shanmonster: (Default)
This is my first post on DreamWidth since evacuating from LiveJournal. I wish I didn't need to abandon ship, but the new terms of service are untenable. I'm part of the rainbow brigade made illegal by the Russian powers that be. I'm still waiting for all the comments from LJ to be ported over here, and then I plan on doing a computer backup of all my files. I'm gonna miss you, LJ. You were my electronic home for at least 18 years.

In cheerier news, I have passed the first round of selection for the Arctic expedition. My references have been contacted, and their deadline to get their forms in is the 14th. I think I have an excellent chance of getting selected, and that's exciting.

I've been steadily working at getting my health and fitness levels back up to snuff, and it's not comfortable. Stepping outside your comfort zone is always uncomfortable, by default. On Sunday, I did a couple hours of escrima and then went for a run. Yesterday, I did strength training at the gym, went for my first bike ride of the year (~7 km), and did a flamenco class. Today, I went for a run, and tonight I'll be working on gymnastic skills at the gym.

My strength and endurance continue to improve. In the meantime, I'm stuck always feeling a bit sore and tired. The first couple of weeks after increasing activity levels are always like that. Here's a clip of my most recent session playing on the rings. My equipment wasn't quite set up ideally.

Eeeee!

Mar. 19th, 2017 06:04 pm
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I sent a short story out for possible publication in a science fiction anthology last week. I haven't had a story published in ages, so it's high time I get my arse back in gear. I hope it gets published.

I sent out my application for the Canadian ocean expedition on Thursday as soon as I got confirmation from my china painting instructor that she would be a reference. Eeeee!

On Friday, I purchased airfare for my trip to Africa this summer. I'll be travelling through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia (~1300 km), seeing the Namib Desert (where Fury Road was filmed), the Kalahari Desert, meeting Bushmen, hopefully seeing elephants, lions, zebras, and more, and then ending my tour at Victoria Falls. Eeeee!

Later on Friday, I went to the gym and during my squat set, something freaked out and tried to lock/spasm on my lower back. Different kind of eeeeee. Eeeeeeeouch. I have no idea what happened, there. As far as I know, I wasn't using bad form, and was only lifting five pounds more than I usually do. I tried to find a massage therapy clinic that was open, but none are ever open on the Friday evening of Saint Patrick's Day. I managed to find someone yesterday, but that someone was a tiny sadist who was the roughest massage therapist I've ever experienced. She started with elbows in my back. There was no warmup. I feel just like I was in a fight. I'm pretty sure I'm bruised from head to arse, but I do have mobility now: enough that I was able to go to the gym today and do a full training session. I skipped burpees in favour of jump rope (I didn't want to do fast movements which could have negative impact on my lower back), and all my squats were with an empty bar.

I leave for Toronto tomorrow morning for a week of butoh training. I plan on hitting the gym a couple of times while I'm there. I'm determined to get back in shape. I'm registered to compete in two races this spring/summer: a 5km obstacle course race, and a 14km trail race.

Over the past year, due to health issues and the disruption incurred by buying and renovating a house, my training has been spotty at best. This month was going very well until my back freakout on Friday. I feel strong again, and my endurance is slowly returning. I've been paying much closer attention to what I eat (not calorie-wise, but content-wise), and I'm gradually losing the extra padding I put on. So far, I have lost about ten pounds of fluff and my clothes are fitting much better again. I'm still about twenty pounds heavier than I was when I was competing regularly five years ago, but I have faith that my body will continue to get healthier as I work hard to take care of it.

I had every intention of writing up applications for a travel writing scholarship yesterday, but life and massage therapy got in the way. I hope to be able to get the applications done tomorrow while I'm on the train and killing time in coffee shops in Toronto. If I get the scholarship, I'll be travelling through southeastern Europe (eg. Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro, etc.).

What if I get accepted for the ocean expedition AND the scholarship? I'll be travelling all over the freaking world this year! Eeeee....
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I goofed up. I'm applying for a travel writing scholarship, and I misread the write-up. I thought I was supposed to write 2500 words about being out of my comfort zone, but it's actually only 2500 characters. Oops. Well, lest it was all in vain, here's what I came up with. I reworked my travelogue about travelling from Quito to Pimpilala, Ecuador. Enjoy! )
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I had every intention of getting to the gym today, but transit woes put the kibosh on that. I spent 90 minutes trying to get from downtown Kitchener to the Conestoga mall (which is about a 15-minute drive). I ended up on four different buses and walking several blocks because construction has changed bus routes and also because I falsely believed the express bus would get me there faster than the not-an-express bus.

I should have cabbed.

And once I got to the mall, I had to wait for two hours for my phone to be repaired. By the time I got home, it was late and I was famished. Argh. I'll see if I can manage to get to the gym tomorrow after I teach dance and before I go to tap class. I hope I can manage all that!

This morning, I met with a local fine arts graduate I met through LARP. We hope to put together an art show based on birds, since we both have a body of work on feathery critters. The exhibit is tentatively called "Of a Feather." Although I used to work in art galleries and have had my art shown in several exhibitions over the past twenty years, I don't have much of a clue of what it takes to launch an art exhibit in this city. We brainstormed a few ideas. I live in hopes that we shall have a show this year.

In other news, I've also been brainstorming ideas about my personal experiences with the truth and reconciliation movement in Canada. Not only is this a great mental exercise, but it just might land me berth on a Canadian ocean expedition. I sure would love to see the Arctic Ocean up close and personal. I've been on the Atlantic and the Pacific, but the Arctic eludes me. I want to see what my ancestors saw, and what my cousins see. I want to take off to the great white north.

(Australian Raven. Soft pastels on pastel paper.)
Australian Raven
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
(This unfinished bit has been sitting in my buffer for far too long.)

I woke up before sunrise to the cacophony of crowing roosters. I was used to being up this early. I can't say I was used to being awoken by noisy chickens, but it wasn't new to me. This was the alarm clock of my childhood, since I grew up with freerange chickens doing their thing. I enjoyed the boisterous narcissism of the chooks. Every time a rooster crows, he's telling the world how amazing and important he is. He's also telling people they have no business being in bed. I didn't mind, but I'd gotten to sleep early. Most of the others had stayed up late, shooting the shit and knocking back Ecuadorean lager. I squirmed my way past the mosquito netting, shook my shoes out (in case of scorpions and bullet ants), and wandered to the bathroom. Once there, I again checked for bullet ants before making my urinary libations.

Although I'd like to wander, I didn't dare leave the homestead. I may feel at home in Canadian wilderness, but the western Amazon basin is far outside my purview. I know the warning signs for rattlesnakes and moose, but I recognize very little in the Amazon aside from a few plants I'd seen in florist shops (eg. bromeliads). This little patch of jungle is the most botanically diverse place in the world. An area of 100 square meters can contain over 500 tree species alone whereas the same area in northern Canadian taiga may contain only three. This doesn't even include the profusion of herbs and critters. In all of North America, there are about 900 species of birds. In Ecuador alone, which is not a large country, there are about 1,500. This morning I was in luck. I'd be going on a walk with Delphin, the patriarch and shaman of the household. He would be teaching us about how the Quichuan coexist with various species in the jungle.
shanmonster: (Default)
Sunday morning, September 6, 2015

(Rough draft as I'm typing on a touch screen and editing is difficult without touch typing.)

Kyle and I awaken bright and early for a hearty breakfast of plantain, coffee cake, eggs, fruit, juice, and coffee after a good sleep. We meet up with the other ten people of our group and load up into a small private bus. Our guide, Carlos, warns us again about the difficulties of the five-hour bus trip to come. Personal space is not a valued trait. People may lean on us. Just push them off if they do. No guaranteed bathroom breaks. Thievery is common on buses. Never leave our stuff unattended. Don't stash anything overhead. Don't carry our money all in one spot. Beware of having things on floor as a common ploy is for thieves to cut hole in the bag and pull things out from other side of seat

We drive for about half an hour to an enormous bus terminal. It was once an airport and is by far the hugest bus station I've ever seen. Our bus fare is only about $5. Transportation is incredibly inexpensive here. We are lucky and all get to sit together in one section of the bus. I choose a seat where we are surrounded by group members. This way, I felel more secure in holding my satchel between my feet.

Our five-hour ride is much longer than 5 hours. We are possibly on the slowest bus in all of South America. Everyone passes us. Maybe moseying centenarians with walkers could pass us, too. The bus regularly farts and belches clouds of thick, black smoke. The five hours stretches to seven with one short bathroom break. I don't get off the bus as I am paranoid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning, and the air vents are a rule deception. Even worse, the heaters are on for all seven hours. Some windows are open. I do not have the benefit of an open window for most of the trip. I am concerned I'll collapse from heat exhaustion before I even make it to the jungle.

We journey from the huge, metropolitan sprawl of Quito which seems to extend to infinity in all directions. The local architecture is blocky and distinct, comprised primarily of right angles and chipped, once bright, and now faded colors. Houses cling to cliffside and are pink, orange, blue, green, etc. The demure shades of beige and white of suburban Canada are in the minority here.

After a few hours, we leave the precarious mountain- and ravine-side housing of Quito and make it to rural areas. Cattle, horses, chickens, and dogs of many breeds wander and graze. Switchback highways are standard throughout the mountains. So are drivers passing with no room to spare going around those turns. Several nerve wracking and horn blaring close calls happen, but we eventually reach our next destination of Teno unmaimed. One person, not valuing Kyle's personal space, sits on his shoulder and farts.

Tena, scorching and dusty, sits near the beginning of the Amazon jungle. Travel-stunned, sweaty, and blinking, we clamber out of the bus and stand blinking and gaping beneath the brutal equatorial sun. Carlos ushers us into a tiny scrap of shade and tells us we have ten minutes to go to the bathroom or get to a store before the next part of our trip. I queue up to go to a bathroom. An attendant charges us variable amounts of money to use the toilet. I scrabble through my wallet looking for the correct amount of change, finally locating fifteen cents. The pee is worth the money. Some people are charged more than I. Some less. Some are charged more than once. The bathroom attendant is ruthless, but the need to not piss ourselves wins out over stubborn haggling.

A pickup truck and van arrive. Our bags are tossed into the back of the truck and we squirm our way into the van. It's a tight squeeze. I only just fit with copious Shanspreading. I'm not sure how Kyle fits at all. I'm presuming his hips retract into his midsection. The van bounces and shudders down the winding dirt road into the jungle. The dense flora seems determined to swallow up the track which snakes its way through. We pass numerous small clearings which look like desperate holdouts against a juggernaut of jungle, but the opposite is true. The deforestation is happening at an appalling rate. Huge swathes of jungle are stripped from the earth leaving desiccated grass, lonely stumps, and millions of acres of lost habitat. Humans are winning out. The lushness we see is a holdout.

We arrive at our destination: the tiny village of Pimpilala. Our host family are Quichuan, one of the many indigenous people of Ecuador. Delphin and Estella are the patriarch and matriarch of the family, and their children, and a couple of young local women also live and work at the household. Two yellow dogs (Pollo and another who may not have a name) guard the property, and numerous chickens roam and roost all around. The property consists of a main building, several thatched sleeping quarters, a hammock area, and a couple of outbuildings with cold-water showers, toilets, and sinks. Kyle and I are given what I consider a spacious room. It holds a bed with mosquito netting, a battery-operated lamp, two benches, and three coat hooks. I'd been expecting something much more rudimentary. Considering the dining area has electricity, this is luxury! My quarters in rural Peru were far more spartan.

After we claim our rooms and stash our bags, we are led back down the road while supper is prepared. The chitter, buzz, and siren wail of insects and birds is loud in my ears. We follow a circuitous tendril of a path through thick jungle. One of the host's sons is our guide. He is having a blast and fashions hats from enormous leaves for several people in our group. He plucks small ferns from the underbrush and slaps them against dark clothing leaving perfect ghost images of the ferns behind on our clothing. And then we crest a hill and are met with the wondrous view of a river, mountainside, and jungle at the pale yellow cusp of sunset. Another short walk and we see yet another glorious river view, and a fragile cliff face. Rocks and clay are held in place by vines and sheer will. Darkness approaches rapidly, and we hurry back to the homestead before the mosquitos swarm us. The bugs which I'd already thought were loud turn it up to eleven.

We dine on a savoury vegetable soup garnished with popcorn. The Quichua don't really eat bread, so plain popcorn serves in its stead. I'd never had popcorn on soup this way before. It is delicious, and I intend on doing this from now on. A garnish of peppery onions and tomatoes is also used on the soup. The main course is tilapia roasted over coals I nside a rumipanga leaf (rumipanga translates to "leaf from the fire" and is used for roasting chicken, fish, etcetera. It has a unique and delicious flavor. I'm sad I won't be able to taste this outside of the Amazon.) We sip on lemongrass or cinnamon leaf tea. Afterwards, some drink Ecuadorean Pilsner.

Afterwards, most of the others in the group continue to hang out in the hammocks chatting and drinking beer, but as for me, I am done, and I shroud myself with mosquito netting and sleep deeply.
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
The Yukon paddling race is looking less and less likely due to my inability to find someone close by to compete with. So I am looking into doing hiking and exploration adventures up there, instead. Here are some of the links I've found:

Whitehorse-area hikes: Mount White looks especially interesting because of mountain goats and their babies.

Carcross-area guided day trips

Carcross-area self-guided excursions

Dog-sledding kennel tour

Trip Advisor Whitehorse activities

Whitehorse travel guide

Beez Kneez Bakpakers hostel

Yukon hiking trail guide
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
My chances may be slim because of all the competition, but if you are so willing, would you please vote for me? I'm in the running to win a camping expedition to the Arctic! You can vote daily, and there's nothing to sign up for.

If I win, I promise I'll write a travelogue!
shanmonster: (Default)
When we arrived at Machu Picchu, we all had to go through yet another checkpoint. Once again, passports were checked, and [livejournal.com profile] knightky and I had to check our backpacks into storage. Unladen, I felt much lighter on my feet. David and Jesus took us around the city, showing us various temples and explaining their significance to us. Machu Picchu is made of steep stairways, so it was just as demanding to explore as the Inca Trail.

Tourists, not yet acclimatized to the altitude, were winded and moving slowly. The vast majority of visitors to Machu Picchu arrive there by train. The rest, a small minority, hike there over the Inca Trail. Our guides believe that in order to get a true sense of the enormity and import of Machu Picchu, one must follow the Inca Trail as did their ancestors. With my whole heart, I agree with this. When I bussed to the ruins in the Sacred Valley, I did not have a strong sense of the effort and hardship people faced in creating and journeying to those sites in antiquity. But by trekking through the mountain passes, creeping along handmade pathways, exerting myself to exhaustion, witnessing the effects of the journey on fellow pilgrims, experiencing the dramatic changes in temperature and environment firsthand, I had gained a far greater appreciation than before my journey. )
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
[livejournal.com profile] knightky and I are not used to getting up at 3:30 in the morning. In the past, I've gone to bed around that time, but I can't recall ever needing to wake up at that hour. It wasn't easy for anyone. David and Jesus were as sleep-fogged as the rest of us. The camp was cold, damp, and seemed to be filled with shambling zombies. My ears were filled with a chorus of low, moaning laments. No one sounded perky--not even Lovely, who is always perky. To top it off, Kyle had developed a hard, wracking cough overnight, and I was worried.

I grabbed my flashlight and baby wipes, and headed along a dark and winding route through multiple camps to the privy. It was bad in there. Really bad. Although the floor had been relatively clean the night before, it now appeared to be strewn with freshly-turned topsoil. Since there are no shelves or handles in the stalls, I had to manage holding the flashlight and baby wipes while getting my pants down and assuming the position.

It did not go well. )
shanmonster: (Default)
Plant life along the Inca Trail is incredibly diverse. Growing conditions change according to altitude, and the Incas took advantage of this. They were master botanists, and used the terraces to do a lot of experimental gardening. This diversity is evident in the plants and trees growing along the Inca Trail.

Although Jesus told me the names of much of what I saw, even he didn't know what all of the plants are, or what they're used for.

Here are some of the many beautiful plants I saw along my journey. )
shanmonster: (Default)
We were woken by porters placing bowls of steaming water and mugs of hot coca tea outside our tent. "Gracias," I said, then peeked outside. Heavy cloud nestled not too far overhead. We'd be heading into that cloud soon enough. )
shanmonster: (Default)
When we woke up, we were on the periphery of cloud. The morning was chilly, but not nearly as cold as we'd been prepared for. The porters had placed bowls of hot, steaming water just outside everyone's tents so we could clean and warm ourselves before breakfast. When I got out of my tent, I was confronted by this intimidating beauty: )
shanmonster: (Default)
Once again, we woke up at dark o'clock to leave for the Inca Trail. We breakfasted on the exact same foods that we'd eaten for the past three breakfasts (the restaurant didn't believe in variety), stowed our extraneous gear one more time in storage, and took our seats yet again in the lobby. Once again, no one else was waiting with us. The appointed hour came and went, and my feet were tapping and fingers drumming with nerves and anticipation. Was it going to be another fuck-up day? Were we being forgotten? )
shanmonster: (Default)
At some point in the middle of the too-short night, [livejournal.com profile] knightky woke me up in a mad terror. "UP UP UP UP UP!!!" he shouted while shaking my shoulder.

I leapt up on the verge of tachycardia, but couldn't see or hear anything strange. "What? What is it?"

"A plane!" he said. "Crashing through our window!"

"There is no plane, Kyle. Go back to sleep."

"But...."

"No. There's no plane. You were dreaming."

He looked out the window, just to be sure, then went back to bed, grumbling, "But the plane. It was crashing...."

5 am rolled around far too early, and we got up and staggered around, getting ready for our big trip. Much to our sadness, there was no hot water. No matter how long we let the shower run, it remained steadfastly icy.

Grumbling, unwashed, and underslept, we dragged all our gear downstairs and stowed what we wouldn't be taking on the trail in storage. We filled our water bottles and grabbed breakfast at the hotel restaurant before taking our seats in the lobby of the hotel. It appeared no one else from our hotel would be leaving with us, as we were the only ones there.

6:30 came and went, with no sign of a bus pulling up. The ubiquitous stray dogs trotted past the doorway, tails in the air, off on important missions. As traffic picked up, so did the sound of honking. 6:45 rolled around. 7.

I was getting worried. Had we been forgotten about?

I made a phone call to our liaison at G Adventures and left a message on her answering service.

At 7:30, we still had no sign of a bus.

I was depressed. The bus had forgotten to get us. We wouldn't be able to get to the Inca Trail in time, now. All this way for nothing....

Then someone at the main desk called us over to take a phone call. It was our liaison. She was apologetic, saying there was a mix-up and our tour wouldn't actually begin until tomorrow. I was half happy and half angry: happy that we'd still get to go, but angry that we'd gotten up so early and been put through this worry for nothing. And now it was too late to schedule any other sort of trip for the day.

Kyle and I decided to get more sleep and then figure out what to do for the rest of the day.

We got our gear back out of storage, carried it back up the four infernal flights of stairs, and crashed for another couple of hours. When we woke up, we decided to explore the city.

Cusco is not a rich city, but there are shops everywhere. Though quite a few buildings are dilapidated, I don't recall seeing any vacant ones. And though the sidewalks may have holes and loose bricks, they are constantly being washed and swept by shopkeepers.

Many of the streets have themes. The street our hotel was on was the mattress street. During business hours, mattresses and bedding were pulled out into doorways and onto the sidewalks, and leaned up against the buildings. Though a bit odd to us, this was of limited interest. We kept walking. We found streets devoted to electronics, farm supplies and seed, fancy dresses, underwear, shoes, pharmacies, etc. Alleys and alcoves led to small shopping centres. We walked into one and found ourselves in a tiny mall. It had several clothing stores.

At this point, the morning's coffee had sailed through me and I needed to pee. I found a bathroom and opened the door. I paused in the doorway, undecided.

The bathroom was in poor condition. The plumbing looked questionable. None of the toilets had seats, and the room was rather dirty. While I stood there, making up my mind whether or not to go, a woman scurried across the mall toward us, shaking her head and finger. "Mamacita!" she said. "Mamacita! No. Bathroom not for you."

So, yeah. I got bounced from a mall bathroom. Apparently, they are not for public use in Cusco. Well, all right, then.

I got a creepy feeling... like someone was watching me.

I turned around and saw them, then: the mannequins of Cusco. And then we knew what we'd do that day. Kyle and I went around town taking photos of them for your amusement. Here they are, in no particular order. Even when they were brand new, they must have been creepy as fuck. )
shanmonster: (Default)
By this point, I think everyone's stomachs were rumbling in an overdue dinner kind of way. Magda made the strange announcement that we would all be dining at different buffet (pronounced "buff it") restaurants. Honey Badger Driver drove us back to Urubamba village and began dropping off groups of three to six people at various dining establishments scattered around the valley. [livejournal.com profile] knightky and I were dropped off with the largest group of all at the scenic Tunupa Restaurant. )
shanmonster: (Default)
The Q'allaqasa citadel at Pisac was our next stop. Like all the sites we saw in the Sacred Valley, the citadel overlooked the Urubamba River. The river was important for more than just the water and fertile land around it. It had spiritual significance to the Incas, and was viewed as an extension of the Milky Way and the mountain peaks. )
shanmonster: (Default)
We arrived at the Prisma Hotel, our base of operations in Peru. Although the woman on the phone had told me our room would be ready when we arrived, this was not the case. We still had a couple of hours to kill, so we put our luggage in storage and decided to take a rather somnambulistic early-morning stroll down the street.

The sidewalks through the side streets of Cusco are narrow and in poor condition. Mostly, we walked single file, and we didn't dare look away from our feet often because of occasional holes, pits, and loose stones. The street wasn't particularly interesting. We passed a school and plenty of closed shops. The air was dry and dusty, and although the traffic hadn't yet picked up, the erratic honking was already in progress. Less than a block from the hotel, I was breathless and weak. Stray dogs trotted past us from time to time, off on important missions, paying us no heed. We made it about three blocks away when I said, "I think I need to go back and just sit."

Kyle nodded, and we turned back. Crossing intersections, even when the traffic isn't heavy, is still unnerving. My Canadian understanding of jaywalking and crosswalk navigation weren't doing me much good. If I treated traffic in the same fashion in Peru as I do in downtown Toronto, or even downtown Fredericton, I'm pretty sure I'd soon be squished. Crossing busy streets in Cusco feels disturbingly like live-action Frogger. It involves a fair amount of sprinting, which was extra taxing, considering our exhaustion and mild altitude sickness.

We dragged ourselves back to the hotel. I asked a hotel clerk if there was WiFi, got the password, and we slumped into chairs in the lobby and sipped on coca tea. )
shanmonster: (Default)
Every year, I want to travel somewhere new. Whether that place is far away or relatively close ultimately doesn't matter. What matters is that the place be somewhere which inspires me and challenges me and fills my mind with possibility. Last year, I went to Cornwall and Devon in the UK. It was a coach tour. This year, I wanted something a bit more active. I decided upon Machu Picchu, Peru. It was either there or the Galapagos Islands. Machu Picchu won out because I heard rumours that due to wear and tear, the Inca Trail may soon be permanently closed to tourists. )

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