Making inside of yourself a safe place to be

As I embark soon on a new adventure to a new place, one which is very likely to be less comfortable and entertaining from a Western perspective than my previous home base, I feel completely at peace with my decision. Driving around Calgary yesterday morning I imagined chatting with a local teenager about my choice and explaining to them the amenities that I will soon be without as I settle into typical town life in a West African country. There will be no shopping malls, no cinema, very little diversity in restaurant food and certainly no luxuries such as Apple Stores and Cirque du Soleil. I’m visualizing instead sunlight, warmth, a simple home with a simple office and some dusty roads to get from one to the other*. These images brings ease to my heart. I could imagine however that it would make my hypothetical teenager cringe in distaste. She would then turn to me, bewildered, asking “How the hell are you going to survive out there ?!?” wondering why on Earth I would choose to move to a place like this, and do it willingly.

When I think of the many forms of entertainment and distractions that my Canadian reality currently offers me, I consider why they exist in the first place. For some reason, ever since I’ve arrived back here from Africa earlier this summer, the topic of mental health here in Canada has often been on my mind and shared in discussions. I am told that after an economic downturn when Calgarians were earning the big bucks working for oil & gas firms there has been a slump, many lay-offs and consequently many people moving from a place of personal financial power to what can be seen as a fall in the ranks. They are dealing with life’s ups and downs, as we all do, and some are letting go of how things used to be with less grace than others. Depression and its extreme cousin, suicide, have already been present for a long time, and now, or so I am told, they are finding a stronger foothold. Calgary has been an economic powerhouse for many Canadians (and many immigrants) and has drawn people from outside of the province for a long time. Migration for the chance of better economic conditions happens all the time and everywhere, and it can also bring with it a lacking sense of community and belonging. If so many of us are from somewhere else and we have all essentially gathered here in the pursuit of the dollar, does this common purpose actually bring us together in any real, community-building way?

Human beings desire meaningful and lasting relationships with other human beings. No amount of facebooks, instagrams or facetimes can ever substitute our basic human needs as the social creatures that we are. If you think they can then I think that you are kidding yourself. Yes the online tools can be useful in so far as we can share basic communication and ideas with those who are far away, and with those who are nearby, at least in my humble opinion, they can serve to plan an actual face to face meeting.

Art, literature, entertainment, great food and beautiful shows can add richness and beauty to our lives, yet whether or not they can be a part of our long-term happiness depends on why we reach for them in the first place. Our own emotions and experiences of life can feel so overwhelming at times that all we want to do is to escape, and for that, I am unhappy to report, we have already found a million and one solutions. Consider every addiction ever heard of and every experience where we are stimulated and lose all sense of time – and therein we have found an escape. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying we need to be aware of it, and to be aware of why we are doing it. Escape once, escape twice and continue reaching for something to numb that which is alive and real in you and you are in many ways cheating yourself. This can be a calculated cheating and please believe me when I express my heartfelt empathy for all those facing huge losses and traumas in their lives. Nevertheless, my attention comes back to whether or not what are doing is done with awareness and if, with that awareness, we can begin to glimpse the consequences of these escapes. The less we feel safe with what is present now in life, the less that we can trust in a mysterious unfolding of events that so often we can not comprehend, the less we feel safe within ourselves.

What I felt like saying yesterday in this conversation with the Canadian teenager in my head, is that what allows me to live in places devoid of what some people might consider good living and good entertainment is that I have created – and I continue to create – safety within myself to be with myself. I realize now that any practice I have ever practiced in being gentle with myself, in being kind and considerate with myself in any struggle that I am facing has created a place of softness and relaxation within me. This softness allows me to breathe, if even just a little or for just one second more, and to be with myself as I am and to be in peace. If a situation still feels overwhelming I can choose to escape into a movie, a book, take a trip or grab a bottle of red and go dancing (yup, sometimes it’s the best solution!) then I do so consciously and not without acknowledging that I have taken the time, sometimes nothing more than a short minute, to practice finding safety within myself first. Practice, practice and practice more and what unfolds is a mind and an internal universe which is a place of comfort. It is a place where I happily go and I visit it not to judge, hurt and scream at myself but instead it is where I retreat inside to find understanding, to connect with peace and, as is often the case, simply to breathe, accept and to let it be. This place has become sacred and, over time, even enjoyable so that when I’m done connecting within and I’m reaching for entertainment I reach much more often now for that which will add beauty to this internal universe as opposed to reaching for something or someone who will help me to escape it.

Up to now I never fully considered what all of the readings and teachings in buddhism, yoga and meditation – everything that I learn and practice which rings so true in my heart about surrender, acceptance, non-violence and non-stealing – would really mean when put together. What I have recently discovered is that this trust in the Divine, the trust that I have in my own path and the understanding of how things truly are coming together to form an internal place of safety and light that serves me in any time and through any storm. And because this special place is within myself and always present I take it with me everywhere that I go.

I can only add that I would wish such a place of safety would be uncovered and accessible inside each and every person.

**

*That’s not to say that markets and musical concerts and shows in my African town don’t exist, because they do, but they certainly won’t be presented in the same way as we would expect it in Canada. This makes them interesting, yes, but rarely restful.

Image: practicing a 3-legged dog at yoga teacher training in Canada, summer of 2018. Photo credit to Inspired Yoga Institute

Disconnect to Reconnect: about Wifi’s fuzzy reminder

“We invest our time and energy into who and what we value.” Morning meditation and conversations at the Offline House can go real deep, real quick.

I’ve been happily resting and rejuvenating my body, soul and mind with surfing, nature, yoga and great books at a concept-Hostel in the south of Portugal called the Offline House. The concept is simple: we put our smartphones and computers away in lockers and lock them up. We then enjoy experiencing life without our gadgets. “Disconnect to Reconnect” becomes our daily mantra.

Turning off the Internet and data functions of my phone is not difficult for me. I happily put my iPhone in airplane mode during my work days and weekends too. Any time I want to have some time 100% for myself I do not hesitate to close off the Internet bridge connecting me to the outside world. I imagine a sentinel on that bridge blocking the way for those trying to get through. The various demands, shares, likes and questions sent via Whatsapp, iMessages, emails and social media quietly and peacefully line up and accumulate before the sentinel until it (I) decide that it is OK to let them through again – and there they flow, in an even tempo of beeps and vibrations – right to my phone when airplane mode is shut off again.

What I didn’t realize before and what has been a kind of revelation to me during my first week at the Offline House is the trade-off that I make every time that I look at and use my smartphone in my “regular” daily life. The trade-off is simple yet profound: I am trading the present moment for an interaction with my phone.

“Ah – gah – stop!” you may cry out. You will argue that you are not interacting with your phone, you may very well be interacting with another person, with a friend or a family member! Or you may be working on a new blog post! (haha, how ironic ;-). Well yes, but the medium of communication is still cold metal in a place where I have living, breathing human beings around me, not to mention beautiful nature, the breath in my lungs and my ever present heart beat. I’m choosing a device over living life…and that is totally OK…as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing.

It turns out there is nothing more valuable than the present moment. As someone who has spent plenty of time in my head musing and thinking about the past and wondering about the future I can assure you that I’ve tried to find peace and happiness in moments outside of right now. At best I have found neutrality. At worst I have found great confusion and many fears. The best feeling ever – the feeling of being fully alive – I have only ever found in the here and now.

I shan’t bore you with more Here and Now talk – this is a subject discussed and re-discussed and re-played many times these days. Simply, I wanted to share that I recently found this trade-off with the usage of my smartphone.

There are ofcourse many positive aspects of the Internet and of technology. When we are wise users of these tools I believe that we have the opportunity to become brighter, better communicating and wiser people. The problem is that this tech and Internet connectivity is all quite new for everyone, so that few of us actually know how to use these tools in a way that is good and healthy. Coupled with our minds’ tendencies for addiction and obsessiveness and tools like email and social media can quickly become a problem to manage, an annoying mosquito buzzing in our ears night and day never allowing us a moment’s peace.

I have a small hammer in my home in Dakar. I’m a pretty handy gal (or so I like to think) but I tried and tried and couldn’t hammer in a simple nail into the concrete wall of my living room. The carpenter happened to stop by and quickly picked up the hammer and put the nail in its place. It’s the same tool, but we obviously have very different capacities with it. What’s more, used wrong, a hammer could easily smash my finger and hurt me. A hammer is a tool, albeit a very simple one. The Smartphone is also a tool, albeit a highly complex one. Both have the capacity to serve us when used correctly or to hurt us when misused. It’s up to us to make the difference or to call on someone who does know how to use it right.

In my two weeks of Internet and smartphone-free days I’ve realized that I use notifications and notes way too much. It’s almost like I’ve distrusted my own capacity to remember basic things to the degree that I set up daily, weekly and monthly reminders for every little thing. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but in my opinion if this kind of behaviour comes from a belief that I’m not able to remember and manage my life and the direction I want it to take on my own then it’s potentially a problem.

In general:

If the Internet fulfills the same function for us as a bridge would for a city, our connection to the outside world, the question is what is the healthy relationship to have to this bridge? For starters, is the bridge an extension of the city? Can the city be defined on its own terms without the bridge? The paradox is that the city and the bridge co-exist and without each other have no real purpose. What’s the point of a bridge leading from somewhere to nowhere? What use (or joy) can we find for a city disconnected from the world? When I think of the smartphone and the Internet as the bridge I can see that all of us, at one point or another, have stopped on this bridge and have become so engrossed in the shiny lights and bright jewels encrusted into its fancy woodwork that we’ve forgotten about where we come from and where we are going. I’m all for pretty bridges, and God knows some of those beautiful pictures and engaging Apps are really fun, but once I nudge the imbalance and realize that I’m using the bridge with no real objective in mind…I take a step aside and re-evaluate. You can choose to hang out on a bridge with no real agenda if you want to, but I intend to keep using it for its primary purpose which is to get from one place to another. It’s in the real places where I find real people and real moments and real life which I want to engage in.

Call me old-school but I still feel that it’s rude to sit down for a face-to-face conversation with someone and check your phone and messages at the same time. Especially if you only have a short period of time to share with this person. It sends a clear message “I value more what other people, known or unknown to me, are communicating to me now than I value this one-one-one time with you”. Yes, I get it that we are busy and we have many priorities that we need to juggle at the same time. I also think that having so many people making demands on our time forces us (in a good way) to evaluate our priorities and stay very honest with what we do and do not value in our lives and what we allow and do not allow into our space. “I don’t have enough time” is a sad excuse, not a reality. We all have the same 24 hours and guided by what we prioritize in life we choose how to spend that time. The responsibility is ours. The capacity for misuse and wasted time is tremendous. The trade-off is extremely significant: an exchange of the present moment for an interaction with a device. By all means, let’s continue using (and learning how to properly use) these great tools. But for goodness sake let’s not just talk about how much is gained. Let’s not forget the real value of what we are giving up.

*Cover photo credit to Offline Portugal

I’m happy to share that although we enjoy Internet-free time at the Offline House we are also accompanied by the house dog named Wifi. It makes me smile every time to hear a guest ask “Where’s Wifi?” or to hear someone looking for and calling out for the pooch. If they ever get a speckled dog I’m keeping my fingers crossed he or she will be called Spotify 🙂

On blessings, dreams, new beginnings and giving myself the recognition that I long for

I count myself as one of the blessed on this planet, the oh-so-very blessed. Not only because my cup overflows with good health, happiness, a quick wit and an ease and pleasure for contact with others. These are infinite blessings in and of themselves, you might think I have it all already… and yet I humbly recognize that there is more. My greatest blessing I believe to be this one special something, this mystery, this force, this connection that allows me to dream my dreams, plan their realization and then – I shudder with happiness and amazement just to type the words – live my dreams in reality.

It is a sudden, heart-stopping surprise to realize in this moment that I am living a reality I dreamed of and planned for in my past. When thought becomes material, when my heart recognizes that it has been heard and is being cared for… this is pure magic to me.

This week, a new dream I have dreamed has taken form. I have moved to Africa, I am living in Africa, and I am blessed with work that fills my career values in a most beautiful way, in Africa. Yes, I dreamed of Africa (lol). My fourth continent, a new expatriation, my desire to feed this curiosity and longing to understand the world and its people is being nurtured. I feel fulfilled, and it’s only the beginning! I am in the sunshine of Dakar, Senegal after a vibrant week of meetings, training and integration. My boss who accompanied me during this first week has returned to France, and I am here now to continue the work with our local team, clients and partners. I also have the time and opportunity to pursue so many other pleasures, be they music, travel, culture, sports or activities or places I have not even heard of yet. Again, I marvel that all of this can really be true.

Also, I am amazed and humbled to see some of my own wisdom and life experience and especially all that I have learned from Tara Shakti, my study and work as a coach with Awakening Coaching and my beginning steps into the exploration of Buddhism serving me oh-so-very well. All speak of practice and of looking inside to recognize the comings and goings of the internal Universe. In the last years I have been slowly and surely incorporating many practices into my days – different forms of meditation, yoga, internal dialogue and regular nudges out of my comfort zones are a part of my world now.

This week my practice has been simple and profound: it is the practice of recognizing and loving myself.

For as I find myself living my dreams and connecting with my gratitude for all that I have, I also find myself in completely new surroundings, in a place I do not know yet around people who do not yet know me. In addition, I am new to the industry I am working in (maritime insurance and merchandise surveying) and this triggers ancient beliefs of “I’m not good enough” or “I am not competent” which in turn trigger a profound desire to shout from the Dakar rooftops into the hot sun all of my prior accomplishments. I am competent and smart in so many other things, darn it! Perhaps if I force-feed this information into whoever cares to listen then and only then will all of my intelligence, big heart, sensitivity and depth be recognized. “You do not know me yet Dakar, so let me scream to you my value so that you will recognize me now!” …and when I realize this internal desire, this feeling like a bruised ego, I chuckle to myself. The chuckle turns into a smile. Perhaps this is exactly the opportunity my heart has been asking for. The opportunity to give recognition and to give love to myself.

And so, in the midst of this bustling work week, in the pauses in the back of taxis as we inch our way through traffic, I close my eyes and I pray and speak to myself. “I see you, I recognize you“, I remind myself. “I can see your bravery, I can see how much in your life is new right now”. Brand and shining new, from location to work to people. and “I recognize you and your journey”. I take a deep breath and let the recognition sink in. And I recognize you again, and again and again, Katalina. I speak to me.

And I needed (continue to need!) to hear and to feel it again.

It it not so much a mantra, as a strong reminder. Beyond the reminder it is a big, internal hug to myself. A bear hug.

This is turning into a profound exploration of what it means to be my own best friend. What it means to be my own anchor, my own center. It is also the first time in my adult life that I am single. This too is an opportunity! Before, it was one kind of a teaching to share my life, hopes and dreams with a partner and to be recognized in his eyes…and it is a whole other kind of teaching to share my life, hopes and dreams with my own light and to recognize myself and my own wisdom in my own eyes. It fills and fulfills me in a way that feels right and healthy. And, what’s more, I believe it greatly influences all of my relationships, new and old. I hope that it means that meetings with others and sharing can be enjoyed for their own sake and for the complementary nature and pleasure of another energy and heart. It all shifts, doesn’t it, when I’m not seeking outside of myself to fulfill my own basic needs.

So here I am…stepping out yet again to meet and discover this new place and new people. I continue to pray and to recognize that Universe always has my best interests at heart. I am well cared for, and I am exactly where I need to be right now.

And, I am discovering, I already carry within me all that I have so deeply longed for.

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read

Just let go of the bar – Kite-surfing’s big life lesson

Rule #1 when you’re learning kite surfing: when it gets challenging, too strong or scary, just let go of the bar.  The bar is how you steer and control the kite flying above you, this fabric and lines that captures the incredible power of the wind and propels you forward with it. It takes practice to be comfortable and consistent in manoeuvring the kite well, and in the meantime you’re making mistakes and getting thrown around by the force of the wind. The first thing you learn is the golden rule of kiting: when it gets to be too much and too strong, all you have to do is let go of the bar.

When you let go of the bar, releasing it away from your body, the lines slacken and the kite loses its force and comes back down to the ground (or water). It’s still attached to you so you won’t lose it, but you are safe and you can’t get pulled, as the kite no longer has any power over you. You can take a breath… and try again.

It is this release, this surrender in light of ‘too much’ that first attracted me to kite-surfing. 

You see, I’ve noticed in myself that when I get scared and when I panic in real life, my natural reaction is to bring my panic closer to my body, to bring my stress back into myself. In the world of kite surfing this would be the equivalent of bringing the bar closer to you instead of away from you when the kite feels unstable.  This is disastrous because in this way you tighten the lines and give the kite more, not less, strength…and that’s when things get super crazy and the kite spins completely out of control, taking you along with it for a hellish ride.  In this panic you can easily hurt yourself, and you endanger other people and kite-surfers in the water with you.

In a moment of ‘too much’ in kite-surfing when you react with more fear, tension and closing in on your body, you only create more trouble, give more strength to the kite and end up falling flat on your face.  Instead of freaking out when it gets too tough, you just have to let go.

This past June I really freaked out when my own life got to feel like ‘too much’ and my plans and projects in Haiti came shattering down.  I reacted by applying more tension on the events and ended up putting even more stress and pain in my life and in the lives of those affected by my decisions.  The result was a sudden and dramatic departure from Haiti, and many weeks of healing and reconciliation with myself just to be able to breathe again.  I could have let go, I could have ‘released the bar’, but I reacted with panic and fear instead. This did not serve me at all.

Of course I’ve known about letting go and surrender for a long time and I did my best to apply the theory to my life.  But it also really helped to feel this ‘letting go’ directly in my body as I went through the kite-surfing course, learned, screwed up and then had to release the bar.  The ten-ish hours I’ve spent on the beach this past week learning kite-surfing has shown me time and time again, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that releasing in times of fear and panic is the only safe and sane thing to do.  If you don’t you’re likely to not only hurt yourself but you can also easily hurt and scare others.  Just like back in June.  Just like well… so many other situations in life.

Right now, it is irrelevant whether or not I continue working in Haiti in the future, just like it’s irrelevant whether or not I continue kite-surfing.  What matters is that in this moment, in order to release the pressure of ‘too much’,  I learned to completely let go. So that I can take a deep breath, come back to centre and… start again.

That being said, kite-surfing is a pretty sweet sport.  With my instructor’s voice in my ears ‘suave’, ‘despacio’ and ‘suelta la barra’ ringing in my ears, my appreciation of kite-surfing and of its golden rule grows stronger every day.  Plus, it’s an amazing workout and you get to hang out on the beach and in the water – what’s not to love?

As an aside, if you’re ever in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, look up Aryen of AGK: www.AGKiteboarding.com He’s a great teacher and professional and also has tons of experience teaching kids. And when you do, don’t forget to tell him that you already know about the golden rule of kite-surfing… at least, in theory 🙂

Day #1 of kite-surfing. Learning the kite, on the beach.

Day #1 of kite-surfing. Learning the kite, on the beach.

kiteday1(2)

kiteday1(1)

Północny wschód na pieszo: Wspinaczka na Fort Capois i szczyt Sarazin

Wśród aury porannych mgieł.

Więcej zdjęć dostępnych na Flickr !

1. Fort Capois. 05.12.2014

Wyjeżdżamy z Sainte-Suzanne o 6.30, odbieramy naszego przewodnika i kubek gorących, świeżo prażonych orzeszków, którymi zajadamy się w drodze do Fort Capois – tego samego szczytu, którego jako bazę używał legendarny Charlemagne Péralte. Tej samej góry na której został zdradzony oraz zabity prawie 100 lat temu podczas inwazji USA na Haiti. Jedziemy wyboistą, żwirową drogą poprzez Cotelette i dalej, razem około 11km do początku naszego szlaku. To trudny, stromy start naszej wspinaczki do celu, czyli szczytu, który widzimy w oddali na horyzoncie. Niezrażeni, rozpoczynamy wspinaczkę. Po drodze mijamy ogrody. Niektóre bardziej rozbudowane, inne mniej. Mijamy wiele intensywnie zielonych skwerków o takim rodzaju gęstej roślinności, która powinna występować w całym Haiti. Byłoby tak, gdyby nie systematyczne wycinanie drzew na opał oraz przygotowywanie ziemi pod rolnictwo. Nasz cel znajdujący się na górze płata figle naszym oczom. Przewodnik tłumaczy nam, że ani ten szczyt, który widzimy, ani kolejny, tylko ten trzeci -najwyższy jest celem naszej podróży. Kontynuujemy naszą drogę w stronę szczytu! Mijamy również kilka wiejskich domków i rodzin, machając do tych, którzy obserwują naszą wspinaczkę. Będąc na szczycie poświęcamy chwilę aby dobrze poznać postać haitańskiego bohatera, dla którego ta góra tak wiele znaczyła.

Charlemagne, Péralte – (1886 – 1919) – legendarny, haitański przywódca partyzancki, który przeciwstawiał się inwazji USA na Haiti w 1915. Peralte pochodzi z miasta Hinche, zlokalizowanego w centrum Haiti, ale podczas okupacji USA stacjonował w Leogane, pracując jako szef wojska w mieście. Kiedy odmówił poddania się obcym wojskom, zrezygnował ze swojego stanowiska i wrócił do rodzinnego miasta, gdzie dwa lata później został aresztowany za nieudany atak na posterunek żandarmerii. Chociaż został skazany na 5 lat pozbawienia wolności, uciekł z niewoli i zebrał grupę nacjonalistycznych rebeliantów, aby rozpocząć wojnę partyzancką przeciwko amerykańskim wojskom. Wojska Péraltego nazywane „Cacos” (nazwa upamiętniająca partyzanckie wojska haitańskie z XIX wieku) stwarzały tak duże zagrożenie dla USA, że najeźdźcy zostali zmuszeni do wzmocnienia kontyngentu US Marine na Haiti i do zwalczania partyzantów zaangażowali samoloty. Przez pewien czas Péralte prowadził skuteczną wojnę przeciwko USA. Udało się nawet ustanowić rząd tymczasowy w północnej części kraju. Został jednak zdradzony i zamordowany przez jednego ze swoich generałów. Żołnierze Marines chcąc zniechęcić innych do podobnych powstań, zrobili z Péralte przestrogę dla innych, robiąc zdjęcie jego ciała przywiązanego do drzwi i rozpowszechniając je na obszar całego kraju. Péralte pozostaje jednak haitańskim bohaterem; jego podobiznę można zobaczyć na haitańskich monetach wydanych przez rząd Aristide w latach 90. Szczątki Péralte zostały odkopane po zakończeniu amerykańskiej okupacji w 1935 roku, a obecnie znajdują się w Cap-Haitien.

Słuchając historii o Péralte oraz historii walki o Haitańską niepodległość, ruszyliśmy ponownie szlakiem, pozostawiając jego północną górską bazę oraz miejsce jego zgonu. Nasza podróż powrotna przebiegła bez specjalnych atrakcji może poza przystankiem na pyszne pomarańcze otrzymane od pobliskiego rolnika. Świetna i bardzo przydatna przekąska!

At the start of the trail

Na początku szlaku

beautiful views

Piękne widoki

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

Górskie wycieczki na północnym wschodzie są coraz lepsze!

2.  Pique de Sarazin (Szczyt Sarazin). 14.12.2014

Wyjechaliśmy około 7:30; w końcu jest niedziela. Przed nami niewiele drogi, bo od centrum Sainte – Suzanne do rozpoczęcia naszego szlaku jest około 1km. Z poprzedniego wypadu na Fort Capois nauczyliśmy się, że należy wcześniej zaopatrzeć się w przekąski, większą ilość wody oraz w plecak, aby to wszystko w czymś nosić… no i wszyscy tym razem mają na sobie długie spodnie. Na samym początku szlaku w tle słyszymy wodospad, oraz widzimy rzekę, która kieruje się w stronę wioski. Nasza wycieczka rozpoczyna się schodzeniem z górki; to tylko chwilowe ułatwienie, ponieważ przed nami wiele wspinania. Po drodze nasz szlak dosyć często przecina rzekę. Czasami trafiamy na polany, na których obiecujemy, że kiedyś zrobimy sobie piknik. Od czasu do czasu idziemy w gąszczu rozgałęzionych drzew. Przechodzenie przez rzekę czy strumyk możemy nazwać swego rodzaju zbawieniem – niektórzy turyści pochylają się, aby przemyć sobie ręce i twarz; inni zdejmują buty, aby poczuć przyjemną zimną wodę na swoich stopach. Jeszcze inni dobierają kroki tak, aby przedostać się po kamieniach na drugi brzeg mniej lub bardziej suchym. Nasza droga trwa dalej, wijąc się pod górę. Będąc w centrum Sarazin przypadkowo spotykamy dwóch lokalnych mężczyzn, którzy godzą  się poprowadzić nas na szczyt góry. Idąc dalej, mijamy wielu mieszkańców zmierzających w przeciwnym kierunku na mszę. Po każdym spotkaniu w naszych uszach dzwoni „bonjou” i „pa pi mal”. Jeszcze trochę stromej wspinaczki i dochodzimy do niewielkiego płaskowyżu, z którego rozciąga się wspaniały widok na dolinę oraz Trou-du-Nord na horyzoncie.

Wspinamy się jeszcze wyżej. Podczas zbaczania ze szlaku aby przedrzeć się przez wzgórze nasze narzekanie zamienia się w protesty (gdyż idziemy scieżką dla kóz). Prawie jesteśmy już na szczycie ale niestety kilka bananowców i rosnących słodkich ziemniaków zostaje zdeptanych podczas naszego marszu. Przewodnik zatrzymuje nas ruchem ręki. Najpierw musimy złożyć hołd duchom, które utrzymują tę górę, poprzez zaoferowanie wody i zaśpiewanie specjalnej piosenki. Będąc na szczycie zauważamy mały okrąg z głazów; potencjalne miejsce do odprawiania ceremonii vodou. Schodzimy z góry innym szlakiem, nawiasem mówiąc, bardzo stroma alternatywa. Kilka odcinków trasy pokonujemy zjeżdżając na tyłkach, śmiejąc się przy tym jak dzieci. Ach jaką przyjemność sprawia ubrudzenie siebie! Czuję się jakbym znowu była na nartach w Górach Skalistych  i utknęła na trudnym szlaku zjeżdżając od boku do boku przy 70-stopniowym nachyleniu… i zbierając przy tym sporo brudu. Więcej mgły, piękne widoki oraz szansa na przerwę i przekąskę ze świeżych grejpfrutów i bananów. Wkrótce potem natrafiamy na zbiór trzciny cukrowej. Kilka krzyków w stronę gór i właściciele pól z trzciną cukrową pozwalają nam na odrobinę słodkości. Z nieba pada mżawka, a my kontynuujemy naszą drogę, każdy ze swoją trzciną w dłoni. Odgryzamy duży kawałek, który pęka pod naciskiem zębów. Żujemy, dalej żujemy, rozkoszujemy się słodkością, po czym spluwamy resztki. Słodka, niechlujna, najlepsza przekąska na pobyt w górach. Mżawka zamienia naszą ścieżkę w błotnistą i bardziej śliską drogę. W sumie to prosty schemat: idziesz, ślizgasz się i tak w kółko. W końcówce naszego szlaku znowu rozkoszujemy się przeprawami przez rzekę. Powracamy do Sarazin, świadomi, że przed nami jeszcze trochę wędrówki zanim dotrzemy do Sainte-Suzanne. Po drodze wykonujemy kilka telefonów… chcemy mieć pewność, że lunch jest już w drodze. W końcu już po 12.

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Wchodzimy do centrum Sarazin

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Spoglądamy w dół na dolinę i Trou-du-Nord

Navigating through the mists!

Nawigacja przez mgłę!

The North-East on foot : Hiking Fort Capois & the peak of Sarazin

In the aura of early morning mists.

There are plenty of photos available on Flickr !

1. Fort Capois. 05.12.2014

We leave Sainte-Suzanne at 6:30, pick up our guide and a cup of hot, freshly roasted peanuts that we munch on our way to Fort Capois – the same peak that the legendary Charlemagne Péralte used as a base, and the mountain on which he was betrayed and killed nearly 100 years ago during the USA invasion of Haiti.

The drive is bumpy on the dirt road through Cotelette and beyond, and we traverse about 11 km in total to the opening of our hiking trail.  It’s a daunting, steep start to our hike with our final destination appearing very far in the distance.  We start climbing.  We pass gardens, some more elaborate than others, and many intensely green areas of the kind of dense vegetation that should be present everywhere in Haiti, if not for the systematic felling of trees for making charcoal and for clearing land for agriculture.  Our mountain top destination is playing tricks on our eyes, and our guide tells us that it’s not the peak we see, or the second one there in the distance, but the third, furthest and highest point that is our destination.  We continue our climb!  We also pass a few rural homes and families and wave to the families watching our ascent.  Once on top of the mountain we take a moment to truly acknowledge the Haitian hero for whom this mountain held a lot of meaning.

Charlemagne, Péralte – (1886 – 1919) : a legendary, Haitian nationalist leader who opposed the US invasion of Haiti in 1915.  Péralte came from the city of Hinche in central Haiti, but at the time of the US invasion was stationed in Léogane, working as the military chief of the city.  When he refused to surrender to foreign troops without fighting, Péralte resigned from his position and returned to his hometown where he would be arrested for a botched raid on the Hinche gendarmerie two years later.  Although sentenced to 5 years of forced labour, Charlemagne escaped his captivity and gathered a group of nationalist rebels to begin guerrilla warfare against the US troops.  Péralte’s troops, called “Cacos” (a name reminiscent of Haitian rural troops of the 19th century) posed such a threat to the US that the invaders were forced to upgrade the US Marine contingent in Haiti and employ airplanes for counter-guerilla warfare.  For a time, Péralte waged effective guerrilla war against the US and managed to establish a provisional government in the north of the country.  He was however betrayed and murdered by one of his generals.  The US marines, wishing to make an example of Péralte, took a photograph of his body tied to a door and distributed it widely throughout the country so as to discourage similar insurgencies.  Péralte remains a revered Haitian hero; his portrait can be seen on Haitian coins issued by the Aristide government in the 90s.  Péralte’s remains were unearthed after the end of the US occupation in 1935, and currently lie in Cap-Haïtien.

Amidst the story of Péralte’s history and fight for Haitian independence, we take to the trail again leaving behind his Northern mountain base, and place of his ultimate demise, behind us.  Our return journey is uneventful aside from a treat of fresh oranges by a nearby farmer. A delicious and much needed snack !

At the start of the trail

At the start of the trail

beautiful views

beautiful views

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

2.  Pique de Sarazin (Peak of Sarazin). 14.12.2014

We’re out by about 7:30; it’s a Sunday after all.

We’ve very little to drive this time since the trail head is just about 1 km away from the centre of Sainte-Suzanne.  We’ve learned from the previous experience at Fort Capois, and this time we’re armed with snacks, more water, a backpack to carry it all… and everyone is wearing long pants.  Oh, the bramble.

Early on in the trail we can hear the waterfall and see the river below the path winding its way back to the village.  Our hike starts off sloping down; this is only a temporary sense of ease as we’ve still got plenty of climbs ahead.  There are lots of river crossings, some out in open clearings where we vow to return and enjoy future picnics, and some under the long arms of overhanging trees and branches.  Crossing a river or a stream is always something of an event – some hikers dip down religiously to wet their hands and faces; others take off their shoes to feel the cool water on their feet.  Still others find the right stepping stones to get across and stay more or less dry.

Our path continues, meandering up the mountain.  Once in the town centre of Sarazin we find two local men who agree to guide us to the top of the mountain.  Continuing, we pass many church goers heading the opposite way with ‘bonjou’ and ‘pa pi mal’ ringing in our ears as we great everyone we come across.  A steeper climb and we come unto a small plateau from which we have a spectacular view of the valley below and of Trou-du-Nord in the distance.  We’re climbing even higher now, with our small bouts of complaining turning into fully fledged protests as we leave our path (nothing more than a goat trail) to scramble our way up a hill that is obviously somebody’s garden.  A few plantain and yam plants get smashed in the process, but we’ve almost made it to the top.

Our guide stops us with a motion of his hand.  We must first pay respects to the spirits that keep this mountain, by offering some water and a special song.  Once at the peek we see a small circle of boulders; potentially a regular spot for Vodou ceremonies.  We continue, coming down the mountain via a different path… and a very steep alternative.  There’s some sliding down the hill on our butts while we’re laughing like kids.  Oh the joy of getting yourself so very, very dirty! I feel like I’m skiing again in the Rockies and stuck on a double black diamond…sliding down a 70 degree incline sideways… and taking a lot of dirt along for the ride. 

More mists, beautiful views and a chance to take a break and nibble on snacks (fresh grapefruit and bananas).  Soon after, we come across a spattering of sugar cane.  A few shouts across the wide valley and the owners of this sugar cane plot have given their permission for us to enjoy some of the sweetness.  We continue on the road, a slight drizzle coming down, each person with sugar cane in hand.  You have to crack down with your teeth, pull apart a big strand, chew, chew some more, enjoy the sweetness and then spit out the remaining strands.  It’s delicious and messy, and a favourite snack for when you’re out and about in the mountains.  Personally, I haven’t figured out yet how to eat sugar cane in a dinner-and-table setting.  It dribbles down my chin at every bite. 

We’re continuing along – the drizzle turning our path somewhat muddy and that much more slippery.  For a good, long while it’s simply walk, slip and repeat.  The river crossings are enjoyed again, and we return to Sarazin, ever conscious that we still have quite a trek before reaching Sainte-Suzanne.  We make a few calls ahead…to make sure that lunch is on the way.  It’s already past noon.

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Navigating through the mists!

Navigating through the mists!

4 Reasons Why This Food Lover Enjoys Fasting

It feels fitting that on a failed fast day I should write about the wonders of intermitten fasting. Today I tried, and failed, to adhere to a 1-day fast. Last week, I succeeded. Whatever the outcome, putting an ounce more conscious thought not only into what I eat but when I eat it, has proven thus far a very interesting experiment in nutrition, spirituality and the inner workings of the mind.

It started around two months ago. Correction, it started about ten years ago when as a junior-high school student I first participated in the 30-hour-famine with my classmates, part of a campaign to raise awareness of hunger in places where they never choose it. It was then, for the first time, that my young brain awakened to the idea that food deprivation, in this limited manner atleast, would not immediately destroy me. I sipped tea and drank juice while my belly grumbled in hunger, yet beyond the noises and strangely welcome feeling of emptiness, nothing bad or bizarre happened. I was OK, and I had survived 30 hours of not eating quite easily. Coming from a traditional Polish home where life revolved around food, this was no minor discovery.

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Recycling Cycling – a letter

Here to tell you about la Recircula – a very special bike cooperative with which I’ve personally been involved in, right here in Barcelona, Spain

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5 Life lessons I’ve learned as a bicycle traveller

This is the 3rd article from 3-part series written for Bicycle Touring Pro

Find out just how philosophical bicycle travel can be – and the 5 life lessons I took away from my recent trip across Europe. Full article

a sneak-peek: “Travel will always be about the journey within – as we pass through different cultures, countries and cities we are the moving wheel, the places we visit the axle. Change is consistent, and all we know for sure is that a new town will always come after this one.

Isn’t it curious that every cyclist, and I mean every single bicycle traveler that I have met thus far, has either consciously or without realizing it followed a singular rule when on the road…”

Urban harvest – a bucket full of crab apples

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A Sunday morning well spent as we (my mom and I) checked out a gorgeous apple tree in a neighbourhood next to our own in SW Calgary. It’s not every day that you can saunter into a stranger’s backyard and grab at fruit, but that’s exactly what Calgary’s Urban Harvest project is all about: www.calgaryharvest.com

Calgarians with overly abundant fruit crops (or if they don’t want the fruit at all) can register trees, and berry bushes, on the site allowing for jelly and apple-preserve fiends like my mother and I a go at their fruit! It’s a great way to save food that would otherwise go to waste, get free organic edibles and climb strangers’ trees for free!!

Is there an urban harvest project in your city? Do you see quality fruit like raspberries and crab-apples go to waste?
Get going on your own urban harvest projects now!

We all know that Permies are, deep down, a lazy bunch (ahem, I mean pragmatic)… Come on, it just makes sense to take advantage of the free food we already have!

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Barbara Sher’s “Refuse to choose”, perspective altering book

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Are you fascinated by Spanish guitar, Chinese cooking, running a successful language school and sailing to India all at the same time? Or maybe what makes your heart smile are rare bird species, photography, medieval poetry and chimney cleaning?

In my case, I find myself simultaneously wanting to study linguistics, start a rooftop greenhouse business, write a novel, sail around the world, learn horse-back riding and perfect my guitar skills…

!

Whatever our varied interests may be, the sharp intelect and love of learning attitude of “scanners” (term coined by author) doesn’t let us focus on just one thing or choose that one career to stick with “forever”! Scanners nead variety, stimulation, constant challenges and excitement.

Trouble is, scanners often times find themselves hitting their heads on walls in an effort to figure it all out. How do you choose amidst so many options, opportunities and talents? How do you stand strong against a society that constantly wants to turn us into specialists and experts in only one field?

That’s exactly what I’ve been wondering, and Barabara Sher’s book is, slowly but surely, unraveling the mystery of how to live a fulfilled life when you’re in love with everything and incapable of choosing… Turns out in fact that you don’t have to choose at all!

I’ll continue reading, and give you a full review soon!

beautiful video – Permaculture for the people! for art! for healing…

Came across this while preparing intro to Perma presentation in Spanish for the peeps here in Tarija.

the music is sweeeet!!

Yummy and healthy coffee alternatives you may not have thought of…

Coffee.  It’s a warm, bold, delicious and aromatic beverage.  There is nothing quite like it…and yet…there are many that argue that it isn’t good for you to have on a regular basis.  Large amounts of caffeine, vitamin and mineral depletion and its addictive properties – all reasons to look around at a few other alternatives.  Or maybe you’re like me – you love the taste so much that for years you’ve ignored the signals your body has been sending you: an upset stomach, getting the jitters, elevated body temperature and the signature caffeine highs and lows.  Upon reflecting though, you begin to wonder – is the coffee serving me…or am I serving it?

So if you’re ready to dabble in some other warming and yummy beverages…read on.

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Reap the benefits of wild edible plants – aka. FREE FOOD!! :)

Just had to repost this link to a Southern Ontario (don’t worry, these plants are readily available in many parts of the world!) guide to edible plants found around spring time.

Dandylions, Saint Johns Wort, Black cherries, white cedar…and more!

…just read carefully! It would seem that unripe mulberries can be hallucinogenic! … and that’s not something to take lightly 🙂

the link: http://houseofverona.com/wild-edibles-in-southern-ontario/

a visit to the Willka T’ika Retreat Center

Had a wonderful opportunity today to visit Willka T’ika today, and even got a private tour of the place by its owner, Carol.

their page: http://196.33.120.67/WillkaTika/willka_home.asp

Instead of charging in and forcing the land into the desired image of its new owner, it seems as if the story here is one of respecting exisiting energies and formations and working with the land and not against it.  Firstly, the (estimated) 1000 year old tree on the property, the Lukuma tree, has been the sacred center since the project first started some 17 years ago.  The “grieving” stone was also unearthed during construction; instead of removing it by force it was integrated beautifully into the property.

It’s a beautiful and intricate place.  There are atleast 2 large yoga studios, several meditation spots, so many different gardens including 7 themed ones dedicated to the chakras… and so much more.

On a quiet Sunday we had the place to ourselves, to explore and to have some fun too.