The #SkiARail Team Heads West

Marian and I are sitting on a train bound for Toronto and we are wearing longjohns. We’re sweltering a bit but the ski we had this afternoon on Mont Royal was worth it. The sun was shining, the trail grooming excellent, and the views of Montreal from Mont Royal were gorgeous.

The reason we didn’t get to change out our woollies had to do with the challenges of returning a rental car in downtown Montreal but that’s a story for another time.

Marian and I left St. John’s just over three weeks ago on the Cross Canada Odyssey we are calling #SkiARail. Combining our love of winter, skiing, and train travel, we are crossing Canada by train (and ferry and a wee bit of car) and stopping off to ski at points along the way.

The trip began with a mad dash across the island of Newfoundland to catch the ferry between back to back winter storms. We arrived in New Brunswick just as the snow began to fall heavily. We had five different Nordic skis on the hills, snowmobile, and hiking trails behind Marian’s father’s land. We spotted animal tracks and began to convert our trekking legs to ski legs.

Soon it was time to take our first train leg of our journey from Moncton to Quebec City. Marian’s sister waved as we headed out of the station.

Our first stop was Quebec City but we didn’t get to ski for the first three days because of rain then snow. We visited with an old friend and learned lots at the Museum of Civilization before putting in six days straight on our boards.

We try to alternate Nordic ski days with alpine ski days but weather, snow conditions, and crowd allowances don’t always allow that. We skied downhill at Le Relais, Le Massif, and Mint Ste Anne. Nordic at Charlesbourg and Le Foret Montmorency.

We transitioned to the Eastern Townships and an extended visit with a long time friend of Marian’s. Krista and Greg were very kind and hosted our stay while we waited out another rain snow storm combo and while we skied Orford and Sutton.

And, after skiing Mont Royal, we’re off to Toronto for two nights and then to points west. It’s been a great trip thus far sharing our love of winter, working on our ski skills

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Lungta Livyers #19: Pressing Pause

As you may remember, Lungta is the name of prayer flags in Tibet and Nepal. Lungta means “Windhorse” and refers to how the wind can carry the prayers that are printed on the prayer flags into the universe. Livyer is a Newfoundland term for making a life or making a place so I combined the two to form the theme for our autumn explorations. I wanted to explore how Buddhism was experienced and expressed in different places/cultures/sides of the Himalayas. Our travels took us to seven different countries (China, Mongolia, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Thailand, and Sri Lanka) and over 22 mountain passes. We spent over 75 days trekking and walking and visited well over 60 monasteries and other sacred spaces.

Words are failing me right now for putting the pieces all together and for sharing lessons from the journey but I want to put a wee bit of closure on the fall.

It was amazing. It was deep. It was so fascinating to see how Buddhism was lived, practiced, and embodied in so many places. I see that my Buddhist path needs more walking, more study, and more meditation but I’m grateful for the time and all of the experiences we had in learning more… whether it be the profound hopefulness felt in a monastery in which people have meditated for 800 years or the graceful flutter of a prayer flag over a pass. I used much of what I had learned to get over those 22 passes and to work with my mind as the path steepened. Know that I have more stories to share as I find the words (and comb through the thousands of photographs we took) and I promise that I will (perhaps in my next book), but for now I’m turning my attention and mind towards winter, skiing, and exploring my home country for the next bit of time in an adventure we are calling “Ski-a-Rail.” We’ll most likely be returning to Nepal in the spring to continue our studies but for now-I’ll push pause and go for a ski.

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Lungta Livyers #18: Home and Away Again

Happy New Year,

When we left in August, we had no idea where we would be for either Christmas or New Year’s. Turns out that we spent them in St. John’s but not at home. We rented out our house for the year so we didn’t have a house/home to come home to but of course, we were home the minute we landed. Our baggage didn’t arrive with us so it was quite funny when we met the baggage folks who asked, “Do you live here?”

I answered, “Yes.”

“What’s your address?” He queried.

“Hang on,” I said. “I have to look it up.”

“I thought you lived here.” He replied looking puzzled.

I said, “We’re just visiting right now, for about 10 days or so. Not sure how long we are staying.”

“So you’re visiting?” He asked with an upturn in his voice.

“It’s complicated,” I stated and left it at that.

Our bags arrived the next afternoon on Christmas Day and some very kind soul delivered them to us during the family festivities. It was lovely to catch up with family and friends and tell stories of our many travels this past fall. We left St. John’s on Aug. 15 and arrived back in the wee hours of December 25. I’d found an unprecedented one way airfare from Colombo, Sri Lanka to St. John’s that was as direct as direct could be with only 17 hours of travel that we couldn’t resist. As it turned out, 17 turned into 34 hours when the flight left Columbo late causing us to miss our connection from London and we got to have that great joy of overflying St. John’s to Toronto and flying back in the 3 hour lull interval between three storms (one in Toronto and two in St. John’s). It really was a holiday season miracle that we were with family on the 25th instead of being in London or Toronto. Marian and I spent New Year’s Eve with our dear friends, Deb and Wilma, and saw as many friends as we could between Christmas and New Year’s. We know we missed many of you and we’ll try to catch you on our next brief visit/home stay in early March.

Now as I type this, we are in New Brunswick following an equally well timed exit from the island of Newfoundland via ferry in-between storms. We are visiting Marian’s family and starting our next set of adventures we are calling “Ski-a-Rail.” We are crossing Canada using Via Rail for transportation and stopping to ski (both alpine and Nordic) along the way. Marian has never had to opportunity to cross Canada before and we’re both enchanted with travel via rail. We took long train rides in both Sweden and Thailand and that whetted our appetite for more. So we’ve planned a seven week ski trip trip from St. John’s to Vancouver during which we will travel mostly by rail, some by car, and some by ferry and we hope you’ll come along as we share our love for both skiing and exploring new places. As usual, I’ll be posting photos along the way via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and when time/Internet allows, I’ll try to write some blog pieces as well. We had our first ski of the New Year in Newfoundland and our second here today in New Brunswick. If you have any favourite ski destinations (both Nordic or alpine), please do share-we have longer visits planned for Quebec, Alberta and BC.

Wishing you all the best in 2018-may your year be filled with kindness, joy, compassion, and adventure (of whichever sort suits you).

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Lungta Livyers #17 Lions, Monkeys, and Bees Oh My

We arrived in Sri Lanka 3 days ago (our 7th country in 4 months) and we’ve learned to heed the warning signs. We visited the Dambulla Caves yesterday and as we were walking down the trail towards the Golden Buddha, we passed some fruit sellers. Mango is in season and so I purchased one, pre-cut, to try. Within three steps, one monkey decided it wanted to try the mango as well. Fortunately, Marian spotted the moving monkey and blocked it out until I could assume a defensive position.

Today as we visited Sigiriya Rock, otherwise known as Lion’s Rock, we knew to be on the lookout for swarming bees. The article we read suggested staying away from noisy people and gave three possible courses of action depending where on the rock we encountered swarming bees.

Sigiriya Rock is a world heritage site and looks to some to be shaped like a lion. It even has two lion claws that were carved into the rock.

I’m happy to report that we climbed to the top and back down again with meeting either a noisy group or swarm of bees.

The view from the top was awesome and seeing the gardens helped us understand the tremendous amount of urban planning went into the site a thousand years ago.

It was humbling yesterday to stand in the Dambulla caves with statues of The Buddha that were carved over 900 years ago.

We’ve continued our exploration of tropical fruit and yesterday we added wood apple, and today, king coconut, to the ever expanding list of fun fruits that you get to eat in this part of the world.

Here is a pic of a wood apple in case you’ve never seen one. You have to smash open the wooden covering and then scoop out the insides which taste a bit like slightly sour, mango-applesauce. You eat the seeds and all. Tomorrow we hope to find and try soursop.
We are loving Sri Lankan curry and rice and we can’t wait to start trying to make our favs once we are home cooking for ourselves again.

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Lungta Livyers #16: Elephants and Eating–Adventures Big and Small in Thailand

People who knew me when, when I had my last full year sabbatical leave in 2001-02, might remember that the last time I was in Thailand, I spent some weeks volunteering at an elephant sanctuary for injured, retired, or orphaned elephants. It was life-changing to spend time in such close contact to elephants young and old. So, it was a great thrill to be in close proximity to over 75 wild elephants within 2 days of arriving in Thailand. I must digress…

I started teaching at Memorial in 1995. The physical education class of 1999 started at the same time I did and as a result, we bonded and I’ve stayed in touch with many of the students in that class since then. Kerry Dyke is one of those students. After travelling with his class (and me) to MUN’s Harlow campus, he was bitten hard by the travel bug. He’s spent almost his entire teaching career in international schools and living in many countries including more than a decade in Thailand.

When Marian and I decided we would spent some in Thailand, I got in touch with Kerry and he offered to show us some of his favourite spots and experiences. Kerry has been leading experiential learning trips for students most often with an environmental focus. Kerry said he’d love to pilot test an experience with elephants with Marian and I and we were more than game. In eastern Thailand, there are still many wild elephants. They travel in herds that range from six to sixty individuals and they can cause a lot of damage to crops and houses as well as kill people sometimes. The wildlife folks in Thailand (and other places) are always trying to solve the human/elephant conflicts so both can led healthy, safe lives and they are running a pilot program that Kerry is trying to help support the project by bringing folks to see some wild elephants in a way that both the elephants and observers are safe. The pilot program is using bee fencing to protect villagers’ property and crops.

It turns out elephants don’t like bees! And I suspect bees don’t like elephants who disturb their hives. As you can see from the picture above, you can see one of the hives suspended between two posts. Each hive is connected to its neighbours by a rope that spans the openings between the hives. Should an elephant disturb the fence, the bee hives move and the bees come out and repel the elephants. So far, it seems to be working…

You can see here that the elephants are dirt bathing just outside the bee hive fence and we are being treated to getting to watch bath-time.

We’d also watched the elephants earlier as they muted their way through the jungle and headed down to the river. We were the only tourists there watching-the rest were local villagers and program representatives.

There were many young elephants in this herd and I told many stories of what it was like to work with a nine month old and a two year old elephant when I volunteered at the sanctuary. After spending the entire afternoon watching wild elephants in the wild, we had dinner behind the beehive fence prepared by the owner of the property. She’s become quite famous locally because of the bee-hive fence and she said she’s pleased with how well it’s working. Kerry’s company is called ReWild Thailand.

Toi, Kerry’s wife, became our Thai food coach during our first stop on the drive to eastern Thailand. We turned our appetites and general willingness to try new foods over to Toi and she did not disappoint. Making food stall choices with aplomb at 70 kph, we tasted everything from appetizers to dessert, new whacky fruits to late night noodle stands.

With this excellent start, Marian and I have been enjoying Thai street food every night and have made it our mission to try as many fruits that we can here. Thus far we’ve sampled jackfruit, snake fruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, longans, pineapple, rose apples, jujube apples, bananas, guavas, sapodillas, ground cherries, strawberries, pomelos, mangoes, tamarind, tangerine, watermelon, custard apples and we have some egg fruit that we have to wait three days for it to ripen and we are on the hunt for just one bite of durian. We’ve eaten so much fruit we call ourselves “The Fruit Bats.” We signed up for a Thai cooking class and we were thrilled that it included a market tour so we could ask about several of the fruits as well as try some traditional Thai snacks. We learned to cook four Thai dishes and look forward to replicating them at home.

There are a few other adventures to catch you up on including learning to cook using bamboo and getting to the highest point in Thailand-not to mention a few treks in Nepal…it’s been a busy time of just keeping up with the planning and logistics and writing that I’m doing for work but I’ll try to be more timely from here on…unless there is a new fruit to try or jungle to explore. More soon…

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Lungta Livyers #15 In the Bardo

We arrived back to Kathmandu from Paro, Bhutan yesterday morning after three days of trip endings and events. We had a wonderful celebration lunch with our trek organizers in Sephu at the National park office just below the trailhead where we finished. We celebrated that evening in Gantey with wonderfully hot showers and a fine buffet spread. We spent Tuesday driving from Gantey to Thimpu (and trying not to drive into the abyss-I was seated on the outside nearest the road edge and there were times I was really leaning in trying to “help” the driver stay clear of the edge). We had to be up very early Wednesday morning to drive to Paro and fly to KTM. We were treated to an absolutely awesome view of the Himalayas from take off to landing. Marian and I enjoyed seeing our Great Himalayan Route from 2014 from the air. Teammates started flying home today and I think we are firmly in the bardo. Not quite here. Not there anymore. Still thinking about what we just accomplished and beginning to sort through what comes next.

We planned this first stage of Lungta life last December and said we’d sort out the rest as we went…after nearly 2.5 months of knowing what we’d be doing most days, we’re footloose and fancy free. Busy with researching options, laundry, gear repair and the like…we’ll keep you posted as we decide and in the meantime, here are some pictures. The one above is how we experienced the high mountains of Bhutan for our first two weeks: fleeting furtive glimpses of the snow capped peaks that we knew must be there but the clouds just wouldn’t let us see.

We did however see so many prayer flags, lungta, and that made us so happy seeing them in so many places and spaces.

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