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Boquete the Beautiful

When we started out on this venture there were several people who said, excitedly “OH! Are you going to Boquete?” …no I answered. We don’t have time for bunny trails on this trip. We’re on a mission to find somewhere to invest or retire. I knew that we might actually want to retire somewhere a little cooler than a beach community, somewhere in the mountains, like Boquete, but we’re not ready to retire, we’re needing to invest. So I didn’t want to take the time.

Then plans changed and we decided to visit Dave’s sister and her family in Costa Rica (since we’re so close) and bus to Panama. Well, the bus route was so close to Boquete we decided to spare 2 nights and go check it out.

Does it seem sometimes like the Universe conspires FOR you? We were definitely meant to see Boquete. Wow. It was almost a spiritual experience…no, I’ll say it…it was a spiritual experience. The phrase that Dave and I used several times, hand on heart, with astonishment, “it’s so soul filling!”

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The volcano, the mountains, the waterfalls, the foliage, the flowers…oh my goodness…there’s this flower, it emits this smell at night that is intoxicating, the streams, the fresh air, the people. We loved it.

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Here’s what to know, to decide if Boquete is worth checking out for you:

1) Are you a nature lover? There are trails galore to discover and hike, but just a walk outside your door, anywhere you are, reveals beauty all around. Do you like to garden yourself? The gardens are amazing and look easy to grow. Mangos? Bananas? Strawberries (everywhere!)? Limes? Coffee? Ok, now I’m pushing it, just get your coffee from a local organic coffee grower. They abound.

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2) Do you need heat? So retiring to the tropics has more variety than you might imagine. In January, when Facebook is replete with pictures of yet another snow storm you may want to be basking on the beach. Boquete is not hot. It’s nice and warm. I wasn’t ever cold. I carried a light sweater most of the time but almost never put it on…I couldn’t decide if I needed it. It’s that kind of temperature. It’s like a gorgeous warm spring day. Everyday. There’s mist hanging over the mountains (can we put hand over heart again for a moment and stand in awe and say “soul filling”?) that occasionally sprinkles on its occupants below (hence the lush green gardens).

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On the “but I need heat” side of things…both the Carribean and the Pacific are relatively close by. The undiscovered, under developed Pacific town of Boca Chica is 1.5 hours away. National Geographic described it as a myriad emerald isles strewn like jewels in a sapphire sea.” (By the way, that link will tell you a lot more about Boca Chica and why it might be a great long term investment. The infrastructure is changing and that’s always a good thing for real estate…but keep in mind, the writers of the article are selling something). 

Bocas del Toro is said to be 3.5-4.5 hours away on the Carribean side and is a hot spot for surfing. I’ve read good things and bad about Bocas del Toro, so do some research before venturing out there.

3) While we’re on about the climate, how do you feel about utility costs? In Boquete you need neither heat nor A/C…all. year. long. Opening and closing the windows is all you need for climate control. Electricity bill depends on usage of course but one home owner told us hers was about $100/month for their home and the little casita they rent out.

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4) Do you need city life? The town of David is 40 minutes away is a population of 144,000. We didn’t spend much time there but it didn’t make a hugely favourable impression in our short stay. Boquete is a 5-7 hour drive from Panama City or a 1 hour, $100 flight (from David). How often will you want to do that? Will you feel isolated in a town of less than 20,000 people?

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There is a large and diverse expat community though and they are active! Within 30 minutes of us landing there, we were having lunch at a cute little French restaraunt and the owner came out to talk to us (did I mention friendly?…oh so friendly)…he told us all about his experience of moving to Boquete.

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He gushed (as did the hosts of our B&B who’ve been there 6 years “best 6 years of our lives”) as he spoke of the community and all the groups there are to be a part of if you so choose. From theatre groups to hiking, yoga, bird watching, writing, baking, art…you name it, there are lots of ways to get involved. He also talked about the safety there. Crime (according to him) is very low (I didn’t look up any stats on that but we also felt very safe).

We had fun trying a variety of restaraunts, from nice touristy ones to little local ones. We were never disappointed but while you can eat out very reasonably not everything was jaw dropping cheap. Beer is a dollar – that works.

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Those are the things to consider when considering Boquete. As for Dave and me? We were smitten and look forward to going back. Since leaving there, everywhere we’ve been has been compared back to Boquete, how we felt, how we came alive, how we didn’t want to leave.

It is my one regret, now that I know how much we loved Boquete, that we didn’t schedule time for Boca Chica. I’m thinking that property in Boquete and Boca Chica would make a nice pair to have you all come and vacation at (or to try out retirement in)…next time!

Next up…Coronado. On paper, Coronado makes the most sense to get our investments started. We’ll see.

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Me and my favourite flower.

Did I say intoxicating?

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Why Panama?

To be clear…my blog posts get bogged down when I feel like I need to write something that I don’t want to write. (Every writer is now nodding their heads). We’re here in Panama and I want to write about what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling about it and my observations.

But this post needs to happen first by way of explanation, and it’s been bottlenecking the whole works. So here it is…if you’re wondering what we’re doing here and what the nuts and bolts of this endeavour are, or if you’ve ever thought about investing or retiring to a Central American country…this is for you. (P.s. the only thing worse than writing about my research is having to talk about it later…because you haven’t read it! haha).

Why Panama?

I started reading about investing in real estate overseas a long time ago. I’ve been reading and watching trends especially in Central America because…well because I’m a realtor with a travel bug but also because Dave and I lived briefly in Mexico and Honduras early in our married life and have maintained an interest in the people, culture and language ever since. It’s always been in the back of our mind that there’s a good chance we’d live there again. Dave has been diligent at keeping his Spanish alive.  Mine is gasping for air.

As we talk to people we realize that we’re not the only ones considering this…not by a long shot. With the rising prices in North America people are opening their minds to other options. Why pay an arm and a leg for home and food AND shovel snow! So as we talk to people and hear what they are thinking we mostly hear Costa Rica. Sometimes, we hear Belize. Mostly because they speak English but also the lovely pictures of beaches that you can find.

Here’s why we’re heading to Panama to check it out (yes, this post is late…yes…we’re here already). First I’d say, if you’re seriously thinking about something like this, you need to make a list of what you want and need. Be very honest with yourself and don’t forget that ‘where you go, there you are.’ You’re not going to be a different person when you move somewhere else. Just ask me. My electronic piano was shipped to Qatar where I would surely have more time to play it. It’s so lonely.

For us, at this point in time, we need an investment. Not having a mortgage isn’t the positive thing you think it is. In order to save, we need to push ourselves a bit harder. An income producing investment would be even better. So at the moment, we’re not necesarily looking for somewhere that would suit us perfectly to live out our golden years in happiness. First, we need an investment. This is why we’re thinking of a beach front condo. Something we can attract you to (the proverbial you)…for a lovely holiday.  And of course something we’d enjoy holidaying in as well.

I know us, we enjoy some city life. While spending a holiday in a quiet remote place might be just what the doctor ordered sometimes…I need things to do. This also points to Panama. Panama City is, apparently, the most cosmopoolitan city in Central America. We don’t need to live in it…but having it within a reasonable distance is a plus for us. Who knows, maybe by retirement time we will have changed our mind about this. So far, this is us being realistic about who we are.

The question we most often get is why Panama and why not Costa Rica? I think Costa Rica is more firmly in people’s minds as a beautiful vacation spot. And make no mistake…it is!!

For us, Costa Rica is out because of a few things. First and foremost, we’re not rolling in money. When we do make our investment purchase, we’ll need financing. Costa Rica is no longer offering financing for non-residents. Panama has a number of financial incentives for expats that Costa Rica once had but has discontinuted.  Incentives such as the Pensionado visa for retirees and a 20 year tax free exemption on new builds. It’s also much cheaper to live here (apparently…we’re checking that out).

This chart shows the comparison between Costa Rica and Panama in a nice little summary. It’s worth a read.

If we were younger, and richer, we’d definitely consider Nicaragua. Funny, no one asks us about that. Did you know that Nicaragua has the lowest crime rate in Central America? The real estate prices are affordable and there are wonderful colonian towns, surfing beaches, eco tourism, mountains, volcanoes…and all the other beautiful things you associate with its other neighbouring countries. There isn’t a nice city…but we might be the only freaks who think we need this.

Please check out the summary above and ask any questions you may have. We’re here now and asking questions. We’ve already hit our first snag at the bank…more on that later. It’s still unresolved.

 

 

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Here we go…the Panama Adventure

Tomorrow we fly out to check out Panama as a possible place to invest in a vacation property with the thought in the back of our minds that this might be a good place to retire. Ok, the ‘back of our minds’ is a bit understated. We’re thinking about it.

Warning, the next several posts will be a bit of a departure from my regular writing. If you’re not interested in travel, how to do it effectively and economically you won’t be interested in this piece. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about our trek to Panama, our search for a rental property for vacationers (maybe you!) and our thoughts about possibly retiring there. If you’re not interested that’s fine…you’re dismissed for summer. We’ll reconvene later. If you are…here we go!

Primarily at this moment in time, we need an investment. Let’s just say, it’s not good for people to be without a mortgage. People like us. Our money needs to be going somewhere. We need to be committed to something.

So as many of you know, we’ve been researching the daylights out of the best places to invest/retire. Our research is taking us to Panama.

I’ll answer the question “why Panama?” tomorrow.

Today, I’m going to give you an inside look at how we arrange our travels. There are a ton of ways to do these things. Many different websites and apps to work with. We’ve learned a few things along the way that might be of interest to you.

Flight Booking

This year, we booked our flights from 1) Qatar to Toronto, 2) Toronto to San Jose, Costa Rica, 3) Costa Rica to Winnipeg 4) Winnipeg to Toronto and finally 5) Toronto back to Qatar, for a total of $2003/person. We also booked a flight for Honour to go from Qatar to Australia for $477. How?

For the last 6 years we have booked our flights through cheapoair.com. Why are they so reasonable? I don’t know but I know they are not always the most convenient flights. They are seldom direct. We don’t mind. We would rather fly inexpensively than luxuriously. Besides…who can’t benefit from getting up and taking a walk now and then? Having said that, I don’t think our flight paths look a lot different than other people’s. They’re not crazy inconvenient. Most people coming home from Qatar have 2 transfers. You can fly with just one and you can fly direct (I think). We’d prefer not to fly through the U.S., as it’s become a bit more of a hassle, but truthfully, we’ve gotten used to the routine.

Although it says “this booking is final, no refunds” at the end of the booking process, we have (on no less than 4 occasions) found them to be very accommodating.

Accommodations

Want to find less expensive accommodations than hotel rooms? Try airbnb.ca or vrbo.com. There are a wide variety of homes available in so many locations. You often get less expensive, more spacious accommodations, and the personal touch of an owner to boot. We’ve had great luck with these sites, from a flat in London, England to a cottage in the hills of the Finger Lakes (New York State); they’ve all been great. This summer almost all of our rooms were booked through one of these. Stay tuned…I’m taking you with me (virtually, put your suitcase away) and will show pictures and give descriptions.

Need a hotel room? I’m writing right now from the International Plaza Hotel near Pearson International Airport. We needed a room because of our ridiculously early flight (you’re welcome friends and family, we didn’t even ask you to take us to the airport at 3 a.m.). If you’re willing to take a little risk you could save lots of money. We booked this through Hotwire. Because hotels don’t really want you to know that they’re giving away rooms at reduced prices, the name of the hotel is hidden until you book. This is not a tried and true thing for us. I took the chance this time and it worked great. I was looking for a room near the airport, free shuttle to the airport, free wifi…and that’s it really. I found those things and hit the button…and got a suite for $81 (regularly $130…I checked. I needed to know if it was really a deal). I’ll definitely be trying that again.

Cool Apps

It looks like there are so many great apps out there to make travelling easier. Maybe. How do you know unless you try?

I’m really excited about the one I decided to try. It’s called Tripit.

This summer it was not easy to keep track of flights, layovers, various accommodations, car rentals etc. Even when it’s a one-destination trip, it can be overwhelming.

Tripit is fabulous. It’s connected to my email address. So when a confirmation for a flight, or rental or anything comes into my email box I just forward it to ‘plans@tripit.com’ and it automatically populates, into the calendar on Tripit. It has everything on it, the confirmation numbers, flight numbers and transfers. It has a map with our flights on it. Each accommodation entry has directions and a map and there’s a place to put personal notes (the owner will meet us with the key at the coffee shop – those kinds of notes). Apparently if you get TripitPro ($49/year) it will alert you to flight delays, track your air miles and a number of other things. I’m sticking with the free version. It’s already impressive enough.

An added feature is that you can share your Tripit calendar with friends. You can see ours if you request it from me. Warning, upon viewing exhaustion may ensue. As my friend (who will meet us in Panama later) said after she read it “BTW your travel schedule is crazy busy. I don’t know how you are doing it.” I’m pleading temporary insanity.

 

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Back and Forth – But Never The Same

June, in Doha, has a way of focusing everything in high resolution. Whereas the rest of the year you can almost forget that you live anywhere unusual, June doesn’t let you forget. The heat alone will jolt you into the crystal clear here and now. Walking out of an air conditioned building and feeling the almost 50C air blow your hair back and fog your glasses brings you abruptly here, face to face with the fact that you do indeed live in an Arabian desert. I still love it. I still marvel at the dry heat. It still makes me smile.

 

There are other things that I still love that make me feel like an odd man out. For example, the Call To Prayer that bellows from sometimes broken speakers, sometimes over the speakers at the mall and for those who live close to a mosque, always too early in the morning, is still a beautiful, haunting sound of deep longing for ritual and connection to the Divine to me. Not so much to others haha.

 

Airplanes coming and going over the city and over our apartment are a reminder of the personnel that is constantly transported in and out of this country. It’s a steady flux of hellos and good-byes, of people facing a new culture, struggling to make sense of it, trying to make peace with it and leaving it behind. The ubiquitous Home Center and Ikea trucks are the on-the-ground reminder of new settlers.

 

No one stays here. Ok, Qataris stay here. The 250,000 Qataris that call this home, stay here. The rest of the 1.5 million of us are transient. I’ve never worked anywhere before where regular threads of conversation were, “Are you staying another year?” and “How long have you been here?” If you’ve been here for 10 years you are looked at and revered as a trailblazer, a pioneer, almost a unicorn. As we finish our 3rd year we find ourselves among the ‘long term’ people at the school with only a handful who have been there longer.

 

Last year, on the plane back to Doha after a lovely summer, I said to Dave, “aren’t you excited to meet the new people coming to the school?”  He looked at me like I’d just told him that our plane wasn’t in the air but was actually sliding across ice and going to the North Pole. It was a mixture of “you’re such an alien and after all these years I still don’t understand you” and “unless you’re kidding right now.” It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy new people, eventually, but this thought would have never occured to him. Never.

 

Sadly, for me, and my kind, the alien kind, this is ‘good-bye’ time of year. I am acutely aware, as each day of school passes by in the celebratory count down, that there are people I will be saying farewell to, and who I will quite possibly never see again. Almost for certain I will not see them on a daily basis. My heart is in such a mixed state. Like no other year (here) I am so ready for this year to be over and as I say things like “Yipee! One week to go!”, it’s followed quickly by a sinking feeling that there are souls I’ve grown to love who will be moving on to other adventures. Not the least of which….is Daughter #3, the representative of the final round of parenting. Of course this is mostly blocked. Which means that there will likely be tears all the way home because I’m totally NOT preparing myself for this pivotal moment.

 

It’s been an adventure parenting a teenager in a foreign country, a Muslim country, with so many unknowns, so many missed cues and second guessing. It’s been a pleasure, on the other hand, travelling with her, watching her grow, seeing her reactions and responses to the culture around her. And of course it will be a beautiful thing to watch her spread her wings and head out into the world. Gulp. Of course it will. What? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe this is how I’m feeling? (Please, join me for a cup of happy delusion).

Farewell friends. It has been an absolute honour getting to know you. With each encounter of another spirit in this world I am changed. You never meet someone, especially if you love them, and walk away unchanged. I am changed for the better for having known you. Even if saying goodbye is painful, it is all worth it.

Peace to all.

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Updates and Summer Plans

Well, by now most of you know that we didn’t win the contest.

Oh, you all went out of your way, and conscripted friends, and asked them repeatedly to vote for us. Many of your friends, and friends of friends got so excited about the whole contest. That was SO heart warming! Everyone was pulling for us…and without paying a soul to vote, we ended with the most votes…hands down! But that was only part of the equation and IL saw fit to give the prize to someone else with a lot less votes. It puts IL in bad light, if you ask me but the people they chose are a lovely couple, already retired, and we wish them nothing but the best.

What a blessed life we live when we can still go on the trip we were planning anyhow. Yes, we were a bit upset and disappointed but we didn’t stay in that place for long. We counted our blessings and quickly started planning (we’d been holding off on our plans because we thought it looked like we were going to win…silly us).

So, we’re happy to not waste the interest and enthusiasm that you all showed. SO many of you said things like “if you win or if you move there, we want to come and visit!” Which sounds like a lot of fun to me!

Also, many of you have asked that we report what we find as we go searching for potential investments and/or possible retirement spots. That is exactly what we’re going to do.

I’ve been reading and researching for way too long about this…so what I need you to do is ask questions if I’m leaving gaps in the info I’m sending. And, if you’re not interested in this venture, please, promise me that you’ll just delete for a couple of months but don’t tune me out forever.

My hope is to do shorter more frequent posts. I certainly don’t want to spend ALL my time blogging but it might be my only hope of remembering what I saw and how I felt or experienced certain places that we visit.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we have to finish the school year and prepare for changes here in Doha. More on that in the next instalment.

Stay tuned….

 

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International Living – So Much Excitement

Well it’s been an exciting weekend (yours is just beginning but ours is just ending).

We are in the top 20 in a contest to win a one month trip to Panama to “test drive retirement.”

Here’s the fabulous part, we were already talking about possibly going to Panama this summer. It has been on our list of retirement options for quite some time and while we’ve lived in Mexico and Honduras and visited (Dave) Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we’ve never actually been to Panama. So, as retirement starts to get a little closer, we were thinking it might be time to actually see Panama for ourselves. The countries we’ve visited are also on our list, as is Ecuador and maybe (trailing the others) Spain.

Basically I’ve been following real estate trends in these countries for years watching for affordable options. Of course it can’t just be affordable. There are other factors to take into account. All of the factors though are drawing us to have a look at Panama.

WHEN WHAT TO OUR WONDERING (WANDERING?) EYES SHOULD APPEAR? A contest in International Living Magazine. Honestly – I couldn’t believe my eyes. Yes, it felt like Christmas!

So here’s the lowdown. We had to make a 3 minute video saying why we’d like them to choose us. We did that and submitted it at the beginning of April. Then they chose the top 20 videos.

WE’RE IN THE TOP TWENTY!!! (We celebrated…what an honour).

Here’s where you come in….now the videos are posted on the IL website and people are voting on which one they like.

PLEASE VOTE!!

Well, watch the video first, and if you like it….then vote for us.

Here it is…thanks in advance for your support. Feel free to share it with your friends and if they like it maybe they’ll vote too…?!!

Click below.

http://internationalliving.com/2014/05/david-and-tracie-giesbrecht/

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Dubai, The Final Chapter – Shout Out To Honour

So all and all Dubai was a lot of fun. We took Honour to the market we liked best, to see the gorgeous fountain…show? I’m not even sure what to call it. It’s like fountains but set to music. Think fireworks, but with water (I’ve posted a video below). We did a boat tour on the same day we skied and saw the city from the water. Fun day. And of course we did malls. You can’t really go to Dubai and ignore the malls. The floor to ceiling aquariums, the actual dinosaur skeleton, all the fancy stores…they’re all there, from Tiffany’s to Cartier and SO many names that I’m sure I’d be impressed with if I even knew who they were. It’s not my thing. I’m more easily amused…like these, the Arab take on the ubiquitous “Keep Calm” theme:

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The most fun part was travelling with Honour though.

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For one thing, she loves everything and is game to go anywhere and try anything.

She really loved the aquarium

She really loved the aquarium

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And who doesn’t go to the mall to see an actual dinosaur skeleton?

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She’s also not shy. Not at all. So when we didn’t want to spend the money to go up the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, because we’d been before…it was no problem, she didn’t bat an eye and off she went alone.

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She also made so many people smile. Especially the cab drivers. They loved her. Every time we got into a car she’d turn her music on and start to sing. And she doesn’t just sing…she sings like she’s onstage. And she doesn’t care who’s watching. One of the cab driver’s laughed the whole way from point A to B and then talked to Dave about how he wishes more people were like her. So Dave said he should take a picture of her (I’m not sure this is stellar Dad behavior but he did seem like a nice guy and, did I mention? She’s not shy).

She’s particularly taken by the movie Frozen right now. So adding to this fun is the fact that it’s Disney music she’s mostly singing these days. We all know the words now I think.

I do have a video of her …performance…on the metro. She says I can’t post it here but that I can send it to people if they really want to see it. She’s a crazy girl and she made our trip a lot of fun.

One cab driver that was not amused but finally cracked a smile when she was leaving the cab and said “Shukran Habibi” (Thank you Love).

If you ever need a good travel companion…she’s your girl!

Here’s the water show and a few extra pictures of the silliness that went on.

For those of you out there with a bent for marketing, how brilliant is Sephora (the cosmetic company)? Watch for their product placement in the video.

She tolerated her Mom wanting Mexican food for every meal.

She tolerated her Mom wanting Mexican food for every meal. It’s not her thing.

But having chips and cheese for lunch (pretty much all she likes) isn't too much of a hardship.

But having chips and cheese for lunch (pretty much all she likes in Mexican food) isn’t too much of a hardship.

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So much silliness all the time.

So much silliness all the time. Hard to believe she’s about to go out into the world on her own!

Crazy building.

Crazy building. I think I would have wild dreams if I lived in there. Dr. Seuss anyone?

TOO MUCH FUN!! Thanks Honour!

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Dubai Part 3 – Skiing in the Desert

Dave and I have been to Dubai 3 times now. In a water/Saudi locked country it’s the cheapest place for a little getaway. Once you get there it’s not necessarily cheap of course, so if inexpensive is the goal, you need to be careful.

Both of the other times we went, we discussed skiing. Dave almost did one time but our schedule ruled it out. I have skied in the Canadian Rockies. As kids we skied many times every winter. We owned our own gear, we had a trailer near a ski hill in northern Ontario and it was the go-to place for weekend trips all winter long. Ski in Dubai? Cheesy. That was my thought. Some indoor baby hill of man made snow. Nah…I don’t need it.

On this trip it was Honour’s one request. She has never skied before and she wants part of her story to go like this…”I’m Canadian but I skied for the very first time in the desert, in a mall.” Ok, that is a fun story. I conceded and said I go with her.

When Dave heard her request he immediately said “Sure! I’ll take you!” Upon hearing this I altered my plans and decided that it would be a great time to go to a coffee shop and read a book, or get some shopping time in…..*insert the sound of car tires coming to a screeching halt*….when did I become the mother person who sits out of sporting events? In my imagination I would have never become that person. But somewhere along the line I did. So I said…”I’m coming too.”

As we were being fitted for skis I was asked if I could ski. I said yes. Are you good? I said, well, I’m Canadian (let’s start there) and I was good, but I haven’t skied for maybe…pause…hesitate…I threw out “10 years.”

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the chair being lifted to the top that I actually started counting the years. It had been more like 35 years since I’d been on skis. Oh boy. The nerves set it. I began mentally rehearsing. Before I felt my out-of-shape weakened muscles, while I was still sitting in the chair, I reminded myself of what it felt like. I could feel the snow beneath my skis, my knees bending and my upper leg muscles pushing the edges of the skis into the snow creating perfect control. I remembered things my Dad would tell us, ‘lack of confidence and tiredness cause the most accidents, don’t try things too hard at the end of the day when you’re getting tired.’

Rehearsing was over…we were at the top.

I’m happy to report that as I slipped over the top of the hill and headed down the slope it was like riding a bike. My body did indeed remember how to do it. As I mentally coached myself (“don’t be afraid, be confident, you know how to do this”) I felt my new self connect with my old self in a wonderful and miraculous way. And as I relaxed, now knowing that my body knew what to do I was able to remember a few other things…

…like wind in my hair, cool, crisp fresh air and the thrill of speed.

There are three different heights you can go to at Ski Dubai. It’s bigger than I expected (no, it’s not the Canadian Rockies) and actually, better than I expected. We did several runs on the medium sized hill to get warmed up and then wasted no time getting to the top. Despite my reconnection to my younger self I knew that my old body would likely tire quickly.

In the end I skied two days in a row and found that there were other things I had forgotten. The pain in my calves caused by brutal ski boots. Really? In 35 years they haven’t come up with something more comfortable than those &*(#@ ski boots?? Also, freezing cold fingers and toes. I forgot about that too.

Honestly, I felt like a teenager skiing. I forgot how fun it was. I forgot that I could do these things as well. I forgot (in my old, unfit body) that I was once athletic.

And oh the joy it gave me to hear Honour say “Dad! Did you see Mom? She’s really good! She looks so YOUNG when she’s skiing!”

That’s cuz I felt young sweetheart. Thanks so much for pushing us to ski.

Trust me when I tell you, this video is for the enjoyment of my parents…it won’t be exciting for you, but for ME…well…

LOOK MOM! NO HANDS!

(I wonder if you ever stop wanting your Mom to stop watching you do stuff?)

 

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Dubai Part 2 – It Got Better (Strong Women Rock!)

Despite our turbulent beginning, the rest of our Dubai trip was wonderful.

After our nasty all-nighter flight, we had a 20 minute nap, showered and were off to our first outing. One of the biggest reasons I wanted to go to Dubai at this particular time was because of a rugby match I wanted us to watch. Here’s why….meet my friend Aine (pronounced Ahnia…for those who aren’t Irish).

Aine-the-radiant

Aine-the-radiant

Aine is one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met. The picture you see above is exactly her. Light radiates from deep within her and illuminates everyone and everything around her. She is a sweet, gentle (not to be mistaken for not-strict), kindergarten teacher at our school. No matter how stressed she might be, she always asks about you and how you’re doing. She is a deeply spiritual yogi. She is kind and thoughtful and I frequently have little notes or gifts left on my desk at work from her that brighten my day.

But Aine, light radiating, gentle, kind, Aine has another side. This delights me to no end for some reason (read to the end because in writing this I figured out why). Aine is a fierce rugby player. When I first heard this I thought, oh cool, she’s a great athlete; I’d like to watch her play. But, you see, I’d never seen a rugby match before.

I HAD NO IDEA!

This girl, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, will take you down if you are her opponent in rugby. If you’re on the other team and you have the ball…take heed! Her whole demeanor changes, for brief, focused periods of time. I suspect that after she’s tackled you to the ground, she helps you up and apologizes profusely. That’s just a guess.

As interesting as this all is, and as much as I enjoyed the first game I watched and my introduction to rugby, why did I want to go to Dubai to watch her play? Because much of what I see in her I see blossoming in my youngest daughter, Honour. I kept trying to get her to come and watch one of Aine’s games but so far, she hadn’t been able to pry herself away from her friends. In Dubai there were no distractions.

A little side note – I’ve recently become aware of an intense joy I have when I see my girls doing certain things. I’ve decided this is important. I wish I would have taken note of this earlier but it’s never too late. I’ve decided that these are directions that I could encourage them in. We are still connected after all and I think my joy comes from seeing their joy. Sometimes they accomplish things and I’m so very proud of them, but this is different. This seems to be to be like when they sink into something or somewhere that they’re meant to be, doing things they are meant to do, feeling fulfillment that they are entitled to and meant for. It’s the sweet spot. This is how I feel when I watch Honour play sports. She’s a wonderful actress…I love to watch that too…and a lovely singer…but when she plays sports it makes me so very happy. (To my other girls, I’d be happy to tell you what you do that makes me feel that same joy. I’m not sure you want me to tell the world, but I can certainly do that too.)

So we carried our travel weary bodies to the rugby pitch (Canadians…do you like my new lingo? Rugby match, rugby pitch? Are you with me?).

Just as I hoped, Honour was completely wrapped in the intensity and startling brutality of the game and in the emergence of the athletic, competitive personality of Aine-on-the-field.

As we left I was told I was never to go to a game of Aine’s without Honour again. Aine also told Honour she should play rugby. She told her there was a ‘touch’ game (less intense) that she might like to try. Honour said, with a giggle, “I’m kind of into the tackle thing.”

Here’s what I love about this, here’s why I think this is so flippin’ fantastic for girls like Aine and Honour; sometimes the sweet girls get walked on in life. Sometimes those who are bent toward the wellbeing of others, forget to take care of themselves. They forget to take life by storm…their life. Sometimes conquering things feels too aggressive. Sometimes winning, for yourself, is shadowed by who didn’t win. Sometimes it can take a whole lifetime to realize that in your love and kindness toward others you’ve let yourself be passed by and in fact, you don’t even know what you want to fight for much less how to fight for it. Sweet girls, who are bent toward the wellbeing of others need somewhere to safely exercise this muscle, to let the warrior come out, to feel the victory and to know it’s good.

I’m so grateful for examples of love and light and goodness, and focus and power and strength that women like Aine can bring to my growing young goddess-of-goodness.

To all the sweet, gentle women out there, don’t forget to go after what you want, unapologetically, with power and focus and strength.

For this reason alone, Dubai was a success.

Enjoy some pictures of Aine-on-the-field (number 12).

Even a couple of videos at the bottom.

 

Look out!

Look out!

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It was a long night remember...someone needed a nap, and has the ability to nap anywhere.

It was a long night remember…someone needed a nap, and has the ability to nap anywhere.

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My favourite...primal!

My favourite…primal!

A couple of short clips…Aine-on-the-field in action.

http://youtu.be/_cEHkgZzab4

http://youtu.be/6KraublppPI

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Dubai for Spring Break – Part 1 (aka the fiasco)

You may not know this about me, but I love to fly. When I was a kid, and on until I was a young mother, my Dad and brother’s owned small planes. Our friends were pilots. We flew to the local,restaurant to meet them for breakfast on many a Saturday morning. You might say this was part of the playground equipment in my backyard. There was a runway that ran the length of our 50 acre farm. Yet with all my experience and exposure to flying it has never become dull to me and I never take it for granted. I marvel every single time. While some sleep or read through the take off I do not. I stop what I’m doing. Look out the window. Feel the deep powerful rumble of the engines and feel all the exhilaration and wonder that is due this incredible feat of engineering and technology.

On my daughter’s first flight I was able to tell her what was happening and assure her that the noises she was hearing were all perfectly normal. She’s an excellent flier to this day. She is seldom afraid. Explanations and expectations can go a long way to calm the nerves. I remember my Dad telling me, as we flew, about the air currents. “As we head out over the lake there will be a change of air current. We’ll hit a few bumps.” “We are coming to the edge of a wooded area, that will change the air patterns and we’ll hit a little turbulence.” Have you ever noticed how completely calm pilots are? I know many of them and I can tell you, I think it’s universal. They are exactly who you want around when things get rough. Panicking doesn’t help anything…ever. It’s a good life lesson really.

Having that background, let me tell you about our trip to Dubai last Thursday night. It’s one for the books. Cue the singing of “three hour tour, three hour tour.” (If you’re too young for that reference don’t worry about it).

First of all we were at our gate, waiting for it to open. We were all reading or listening to music. Honour said “Don’t you think it’s strange that we’re the only ones sitting here and boarding was supposed to start 5 minutes ago?” Good point. I went and checked the board. It still said our gate was the right gate for boarding so Dave went and asked someone. “Oh no, we’ve moved you to gate 11.” Might have been an idea to change it on the board…or to check the original area to see if anyone was still there! What we were about to learn (the hard way!) was that Qatar Airways has a “silent airport policy.” Meaning that nothing is announced over a P.A. aside from the automated “Please do not leave your luggage unattended” message.

So we made our way to our gate and boarded the plane around 9:00 p.m. Dubai is about a 50 minute flight. Once we were all strapped in a ready to go, the quintessentially calm pilot welcomed us and told us that due to a big thunder/lightning storm front over Dubai, the Dubai airport was closed and not allowing anyone to land. We had a spectacular storm the night before in Doha so I’m sure this was also big.

We sat on the plane for about 2 hours before Mr. Pilot came back on and said that the storm front had moved on and Dubai was now open for business. Weather. Who are we to predict what it will do? That was my thought. Anyhow, we were finally on our way.

As we approached the Dubai airport we were told that the storm had moved back in and the airport was once again closed. Perfect. We were going to circle the airport and wait a bit. We circled for 2 hours. You can imagine that this was not the smoothest of flying either. There were 18 planes circling. I kept consoling myself, there are flight patterns, radar, we weren’t going to hit another plane, we were too high up to crash, and I’m sure the calm, cool and collected pilot was watching the fuel gage.  We slept, we read, we waited.

At about 2 a.m. we were told that a decision had to be made and we were turning back to Doha. Obviously we couldn’t circle forever. People were really angry. I’m not sure if they thought the Dubai airport could control the weather or the pilot could control the weather? We’re really not used to being in situations we can’t control. Didn’t matter how much people screamed and shouted though…the storm was unaffected.

This was the flight tracker on the plane. For your amusement. My sister tells me this will be funny to me someday.

flightpathtodubai

We landed safely back in Doha in the middle of the night. I was thankful we were safe. The Yellers began their rampage to the ground staff…because, the ground staff had so much to do with it. One man kept yelling at them “this is a disgrace!” Ok. I felt for the staff. Well, I felt for the staff for about an hour as they tried to sort things out and tried to reason with people. It quickly became apparent though that they didn’t have a plan. This was not welcomed news at 3 a.m.

We bought some food. Then found out they were giving out vouchers for food. We went to the transit desk, they said go to gate (?) and they would take care of us from there. We were told to watch the monitor for our original flight number and it would say where it was boarding when the time came. We sat there for a very long time before asking another QA worker who said “NO! You should be down at the transit desk!”  Down to the transit desk. Go to gate 17, that’s where we’ll issue you a new boarding pass and board you all at the same time. Gate 17 was mobbed. After standing there for an hour (I think it was now about 5 a.m.) a QA worker came to tell us that we needed to form a proper queue. No one moved. Please, form a proper queue. No.  Who did she think was going to move away from the desk and risk not getting on. She said (this is my favourite) “You have been standing here for an hour and have not moved yet, if you form a queue the line will move.” I was done. “The line has not moved because we’re not in a proper line? Not because the gate isn’t open yet?” No one moved. Seriously…now they were going to get snippy with US??

It was another hour before we boarded. Once boarded we were told that 30 people didn’t get on and ground crew was going to have to remove their luggage and shift the remaining luggage around. I can only imagine that the 30 people were somewhere sleeping because all of the instructions were yelled into a crowd of people (so only 1/2 the people could hear) and if you’d been told you should be somewhere else (by QA staff who didn’t know what was going on) then you might be…who knows where!

Once in our seats we fell fast asleep. Since the beginning of our day the day before we had now been awake for about 26 hours. When I woke up…we were still on the ground. I had been sleeping for almost 2 hours while they shuffled the luggage. Nightmare-ish. Would this ever end.

The weather for the flight was still not great.

I went to the bathroom. I could feel that there was quite a bit of turbulence. All of a sudden the flight attendant used the emergency bathroom unlocker and opened the door. Yup…I was sitting there looking at her. I realized she was in a panic but I thought an apology was in order.

When I came out of the bathroom the flight attendants were strapping themselves in, my knees buckled as the plane dipped and the nearest flight attendant said “Do not go back to your seat, strap in right there.” She pointed to a flight attendant’s seat. Really, my seat was 6 feet away, but ok. How often do you get to do that? By the time I’d figured out how the seat and the buckle worked the turbulence was over and I was back to me seat.

So…here’s what we lost:

A night’s sleep, which seriously affected the rest of our short 4 day holiday.

The price of our hotel room that we didn’t sleep in the first night.

Our love for Qatar Airways. Really…we used to rave about them. I wouldn’t be one to lose faith from one bad experience but I have to say, the previous 2 times I’ve flown with them they were “off”.  Also, this incident isn’t just about bad communication and a stormy night that was hard to deal with. It’s about a policy (the silent airport policy) that should really be reviewed. There should be times for exceptions.

Two days ago my husband wrote a very constructive letter to Qatar Airway’s customer service. So far we haven’t had any reply.

I promise, if they somehow make good of all of this, I will definitely let you know and will exonerate their name.

In fact, I would like nothing better.

 

 

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