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Archive for the ‘shining examples’ Category

the african country you’ve never heard of…

Unless, like me, you are fans of David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike and have seen A United Kingdom.  I meant to see it in a theatre but didn’t get there so was very excited when it was advertised and made special effort to watch it on television.

<We will get back to Panama but first a detour…>

It’s an inspiring story about tackling racism, establishing democracy, the evils of both apartheid and British colonial rule AND it’s a love story that will make you feel bad about your own life  because they are so cool 😉

When I was very young, I had penpals in Ghana so I knew a bit about Africa for most of my life.  In my twenties, one of my boyfriend’s best friends was really into Africa and humanitarian work so that really fed my interest.  Another friend had this dream of going on safari in Africa.  I thought that sounded like a great idea so I have now been twice and I think he has not actually set foot on the continent.

So I suppose you could say I am an Africaphile 🙂  When I married, I confessed to my husband my obsession with going on safari in Africa.  He confessed it was a shared obsession but he would only do a luxus tour (he’s German).  A luxus African safari sounded amazing so I started the research.

Lots of people go to Kenya or South Africa.  They have done the best marketing themselves… but I am supremely analytical so every decision is vetted through a rigorous process.  That is how I chose Botswana as our first safari destination.  (If you are choosing, I am also a huge fan of Tanzania).

getting too close to the hippos

I picked Botswana because it was a good place to see wildlife but I always like to understand the places I am hanging out so knew a little before I arrived and then kept asking questions.  It wasn’t all perfect.  At least then (over a decade ago) there were problems with AIDS and moronic old-fashioned ideas that prevented an easy solution BUT it was an African country that made you believe in the future.

They had never been a colony (instead a protectorate, which you will learn about in the film) and had discovered diamonds as an independent country.  They had embraced high end tourism and roads were not paved on purpose so that tour buses full of tourists couldn’t glide through the savannah.

It’s a magical place.  We stayed in three different regions – the first safari by water on the Chobe River, then elephants all the time at Savute Elephant Camp and finally the phenomenal Okavango Delta where I discovered CCAfrica (hello Tanzania!).

the view from my room

I cannot give proper coverage to Botswana in one post but this is just to get people thinking about it.  While I was travelling around Africa the first time people said, “Africa will get into your blood.  You will need to come back.”  Even then I knew they were right.  There are places that imprint themselves on your soul.  There is so little wilderness left on our planet.  I come from the western country closest to Africa and I grew up in wilderness.  My grandmother was eating berries in the same patch as a bear…

Maybe it’s because I had part of my eyebrows singed on a May long weekend as a teenager fighting a forest fire and hoping we were NOT between the mommy and baby moose we had just seen close up that I feel so at home in the African bush.  It feeds my soul and engages all my senses.  As the African king tells the English insurance clerk, “the stars in my country take your breath away.”  I’m not even sure that is the correct dialogue, just my memory of my own experience.

my first trip in a mokoro

A United Kingdom makes me want to go back to Botswana.  These are supposed to be “once in a lifetime experiences” but they can be a bit addictive.  Africa can be addictive.

Apparently I can thank Seretse Khama (and Ruth Williams) for that.  I knew Botswana was special.  It was Africa at its best.  Such an amazing introduction. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was the backstory and how important Seretse was to the prosperity of modern day Botswana.  He was certainly born with a lot of advantages most of us will never know but it seems to be a story of public service and leadership.

There is no question Botswana will blow your mind – potentially in several ways.  You will need to save your pennies to see it properly but it will reward the effort.  Every time people look at me blankly when I mention Botswana, I just say, “it’s because it’s an African country that WORKS.  That’s why it’s never in the news and you’ve never heard of it.  A perfect place for a safari?  Obviously!”

A good place to start is to contact andbeyond or wilderness safaris.

Apparently, we can thank Seretse.  I wish I had known more about him when I visited but back then, if google was a search engine, it was not THE search engine…  I used dogpile! Why I should probably do a follow up trip 😉


the beauty at the end of the world

Patagonia is not a land for wimps.  I had been drawn to visit by a travel article that made the trip to Cape Horn sound like an adventure.  The Australis team is very zodiac-experienceprofessional and you feel that you are in safe hands.  It will be an adventure but draped in first world safety standards.  Quite different to being trapped on a runaway elephant sans driver in the Thai jungle…

It was my first time on a zodiac though and I had seen enough of the Strait of Magellan by then to know I did NOT want to be in that water!  First you are suited up in lifejackets.  You then go through detailed instructions, which are repeated every time.  It isn’t particularly difficult but you do need to follow the procedures to avoid tipping the raft.  It’s an adventure for small-a adventure people.  People who likely don’t swim with sharks, climb Mt Everest or paraglide over the Grand Canyon.

We all got on the zodiac without incident but everyone was pretty quiet and there wasn’t even a lot of photos being taken.  No one wanted to tilt us into the Pacific Ocean.  The zodiac driver employed only modest speed and tried not to scare us.  I am always fascinated watching pampered first world travellers morph into greater adventurers.  Even by the return trip to the ship, you could see people were relaxing on the zodiac and the driver gunned it once he knew we could handle it.

That was probably because the harder hike was indeed harder.  By Navy Seal standards, a walk in a particularly pleasant park but we had been expecting something more 60+ friendly.  Everyone made it but our tour leader just quickly led the way without paying too much attention if everyone was right behind her.  There was enough elevation for heavy breathing and. in some places, you had to pull yourself up by grabbing a rope and making your way along its length, frequently through enough mud to destroy your footwear for any other future purpose.

22-stunning-patagonian-landscapeIt was all quite exhilarating and the view from the top made it totally worthwhile. And this is a luxury cruise, so all physical efforts are rewarded with hot chocolate, whiskey or both.

There is a lot of time on the ship to chill out – or be brave and take photos in the frosty air.  I did a lot of the latter.  Luckily, I grew up in one of the coldest places on the planet so freezing my fingers off for a photo seems a fair trade-off.

In the afternoon, we got to put our zodiac skills to use a second time.  This time we just cruised around a couple of islands admiring cormorants and penguins.  It’s always amazing to see wildlife in abundance IN THE WILD in our over processed modern world.  Patagonia has done a good job of maintaining its natural splendor.

cormorants posing for tourists ;)

cormorants posing for tourists 😉

Part of the credit goes to Doug Tompkins, one of those rare local hero types who can actually turn money made from being a good businessman to money spent actually doing something good for the entire world.  He was the guy who created, along with his first wife, The North Face and Esprit.  He first travelled to Patagonia in the 1960s and in 1968 did a famous trip with Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia Inc.) where they put up a new route on Mount Fitzroy.  Growing disillusioned of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, he channelled his Esprit profits into conservation.

yes I know I'm cute ;)

yes I know I’m cute 😉

He moved to Chilean Patagonia.  At first, he explored the wilderness of the region, eventually setting up the Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust and Conservacion Patagonia.  He also married Kristine McDivitt Wear who had been the CEO of Patagonia Inc.  North Face meets Patagonia… quite the love story.

Not surprisingly, they both shared the same retirement goals – land conservation, environmental activism and biodiversity.  Tompkins used his retail riches to buy up land in Patagonia to save it from mercantile uses.  This land grab by a foreigner was regarded with suspicion by locals.  He was at various points accused of being a spy, of buying up land to create a Zionist enclave, and of planning to ship Chile’s fresh water to parched lands overseas.

Instead, his goal was to turn the land into national parks working with the national governments of Chile and Argentina.  It appears he has made great progress in convincing everyone that there is benefit for everyone in creating national parks in Patagonia along with wildlife protection, biodiversity and sustainable organic farming practices.  It all sounds a little too good to be true but go to Patagonia and see for yourself.  The end of the world is a stunningly beautiful place full of fresh air and star-studded skies.

Sadly Doug Tompkins died in 2015 while on what he thought was an easy kayaking trip with a bunch of old friends.  No doubt it was probably a manner of death he would have chosen for himself.  Kristine continues on their legacy and the future looks promising.  According to The Guardian, the Chilean government announced the day after Tompkin’s death that Pumalín Park, one of Tompkins’ earliest acquisitions, would become a national park in March 2017 but the website suggests that it is already open.

Writing about Doug and Kristine is a great antidote to thinking about the US election and how most of the rich people spend their money.  I am incredibly hard to impress but Doug Tompkins goes on the hero board.  What a wonderful world it would be if this is what all billionaires did with their riches…


my grandmother would have voted for hillary…

Of course, this is me putting a ballot in her hand and sometimes she had some kooky opinions so…

I have been trying to stay chill about all the insanity south of the border but the aforementioned grandmother was born in the USA so I have always had a complex relationship with both countries.

When I was growing up in Canada, the USA was notably cooler and I longed to be American and was distressed to hear that my father could likely have emigrated to California when I was a young child.  Instead, I was feeding pigs in sparsely populated parts of Canada growing muscles so I could beat boys at arm wrestling… seriously?

one of the strongest women ever born

one of the strongest women ever born

So, naturally, I learned all the words to the American national anthem, could list all the presidents in order, knew not only all the states but also all their capitals!  My grandmother would quiz me in the backseat while my father muttered that Canada was a better place to live.

In high school I took American History as an elective and used to be able to eruditely explain the three branches of government.  At 17, I managed to secure a highly competitive spot on the UN Pilgrimage for Youth, which also meant a free trip to DC where I even met a young aide to a congressman who later wrote to me about the Iran hostage crisis where Canada did the kind of stuff that Canada does best.

I have always known Americans and been invested in the country in a way that foreign aliens normally are not.

Some of them are batshit-crazy and it is a very complicated place but there is much to admire and I owe some of my success in life to Americans so I know it’s important to remember the facts.

My American grandmother (and her Canadian son – who would hate to have to acknowledge some of his great wisdom was kind of American :)) were likely the biggest influences on my life.  Despite some of her crazy opinions (you have to cut her some slack – she was born in 1906), she had a lot of wisdom and some incredibly progressive views.

I was one of the few girls growing up in the 70s with a father who was practically a feminist.  He turned my mom from a classic housewife of the era to a kick-ass role model who even ran for mayor in her misogynistic small town.  That was my unconventional Swedish metrosexual grandfather and his outspoken wife.

These are people who would have voted for Hillary.  When my niece was a little more aggressive than was really advisable for a five year old, my grandmother just said, “it`s good.  She`s a girl.  She can defend herself“

My grandmother grew up in a world where only the really tough girls who could beat boys at arm wrestling had any chance 🙂  In truth, though, women never win by brawn but instead by brains.  By being tough, tenacious and smarter than the average man 😉

My grandmother showed me how tough and incredible women can be and she always supported and encouraged strong women.  So I know she would have loved Hillary.

As a foreign alien woman, it is all a little disheartening that there is any question she SHOULD be President.  I have been saying it for months and – oddly – many comedians are saying the same thing…

WTF, USA???   Hey, I love comedians… but their job is supposed to be to be funny… not the smartest person  in the room…

I’m not just with her… I wish we would accept the globalization of the world and let all of us cast a vote.  There was actually a global poll where Gore won by a landslide… really!  I am sure Hillary would do even better!!!

Make my grandmother proud… vote for the candidate who IS the most QUALIFIED person EVER to be President of the United States of America.  It`s a no-brainer if you have ever done a civics class.

My grandmother was kind of like a female Clint Eastwood.  Don`t piss her off.  I am sure she has lots of time to haunt people who make bad choices 🙂




the danger of modern mythology

I wonder if we should have quit breaking his cigarettes… my sister and I grew up in the era when medical research had proven that smoking was BAD for you… toxic… a carcinogenic addiction with no potential health benefits like red wine or dark chocolate.

Our teachers had told us smoking could kill you so we broke a package of cigarettes to save his life.  It did not go down well 🙂 and we stopped…

He didn’t officially die from smoking but 66 is really young to die in the 21st century and – whether he accepted it or not – smoking chipped away at his mortality… as did his opposition to entering a kitchen to do anything but eat and his aversion to vegetables.

With better habits, today he would likely have turned 75… and I would have done something cool to celebrate.  It’s a tragedy that we can’t.

In many ways, it is surprising that my father was a smoker.  He was the first intellectual to grace my life.  He may have quit school at 15 to make some money but he had a natural intelligence that he fed constantly so that by the time I could have an intelligent conversation with him there was lots to learn.

A large part of the success I have had in life can be attributed to lessons I learned sitting on the carpet in front of my father’s leather recliner discussing matters of importance – politics, history, sports…

how it all began :)

how it all began 🙂

A lot of it felt like being a student of Plato laying out the laws of the universe.  I question everything and only hold opinions that I can support by facts because of my father.  It’s a bit funny because he veered off script at times… the student became the master… My father’s advice was tantamount to that of a great statesman… of course, saying is easier than doing 😉

In life, though, what is most critical is just being exposed to great advice.  If you adopt it, you will prosper and can rise above your station in a way you have never imagined.

For me, what is wonderful about my father is the confidence and critical thinking he instilled in me at such a young age that I was counselling other seven year olds to follow their own path and not get caught up in the hysteria and misguided aims of the masses 🙂

I can’t remember him ever saying he was proud of me and our relationship was complicated enough it might make a great melodrama but – even when I wanted him to behave differently – I was always grateful for the incredible life philosophy he had instilled in me from the time I was capable of human language.

He represented critical thinking, compassion, ingenuity, bravery and hope.

He was the guy who made me political even though I never knew whom he voted for.  There was a beauty in that – that the political process was about ideology not the dirty business of politics.  I still remember watching Jimmy Carter get elected with him.  A President that never gets enough respect.

I am sure my father would have been appalled by Trump and the forces of hate that have brought him to power.  I wish we could talk about it.  But – fingers crossed – sanity will prevail and I can drink a toast to hope in November – as I will to my dad tonight.

I wish you had paid more attention to your health but I am grateful for everything that you taught me.  To all those dads out there who inspire their daughters 🙂

navigating the world…

I still have lots of travel stories to write about but I finally had time to finish a book I have been inching my way through for a very long time.  It is an astonishing book but it is dense and full of information and philosophy so it is best to read slowly.  Since I bought the book Samantha Power became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

The research she did for the book definitely prepared her well for the role.

I have always been an idealist but I have grown more pragmatic as the years have passed.  I wish idealism worked the way I imagined when I was ten but too many people make their choices based on misinformation and emotion.

The world is a complex place and you will never be successful with simplistic strategies.  The book is called Chasing the Flame and it is about Sergio Vieira de Mello.  It will make you feel bad about your own life and accomplishments and how little you are doing in comparison with Sergio but you should read it anyway 😉

What is really powerful is that Samantha doesn’t gloss over his flaws and presents the world and Sergio in all the complex glory that both deserve.

What was especially powerful for me was Sergio’s comments on how foreign powers need to tackle problems in other countries.  They need to listen and be culturally sensitive.

The book really spoke to me because as a child I also wanted to work in the United Nations.  I was privileged enough to participate in a model UN at an impressionable age and then, barely 17, travel all over the continent as part of a week in New York City the principal purpose of which was to learn about the United Nations.  We even got to sit IN the Security Council Chamber!

It was one of the highlights of my life and has always had me wringing my hands for the UN to matter.  I lived in Australia so I know about East Timor.  I was trekking through the hill tribe villages north of Chiang Mai when the Khmer Rouge were still killing random innocents.  I lived in Europe when the Balkans were being torn apart.  The father of one of my friends was a high ranking officer in the Canadian army so he spoke eloquently about Roméo Dallaire so I read his book about Rwanda.

All of this meant that Samantha’s book about Sergio spoke to me in a more personal way.

It also confirmed my own personal experience traveling all over the world even though I don’t unfortunately work for the UN.  But I do try to do work that would be worthy of the great ideals the UN concept can represent.

I do what Sergio did – but I do it because my father taught me how.  Some of it was his words but I realize now it was also his example.  He was like Sergio –  a great, flawed man who had an extraordinary impact on the people who met him.

I try to do what they did.  I constantly learn things and re-evaluate my assumptions so that I have as broad a framework as possible with which to evaluate the world.  Then I listen.  I REALLY listen.  I don’t wait to talk or get distracted.  I listen beyond just the words.  One of the most touching experiences of my life was when I was sitting with my computer in Tanzania post-safari editing pictures and I realized one of the shy staff members was fascinated by my computer so I showed him how it worked.

As Sergio said, it’s about dignity.  It’s also that simple axiom people seem to so easily forget – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  Be nice.  Be respectful.  Be interested.  You will learn so much and your life will be so enriched.  The only drawback is that sometimes people will develop crushes on you that will make for heartbreaking departures.  Maybe flirting and crushes are the real answer to world peace.  Perhaps I should tell the UN? 😉



Not all are good!  Changes are kind of my thing and the number of figurative cliffs I have jumped off might number in the hundreds.  Some of it is attributable to David Bowie, even though I never met him.

The closest I ever got was possibly his best ever tour…1983… we got old Bowie plus brand new MTV “Let’s Dance” Bowie with a white-face Peter Gabriel as a Powerball bonus.

The best concert of my life.  We had to take a bus to Edmonton and I slept in a cheap hotel room with two other guys, neither of whom considered sleeping in the same bed as me to be a win…  I think in the end someone might have slept on the floor.  We didn’t have enough money for more than one room and back pain was decades off.

I was raised in that ultra-religious good girl kind of environment so the boys blew my world apart.  They insisted we needed to be as close to the stage as possible rather than sitting in the safe assigned seats.  It wasn’t really mosh pit days yet but it was not entirely safe. The benefit was that I really saw Bowie – and Peter – up close and almost personal.

What is more important at a concert though is that you are connecting with the other fans – and being close enough to touch the stage enhances your experience.

That memory involves the guy who eventually did become comfortable with me in his bed and became my first serious boyfriend.  There is no question Bowie played a role 😉

What he might not have appreciated is that Bowie was the first artist I ever liked that I didn’t need to feel guilty about – or just outright lie that I actually liked 🙂

For that, I have to thank Kevin.  He was my sorta-not-really junior high boyfriend.  It was a relationship that presented to me at such a young age that I never appreciated at the time how important it was and could have done so much better a couple of decades on.

In the old days when there was no social media our connections were very different so I should likely find him and express how important he was to my life and how much I learned from him even though we never even properly dated.

Right now what matters is that he was a drummer (the kind who did drum solos and everyone listened) and had musical taste… so he made me listen to Changes... and other stuff…  but Changes was always Kevin’s song.

Then I fell in love with Mike who was my musical guru – and a huge Bowie fan.  My musical choices improved.  Eventually I became someone with eclectic and great musical taste…

but it all started with Bowie… and my great choice in boyfriends 🙂

It is such a tragedy.  It is one of the few times I have felt bereft about someone I didn’t actually know.  He was an important guy.  The music was fantastic but what was more important is that he pushed the envelope and used his celebrity to promote social justice along with musical innovation.

I felt privileged to have seen The Serious Moonlight Tour.  I also got to see the Bowie spectacular at the Philharmonie in Paris last year.  I hope it’s still touring – would be a great tribute to a man who put a mark on our society that will be his legacy…

have checked since and it is… called, a bit weirdly, David Bowie Is… you might have to travel… but just pack your tunes 😉


wonder women ;)

I am working WAY too much so still have many travel stories to tell but was randomly googling late at night and see Flora MacDonald died recently… so a tiny post…

She was never as famous as Hillary Clinton but in some ways she was more important.  Flora was the first important female politician I ever connected with.  In my strange youth, I was REALLY political… hey, a lot of people – me included – thought I would be Prime Minister…

But politics involves a lot of stuff a Spock-like logic-driven person like me determines at a young age she will not excel at… so… you get the blog instead 😉

Nevertheless, my teenage years were not focused on getting drunk or high or even getting laid… I was strategizing how I could save the world… OK, I should have just went with the normal teenage experiences where at least I could have realized my goals 😉

But that is how my girl crush on Flora MacDonald began… she seemed cool… she was a female with political clout… and she was a “red Tory”… fiscal conservatism with liberal views…

I idolized her!  And then I got selected for the Forum for Young Canadians while she was in Ottawa.  We were all geeky kids with political agendas.  I wanted to meet Flora MacDonald!

Unfortunately, she had been in a car accident and wasn’t in Ottawa.  Her staff gave me a signed photo and other fan memorabilia – and talked to me about her.

I really wish I had been able to meet her.  I think she would have been an outstanding Prime Minister.  She was a woman ahead of her time – and the kind of role models I am always seeking.

Check her out!  She is the kind of woman who deserves to be famous… but she was far too busy doing useful stuff to worry about posting to Instagram 😉



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