Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lesson #11

I arrived at the barn nice and early for the lesson on Friday. This was a make up lesson for the one that was cancelled due to Boxing day. I've never been to the stable on Fridays to ride and expected at least 1 other rider. Another lucky break and I had a private lesson!

I was paired with the fuzzy silver ambassador of Greyden: Aspen. He's probably the fuzziest horse I have ever seen; he's like a big poufball! He's bombproof and a good gentle boy. And I soon discover that he's also a horse that will teach anyone to ask for the commands correctly since he's prone to ignoring you if you're not asking for things right. He's what Sheri calls a "schoolie" and he knows all the tricks in the book!

Since it's a private, we get right into things and I'm doing a lot of trotting (posting and seated) to get warmed up. As I'm going round and round, Sheri calls me to the center to adjust the stirrup length--says that it's a bit short for me. She's loosening up my hip joint and yanking my leg a bit. She then lays my leg down along Aspen's body and tells me my thigh needs to be tilted forward but not death gripping Aspen all the while my legs are long. I'm also not sitting only on my seat bones... the "seat" is a tripod of points in your actual "seat" where your pubic bone is the 3rd point that makes contact with the saddle. I feel my leg long along Aspen's body and for once, I can feel what it should feel like.

I get back along the rails and get into the trot and Sheri tells me it's time to give the canter a try. It seems that Aspen is ignoring my aides, which are still a total mess btw--Aspen is just trying to respond appropriately and he can't do that to the mess that is sitting on top of him since he likely isn't quite clear as to what it is that I want him to do! So, Sheri gets out a longer crop to show him that she means business. I suppose that the objective is to help me get the feel for the canter and to feel the seat in the canter: it's like a scooping motion with your hips forward and up and back and then forward again. There are moments where I can feel how it's meant to feel.

I'm determined to get into a canter on my own, regardless of what it is that it takes, to do it. The only thing that I'm holding onto, is the fall. I didn't realize it at the time, but after several tries, I recollect that everytime I prep to get into the canter, part of me tenses up again and panics. It's as if I'm  preparing for the exact same thing that happened in the past, on another horse. This sort of "memory" that leads to anticipation is something I think adults tend to hold onto. But in my other experiences of life, that's exactly what holds us back in the same rut that we eventually get stuck into.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Holi-daze

Don't worry everyone, I'm still alive.

I have come crawling out of the abyss known as the flu and I'm still standing... well, kind of. Worst turn of events ever, though! I got sick on the eve of Christmas and then spent the following days in a messy medicine induced haze. And, when I wasn't in the medicine induced haze, I was tossing and turning while struggling to breathe while taking advantage of my new Netflix account.

And all the while, I missed the first big snow of the year! Now it's starting to feel like winter... :)

I did manage to open Christmas gifts and got the third installment to my all time favourite author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. His newest addition to the Shadow of the Wind series looks just as dark, mysterious and gothic as the other two! I'm looking forward to reading this one in the new year. The best news of the holi-daze? I GOT A PONY!!!

Ok, not a real one but here's to getting on my way to eventually getting that childhood pony!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lesson #10: Private Lesson!

After last week's class focus on balance, I realize I have to incorporate additional physical activity to build upon the requirements I work on once a week during lessons. I don't know if there is anything else I do that requires the same muscles and even mind-set.

I got to Greyden and there was only 2 of us on the board for the night! My class just went from 4 students to 2. What luck. I'm riding Bud tonight and the other girl is riding Bonnie. I miss Bonnie but I've also felt most comfortable on Bud when I'm working on the canter since he is easier to work with to get going.

As I'm tacking up, I notice that the other girl hasn't shown up yet and it looks like I might be having a private lesson! WOOO-EEE! I'm a little nervous at the realization because Sheri can be tough but I figure it's the best time to get some things down that I can't get down during a regular class. All eyes on me the whole class.

We start immediately with the posting trot to warm up and move right along to alternating posting trot and seated trot. I still haven't figured out the posting diagonals without looking yet but I probably should. It's something that I'll need to work on getting a proper feel for because it's one thing to be able to look down and see which diagonal you're supposed to be on but to just be able to feel what needs to be done is another. That will probably take many more lessons to accomplish. Next, we work on balance exercises with delayed posting rhythm with 2 beats up and 2 beats down. This is tricky! You're essentially balancing standing up while the horse is moving forward and then trying to sit down for two beats too. Not an easy feat!

Sheri continues the lesson with me by asking me to move into working on the canter. It's still a little bit of a weak point for me since that fall from Bonnie. But, Bud's eager and I think he could move into a canter straight from a walk! A few times he gets eager and even wants to get going while I'm trying to figure myself out! Can you imagine...? If he started cantering and then I go flying off?

I found the chance to have the private with Sheri to be a huge advantage to focus on the things that I've been having trouble with lately. This has definitely been a move forward for me! The only downside from the entire lesson are the two giant bruises on my inside lower leg from the stirrup leathers. Ouch! I won't be forgetting those half chaps next lesson...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lesson #9: Balance

December 12, 2012

I've said it once and I'll say it again, it's all about balance. Not just what we do and chose in our lives, but riding with our equine friends! It's been 2 weeks since I fell off of Bonnie and when I got in, I am scheduled to ride Buddy! Buddy is a wonderful chestnut 16HH quarterhorse x belgian who just wants to please.

I'm a little late getting in this evening so I'm the last to tack up. Bonnie's come out today and another student is riding her. We start with posting trot and I felt like I was starting over again and having trouble adjusting my balance on Buddy. I remind myself to relax and look up and forward, and things get a little better. Buddy's a much bigger boy than Bonnie so his gait is larger and a little more bouncy but steady.

I'm clutching with my knees and pivoting in the seated trot and Sheri reminds me to relax my knees and then to really push my heels down in the stirrups. This changes my balance and I'm able to have smoother posting and my heels are really pointing downwards. But, posting trot isn't my challenge (other then getting diagonals without looking) so our next activity is seated trot. I'm reminded to: sit deep in my seat, use my core (specifically my abs) to engage my balance, relax my hips and to let my body absorb the movement of the gait and Buddy. I am also told to keep my lower leg engaged with the horses body and to almost "wrap" my legs around Buddy's body. And guess what? It suddenly comes together. I'm bouncing a little bit (it's supposed to be a bouncy feeling compared to walk or posting trot) but I'm staying in my seat!

The other girls in my class take turns on the ring and we each try our canter. Sheri tells Vanessa that Bonnie's not like Rock... so while she's go go go, she's also practically a rocking horse! She's a bumpy gal and Vanessa notices! No wonder I fell off!

I start Buddy in the seated trot and in a corner, I move my outside leg back; squeeze and add my voice and he just gives this very excited head toss and dives right into the canter! Look at us go!!! I'm really moving around the ring with this guy. I still have to grab onto the pommel of the saddle but I'm really moving!

In addition to the canter and our seated trot, we work on balance. I didn't appreciate it before, but to ride a horse properly, one's balance and flexibility really need to be competent. Trick riders give me a completely new appreciation for their level of skill. I can barely balance in a canter and can't imagine how much work is involved to train as a trick rider!

Anyways, Sheri also notices that my arms are flailing about and I'm balancing heavily on my hands so I'm putting pressure on Buddy's mouth, when I'm off balance. I'm certain that this is not comfortable for Buddy and I keep reminding myself that I should be doing as much work as Buddy is. So, I focus on what's happening in the moment and pull my mind back and look forward.

We do some flat pole work to induce a bouncier trot and really get us to focus on proper seat. I find that I have to be much more focused while going past the poles on the ground since Buddy's lifting up his legs more, to get over the poles.

I can feel my core collapsing repeatedly during corners and keep trying to remember to engage my core to keep me erect as well as in the seat while we're moving. Balance exercises are a focus for tonight and we work on paused posting as well as standing in the stirrups while moving. I apologize to Buddy for yanking on his mouth whenever I'm off balance but keep trying to maintain proper alignment and balance with my entire body.

Heels down with light contact of the inseam has been a big help for me tonight.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Different Time, Different Place: New Perspective

I just spent the last few days studying for my intermediate microeconomics class and although there was a great deal of math--specifically calculus--I didn't feel as lost as I did in the past. Well that's not true. I was lost in the class, but the math wasn't really a big stretch of the imagination and it didn't bring back flashes of horrifying memories of high school calculus or the first year calculus where I dozed off during the final exam.

It's becoming apparent that I'm not terrible at math and that I have been enjoying the challenge the course is presenting me. AW always says that his economics became more and more theoretical and abstract as the years went on, in school and for many, it was difficult to follow. But, I'm finding that this sort of thing interests me and gets me thinking. Of course, I'd rather not have my brain on, but once I do, it's quite satisfying to be thinking through the theories and concepts and what's going on!

Maybe my plans aren't too far off from both what I'm capable of doing and what I find interesting.

Regardless of these "feel good" moments and thoughts, it looks like I'll be setting up my Wednesdays to be working on the same course with the same miserable prof again. Yay for making winters even more yucky.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lesson #8: Think Forward and Let Go

I have a final exam on Tuesday and you'd think I'd have spent the better part of the week thinking about the exam and studying for it but.... instead, I've spent it checking out horse-related videos on VideoJug and watching Heartland. I figure that maybe I can pick up on things I’m doing wrong during my lessons. I figured that the fall last week is fully attributed to (my own) rider error since the horse can only do as it’s being told.

While I’ve gotten a better technical appreciation, execution has been trying. Last night, Sheri got us into seated trot early in the lesson. The equine friend I was paired with last night is a sweet, large pony, Nikki. She’s an agreeable sweet-heart and easy to get along with but l-a-z-y. When I thought I had gotten into a trot, Sheri yells at me “that’s barely a trot! Use the crop!!” And all the while I was thinking “wow, this seated trot is much better. I’m not bouncing around everywhere”. *siiiigh*

Like I mentioned last week, there are over a dozen things a rider is trying to contend with so it’s not by any means a walk in the park. All our muscles and even mind-set needs to be retrained so it’s certainly a challenge, considering that I ride once a week. Here is the slew of mistakes I need to work on correcting… lower leg positioning, long leg, deeper seat, relaxing lower back, loosening hips, tightening abs, keeping a constant light contact with the horse/saddle and steady my hands. My biggest problem is the lower leg position because when I go out of alignment there, everything else starts to go out of whack.

I did a lot of seated trot last night and I think that while my brain was “in it”, my heart wasn’t. I couldn’t commit to just relaxing and going with the flow, literally. I was stuck thinking about getting all the technical bits right and thinking about the minute details of the exact moment instead of thinking forward and holistically. That’s the thing I'm realizing about the canter… you have to just feel it with your body and mind and stop thinking about what's happening and trying to tweak each thing. It's like knowing what you want, asking for it and then letting (trust, perhaps?) the horse take you there; you don't have to be in control of every minute detail--kind of like life, eh? But this doesn't go to say that without some key pieces in place, you'd do any worse... because getting your lower legs in place and long will be the start of everything else; it's like getting a solid foundation down first. Because if I don't get that right, I'll set off my balance, start bouncing about and then get more tense and try to compensate in the wrong fashion and well… end up on the ground. When I think back about the instances where Bonnie got into a canter (though momentarily), I remember not thinking and just sitting and thinking forward. I didn't even have to hold onto the saddle!

Hopefully thinking about something else for the next few days will reorient my thoughts by giving space and a chance to ‘reset’. Intermediate microeconomics, here I come!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lesson #7: Getting Back on the Horse (literally)

I spend a lot of my free time during the week looking up riding videos to see how to improve or do things better. I checked out the "how to canter" and "how to improve your classical seat" videos on VideoJug. I figured that my issues with the seated trot might be related to poor posture or seat. I found the video helpful since I got a better idea about the correct way to sit in the saddle and then the video goes into corrections for common mistakes. Great video for someone who's interested to get a better idea about the correct seating. It isn't something we have a lot of time to cover during lessons.

I was riding Bonnie on Wednesday. Last week Sheri said that Bonnie's a bit tough to get going because she makes for a challenging ride. She's insistent on her own way at the beginning of classes and is not very forgiving about what a rider might ask her to do. We work on seated trot and really, I've not mastered it; I still find myself bouncing a lot.

Sheri tells me to lengthen my legs (heels down), relax my hips so that I flow with her trot and to tuck my tailbone under to create a heavy seat. I still don't understand the concept of "creating a heavy seat". But once I've engaged my abs too, things seem to come together. Now, the canter: move my outside leg back behind the girth and squeeze both legs. Problem is, Bonnie's just going faster and faster in the trot and I'm getting more and more nervous because of the multitude of things that I'm trying to concentrate on doing simultaneously. Each arena corner is another opportunity to get her into the canter so I try again and again with little success. It's frustrating, and add the fact that Bonnie remains to be a bit clumsy when she's trots, I've got myself quite a bit to deal with. Faster and faster and then the magical moment where she transitions into the canter! Except I didn't transition with her so now I'm all over my seat and my balance is straight out the window!

The next thing I know, I see the ceiling of the arena and I've landed on the ground, tucked and rolled into the door with a big thud. At least I managed to fall professionally from a moving horse! Maybe I should forget learning to ride properly but consider a career in equestrian stunt work.

In the past, I would have felt more badly about the turn of events and given up on the remainder of the lesson. But you know what? I got right back up and got back on Bonnie without blinking. We didn't get back into a canter but we did manage to finish the lesson with one another. Next week, I'll give another horse a try to see what I might be able to accomplish with the canter but I am more than willing to get back on Bonnie to get it right. Afterall, I might get more accomplished with a "difficult" horse at the start.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

diversity in our street food

When you're at a ball game, nothing hits the hunger spot better than some good old fashioned street meat: a piping hot, hot dog from a street vendor. We all try to eat better and make better choices since adults do that in front of their kids, right? (isn't it difficult to be consistent with your messages?) But the question is more likely, why are there not any other choices available to us?

This is a totally loaded question. One that Toronto Food Trucks answers in their brief summary of what it means for a vendor who wants to vend food out of a truck, in the City of Toronto:
1. public property vending requires a permit which indicates a specific location but there is a moratorium on these permits for downtown Toronto
2. private property owners who are zoned for commercial activity can allow food trucks to sit on their locations but this is still limited
3. food trucks are considered restaurants so are allowed to serve whatever it is that they wish but for some reason, few have changed from hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, poutine. food carts are different

A few years back, Toronto tried to launch the "a la carte" program only to be met with failure due to the red tape and strict (and expensive) requirements. I"m not sure of what's happened since but there is a lady who comes out when the weather is nice to the south-east corner of Bay and King to serve up her jerk chicken. YUM-O. It sells like hot cakes, I tell you. The times I've gone by, she's already out of roti and it's barely pase 1230pm. But I wonder if she's technically permitted to do so?

So, what's the point to all this? My question is, don't you want to eat something other than hotdogs, hamburgers and french fries? Our city is a vibrant buzzing cultural hub yet our street food diversity is limited to 4 items. Tourists must think the hot dog is our national food or something! If this is important to you, consider voicing your thoughts and opinions. If you want to see some variety in menus and to actually see food trucks roaming the cities, check out the two petitions/letters to
a) increase the diversity of street food
b) petition for food truck vendor permits

Why do I think this is a fantastic idea? Have you ever been to NYC and checked out their food vendor scene? Or in various Asian countries? What about South America? Toronto is utterly embarassing on this front so let's make a change!

Saturday, November 24, 2012


If you watch Vampire Diaries and have issues with being patient, you know that watching week to week is too much for the old ticker. This season, I decided to accumulate half a season's worth and sit down with Amber and just go through it all at once. I figure that if I OD on VD, I might be able to easily walk away from the show for a bit and not feel completely deprived.

Guess what? It's worked. I don't feel the slightest inclination to need to find out what's happened next. But between episodes on Saturday, we certainly were eager to jump to the next episode.

So, what's happened this time? Last season, we left off with Elena waking up... after drowning. Looks like this is going to be rather interesting. Without going into too much detail (because I'd otherwise cross into spoiler territory), I like the direction this season has done so far. There are some interesting liberites which they took but regardless of what's happened, they've been able to keep consistent with the characters and their individual growth.

Next VD OD? Some time in January 2013!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lesson #6: Symphony of Dialogues

I love having something to look forward to, in the middle of the week. My riding lessons have become the inspiration to help me get through rough moments at work or school. It's as if the harder I work during the day (like the more often I feel like screaming or tearing out all my hair), the more I deserve to get out to the country to get back to basics and communicate with a simple minded (this is never bad in a day and age like we have now) creature: eat, sleep, eat some more and work up to 4 hours a day.

I've been watching videos and reading to get a better idea of horse behaviour. I've never worked with prey animals before so this is different. One of the temp girls at work is actually in school to become a veterinarian and she's specializing in large animals :) That made me happy today.

I still won't get used to the commute out that way... in the back of my mind, I am reminded of how much gas consumption I have when I do this. Anyways, I arrive with extra time to spare and see I'm riding Bonnie today! Bonnie and I have come a ways since we started working together but she's also become more challenging as of late. I admit, my heart sank a little (I was hoping for Indy) but, I took a deep breath, remembered some of the videos I've been watching and reminded myself about who's boss today as I grabbed a lead.

Bonnie is a big muddy piggy again. *sigh* Time to rub and brush off that stuff. This is going to be a long tack-up. I work diligently to get things done and put together as quickly as possible. I make good time and we're called into the ring.

So far, so good. We start with a posting trot with a focus on proper diagonals and changing directions while posting trotting. This has become a little more straight forward for me to get it. I still don't "feel it", but I'm at least able to identify when I'm on the correct diagonal +50% of the time! Hurrah for me! This is improvement from my regular incorrect guess. I continue to work on the seated trot which usually just makes me feel like I'm bopping around on Bonnie's back. I never quite feel balanced and it's challenging even though Sheri and others have told me that everything looks fine--I don't feel fine.

I've discovered that Bonnie is a bit of a follower and wants to be doing what everyone else is doing, where they're doing it. This is proving to be difficult. She's already challenging me right at the start of classes. The silent dialogue usually goes something like...
Me: let's go
Bonnie: go? go where?
Me: just move.
Bonnie: I don't feel like it. My buddies are over this way...
Me: stop it. I'm on your back so you'll do what I say.
Bonnie: as if. eat me.
Me: I'm boss!
Bonnie: ha!

After several times around the ring in both directions, Sheri talks about getting into a canter. I am excited we're moving along to try other things. The aids for initiating a canter are simultaneously: sweeping your outside leg past the cinch/girth and then squeezing with both legs while loosening up your hold and body to move with the horse's 3-beat gait. Add steering and you've got a mess on Bonnie: me. I got her to canter a few steps but she's so darned wobbly that I'm terrified I'll fall off. The other two girls are getting it just fine... give it time, I tell myself. It's my first time and I didn't do too badly since I got Bonnie to canter a few times for a bit. At least she ain't no Rock but no dice today.

My other problem has been being unable to keep my heels down and pressure in the balls of my feet so I keep proper contact with the stirrups. I find I'm gripping with my thighs and thus my feet are riding up to compensate. I'm supposed to both relax my lower body yet give pressure through the balls of my feet on the stirrup. Really, did I ever tell you I'm terrible at keeping up during an aerobics class? And yet, while riding, I'm being asked to do more than I would ever do, simultaneously, during an aerobics class!

Next, we move quickly to the 2-point position and jumping! I didn't think I'd get to jumping for a while. I wasn't prepared when Bonnie did jump that I lost balance. Good thing my fear of falling off keeps me glued on there ;) We do this several times and I'm finding jumping to be good fun. Now... if only I can figure out how to canter...

We finish class with some bareback riding during the cool down. It's interesting to sway side to side with Bonnie's walk. Aside from becoming one with your horse, balance is certainly being tested here! Both Bonnie and I are sweaty and we're relieved that we're done for the night. Time to wrap it up and head home to call it a night.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Yes! Harder!!!!

I went curling last weekend; for the first time. When I told my mom about it, she said she didn't get the game but that smart people must play since one of her very intelligent colleagues plays regularly. I didn't know what to expect but I kept thinking about a bunch of old people getting together to lunge a big round rock down a sheet of ice and then grabbing brooms to sweep... for fun. Didn't sound like that much fun, if you ask me.

The location was in Ajax at a Golf and Curling facility. It was my buddy Sam's birthday and he's curled while he was in school. Really, if you met Sam, I'm sure that curling would be on the bottom of your guessing list. He just doesn't strike one as such a person. Anyways, we get started and I learn about the "sheet"--which is the lane which we play in. Basically, the sheet has 2 ends that keep a graphic on the ground:

You start at the "hack" and lunge off with the rock in hand. You can aim your rock down the "centre line" with the aim to enter into the house--which is the big round target looking thing on the other end too. Imagine the image above, replicated and placed as a mirror image on the short side; that's a sheet. The objective is to get your team's rock(s) as close to the center of the target down the ice, as possible. The center is called the "house".

We play a few games and I'm really starting to enjoy it... my launches are too weak, too strong... I lose my balance during the launch. I sweep frantically on team member's turns and take a wipeout and keep warm by keeping busy. There's a good deal of strategy whereby your team will strategize the team member order, the rock placement objectives, calling the sweeping, angles, curl of the rock... phew! Lots to think about. I can see why my mom said that she thinks highly intelligent people enjoy the game... it requires lots of thinking and it isn't terribly (physically) demanding.

When our session ends, I am disappointed that we had to stop playing! I didn't expect to have much fun with it since I had the standard stereotype/bias in my head. Just goes to show, might as try anything once because I might just enjoy it!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bad News Bears

I've been taking an undergraduate course this semester for personal interest... I can't believe I am starting to enjoy school. I never paid much attention when I was in school, but there is so much about economics that relates to real life (duhhh) and there is so much that's applicable!

The professor who's teaching is not one that I"m particularly fond of. He's entertaining to listen to but wow, I got a serious Bad News Bear this Tuesday; at the return of our mid-term marks.

It's particularly frustrating because I managed to learn macroeconomics (I'm taking micro this semester) on my own over a distance education course. How is it possible that I'm just not getting it this time and I got a super Bad News Bear?? I worked really hard to understand the notes and the concepts (he doesn't have a text book... SERIOUSLY!) and studied after work for week straight. Despite all this, the bear still made a visit...

I'm posting mostly because I felt so bad about the mark that I needed something to cheer me up. How can anyone be upset when they get a visit from a pair of bears that are so much fun!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lesson #5: Not for Nothing

I arrived with good time and checked the board to see who I was riding tonight: I thought it was Rock, but things changed and I had Indy! Let me tell you, how excited was I? I wanted to ride Indy for a few weeks now. He is a silver thoroughbred x warmblood. And he's just awesome! Why? Because a horse with a full name of "Indiana Jones" can't possibly be un-awesome to ride.

I also changed lesson day--going from Thursday night to Wednesday evening. This meant I had a different instructor tonight: Sheri. She's more technical and more specific. For example, she was mentioning to me that my hands needed to be lower, about a foot apart and not jossling the horses mouth back and forth. I never paid attention to these items previously.

The class was not particularly exciting but I was really hoping that it wouldn't have been a big class because there's just too much going on for any instructor to really make an impact and pay attention to each and every student. I hope that the class size diminishes for next week or I'm going to move back.

We continued to work on our post trots and posting diagonals. I'm starting to find that posting on the correct diagonal is much more comfortable. I don't know how to explain it but there's just this rhythm that flows when you're doing it right. Not that you couldn't on the other diagonal, but it's just that little "bit" that makes it more comfortable. I still need much more practice though.

Over the weekend, I visited Glenwood and tonight, I measured the time it would take to get to Glenwood vs Greyden. Why am I thinking about this...? I'm finding the drive to Greyden to be taking way too long to be considered reasonable. I like the school and I enjoy the horses whom I've ridden so I am hesitant to leave but, I could potentially save upwards of 1 hour driving (and gasoline!) if I went to Glenwood. I'm not certain what I'm going to do but I am certain that it's something I need to really start thinking about.

The class had just enough work since I was finding myself getting lazy with the posting and inserting double bounces where I shouldn't. The one "ding!" moment I had today was realizing that my inner legs help me pivot through my hips for posting diagonals. This also explains why my breeches have the inside knee patches! Hurrah! mystery solved.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Horsey Talk #1

I promised in a previous post that I'd go over some equine jargon since it's practically a foreign language and since I blog about my experiences, it would be beneficial for my wonderful readers! I'm just learning so I'll probably be doing a few of these posts. And, many of these definitions will be based on what I learn... I"m sure there are formal definitions but if that were the case, then I could just send you all a bunch of links.

Tacking up: this means to prepare the horse for receiving their saddle (which includes the stirrups etc) and bridle--basically to be ready to be ridden. Usually includes the grooming, and cleaning of hooves.

Tack: term for all equipment which the horse will wear for riding

Bridle: the bridle is your main steering mechanism. This piece is fitted on the horse's head with a metal bit in their mouth. Some of these are "bit-less" and differ from the English to Western disciplines.

Footing: the stuff that covers the riding ring's floors (outdoor or indoor). It has been sand in the past but recently, there's been a move towards this synthetic recycled rubber stuff.

Gait: this is the way which the horse naturally moves their legs. I've recently learned that there are naturally gaited horses which move differently than what we're used to seeing.

Trot: is a diagonal 2 beat gait. In other words, when the front foot reaches forward, the opposite back foot moves simultaneously.

Posting or posting to the trot: the rising and lowering action which a rider performs while the horse is in his/her trot. This action is generally more comfortable for both horse and rider.

Saddle: this one should be pretty straight forward... the device that is placed on the horses back which becomes the seat for the rider. It's main purpose is to stabilize the rider.

Whithers: this is the top of their shoulders--a bump you'll see at the back of their neck, at the base

Sound: term used to describe a healthy horse.

Girth: the strap which secures the saddle to the horse. This term is used in english riding.

Hope that this helps those who lack a background in horsey talk!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lesson #4: Dominance and Control, a lesson in life

I arrive at the stable right on time and now I'm stressed and frazzled. I wanted to get a chance to find a kitten which I'm trying to get adopted out. But, I don't have time because I have to tack up for lessons. I check the board and see I'm riding Bonnie tonight. Hurrah! We're going to become good friends at this rate. It's nice to have something I look forward to, during the week (other then Fridays).

Work has been challenging lately... I find myself upset with things and not keen on the way things are happening. I lament my thoughts and feelings to AW and he tells me, "you're not being very assertive. Stop being the sucker and stand-up for yourself and make it clear that your time is as precious as other people's--regardless of where they are, on the totem pole." I was taken aback because I thought I am generally clear about my intentions and that I'm a "take no crap from anyone" kind of person.

I mount Bonnie and we get the lesson started. Things are going alright... I am getting better at determining posting diagonals and I pick up on the correct diagonal and am able to post for a longer period of time. Lenka asks us to do some 20m circles around the ring while trotting. There's still a lot I'm doing wrong and I'm trying to focus on keeping all my stuff together... sit up straight, don't lean forward, don't lean to one side during a turn, keep your arms in... sheesh! And I think that Bonnie's picking up on my anxiety and "greenness" because now she's lowering her head and shaking it about. At one point, I thought she was going to pull me off! She's stopped listening to me when I want to go somewhere and while we're doing something, she'd stop or do something that she wanted to do. I've lost control.

Now I'm frustrated and slightly embarrassed. Lenka stops me and says, "she's testing you and you're letting her win. All these animals instinctively understand is dominance, punishment and reward. They're herd animals and you need to be that leader that they can follow." I'm flabbergasted. I thought I was assertive and enough of a leader most days. Bonnie is proving me otherwise tonight. Learning about how to deal with horses is a lot different than I thought it might be. But then again, maybe it is about learning a very core and basic mind-set to have and to translate that into life in general.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life: 8 Seconds at a Time

Friday was a day just like any other... I got up and put my pants on, one leg at a time. I got into work and got right on doing the normal stuff I would be doing. Nothing new, nothing exciting. Until, I hear on the radio that today was the day that The Royal was having an admissions special for Friday only. It was like going to do some of my preliminary investigation on what I was interested in.

All this build up for today: the Ontario Toyota Dealers Rodeo. I didn't expect to go but I had all these big plans to get up at 7:30am to get on there early to watch the dairy goat milking and the Clydesdales at the Horse Palace. I figured that since the subway didn't start until just before 9am, I could hang tight and mosey on over in cowboy fashion.

I took the Bathurst streetcar down and as we are nearing the CNE Loop, a young girl sees two sandy-buff coloured cows being led on the roadway and she points and squeals "look!! PIGGY!!!" Yep, I was stunned speechless too. I didn't know what to say and although part of me wanted to giggle, I think I was in such shock that I didn't know what to do. But you know what? good on the parents for taking her here to get up close and personal with these animals: smells and all.

We had lunch at the Hitch Bar and Cafe in the Horse Palace and make our way to the rodeo at the Ricoh Colliseum. I've never been to a rodeo and last time I was in Calgary, I didn't go for the Stampede. Today's rodeo is co-hosted by CBC's own Heartland's Amber Marshall. I admit, I haven't watched this show before but she was a lot of fun and the theme was a East versus West rodeo: bareback broncos, pole bending, barrel racing, trick riding/vaulting, Canadian Cowgirls, saddle bronc and the best known of them all: bull riding.

At one end of the ring, there is a maze of metal gates and various animals and people. It reminded me of the bullpen of a baseball stadium. The players (the cowboys) of each team was sitting in their respective team areas and stretching and getting hyped up for their event. The animals were hanging out in small pens waiting before they were mounted and let out.

Some people think rodeos are barbaric and inhumane but I didn't see any animal get hurt or be mistreated. In fact, if anything, I saw more human beings being mistreated and injured by the animals themselves. The animals are not rilled up before getting to the bucking chute. They may be agitated but who wouldn't be if they were standing in confined spaces and being herded here or there (TTC riders must be familiar with this feeling)? I don't think it's a big deal. Compared to bull fighting in Spain, I would say that this is far more reasonable.

The first event is the bareback broncos. I've never watched a rodeo in person so I didn't know what to expect exactly. We have two cowboys who ride in the ring; their job is to get to the rider and then release the animals of the flank strap so that they can go back to their pens.

The introduction is done, all eyes focus; and the bucking chute gate swings open and BAM, the bronco is bucking viciously with the rider hanging on for their lives. The rules are: one hand on the animal and the other free hand anywhere but the animal. Watching it in person is much different than on television... the body of the rider is bring thrown around like a ragdoll and you really wonder who's brave crazy enough get on an animal who's moving like that and try to stick on there for 8 seconds.

Pole bending is a neat activity that I've seen the Superdogs do. The idea is the same, just with a modified set up for a larger animal. Barrel Racing has similar requirements for fast and tight turns as well as straightaways. The athletes aren't just the horses but the riders are in incredible shape to be able to stay on the horse and get them to move like that.

The Canadian Cowgirls have a show for the audience where their performance is kind of like synchronized swimming. If you've seen Cavalia, you'll know what I'm talking about. Here's a posted video of today's event:

And, I saved the best for last: bull riding. This is voted to be the most extreme sport on the planet. You've got guys skate boarding or BMX riding? These boys have got nothing on a cowboy who lowers himself onto a bucking bull. There are riders as young as 15 today. If that doesn't put hair on your chest, I"m not sure what else would.

To get a better appreciation for what this post is about, catch this video:

Hope you've had as much fun as I have... yeehaw and yippi-kayo!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lesson #3: Riding Diagonals

After nearly 3 weeks away from the stables, I got back to it last night; and strangely, I felt it was a more challenging class this time around. I'm not sure why that was.

This is the first class I don all my new apparel. Real breeches, paddock boots and my helmet. It's nice not to be wearing the communal one. I skip the half chaps this time because I exchanged my suede ones last weekend due to peeling on the synthetic portion and the girl told me that they had some issues with that model so I moved up to the leather Mondega half chap. But, the idea of taking an hour to get myself suited up didn't appeal to me.

The drive out this time was smooth and I didn't feel like I was rushing or stressed out; but I spent most of time in the car with my inner child and thinking "are we there yet?". Which brings me to my major pet peeve: long commutes to get somewhere. It's the one thing that I'm willing to pay more, to avoid doing. It's 1 hour one way and on some nights, that's just not appealing.

I arrived in good time with at least 10 minutes to spare. The feral cat in the area had a litter and her babies are everywhere. I was squealing with delight at all the little kittens running around! They're such cutie pies. The little black one that comes bounding at me everytime I see him is just so cute. At one point, I'm grinning and holding 3 kittens simultaneously. What joy. Oh right, I came for lessons.

I check out the board and see I'm scheduled to ride Bonnie tonight. Yay Bonnie! Bonnie's nice and polite the first time you ride her but it seems that she starts testing your patience and skill level, the more you ride her.While Nicole's ridden a few different horses by now, Bonnie and I are partners in crime. I should change my name to Clyde. HAR HAR HAR! Okokok, groaner. Tonight, this wonderful horse has come to me covered in mud like a pig who rolled around in the muck. Which means... I have to clean her up before I can tack her. Hurrah. I'm getting an arm and back workout before the class starts!

In the ring, I'm still so green that I'm not sure if her undesired responses are due to my inexperience or if she's just messing with me. The lesson today is riding diagonals: identifying proper riding diagonal and then executing the diagonal while posting. A lot of equine jargon, I know. I'll spend some time with some riding jargon in another post. It seems that the harder I try, the more often I get it wrong. Right now, it's about 50/50 to get it right and even then, I don't know when I'm doing it right! In addition to working on the riding diagonals, Lenka (our instructor) has us working on strengthening our legs too... So we ride and post for a long while. This is really challenging for me because I can't keep a regular post and sometimes do a "double bounce" somewhere. I'm sure Bonnie is really not keen on my poor riding technique. It's not obvious to most people but the poorer the rider's skill set, the more uncomfortable it is for the horse. After dismounting, I leave with jelly legs and I notice I'm walking a bit like John Wayne.

Looks like I'll need to start working on the endurance needed to post continuously as well as getting myself together for the seated trot. There's a lot of work ahead of me...

Thursday, November 1, 2012


No, I'm not trying to wish you successful endeavours in the Klingon language.

Last Thursday, I attended the TSO with Amber and AW for the "What Makes it Great" series. The piece in question? Mozart's symphony Jupiter. Our conductor and host for the evening was Rob Kapilow. I love this series he does because he breaks down the entire piece into very easy to understand patterns. Though he indicates throughout the evening that Mozart's piece is all about random patterns that continually surprise the listener, he's able to highlight patterns of randomness!

The last evening this series was in town, Kapilow focused on Vivaldi's spring time. Rob Kapilow is able to take a piece that most people enjoy passively and break it down in such a manner that depiste your musical background, you're able to hear and thus see what makes each of these pieces so appealing to listeners. His style is informal and inviting as the audience is able to take part actively rather than just passively listening to the sounds coming from the orchestra.

The best part of the evening for me? After a crazy day at work, it's nice to watch a single person create something wonderful with a group of +30 people with each individual doing what is expected of them so that the end product is perfect.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dowsing in Nazca

September 1, 2012

Today is our last day in Nazca. Our schedule starts with an early morning to see the Aqueducts of the Nazca people. Why is this important? The Nazca people lived in the desert and were flanked by the Andes Mountains to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Not many options for a water source. But, nature always provides a way as long as you're willing to listen.

I don't believe these are actual UNESCO sites but they should be! They're amazing. Imagine the spirals going into the ground to be met by fresh water. The water table of the area is close enough to the surface that the 36 wells built are still in use today.

The wells have been rebuilt and they are in better condition than they used to be. It's nice to see the impressive design of these things. Why they're circular? Nobody knows, but it would make the most sense to me because it's just easier to get water in and out of there with having to climb out with a great deal of effort.

When we see the dried up riverbed of Nazca, I actually come to the realization that this place is truly a desert and that life here must have been very hard.

Antonio drops us back in town and lets us know to get ready to meet him for the bus ride back to Lima later in the day. We eat lunch at Rico Pollo--another chicken house. I swear AW was tempted to order a whole chicken to go because this one was even tastier than Roky's!

We say good-bye to Antonio thank him for his efforts and time and embark on another 7-8 hour bus ride back to Lima.

The ride is much the same as our ride down, to Nazca. This time, we notice different things... like the  luxurious activities people partake in: sand boarding. What a strange thing to do! I can't imagine falling on your face and just burning all the way down the dune :( but, that's the thing about the mining town... lots of people come from all over Peru to work there to make money to send home and some of them end up with riches beyond their dreams. Others aren't so lucky and we pass shanti-towns that looks dilapidated and sad.

When we arrive in Lima, AW suggests we check out the Kennedy Park.... the CAT PARK! hehehe This time I was prepared to pat every stray that would let me. By the time we had to head out, AW was dragging me out of there...

We had dinner at a contemporary restaurant called La Paz. It's our last pisco sour and ceviche on the trip. The conversation with the wait staff was fun for all of us, trying to guess what the other was saying. It's not particularly cultural but it is certainly tasty.

As we head back to the hotel, I reflect on our 2 week long trip and think about the things that we've experienced, learned and enjoyed. Peru is one of the most interesting places I have ever had the privilege to travel to. There is so much history and nature there; it pulls you away from our modern materialistic society and gets you to really put things into perspective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nazca Lines and Gold Mining

August 31, 2012

It's 7:00am and I'm wide awake already... because a neighbouring rooster spent the entire night doodling non-stop. My head is spinning. I drag myself out of bed to get ready to go for the day: we're going to the Nazca Desert.

Breakfast is brief and both AW and I are ready to head out to the highlight of this portion of our trip. We're getting on an airplane to see the Nazca Lines. What are the Nacza Lines? They are essentially huge glyphs and lines scratched into the desert by the Nazca people by removing the reddish pebbles to expose the grey/white ground. They were discovered by a Peruvian archaeologist while hiking in the highlands and they've been dated to be made between 400 and 650 AD. One of the main reasons they've survived to date is because of the climate. However, until they were discovered nobody knew any better and a highway actually goes right through one of them! The most notable scholar who studied these lines during her lifetime was a German mathematician, Maria Reiche.

There are many speculations about the purpose of these ancient pictures ranging from the believable (religious or practical purposes) to the strange (UFOs!). Maria is a mathematician so her theory lies within these realms. Antonio believes similarly.

These are a bit difficult to see in the photos but here's a picture of the Hummingbird:

The plane is a 4 passenger propeller plane. This is the first time I've gotten into such a small vehicle... It's cramped to say the least. I am apprehensive about the ride not only because it's a small prop plane and that the risk is probably higher but because the way in which they will be flying has left many reviews from tourists that the experience is rather challenging for those who are prone to motion sickness... and even for those who do not suffer the same problem, this experience can bring out the worst in a person. There are little baggies on the back of the seat in front of me.

The flight is over quickly and I'm happy to be back on the ground. The experience brings back some memories of a trip to Disney World and the stomach churning ride that I insisted my brother and I go on because "we can handle it just fine"--yea right.

Antonio is waiting for us in the parking lot and tells us our next trip is to visit an outdoor museum with a sad and chilling history: Chauchilla Cemetery.

We drive into the desert (again) and drive by an Incan administrative office ruin! Who knew the Inca's influence went as far south as Nazca. But what a different place Nazca is, from what the Inca were used to.

We arrive at what seems to be, the middle of nowhere with a woven thatched roof over a small booth where Antonio walks over to speak with a woman and exchange tickets. We have arrived at the Chauchilla Cemetery. The story of Chauchilla is sad... nobody really knows much about the history or the truth about how the tombs are actually formatted because of grave robbers who desecrated the area when they found the riches exposed by an el nino effect one year.

The tombs are just recreations of what archaeologists think might have been. You can see in the sand, remnants of pottery, human bones and even hair. The boy who is in the next picture is Antonio's shadow during the tour. He must find us tourists so strange.

We understand why this town is as unusual as we have seemed to discover... it is primarily a mining town. Many miners here mine gold, among other things and it has made some of them very wealthy. And, since most miners tend to be men, we understand the reason for such a high male population. Our next stop is visiting a metal separating facility--specifically for gold in this case. It's done the old fashion way: with mercury. We realize that back home, these conditions would probably never be allowed for the miners in North America. It's kind of disheartening, actually.

We get a session from the owner about how the process works and then are escorted into a gift shop. Right on cue. I learn the the gold refining process is just absurd! Imagine 60 tonnes of dirt (what they consider "ore") and they process all that for maybe 1 ounce of gold. Crazy, right? Well folks, that's how it's done now. Gone are the days of the gold rush and the Spanish conquest of South America.

It's getting dark and Antonio has dropped us off at the hotel to find our way about dinner. We check out a small local restaurant that the guide book has suggested and I down it with another bottle of Inca Kola. Our evening spent strolling the street is a bit more comfortable and we see the streetfood vendors all out and selling their fare. Hamburgesa con quesa. Well, not quite but their version of it! Too bad we already ate... otherwise S.2/00!

This is our last night in Nazca and we stroll around for a long while while really getting to know all the streets and making sure we don't miss anything.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


On our visit to the farm lands of South Western Ontario in search of equine facilities this past weekend, AW and I accidentally found a local Elk farm: Coyote Creek Deer Company Venison on Trafalgar. We turn into this seemingly innocent residence, ring the door bell and are greeted by a tall grey gentleman with a cheerful disposition and giant smile. He's happy to see strangers... wow, I think. I tell him we've stopped because of his sign "Elk Open" and he nods and quickly tells us he's going to get a coat and shoes to show us what he's got.

We get into his double garage and he opens a huge freezer of neatly vacuum packaged meat. We're somewhat speechless and I think he senses this and says to us "why don't I take you two to see the animals. They're out back this way." Thinking about this turn of events while I'm writing, makes me wonder what we were actually thinking... this man is potentially a murderous psycho who kills and chops us strangers who stop by to innocently buy elk! But, we're so excited right now that we head to his back yard.

His dogs come bouncing out of their doggie door and follow us to the back fence. Our new friend's name is Dan and he tells us that the elk are probably near the back of the enclosure and that he'd take us on the entire tour. We grab the bucket of corn and hop on his tractor while he drives us out what seems like almost a kilometer. Now we see them... the herd of elk. He tells us that he's raising red deer and elk and the hybrids of the two.

We're in the enclosure now, and the herd comes running over and they are soon eating out of our hands (literally!) of the corn from the bucket. A few get really greedy and push themselves to eat directly out of the bucket!

Dan also raises pheasants to release into the area...

The conversation with Dan is really engaging and we learn a lot about the practices he's employing to raise these animals and the other practices that surround this endeavour. He even has a neighbour who's raising his own honey bees and we grab a raw, unfiltered, unpasturized jar of honey. I'm not sure if it's just the fabulous fall day that is making things seem so neat but I don't remember having had more fun while getting so dirty!

NB: Dan and Daniel Klein aren't the same person...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Horsin' Around this Weekend

Last Thursday, I couldn't visit Bonnie. I started taking English riding lessons a few weeks ago and I am really getting into it. Ok who are we kidding, everytime I think about getting out there to ride, everything is wonderful and rainbows. Amber, Dave and AW keep telling me that it appears that I'm really getting into this and that it's great that something could make me so happy. So, this weekend, I took the plunge and went to the 51st semi-annual Greenhawk warehouse sale to get suited up. That's right, SUIT UP!

I spent 2 weeks strategizing the plan of what I need, get and how much I'd save and which one would be the best deal. Not being partial to any specific brands helps at this point. Two weekends ago, I even made a preliminary trip to Greenhawk to try things on so I'd be prepared for the big day: Saturday Oct 20th. Not only was a bunch of stuff on some serious discount, but there was a Gate Crasher deal of taking an additional 30% off any clearance item. I look at the receipt and see that the original purchase would have cost me over $600 but I've managed to spent just over $250.

What'd I get?
  • Ariat Heritage Paddock III boot in chocolate
  • Elation Crochet Back Gloves in cream
  • Aerion Ladies Multipurpose Shell Rain Jacket in teal
  • Grand Prix Hampton II Low Rise Breech x 2
  • Mondega Super Suede 1/2 Chap
  • Aerion Men's Tech Polo x 2
Now I'm ready for my next lesson to ride in proper schooling style!

Sunday had some more equine activities...

Greyden is super far for me to go during the week so I've been thinking about looking at schools  closer to the city. But let's face it, there is no such thing for something like this. I made arrangements to visit Meadowlarke in Mississauga first thing in the morning and how excited am I? I'm so excited that I'm up 2 hours earlier than I need to be. Unfortunately, there isn't space for additional students at Meadowlarke for the month of November so after getting some fee and lesson information, I head out.

When AW and I return to the car, we figure that since we're out this way, we could go see if Greyden is open to give him a better idea of the facility I'm going to now. The drive during the day is scenic and relaxing. Possibly also because I'm not stressed out about arriving on time for my lesson. It's too bad that when we get there, they tell us that they have a clinic and don't have time for visitors today. Oh well.

It's back home for us... after we visit some more stables in the area! I stop at one that I didn't expect to stop at and I find that I really like this place. But, we'll have to see if the trek is worth it since it's almost as far as Greyden and with the winter coming up, the drive seems like an unnecessary trip to make. I'm looking for a solid place that is reputable and somewhere I feel comfortable with the schooling, instructors and the schedule. Afterall, jumping from place to place doesn't build consistency in your learning and skills.

I'm working on completing my comparison chart of the schools and have a few more to see before I make a decision...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Last Arm of the Trip: Nazca

August 30, 2012

We have the morning to ourselves. This is "Day 1" of our Nazca tour. Since this part of the tour actually starts around noontime, we rise early and head out on the town to check out an local artisan marketplace.

The marketplace we find is HUGE. It's got everything that you could think of, for souvenirs. Some tacky and lame and others that seem to be a great gift. We pick up some really nice shot and liquor glasses. AW grabs a vibrant nativity scene made out of a gourd (!) for his mum. Amazing prices for such ethnic souvenirs!

Anyways, we're on a tight schedule and need to return to the hotel to meet the (Client Experience Officer) CEO Miro. The day is overcast, foggy and cool. When Miro picks us up, he tells us that there is yet another local festival in the city and certain streets are closed. Our conversation with Miro is interesting since we discover that he's actually a Peruvian-American. He's not like our other G-Adventure guides/CEOs since his English is near perfect and even his mannerisms are a little different... more North American it seems. And, he's got a Dallas Cowboys logo in his car. He tells us that while in the US, he was grew up there and went to school but returned to Peru for his carrier since the marriage of his ethnic and cultural backgrounds make him a prime candidate for being able to relate to tourists like us and the locals.

He takes us to the bus station. He helps us get oriented and put together so that we are ready for our bus ride along the coast, to Nazca. Let me tell you, traveling by bus is an interesting endeavour in Lima. It's quite westernized and we get on the blue double decker bus and sit back to view the coastal scenery for the next 7-8 hours. The scenery is vastly different from the metropolitan city of Lima, the ancient mountain region of Cusco and certainly different from the Jungles.

The bus lulls us to an uncomfortable sleep and we wake to eat a served meal and then out again so that we don't get sick from the swaying of the bus. I don't think I like these double decker buses at all.

When we arrive in Nazca, it is dark and cool. Tired and stiff from our journey, we stumble off the bus, grab out bags and look for our local guide--who is to be waiting for us at the bus station. Many local guides of the area are seeking tourist attention since many people have come out this way completely unprepared with a tour guide. We spot ours and he introduces himself... Antonio--like Antonio BANDERAS.

He is of a cheerful disposition and tells us that we're in luck because the city is celebration a local festival (again) and that our hotel is nearby so we can certainly check out the main plaza to see what's going on.

First though, we're starving so we pick a restaurant across the street from the hotel: Roky's. They serve roast chicken family style. It's a westernized rotisserie with a huge cartoon flare about it. We have tonnes of trouble ordering because most of the servers speak VERY limited English.

We finish and head over towards the plaza... the streets are busy and the night is cool. Many people are out enjoying themselves and just having a good time socializing with their peers. As we stroll down the main street, we notice that we're getting some unusual looks from passer-bys... Something's not quite right, I think, without being able to place my finder on the exact issue. By now, AW and are are both feeling uneasy and decide to head back to the hotel. No, we weren't mugged or harassed.... but man, there was a strange vibe going on. It suddenly dawns on the two of us as we're quickly making our way back to the hotel: the population is seemingly 70%+ male! We arrive at the hotel, look at one another recognizing the twilight zone we just left, nod in agreement and turn in for the night.

Tomorrow: ready for the prop plane doing pivots in the air over the lines.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Just Like Home

August 29, 2012

Today is the last day we spend the jungle... and really, that's an over statement because we get up only to get ready and head to the airport. We are only heading back to Lima with Mark and Dane as the others have a different itinerary than we do. A few are staying behind longer and others are heading out to the Inca Trail or otherwise.

Unfortunately, we spend a good chunk of the day in transit.

We arrive at the airport of Puerto Maldonado and we realize that we've had it really lucky with the humidity and it's only now starting to heat up. We sit outside of the airport with Mark and Dane to just relax and decompress a bit more before we have to head into the airport to get through security. I crave Inca Cola out of a glass bottle.

The flight back was a connecting flight that stopped in Cusco briefly to pick up new passengers who are heading to Lima. We only see Cusco again from our seats.

We arrive in Lima in the afternoon and the day is overcast and cool. Our bus picks us up and takes us back to the same hotel we've stayed in before (Hotel la Castellena). I don't like it when days are spent in transit because nothing really comes out of it. I mean what did we accomplish? I didn't even manage to snap any photos because the time spent in the airport was uneventful.

Arriving at the hotel was a relief because we get to decompress. Mark and Dane are heading out the next morning and tell us that they've had a great time and we'd reconnect via email once we've all returned home.

Like most days where it's just AW and myself, we're out exploring and looking for something to eat. The thing is, we're still in our outdoorsy outfits and not in any particular fashion to be walking into any fine dining establishments. That's the thing about being tourists though... nobody really cares because they already know you aren't one of them (although in Peru, there is a very high Japanese and Chinese population). So, we decide to check out their mall: Larcomar. This mall is really neat because it's open to the outside and it overlooks the Pacific Ocean. At night, the view is stunning.

We check out Vivaldino. A fine dining establishment where we're (yet again) under-dressed.

The wait staff are friendly and humour our poor Spanish and help us select wonderful meals. Living by the sea must have its benefits... since we each had a poo-poo platter of seafood, each. Clearly we got way too greedy.

After spending so much of our time in the very cultural places like Cusco, the Sacred Valley and the Jungle, Larcomar is a flash of Western lifestyles with families in malls eating at Chilies or purchasing clothing at Western style shops. It's a little disappointing but, I'd say we recognize that this is part of the idolization of Western lifestyles. We have such bounty and unusual norms. We're kind of removed from nature and simplicity of it all. The ironic thing about it is that AW and I have come out this way to experience the native culture and ways. Instead, we see exactly what we'd see at home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jungle Life

August 28, 2012

I wake up feeling the most refreshed I have in ages. I might consider purchasing a jungle sounds for sleeping. Anyways, we get up to head to the main cabin to have breakfast to get ready for a day time jungle hike.

We pile into the boat to head to the trail where we're looking for some black caiman and other wildlife. We're told that this area of water we're walking to was part of the original Tambopata river but closed off from natural changes in the water levels from rain.

The hike takes us into the jungle and Ricardo shows us lots of bugs and identifies calls that we hear. It's a really neat hike since we learn about the various plants that the locals have always used and western medicine has started to discover. Unfortunately, with such a large group, it's less likely that we see animals. This butterfly is super awesome! It's got transparent wings:

We hike and see the jungle trees. There are so many strange trees that have unusual habits and characteristics. Compared to the boreal and broadleaf forests that I'm used to, some trees here are not trees at all and are a parasitic vine that strangles and suffocates a tree and eventually kills it through growing all around it. Others are capable of moving from one spot to another, in order to get sunlight. Then you have those which bear very large and unusual fruit--such as the canon ball tree. Don't walk through a durian orchard at night? better not to walk through the jungle at night!

We find many fruit trees and one of them happens to have dropped clusters of its fruit--apparently a favourite of our rescued friends back at the lodge. I climb into one of those vine-trees and get to the center where the original host tree had died and rotted away...

When I look up and around me....

There are shrubs which tribes use for painting their bodies with--we get initiated into our own little tribe when Ricard paints our faces with this red pigmented leaf. Our group takes a photo in front of a big wide tree which I've already forgotten the name of! but it's wider than our group is!

We feed piranha at the little "pond" from a big canoe and get to see a flock of the stinky bird (AW must remember the name of these birds... he wanted to see them very badly) that can regurgitate their meals back to chew them... kind of like cows? Ugh. Kind of gross if you ask me.

I'm so glad that the weather has been moderately cool (by jungle standards) since we were asked to wear full long pants (see mosquitos!) and long tops. It's nice to return to the lodge and get some time to relax and have lunch.

We are greeted by our lodge friends with excitement since we brought back a jungle treat for them...

Our afternoon activities? We have options to visit a local fruit farm or to head to the interior of the lodge lands and check out the mini river tub. They have built a small pool area where the river water flows through and you can soak yourself in mineral rich river waters. Note "mineral rich" doesn't always mean clear water... hehehe

We decide to check out the local fruit farm.

Do you like cashews? This is why they're so darned expensive: 1 seed per fruit

This is an indigenous fruit of the area and it's called "ice cream bean". We eat the fuzzy cottony part that surrounds the bean.

Then we take a guided tour of the orchard where all the fruits are being grown together: pineapples, noni, avocado, banana, star fruit, hot peppers, cassava root... This is called polyculture. In many countries, this practice has been found to be more productive than the traditional monoculture we use in North American commercial farms.

Do you know how pineapples grow?

 What about avocados?

Or bananas...

The noni fruit is indigenous to Southeast Asia but does very well here. It's particularly useful in the medicinal realm and many seek it for its phytonutrients and other nutrients. It isn't very tasty though...

This is a hot pepper bush with extremely hot peppers that make my mouth salivate excessively while thinking about them!

And, since he could, he kept chickens.

What an interesting day! Call me nerdy but I really enjoy the educational parts of a trip when I learn about the nature and the people. Time to head back and relax.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle!

August 27, 2012

The next morning, we get up pretty early and head down for a continental breakfast and get ready to meet Mark and Dane to get to the airport. Mark and Dane are two American tourists whom we meet during the trail and they happen to be doing the same trip we are. We pile into the van and chat up our driver and learn the colours in Spanish... azul--like the sky. Rojo like the matador's blanket. Verde like the rainforest we're going to see. Blanco like the snow capped glacier mountains. Negro like the fertile soils. And amarillo like the Inca Cola of my previous day's lunch.

The trip is short and when we arrive, I anticipate humidity and heat--there is little of either. The airport is small and we find our check point person and pile into a Winnebago and start on our trip to the lodge. Our first stop was at the gate of the airport as we see two people zipping by, to make a U-y and one of them jumping off and climbing into the Winnebago. This is our jungle guide: Ricardo.

He briefs us that we will be heading to the Tambopata eco-lodge's office to drop off our bags in secured storage and bring another duffel with us, into the jungle. We quickly make the exchange and pile back into the Winnebago. The drive over to the port is bumpy and dusty. We are experiencing their dry season and it hasn't rained in so long that the large umbrella-like leaves are coated in red dust from the roads.

We're told that the only way to arrive at our final destination of Puerto Maldonado is by boat: jungle boat. In this video, we're also getting our lunches. NB the volume when you're watching. **unedited video**


I'm looking mighty bad-ass in my orange PFD.

The river is over 400km long and flows from the eastern Andes into the great Amazon River and is also less than 60km from the boarder of Bolivia. This area of the rainforest is some of the most pristine and wild.

The boats don't travel in a straight line as the river is shallow in some parts and we have to avoid becoming a river projectile. But, many of the boats are zipping by at full speed ahead! NB of the volume while watching. **unedited video**

Our first stop is the check point to the Tambopata National Reserve where we sign in and get our passports stamped.

After this, we head back onto the boat and continue on our way. We stop to see some wildlife such as the caiman, turtles and monkeys.

When we arrive at the eco-lodge, we're provided a brief orientation, an evening itinerary and an introduction to some of our happy lodge friends: Banana, Homer and Mimo. Some rescues which have become residents of the lodge. AW and I head to our lodge to check it out and get settled in. The sounds of the jungle are all around us.

Following dinner, we head out on a night walk to see all the night life. Not the "night life" that we're used to... it's become a bug walk. I mentioned I didn't like camping, right? While the primary reason is the bathroom situation, the second (which is often tied with first) is the bug situation. I.hate.bugs.

While this is not my favourite activity to start the jungle trip, we do get to learn about all the creepy crawly critters that come out at night. Spiders, ants, flies... The jungle is teeming with life even in the dark! And, the sounds of the jungle haven't stopped, despite the sun going down. I wonder how I"m going to sleep tonight...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Our Last Days in the Andes

I left out the end of our journey to Machu Picchu in my last post for impact. I mean why distract from the mysticism of our trek and the climax in Machu Picchu? After having enough of the rain, we left on a bus down the mountain to end up in the most touristic town in all of Peru: Aguas Calientes. Our packs from the trek have been dropped off at a restaurant's second floor and we rush upstairs to get changed into dry clothes.

While eating lunch, a band comes by and they set up stage and start playing. The most awesome part? the one guy who's playing the ukelele is simultaneously playing the Peruvian flute and he looks like Mick Jagger! I wish we still had money to grab a copy of their CD.

Aguas Calientes is still up in the mountain so we're on our way to head back to Ollaytaytambo. We're scheduled to return to our hotel in Cusco so we still have a ways to go. We take a train to Ollataytambo and then hop on a bus back to Cusco. The bus ride is surreal in its own right because we're in the Andes Mountains and we're driving through during sunset--it's just stunning. No pictures do this justice.

After we return and thank our two wonderful tour guides, we head to our rooms to get cleaned up. The plan is to head out on the town with everyone to grab dinner and have our last evening together before we each part for the remainder of our own journeys. A few of us are on a month long trip backpacking it around South America and others are ending their journey to head home. It's been a memorable 4 days.


August 26, 2012

We get one more day in Cusco. Today, we finally get to explore Cusco on our own time. I'm determined to find something that I have been thinking about, since I arrived: the toritos de Pucara

(photo courtesy of Lonely Planet)

These religious relics are a fusion on Incan and Spanish tradition. They decorate rooftops as a pair and it’s said that these bulls bring good luck, keep the house safe and ensure health and wealth for the family that lives there. The bulls also face the mountain gods. You can read more about these interesting items in the link above.

While we didn't learn about these ceramic bulls by our guides, the moment I saw them on rooftops, I knew I had seen them somewhere. When I was little (we're talking over two decades ago), my uncle returned from his own trip to South America and gifted my family one of these cows and it has since sat in our living room in a corner, hidden. I was determined to find one to "return the favour".

Today, our plan is to head out to the main market find and eat the remaining local delicacies and check out some of the churches and just walk around to take in the Incan capital.

Our first stop is the market, where I would compare it loosely to Toronto's St Lawrence Market. Vendors sell fresh food, cooked food, sweets, crafts, clothing... you could probably find anything here. But what is this? a street food vendor area!

I'm holding a grilled skewer of anticuchos topped with a peruvian potato.


Next on the list? Chicharrons. The lady hands us a plate full of fried pork belly rinds, potato, mint leaves, giant corn kernals (they're the size of quarters!) and onion slivers. We stop and she looks at us and goes to a grab us forks from... a bucket filled with liquid and dirty utensils. *face palm* oh well. C'est la vie. We sit with Quechua speaking peruvians in the square and dine with them.

Another one checked off our list.

Then we head off to the market to search for my bulls and other souvenirs. But guess what? we still have food items on our list! Caldo de gallina accompanied with the effervescent yellow Inca Cola and some more (you guessed it) ceviche.

Different kinds of ceviche line their food vendor's countertops in large platters. We order a plate and devour it. The only thing we forgot to try is cuy, again. Cusco is known for their cuy.

We stroll the streets....

And after relaxing in the plaza with the other citizens, we head for higher ground to get a panoramic view of the plaza de armes of Cusco.

Dinner isn't too big since we already ate so much food during the day... we get ready and pack up for our next stop: Puerto Maldonaldo.