Paul and Gayle are taking a year from their roles in Picton and Belleville and will be teaching at the Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad. We will use this blog to record some of our edventures!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Lessons Learned

I am wedged, as comfortably as possible in seat 15A aboard Caribbean airlines flight 608 having left Trinidad for the final time. I am wondering, "What have I learned on this great #Edventure?"

My mind races when I think of all we've done and seen. This post would be over a hundred pages if I tried to give details of it all. Don't panic, dear reader.  I am going to summarize it into three big ideas.  You can read all 75 blog posts if you want the details. Or just ask,I love telling my story!

1. Always Provide Good Service.
Customer service in Trinidad is generally poor.  We've start to take special notice when someone goes the extra mile, (or just made eye contact!).

As people said their goodbyes over the past couple of weeks, the conversations often had a theme about how we had, in some way, helped or encouraged them.

Providing the best service shouldn't be hard. It's a mindset and it is rewarding! The question to ask is simple. "What can I do to make this situation better?" For me, sometimes it means pulling a trick out of my bag of "cool shit Paul can do with a computer", other times it means listened hard to a student find the one thing that might help him take a step toward rebuilding a relationship. 

Lesson 1 -- No matter what you do, try to find a way to help others.

 2. Learn to Be Better
You might have read a story about the exercise science class learning to juggle this year. I am very proud of that activity for a lot of reasons. The biggest is that one student discovered "growth mindset". It was magical.

During another farewell session, one of the 4 fresh-faced young teachers with whom we've had some great informal PD sessions said to me, "We like it that you want to learn along with us." I wouldn't have it any other way, I said.

 Lesson 2 -- Learn ways to improve what you do and learn to do new things.

3. Yes, and..
In February, Gayle told me that a teacher was organizing a trip to see turtles lay their eggs.   There were lots of reasons not go: the trip was too far, it too was early in turtle season,  there were going to be too many people, the car was not going to make it, it was going to be too expensive,  it was too close to the beginning of the semester.

We said, "Yes, and..." "it will be great to get to know some people better", "maybe we'll be lucky and see a turtle", "We get to drive past Toco, we've never been there", "let's bring pancakes for breakfast"...

It was a fantastic trip.

Lesson 3 -- Look at the positives and find ways to make things happen.
I would like to say a final "Thank You" to all the people in Trinidad who made our #Edventure a fantastic experience. We will be grateful to you forever.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hurry up and Wait!

I embarked on another "typically Trini" adventure on Monday.  The goal was to transfer the ownership of our car.  For most North Americans, this is a fairly routine process as long as you have the paper work in place.

Honestly, people started telling us stories about the licensing office before we arrived.  "Three days off work to get a driving permit...", "standing in the wrong line for 2 hours...", "being in line doesn't seem to matter"... As a result of all this we made a conscious decision to not get driving permits -- all we needed to do was leave the country every three months - easy enough.

I had been through the transfer process once, so I somewhat knew the routine and was feeling confident that I could get this done in one day.

To make the transfer, both the buyer and the seller must be present at the licensing office and all paperwork and signatures must be in place.

I picked up the new owner at 5 am and we made the trip to the office and parked in the line. By my assessment we were second in the line for transfers (there were also many new cars in the line).  At about 6:20 (after a 1 hour wait) the gate opened and we scrambled to get the car inside. We had to go around an abandoned vehicle and we were passed, quite artistically, on the way in but we still ended up second in the transfer line (only to begin our next wait).  There were three lines -- new cars, trucks and cars. Shortly after 8 the other two lanes began processing vehicles. By now there were over 30 vehicles in our line and the drivers were getting very twitchy -- and getting anxious because the longer the delay was outside, the more delay inside.

As it turns out, the "inspector" for our line hadn't shown up for work. We sat patiently as drivers of trucks wheeled past and 20 or so people with car transfers gathered at the inspection hut to express their frustrations.  Finally at 8:50, the car in front started and moved forward. I quickly followed and parked in the inspection bay.  The "inspection" amounts to this: open the "bonnet" and lift the flap on the firewall and read the VIN to the inspector. Less than 2 minutes later we were on our way to park so we could wait again.

Next we made a quick run to the insurance office to get a one day insurance for the new driver. Conveniently, there are photo shops, commissioners of oaths, insurance vendors and doctors offices within walking distance of the license office (as well as food vendors and if you look closely some "agents" that will "speed up" your transfer for a fee that I am sure is shared with some people behind the desk.)

We finally made our way inside to wait to be called to the transfer desk. To give you a picture of what is happening, there are multiple lines and waiting areas -- licenses, transfers, ownerships, cashier, information...all in all there were at least 200 people inside (and another 50 outside).  Last time it took 3 hours to be called but this time it was only about an hour.  We presented our documents and I was chastised for not having my work permit with me. I begged forgiveness and apologized in my best Canadian way -- the clerk had to get special permission but we got through.

The lady said we would be able to pay within an hour. I asked specifically if we needed to get into the rapidly growing cashier line.  She said no.  We sat down again and waited, thinking we'd be another hour and done. 

About 10:15, the next clerk called us up. The transfer had been approved. Now we had to get into the cashier line to pay.  WHAT!  The line was now snaking around the interior and there was only 1 cashier window open (there is room for 4 cashiers but there are never more than 2) .

Guess what, the cashier closes at noon--FOR THE DAY.  There was no way we were going to make it to the front by then.  Dammit, I was going to have to come back.

On Wednesday, after dropping Gayle at the airport, I returned to the licensing office. I arrived shortly after 7 and made my way to the front door where others were already waiting for the 8 am opening.  I sat and read the paper as more and more people started to arrive.  At about 7:45 somebody twitched and the crowd started to move toward the door. I was close to the front and had put up my elbows to block an old lady from passing me.

The door finally opened at 8:05 and the 100 or so people flooded inside to find their proper line. Less experienced people had to change lines a few times. I ended up second in the transfer line, after blocking the same old lady AGAIN!  5 minutes later I had to block her again in the cashier line.  By some miracle a second cashier opened and I was out of there by 8:15. I had to swerve to avoid hitting the "old lady" as she walked to her car.

There are so many advanced things in this country, yet licenses and car ownerships are all pen and paper.  No computers were visible in the office at all. The cashier only takes cash!

While the vehicle is transferred, the new owner has to return in a few months to buy a new copy of the ownership.  None of the last 5 owners have bothered to do this!  I am sure that will take a couple of days too.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Final Few Days

As our time in Trinidad comes to an end, we've managed to pack in a few more things.

Friday night was the Maple Leaf graduation. Here, grad is a mix of a typical graduation ceremony with "inspirational" speeches, awards, diplomas, as well as fancy dance prom dresses and a dinner. Paul and I were asked to be the Masters of Ceremony for the evening. Word on the street was that they needed efficient eye candy!
Efficient on the Left, Eye candy on the Right!
Saturday we played in a frisbee hat tournament. Basically, people we play pick-up with registered, teams were made and we played 3 round robin games. It was good fun, and the lime after was even better. Trini's know how to drink, dance and have a good time.

Sunday we decided to track down hatchling turtles. So up we got at 4 am, jumped (ok, more like crawled) into the car and drove out to Blanchisseuse. We were on the trail by 5:30 and had arrived to Paria Bay by 7 am. There must have been 15 tracks left from the momma turtles, nesting the night before. We did see hatching tracks as well, but after 2 hours of waiting and watching, we decided to bail. No hatchlings for us.

Baby Tracks with Hat for perspective

Fresh Eggs with Momma Turtle Tracks behind
 
We've been asked a bunch of times if we want to go back to Canada. It's funny -
because we knew we were only going to be in Trinidad for a year, it isn't really a question of "want to". We've both loved our "edventure" a ton. We've met lots of great people, seen so many cool things and had so many great learning experiences. Of course we are sad to see this year come to an end, but we are both excited to start the next phase. Life is really what you make it, and we've made this past year "real fresh" and "real heights" as our students would say.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Visit to Chacachacare Island

Friday was Labour Day here in Trinidad. One of 3 holidays grouped closely together at this time of year. (May 30 was Indian Arrival Day and June 4 - Corpus Christi Day). For Gayle and I, this was a perfectly placed as we started exams on Wednesday and neither of us had exams on Thursday, so all the marking was done and there were no classes to plan.

A few weeks ago we'd seen that a hiking group was heading out to Chacachacare (SHA-KA-SHA-CAR-EH) island on the holiday. We'd been once before for a Hash, but we new there was a lot more exploring to be done there so we decided to go. We convinced some of the other Canadian teachers to join us as well.

This outing was slightly unusual as we were meeting close to our apartment, so we didn't have to get up a 5 am! We picked up "the girls" at 6:45 and headed to the West Moorings KFC. KFCs are popular landmark for anyone meeting or giving directions in Trinidad. Of course, since we are still Canadian at heart, we arrived before the scheduled 7 am meeting time and were not surprised that people were still arriving to register at 7:45!  We took a short drive to the launch site to meet the boat and were on route at about 8:45am (a full hour past the posted departure time!)

Most of the hikes we've been on have 20 or so people. Our usual guide is very strict about that for safety reasons. As the boats loaded, I noted that there were only 3 or 4 guides and, although it was hard to tell how many, there were a lot of people. It wasn't until we started to unload about 45 minutes later, that I saw that our group was close to 200 people.  It became very clear that our "guides" weren't going to be able to give us much of a lesson on this hike and we'd be exploring on our own.

Chacachacare has a great history and our goal was to explore this "haunted" island in greater depth.  (note:  much of the information we've found online or heard from locals is incomplete or contradictory.) Columbus discovered the island in 1498. It used as a military base by Venezuela in the early 1800's. There was a whaling station built in 1820 and a light house was erected in the 1870s. The island was home fishermen and to cotton plantations and was inhabited by 3-400 residents at the turn of the century. In 1924, the island was converted to a leper colony and nuns from France were brought in to care for the residents. The US military set up barracks and built some roads during World War II. In 1984, the leper colony was closed down and the buildings were left abandoned.

Unfortunately, Chacachacare, today,  is a real mess. It is a popular spot for visitors to spend the day or to camp and there is little or no maintenance so garbage is a big problem. The road and wooded areas near the beach and boat have bottles, Styrofoam, and bags strewn everywhere. The beach to the east side is littered with washed up plastic bottles and other garbage.

During our visit we hiked on a road up to the light house which still has cotton plants growing along the side. At the top, there were a mix of old and new structures. There were two obvious residences from different time periods, one quite recent, that have been abandoned. The diesel generator ran steadily to keep the old light house beam turning. On the way back down, we found a trail that lead to some sort of oven and another abandon concrete structure. Once back near the dock, we headed east on the trail to the old nun's residences. They are quite well persevered, but they have been vandalized. There are three buildings, some old water tanks and an outside bathroom.

Being able to explore these buildings was a neat experience and we had a great time hiking with everyone.  We finished the day with a swim on the south side of the island were there is a nice beach.

Click here to see the photos and a video.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Chasing the Hares

A couple of weeks ago I found my way to a night Monday Hash.  We usually go to the Saturday Hashes which are mostly outside of the city and give us a chance to explore the more remote areas of the country. Monday hashes are also held every 2 weeks, but they are primarily in the city.

Two weeks ago I was in the height of my preparation for Fusion and I figured that a hash would be a good opportunity for 1 last good run before the big event. I didn't know that I was in for a different kind of experience for sure.

I arrived at the bar where the run started (and finished) complete with my hashing socks pulled up and trail running shoes.  Standard attire for Saturday hashes.  As I looked around and saw a lot of familiar faces there were no long socks and everyone was wearing road runners.  We wear long socks to prevent cuts and scratches from thorns and razor grass because we are often in remote areas with no trails.  It was obvious that we weren't going to be hitting the bush at all at the Monday hash.

At about 5:25 there was a bit of a ruckus as people were cheering (and jeering) the hares who left with their grocery bags of flour.  "Cool", I thought as I realized, this was a "live" hash. The trail has not yet been set.  Off they went, with random comments following, to create the trail for us. Just five minutes later someone shouted "ON ON" and we were off to try to catch them!

As it turns out, there is a lot less planning on Monday and the "live" hash means that the hares have to act quickly.  So they're trail makers are fewer and farther between to give the group more of a challenge. The majority of the trail is on roads or sidewalks. The Monday hares are also very good at hiding flour behind trees, in ditches and around corners.

Two days was my second live Monday hash. This one was really unique as the hares names were drawn from a hat from the people that showed up. The two hares were one experienced and one inexperienced hasher.  Neither wanted to be hare because it is extra work, a lot of thinking and a serious challenge to confuse a group that is only 5 minutes behind. At one point the entire group was standing in a intersection totally confused by the seemingly dead end trail. In the end the hares had set a huge, 11 km, trail for us that took us downtown Port of Spain and finally ended in the dark.  Good fun!

Unfortunately we are down to just 3 hashes left (2 Saturday and 1 Monday) before returning to Canada.  I have signed up to be a hare for the July 4th hash near Piparo in central Trinidad. We've been out to tour the area with a bush-man so the next step is to design a trail. I will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Monkey Business

Before coming to Trinidad I scoured the Internet for sciency things I could get involved in. Much to my excitement I found the Trinidad Field Naturalists. Having attended the odd Prince Edward County Field Naturalist meeting, I was eager to join and learn about the natural history, flora and fauna of this unique island, and maybe even share a "sighting" or two of my own.

By joining the Field Naturalists organization (which by the way is well established, very active group of professional and amateur scientists), I became privy to some great opportunities, one of which Paul and I took hold of today. We went on a hunt for monkeys!

Ok, that requires a bit of clarification. A Masters student from the UK is in Trinidad doing a study on the abundance of Capuchin monkeys on the western end of the island. It turned out she was looking for volunteers to help spot monkeys by walking along 1 km long transects. Sounded easy enough. We can walk, we know what monkeys look like and we like to learn new things. Sign us up.

So our day began at 5 am so that we could meet Eliza at 5:45 in Chaguaramas. By 6:20 we were bush walking with a machete blazing a trail along the beginning of the first of 2 scheduled transects. The first transect provided a steep uphill climb, which ended about 300 m above sea level in a patch of razor grass. Razor grass does exactly what you think it does, it cuts, and painfully so. This 1 km trek took just over 2 hours to complete! The second transect traversed even ground, through bamboo, vines, tall grasses, but thankfully no razor grass. It took only 1 hour.

Setting up the GPS unit.
 
Razor Grass -- Ouch!

In the end, playing research biologist was interesting. We learned about transects, Trinidad creatures and just how elusive monkeys are. Maybe next time we'll actually see one!

Click here to see more pictures.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Fusion Adventure Race

On Saturday, June 6 I participated the Fusion Adventure Race. This is the biggest race I've heard of here and people have been talking about it and planning for months. It is a 4-person team event that organizers take about 9 months to plan. Details, including location are kept secret until a few days before the race.

Fusion is touted as a very difficult competition. The race tag line is "When you cross the finish line, you will know more about yourself". Some good athletes that we play Frisbee with have tried it and said "never again!". Leading up to the race, I ran in the Fusion Lite race (an 18 km and over a large hill). That was tough, but definitely doable. Later we did a hike 4.5 hour hike in Chaguaramas that I was told had been one leg of Fusion a couple of years ago. We were planning for 3 longer stages and one final short stage.

Our team was made up of 4 Frisbee players: Reed (who organized the team), Jamie, John and Me. Jamie, our lone female, was concerned that she'd be holding us back. Believe me, she was the only one concerned about that!
 
Jamie picked me up at 1:30 am and we arrived at the race site an hour later to set up our rest area. The first stage was to start at 4 am an teams were arriving at a steady rate. We checked our gear and warmed up.

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The start of the race. In the dark.
Just slightly after 4 am, about 110 teams (that's over 400 athletes) began stage one. We had to carry our "Fusion Friend" -- an awkward 4ft piece of 2 inch PVC filled with sand). We knew about the Fusion Friend from stores of previous races, so we brought along some straps to make carrying it easier. Leg 1 was 8km with a 590 metre ascent was dubbed the warm-up. It took us about 1:20 to complete it entirely in the dark.

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Jamie and Reed near the end of leg 2 with the "Fusion Friend"

At around 7 am we began leg 2. That saw our team split into to 2 runners and 2 cyclists. Jamie and Reed went on a 2.5 hour run with the our "friend" -- which had other "F" words added to it's name after that leg. John and I took our bikes and headed to Brasso Seco. It was an out and back route described by Fusion as: "The hardest cycle leg of Fusion to date, 2 persons from each team had to cycle from Lopinot to Brasso Seco and return via the same route back to Lopinot covering a distance of 27.5km with a total elevation of 1,753 metres". I'd walked this route before in one direction so I knew it was going to be brutal at the beginning because no one would be able to ride up the hill. It stated to pour rain at about 7:30 which made the already rough road a really slippery mess. We finished our "walk and ride" in just under 3 hours.
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After some rest and re-hydration we stated leg 3 at 12:30. This time we left the Fusion Friend at home. Jamie, unfortunately was not feeling well and by the start of the leg had me concerned that we were going to have to go without her. We started with a slow jog, but Reed started to cramp, so we had to walk the first 4 km along the road until we reached the mountain trail. We started up the mountain in a slow single file with about 30 other teams visible as the course was not suitable for bush whacking. For about 10 minutes we used roots and rocks as stairs. Jamie's condition improved greatly and Reed's cramp worked itself out. We decided to make run for it at our earliest opportunity. John was going to be challenged by the hill, so told him to grab onto some straps I had put on my back pack and up we went. We passed at least 20 teams, but probably a lot more.

There was a very steep and technical descent back to the road. We completed the descent very quickly as John loves to go down hill. We had a hard time keeping up to him. Once we reached the road, we thought, "cool, only about 3k and we are back". OOPS. We rounded a corner and the race marshals sent us up a second hill. Not quite as steep, but higher!
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Here Fusion's description: "Leg 3 aka the "Camel Back" was a technical course that tested teams ability in ascending and descending. The first "camel hump" was a 506 metre (1,653 feet) ascent and a very daring descent. Teams then went onto the road where most would have thought that it was the end of hills... but it wasn't... Teams then had to ascend the second camel back which was taller at 552 metres (1,809 feet) but wasn't as agressive as the first, however, the descent was also as technical as the first downhill."

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John, near the end of Leg 3.
By the time we reached the top, John and Reed were struggling. We weren't able to descent nearly as quickly. After a short run on the road, we finished the stage by crawling in the sand under a 30 meter cargo net. The whole thing took just under 3 hours.

At about 5pm the race organizer announced that they would cancel the 4th stage due to time constraints. It was to be only a 4km loop, but most of the teams were not sad to hear this news. Jamie and I could have gone for another 4km, but I think we'd have had trouble trying to get John to put his shoes on!

All in all, it was a great day and I had a lot of fun with my team. Special thanks to Todd (Jamie's husband) who came later in the afternoon with his barbeque!!!

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Near the end of stage 3. Every part of me is wet!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Why I love teaching Science...

It looks as though I've been neglecting my blogging duties as of late. Not that this is a competition, but I can't let Paul log more blogs on our Trini homestretch. So here goes.

It's Monday night of our last full week of classes. I've recently had two really great experiences that once again confirmed my love of teaching, and in particular, teaching science. Last Friday, I decided to let my Chemistry boys loose on a gas lab. Perhaps not what you think. They were given the challenge to design a lab with the given materials to determine what kind of relationship exists between pressure and volume. I know - super cool, right? Well, they ate it up. They were problem solving solutions to design issues and equipment failures. They were making connections and thinking like scientists. It was very refreshing!

A few weeks ago while learning about light one of my grade 10 boys asked if we could make glow sticks. Well, today was the day to try it out. Rather than just make glow sticks (how easy is that), I decided to turn the activity into an experiment. In researching how to make glow sticks, I discovered hydrogen peroxide is a main ingredient needed to get luminol to fluoresce. It just so happens that you can buy 3%, 6% and 9% peroxide in pharmacies here in Trinidad. Not sure why you'd need 9% H2O2 to clean a cut, but that is for another blog. Back to the experiment. My students, donned in lab coats, goggles and gloves, went to work making their solutions. And then came the moment of truth - mixing of the solutions to see which would glow the brightest.

Disclaimer: As a teacher and often more specifically as a science teacher, lessons and science don't always "work".

When the solutions were mixed, the resulting solution was, as Karishma called it, "pee" yellow. No glow, no nothing, and no difference between the 3%, 6%, 9% peroxides. And then Marc and Jorge called me over and talked about a purply-blue colour, and with the skeptical look on my face proceeded to show me the video they had taken. Indeed the reaction was initially fluorescing. Too bad we decided at the end of the lab to turn the lights off so we could see it!!!

Although some may think of this as a failed experiment, I see all of the great learning that happened. Again, problems were solved, key observations were made and new questions were asked. And that is why I truly love teaching science.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Discoveries from the Science Classroom

When you were in school, did your science teacher put a note on the board, which you then copied down? And then were you expected to learn and understand the information, and write a test about it?

Over the years teaching has been evolving from this teacher centered approach to a student centered model. And I love it. So on Friday, rather than "teach" my grade 10 students the law of reflection, I told them they were applying for a job at "Mirrors R Us". Of course they would need to know how plane mirrors are made and be able to demonstrate how they work (insert law of reflection here). Let me tell you, they ate it up. Kids were reading, asking Siri, playing with ray boxes and mirrors, drawing diagrams, and asking each other questions to help prepare themselves for their mock job interview. 

It was an authentic task that gave meaning to mirrors, and allowed each student to build their own understanding by maximizing their learning style. During the job interview, terms were used, diagrams were explained and feedback was given both on the science and interview skills noted. And oh, did I mention it was a fun way to learn about the law of reflection?

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Learning to Juggle

Early in the semester, Marie, the guidance counselor recounted to me that one of her former colleagues had used juggling to help the students develop a good understanding of the concept of motor learning.

"Cool", I thought. I am going to make this happen.

Here is a video of the story.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Area of A Basketball Court

One of my classes this semester is Exercise Science. It's a grade 12 University level course that has 14 of our top students. Many have their acceptances in-hand and some will be pursuing health related post-secondary studies in Canada or the US.

I've really enjoyed this class because it has taken me back, in a new-fashioned way, to my teaching-roots. Yes, it's true, some time ago I wanted to be a Physical Education teacher and I graduated with a degree in that very same field. (Many of you just said, "WHAT?")...Pause...Teaching computer science was my (very successful) back up plan.

It's been a long semester and this is a very heavy course with so much content that is new for my students. We've worked hard to learn about anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. As you can imagine at this time of year, the students are tired and keeping them engaged in new material is tough! 

Our current topic is "Human Growth and Development". Wednesday we were looking at Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development.  I'd like to say they were absorbing this riveting material but by the fourth stage you might be yawning too: "Formal Operational Stage ... children demonstrate intelligence through their ability to solve increasingly complicated abstract problems using logic, and by understanding how to use symbols related to abstract concepts."

I had lost at least one to slumber and two more were looking ready to nod off.  It was time to make this a little more real.

I didn't have to look to hard to find a real story that had "abstract problems", "logic" and "symbols" -- I teach math, after all.

I started to talk about the difference between real-life problems and math textbook problems. They gave the usual puzzled, "who is this guy?" look.  Then I gave a problem from our grade 10 text -- "If the area of a tennis court is represented by the equation A = x2 + 9x + 8, what are the lengths of the two sides?"

Instantly, one my grade 12's blurted, "That's real basic, sir". Everyone in the room knew how to solve this problem -- but they missed the point (ah, the curse of knowledge...). Becoming slightly animated and narrowly focusing on "real-life problems" vs "abstract problems" I said, "Ok, three things: First, in real-life, you are never going to need to find the area of a tennis court. Second, in real-life, a quadratic equation will never be used to represent area and third, in real-life, you will never measure a rectangle's length with a binomial."  This is why grade 10 students fit nicely into Piaget's stage 4 and why grade 12 students do not.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

It All Happened So Quickly

It's Sunday and we embarked early for our routine of biking and skating on the closed Diego Martin highway. There was a kids triathlon event planned for 7am so we'd have to get our workout done by then.

We completed our usual 10 laps of the 2km stretch of road, said good morning to some friends whose kid was competing, got bananas at the fruit stand and headed for home on our bikes. A pretty normal routine for us.

On the 3km trip back there is a major intersection that is well controlled with traffic lights. It was just opened in August and can be dangerous because of visibility issues and speeds.  We are always very cautious when we approach as we have to make a right hand turn (that's like a left for most of you). 

We are well aware of the pattern of the change of lights as we pass through here on our route to work daily. The right turn arrow had just changed to red when we arrived, so we knew that we'd be waiting a full cycle of about 4 minutes until we could go.  After the traffic from the west goes, the north and south traffic have greens for about 2 and a half minutes.  During their green, one of the lanes heading north, towards us did not move as expected.  A car was stopped at the front with a line up behind it.

This was very unusual. What is equally unusual is that there were only one or two honks. Trinis will usually honk within one second of a light turning green if you are not moving.  I am not exaggerating at all. We've become used to it, it is so common.

To complicate things even further, there were two police men on motor cycles with their blue lights flashing at the intersection approaching from the west. Police will often drive with their lights flashing for no reason.  Yep, not kidding.  If there are sirens you have to move over, but you can ignore the lights.  I think they just want to be more visible.

So, back to the main story. We are approaching from the north in the right turn lane. Police are to our right, the lane of traffic is not moving coming from the south on the other side.  After some time, I noted to Gayle that it had been at least 45 seconds and the car was not moving.  Cars from behind started to move into the other lane to go around, but no one seemed to pay any attention to the stopped vehicle.

Becoming increasingly concerned, Gayle said, "I wonder if they are all right?" We hadn't seen any movement from the driver so we said we'd better check on her (it looked like the driver might have been female).  As soon as the light changed, we darted across to find a man slumped over behind the wheel.  While still on my bike I approached the passenger window and tried to get a response from the driver with a loud yell, hoping he had just nodded off.  Nothing...

I quickly parked my bike against the railing and ran around to the driver's side. On the way, I flagged the waiting police to come over. I reached the right side of the car and my first aid training kicked in -- "hey are you ok!." I yelled loudly and tapped the driver on the shoulder.

He looked up, rather dozily, and reached his hand up for a fist-bump. PHEW!  He was ok. I was not going to have to use any CPR skills today! By the look of his eyes, he had either been awake for several days or had been imbibing rather heavily. It wasn't until then that I noticed he had a friend with him who was sleeping in the fully reclined passenger seat!

Within seconds the police arrived, parked their motorcycles and were at the car. The driver, instinctively reached for his seat belt as he saw the officers. "...PUT DE CAR IN PARK..." I suddenly realized that this fellow was probably going to get into some serious trouble and didn't waste any time moving back to the other side of the car to collect my bike and Gayle. "Let's get out of here....hopefully he won't recognize us..." As we rode away, I confirmed that we both had kept our sunglasses on during the transaction.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Three Corners of the Country

It's official. We have now visited three corners of Trinidad. Our latest triumph occurred yesterday as we joined yet another "Emile hike" and ventured to the south western most tip of the country. This journey entailed a 2.5 hour maxi ride, a 4.5 hour hike, and of course...wet shoes. It wouldn't be a hike in Trinidad without wet shoes.

We were fortunate to stop off at a mud volcano, something we had both been hoping to see during our time here. Rather than being a hot, sulfur spewing, mud laden site, the mud volcano we saw was a "cold" one. We believe that the fine silty mud bubbles from the Earth due to underground water springs. They say the mud from these sites rejuvenates skin so let me know how much you want and I'll ship it to you.

During our 4.5 hour hike, we walked through the most beautiful coconut plantation. Stretching some 20 kilometers along the coast, thousands of trees are still producing the ever so versatile coconut. Did you know that a coconut, when green, is harvested for coconut water. When brown, the coconut is harvested for the white coconut we use in baking. And once a coconut begins to grow a new plant, the inside can be harvested and coconut "bread" can be eaten. (It was quite yummy!) Also, coconut husk is used as a fuel and in plant baskets.

Check out the photos and the interactive map from our Saturday adventure.


Friday, 15 May 2015

I Can't See Clearly Now That The Rain Is Gone

Soon, I mean within hours, after our arrival we learned about the rainy season.  Rain came every day, and lots of it. Our first hike was in Chaguaramas, and we got dumped on.  For the first three months we were here it rained every single time we went out there. It is just a 15 minute drive away, two valleys over.

We didn't let the rain slow us down. The air is always warm, so we didn't need to get out of the rain (as is our normal Canadian response). Gayle wore a rain coat once. She sweated so much, she took it off. Being wet from the rain was a better plan.

Rain brought its challenges on the Frisbee pitch because the King George park doesn't drain well and grass cutting on the Savannah is a rare occurrence.  I routinely dove for discs and made some spectacular catches and some impressive water and mud slides! Playing in foot tall grass on the Savannah was fun, too.

Trinidad has only two seasons, although, they are loosely defined depending on your information source.  Generally everyone agrees that January - June are dry and July - December are wet.  Or so...  Depending on the year...

Our experience is not quite that simple. We had rain through March and even a little in April. Not nearly as much as October, and November produced much less rain that we'd anticipated. Now it's May and we are in the middle of the dry season. Any rain that does come is an event and even causes people to talk about the weather.

The early part of the dry season brings some loss of leaves and some beautiful flowers to the trees. Now we are seeing what were lush green mountainsides turn varying shades of brown. The forest trials look and sound like autumn because of the fallen leaves an branches.

Rivers are running well below capacity. Low water levels in the reservoirs has led officials to rotating water outages. We are down to 22 hours a day of water flowing in the mains. Most of us have water tanks (the school has 4, 1000 gallon beasts) so we don't notice any difference.

We do, however, notice the abundance of fires and the smoke that they cause. Fires are burning every day now. Some are full on forest fires, others are just grass or fallen leaves. Most are in the mountains, but we've seen a few burning ditches along the sides of the road. We even hashed our way through two recent burns last weekend. The smoke is so thick some days that it comes inside our apartment.  Oh yes, and there is the obvious continuous haze over the city and my burning eyes.

Since moving here, we have observed that we, Canadians, are very in-tune with the weather and our environment. Trinis, however, rarely if ever talk about changes in weather. The rain, fires and smoke, while inconvenient are part of life and don't seem to upset anyone too much. Once in a while I hear or see a fire truck. That makes me feel a little better.  I hope the water at the station was running before they left.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Alright, Okay, Stag is a Man's Beer...and other local lessons



Hello!  I'm another guest blogger; a friend of Gayle & Paul's named Kristin.  I'm originally from Belleville, but have been living and working in Alberta since 2008.  After a few years of pushing myself to be better, stronger, and smarter (at work and at play), I realized that I have joined the throngs of Canadians on the proverbial 'treadmill' I had sworn I would never get caught up on.  To quote the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", a book that I brought to help me reach the mind state that I was looking for:

“Is it hard?'
Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes that's hard.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

So, when I was deciding to fly south, I realized that I could probably learn quite a bit from immersing myself in the Trinidad Culture. And it was my goal to have the right attitude and learn as much as I could from the people here.

“(What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness). Familiarity can blind you too.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

As a student on a quest, my eyes were open to learning about three main aspects of Trinidadian life: the food, the language, and the Trini attitude.

First the food - it's fresh (especially the street foods!), it's delicious, it's often fried, and it is a great way to get to know all the cultures in Trinidad and Tobago.  There are Indian, creole, Chinese, , American, British, South American and other cultural influences.  I was told I had to try the curried goat when I came, so I had Goat Roti - delicious.  The Doubles are an experience not to be missed, as well as the Shark & Bake, Sunday Lunch, callaloo ice cream.  I didn't get a chance to try corn soup, or oxtail soup, or the crab & dumplings (there's only so much food you can pack in during a visit!).  But the food was spectacular.  Interestingly, the citrus fruit was out-of-season, and the oranges were kind of green and unappetizing looking, as well as full of big seeds, but if you take the time to peel and sort out the seeds, the flesh was light and refreshing tasting.  And it was lovely to see mango trees, laden with fruit, bananas and coconuts everywhere we went.  The one exception is the coffee - I was shocked to learn that most coffee here is instant, and the real coffee is not very good...except at the Asa Wright Centre where they grow and roast their own coffee beans - I savoured every drop.

Secondly, the language.  There's so much to say about the Trini language.  When I first arrived, Paul drew me a map so that I could walk to the nearest mall and do some low-key exploring while he and Gayle were at work.  And standing in line for some food, I could not understand what the people in front of me were saying - but it turned out that they were actually speaking English!  English, overflowing with local slang, local grammar, and with a heavy island accent.  So everywhere I went, I made a concerted effort to try and keep up with and understand the words flowing from the mouths of Trinidadians.  I was not wholly successful, but in this attempt, I did learn some of the local sayings used regularly here.  I'll try to list a few off for you (insert your own lilting tones, and remember that most T's and TH's are pronounced "D"):

Okay, Alright! (heavy emphasis on the 2nd syllable) - Used to reassure others in tight/sticky situations like traffic

Really plenty (the Really is pronounced "rail-ly") - alot

You godda beat de iron while it's hot - I heard someone in the grocery store say this today because you can never count on an item being there, so you have to buy it when you see it

I dey - I'm fine

We bussin’ a lime dis Friday – We’re going to chill this Friday

Wha yuh for? - What do you want to do?

She’s a bess ting – She’s hot

She vex - She's angry, annoyed

When you reach? - When will you get there? 

Although it seems the language has evolved almost entirely around slang here, I found that if you took the time to talk to someone, and asked them questions, they were very quick to smile, kind, helpful, and willing to share their stories.  While trying my best to hail a Maxi (a taxi van/bus) so that I could take the ferry over to Tobago, I was having no success.  So I asked a lady (who was standing on the median in the middle of the highway) if she could give me some pointers on how to get a Maxi to stop.  She took me under her wing, showed me some of the hand signals I needed to know, and when she asked where I was from and learned that I am Canadian, shared with me that she'd had an exciting romance with a Canadian man in her youth (I'm leaving out quite a few details here...let's just say that Canadians have good 'moves').  

And this leads me to the Trini attitude.  I would like to find a way to go back in Canada while still preserving some of the lifestyle that I learned to adapt to while in Trinidad and Tobago but I'm not sure this would be possible.  It's slow here (almost everything is hand-written, including hospital records and licensing offices which have not gone digital yet).  There's absolutely no expectation to move fast - restaurant servers sit and play on their phones or finish chewing their nails before standing and walking as slow as possible over to your table.  The Trini people are incredibly social - and yet their customer service is very apathetic.  Because of the high crime rate, which is concentrated mostly in Port of Spain, every single service desk, kiosk or sales counter in Trinidad has bars, or a plexi-glass window with a speakerbox or hole to talk through, making it difficult to see or communicate with the person on the other side (nevermind their accent!).  Interestingly, there seem to be almost no racial tensions whatsoever; people here are very blunt and practical about skin colour and ethnicity. The differences between the sexes is also quite embedded in mainstream media and marketing messages...for example, "Stag is a Man's Beer" is the actual slogan of this popular beer.  Trini's are very proud of their island (boasting regularly of it's beauty), and yet they are impatient with their government and government agencies (there's quite a bit of corruption).  When I took the ferry over to Tobago, there was a man ranting because "they" had decided to cancel the 10am and 5pm sailings, so the one and only ferry we could take that day (since I had missed the 6am ferry due to my poor Maxi hailing abilities) was at 1:30pm.  "Put your buts in dem seats, and just be waitin' until we ready" he raved. "Only in Trinidad!"  This is a common phrase to hear here.

Some of my unique experiences included joining Gayle's Grade 12 Health Sciences class on a trip to the Port of Spain Hospital where we saw some very old facilities and practices, as well as some pretty new equipment.  The handling of bio-hazardous waste seemed to be lacking in protocol and procedure, and looking up at the hospital rooms was reminiscent of looking at low-income housing apartment buildings, with an array of curtains and fabrics hanging out the windows.  And while waiting in the main lobby, a man in shackles was walked past us into a waiting room...

I had a very fast (white knuckle) driving tour of southern Tobago (due to the fact that the ferry had, again, cancelled their later sailings, so my island tour was cut short).  I learned about the tradition of giving goats or pigs to a newly married couple, and that Tobago had changed ruling power 31 times - more than any other island in the West Indies!  This is Simon, my tour guide/driver:

Then we went to the Asa Wright Centre where we saw many types of hummingbirds, the manakins (birds) that have the most amazing courting dance that they perform in their lek (the 'meat market' for adult birds only).  This was also where I saw my first agouti - a hare-sized rodent that hasn't really got much of a tail, walks on all 4 feet, and likes to eat fruits and veggies.  We went straight from Asa Wright (a place I'd like to go back to someday) and on to Matura to see the turtles coming ashore at night to lay their eggs.  This was...AMAZING.  Our guide was pretty relaxed and allowed flash photos to be taken while she was laying her eggs, and then allowed us to touch her!  This was a truly jaw-dropping experience.

Finally, my trip was finished off with a terrific tour of the Nariva Mangrove and Bush Bush island where we saw puffer fish right at the boat launch, thousands of crabs running around the roots and mudflats of the mangroves, a rare kingfisher, herons, parrots, and last, but certainly not least, a red howler monkey and a tribe of capuchins.  They were absolutely captivating!

And so my brief journey is coming to an end.  Or as the Trini's would say..."I reach." I hope to retain the warm, captivating, slow vibes that the Trini's have shown me during my stay.  I am so thankful to Paul and Gayle for having me stay with them, and for having shown me how to navigate the culture; warning me about the do's and don'ts while in Trinidad.

“Sometimes it's a little better to travel than to arrive” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values



Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff

One of the things I love most about teaching is that every day is different and that there are often big challenges to work through or problems to solve.

Insert grade 11 university level chemistry here.

I am currently teaching a group of 14 students, 13 boys and 1 girl. Out of the 13 boys in the room, 7 most definitely struggle to pay attention for more than 3 minutes at a time. No problem - my style of hands on learning suits this group quite well. The more exciting of the challenges with this group is my Asperger’s student Demetri.

I have taught a few with Asperger’s before, but seeing as no 2 Aspies are the same, Demetri presents some unique learning opportunities for me. 

You see, Demetri is not only Asperger’s, but a perfectionist as well. He struggles to put pen to paper because it won’t be perfect. To ease this struggle and help access Demetri's learning I often dedicate my prep period to chatting with Demetri and testing him orally. We've built a pretty good rapport over the semester, but he'd still rather tell me about things unrelated to chemistry. Go figure! In theory the oral testing should work well, but Demetri lacks confidence in his academic abilities and therefore whispers his responses.

Most recently we’ve moved into learning and solving chemistry problems with math. I was hopeful that Demetri would take to this like white on rice as it is concrete, logical and defined. Much to my chagrin math isn't his thing. In fact, when I asked him if he likes math, Demetri replied very matter of fact, "Well Miss, it is a means to an end." 

Daily I question the best way to help Demetri learn (chemistry) and build life long skills. From all of this I've really had to modify my rigid expectations of evaluation for students. Demetri knows a lot and accessing it requires some creative solutions. Please - if you have any suggestions, fire me an email. I'd love to try it. 

Chemistry aside, Demetri is into chess (he is trying to teach me at lunch), Harry Potter and acting. Again, go figure. Last week Tuesday was "Twin Tuesday". I didn't think twice about it, as I was coming off of "Mismatch Monday" and looking ahead to Western Wednesday. So I donned my smashingly good looking skirt and shirt as per usual. Upon arrival at school, I was photocopying something in the library and along came Demetri. He asked me, "Miss, do you think it is ok for a student and teacher to be twins?" I thought it would fine and told him as much. Then he said, "What Harry Potter house do you belong to?" A bit off guard, I wracked my brain for any house name (it's been a while since I've read the books) and replied, "I know I'm not Slitherine." This bought me enough time to come up with Hufflepuff. Well, his eyes lit up and Demetri said, "I have a Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw gown in my locker."I saw where this was going. So I asked him if he was asking me to be his twin and before he could reply I told him I'd love to be his twin. Together we rocked the robes, and I taught in it all day!

Needless to say, we were definitely the COOLEST twins at Maple Leaf. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Blindly Avoiding the "X"

Every two weeks or so we try to attend the Saturday Hash that is hosted by the Port of Spain Hash House Harriers.  You've likely read about our hashing adventures.

Hashing is a game, not a race.  There are no winners or losers. Everyone has a different experience and every hash is different.  As we run, we follow blobs of shredded paper that mark the trail while yelling "ON, ON" to tell others which way to go. The "problem" is that not all trails are correct so at times the trail is more like a maze, complete with dead ends.

I like hashing because of the challenge of finding the correct trail. All trails look the same, so you don't know you're wrong until you find an "X".  Whether the trail is correct or not, IT FEELS EXACLTLY the same -- it feels like SUCCESS, it's that same feeling when you "know" you are RIGHT.

When you find the "X" there is a brief moment of frustration and disappointment, but that is quickly overcome by an overwhelming need to back-track and catch up to the people who have found the correct trail. The FEELING OF FAILURE lasts a very short period of time.

As a new math teacher, I learned quickly that my grade 10 students hate the feeling of failure. They have translated that "HATE" feeling into hating math.  Everyday I remind them that mistakes are good because we can learn from them. Yet, I have continued to assign work and to give tests in a way that reminds them what it FEELS LIKE TO FAIL.

A good example was Wednesday. I was away and left a test. The students had done very well on their review activities and I thought we had corrected their misunderstandings. They were ready.

You know where this is going right?... Yepper. Bomb-a-rama.  I looked at the results and saw blank pages and confused answers. I was not greeted by many happy students on Thursday (even before they saw their results).

I listened very carefully as I took up the test because I needed to find out what I had done wrong.  The answer was reveal on the second question "State the slope and coordinates of the y-intercept for each of the following:..."  CRAP.  "coordinates". We didn't talk much about the coordinates of the y-intercept -- they all knew that the "y-intercept was the 'b' or the initial value but the coordinates....  BOOM -- That FEELING OF FAILURE had taken over on the second question and most were unable to recover from it. The bigger problem is that that feeling lasted for the rest of the day, over night and beyond.

What a different experience they would have had if I had left out the offending word, more importantly, if I had been there to PUT THEM ON THE RIGHT TRAIL.

What they really need is a MATH CLASS HASH.  One question a time -- THE FEELING OF SUCCESS. INSTANT feedback when they are wrong. ENCOURAGEMENT to go back and find the right way.

Friday's class featured a "Performance Task" (which sounds much more professional that a Math Class Hash). Students were given one "challenge" at a time. When they were done successfully, they moved on to the next.  If the made a mistake, they had to go back a try again. While, it wasn't perfect -- the shift happened -- the FEELING OF SUCCESS was everywhere. They even started to help each other.

I don't really know where this will lead, but I think I have found the right trail...ON ON!

PS -- Thanks to Laura Woodall, who, in a very short conversation, helped me understand the concept of what it FEELS like to be successful.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Superthon 2015

You've heard of a marathon, right? In case you can't remember the exact distance of a marathon, it is 26 miles (41.8 km for those metric kids in the crowd). Well, yesterday we participated in our hiking guide Emile's first every SUPERTHON, a 31 mile (49.9 km) trek from Matelot to Lopino. Emile hand picked only the strongest, the toughest hikers he could find. And because there weren't too many of those around, he allowed us to join the fun!

The day went like this:
- Up at 1 am
- Arrived to the bus pick up at 1:45 am
- Attempted to sleep on the 3+ hour drive to start point (very ineffective)
- Started hiking at 6 am, with a gentle rain and uphill terrain, and slippery trail conditions
- First stop, Madamas beach, 9 am and 3 hours into the hike
- Second major stop for "lunch", 12 noon, Paria Bay
- Third major stop, 2:30 pm at Brasso Seco, for great eats (rice, potatoes, dhalaloo, chicken, salad and juice)
- Fourth major stop, and the FINISH, at 7 pm at Lopino
- Fish broth soup, a medal and the sweet sense of having accomplished something REALLY physical and mentally tough
Gayle looks on as Emile gives instructions at 5:55 am to the sleepy hikers!
On the way, it was cool to realize that there was no way, other than by trekking or boat, to get to these remote places.  We could see fresh turtle tracks and some fresh egg shells that had either hatched or been dug up by predators.

Why did we CHOOSE to do this? As you can well imagine, I questioned this during the 13 hour trek. It wasn't about the views, or the yummy snacks along the way, it was about the challenge and pushing my limits to see if I could do it. Life really begins when you are on the edge of your comfort zone, right?

PS - There wasn't really an option not to finish. Most of the trek was only accessible on foot or by boat. It was only after Brasso Seco and the 25 mile mark that you could have opted for the bus to take you to the finish. But then there wouldn't have been a medal! Note: All 16 participants that started the hike finished, one solely due to Paul's heroics. But that is another story.
The end of the hike with our Medals!
Unfortunately, due to a technology fail, the camera was not charged so there is no gallery to share.
You can see the details with our Interactive Map.

A look at one of the many north coast beaches we explored on our hike.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

St. Vincent Part 3 - Authentic St. Vincent


As teachers, we are always trying to provide authentic and relevant learning opportunities to our students. Well, given those two criteria, our ride back into Kingstown from Chateaubelair was truly a great learning experience!

On our last day in St. Vincent at 8:45 am we reached Chateaubelair on foot, optimistic that we'd catch a minibus within 30 minutes, and fit in our 3 planned stops (the Vermont hiking trail, the St. Vincent Botanical Gardens, and the Fort Charlotte tour) before flying back to Trinidad at 6:45 pm. Right, we were overly optimistic and failed to realize that things aren't as orderly or reliable in St. Vincent as they are in Canada.

By 9:45 one full mini bus had arrived and departed. By 10:15 two pot smoking guys assured us another would be along shortly. By 10:45 we had befriended a young woman who said "Big Mac" was on his way in his minibus and she had asked him to save her 3 seats. By 11:30 three more full minibuses had come and gone and one pot smoker was still there assuring us once again that he would flag a taxi or minibus for us when they came along. At 11:45 Big Mac barreled into town, and somehow we crawled into the back seat of the van where we settled in between two others for our ride back to Kingstown.

Combine loud music, hot and sweaty conditions, a stop to put more oil in the engine, smoking brakes, 23 passengers plus a baby, narrow windy roads and fear the back door would unlatch and throw us on the road to our deaths, it was perhaps the most memorable ride yet. And it only cost $3 Canadian!!!

We did manage to tour the botanical gardens, and the downtown market area before catching our flight back to Trinidad. One out of three isn't bad!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A New House

Early in the new year we started into the availability of houses in Belleville and Prince Edward County. We have always resisted the idea of living in the city, however, our time in Trinidad has found us living the suburbs in an apartment!  We like the idea of living rural, but we've realized that there is much more to taking care of a home in the country.

The MLS website is very helpful and we watched some desirable properties came and went.  In the middle of March, we found what looked like a good house and contacted our agent. She, took a look for us, and gave us a very wise "slow down". 

I booked a trip for the Easter weekend to come to visit Abby and to have a look at some houses. After dinner with Abby and her new boyfriend I arrived at the Furmidge residence on Friday evening. Before I left, we'd researched online and had interest in 7 homes in and around Belleville. Rob and I toured with the agent for a good part of Saturday.

We saw old, new, big, small, finished, fix-'er-uppers (we scared off some potential buyers at one house when we measured a ceiling beam to see if it was warped!) and one that we really liked near Moira.

After a thorough home inspection on Monday, we started the purchasing process, and by noon on Tuesday, we had a deal.  We are moving into 29 Munro Avenue on July 10th. It's a nice 2 bedroom bungalow with a finished basement. 

Click here to have a look.

Special thanks to Rob and our agents, Colleen and Marc who helped make this happen. And to the Furmidge and Palmer/McCarrell families who hosted me!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

St.Vincent Part 2 - On the Edge

We knew very little about St. Vincent before our Easter getaway, but learned much during our 5 days there.

In researching things to do in St. Vincent, hiking to La Soufriere Volcano was put on the top of the list. And it didn't disappoint. On Monday morning, right after our 7am breakfast, off we trekked with our guide Franklin, in hopes of clear skies and a decent down into the crater of the volcano.

The beginning of the hike was easy, as we strolled along the beach and then up an old river/lava flow valley. The next leg of the journey took us up the mountain, along various NARROW ridges and through NUMEROUS ganga farms. I'm finding it funny that spell checker is highlighting ganga, when it is SO common in St. Vincent. It was crazy to see so many pot farms tucked deep in to the sides of mountains, but then I guess who is going to go up there and bust them?

After 2.5 hours of hiking uphill (you can't imagine the size of my legs now :) - and for those who have seen us both in shorts you should figure out this is Gayle typing, we finally reached the summit and one of the coolest views we've both ever seen. We were looking into the mouth of a volcano. And it gets better - the volcano erupted in 1979!!!  So what do you do when you are at the top of the crater of a volcano? You climb in, of course.

So down we went, using ropes to sturdy our steep decent. The coolest (or warmest if you want to be literal) part of the crater was a fuming, stinking and sulfur spewing mound of greyish yellow coloured rock. Did I mention it reeked like sulfury rotten eggs??? Needless to say we didn't hang around there too long.

The walk back to the academy was quick, and Franklin's 316th trip to the volcano was in the record book with two Canadians.



Wednesday, 8 April 2015

St. Vincent Part 1

This post is a combination of two posts written independently (and miles apart) over Easter. Can you tell who wrote what?

With two weeks off at Easter, we were looking for somewhere new to explore. It had to be fairly close by, not too expensive and something we'd enjoy. When we booked our Christmas break trip to St Lucia we'd learned that Liat airlines offers a very cheap rate for early booking. At that time we knew that we had a 2 week Easter break and that we'd need to "renew" our driving permits at the beginning of April. (We've managed to work the system by leaving the country every 90 days to avoid the hassle of getting a licence). St. Vincent won out, and after our 5 day visit, it certainly didn't disappoint. I dare say it was a vacation made for Paul and Gayle!

We began our research to find a place to stay and things to do.  We found the Richmond Vale hiking center. This place hosts a climate change and international aid school called the Richmond Vale Academy. It seemed like a perfect fit for us!

Our trip started with a 6 am early flight from Trinidad to Kingstown, St. Vincent. Why waste the day, right? After landing around 7 am, 5 minutes in a taxi and we were waiting for a bus with about 25 locals at the leeward terminal. We felt significantly out of place with our large backpacks as we examined the crowd to determine who to ask about which bus traveled to Chateaubelair.  After about 25 minutes, a flurry of activity started as minivans of different colours sped into the lot one after another honking loudly. Each had a conductor who slid open the door and yelled the destination. As the busses stopped passengers got off and paid. While we knew where we were going, we had difficulty understanding the local dialect and asked a young man which bus to take.
We checked in with a driver and loaded our stuff.  In another 15 minutes,the bus was full enough to leave.  

We listened to the locals chatting, laughing and joking and quickly realized that there were similarities with the trinny slang, but we were going to struggle to understand for sure!

Soon we were en route (along a VERY windy road) in a lively minibus to Chateaubelair , a small fishing village on the leeward side of St. Vincent. After an hour and 15 minutes of windy mountain road we arrived at the end of the route.  Almost everyone got off the bus at an small "store" in a little fishing village on the west coast. We we relieved to be able to stretch our legs!  There were a few locals on the streets who pointed us in the direction of Richmond Vale. I guess we were not the first white people with backpacks who got off a minibus...

During our 40 minute walk to the Richmond Vale Academy (our digs for the next 4 days), we met two Vinny farmers. The first, in rubber boots who was carrying a machete was heading in our direction and he said he'd walk with us.  Honestly, we were both a little nervous as we were expecting to be asked for a guiding fee for his help. However our fears were proven wrong.

As Casper walked with us, he pointed out local trees and plants and told us some of the history of the area. We soon caught up to his farming partner, Charlie, who, it turns out has grown children living in Canada. They took us "the back way" to see the plantains they would be harvesting later that day. On the way, we saw the remains of a long defunct Arrowroot mill. They took us under their wings, answering our questions, showing us roadside plants and then giving us a tour of their vegetable farm, as well as inviting us back on Wednesday to help them plant sweet potatoes, by hand, on the steep side of a terraced mountain.  After about 40 minutes of walking, our farmer guides bid us farewell and invited us back on Wednesday to see them breaking new ground. Too bad we wouldn't be able to make it!


We felt very safe and welcome in St. Vincent as we trekked the last 500 m to our destination. 

Fast forward a bit to the highlights of our stay at the Richmond Vale Academy, a center/school that runs educational programs about climate change. It was a super cool experience to be surrounded by people with such strong beliefs about the environment who are committed to living lightly on our Earth. We were able to converse with people from around the world and hear their stories and ideas about sustainable living, while at the same time living lightly as well. Breakfast, lunch and dinner mainly consisted of local, organic foods that were yummy and healthy. We feasted on an invasive species called lion fish for supper one night, caught by local spear fishing. We also got to pick and eat fresh fruit from the fruit garden.

A highlight for me, aside from the fresh guava, papaya, star fruit and applepears, was reconnecting to ideals that are important for me. I really do believe in living lightly and taking action to reduce my impact on the Earth. After 8 months in Trinidad somehow I've managed to put these things on the back burner. It was refreshing and inspirational to see and hear how 2 people have encouraged and motivated numerous others to take action.