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India Adventure #6

Dec 25

We woke up and chose the seven am nature hike instead of yoga. It was a great opportunity for the kids to climb and get some of their energy out. We always enjoy a good nature hike, no matter where we are. We love learning about the local flora and fauna and how the indigenous people use the local plants. One of the most interesting things we learned was about the Neem tree. Local tribes would take twigs from the branches, chew the ends, and use them as toothbrushes. Ricky, our guide, told us some toothpaste companies are using extracts from the Neem tree as an ingredient in their toothpastes because of benefits for teeth and gums. The Neem tree differs from the Kenyan toothbrush trees in that it is not at all bitter. We also learned that the only two local animals that can eat acacia thorns are goats and camels. The acacia are not native to this area, but were brought over from Africa. They flourish quite well in Rajasthan, especially during the dry season, as Rajasthan is either mountainous or desert. 

The land next to the Araveli compound is government owned land, available for anyone to use for pasture (or hikes). The area closer to the village is owned by private families, passed down over generations. There were small low stone walls built to prevent soil erosion, but there were also larger mortarless stone walls built to mark the borders between properties. The sunrise was glorious, as the kids continued bouldering across the landscape.

After breakfast, a new family joined our group. Nick and Jennifer (name) and their three kids: Max, (13), Anika (11) and Ronin (4). They fit in right away, with group card games starting almost immediately.

Our first activity after breakfast was a presentation by the Project Manager for India, Mr.  Ambrish Nikhil Talwar. He showed us a slide show, outlining the WE 5 pillars of sustainable development (Water, Education, Health, Agriculture, and Opportunity) and how they are specifically being implemented in India. As expected, the implementation here is different than in the sites we have visited in Kenya and Ecuador. As an organization, WE adapts to the culture and situation in every site, and adjusts as needed, working with the local communities to find local solutions.

After the presentation, we headed to the Antri village for my favourite part of every WE trip: the “Day in the Life” activity. We were invited into the home of a local village Mama. She outlined some of her daily tasks and answered any questions we had about daily life in the village. We also helped her with some of her chores. Daludi Bai, our hostess, made Naan, and we tried to help her. Our facilitator told us the women in the village are very particular about rolling perfectly round dough. Most of us failed on this count. I noticed her trying not to laugh as we handed her our efforts to be cooked in the pan over the fire. Clearly we have to practice a lot more. The stove she is using is an improved wood stove supplied by WE. It has two burners instead of one, and is ventilated to the outside. This has contributed to a large reduction in respiratory illnesses, especially amongst the women in these villages.

In our conversation, we learned she was gifted earrings, a necklace, a toe ring, and bracelets on her upper arms from her husband’s parents when they were married. The other bangles she wears on her forearms are her own choice. She explained that the bracelets on her upper arms are now tight because she was so young when she was married, an age around ten years old, and her arms have grown since then. She was not sure of her exact age. She will wear these gifts from her in-laws until the day her husband dies (they are all signs that she is a married woman), and if she becomes a widow, she will take all of them off, including cutting the arm bracelets off of her upper arms.

One of the most memorable moments from the encounter with Daludi Bai was her response to the question regarding the hardest part of her day: “Nothing is hard for me, it is just my life. And if it is hard, I just do it.”

Our next task was to head down to the well to bring water. The well was probably about four hundred metres from her house. The community has had to dig wells deeper than ever before to access the ground water due to recent reduced rainfall. There was an ingenious Indigenous system in place for the water: A large wooden bar is pushed by the villagers walking in a circle, which turns gears at ground level and then turns a metal “belt” with metal cups at every joint; the cups are lowered into the well water and brought up to ground level, in a continuous circuit; at ground level, the cups tip over and fill the clay or metal vessels; overflow splashes back into the well or mostly drops down into an irrigation channel which flows to irrigate the farmers’ fields around the village.

The local children all flocked down to see us, and helped push the wooden bar to fill the pots. We were given traditional clay pots to balance on our heads on a fabric wrapped circular aid. The “doughnut” is placed on your head and then you balance the pot in the circle. Nowadays, brides are gifted metal pots to carry the water. They can be steel or copper or brass. They are heavier for the women to carry, but they last a lot longer than the clay pots, as Noam found out when he tried to lift one of the pots out of the water trough and the neck broke off in his hands. We were horrified, but the facilitator assured us that this is normal and that these pots were for demonstration purposes only. Every pot gets weakened when oversaturated, and eventually they break, which is why they have switched to metal pots.

Next, we had some bonding time with the goats. We fed them, and the kids took turns holding and petting them. The larger goats were prone to eating constantly, nipping at fingers, and pulling their posts out of the ground to get more food. Our last task was to help patch up the gaps in the bricks of the newest part of her house, with a “plaster” mixture of composted cow dung and mud. They gave us latex gloves to work with, but for some helpers the plaster managed to seep though to the fingers. The plastering mix was cool and surprisingly odourless.

I don’t think any of us will ever forget that time we had in Daludi Bai’s home, which was typical of the Indigenous Villagers in this part of India. The main space, in which she cooks and the entire family sleeps, is less than ten square metres. The goats sleep in a separate smaller enclosure off to the side in the home, but the newest unfinished part of her home will be solely for the goats, so she can expand  the regular part of the home. We were so grateful that she took time out of her life to share her experiences with us.

We were supposed to do a cooking class before lunch, but we were running late, and we were all extremely hungry. So, after lunch Chef Ashante did three cooking demonstrations: Masala Chai (tea, but be sure to at least “double boil the milk to avoid a milky taste”), butter chicken, and veggie samosas. All of us have really enjoyed the food on this trip, and Chef Ashante was definitely a highlight.

After our cooking demonstration. we headed back to the work site in the village. As soon as we arrived, everyone immediately got right to work. We were much more productive today than we were yesterday. Many of us tried most of the jobs on the first day, and were now settling into jobs to which we were best suited. It was cooler in the late afternoon, which helped our productivity, but we were still desperate for showers when we returned to Araveli.

Our “Christmas Dinner” was fun and festive (although all but one of the families on our trip is Jewish). We had wonderful food, Christmas themed cocktails and mocktails, mulled wine, a visit from “Indian Santa” who brought us candy, and a gift for every one of us under a small Christmas tree: a personalized, handmade, leather-bound journal for each of us.

All in all, a pretty amazing day.

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The Rajisthani Water Bearer folk Dance

Dec 24th, 2018

Traditional dance and musicians

We were very fortunate to have a local village family come to perform local music and dance before dinner. There were two musicians playing chimes and drums, while a smaller boy sat quietly beside the musicians. The woman did a water-bearer dance, starting with a pot balanced on her head. Over the course of the dance, she kept adding pots, until she was balancing 7 pots on her head! And if that wasn’t enough, she began to balance the pots while doing incredible feats. First they brought a pile of broken glass in a scarf and then she proceeded to walk and stomp on it with bare feet. She also balanced on top of two metal cups. She also balanced all 7 pots while she stood on a metal pan, shuffling forward with every step, never dropping the pots on her head.

It was all very impressive. Our facilitator explained that these dances were thought up by the women whose job it was to carry the water on their heads in clay pots, While walking the often long journey from the well, they would plan the dances and then entertain the village. The broken glass and other challenges represented the obstacles the women would face on their journey home, while fetching water for their families.

The family ended the performance with a fire dance as the grand finale. The original woman, plus a younger woman that looked like her daughter, both balanced metal pots of fire on their heads while twirling quickly. It looked very dangerous and very impressive, and they didn’t even hesitate for a moment. Their traditional costumes were intricately made, and they had special make-up adorning their faces.


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India Adventure #5

Mon Dec 24 

We woke up at 6:45 so that we could participate in the “optional” yoga class – as if yoga is ever optional for me. I was a little concerned about my foot, but I did much better than expected. It seems I am still creeping towards a full recovery. After the class was over, I stayed behind to do a bit more yoga and meditate. I cannot adequately describe how it felt to do “sun salutations” while basking in the sunlight as it came over the crest of the hills. I also did my Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation bathed in sunshine. Life is Good.

After a delicious breakfast, we had a short Hindi lesson and then headed into Kalinjar to meet the community. Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony for their brand new classrooms. Usually, there are 214 students who are crammed into 4 small rooms plus the small volleyball court, all on the floor. They are gradually planning on building enough classrooms to house the students comfortably, thirty to a classroom, at desks. It was less than an hour drive from Araveli to the school. The car journey took us through bumpy roads in the countryside, passing small homesteads with livestock, haystacks, young wheat crops and precious little children who waved at the car as we passed. We also cut through narrow streets in tiny towns, where we could barely fit between low-rise buildings, donkeys, cows, monkeys, motorbikes and people carrying supplies on their heads. The journey was fascinating and sometimes nausea-inducing.

At the school, we were again greeted by drumming and singing. More necklaces made of marigolds and another red dot between our eyebrows. The kids were adorable, as expected. They performed a special Hindu ritual of thanksgiving to signify the opening of the school, and some of the kids, dressed up in their finest dresses and jewellery performed traditional dances in celebration of the event. It was a wonderful day, but the highlight for me was the moment after we did the ribbon cutting ceremony when the students flooded the classrooms. I could feel the sheer joy and excitement they had to sit in the desks. 

Another moment that really struck me was when talking to some of the kids, I learned that one of the girls who was dancing for us, eight years old, is already married. The dress she was wearing for the dance was her wedding dress. Her husband is sixteen. Thankfully, she will still Iive with her parents until she reaches the age of maturity at eighteen. She doesn’t know him at all yet, as they are more literally bound by the formal contract of marriage and life together for the future. Child marriage is frowned upon now in India, but in the tribal areas, this century old tradition continues to exist.

We headed back to Araveli for lunch and a short rest, and then headed back at the end of the day to start our first session at the build site. This second drive really forced the use of some ginger for nausea. We had four jobs at the school job site: digging down a foot all along the front of the school for the foundation of the stairs with a pickaxe, then removing the dirt with an Indian shovel; mixing cement; carrying dirt or rocks or mixed cement; and plastering the back wall of the foundation of the classroom. None of us in our group of 12 was particularly great at any of the jobs, but we all worked very hard. In an hour and a half, I felt like we hadn’t really accomplished much, but it was something. We will go back two more times during the trip.

When we returned back to Araveli, there was a surprise waiting for us: two men had brought material and samples, to measure us for custom made Kurtha for the men, and Sarees for the women, for which we each needed to choose a pattern or colour. Of course, they also had other things for sale for very reasonable prices. This is bad news for me as I have such a weakness for textiles. I somehow managed to get away with only spending about $35 and will be going home with some beautiful things.

Reflecting on the day, I feel so very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit the Kalinjar community and share in their milestone. It made me feel so hopeful and happy connecting with these amazing children. Even though we had not yet done anything to deserve any recognition in the opening of the school, we are a part of the team that has built and will build in the future. Even if no formal goals are accomplished in our three build days, we are contributing to a larger project and goal.

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India Adventure #4

Sun Dec 23

In the morning the tale was told of the rock climbing adventure from the previous evening. No one involved uttered the word “lost,” although others interpreted the details in such a way. We took the metro and then found a tuktuk to take us the expected fifteen minute drive to the gym. In typical fashion, the driver claimed to know where we were going, even though it was clear he did not. Thankfully, I had written down the full address and phone number, and he seemed to know the neighbourhood. When we got close, and asked a few pedestrians about the gym, it became clear we were in the wrong area altogether. To be fair, the address was not appropriately specific about the neighbourhood. When we soon go to the right general area, using google maps with Erez’s assistance, we established we were close. We drove around in a circle once and decided it best to disembark and walk through the alley. Then a few times up and down the street before a helpful pedestrian actually knew of the gym and its location. We had already once been to where it should have been (and was) but the address was wrong and there was absolutely no signage. Who would have guessed it was in the back and basement of the school with the long driveway?

The rock climbing gym experience went well. Once we had paid, the boys got their gear and were left to their own devices, as the one staff was busy with other duties and people. Erez and Zev tried bouldering and even climbed a five-storey route from a pit in the floor to to the top of the school chimney. The boys got some advice from local climbers for a few bouldering routes and enjoyed the interactions. I fell asleep on the hard mat in the cold gym for a while.

After conferring with on of the climbers for the best route to the nearest metro station, we set off on foot. It was not entirely clear if the “main street” where we turned was the correct one, so after a few minutes we asked directions. The station should have come relatively soon after the turn and we either missed the station, or the “main street” was further along. The gentleman thought we could not possibly walk to the station, as it was about three kilometres away. I doubted his assessment of our ability and distance and we set out to return to our premature turn and get back on track. About fifteen minutes later, we were at the station. Once we got back to the original road and continued along it, the “main street” became obvious as we met the Ring Road that encircles Delhi. We noted a few men urinating in the street, but no one bothered us.

After our last (sniff!) breakfast at the Spectra Restaurant, we met up with the rest of our group for the WE trip. Everyone was lovely, and we all hit it off right away. We could tell this was going to be a great trip already. We have one more family joining us tomorrow and they have three kids. The family from Detroit has a girl named India, who is the same age as Noam, and her Bat Mitzvah is the week before Noam’s. She is REALLY into rock climbing, so she fit right in with our boys.

We headed to the airport around ten to catch the one hour flight to Udaipur. Then we were picked up for a 2.5 hour car ride to Araveli Camp, the WE headquarters here in Rajasthan, right alongside the Aravalli Mountains. It is absolutely beautiful with pink hills in the distance. We were welcomed by the sound of a drum and tambourine, necklaces of marigolds and roses around our necks, and a red dot between our eyebrows. What a reception!

We were then shown to our “cottage” accommodations and had a scrumptious dinner made by the Chef, Ashant. He explained the meal to us in detail and the food was superb. The facilitators are very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. We fell into our beds quite early as we were completely exhausted. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s activities.

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India Adventure #3

Old Delhi Market

Sat Dec 22

Considering that we had left these two days to relax and adjust, we still managed to fit in many activities. We started the day with a leisurely meal at Spectra and then headed out on the metro. Today, the breakfast offerings were half different and still everything was superb. We let Noam sleep for 14 hours.

Our first stop was the Old Delhi Market. We got off at the Chandni Chowk Metro station and wove our way through the textile area of the Markets until we reached Connaught Centre in New Delhi. As soon as we stepped off the Metro in “Old Delhi”, we knew we were not in Gurgaon anymore. The park outside the station was full of souls sleeping on the grass during the sunny warm daytime. The market area was a bit overwhelming at first. There was a labyrinth of tiny aisles jam-packed with stalls with things to buy. For the most part, there were distinct districts within the market itself (textiles, oils and fragrance, spices, fruits and vegetables, household items), and we mostly passed through the textiles area. We did see a plate of dal and rice for fifteen rupees (thirty cents). Too bad even cooked street food isn’t safe for our fragile Canadian digestive tracts. The market was an interesting mix of smells; some pungent, some savoury, some sweet, some nauseating. The occasional row of open urinals may have contributed to the latter. There were so many people bustling around that we were always in someone’s way, although a gentle push or the sound of a drum or a honk cleared the way quite easily. The main arteries were clogged with auto rickshaws, animals pulling carts, people pulling carts, bicycles, and trucks, all in a complete jumble. There were also animals of all types: cows, goats, monkeys, and buffalo. For the most part, no one bothered us too much. We were the only tourists around, so mostly people were smiling or chuckling at our group of eight, totally out of place in the market. One woman, surprised to see us, commented “there is nothing here for you to buy, it is just our regular market”. 

After walking for a long while, the boys were getting hungry, so we decided to flag down an auto rickshaw to hopefully speed up the process. One gentleman offered to take us, named his price, and then we all ended up piling in to one tiny auto rickshaw. We were skeptical about the fit, but he kept encouraging us to pile in. It was the clown car of rickshaws, as eight of us (plus the driver) traversed the busy streets on the tiny three-wheeled vehicle. Seven people sat in the back where there should be at most four, and Erez shared a tiny seat with the driver in the front. The three extra occupants meant two kids on laps and Aubrey was across the middle or squatting over Noam to avoid crushing him. Any left turn was risky as Aubrey was thrown right, and it was not easy to hold on. And when the vehicle frequently came close to other objects, Aubrey had to bring his feet back inside the confines of the vehicle. It was quite comical; if people were chuckling before, they were laughing out loud as we navigated through the traffic jam. It was an adventure, to say the least. The funniest part was when the driver stopped, ran into a nearby shop to get a wrench, tightened the wheel nuts and then used his foot for momentum to get us moving again.

We ate lunch in Connaught Place, at a small coffee house. This area was in complete juxtaposition to the market in Old Delhi. While Old Delhi was haphazard and dilapidated, New Delhi’s Connaught place was full of European-style architecture, western chain stores and restaurants. It was still crowded, but this market areas certainly had a different feel. Only the small children on mats selling cheap Christmas trinkets seemed to bridge the connection to the Old market.

On the way home we split up half way home on the metro. Aubrey, Erez and Zev decided to find a rock climbing gym (blogpost from Erez forthcoming), and Maxine, Michelle, Koren, Noam and Teva decided to check out a Bollywood-style theatrical performance in Gurgaon.

The KIngdom of Dreams is a theatre complex with three huge theatres that look like they belong in Las Vegas. The theatres are large, beautiful and larger than life. The play was in Hindi but there were translator units available if we were willing to leave our credit cards as collateral. We took a pass, as we figured the spectacle of the show would be enough to understand the play. 

We were not disappointed. The production was called Zangoora: The Gypsy Prince. It was full of beautiful, colourful, flashy costumes, gorgeous dramatic sets and lighting, and of course, many actors flying through the theatre by harness on a trapeze, including one scene where the main character flies down out of the sky being “carried” by a giant eagle to save the day. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The musical numbers were energetic and captivating, and even though the show was in Hindi, we were able to figure out the gist of the plot. Unfortunately, jet lag was setting in and we ended up leaving at the intermission. Teva especially was fading, and frankly, so were some of the adults.

On the way home, we found dinner open at the mall by our hotel, even though it was after nine. Once we got settled in to our rooms and the youngest and oldest settled in to bed, there was time to worry about when to send out the search party for the rock climbers. The gym closed at eight, but they wandered in, well fed (they also found food open at the mall after ten) and tired after eleven.

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India Adventure #2

( Note, having trouble uploading pictures, as the internet connection is patchy, so for now will just upload the text)

Fri Dec 21

Gurgaon and Delhi

We arrived in Delhi about an hour late, around 4:15 am. We were greeted by a friendly face from WE, named Raj, who got us safely to the hotel around 5:30 am.  We checked in, got to our rooms (on three different floors) and then went down for “breakfast”.

The Leela Hotel is absolutely beautiful, with water on platforms through the lobby, a Christmas tree and huge two-storey gingerbread house. Their main floor breakfast buffet restaurant is called Spectra. It was stunning! The food was…to die for. It was 6:30 in the morning, and the choices were dizzying. There was breakfast food (an omelette bar,  assorted pastries, waffles, pancakes, breakfast meats, fruit, cereals, and yogurts), but there was also a wide variety of hot Indian Food, Arabic Food, and Japanese food. There were so many choices and so many things we have never seen or eaten before. There were numerous veggie options, and everything was delicious. A typical all-you-can-eat buffet has mostly mediocre food, but this place everything was superb! I figure that if I ever get to heaven, it will look something like the Spectra restaurant.

This area is full of juxtapositions. Gurgaon, more recently also known as Gurugram, is a very urban area with many high-rise apartment buildings, commerce centres, modern metro stations, malls and highways. Amidst the development, in the “cracks” so to speak, there are still dilapidated buildings and poverty. The area just outside Delhi has a population of approximately 900,000 people. On our walk to the metro after a necessary two hour rest, we noted a lot of garbage at the roadside, and the sidewalks are more like a perpetual construction site.

Maxine was still recovering from a virus she had before we left and decided to rest and then explore the immediate area of our hotel. The rest of us decided to take the metro to a ruins site called Qutub Minar. The main attraction of the complex is a 73-metre (239.5 feet) tapering tower of five storeys, with a 14.3 metre (47 feet) base diameter, reducing to 2.7 metres (9 feet) at the top of the peak. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps, although the tower itself has a fence around it. So no stair-climbing or wall-scaling allowed, much to the chagrin of the four boys in our family.The boys watched the informative movie about the entire site and then we made our way around the grounds. The design of the tower is thought to have been based on the Minaret of Jam, in western Afghanistan. The ruins were fascinating and in varying states of repair. They were constructed with red sandstone but also had marble features. The carving was intricate both on the minaret itself and on the buildings in the surrounding compound. Twelve thousand people visit the site every day, mostly Indian nationals. Foreign tourists pay fifteen times the price paid by locals, but we also had a separate ticket line and entrance line, which likely saved us over an hour. Even though there were many people. the site is very spread out and there were many calm places within the park to relax and picnic or run around and parkour.

We did get turned around a few times, but we were able to navigate the area easily with public transit, taxis and auto rickshaws. The metro system in the Delhi area was very impressive – impeccably clean, and easy to navigate. We enjoyed seeing the greenery outside of Delhi, with communities hidden under the trees, the different buildings and even slum neighbourhoods.

After visiting the ruin of Qutub Minar, we went in a completely different direction and visited a trendy complex called “Cyberhub”. It was a complex full of restaurants and shopping. We had dinner on a patio and sampled some interesting Indian and Turkish Fusion cuisine. We were pretty exhausted at this point, so we walked back to the hotel for the night, passing a large collection of auto rickshaws, the teens in one room and parents split up with the younger boys for the night.

Sat Dec 22

Considering that we had left these two days to relax and adjust, we still managed to fit in many activities. We started the day with a leisurely meal at Spectra and then headed out for our excursions. Today, the breakfast offerings were half different and still everything was superb. We let Noam sleep for 14 hours.

Our first stop was the Old Delhi Market. We got off at the Chandni Chowk Metro station and wove our way through the textile area of the Markets until we reached Connaught Centre which is in New Delhi. As soon as we stepped of the Metro in “Old Delhi”, we knew we were not in Gurgaon anymore. The park outside the station was full of souls sleeping on the ground during the sunny warm daytime. The market area was a bit overwhelming at first. There was a labyrinth of tiny aisles jam-packed with all types of stall with things to buy. For the most part, there were distinct districts within the market itself – i.e. the textiles area, the oils and fragrance area, the spice area, the fruits and vegetable area, the household items area etc…It was an interesting mix of smells; some pungent, some savoury, some sweet, some nauseating. There were so many people bustling around, we were always in someone’s way. The main arteries were clogged with auto rickshaws, animals pulling carts, people pulling carts, bicycles, trucks, all in a complete jumble. There were also animals of all types: cows, goats, monkeys, buffalo, to name a few. For the most part, no one bothered us too much. We were the only tourists around, so mostly people were smiling and/or chuckling at us as our group of 8 walked by. One woman actually seemed annoyed that we were there, telling us “There is nothing here for you to buy, it is just our regular market”. 

After walking for a long while, the boys were getting hungry, so we decided to flag down an auto rickshaw to hopefully speed up the process. One gentleman offered to take us, named his price, and then we all ended up piling in to one tiny auto rickshaw, yes, all 8 of us.  7 of us in the back where there should be at most 4 people and Erez shared a tiny seat with the driver in the front. It was quite comical – if people were chuckling before, they were laughing out loud as we navigated through the traffic jam. It was an adventure, to say the least.  The funniest part was when the driver stopped, ran into a nearby shop to get a wrench, tweaked a bunch of things under the rickshaw and then soldiered on, probably regretting he had ever agreed to take us on. We are still not quite sure why we ended up in one rickshaw instead of two…

We ate lunch in Connaught Place, at a small coffee house. This area was in complete juxtaposition to the market in Old Delhi. While Old Delhi was haphazard and dilapidated, New Delhi’s Connaught place was full of European-style architecture, western chain stores and restaurants…still crowded, but certainly had a different feel.

On the way home we split up. Aubrey, Erez and Zev decided to find a rock climbing gym ( blogpost from Erez forthcoming), and Maxine, Michelle, Koren, Noam and Teva decided to check out a Bollywood-style theatrical performance in Gurgaon.

Kingdom of Dreams:

The KIngdom of Dreams is a theatre complex with three huge theatres, that look like they belong in Las Vegas: beautiful, over the top buildings. The theatre we were in was quite large. The play was in Hindi but there were translator units available if we were willing to leave our credit cards as collateral. We were not willing and took our chances that the spectacle of the show would be enough. 

We weren’t disappointed.  The production was called Jangeroon: The Gypsy Prince. it was full of beautiful, colourful, flashy costumes, gorgeous dramatic sets and lighting, and of course, many actors flying through the theatre by harness on a trapeze, including one scene where the main character flies down out of the sky being “carried” by a giant eagle to save the day. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The musical numbers were energetic and captivating, and even though the show was in Hindi, we were able to figure out the gist of the plot. Unfortunately, jet lag was setting in and we ended up leaving at the intermission, Teva especially was fading, and frankly, so were some of the adults.

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India Adventure – Off we Go!!


Our trips usually starts with mayhem. No matter how much I plan ahead of time, no matter how on top of things I think I am, things always fall apart in the last couple of hours when we are trying to leave – that’s when the mayhem comes in. This time it was different. The boys had all of their things ready at least two days before, and I only had a few incidentals that needed to be done. I even had time to make 132 latkes the day before we were leaving to take in to Noam and Teva’s classes. And, I cleaned my fish tank – a job I had neglected for MONTHS. Something felt wrong. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop – I must be forgetting something, something big.

Our plan was to sleep in this morning, get up, work as a team to clean the house and pack the car. I was going to go to my physio to get my foot taped up before the trip, and we would leave between 2 and 2:30. Aubrey even considered going to the office for two hours. And then, it happened. 

We got a call last evening that Bev (Aubrey’s Mom) broke her ankle and would be having surgery around noon. We would try to leave by 9 so we could see her before she went in for surgery. We got up at 7 and then the mayhem started, in spite of all our preparations, we were running around like maniacs – again. We didn’t manage to leave until almost 10:30 and then I had to go to the pharmacy because my pair of compression socks I had bought for the plane was missing one of the socks.

Good news is, we made it to the hospital in time to see Bev before surgery. She is in good spirits and we found out later she got through the surgery fine. I made the boys all wear masks in her room because they were coughing, and didn’t think Bev or her roommates would appreciate their germs. They actually got a kick out of it and didn’t take the masks off, even in the parking lot, until they got back to the car.

We went back to Bev’s apartment to have some lunch and rest up for a couple of hours before we had to meet Maxine and Michelle at the airport. We picked up my brother and after we got to the airport he took our car home.

The trip otherwise so far has been uneventful. Travelling with 4 boys who are tired and hungry is no picnic at times, there are many personalities to referee, but we all made it onto the plane intact. We will be stopping in Keflavik, Iceland for about 7 hours and will take the opportunity to rest in a nearby hotel which Michelle booked for us. The Aurora forecast is pretty dismal, which is disappointing, but at least we can focus on resting, and not chasing the Northern Lights.

P.S. Have safely landed in Keflavik, now in an old army base hotel to nap for three hours before heading back… 

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BC Adventure Blogpost #3

Mountain Biking in Whistler

August 10, 2018

When talking to my friend Charlene about our trip, she mentioned they were going to bring their mountain bikes and suggested maybe we could look into renting some. My family likes to bike, but we are by no means serious cyclists. We always have good intentions, but don’t seem to get out for rides as a family often. We have predominantly road bikes, but we are up for trying anything.

Mark did some research and we decided to rent bikes at Lost Lake and explore the trails between Lost Lake, Green Lake and Alta Lake. The trails were breathtaking, pedalling through old growth forests amongst the towering trees. We had been a little concerned about everyone being able to keep up and stay together so Mark set some ground rules. We established a leader and a sweep; whomever was the leader had to stop at every crossroads and wait till everyone caught up. We figured it might be challenging for Teva to keep up with the older kids, so I stayed at the back, to make sure Teva did not feel left behind, Aubrey took the position of sweep in case anyone got into trouble. I was loving every minute of it, until we started climbing up the hills.

First of all, I needn’t have worried about Teva: I was eating his dust. He was definitely able to mostly keep up with the older kids. I was the one who was not able to keep up. It was oppressively hot and I was not coping well with the heat, even in the shade of the trails. As we were climbing the hill, me looking like a tomato, I was seriously considering turning around, coasting down to the lake, jumping in and then waiting in the shade for the rest of the group to meet up with me later in the day.

Aubrey being the sweep, patiently climbed the hill with me, cheering me on the whole way. I told him the Plan B that I had formulated in my head. At least three times I told him that I couldn’t go on, and he would not let me give up. Somehow, I managed to climb the hill, recover, and then continue on for many more hours of riding. We stopped for about an hour and a half to eat lunch and swim. I chose not to swim at this junction, even though I was hot, because I was not crazy about the idea of riding with a wet bottom, while already suffering from some soreness from my bike saddle. I rested in the shade, had a delicious frozen fruit bar, and got back on the bike. All in all, we rented the bike for 5 and a half hours, including our lunch break. We biked through so many beautiful places. It was truly wonderful, even though I was definitely starting to feel my age. 

 

We were sad to leave Whistler and our friends, but adventure was calling, and I definitely needed a little bit of recovery time before we would be embarking on our 4 day kayak trip off northern Vancouver Island.

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BC Adventure Post #2

The River of Broken Dreams

Alta Lake to Green Lake, Whistler BC

August 9, 2018

There is something truly amazing about connecting with a soul sister. I met my friend Charlene on a group hike in Japan 23 years ago and we instantly had a connection. In spite of our relationship having some potential awkwardness (we dated the same guy, whom neither of us keep in touch with anymore), we became fast friends, spending time together whenever we could. 

After my year in Japan, we kept in touch, she came to Toronto for our wedding, and I visited her in Seattle a few times including her wedding where I had the honour of being in her wedding party. Then we started having kids, life got busy and although I thought about her often, we weren’t in as close touch as we once were. About a year and a half ago, we got back in touch again and it was as if no time had passed. We had this plan to come to BC, so I asked if she might want to meet up with us while we were here – which brings us to today.

We met Charlene, her husband Mark, and two of her three kids for a few days in Whistler as part of our great BC adventure. As soon as I pulled into the driveway and opened the car door, before I even got out, Charlene practically tackled me! I was so happy to finally see her, I almost cried.

We unloaded our stuff into the condo and our kids immediately started playing cards together. They connected instantly.  Their older son is 18 and wasn’t able to come on the family vacation, but they brought their younger son who is 15 and their daughter who is 13 – it was a great fit. 

The weather was hot. Almost 34 degrees celsius. We decided that instead of mountain biking, we should float down the “River of Golden Dreams”. It was billed as a lazy river you can blissfully float down over a period of 2 – 4 hours. Considering the heat, this seemed like the perfect choice. Charlene’s family drove from Seattle with everything they could possible need in the car, including one Kayak, all of their mountain bikes, and 5 inner tubes to float down the river.

I got up early that day to try and procure some inner tubes for our family as well. After visiting a few different stores as soon as they opened, I ended up at an auto parts shop that started carrying “floaties” specifically for tourists like me that kept showing up looking for a way to float down the river.  It was going to cost almost $80 each to rent kayaks or canoes, so we figured this would be the cheaper way to go. I ended up buying 5 dinghy rafts for $42 each, with only 4 oars (that’s all they had). We packed a couple of cooler bags full of snacks and  lunch, and my waterproof ukulele so we could sing songs as we floated down the lazy river. It was shaping up to be a great bonding day on the water.

We started at Alta Lake, in Rainbow Park, a gorgeous lakefront park surrounded by mountain peaks. Aubrey and Mark dropped one of our cars off at the other end of the river while Charlene and I organized the kids and supervised the inflation of the “floaties”. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the kids tossed around a disc and we waiting until the men came back from the car drop off.

We started off in Alta lake.

It was quite windy and there were lots of waves. We struggled to make our way part way across the lake to the mouth of the lazy river. Luckily, Mark had brought one Kayak and spent much time herding all of our floaties as we got swept away by the wind, towing us to safety when necessary – Our hero!

Finally we reached the mouth of the river, and we slowed right down. Now all we had to do was float – or so we thought.  Because of the lack of rainfall (note current significant issues with out of control forest fires in BC, Ontario and California), the water levels in the river were very low. There was practically no current. We had to paddle ourselves along the river. Our oars quickly proved themselves to be of little help, causing many of us to spin round and round awkwardly. Some of the inner tubes were too large to paddle with our arms. It was quite comical watching everyone trying to make their way down the river, sometimes being grounded completely, having to get up and trudge through deep muck at times to pull our floatation devices along.  We alternated between different paddling positions and propelled ourselves mostly with our ams. it was a good workout! 

We encountered many beaver dams along on the way, and had to pick up our floaties and carry them precariously over the piles of sharp sticks.

 

Typically, Charlene and I were at the back of the pack, Mark shepherding the group with his kayak, making sure everyone was ok.  Charlene and I reached one of the beaver dams to find our group stopped to repair 3 of our 5 rafts, as all 3 had been punctured by the sticks in the dam. Lucky for us, we had decided to bring the patch kits with us, just in case.  We also were smart enough to bring a foot pump so we could re-inflate the rafts when necessary. None of these obstacles dampened our spirits. We were still all having a blast – it was all part of the adventure.

 

We were not the only ones on the river. We were passed by several kayaks and canoes who definitely not struggling the same way we were, but they didn’t seem to be having nearly as much fun. At one point I realized that my Waterman (waterproof ukulele) was serving as a much more effective paddle than the oars that came with the dinghy.  For at least twenty minutes, I lay on my stomach on my dinghy like a beached whale, pasty white legs sticking out the back of the boat, paddling with my ukulele, laughing all the way. This picture in my mind’s eye seemed so absurd that I had a laugh attack that didn’t cease for at least 10 minutes. What a great release!

There were a few other parties on the river on at the same time as ours. One group was a family of Eastern European background. Many of them lived in the Vancouver area, and some were visiting from overseas. One of them bought a Zodiac from Costco (no outboard motor on it though) which they paddled through the river, and then there were other assorted floating devices as well: a swan with a crown, a doughnut, and a poop emoji floating raft. They were a hilarious group, with several little kids in tow. One of the women sprung a slow leak in her doughnut, so every time we met up with them, she would borrow our pump to top her up. 

Sometime later, we encountered another beaver dam, and my dinghy was punctured, probably because I had been feeling smug earlier when the kids’ rafts were punctured, and I was thinking to myself that they “needed to be more careful” with their rafts. Another repair was needed, and another break. Unfortunately, we didn’t wait long enough for the glue to make a proper seal, and now I was the one stopping every now and then to top up my dinghy with the foot pump.

There was another interesting group floating down the river, made up of young people from many different places: a couple of Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, one guy from Ireland, two women from Saskatchewan and a couple women from BC and Alberta. They were the party float. They had an assortment of floating rafts, many coolers of drinks and were clearly drunk and having a great time.

I was chatting with the European group when I realized Charlene had fallen quite a bit behind. I said goodbye to them and waited for her on a river bank.  After they rounded the corner, they came face to face with a 300 pound bear. They started banging their paddles and making noise, scaring the bear up into a tree. I saw the bear in the tree and decided I should alert the party group and wait for Charlene. I paddled over to the international party group and let them know about the bear in the tree and some of them (clearly intoxicated) immediately started panicking and trying to swim up river, dragging their rafts behind them. I told them all to calm down and we made a plan. At this point, I had no idea what kind of bear it was (it looked brown from where I was sitting), so I suggested we wait for Charlene, raft together, and float down past the bear and hope for the best. I had seen the other group float by with no problem. I figured were were safer in numbers.

So that is what we did. We paddled by the bear, the party group freaking out while taking lots of photos and some video. Once the bear was out of sight, Charlene and I headed out on our own to catch up to everyone else.

When we finally arrived at the put out point, we noticed two conservation officer cars in the parking lot. Apparently, after we saw it, the bear had come down out of the tree and ripped a backpack off of someone in the park. They were called to hunt the bear and redirect it with rubber bullets. Crazy.

The parking lot in the late afternoon was still hot in the sun. But the entire time we swam and floated and paddled our way along the river, we were pleasantly cool and comfortable in the sun, soothed by the glacier-fed river.

The River of Golden Dreams was only 4.5 km long (plus our lake crossing) and it took us over 5 hours to “float down”. We definitely could have walked faster, but it was never about the destination, or the timing, but about the journey. We all made lots of memories that day.

photo credit: Charlene Li

 

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BC Adventure post #1

Departure date:

August 5, 2018

Our trip was planned on account of the wedding of my first cousin AJ, to the love of his life, Danielle. It seemed to be the perfect excuse to take a trip to explore parts of BC. We spent two magical weeks there. We started off with 3 days in Vancouver, seeing amazing sights, eating great food, and as a bonus, got to connect with an old elementary school friend.
There were so many highlights, including a great hike in Lynn Canyon Park (complete with cliff jumping by the boys even though EVERY sign we saw advised against it),

and two thirds of our family completing the Grouse Grind. 

Another highlight was my visit to the Eagle Spirit Gallery on Granville Island. Aubrey and the boys hung out in a green space by the water. Aubrey closed his eyes for a short rest on the grass/dirt in the shade, while the boys played with their new fabric mini-disc and the card game I had bought for them at one of the many toy stores in the kids’ market. 

You have to be buzzed into the gallery. It was so quiet inside, it felt like a sacred space of sorts. As I walked around, I couldn’t even speak. I was a little overwhelmed. There were so many exquisite pieces that spoke to me. Everything was so interesting and beautiful. I ended up chatting with one of the employees about some of the artists’ work, getting some background on some of the pieces I liked the most. Then, I went back to my family, woke Aubrey up, and invited him to look around the gallery. There was one piece in particular which really moved me, but I did not want to influence him in any way. He walked around, and sure enough, he was drawn to some of the same pieces that I was. One in particular stood out for both of us, but it was only our first day, so we got all of the information regarding the price and shipping, and then let it percolate. the piece was called “Three Hummingbirds” by Moy Sutherland. ( Note: this piece is 3 ft in diameter)

I wish we had more time in Vancouver, there was so much to see and do, and I missed connecting with another elementary school friend.

I do not intend to write about all of our travels, but would love to share a few choice stories which I would like to document and remember.

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