Saturday, August 11, 2018

To Be Continued...

Eighteen months have flown by. All the intense and somewhat stressful preparation for my move to China is now a distant memory. Eight years have ticked away since I rebooted my world. Time that would have passed just as fast if I did not, and I'm still standing.

It would have been incredibly easy to settle into China for an extended period of time. My initial plan was for 3 years. The school was great as were the students. I was active socially, the money was good and there were opportunities to travel throughout the year.

In the end two things changed my mind about staying in China. First, it was the brutal air pollution that enveloped Xian from November to March. It was everything you think it was and more. For example when the Air Index in Toronto hits 10 - 12 people are told to stay in doors because of the health hazard. A normal (yes normal) day in Xi'an saw an index reading of 250. To see 300 was not random and there were a few days where the index topped over 800. Those are the pictures you see on the news or online. It is true that you cannot see across the street. Of course all that pollution was drifting in and around the food in the markets and street stalls. The second and more important reason for leaving was that my heart was not really in it. That being said, I never just “went through the motions” and I contributed to my time there to the best of my abilities I really tried to embrace the language, the culture and the social insanity that is China. In the end I felt there was something else, somewhere else that I wanted to be. So off I went.

So, after eleven countries plus Tibet, it has come to this. Sitting pool side at my Cancun hotel trying to recharge my rusty Spanish while I prepare for Mexico 2.0. A few days ago I was drinking pints in Liverpool and yesterday I was swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. I am sipping coffee reflecting on those thoughts, which lead me to this thought.

It has been 8 years to the month since I tossed aside the safety of my routine life with the corporate world for a life less complicated. Sure, it was exciting in theory, most things are. One day you're getting "grin fucked" in a corporate boardroom and then you are waking up in Antigua Guatemala thinking "what the hell am I doing in Guatemala"?

** Grin Fucked - In business when someone smiles and shakes your hand assuring you that they have heard and will act upon your recommendation or concerns when in truth you have already been ignored and dismissed.

When this journey began, I had no clue what I was doing but I absolutely knew I had to do it. I took my baby steps as a volunteer teacher with Global Vision International. This introduced me to the people and cultures of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. At the end of that contract I found myself wandering the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica for a couple of weeks. My wet ears had dried and my confidence was blooming. "What the fu** am I doing" became "OK, I can do this".

I was offered a permanent and paid position with GVI at their school in Otavalo Ecuador so off I went. After a few months it was not working out the way it was promised and I chose to cut my ties. I had spent a lifetime of working at jobs and in a career putting up with shit just to have a job. That was not going to happen again, EVER.

There I was in South America with a few dollars in my pocket and an open continent in front of me. So off I went. Ecuador, Peru for the second time, and then down the long spine of Chile. My soul was opened to the beauty of Patagonia after hiking to Torres del Paine and then spending 6 hours watching the enormity of the calving of the Perito Moreno Glacier. I found crossing the the Straights of Magellan into Argentina otherworldly and discovered myself in Ushuaia, the city that is the farthest south in the world. It is also the launching of tours into Antarctica so off I went. A week later I was sitting shirtless on a gleaming glacier watching humpbacks play in the bay around our ship.

Back up the continent through Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. I had my small day pack lifted from me during Mardi Gras in La Paz so good bye passport. I needed a police report before I could get a new passport which could only be described as a very intense "I own you if you do not co-operate and pay me extra" experience. The Bolivians are lovely, the Bolivian police not so much. Instead of waiting the two weeks for a new passport I chose a one page travel document. It was time to go back to Canada and regroup. So off I went.

In Canada I had a brain wave, or brain cramp depending on your point of view. I had a nagging desire to learn to drive transport and a Class 1 license would get my blood flowing. The cost became a bit prohibitive so I trained for my single axle class 3. Looking back I guess I could have found a way for the government to pay for my schooling with a training grant of some type but it never even crossed my mind.

With my class 3 in my pocket I loaded up my Ford Escape and  headed to Red Deer, Alberta to begin life  in the Oil Fields. On day 2 my reliable truck broke down between Sault Ste Marie and Wawa. I remember the spot that my truck sat smoking was a spectacular lookout into Lake Superior. There was a huge plaque dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald mentioning that Whitefish Point was straight ahead in distance. That gave me incredible perspective as I waited for my tow so I ate my lunch without a worry. Well no worries except that nightfall was coming, I was in bear and wolf territory, CAA was still an hour away and I had no idea how much my repair bill was going to be. As an aside, the drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken.

Two years later with stops in Red Deer,  Lloydminster, Grand Prairie, Fort St. John BC and various small towns and work camps in between my itch was scratched. I met interesting people from a world that was completely foreign to me. Hard working but with the need to perpetually try to be the toughest guy on site. I also challenged myself in ways I could never have imagined. It was a profitable venture and I accomplished what I had set out to do. Now, it was time to get back to teaching.

Nicaragua had captivated me. I have said many times before that the universe (you can insert your god of choice here) shows you the way. I found and immediately signed up for the TEFL course with the International TEFL Academy in Leon Nicaragua so off I went.

With a brutal 30 days of training and learning how to teach I happily graduated. I instantly started working as a "certified teacher" in Leon at ANS, The American Nicaraguan School. It was part-time and gave me a kick start to the real world of ESL teaching. I will say that my first paycheck of about $150.00 US dollars was more satisfying than any one of the larger corporate paychecks I had ever received. Then the reality of needing to pay my rent made me ponder whether that larger corporate paycheck would be quite beneficial right about now.

I had quite a bit of spare time while in Leon and I got to know the manager of Quetzel Trekkers after signing up for one of their tours. He said he was looking for volunteers to guide. I thought, "I can do that" so I off went to be a Trekking and Volcano guide for four months. Forty two treks on six different volcanoes, leading 250 people from a variety of countries was the highlight of my journey to date.  I wrote about that experience and you can read it here. Nicaragua captured my heart but it was time to go. I had a contract for a teaching job in Tehucan Mexico, so again, off I went.

While planning my trip from Leon Nicaragua to Tehuacan Mexico I wanted to take advantage of my time and location. I took a rickety boat across the Gulf of Fonseca to La Union, El Salvador. I had toured El Salvador along the way and really adored the country. I was just passing through on my way to Guatemala but it gave me the chance to revisit the capital and gorge on pupusas until I was ready to explode. I also took the time to revisit Church of the Divine Providence where Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered, which was a driving force behind sending El Salvador into a full scale civil war in 1980. To this day the square in front of the church has a massive police and military presence as the issue is still "open sore raw" with so many citizens.

I toured up into lovely Guatemala where I hiked up Volcan Acatenango and Tajemulco. Northern Guatemala brought with it the ruins of Tikal. After Tikal, the clear waters of Belize beckoned followed by the slow traverse up through Mexico. I used San Cristóbal de las Casas as a launch to the ruins of Palenque. It also gave way to the ruins of Ken. I endured the worst possible case of food poisoning imaginable that lasted almost two weeks. It had to have been bordering on dysentery because nothing stayed in, even water. I rested for 10 days in Oaxaca, not straying to far from my room and the comfort of the toilet. Finally, enough was enough and following the advice of my new school, I devoured medication when I arrived in Tehuacán .Within a few days that cleared up the final remnants of whatever was eating my insides. I had lost quite a bit of weight and it was time to eat. Fortunately, I was in beans and rice country so putting the weight back on would be no problem.

I spent two semesters at the Heslington language institute and enjoyed my time there, and in Tehuacan. . I was living in the teachers residence and Scott, one of the teachers there had just recently come from a tour of teaching in Xi'an China. After a few emails, a skype call and a signed agreement, I had a job in China, so off I went.

China gave me the opportunity to see and walk the Great Wall from where it begins in the East at Jiayu Pass and experience a real Oasis in the Gobi Desert at Dunhuang. One of many that helped traders survive along the old silk road. There was the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, Pandas in Chengdu and the glory that was Mt. Everest in Tibet. Learning to speak and understand day to day Mandarin was a daily quest and life in China was excellent. Which takes me back to the start of this post as to why I left. As with South America a few years before, I was now in Asia with time to spare. So, as I had done many times before - off I went.

Many of these experiences, with the exception of life in the Oil Patch, are in this blog. I do have small regrets about not writing about working and driving in the patch because there were interesting and bizarre stories that unfolded every day.

None of this would have happened if I chosen the easy path and accepted new position within Bell Canada when every other member of my team, who put their hearts and souls into our projects, lost their jobs. No, I am not being magnanimous because I seriously did consider it. In the end, much like China, my heart was not in it any more seeing years of work being tossed aside like it never happened. I went to work every day and witnessed what that does to a person. I watched so many good people on that slow downhill slide to "just putting in my time".  I was not going to be a part of it.

None of this would have happened without the people I have met along the way. Most have been incredible and interesting and others, well not so much. It also is vanilla bland without you. Friends, family, readers and contributors who have sent me encouraging comments and kinds words. Some of you have been dicks but that is the world we now live in.

Finally, if you noticed that the spelling and grammar have improved over the last month or so, that is a big thank you to Jennifer Allan Cummings. A long time friend and supporter from Collingwood, Ontario who stopped commenting on the fact my grammar and spelling is horrendous for an English teacher and started to happily help edit my posts..

Now I sit poolside in Cancun, Mexico. Yesterday I went swimming with whale sharks and it was as insane as you might think it would be. You can watch the RAW video on YouTube. I do not know where my road is going to take me and I sure as shit do not have a "five year plan". That is exactly why my plans constantly change or I appear to be flighty and in a constant state of flux. I have completely opened my mind to any possibility that presents itself, no matter how abstract it may seem to be.

I am going to keep "putting in my time", but its going to be my "best time possible".

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