witnessing the inaugaration of a new school wing, enriching the lives of the village of Chino with the language of english are only the beginning. There were intimate and lively chats with visitors to the lodge and daily excursions where I got an up-close and personal encounter with nature Three times a day my body was filled with wholesome food from a buffet that looks  fit for royalty. Pure wholesome food coupled with frequent hikes in the jungle and my health soared like squirrel monkeys leaping from treetops.

Truthfully, hanging 40 meters above the jungle floor in a harness was actually the safest place I could possibly be even if my head was trying to tell me something else. The same is true with life, there is no real security in any one thing whether it would be money, job, home or stability. A lesson life has taught me is that the most secure place you'll ever be is that place where you're meant to be. There was more safety and security in me giving up everything and going to the jungle there ever would have been staying on and holding on to shreds of things that no longer served me.    

The most interesting part about the zipline experience is that you don't just jump once and are done with it. Your first jump lands you on a first platform where you are met there by a guide and when hooked up again. In total you actually have to leap three times before you get to the final station and are lowered down to the jungle floor. 

Coming back from the jungle there are still multiple leaps I still have to take in daily life in the area of trust. Everytime my fears creep up on me and want to steal my ability to trust, all I have to do is remember the moment when I was strapped to the zipline and I took a deep breath and chose trust over fear. All I can remember is that in the very next moment, for one eternal second I felt what it was like to be one of those majestic Macaws gliding effortlessly over the jungle......

Monday, November 14, 2016

Iquitos.......Hotspot or Hodgepodge?

roasted grubs on a stick

"Hodgepodge or hotspot?" That is the question that screams through my mind as i narrowly escape the endless rows of amazon tour companies beckoning my attention on the streets of Iquitos.

The masses descend upon Iquitos like a swarm of piranhas to a carcass. A general rule of thumb is that people are here for one of two reasons or perhaps abit of both. Foreigners are in Iquitos either getting a taste of the Amazon jungle or to participate in a Shamanic ceremony taking  Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca for those that may not be familiar is a psychedelic tea concoction made from plants and herbs of the Amazon. It is taken as part of a special ceremony with a Shaman preceding over it. Ingestion of Ayahuasca can result in dizziness, vomiting, hallucinations and visions. Unfortunately there are those who did not take the ceremony seriously and do their research and ingestion of the tea resulted in death.

Ayahuasca popularity is evidenced by the amount of restaurants one can walk into in Iquitos where they have two menus, a regular menu and the other for those who are on the Ayahuasca diet. Namely no fried food, no alcohol, no fatty foods or spicy foods either etc.

In Iquitos mosquitos will feed off your body if like a stupid sucker one walks out without repellant. Likewise, crooks and robbers feed off naivety like there is no tomorrow. Whether one is here for Ayahuasca or the Amazon, you can bet that there is someone out there who is more than willing to overcharge and under-deliver on the experience you are looking for.

 The best protection against crooks in this place isn't with a gun or pepper spray, it is with knowledge and research. Knowledge that tells you that Tahuayo Lodge has one of the best reputations out there. Research that informs you that there is both a false monkey island and butterfly farm and a real monkey island and butterfly world and how exactly to get there. In Iquitos many boat drivers are being paid a special commission to take naive unprepared visitors to the fake versions of the real places.

When it comes to Iquitos, doing a little homework goes a long way in having a flawless stay in the city. Instead of getting ripped off by some unsavory tour operator; conned by a disingenuous Shaman; robbed at Belen market or fallen victim to a scam, one can take your hard earned cash and sit outside enjoying a cup of coffee at Amazon Bistro. Or hear the excited chatter of Ayahuasca drinkers as they converge at the Karma cafe while enjoying delicious spoonfuls of Thai green curry.

Or perhaps your greatest triumph of all will be having returned from Belen market with camera intact full of magnificent pics without getting robbed because you were smart and took a guide and little cash, unlike those other silly gringos who decided to pop by there with a $4000 camera hanging from their neck for all the world to see......

Pilpintuwasi butterfly farm and animal orphanage 


Monday, November 07, 2016

Crazy Critters at Yarina Lake

While on a mini vacay to the Amazon Research Center, I did a 4.5 hour hike to Yarina Lake. There I encountered a whole host of crazy critters that I thought I'd only ever see watching National Geographic channel. From that one hike I came back so chock full of interesting photos that I've dedicated an entire post just to all the creatures I encountered that one afternoon

disclaimer: social media can paint a perfect picture of someones adventures and leave people thinking that they are living some kind of fairytale life. As you look at these photos what they don't show you is me going over slippery logs, trudging through mud, getting rained upon etc. There was even a couple of times during the hike that I stepped onto what I thought would be semi-solid ground and within a sec my leg had been swallowed up thigh-high into soft mud.

Yarina Lake

Rose Toed Tarantula

Crested Forest Toad

Mata-mata (turtle)

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Early Bird Catches the Wifi Signal

moth larva

"Don't touch that tree." warned my guide Nelly as I gingerly took steps along the muddy path.

"What's wrong with the tree?" I inquired. Her one word answer would send a chill down my spine.


Duly noted. On my last trip to the amazon jungle I had been bitten by a piranha and had absolutely no desire to add fireants to the list.  Step by step as we made our way through the jungle trails, I always did my best to adhere to the words of my guide on our hikes. One vivid memory that sticks in my mind is when my guide suddenly stepped in front of me and began pressing her boot against the mud as if she were testing it. Nelly then looked up at me and gave me some simple instructions.

"Try to step where I step."  She indicated to me that where she left bootprints in the mud, I ought to step exactly in those prints. Truthfully, it was easier said than done. With the ground being uneven, it made it challenging to aim to step exactly where she had stepped. At one point I took a step that was close-ish to where she had left her prints. Within a second I found myself knee high being swallowed alive by the jaws of the greedy mud.

Every single minute of every hour in the jungle there is an ongoing struggle between predator and prey in the battle of life, death and survival. For a few terrifying seconds I got a taste of what it was like as my leg thrashed and fought against the mud the way a fish fights to free itself from the talons of a bird that had just swooped it right out of the water.  The tug of war lasted a few moments more before the mud reluctantly relented and my leg came free. After brushing myself off and making plans for a shower, the hike continued without further adieu.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blind As a Bat and Trapped Like a Rat

Dining Room Inaugauration Fiesta

Blind as a bat and trapped like a rat, that was what it was like in the early morning hours at the Amazon Research Center. Mentally my fist had slammed on the panic button to put a red alert telling my whole body system that this was a code red emergency. Immediately regret filled me from head to toe as thoughts of my flashlight lying on my bedstand danced mockingly in my head.

A couple of times I had to make use of the bathroom in the middle of the night and walked out of my lodging finding myself in pitch black. All lights in every part of the lodge were gone. It seemed as if they stay on until a certain time then everything shuts off. Leaving my room without a flashlight was a good way to discover the feeling of what being in a horror movie is like.

One night while making my way to the bathroom, the lights were still on so I left my flashlight on the stand beside my bed. This would soon turn out to be a sorry mistake. While making use of the facilities, the lights without warning turned off completely and the darkness swallowed me whole. 

For most of us who have spent any amount of time in darkness, it's rare that it is 100% complete darkness. There are usually lights in the distance or shadows we can make out. But I had been engulfed by true darkness, a comparable experience to being born blind and having known only a world without light.

Immediately my head snapped into action. "OK Angelina, you know the layout of the bathroom". Automatically my fingertips reached forward and felt for the door. Once outside the stall, the world remained in complete darkness. My hands pressed against sides of the wall and I knew that my only hope was to follow it to take me out of the bathroom. Before long those faithful fingertips of mine felt the door to the entrance of the bathroom.

Unfortunately, my conundrum was nowhere close to finished seeing as there is a whole room that was built outside of the entrance to the actual bathroom. It was designed to keep out insects with mesh windows. Inside this room is also a large railing that my hands grasped for desperately.  Consumed by pure black, the darkness seemed to taunt my efforts to escape from this seemingly endless maze.

My heart was racing faster than cars in a Nascar race. For a mere moment I considered just staying in one place until morning came in lieu of running the risk of stumbling around in the darkness all night. Other than the feel of the wood on the tips of my fingers there was no way to figure out my exact location in the room.

In my imagination I pictured the railing as I had seen it in broad daylight and just trusted that if my hands kept following faithfully, it would lead me close to the entrance where there might be a chance at even a little light from the night sky. The tips of my fingers followed the railing until I felt where it ended. It was then that my fingers had a new feeling, something hard and wired. It was the mesh windows.

Confusion engulfed me as my fingers ran against the mesh windows hoping for some kind of solace. The mental map of the layout in my minds eye had now been burnt to bits and now all there was left was guessing games to where I was. The darkness smirked as my daring attempt to free myself from its grasp continued.

Just when things had begun to feel completely fruitless, strange shadows appeared that looked to be like thatched roofs from its shape. Abit of a light color appeared and although pitch black, it now registered in my brain that I had reached outside.

*just wanted to explain the layout. The whole research center is built the style of raised huts. So after exiting the building that houses the bathroom, one can walk straight ahead to go to the main centre but there are walkways that branch off to the left and the right towards the individual rooms.

The finish line was near, all that was left now was to find the first walkway that branched to the left and I was home. For a few terrifying moments my hands couldn't feel anything and feared gripped me that I would fall off the edge. But my head snapped back into place and remembered that safety railings had been installed and there was no chance of that.

So once again, with only the tips of my fingers as my guide, they felt for the beam and followed it religiously. After stealthily walking for a few paces, my instincts screamed at me telling me that I  had overshot the turn to my room. So with just a little bit of backtracking, my fingertips followed the path of the beam until it felt the corners where the walkway branched towards my room. 

After following it for a few more secs, my hands made contact with a room with an open door. Thoughts whirled around in my brain faster than laundry in a washer. Dashing thru the open door, my hand reached for the one object that would give me the solace my soul was desperately craving. Flashlight in hand, my thumb hit the ON button and my heart exploded as a glorious beam of light flooded the room.....

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Rendez-vous with Dorilla Plus Two

Dorilla and baby

Whilst on the way to go searching for poison dart frogs during my first trip, I was introduced to a Woolly Monkey named Dorilla. Guides always used to stop when they came to the spot where Dorilla was and she would come right out onto the boat and we'd have the absolute pleasure of feeding her fruit along with her friend Chippa. Now 3 yrs later I find myself having an upclose and personal encounter with not only this amazing monkey but her baby as well.

For those of you who don't know Dorilla or Chippas story, I'll summarize it right here. Dorilla was rescued off the black market and brought under the care of Angels of the Amazon and the people of Tahuayo Lodge. They released Dorilla into the forest thinking she would find another tribe to join but she never did. Instead she chose to stay around and enjoy attention and free fruit.

Chippa (whom they believe she may be pregnant at the time of this writing) was being kept as a pet in someones home. She was being fed rice and not given the proper care needed by her species. Dolly Beaver convinced the woman to hand Chippa to her and the woman finally did.


Due to conflicts with the village nearby between the monkeys and the people, Dorilla and Chippa were relocated to the Amazon Research Center to avoid further trouble. Unfortunately Coby (the father of Dorillas baby) did not cooperate with the relocation and is currently still in the orignal location close to where I first met Dorilla while going to look for frogs. But they will continue with efforts to relocate him and bring him here to reunite him with his family.

For now it was me who had the joyous reunion with Dorilla.  I was overjoyed to see the monkeys and they were overjoyed at the sight of fruit. Both of them would come running down the limbs of the tree, snatch the fruit out of our hands and then find a limb where they could perch on to enjoy this succulent treat. The monkeys tore into the fruit with such a voracious appetite that the juice of the fruit would rain down on me from high above the branches. With such a healthy appetite I don't think that it will take much to convince me that Chippa just might be eating for two.....

Monday, October 10, 2016

Canopy Ziplining My Way Thru Culture Shock

full disclaimer: this pic of me and the monkeys are from my visit to "isla de los monos". Not from any excursions from Tahuayo lodge

"I'm sorry but we have to ask you not to use the hairdryer. It takes up alot of electrical current." That was the approximate translation of one of the staffs gentle reminder to me when I had turned on my hairdryer to dry my hair following a cold shower. Yes, you heard me right, a cold shower. In the Amazon jungle if water is heated to 33 degrees it becomes a soup for bacteria, leading to upper respiratory diseases. I was reminded of this fact he first day I landed back in the lodge and found there was only one option for the shower temperature.....COLD.

But back to the story about the hairdryer, I had completely forgotten that here at lodge there are only certain times in the day that devices can be plugged into the wall to conserve energy. The lodge is powered by solar power that converts it into electrical energy. Devices can be plugged in between 1-3 and then 6-8. Of course no one is going to punish you if you plug in your device any other time but it is the principal of respect for the lodge and the limited natural resources. I courteously apologized to the staff member after she reminded me.

Then I proceeded to pack my hairdryer into my suitcase because if I leave it out there is no doubt in my mind that when I get up in the morning my first instinct would be to grab it to dry my hair.  That incident opened my eyes again to how scarce our resources can be that even the use of my hairdryer was using up electricity that the staff badly needed to keep for themselves in order to prepare breakfast for the guests early in the morning. 

Tahuayo Lodge has a 40 meter high canopy zipline that runs through the jungle. They have such a good standing with the Peruvian government that they are in fact the only lodge in the jungle that is allowed to have one. Visitors always come back from having been on the zipline beaming and gushing endlessly about how thrilling the experience was.  Day to day life in jungle lodge and amongst the people of the village made me feel like I was on a canopy zipline of a different sort. Canopy ziplining my way thru culture shock.

As some of you know, I came to Tahuayo Lodge for 4 nights in July 2013. And like many visitors, once they get a taste of this place they fall in love and want to keep coming back. Who wouldn't want to come back to a lodge where you are greeted with love and hospitality the moment you get off the boat? In addition to that being paired up with a guide who takes you on fun excursions like: canopy ziplining, searching for poison dart frogs, looking for caiman, fishing for piranhas etc. My guides were wonderful and caring to me when I actually got bit by a piranha on my first trip. Make a note to oneself.....if your guides catch a piranha and show you its teeth the fish is NOT dead. Please do not reach your finger out to touch its teeth.

For the full recount of that incident you can click on the link below:

Pecked by a Peeved Piranha

I couldn't get Tahuayo out of my mind so I came back as a volunteer english teacher, teaching english at a local village named Chino. Stepping into the classrooms of Chino as a teacher and not as a visitor was an invaluable lesson in itself. The moment me and my guide entered the uniformed children would rise to greet me with a "Buenas Dias." And the funny thing was that no matter what age or classroom I went to, whether it would be primary or secondary school the kids would do it automatically on cue. There was no arguing, bad attitude, moodiness, or whining. These kids knew exactly how to treat visitors or authority figures.

On the theme of culture shock, a vastly unsettling sight that was completely normal to these people was the sight of children of all ages running around with machetes. Here in the jungle a machete is an essential tool for day to day life. Kids learn the proper use of a machete right from young from watching their parents and also being shown by the others in the village.  It makes me breathe a deep sigh of a relief that these children are so well schooled; the last thing I would ever want is to come face to face with an army of unruly misbehaving children skilled with machetes.
Trudging down the muddy hill one day, having finished a session in the village, I silently thought.....

"It really does take a village to raise a child."


Monday, September 26, 2016

A New Building and a New Beginning: Inauguration Ceremony of School Wing

As I tenderly caressed each of the beautiful beads from the necklace, emotions within my heart welled up and burst within like the nightly fireworks that light up the skies of Disneyland every single night. The atmosphere had been ripe with the sounds of laughter, chatter, music, dancing, speeches. There even an impromptu gift of hand made gift of hand crafted beads to the volunteers who had spent 6 days building the new wing of the school; I was caught off guard when one of the village women also placed a necklace on me. That necklace would serve forever after as a reminder of the villagers gratitude to not only the volunteers who built the new classroom but me as well who came to teach english to them.

Of all the excursions I've done whether it would be canopy ziplining; piranha fishing; searching for poison dart frogs etc. I would have to say that my favorite excursion was one that Tahuayo Lodge doesn't offer on a regular basis. And that was my excursion to the inaugaration ceremony of the new wing of the school that had been completed by Be The Change Volunteers.

In 2013 when I first arrived here there was only one building that housed the school. There was only one teacher for all the grades who would have to go to one side of the room and teach primary school and cross to the other side of the school to teach secondary. In 2014 for first time ever, Be The Change Volunteers began getting involved with the people of Chino village and built their very first classroom of what is now the secondary school. The same organization would return the very next year to build another classroom. And this year in 2016 they returned to build a third classroom. So as you can imagine what a surprise for me to return 3 yrs after my first trip and find that Chino had gone from one building with one teacher to having a seperate building for primary and secondary and now had a principal and seperate teachers for all the grade levels.

 I arrived at the village on Inauguration day with a boat filled with volunteers who were putting the finishing touches on the construction work that they had been working on for the last 5 days. Upon reaching the secondary school, all words in both english and spanish left me. Where one week ago there was nothing but a cement foundation, there were now walls and a roof and a fully fledged classroom that was almost ready to go. It is important to note that the foundation had actually be laid by an earlier group from the same organization who did the ground work so that this second group could come and finalize the construction work.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Mastering the Art of Turning Foreigners into Friends

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Maya Angelou

 So I'm in the midst of a life change right now and I find myself in hostel in Los Angeles. The fun part about hostels is that one gets to meet people from different cultures, backgrounds, walks of life all here in the city for different reasons. One of my dorm mates is a taiwanese girl who just arrived from Taiwan a few days ago to study english. I ended up having a beautiful chat with her giving her advice on how to connect while in a foreign country as well as tips on learning a language.

It then occurred to me that the advice I gave her is applicable to ANYONE whether one is a study abroad student learning french in France, or a Brit on holiday on the beaches of Spain. There are countless opportunities all around us to make meaningful connections. Trying to make friends from people who grew up in another world so different from yours may seem like an obstacle but in reality it's an opportunity if we keep a few important pointers in mind. I'll share with you the pearls of wisdom I showered on this girl from Taiwan.

 Firstly I encouraged her not to get sucked into the trap of hanging around people who spoke the same language as her. In a foreign country it is natural to gravitate to those who come from our cultures. Nothing wrong with that but if all we do is spend time speaking our native tongues and doing the activities we do at home, we aren't making the best of our time. My advice to her was to be brave, and go out and have as many conversations and experiences in a foreign language as possible.

 Another thing that I advised her was that even if one cannot fluently speak a foreign language, if you learn a thing or two about the culture, political background, or food of the place and are able to talk about it in english, that opens opens up a multitude of conversations. The two subjects that get people going are the topics of food and politics. What helps while one is abroad is to go try a food that only locals would really be familiar about it and go talk to them about your experience. In other words, don't only go and eat sushi and talk to locals in Japan about it. Everyone knows about sushi. Try something that is common knowledge to the people who live there but not necessarily common to the outside world. When locals hear that you've tried something out of the norm, it gets them talking.

In addition to that advice I let her know that sometimes when one doesn't know how to start a conversation from someone of another culture, a helpful tip is to google unusual facts about that country or culture. That way the next time you see the person you can tell them about the things you found out about their culture. In my experience people deeply appreciate it when they see that you've taken the time and effort to find out more about the culture and background they are from and feel extremely proud of.

 Here in Los Angeles, I've made it a rule that right now I'm not doing any theme parks. Instead I'm going to all the hidden places that most tourist skip because they only go to Universal Studios, Disneyland, and the Hollywood Walk of fame. But during my time here I've already ate at a Hawaiian restaurant and tried Loco Moco, visited little Tokyo, gone to the arts District as well as the fashion district. And there are so many places on my radar that I could visit to expand my mind. I had no idea that there is a district called "little Ethiopia" full of restaurants and shops related to the Ethiopian culture. The words of wisdom I write to you are ones that I am taking myself.

 Politics is another great topic you can venture into while abroad. . Find out something that has been going on about the country that only the locals know about and talk about it with them. Engaging in those conversations will help you become a well rounded person. You'll find out things like why people from Taiwan don't like to be called "Chinese". Why don't the people of France really favor the city of Marseille? Why is there a street in Santiago Chile called "11 de septiembre"? And if you dare decided to engage in both the topics of politics and food at the same time, make sure that you have nothing on your schedule for the next few hrs because you'll be engaged in a conversation for a loooooooooooong time :)

 What made my talk with this Taiwanese girl even more interesting is all the advice that I was telling her, I was actually using on her. I would also ask her about Taiwan and bring up things only a Taiwanese person would know. It made her feel connected to me. Little did she know that while I was talking to her my mind was searching my memory bank for anything I could remember about Taiwan.

A funny moment happened in our conversation when I asked her about a famous restaurant in Taiwan. In Asia themed restaurants are very popular. And there is a restaurant in Taiwan where it is toilet themed. When you go into the restaurant the seats are shaped exactly like toilet bowls. When I brought that up her face beamed and her voice quickened. Even with her broken english she knew what I was talking about. We had a really good chuckle about this unusual restaurant that is famous in Taiwan. That is another thing to watch, when you've said something that people are deeply connected to, their body language will change. They will start to talk faster and become chatty. Their eyes light up as you touch on something that is familiar to them.

Often times people's greatest mistake when trying to connect is talking too much  about themselves to start. Instead, put yourself in the other persons shoes and think of what themes they might be connected to. And you'll find as you do this, endless flow of conversations start. And eventually you'll get to talk about yourself and people will want to know about your background, culture, and history. And before you know it, you'll have mastered the art of turning foreigners into friends......

The Last Bookstore

The Broad Museum

Graffiti in the Arts District


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Argentine Eyes

Some of you who have been with me on my journey when I first stepped into Argentine soil right from the beginning may remember that at one point I wrote an autobiography about my life. As well as an encounter with an Argentine woman who would eventually become my Argentine mother.  The autobiography was called "Argentine Eyes" and it was done through wattpad.

I know that many people publish hundreds of stories on wattpad daily but I've only written one and then I haven't done much on wattpad very much. But the other day I decided to log in and look at my work and got struck by lightening when I saw that it has 3.4 K reads!

At first I thought there must be a mistake or I was reading the numbers wrong. I wanted to pinch myself. At most I thought it would be a worth a few hundred reads by a select group of people who were interested in Argentina. My books popularity has gone above and beyond anything I could have fathomed.

Wanna share a beautiful story of how this book impacted someone's life.  Being non-fiction, all the places I describe in the book are real.  One place that I talk about was a school called the Vamos Spanish Academy. As a language learner, picking the right school makes all the difference between paying for an overpriced pretentious course and learning next to nothing or paying a fair price and having a fantastic experience as you accelerate your journey to fluency.

Someone read my book and about my time at the Vamos Spanish Academy and actually decided to go there for real. They messaged me telling me that they ended up the school and had a fantastic time. It's moments like these that are the true reward as a writer. Yes, seeing that ones book has been viewed thousands of times is lovely. But nothing beats knowing that something you wrote impacted someones life.

So I am reposting the book here again for your reading pleasure. Simply click on the image above and it will take you to my book on wattpad. It is quite timely as well because this is the week that Argentina celebrates the May revolution. A moment in history that resulted the birth of the beautiful city of Buenos Aires on May 25th. And if my memory serves me right I actually started writing "Argentine Eyes" on May 25, 2011, the day that they commemorate the revolution. Happy birthday Buenos Aires. TE AMO

Monday, April 18, 2016

Death by Hot Chocolate: Sweet Stories from Vancouver's Hot Chocolate Festival

"Do you have any suspended coffees left?" I asked the cashier.

"Unfortunately no, we are completely sold out." She replied

"OK, then I'll buy one then." I gushed.

Her face beamed with gratitude, thanked me for this gift I was giving buying the first suspended coffee of the day. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a suspended coffee is a coffee you can prepay in advance for a homeless person to be able to have a drink. There are several places in Vancouver that have this program, East Van Roasters was one of them.

This particular exchange took place when I was visiting EVR to sample their hot chocolate that was part of the hot chocolate festival going on in Vancouver. Looking back, I'm glad that I wasn't silly enough to go make some new yrs resolution about losing weight or eating healthy because that resolution would have been out the door the moment the hot chocolate festival started.

There may be many tasty places to visit in Vancouver but what makes East Van Roasters extra delicious is that every order comes with a taste of charity. Located in the Rainier hotel, all the women who work at EVR also live at the hotel. And all the income from the sales of food drink and merchandise go directly towards these women, enabling the women of downtown vancouver to be able to support themselves. And most of all for these women to be able to live a life of dignity.

The Hot Chocolate Festival took place from Jan 16-Feb 14. Like a bull unleashed from its pen, I galloped through every nook and cranny of the city satisfying my sweet tooth with sinfully delightful cups of hot chocolate. There were more than 59 flavors of hot chocolate available throughout the city. And 5% of all the proceeds from the whole event goes to support East Van Roasters.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Corrie Ten Boom Story: Discovering the Hiding Place

This is the season where there are a multitude of inspiration post about love, sacrifice and salvation. As a person I'm extremely inclusive and that also reflects on the type of writings I choose to do here on this blog. I make every effort to create content that are enjoyable to all no matter what background, faith, culture or walk of life you are from. So in the spirit of inclusivity, I've decided to veer away from doing what everyone else is doing and writing about the cross or salvation or using lots of Christian talk. Interestingly enough the people I'm about to introduce to you today were all about inclusivity....the Ten Boom Family.

 Pretty much if you're Christian or from Holland the story of Corrie Ten Boom should ring a bell. The Ten Boom family had a famous watch shop in Holland (the watch shop is still there) and during world war 2 played an active role in helping Jews in hiding. Eventually they created a false wall that would serve as an escape route if ever their home was searched. The false wall became known as "The Hiding Place".

In  Dec 2013 during a wk in Amsterdam I took a train to Haarlem and got to see the Hiding Place.  The Ten Booms house and watch shop is still standing and I sat in the very living room the Ten Booms once sat hearing tales of this extraordinary family.

Eventually they were found out and arrested for helping the Jews. There are amazing stories of their family life before their arrest and also incredible stories of what happened in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck where Corrie and Betsie would find themselves. For the purposes of length I'll give you the highlights. All the rest of the story can be read in the book "The Hiding Place"


Monday, February 08, 2016

This Little Monkey Still Has a Snakebite on Her Arse (no sexual nuances intended)

My heart has been waiting forever for this day to come and now the day has arrived.....Feb 8th is HERE.  Today isn't your average monday, it's a special day for me for a multitude of different reasons. Let's start with the obvious that today is the start of the Chinese new yr. Gung Hey Fat Choy to everyone around the world. What makes it even more special is that it is the year of the monkey, my yr. For each of us out there celebrating Chinese New yr that falls upon the animal of our birth yrs happens only once every 12 yrs. And to top it off this yr the lunar calendar Chinese new yr happens to fall on feb 8th and in Chinese culture 8 is the luckiest number of all.

But there is another secret reason why feb 8th is a significant day for me, this blog turns 6 yrs old TODAY. It was on feb 8th 2010, that I sat in my dorm room thinking to myself "hmmm, I wonder what would happen if  I took copies of all the emails I've been sending to a select group of people and posted it on a blog?" So I did exactly that, I innocently posted copies of my writing, my blog began exploding with hits from visitors around the world and the rest is history.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Touching the Sky to Celebrate Australia Day

I moved from Australia when I was young but even after settling back in Canada we would take trips almost every yr to the great motherland to see our loved ones. Around 1993 at the church I was attending I began to hear some buzz about a church in Sydney called hills christian life centre that was sparking a revolution amongst the Christian music scene first in OZ but it was starting to spread world wide and catching fire.

Well amongst the Christians we all know how that story ended. Hills Christian Life Centre eventually became Hillsong Church and who's influence stretched beyond the borders of OZ. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a die hard fan of Hillsong and I am incredibly proud of how the churches in OZ have become a catalyst for change all over the world.

I was listening to pastor Brian Houston once say that he's blown away at the reach of their church. In one weekend in OZ they have 65 services and around the world every weekend more than 50 million people singing one of their songs. Their reach has gone so far that there is a Hillsong Church plant in just about every major city in the world, NYC, LA, London, South Africa, Moscow, Stockholm, Buenos Aires etc. 4 yrs ago when their plant in NYC was born I was hearing his wife Bobbie Houston talk about how the church in NYC was literally a baby that just couldn't wait to come out. The church was born prematurely and on it's first Sunday for both services there are massive lines up of people who couldn't wait to get in.

When the church in NYC was planted no one could have envisioned that Bono or Vanessa Hudgens would be walking through it's doors as regular members. No one could have imagined that Brian Houston's son Joel who pastors it alongside Carl Lentz would be hanging out with Justin Bieber and bringing spiritual healing to his life. The Houstons other son Ben pastors Hillsong Church LA.

And no one could have imagined that Justin Bieber would be taking a plane to Sydney Australia last June to attend Hillsong Conference in Sydney as well as telling his fans to go listen to their newest release called Empires.

 Hillsong church members are in the background of so many things on our world scene. Many years ago 2 young Australian men were caught smuggling drugs in Bali and given a death sentence. This was a huge source of controversy in OZ. It was a little known fact that pastor Brian Houston and members of the Hillsong were actually in touch with these young men bringing them spiritual healing before their execution date. In fact these two young men were singing praise and songs to God as the guns went off ending their earthly existence. The funeral of one the former drug lords was held at Hillsong church.

Another amazing movement born out of a speaker of hillsong church's Christine Caine and the A21 campaign   She and the A21 campaign went wouldn't dare go in cracking down on human trafficking. To date they have changed laws in Europe, they have seen traffickers cracked down on, built transition houses for survivors they've rescued. They are also starting to teach curriculum in countries like the Ukraine where there is a high level of trafficking and teaching young women how to avoid being trafficked and what signs to look for. The team is also training security at airports on how to spot signs that a trafficker might be passing through the crowd. And not to mention that since the organization started hundreds of young women have been rescued and continue to be rescued.

So I found it appropriate to post this on Australia day. Even though I grew up in Canada, I wanna acknowledge the incredible achievement the churches of OZ have done to impact our world and I realize that Hillsong has had a tremendous part to play influencing my life.

I know that on this website I get people from all walks of life and all kinds of cultures and faiths. And I always make it a point to only share videos or clips that anyone could enjoy or benefit from even if they are from a different faith. I've chosen to post the above clip of the Hillsong United team when they visited the todays show with Kathy Lee and Hoda talking about their new album Empires.

The single that they do live is called "Touch the Sky" and not only am I in love with the song but apparently Kathy Lee and Hoda are too. This song can resonate with any one of you no matter what faith you embrace. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Australia day than by touching the sky when my knees hit the ground....

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas