Manhattan Moments

A spontaneous pedicab ride through Central Park – the highlight of a short trip to Manhattan.

The Tajikistani driver made the ride entertaining. Facts and silliness – he pointed to the lake in the park.

I asked, ‘what’s the name of the lake?’

‘The lake.’ He pulled out a map showing proof of the non-name.

The first person I ever met from the small Central Asian country of Tajikistan. Funny – knowledgeable – he rattled off a never-ending list of movies filmed in the park.

‘Over there – the rocks where ‘Elf’ had a snowball fight,’ he pedaled faster through the park, ‘and here’s the fountain from ‘Friends’.’

It was only a 20-minute ride, but it felt like we had taken a ‘vacation’ from the chaos of the city.

Central Park – Friends’ Fountain

What is it to travel? Why go to a hot, crowded city – and stay in a 50-story hotel with only 2 crowded elevators – to be stimulated or frustrated?

Back in traffic – hot and sticky – but it’s New York in July – what do you expect?

Walking along Broadway, we peer into a church graveyard and see tombstones from the 1700s – history forgotten by the hurrying hoards.

Fearless Girl

Fearless Girl statue on Broad Street, in front of the NY Stock Exchange – they moved her a few blocks away from the Bull of Wall Street – the poor bull got scared!

Guggenheim – take elevator to top floor, then glide our way along the exhibits – down the spiral ramp. Kandinsky and Celia Vicuna (artist inspired by him) are on display. Soak up shapes and colours and lines and think about – what? Will I remember the name of any of the paintings? Nope.

Matisse’s Red Studio at MOMA – staring, wondering what was in his mind when he painted the entire contents of his studio – will never know.

High security to enter the United Nations building. I make my way to Chagall’s blue stained-glass Peace Window. 2 panels missing – too depressing to take a photo. But the council chambers were impressive – I could sense the residue of discussions and votes that had taken place in the space that morning.

Hike up the stairs of the Met – wander around an Egyptian temple, down the grand halls to absorb the effort of many. I scan hundreds of objects and artifacts and, if asked, I couldn’t name any of them. Except, the choir screen of the Cathedral of Valladolid. The only reason it has stuck with me is that I was told it was the Brandenburg Gate? I scratch my head – I’ll never forget this unique relic.

Choir Screen of the Cathedral of Valladolid

Making our way back to the hotel, we stop at the 9/11 Memorial – flowing fountains – sad but beautiful. People stand quietly, remembering. I wipe the sweat off my face – I’ve soaked up plenty of Manhattan, for now…

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Zen and a Half-Marathon

Two and a half years since the Victoria Marathon in 2019 – the longest I’ve gone without doing a race.

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Am I ready? When does a pain in the hip stop you? Adding a few yoga moves to my routine has helped me with a slight hip glitch.

It’s only a half-marathon – shouldn’t be a problem, I say to myself. And then I get scared. If I take it too casually, I’ll suffer. I’ve done 21 kilometres at least 12 times.

Damn! I only did 3.9 kilometres this morning – my distance calculation was off. But there was a hill – so, it was more like 4 – sounds better.

Run, run for no reason other than doing it. Does that make sense? A challenge, a need, a feeling of freedom…

I’m working on a ‘Zen’ approach. Reading Zen in the Art of Archery – a book about archery, but I can apply the philosophy to running.

Attempting to flow with the run instead of forcing it. Specifically, letting go of negative thoughts: ‘oh my god it’s hot and this hill is so steep – I can’t do it!’ Sounds flaky, but it worked – still hate hills.

June 26 – Race Day

What did I miss about running a race? The camaraderie. Chatting with runners, bonding over pain and training and celebrating the first in-person race after 2 years. I only connected with the Australian pace setter – we bonded over Boston. Otherwise, not much camaraderie – mostly serious runners. Paranoid about COVID or just unfriendly and competitive?

All of the above.

A hilly route and the musical entertainment… one Japanese Taiko drummer (good energy) and 6 Scottish bagpipers (a tad sad), and the heat – one of the hottest days of the year.

I slowed down for water, grabbing a cup from a smiling volunteer, when an aggressive older man comes too close and steps on the back of my shoe. Not a word of acknowledgement, not a ‘sorry’ – he needed a drink regardless of who he literally stepped on!

Reaching the final stretch – who do I see? – aggressive older man. I pass him – arms pumping, knees high, sweat dripping – and finish strong – ahead of him.

Not very Zen of me – but satisfying.

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Large Barge Balancing on Rocks

November 16, 2021

After a harsh windstorm, I go for a cautious run. I look for fallen trees, branches blocking sidewalks – but as I make my way, my foot crushes small twigs and pine needles, nothing major, until…

Police have taped off a section of the seawall. My run is detoured by a huge barge that has landed on the rocks – a huge wall of rusty metal blocks the view. The high winds had pulled the barge from its anchoring and jammed it onto a pile of rocks close to shore. It looked out of place, yet dramatic.

Large Barge Balancing on Rocks

November 30, 2021

Rain, rain and more rain. They call it an ‘atmospheric river’. There it still sits. Yes, a ton of rain has fallen – you’d think that much water would swoosh the barge off the rocks!

The owners of the barge make an attempt to move it using a tugboat. Doesn’t work. Try again.

December 1, 2021

A break in the weather – high billowing clouds… sunny day. Will someone try to climb the tempting metal wall? Security stands guard.

December 2, 2021

Wicked wind comes in – can it blow the barge off the rocks as it blew it on? Nope. Still stuck.

December 4, 2021

The experts claim a high tide will force enough water under the barge to lift it off the rocks. I think high tide is December 6th? I’ll check. Yup: 8:19 AM PST 16.05 ft (4.89 metres). Will it be high enough?

December 8, 2021

Nope – experts were wrong! Tide not high enough. The barge is still there. A new strategy. A tugboat plus the Vancouver Pile Driving platform holding a large tractor (with crane arm attachment) attempt a move. No success. Man vs nature – nature is winning!

December 9, 2021

Running by to see the tugboat and platform sitting idle. It’s 7:45 am – lights on but no activity.

December 14, 2021

I thought it would be gone by now so I could finish writing this blog – nope.

December 16, 2021

Another run, another pass-by the ‘stuck barge’. Excuse me, it’s a ‘celebrity barge’ now. The Vancouver Parks Board has erected a sign: Barge Chilling Beach. (Ha, ha) It’s a play on Vancouver’s: Dude Chilling Park. They’re trying to add a touch of humour to the situation.  

Will it be a part of the view forever?

How long will it be a part of the view? Will it become a permanent tourist attraction?

Kick it off the rocks!

Ok – one last attempt to move it – how about a couple of good swift kicks?!

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Watching for the International Space Station – from our deck

The second winter in a row, no flying to far-off places – but at least I can imagine visiting the International Space Station.

An email from NASA arrived this morning with the following details:

Time: Tue Nov 23 6:53 PM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 45°, Appears: 10° above W, Disappears: 45° above W

A clear night in Vancouver… in November – a miracle! We look west. A star? Yup. More lights – 2 planes fly by – moving horizontally. Then a vertically moving light suddenly appears! … the difference is obvious. Lights positioned at the top and bottom ends of it. I focus on the space between the lights, trying to fill-in the shape of the station.

Picturing astronauts floating inside – weightless, working on experiments or joking around. Knowing people were living in a hunk of metal, just hanging high in the sky – bizarre! How cool would it be to float above the earth… What was it about space that made me want to figure out the unknown? Envisioning what it would be like to live on a remote planet – I guess it was the same feeling of anticipation – getting on a plane, travelling to a new place… eager to discover something different from this ordinary life.

Since seeing those lights of the space station moving around the earth (every 90 minutes), I wanted to know more.

I needed to find out how the ISS stays in orbit?

Momentum keeps the station moving in a circle around the earth, but it has to travel at 7.6 kms/second at an altitude of 400 kms above the earth, in order to stay up in the sky. If it drops lower than that altitude, gravity would bring it crashing down.

The Russian Zvezda service module (or another visiting space craft) transfers fuel when needed. The ISS uses 8,600 kgs of propellant a year to keep it in orbit. Not sure what kind of propellant or fuel. Getting too technical for me.

We watched for less than 2 minutes as it headed up and around the earth – its light faded, then disappeared into the blackness.

I’ll keep waiting for email alerts from NASA.org and maybe my next trip will be to outer space!

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Culling the Coyotes of Stanley Park

Note: 4 of the estimated 35 coyotes culled in Stanley Park, Van, BC as of September 17, 2021

Before the cull…

For the past 8 years, my view of Stanley Park has given me a peaceful vibe. It has been my refuge, my workout zone, my taste of nature… Now, it feels… ominous – not overly ominous. But it’s scary to think a coyote could jump out from behind a tree at any moment and bite me!

I resented those coyotes for turning the park into a hostile place.

Fencing around Stanley Park to Keep People Out

It’s sad to think of them trapped and euthanized – culled, killed. They had become domesticated – in other words – people were feeding them. They can’t be relocated.

My runs through the park had been carefree most of the time. Yes, the occasional off-leash dogs terrorized me, but I wasn’t afraid of the crows, geese, seagulls, herons, squirrels and chipmunks – previously the ‘wild’ animals of Stanley Park.

What would you do if you saw a coyote?

I had to figure that out – quickly. Nothing like a coyote sighting at 7:20 am to wake me up.

About 30 feet away, it walked with purpose as if it owned the park. The strong, healthy specimen looked like it should be on a National Geographic cover. It wasn’t even looking at me, but I stopped breathing for a second. It kept walking. Should I go forward? Nope. I backed away… slowly. 

The coyote walked east toward English Bay parallel to Park Drive. My usual path down through the trees, past the Ranger’s house to the seawall was now a dangerous route…

I turned around and lifted my foot to run away but stopped when I saw a woman waving at me, ‘Don’t run. Make yourself look big.’

I think I knew that. But my ‘flight’ instinct had kicked in. I did everything wrong. I felt slightly nauseous.

She told me she walked through the inner park trails up to 16 kilometres most days.

‘By yourself?’

‘Yes.’

‘They bite.’

‘I know. I just yell and wave my arms. They don’t bother me.’

She kept walking.

‘Where are you going?’ I asked.

‘Second Beach.’

Brave or dumb? I wasn’t sure which.

I went home, wondering if she would become another bite statistic.

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Ella Puru Embará (The Village of Embará)

I’ve avoided this blog for 18 months, since January 2020 – just as the covid-19 pandemic hit the world. I couldn’t write about a tropical destination when all travel was about to shut down. It scared me to think that our presence could have caused illness in this unique community.

Rainforest surrounding Embara Village

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Intruding or supporting the Embará’s way of life? I didn’t want to be a sightseeing-voyeur. More like a tacky tourist gawking at the ‘indigenous people’ as if we were at a theme park. I wanted to connect in some way and appreciate their survival skills, living in the thick, challenging rainforests of Panama…  

A line of young and old Embará greet us as we get off the boat and walk along the dock to shore. I nod and smile feeling slightly awkward coming to the home of people I don’t know. Are they smiling because I paid money to visit? Or are they just nice people? Their smiles feel genuine.

The village is centered around a large thatched roof, windowless structure where group gatherings, dances and craft sales are held. Dressed in sarongs (decorated in geometrical designs, animals, flowers), the men and women look comfortable in the harsh heat. We sit on wooden benches – getting relief from the sun, but my shirt still sticks to me like plastic wrap on a burrito.

A friendly, talkative man begins the presentation in an English-Spanish mix. I assume he is the chief. My sexist assumption is wrong. The quiet woman standing next to him is the chief. The Embará’s leadership structure is based on equal status for men and women.

We learn that the population of 62 live close enough to Panama City to send their children to school by boat across Lake Gatun, with a 45-minute bus ride.

I ask a question.

‘Do you have a religion?’

‘No, but we believe in the power of the sun (sol), moon (luna hedeqo) and stars (chindau).’

Lunch is served. I chew on a plantain chip and tilapia fish on rice, wrapped in a banana leaf cone. Delicious. A diet of fish, plantains and jucca – with a strong dose of coffee – gives the Embará enough energy to survive another day in the rugged environment.

The drumming begins. We all get up, hold hands and dance in a circle. Everyone seems to be having fun, evidence that we aren’t intruding.

Dancing and Drumming and Singing

We end the visit browsing the masks and jewelry on tables set up around the edge of the hut… a mask of a capuchin monkey catches my eye. It’s only a small purchase, but maybe it’ll help keep this laid-back way of life continuing.

Seeing how the Embara’s customs and morale stay strong with few modern comforts, I’m inspired to readjust my approach to life.

‘Bia boowa’ – I say thank you in the Embará language as we all walk back to the boat and head over to Gamboa.

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Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Lilwat7ul (Lil’wat) Cultural Centre on Blackcomb Way

The first question I asked when I entered the building: ‘how do you pronounce the ‘7’?

‘It’s a stop, a pause or it can be a stress on part of the word,’ replied the guy behind the ticket counter.

I had noticed road signs written in English and Ucwalmícwts (just learned that word) along Highway 99 and the ‘7’ puzzled me. I played with the pronunciation and got dizzy trying to decipher the combination of letters (and numbers) in the traditional language.

Suddenly, the words seemed less foreign.

Dugout Canoe

A wave of calmness embraced me as I walked around the Squamish Lil’wat (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Lilwat7ul) Cultural Centre. The airy architecture, filled with dugout canoes, giant spindles and bold carvings, expressed the authentic ways of the Lil’wat people – a people I had never heard of before (July, 2020). I knew of the Squamish people, but the Lil’wat had been a mystery.

The Lil’wat peoples have lived on the land between Pemberton and Mount Currie (one half hour from Whistler) for thousands of years, but me, a dumb tourist, have just discovered them – embarrassing to admit.

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Panama Canal at the Miraflores (flower lookout) Locks

Where are all the ships?

We peer over the viewing balcony expecting to see lines of ships passing through the Miraflores Locks.

Panama Canal (empty)

‘The first one will be here at 2:30 pm,’ says the man in the red jacket.

It’s only noon. Not realizing ships had a scheduled time to travel through the locks, we learn even more by watching the IMAX movie and visiting the museum.

Canal Workers

Feeling stuffed with Canal facts, we sit in the restaurant and play Uno… still another hour or so to wait….

Canal Centre of Operations

It’s a boring scene with no activity. Just a narrow, walled channel enclosed by a gate. The murky, green water sits waiting for customers.

Ships Waiting for Gates to Open

The crowd builds. A ship is coming… or two small ferries? But behind them is a massive freighter! They wait and wait… the water lowers. Slowly, they move along the canal.

Morning Composer Slowly Moving Through the Lock

Technical Stuff

Basically, a lock is a ship elevator.

Water from man-made Lake Gatun (33 km long in the middle of Panama) feeds the locks.

The lock gates, based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s miter design, close to a 45 degree angle, with water pressure from upstream sealing them shut. Piped-lake water rushes in and lifts ships to the level of Lake Gatun allowing the gates to open. Then ships sail across the lake to get lowered back down to sea level, exiting to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cables attached to freighters, pulled by as many as 3 small trains on each side, allow massive ships to pass through without hitting the walls.

Ships take approximately 10-12 hours to travel through the 82 km long Panama Canal. A short cut, as opposed to extra months of travel and dangerous seas, if they sailed around the tip of South America.

A Bit of History

In the 16th century,the Spanish explorer, Balboa – wanted to find a path through the jungle. He gave up.

Then the French came along. They carved the Culebra Cut (13 km long) through earth and rock, removing 153 million cubic metres of material. Not quite enough.

Dredger Ship in the Canal

They didn’t know what they were getting into.

Workers from around the world (Jamaica, China, Italy, Greece, India, Cuba) cleared land, removed debris, passing bucket by bucket, before illness struck. Thousands died from yellow fever and malaria.

They got rid of the mosquitos, but the French gave up in 1889.

Along came the Americans.

A special dredger ship, designed for the terrain, sped up the process … 52 buckets moved 1,000 tons of material in 40 minutes. Workers continue dredging the canal as I write this.

In 1914, the SS Ancon became the first ship through. And finally, in 1977, President Carter handed it over to the Panamanians.

106 years after all the noise and dirt and death ended, the impressive act of engineering stands in front of me, and I, beside a group taking selfies, lazily watch the ships pass through.

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Panama City (Skyscrapers Rival Nature)

Welcome to Casco Viejo – touristy, trendy old town – full of colourful French/Spanish architecture housing cool bars, restaurants, and punctuated by ornate churches.

We start our walk through clean, cobbled streets and find ourselves in a neighbourhood full of windowless buildings, peeling paint, smells of neglect. Stepping carefully over garbage strewn gutters, later, I learn we had ventured through the El Chorillo district – ‘peligroso’ (dangerous) at night.

A taxi to the Bio Museo – a Frank Gehry designed building full of facts: 3 islands, formed from underwater volcanic eruptions, merged to create Panama, connecting North and South America.

Taking in the impressive exhibits, we meander through a room featuring large creatures from the Pliocene Epoch including fast-moving, 2 metre sloths (lived 3 million years ago). How did they become sooo slowww?

The sweltering heat slows our walk along the Amador Causeway towards the towers of new Panama City on the opposite shore of Panama Bay – sleek, glass skyscrapers crowd together…does the skyline look like Manhattan?

City Overload …

Escape to Jungles of Gamboa (40 minutes from Downtown Panama)

Lost in the Jungle (only 40 minutes from downtown Panama City)

Trekking along the Shunga Trail, a bone-chilling cry makes me turn my head. It’s the elusive Howler monkey. Only 3 feet tall, but its cry is as big as King Kong’s and as ominous. It howls to tell other monkeys: I’m here, don’t bother me.

I picture it eating wild figs, high up in the trees, while watching the reaction of unsuspecting tourists.

Our guide says: ‘See those dark brown cone-shaped nests? Home of Aztec ants.’

‘Ow.’ Bugs are biting. I rub carbolic soap on exposed legs (should have worn long pants).

Wouldn’t want it to break open. He warns us to stay on the path. Beware of tarantulas and scorpions!

Still haven’t seen a sloth.

A smatter of rain begins, walk faster. It pours. At the end of the trail, high up in the Trumpet trees, a sleeping sloth (perezoso) and baby attached to her belly, hangs on a branch. Straining my neck, trying not to get soaked, I see the fuzzy brown lumps move.

Yay – sloth spotted!

Back in the taxi, scratching my bites, I look out to see a crazy twisting tower (the F&F Building) – aka The Tornado.

The Tornado (F&F Building)

At the next curve in the road, we pass a sculpture of young men climbing a wire fence. Informed by driver that it commemorates a student uprising against the American military on Jan 9, 1964 (Martyr’s Day) when 21 students died for freedom.

Rebellions, history, colonialism, innovation, nature … coming at me from all angles. Panama, a lot to absorb – I take it all in.

Onward to the Canal!

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Hear and Feel Mexico City

6-hour flight misery – didn’t drink enough water! We land, but they won’t let us off the plane – we’re trapped. Through the video screen on the seat-back, a guy in row 37B texts: LET US OUT!! My partner texts back: we are prisoners, help! As if we were in a B-movie, we wait for the hero to save us. No one comes. Finally, an hour later we walk down the plane’s stairs and cram onto a bus that will take us 12 minutes to the terminal at Benito Juarez International Airport.

Freed, I take a deep breath.

Off the bus, into the terminal, we’re confronted by a mob trying to get through customs – three flights have arrived at the same time. My head spins and I feel like vomiting, but I stand and stand (and at times crouch) for yet another hour. We are the last to be checked through. Bad luck?

I finally get a gulp of cold water. Relief.

Won’t let the month-long trip be coloured by a bad beginning.

We wander the streets of Mexico City towards the Templo Mayor – the area previously known as Tenochtitlan, where the Mexicas people thrived. Now they dance for tourists in the square. Impressive structures stood from AD 1325 until the Spanish conquered 200 years later destroying most of the temples and surrounding buildings. But today, the ornate architecture of the Cathedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad Mexico sits juxtaposed behind the temple ruins. The glorious (sarcasm) church towers over the remains of a once powerful people.

Sigh (isn’t that always the way).

A quartet (3 violins and a cello) play Vivaldi as we stroll down the street, 16th of September (Independence Day from Spaniards) and reach Constitution Square where a ‘plastic’ ice rink sits beside a Christmas tree of poinsettias. We skate awkwardly on the plastic in 25-degree heat. We wipe the sweat from our faces, trying not to melt before the plastic ice does.

We head back to our hotel, merging with the hoard of people along Franciso I. Madero Street, closed to traffic, but not to vendors shouting, handing out flyers. We weave and dodge through the mayhem. Mexico City, with a population of 21 million…I think we’ve met them all today.

We pass another group of musicians with a young woman singing opera. Her clear voice bounces off the buildings and onlookers. She coats the street with elegance.

Our room in the Hotel Isabel has 17-foot ceilings and overlooks the Republica de el Salvador street, bursting with loud trucks and more music. This time Bing Crosby sings Jingle bells, which morphs into a rap… stimulation at every corner.

For a brief moment, I forget where I’m from or where I am – feeling the air, atmosphere, creativity, music, heat – the city vibrates with energy.

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