In search of a latte, I got dishwashing liquid

A funny thing happened to me today while cruising Canuckistan for coffee. I walked into my regular café in these parts and stuck my head into the kitchen to say hi, as is my wont.

And I just knew, instinctively, that all was not well… One of the bakers was working as a cook, the regular barista was helping plate food, and the 14-year-old who normally only wakes up at 2pm was heard moaning at the washing-up area, while the boss flitted between jobs fixing this and making that.

“How can I help,” I asked sympathetically, and instantly had a plastic blue apron thrust into my hand. “We are understaffed, you can help wash, it’s back there,” I was instructed, before I could suggest that I would prefer helping the baker/cook.

And so, for the next three hours I rinsed, scraped, washed, scrubbed and polished. My helper, the 14-year-old with Attention Deficit Disorder worked in spurts but would disappear without warning. Amongst other things, I found her fawning over a baby (on several occasions), making herself a bacon snack, skateboarding between patrons in the courtyard, fashioning a portable speaker out of a disposable coffee cup (because one cannot work without music) and jamming the door of the cold-room closed, with the barista locked inside.

By the end, my Birkenstock sandals were sodden, along with the hem of my shorts’ legs, but there was a silver lining: whenever the barista wasn’t locked in the cold-room and remembered me slaving away at the sink, I would receive a perfect latté – the very thing I had originally come in for.

Nah, who are you kidding?

I was chatting to someone on the way over to Canuckistan earlier this week and, as I was drifting off to sleep, had a revelation. You see, at first she was kind of defensive and cagey, which confused me. Why would anyone be defensive and cagey with someone as affable, nay, positively charming as I?

I mean, I do know that some of my friends have accused me of being creepy and stalker-like. But that’s normally when I’m hiding behind a tree or in my car with my long lens pointed at an unsuspecting subject. And in this case, in the bowels of a Boeing, my camera hadn’t made an appearance, even covertly.

And then I realised what it was. Over the course of the evening – until she feigned sleep, turned her back on me and started breathing more loudly than needed – I had shared something of my life story. And if I were her, I too would have been wary of this yarn-spinning fellow passenger who clearly wanted to impress with his tall tales of travelling the world; of his numerous jobs from working with young offenders, to serving in the church, from teaching, to being a part-time photographer, from sub-editing on a daily newspaper, to working as a maintenance man, from helping establish several churches, to volunteering on a helicopter-relief programme in earthquake-hit Nepal.

“Lies, all lies,” I would have thought, if I were her. “How could anyone have done that many things and still look so young?”

(Of course, I also pried surreptitiously and listened to her personal anecdotes! If nothing else, I can pretend to be polite and interested.)

But seriously. My life has been quite fantastic and I am thankful for the incredible experiences and opportunities I’ve been given. Above all, I am also grateful for all the friends I have made in my home country and around the world; of the youngsters I have taught and the places I’ve been.

I’m told often nowadays that it’s time to grow up and “settle down” – that I need to think about saving for my future. I’m just not sure what that means exactly. I’m not sure I will ever fit into the neat little box with my name and address stuck unchanging on the outside, as my company seems to charge. And I’m not sure I’m ready to stop recounting my outlandish life experiences to unsuspecting, unbelieving neighbours on planes.

Perhaps I will “settle down” one day – perhaps even next month. But for now I just don’t know if I have the courage, faith or patience to do it. Or whether I’m ready to deprive the world of my pleasant personality, my humility and my dashing good looks.

One of my most imbecilic performances ever

I still can’t believe what an idiot I was!

And with that one sentence a myriad of images flooded your mind about what I could possibly have done? Well, it’s this you see …

It’s sometimes easier to do the impossible than to do the embarrassing. Ashleigh Brilliant

Shortly after arriving in Canuckistan I took my camera and two lenses for a swim: my two not-at-all-waterproof lenses and only-slightly-splashproof camera.

I have climbed into and out of canoes more than I’ve had hot breakfasts, but this time I wasn’t thinking straight; I rushed into the green craft too quickly, my camera swung, throwing me off-balance and I toppled in. My wide-angle lens was in my pants’ pocket (the obvious place for it to be) while my camera with 50mm lens attached was slung around my neck. Obviously none were in waterproof bags. After all, I’d climbed into and out of canoes without falling in more times than I’ve had hot breakfasts.

The scene I was heading out to shoot.
The scene I was heading out to shoot (an iPhone photo).

Two friends who were watching the whole comedic affair remained rooted to the spot on the bank. Although, now that I think about it, one may have fallen off his lawn chair, so vulgarly boisterous was his laughter. My wide-angle hit the water first, and stayed submerged for an eternity. My camera I grabbed as I tumbled in, mostly keeping it out of the water’s clutches. It did get a little moist but not like the wide-angle, which literally had water pouring out of it, once I’d squeezed it from my pocket.

I stumbled up and out of the water, stammering that everything was fine, while secretly wishing I could have hidden my sodden self under the dock until the witnesses had left.

I was at a church camp at the time, and within no time news about my idiotic act had spread through the group. But that’s probably all my doing – what with my bald self bursting into the meeting hall begging for a hair dryer. Need I say more?

How they would have looked at me as I burst in with my news.

Only after spending hours blow-drying the three precious pieces of equipment, inadvertently fogging up their innards, did I read that the worst thing possible is to use a hair dryer. Eventually a couple of colleagues suggested that I use silica gel sachets (those things one gets in medicine bottles). Several of them generously raided their medicine cabinets and I stuffed the sachets into every nook and cranny of the camera body and lenses, praying fervently all the while.

One of those who helped with the silica treatment.
One of those who helped with the silica treatment.

The final step in my attempt to resurrect my photographic equipment was to put the pieces into porous bags and to plunge them into cheap rice for several days. After over a week of treatment (and being forced to shoot with my phone) the rice, combined with the silica, seemed to do the trick for the camera and wide-angle. Unfortunately the 50mm never did recover. The camera itself still has occasional tics and twitches, where it refuses to focus or kills the battery too quickly, but in general she’s back to her old self.

And the moral of the story? I don’t know.

You tell me.

When I went out later with my iPhone.
When I went out later with my iPhone.
Sunset shot with the iPhone.
Sunset shot with the iPhone.
A kid having fun on the water slide (an iPhone shot).
A kid having fun on the water slide (an iPhone shot).
Disappearing legs (an artistic iPhone shot).
Disappearing legs (an artistic iPhone shot).

Finding closure at a lake in Canuckistan

WARNING: This is a more serious blog post than normal. Leave now if you prefer photos of kittens, sunsets and old cars!

Newly arrived in Canuckistan in the summer of 2013, I visited a lake with friends one perfectly sunny Saturday. As usual, I packed both my camera and bathing suit for the day, and happily snapped both those I went with and others just doing what so many Canuckis do in summer – life at the lake.

Guarding the fire - and the smokies.
Guarding the fire – and the smokies.
Solitary fishing away from the kids.
Solitary fishing away from the kids.

At one point I stopped to chat to the children selling snacks and cold drinks from the “Yum-Yum Shoppe” at the entrance, as well as the old man who had run the resort for several decades, who was keeping an eye on them. One of my friends told me the old guy was negative about life. On the contrary, he had me in stitches …

He talked about how his children used to run the snack shack but that once they stopped coming to the lake he would get kids who came to the resort throughout summer to do it.

“They eat all the profit, but that’s okay, it gives them something to do,” he explained between puffs on his cigarette. “I actually hate the thing’s name. So pretentious,” he went on.

The mother of two of the children asked me why I was taking photos, to which I explained that I was a blogger doing a series about life in Canuckistan. She seemed genuinely interested and more than happy for me to photograph her children for my blog.

But it turns out she was not as genuine as I had thought. A month later I got a call from the police telling me they had received a complaint and to please remove the photos from my blog. As a result of that one complaint I had a record of having been investigated by the RCMP – something that would stay against my name for several years. The incident also had a huge impact on my photo-taking until recently. Where previously I had been comfortable photographing people, it got to the point where I trusted no one, and was actually scared to take the photos I was so good at – candid shots of people.

A few weeks ago I visited the same lake for the weekend (this time) with different friends. Fortunately I drove down a few days beforehand to book our campsites and got talking to the elderly woman who owned the resort. I told her who I was and that I had taken photos there a few years earlier.

“Oh yes, I remember hearing about you,” she told me. I shared what had happened with the RCMP, and then she set everything straight – helping remove a weight I’d carried for three years.

Apparently the mother I had spoken to had seen me taking photos earlier in the day and didn’t like the fact that I had my camera out in such a public place, where children were swimming and playing.  She told other parents and campers to watch out for me because I was “taking photos of children in their bikinis without permission.” I’d hate to believe that she consciously hatched a plan to report me to the police, but that’s the way it turned out.

Strangely enough, I did a really cool series of photos of her daughter, capturing all the emotion and nostalgia of lakeside family vacations, because she was the one parent who had actually given me permission. I had always wondered why she didn’t contact me directly to ask me to remove the photos, when if she subsequently changed her mind. Now I know.

Apparently their family had caused trouble completely unrelated to me at the resort too, and had been asked never to come back. Very sad, but it did bring me a measure of closure.

If you were hoping for an even more positive twist to this story this is it: I then told the resort’s owner how I had taken a few photos of her husband too. As we chatted about him, she recalled that 2013 had been his last summer – that he had died in autumn that year. On arriving home, I went in search of the photos on my hard drive, found a couple, had them printed and gave them to her on the weekend. The word “grateful” does not describe how happy she was. I was in tears, she was in tears. And for the rest of the weekend I kept hearing from my friends and random people at the lake about how much my photos meant to her.

The incident subsequent to my visit to Blue Lake in 2013 was difficult, but the restoration now, and response to two black and white photos more than made up for it. I resolve to keep shooting people because of the joy it brings to them and their loved ones.

I know that people may judge me based on the times we live in, but I choose not to take it personally. I, unlike some middle-aged men with cameras, am not a sick, lecherous, weirdo (contrary to societal belief). I get great pleasure from what I do, which, for me, is blessing people with portraits. Just look at the maternity shoot I did two weekends ago!  🙂

Campsite sign with a difference.
Campsite sign with a difference.
Small island in a little lake.
Small island in a little lake.
Yum-Yum Shoppe proprietors
Yum-Yum Shoppe proprietors
The owner of the resort
A real storyteller

P.S. Whenever I do a series featuring people, I get their permission first. The thing that was so shocking to me about being reported to the police was that I believed I had permission and that the person who reported me did not think about the consequences, in terms of how her report would affect me. I am posting these “Yum-Yum Shoppe” photos here now because it is three years later. At no point have I mentioned where this lake is, and there is no “danger” to these children, who are now three years older and somewhere else entirely. I don’t believe that the photos violate their dignity in any way either. Rather, perhaps one day they will serendipitously stumble across this post and, on seeing their photos, will be reminded of the Yum-Yum Shoppe and their happy holiday at the lake.

Cruising Canuckistan on a classic

There are evenings around here that going cruising in one’s vehicle just won’t do. Cycling is too sweaty and slow and I don’t run any more, especially not with a heavy camera. It’s a good thing that my good friend Tim the welder (not to be confused with Bob the builder) has been generous enough to let me go riding with him on his classic Honda CM400T motorbike.

He rides with a beautiful brushed-grey full-face helmet and I wear my sunglasses and a potty dating to post World War 2. People wave and smile a lot. He says its because of the elegance of the vintage 400T but I know they are smiling and waving at the idiot with a potty on his head. I also seem to get many more bugs in my face and between my teeth than he. In fact, one flew behind my glasses a few rides ago, which nearly caused a hand-flapping, desperate-to-get-the-bug-out-of-my-eye crash. But we were fine. The 400T hugged the road in her time-honoured way and on we pottied, sans bug.

But I wouldn’t switch her for anything, except maybe a nasty mud-covered beast of a Yamaha XT350. She’s the perfect bike for these roads, with a top speed of about 85kph, which allows one to appreciate the landscape. In fact, yesterday we were cruising along at such a leisurely Sunday-afternoon pace that I almost dozed off.

But then we came across this scene on Dale Lake road, out past Dragon Lake, and just before Durrell. When we got home we both agreed that it was just the perfect ride and that, had it not started getting too dark, we could have kept going for hours.

The beautiful bales that first caught my eye.
The beautiful bales that first caught my eye.
The old girl, and where we came from
The old girl, and where we came from.
Bales on the horizon.
Bales on the horizon.
Long grass and a farmer's fence.
Long grass and a farmer’s fence.
The 400T in the golden hour.
The 400T in the golden hour.
The photographer in typical pose!
The photographer in typical pose!

Duck, duck, goose. Hare, hare, moose! I feel so Canucki right now.

I may only post this in the morning (Canucki time) but it’s 11.30pm and I am shaken. Not stirred, but quite, decidedly shaken!

This afternoon I went to visit some friends outside town, and was heading back along dirt logging roads in the late evening, enjoying sights like this (unedited, as shot with my phone).

File 2016-08-11, 23 36 11 File 2016-08-11, 23 38 00

My headlights were on, and several times a hare would dart out from the right, in front of my car and into the bush on the left of the road. Every time from the right, bizarrely enough. Twice, the hares didn’t make it. And I was shaken at each thud. I hate killing things. I took a photo of one of the dead bunnies at the side of the road, its beautiful, big, back feet motionless, it’s eyes without life. And I was sad.

File 2016-08-12, 00 36 58

But on I had to drive – it was getting dark quickly and I wanted to get onto the main road and home before it was pitch black. I’ve heard too many stories of people hitting deer and moose on these Cariboo roads at night …

Shortly after I turned onto the tar I noticed a deer standing to the right of the road munching on some grass in a ditch. I switched my high beams on, my music and my speed down, keeping my eyes peeled on the verge for more wildlife.

And then, only a few kilometres later, my life running in slow motion, I noticed a cow moose gracefully jogging towards me across the middle line from the left. It was quite surreal; dreamy.

“Wow I’ve never seen a moose before,” I thought to myself in a split second. “That’s so cool! Actually, hold on! That’s a MOOSE! Approaching at speed!”

This is what a moose cow looks like in the day.
This is what a cow moose looks like in the day. I didn’t take this photo. I’m not sure who did.
This is what one looks like at night. At one’s left window. (I definitely didn’t have time to take this photo.) gives this advice about hitting a moose while driving:

  • Determine what the animal is doing and where it is going.
  • Do not take unsafe evasive actions.
  • If you have to choose between swerving or striking a moose, consider swerving. A collision with a moose … carries a significant risk of injury or death to motorists and passengers.
  • If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit.
  • Brake firmly and quickly, then look, and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle.

Well, let me tell you, that’s all good advice, but when one sees a moose loping towards one’s vehicle, pure adrenaline, intuition and driving experience takes over. My military driving instructor told me a few decades back when I was learning to drive that if a dog or cat ran out in front of my car that the safest option was not to swerve. But this was no wee pet, this was a 1,5m tall, 350kg lumbering body on sticks. (I admit, I’m taking a wild guess at her size. Obviously I had no time to weigh her or ask how tall she was.)

I determined that the moose was heading straight for my car, that I was probably going to hit it and possibly get crushed as I broke its legs and its body came lurching through the windshield. I’m sorry for the graphic image – I’m just quoting Wikipedia’s description of what happens when a car collides with a moose.

And so I took evasive action. I stood on the brakes, swerved to the right (yes, towards where it was going) and then left, back onto the road, clipping the lone animal with my mirror, which exploded in a wallop of plastic and glass.

Coming to a stop a few metres down the road, I sat still for a few seconds, staring at the mess of wire and plastic where once there was a side mirror. Fortunately there wasn’t a gaping hole in my car door, and the airbags hadn’t deployed. On closer observation, I determined that the mirror had taken the brunt of the collision, with the door sustaining only a few scratches. I turned around to go and check on the animal but there was no sign of her. No hair, no blood, no carcass. In fact, the only indication of my close encounter with a meandering midnight moose was a swathe of mirror shards across the tar.

Now, lying in bed, writing this blogpost, I’m still shaken but grateful that the only damage was to a mirror that can be replaced. And hoping that Mrs Moose really did walk away with only a bad bruising and a headache for a day.

Vancouver, the town that helped vanquish my vicious jet lag

I feel for my friends the Steenkamps in Vancouver, I really do. They are the ones that always get me at my most bushy-tailed and bright-eyed as I arrive from South Africa via Europe.

As if.

It is they, the most patient of families, who get to struggle with the jet-lagged zombie that emerges through the yawning doors at Vancouver International airport after his 30-hour transcontinental flight. But somehow we always manage to visit Stanley Park, Cypress Mountain or Blenz Coffee in Horseshoe Bay within hours of my arrival. Me, with numb bum, bloodshot eyes and the sense that the earth is in constant motion; and I flying ten feet above it.

The morning after I arrived I decided to pretend I wasn’t allergic to either gluten or yeast, and joined the family for the most heavenly croissants this side of France. “It’ll be fine,” I assured them. “They don’t use yeast in croissants. I ate them in France and Switzerland for months earlier this year and was quite healthy, thank you very much!”

Except, here in Canuckistan it’s apparently easier to use yeast than to practice the regular time-consuming technique from the homeland, which involves too much butter and lots of folding of the croissant dough, to make it rise. With me feeling decidedly queasy, one of the boys suggested we go to a coffee shop and roastery on the city’s north side that his boss had been going bananas for.

“A perfect cup of coffee is all you need to set your stomach straight,” he assured.

“Mmmmmm? This is different,” I thought to myself after the first sip. I glanced over at my mates to see what they thought of their drinks and then at a lass at the table opposite who was sipping her coffee, grimacing and looking quizzically at her cup. I’d noticed one particularly excited customer who bought three bags of beans, leaving the store as if he had just secured the crown jewels of Java. But I wasn’t convinced.

I kept glancing surreptitiously across at the girl opposite, who was pulling weird faces after every sip, and eventually could contain myself no longer.

“Hello,” I said to her creepily, after sidling softly over to her right shoulder. “I’m doing a snap survey about what you think about your coffee.”

Of course, being Canadian, and not wanting to offend anyone, she lied at first.

“It’s fine,” she shrugged.

“… because my coffee tasted a bit strange and I couldn’t quite place the taste,” I continued.

And then the floodgates opened.

“Yes,” she replied. “It is kind of disgusting. Like dish water, or raw sewage. Yes, raw sewage. That’s how I would describe it.”

Laughing, I left her staring still at her cup of raw sewage and went back to my table. Everyone there agreed that the coffee was a bit off, and that we would never return. I could just imagine the young Canadian describing her strange morning to friends or family …

A day later, while on the ferry to the sunshine coast, I managed to fling the entire contents of my camera bag down a flight of stairs, lost my travelling companions and caused an incident when I tried to board their car as they exited the boat, in a no-picking-up-passengers zone. I blame the jet lag.

But, to be honest, this time I got over it pretty quickly, and jumped on a plane bound for Quesnel (600km north) feeling refreshed and ready for even more adventures.

As I didn’t take many photos in Vancouver this time, I leave you with a few from previous trips.

No matter where I go, I’m always “here”

oldmuleBy now you will have realised that I’m not blogging here anymore, as my last perambulation in the People’s Republic of Canuckistan was over a month ago. However, if you’d like to follow my (mostly mundane) rambling wherever it takes me next, come on over to my new home Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug.

So, why did I start a completely new blog, despite having built up a following of over three thousand people here? Well, mostly, because this one was tied to a place, and the new one isn’t.

I don’t guarantee beautiful photos or interesting writing, but if you’ve enjoyed this one, come on over, sign up, and we’ll see where we go together.

See you on the other side.


A year and a half in the life of an immigrant to Canuckistan

Mid May 2013 I left home bound for a tiny town up in the Cariboo, somewhere in western Canuckistan. I spent a few weeks in Europe, just to help acclimatise to life out of Africa, before flying to Vancouver at the beginning of June.

And now, in just over a month, I will be leaving – possibly for good. At first I considered doing posts to highlight every month’s experiences, but that would have killed you, my loyal readers, as you vainly tried to stay afloat beneath the mountain of photos – both good and bad.

Then, I thought that I would choose thirty of my favourite photos … but I couldn’t. Not only have I blogged thousands of photos but, as I browsed my blog, I kept getting stuck in my memories – each as special as the former. It’s been good and I am very sad to be leaving.

At the end of the day I chose 100 photos. There are many people I haven’t featured here that are very dear to me; many memories too, which couldn’t be captured on camera. But, if you dare to accept the challenge, you will see some of my favourite people and places; experience something of my life for the last 17 months.


Only true love can melt a frozen heart

My name is Robin. I’m 44-years-old; single; never married; nursing a frozen heart for so long I barely remember when last it was not. Frozen.

But in 2013 I fell in love. Painfully; unexpectedly; hardly.

I’ve never told anyone this because, well, most people just wouldn’t understand. I have friends and family that would have tried to talk me out of it as soon as they heard. “She’s not for you, Robin. It just couldn’t work. You’re setting yourself up for a world of pain; heartache that you could barely imagine. She’s just too different!”

Judging from past experience, others would have overreacted excitedly, about how ecstatic they were for me; that it was high time and that I’d better not mess it up like all my previous three relationships.

But in the times when I struggle with the relationship, about whether I should even be pursuing it, the words of one particularly-wise friend keep coming back to me – words of how love, at its core, has the potential to hurt; that as we pour our hearts, minds and souls into it that we lay ourselves bare. We love with such abandon that the object of our affection has the potential either to love us back or to wound us. Mortally. And yet, we have to love because the flip-side is even more ghastly to contemplate – a heart so frozen that, in time, one ceases to feel at all. Imagine!

At first, to be honest, I too suspected she might not have been right for me but I felt that I’d heard from God.

“Love her with all your heart – the itsy bitsy bit that still has some life in it,” I felt him say. “Reflect my love to her, because your concept of love just won’t cut it.”

And I screamed back at him, “But we are too different! It doesn’t make any sense! And anyway, God, she’d have to be pretty darn special for me to change!”

For one, there was the issue of our different cultures. Of course, I’d had similar experiences before – in Mongolia, France and Madagascar – and it hadn’t worked there. But I decided to give it a go – to work on thinking less of me and my needs and more of her; to at least try to learn to love her despite our differences. I decided to shower her with everything I could – my (limited) finances and time included – to try to get to know who she was and to look deeper than her obvious beauty.

Slowly, ever so slowly and feebly, I felt the faintest of beats “buda boom” in this Siberian soul of mine. And, miraculously, she seemed to be responding too.

But who is this beauty, this creature of a thousand faces, different every day – the one who was quickly winning my heart?

Initially I was drawn to her warmth, to her smile and liquid blue eyes, as if the whole of nature was beaming back at me, drawing me into her.  I was intoxicated; besotted. I photographed her at every opportunity, as she became my favourite model. She could do no wrong. Even on days when she was less welcoming, icy even, I saw only her fairness, her grace, her beauty. She made me feel alive.

And then, over time, as is typical of true love, I got to know her flaws too. I began to notice her wrinkles, the individual spots and blemishes that make her who she is. I noticed how messy she could be, and a selfish (nasty almost) side that seems so incongruous to who she is as a whole. In fact, there have been days – too many to number – where she seemed to plain dislike me, where it seemed as if she were trying everything she could to get rid of me. One might say that we were almost allergic to each other. I didn’t “like” these facets of her (I still don’t) – the good, the belching, and at times the just plain boring.

Some days she curried my favour and on others treated me with simple disdain, an apathetic shrug in my direction, barely acknowledging my existence. Not all days, mind you, just some. If I have discovered one thing, it’s that she does have the ability to hurt me, and I have endured some of my loneliest times since knowing her.

“But, love,” God said, “Love her with my love, and I will continue to thaw your pitiful frozen heart. I will make it everything it can and will be.”

“Oh, and chill. Relax; laugh with her; enjoy her. Chill.”

And so here I sit at the beginning of February 2014, nine months after meeting her, my semi-thawed heart very much at peace. Throughout December I prayed often and much about whether to stay with her, or whether it was time to move on. And the answer was both a difficult to hear and exciting “yes” … I was to continue.

I’ve been apart from her for more than a month, but today I fly back to her. I’ve missed her, to be honest, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this “love affair” (for want of a better word). Canuckistan, you are thawing my heart; I have fallen deeply in love with you and your people. It’s been a marvellous adventure; painful at times, but I’m heading back.

Buda boom. Buda boom.

The final winter activity: Snowshoeing

So far I have learnt to play a form of hockey, gone skiing, been on a sleigh ride and caught fish through a hole in the ice in the past month. After all, I was told that if one didn’t get active and into the fresh air in winter that one could go a little loony. My final winter activity (which I’d never done before) was snowshoeing.

A couple of friends picked me up from home at around noon last Saturday and we drove out to Hallis Lake east of town for a short little plod through the woods. It really is wonderful that there are so many spots close to town for one to practice one’s winter activities. Hallis Lake has a great network of cross-country skiing tracks, and hours-worth of snowshoeing routes too. And, unlike the downhill ski resort Troll, which is abuzz with activity at this time of year, we came across no-one out in the hills.

Don’t let anyone tell you that snowshoeing is either easy. We had an amazing two-hour cardio workout, and I literally stumbled down the final hill back to the lodge. I’m going to miss all these wonderful winter activities when I go back to South Africa this week!

Typical snowshoes
Typical snowshoes
A-snowshoeing we go
A-snowshoeing we go
Bringing up the rear
Bringing up the rear
Things along the way
Things along the way
My snowshoe company
My snowshoe company

If you aint crashing, you aint skiing

The most obvious winter sport for me to have tried (apart from hockey and ice-fishing) would have to be skiing. Not the cross-country type, which involves gliding gracefully along beautifully manicured tracks. No, I’m talking terrifying, eye-watering, hair-raising downhill (skiing) …

I have skied once before – as an 18-year-old exchange student, when I was living in Belgium in the 1980s. A group of us hired a bus and travelled all the way across Germany to Holzgau, Austria for three days.

Our group, on the way to Austria.
Our group, on the way to Austria.

Honestly, I don’t remember much skiing taking place. What I do remember is night-time sledding, followed by plenty of gluhwein. The weather was foul most of the time we were there and we managed to get onto the slopes only once – most of us being the laughing-stock of our Canadian and Scandinavian friends, who were excellent skiers.

A pair of novice skiers in the 80s.
A pair of novice skiers in the ’80s.

But I digress.

Back to Canuckistan. On the opening day of the ski season, some of the church’s youth invited me to go along to our local resort an hour from town – primarily because they needed a ride. Still nursing a throbbing wrist, from my hockey mishap the previous weekend, I was planning on sitting in the lodge all day with a good book and steady supply of hot drinks. But as soon as I saw the slopes, and all the smiling, excited ski-folk, that plan high-tailed it straight out of the door and up the bunny slope.

A couple of runs down said bunny slope had my confidence racing. “I can do anything,” I thought to myself. But it turns out the slopes and snow-ploughing were not the only things I had to master. Enter the dreaded T-bar lift – the system for transporting pairs of skiers and snowboarders uphill. Interestingly enough, the French name for it is “Pioche”, which translates to “pick-axe” in English. Which is most appropriate because the apparatus is as comfortable and easy to ride as an actual pick-axe would be. On my first attempt I smacked my T-bar buddy across the ear with my ski poles in a desperate attempt to jam the bar securely behind my derrière. My dismount was as disastrous as I panicked, skidded wildly off to the side and then fell flat on my back, smacking my partner in the head with my skis. But she survived, albeit with a few bruises.

Troll, our local resort
At Troll, our local resort

Our first run down the mountain was reasonably uneventful and pleasant, and she forgave me my previous T-bar indiscretions, agreeing to go up to an even higher slope for our second run. This time I was the epitome of grace and poise as I mounted the disagreeable bar. “Well done,” she assured me. “But now, whatever you do, don’t fall, or we’ll have to walk the rest of the way up. This thing can be tricky!”

“Pffffffff,” I thought to myself, gripping the bar even tighter, “Me, fall? How rude!” And then I did. A few hundred metres from the summit my left ski developed a terrible wobble, which transferred itself up my left ankle, through the knee, thigh, and left buttock, to the taut right buttock, down my petrified right leg and, finally, into my mutinous right ski.

“I’m going to fa …” I shrieked, before hitting the ground in a puff of powder. Desperately, I tried to hold onto the bar, which dragged me inelegantly a few more metres before breaking free from my grip. Looking back I saw my partner glaring up at me from where she’d been deposited. We trudged the rest of the way, she muttering that she was finding a new T-bar buddy.

But that wasn’t the end of our adventure. We did a few small slopes – where I fell only a dozen or so times – once to much applause from some onlookers. Then we climbed higher on yet another T-bar to do a series of slopes from the very top … Swish, turn, glide, (etc.) we descended at pace to a point where the teens decided to do a short “powder” run through the trees.

“This is pretty hard,” one of them told me. “You don’t have to do it …”

“Ah, no problem, I’ve got this,” I assured myself (imprudently, it turns out.) “Wheeeeeeeeeee!” I launched down the slope, as the others zoomed out ahead. And kablooey, I belly-flopped into the powder a few seconds later. Deep. So deep that I had to dig my skis out. So deep that I couldn’t stand; couldn’t crawl. At one point I deliriously half-prayed for a St. Bernard to bound through the snow to my rescue, or for someone to toss me a life ring from the secure ground above. But the closest I came to any help was the few people who skied by, smiled, shouted an “are you okay?” over their shoulders and zipped out of sight before I could gasp an answer.

After what seemed like an eternity leopard-crawling out, and having coughed up half a lung, I finally flopped exhausted onto the harder snow. After a further eternity to clear the snow from my boots and skis, and get them reattached, I skied down the easier run wobbly-legged, as if in a coma. Amazingly, my T-bar buddy had waited for me a few hundred metres on – forgiving angel that she is. Somehow she coaxed me down to the lodge, where I dried out, caught my breath and steadied myself for a few more assaults on the slopes that afternoon.

We skied in freezing, blizzard-like conditions at times and I fell more than I can remember (although never on the T-bar again) but I had a blast. If there had been a T-shirt for everyone who made it to the end of the day, I would have it. In fact, I would have demanded two!

You can call me a useless skier, you can call me a stubborn old mule, but never call me no quitter, eh! Got that?

A blurry pic inside the lodge.
A blurry pic inside the lodge.

Happy New Year, wherever you are

I had a post ready to go, and then changed my mind as I was about to hit “publish”. It had to do with listening to that inner voice – the one that either gives one peace about something or … doesn’t. Too often I don’t listen to it, but tonight I did …

And so, I give you this as my final post for 2013. A disturbing picture of my “twin sister” as shot with my wide-angle lens.

Twisted Sister

Happy 2014. May it be crazy. May it be wild. May it be blessed and rewarding – a year like no other. I pray that you will learn more, love more and live more.

I, for one, will be making no resolutions as the new year dawns but for one: to know Jesus better. And that as I find a deeper, more vivid relationship with Him, that my life would impact others in a more meaningful, more love-filled way.

Thank you for being part of this journey with me through 2013. And happy new year …