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Archive for March, 2010

Rhododendrons and Yak Burgers

March in Bhutan: skies are blue, rhododendrons and peach trees are blooming, and fields are full of winter wheat. Return visits to sacred sites in the Paro and Thimphu valleys have been different experiences and just as special as the first ones. I’ve already seen a few familiar faces, starting with the happy surprise of being met at the Paro airport by Nima, who was our driver last October. Last night in Thimphu, I had another fun evening with Jack and Karma who were kind enough to invite me over to their home again, where I met more of their interesting friends over yak burgers and the unbeatable K5 whiskey. My guide this time is Tshe Tshe, and we’re off to a great start. It is so good to be back here, and there is much to look forward to.

Tomorrow we begin heading east, first to Punakha for a couple of days, and then on to Bumthang for a trek…

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A Little Toronto Story

“This hat has a terrible meaning,” said the stranger next to me. Well that’s a hell of a conversation opener I thought to myself. It was 11:30 on a Thursday night, and I was on the last leg of a subway/bus trip across Toronto. The hat was pink and fluffy, worn with an army jacket and a bulky red scarf, and I was glad she’d brought it up, because I had been trying to decide which side of the edgy-artsy-urbanite vs. crazy lady off her meds fashion line it represented. The stranger proceeded to tell me she wrote films on difficult subjects like sexual abuse and racism. I guessed that the hat might have some link to a traumatic experience in her past and braced myself for a very sad and maybe even violent story. Instead, she went into a lengthy account of a meeting involving an uncooperative actor and a director who wouldn’t defend her script. As she rambled on, I tried to insert a few sympathetic nods, all the while thinking yes, yes, but what about the hat? Get to the part about the hat! My stop was coming up, and she asked what I thought of how the director had handled the situation. “Well, it sounds like he’s not stepping up to the plate,” I answered, reaching back a year and a half for some bureaucratese that I hoped would be sufficient affirmation so she could move on and tell me about the hat. It seemed to satisfy her, but by then it was time for me to get off the bus. I walked away into the night disappointed that I didn’t get to hear how the hat was connected to the story ….

The next morning I woke up, and immediately realized the stranger’s first words to me were “I just had a terrible meeting.”

I like to imagine that she might at least get a minor character for one of her scripts out of our interaction – an unsympathetic bitch in a drab poncho with an odd habit of avoiding eye contact by gazing at the tops of peoples’ heads.

As for the hat, well I would guess it has an oh-so-Canadian explanation entirely unrelated to fashion statements and mental health: aaah-it’s-colder-than-I-thought-damn-I’m-already-late-need-
something-to-cover-head-oh-look-10-year-old-daughter’s-
hat-will-have-to-do-gotta-run….

Once again, I find myself wide awake in the middle of the night in an Asian airport (Hong Kong this time). After less than 2 weeks in Canada with stops in Toronto, the Okanagan, and Vancouver, just enough time to catch up with friends, do a little snowshoeing, take in a bit of the Paralympic spirit, unpack and repack, and begin the transition from Andean to Himalayan mindset, I’m on my way back to Bhutan ….

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My last few days in South America included a short trip to Iguazu Falls, where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, a day and a half of sight seeing in Buenos Aires, and a drive through the pampas to the Atlantic beach town of Mar del Plata for a weekend trip with my friend Mercedes and her friend Victoria. We were already in Mar del Plata when I heard about the Santiago and Salta earthquakes. I spent a lot of Saturday night worrying about my new friends in Chile, but the Sunday morning papers were somewhat reassuring: the Futaleufu region did not get much impact from the quake, and Easter Island was not hit by a tsunami. By the time I got back to Buenos Aires early yesterday morning, there were emails confirming that everyone is ok, which was a huge relief.

After our leisurely weekend of laying on the beach and drinking yerba mate, we left Mar del Plata late Sunday night to avoid the end of summer holiday traffic back to BA (yesterday was the first day of school). The full moon was just rising as we waved goodbye to the Atlantic, and it lit up the pampas all the way back. I kept watching for the legendary luces malas (something like the will’o’the’wisp) Mercedes and Victoria told me about, but there was no sign of them.

Only several hours later, I was back at the airport for the flight to Toronto, where I’ll be spending a few days visiting friends and doing maintenance on myself (dentist, hair, osteopath, etc.) before I leave the country again. Then it’s off to BC for a few days before I head back to Bangkok and Bhutan…

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