Monthly Archives: November 2015

Swimming with fairies and the beauty of Skye

When I was a little kid, I used to love to play make believe, and play in the creek behind my house. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only kid in the world who liked to play make-believe or play in creeks, but being as how I was an only child who lived out in the country far away from other kids, playing make-believe was a great source of entertainment for me. I loved to pretend that I was either invisible sea monster or a witch or better yet, an invisible sea monster-witch. Skye would have been a great place to grow up.

Can you imagine all the fun someone with an active imagination could have here?

Just imagine being an invisible fairy with eternal life and the power to enthrall people.. it’d make sense to live here, bewitching visitors to take off all their clothes [because now I’m a bawdy wench]. The spell of the Fairy Pools is that they look as if they must be warm…

I mean with that kind of vivid blue water it must be like the Caribbean Sea, but having come straight down from the Black Cuillins, they are anything but warm. The saying goes: temperatures in Scotland are either cold, bastard cold, or damn freezing cold. And checking in at a balmy 43F, I say these swimming holes are bastard cold.

Skye, Scotland
Skye, Scotland

Perhaps it is the fairy mischief that makes me want to jump into this amzing clear blue water. Water that is face-smackingly, lung-contractingly cold…wet-suit be damned… I jump in…ohmygod thisissofuckingcold…I clamber back out to catch my breath. Fairy magic…I haul my carcass out of the swimming hole, warm up, and dive in again and again. This is river swimming at its most magical.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands. It is easy to navigate, easily reached from the mainlaind village of Kyleakin, and has a huge variety of landscapes packed into a relatively small space. Scottish Gaelic is the predominate language of this part of the country , and in this area of around 10,000 people spread out over the islands, is raw wilderness.  Each sight is slightly more awe inspiring than the previous.

Just let the beauty of it all soak in for a minute, will ya?

Leaving Skye, I passed probably the most famous castle in Scotland. In my less than humble opinion, Eilean Donan Castle is the most beautiful castle in Scotland.  It’s even movie famous. Chances are you recognize it from a film or two.  Eilean Donan starred in Highlander, served as Sean Connery’s home in Entrapment, and was the Scottish Headquarters of MI6 in The World Is Not Enough. Anything related to the world’s most famous spy has my stamp of approval.

Wearing red lipstick

Is there anything more classically feminine than wearing red lipstick?

I think not.  There are even articles written about why you should date women who wear red lipstick. [This may be why my dating calendar is wide open].

I do not own said product considering I look more like Bozo the Clown than Marilyn Monroe when I wear red lipstick.  However, I am not completely immune to its purposes… sexiness, feminine-ness, boldness… the list goes on.

I was taking care of a patient recently who while admitted for pneumonia, also had stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to the spinal cord.  The patient in question had had a previous bilateral mastectomy some few years ago so while that was not a current issue, it was a contributing factor to her condition and mental state… which is to say was not good.  And I know I can’t fix everybody.  Hell, I don’t think I can fix anybody, but I try–even if in most cases it’s to motivate you to move your ass (a nurturing, placating nurse I am not).

I do have a point, I promise.

Whenever I’m feeling out of sorts, I head to my local bookstore, and just start randomly reading any book that catches my eye. With that patient fresh in my mind, I recently read an excerpt from a book called something like “Why I wore lipstick to my mastectomy surgery.” If that one chapter was so incredibly profound, I can only imagine what the the rest of the book is like. I probably should have bought it, but truthfully, I was looking for something a little more ‘uplifting’ to take on my upcoming vacation.  I get it.  A woman was about to lose a part of herself that biologically makes here a ‘woman’… that society says ‘this is what a woman looks like.’ So she wears red lipstick to her surgery… Red lipstick–another of society’s ways of defining what is sexy… what is womanly. How she used that color to make herself more than another cancer patient having surgery. How she used it to leave her mark– more than just an exacted pound of flesh– on the operating table. And there is something empowering about red lipstick, isn’t there? A bold, fearless statement.

I am not a lipstick person.  Or if truth be told, not really a make-up person.  And though at times, usually when I’m having an ‘off’ few days, an image adjustment has been cathartic for my Self… if only in receiving comments from people ‘you look nice today’ or getting looks from attractive men that usually don’t noticed my dressed down self; recently it has been more than my Self that needed a lift… my spirit is probably more accurate.

Usually, I lift my sagging spirit by traveling or doing something different.  Or being creative.  But right now I am in a box.  School is limiting my free time and free funds.  My living space is tiny and doesn’t afford the opportunity to be overly creative. I am still learning how to be good a my job.  I am still learning how to adjust to the demands of my new life.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m doing any of it well.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly being watched. Like a person in a box. Forced to walk a straight line… a path that holds no mystery. No character.  No soul.

And then I look back. On what I have accomplished. On where I’ve been.  On where I’ve come from. On the goals I still have for my life.  And then I say “Oh, yea there she is… that merry wanderluster… that nature girl… that person who has saved lives… that person who loves animals… that person who creates things.  There she is…

“And then I say–This is who I am.” And I felt the smug satisfaction of, so there.”

So… there.

Traveling the King’s Road from Montreal to Quebec City

Man oh man, do I love a good road trip.  Especially short, one day trips.  Why take the express route when there is a scenic, more enjoyable route available. And renting a car in foreign country always make me feel like an international princess.  Even if that foreign country is Canada–wait…. what?  that’s totally a foreign country… They even speak a language I don’t– French.

quebec king's highway 2

What’s even more spectacular about the King’s Road is that it can be bicycled in its entirety safely.  Not be me of course; I barely know how to ride a bike.  But if that’s your thing,  grab your bike and prepare for 160 miles of charm.  I’d stick to summer if I were you though  because Quebec can get quite chilly during those other three seasons.

quebec king's highway 4
Lots o’ charm on the Kings Road

The King’s Road was the first navigable highway in Canada dating back to the 1700’s.  It is a charming way to travel from Montreal to Quebec City. It passes through little hamlets and hugs the St. Lawrence River making for some excellent photography… especially during the fall foliage season

Quebec king's highway 5

Beginning in Montreal, head north towards Berthierville.  Join up on Highway 138, which is the King’s Road. But if you have the time, stop at Lake St. Pierre Archipelago, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has amazing scenery such as this.

Continuing north on 138, you will reach the city of Trois Rivieres or Three Rivers, founded in 1634 with its amazing stone cathedral.

After exploring Three Rivers, (and stopping for lunch) continuing north along  highway 138, you will go through the oh-so-cute village of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, and its amazing church of the same name. Built in 1855 and bearing the features of a neo-Gothic cathedral, the church was modeled after the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.


Continuing north on 138 you will come to a region known as Pontneuf. It is home to the municipalities of Neuville, Cap-Sante, Deschambault, among others, all of which are members of the Most Beautiful Villages of Quebec association.  Neuville was one of the first villages established in New France around 1665. Cap-Santé got its name from the sudden healing of the soldiers posted in the region. Its church is on the historical monument register and it is one of the last buildings of the French Regime in the region. Deschambault, where Jacques Cartier stopped on his second voyage because of the rapids, which were too dangerous for his ship and prevented him from going farther up the river. In each of these villages, you will find magnificent architecture dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

And finally, continuing on 138, you will reach Quebec City, a beautiful city of its own.

wandering around vieux quebec city in the fall

sometimes the weather gods are in your favour and you get not only spectacular blue skies but also incredible leaf colour*.

Leaves covering an old stone building

a white house, a slate roof, and a lime green door…next to a house covered in orange ivy

New England and by New England I obviously mean Quebec and eastern Canada know how to do Halloween. South Carolina is too hot for pumpkin carving. They turn to mush real quick.

more cities should have walls complete with cannons…way to go QC

chateau frontenac…in fall’s glory

Quebec City–early morning goodness

Stopping along the King’s Road to gaze at the beauty of driftwood…in Canada, and not near the ocean

more driftwood-y goodness

I hope you’ve enjoyed the visit to Quebec City by way of the King’s Highway. I know I did. I was quite taken with the charming city and even more so by the drive to get there.

quebec king's highway 7
stone cottages, red roof… I have died and gone to heaven.


*Sometimes when writing about Canada and to a lesser degree, England, I like to use the British/Canadian spelling and add in that -u- and reverse my -er to -re. Just one of many, many quirks.

Hanging out in Bogotá

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was not enthusiastic when my flight to Maricaibo was canceled and Bogotá became my first stop in South America. I  planned to skipped the Colombian capital altogether and I was not at all excited to visit Bogotá.  In hindsight, Bogotá most definitely was a better ( and probably safer) introduction to South America than Maricaibo.

La Candelaria, Bogota

My original plans were to skip Bogotá because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums, using it as a transit stop and moving on quickly to the next place, whatever that place may be.

Part of the reason for choosing South America was that, in theory, I speak Spanish fluently, or at least I did 10 years ago. I’m feeling a little isolated since I am trying to not speak English unless it is absolutely necessary, but today that changed. Not that I magically became fluent overnight, but it is coming back to me, especially if the person with whom I am speaking speaks slowly (for Spanish).

For example, today I took the Transmileno to the other side of Bogotá for no reason than to see another part of the city.

transmilenio bogota

On the return trip, I had conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to me. It was nothing serious, weather, I’m new in town, ect, but it was a chance to practice Spanish with someone who didn’t speak crazy fast. I’m feeling a little more confident. After successfully ordering lunch [3 courses $5500 ~3.25], I stopped in the frutería. I only wanted to get a few snacks for the road, but I was talked into a fruit salad. Nothing like I’ve ever had. It included mango, papaya, pear, banana, and a couple other fruits I have never seen before. Before leaving, I ask the fruit man Que es esto? esto y esto, and very patiently he shows me all the fruits in the store, both in the natural state and the cut up state. So while my fruit salad was only slightly less than lunch, the education about fruit was worth the $2.75 price tag.

fruit salad bogota

Bogotá is a city of more than 8 million people, and I am not a big-city person, but as if often the case, big cities are full of fascinating history and people.  I arrived at El Dorado airport at 2a, a full one day + 18 hours after my intended arrival time.  I just wanted to get into a bed as quickly as possible.  So I took a taxi, which I hate, to my hostel in Candelaria, where I promptly crashed for a few hours.

The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude [O.M.G breathing is so hard] and the thick layer of gray clouds that hover over the city on most days. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets like a chain-smoking asthmatic; I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Bogotá is not exactly warm;  I can see why it’s off the radar with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather.

I joined a few of the free walking tours during  my stay; they are excellent for getting bearings straight in a new city, finding out a few more details about the city, places to hit up, and adressing safety concerns.  They are also good for traveling by yourself but having saftey in numbers.


Bogotá blew my mind as an interesting destination and I was always a little bit happy when I had to return to the city for various reasons. Stay tuned for more posts about Bogotá, and how it beyond exceeded my expectations and really got me excited for traveling again.

Home [sweet] home: Huanchaco

Part of my South American adventure had me doing volunteer work for several organizations.  Some were very good and well run; others were not.

I have somehow ended up in Huanchaco, Peru.

It looks like the edge of the Earth kind-of place.

There is surfing, miserable looking street dogs, concrete buildings, ride atop kayaks made of reeds, gray skies, lots of dust and sand. Occasionally, there are beautiful sunsets where a giant ball seems to be going for a swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Reed boats, called Caballitos (or little horses) standing upright in the sand.

I started on Monday at the local clinic. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing as my profession doesn’t technically exist in Peru. I assume I’ll mostly be doing education and maybe some first aid in the ’emergency’ clinic. Luckily for me, the clinic is about a 10 minute walk through town [some volunteers travel 1hr or more to get to their site]… I use the term town in its loosest sense. I’ve been introduced to the other local health centers in Trujillo, the hospital, the community services, and the municipal government workers. In some ways it seems very official. In other ways, not so much. I didn’t have to show a license or really any proof that I have any medical skills at all. Are they so desperate for help that they will let anyone show up and ‘volunteer?’

The umbrella organization I am working with is called Otra Cosa and it organizes volunteers to work with a handful of projects including a school for disabled and blind children, a dog rescue, teaching English, and a few rural projects like working on a coffee farm and teaching English up in the mountains. There is also a really neat project called Fairmail that is loosely associated with Otra Cosa. It trains local teens in photography and helps them sell their work fair trade.  I’m doing work with them as well.  Photography has always been my passion, and if I can share it with others, why not?

Otra Cosa is super organized in the sense that they have a full time employee (NOT volunteer) who works in the office and is available 5 days a week to answer emails and such. Because most low cost volunteer organization don’t have this, I felt reassured and relieved that my emails from the US were answered so quickly. The downside is that Otra Cosa a ‘fee’ of $100 usd. It’s not a lot of cash, and I thought that it would be going to a good cause. Unfortunately, after arriving, it quickly because obvious that the money was disappearing into a black hole. None of it goes to the projects. None of it is available for our supplies. And the number of volunteers coming through this organization to volunteer for 2-4 weeks means that the project is easily receiving over $2000 usd this month. It’s frustrating, and it’s been a challenge to let go of the feeling of being slightly scammed and focus on the work I am here to do, which in all reality, has nothing to do with the Otra Cosa Network. It’s true that without the organization, I wouldn’t be doing I am doing.

Besides that, I have met some wonderful people.  I am loving the family I have been place with.  They have a kitty cat and a dog which helps me feel a lot less like being a backpacker, and a lot more like being a temporary local… which is pretty much my goal for where ever I am.

The kitty, making himself at home on my sheets. I love him.