Recovering in Tanzania!

Tanzania, country so diverse and unique who could refuse a trip there? This was our thinking as we booked a tag-on vacation to our Congo trip. It turned out to be a truly serendipitous idea, as I was in great need of a holiday after the Congo.

Working at the remote hospital in the Congo for 2 months pushed me farther than I have ever been pushed. The heavy stress no doubt contributed to the stomach ulcer I came down with, and the 23 pounds of weight loss in 1 month!

To make it through periods of heavy stress I often fall back to a dogged stoicism. I grit my teeth and try to minimize what I am going through. It probably helps me avoid feeling overwhelmed. It is definitely a defense mechanism, and like most, not always beneficial.

In times of peace and quiet I reflect a lot on my life. I journal. I try to make sense of where I am, who I am and what I ought to be doing.

In times of stress I shut this down, and only afterwards can I start to put together what I went through. Being a physician, I have had my fair share of moments like this. I remember feeling this way after an obstetrics rotation in residency. It turns out weeks of call shifts that keep you up for over 24 hours is hard on the body but also the soul.

Thus, when it came time for our trip to Tanzania I was actually quite reluctant to plan or think about it. It seemed like just another stressor to add to the pile.

It turns out it was precisely what I needed! A time to relax and process all that preceded. I needed the time to journal and think without the pressure of telling my story to my loved ones back home. I needed time to release the tension and stress that had been building and heal my body.

The trip was amazing. But to be honest, it came with a lot of a guilt. How could we leave a country with such extreme poverty and proceed to indulge ourselves in the luxury of travel?  Well, I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t justifiable, as much as my life in Canada isn’t justifiable either. But this trip I certainly needed.

So with that sobering, rambling, and unexpected introduction, I present to you our wonderful vacation to Tanzania!

I have said enough already, I suppose, so I will leave the rest of this in the style of a photo blog. Enjoy.

First stop, Mount Kilimanjaro! (and area).

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We went on a coffee tour, and learned their traditional method of coffee preparation. They roasted their beans then made the coffee over a fire!
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One of the many unexpected but beautiful sights!
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We trekked up to the first camp on Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.
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The people of Tanzania were incredibly resourceful when it came to carrying stuff on their heads!

The Serengeti: the place that goes on forever!

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A surprise visit from an elephant as we drove through a forest! (this guy was being aggressive!)
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A more calm encounter with elephants occurred on our safari in the Serengeti!
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We couldn’t believe the eyelashes on the giraffes!
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A couple male lions just chilling on some rocks!
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We were incredibly close to these female lions, at times they were just 5 feet away!
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A lion cub hanging out in a prickly acacia! (we were incredibly close to these guys as well)
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Cheetahs escaping the heat of the sun.
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Hippo pool!
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We were fortunate enough to see the largest mammal migration on earth! The wildebeests number in the millions, with zebras often following behind!
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An early morning also means a beautiful sunset.
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Some hyena scavengers running off with part of a kill after the lions were finished.

Zanzibar: silky white beaches, Arabian nights!

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The white sand was so fine and lovely!
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Stonetown had some amazing architecture and narrow streets!

Hope you enjoyed this post, feel free to like and comment!

I leave with relief and reluctance.

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to say it. Yet it needs to be said.

I will start with the what. The why tends to take some time.

I have just finished working for 2 months as a doctor in the Congo. I was on call to the hospital 24/7 during that stretch, with the exception of a couple day trips. I had never worked in the capacity of a tropical medicine physician before. I was scared before I left but looking forward to the challenge. For around 4 long weeks, I was the only physician serving. For almost 3 of those weeks we had no person capable of performing a surgery at the hospital.

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At one point we had 3 kids that would have needed the pediatric ICU in Canada. This 6 year old girl was in a coma from cerebral malaria.

11 people died during my time in Impfondo. Some were old, most were young. Some were expected, most were not. The only constant: wailing. Shouts of grief would fill the air. It was eerie at night. The loudest was after a muscular 29-year-old husband and son could not be resuscitated. The disbelief as I told them quickly turned into screams.

But they were all hard. Hard in their own way. The youngest was 5 days old. 5 days old. I had never seen a child pass before this trip. I hope I won’t see any more.

It was a lot for me. Almost too much. But I don’t want it to sound like it was all misery and death. In spite of all this I still had an amazing experience and loved the people and culture.

This indeed, is the problem. My time in the Congo remains an enigma for me. I can’t make heads or tails of it. It was a time of extremes. There were these moments of pure sorrow but also of pure joy. I witnessed tragedies but also miracles.

There was a beautiful, authentic life to the Congo. An ethereal beauty. It was in the people singing while burdened with massive loads. The feeling of connected-ness and camaraderie was palpable. Everyone took the time to greet you, chat, play or sing.

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Walking down the road she happily stopped for a picture, then refused when I tried to give her money!

In many ways, the Congolese were doing things right. Their priorities were the people around them. Relationship is in their marrow. It was in their language. Elders were given the title of mama or papa regardless of parentage. I can still remember the first time a little girl looked up at me and called me papa.

The people were truly beautiful. Their insurance system was family. If someone was sick everyone would pitch in for the bill, knowing their family would do the same for them. The cooks who came to prepare our meals were always smiling and laughing.  They made the most amazing food with raw ingredients and only a few pots over the fire.

In these moments the Congo would feel light and comfortable. Many times Steph and I would say how lovely it would be to live there. The Congolese people were often shocked to hear us say this. In many of their minds, Canadians had something so much better. Something unattainable for them and distant. I am not sure if what they would find, should they come to Canada, would be what they expect.

I fear what the Congolese would see (there are many that look but few that see).

Yes, at first, they would see our fancy cities, houses, cars. Our beautiful hospitals, schools and the like. They would see our abundance. But then I would expect the inevitable questions: how can there be so much waste? where does this all come from? does every western country live this way?

They would see our absurd standard of living. The daily excesses. After only 2 months in the Congo I have been struck by these things. It just hit me. It is the way they wash a plastic bag out for reuse over and over again. The way a child will take an old tin can for a toy. The way they ration water and soap when doing dishes. The ingenious way they give hair cuts with a single razor blade. The resourcefulness was astounding. Old cars would be held together by shear will. Once their cars did finally fall apart, they would salvage nearly every piece to be used in some ingenious way.

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Our cook made us absolutely amazing meals over a fire in this small shelter!

They are incredibly hard workers and I rarely heard any complaints. Something as simple as cooking requires wood to be gathered (often kilometers away), water to be hauled (there was no running water so they would have to fetch it from a cistern), and then they would prepare it all over a fire!

The next shock for a Congolese visitor would be the way we interact with each other. They would no doubt find us cold by comparison. Rushing from place to place. So focused on doing that we forget about being present. I think about the slow way they would walk from morning chapel to morning meeting. Greeting each other and laughing. The sheer amount of visitors for each patient admitted to hospital was astonishing! I think they would find Canadian hospital rooms gloomy and empty.

So then, when they would imply that things must be so much better in Canada, I can only think of all the ways in which they are not.

It is the combination of these thoughts that make it hard to say what the Congo was for me. Being face to face with poverty and suffering was shocking to say the least, especially in a medical capacity. Yet there was also such amazingly beautiful moments that would draw me in and make me feel like their lifestyle made so much more sense than mine. And then something incredibly frustrating would happen and continue the cycle of highs and lows!

I will leave another to summarize my thoughts in a much more eloquent manner than I could ever hope to…

“…we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more medicine, yet less wellness; …We’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.”

Dr. Bob Moorehead

Only in the Congo!

Warning: this post may just be an excuse for me to vent about all the uniquely Congolese, frustrating, odd, and wonderful things that have happened to me here!


“Only in the Congo.”

If you live in the Republic of Congo long enough, you will inevitably find yourself saying this in exasperation or in good humour, and sometimes both. My most recent utterance was that of exasperation, as I found out I would not be able to order a single lab test here for 4 days because it was the long weekend in spite of having 2 very ill patients!

The only explanation I have for this, is found in the Congolese word for tomorrow, lobe (pronounced low-bay or low-bee). This is a word they have for tomorrow, and yet I am told, it only means some time in the future! It could be a day, a few days, a week! Maybe this would be her response as to why we couldn’t get it done, we’ll do it lobe.

Their disconnect with time is not limited to the future. The past is often even murkier, which is a difficult thing when trying to ask someone about their medical history. Sometimes this gets to an extreme, like an Aka gentlemen who didn’t know how old he was! When I pressed the question, he got out an ID card issued by the government some years ago that had a generic birthday documented that would make him far too young. They explained they get these cards and he probably just told them he was born sometime in the 1970’s, so that’s what was documented!

I had this happen again during rounds on the pediatric ward. I came to a young boy, and all that was on his chart for his age was a question mark. He was the most malnourished patient I have seen here, and was tall enough to be around 2 years old. I could see each and every rib, and he was lying in his own feces. It was heart wrenching. His current guardian was an elderly relative, who explained that his parents lived in Brazzaville but had shipped him up here and she was the only one to take him in!

A reason for a lot of the kids being malnourished is not a lack of food, most families can get enough for their kids from the jungle and their gardens. The problem is more often that they only feed the kids when they cry. So if you get a really content newborn baby, a mother may only be feeding them every 4-5 hours! There is a real lack of understanding of basic nutrition.

This isn’t the only misunderstanding. I work at a mission hospital, which pays a salary only to the local workers. I think many would understand this concept back home, but here people just can’t understand it. I realized this one day when we were talking about a patient having to pay their bills and I asked if they thought I was getting paid to be here. Everyone on the unit thought I was being paid well to work here!

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People have to walk long distances daily, so the back of our Land Rover is always full!

It is very bizarre to come across these ideas, yet I get it. Why wouldn’t you distrust authority here? Medicine here is plagued with fraud. I have heard everything from the counterfeit medications at the pharmacies to a person performing bogus xrays out of his mud hut. This ruse  turned out to be him flashing lights at the patient and then he would produce an xray film of the appropriate body part (most of the time) that he had stolen! Only in the Congo.

All these things really start to wear you down over time! It makes life for local people here incredibly complicated, unjust, and frustrating. So then, it makes a lot more sense when they approach life and work with an easygoing attitude. If you got frustrated every time you were slighted here, you would probably go mad!

There are also a lot of positive things that would happen only in the Congo. Like lounging after supper to the sound of distant drums that are so incredibly regular that it feels like the pulse of Africa. Or the singing that is done with the drums; it is so simple yet profoundly beautiful!

One of my favourite things is the ways they can say hello. In Lingala, you can say a simple “Mbote” for hello, or you often here “Mbote mingi!” This roughly translates to “hello very much”, or a respectful and exuberant hello! This would then be followed by shaking hands with their left hand clasped on their right forearm, a way of showing respect. Similarly, they will often wave with both hands and a slight bow to show respect. Steph and I are always greeted emphatically by kids as we ride through town on our bikes with hello’s, mbote’s and moondele (their word for white person)!  If you forget it is only because you are white, it almost feels like you are a celebrity.

The Aka people (pygmy) are also one of my favourite things you will only find here! They are so friendly but have gone through so much abuse at the hands of people (the Bantu) who treat them as sub-human. They took us on a jungle walk and showed us their medicinal plans, got a vine for us to swing on, built a shelter and fed us their edible fruits, including cocoa!

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Steph with some of the Aka kids that came along for our jungle walk!

Lastly, the close community is palpable here. People often pay their hospital bills with their own type of insurance system. People ask others in their family and community for help and raise money for one another on an as needed basis! They are very caring and helpful in this way, and always willing to humour me with a conversation in broken French. Even with complete strangers, people will stop and chat for some time!

Only in the Congo could I find things so incredibly frustrating and beautiful at the same time!

A day in the life of an average hospital patient…in the Congo!

My last blog was about a day in my life as a doctor in the Congo. And don’t get me wrong, it is a pretty complicated job. Yet, it is nothing compared to the life of an average Congolese patient! I have talked with many patients and nurses, and collected some stories. Some are bizarre, some are funny, and some are extremely sad. So here we go…

Where to even begin?! Probably the hardest thing I see coming from a country with universal health care coverage is when patients struggle with payment for our services. The first one that comes to mind is a 9 month old was sitting in triage with his mother. He had fevers, diarrhea, and was severely malnourished. For context, the normal weight for a 9 month old is 9kg and the lowest percentile for weight is 7kg. This child was literally off the charts at only 4.5kg! In addition to being severely underweight, he probably had malaria and needed some lab tests and treatment. We explained to the mom that at this hospital we treat malnutrition for free, they just have to pay a basic admission fee (something like 10000cfa, or $18). Unfortunately, the mom was unable to pay for anything and requested that we just give her the medicine so she can leave! It was heartbreaking!

If you decide to get a full admission to hospital, the next step is paying for everything ahead of time. You buy your medicines from the pharmacy, and bring them to the nurse. What if our pharmacy doesn’t happen to have it? Well, you go walking in to town to find it at another local pharmacy. These are often tiny and very untrustworthy.

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The tiniest little pharmacy!

So you’ve got your medicines, now you have to supply a “guarde de malade”, which roughly translates to the guardian of the sick. A family member must accompany any person who is in hospital to make them meals, change their sheets, buy their medicines, give them baths, pay for their medicines etc. I can only imagine how ecstatic nurses back home would be if they found out that the patient’s family would be the ones dis-impacting the bowel, or ushering them to the commode!

If you are really sick you will be spending a night or two in the salle d’urgence (emergency room) or the sale d’observation (observation room; this is the closest we get to an ICU, but make no mistake, we have nothing special except for an oxygen concentrator). Typically, to make it here you will have malaria that has gone to your brain or malaria that has made you ridiculously anemic.  If you are anemic and need a transfusion, we can do those here (unlike the other hospital in town). The catch is that you have to get 2 of your family members to donate blood to replenish our little blood bank!

Also, just about every patient that walks through the doors will be dehydrated by a liter or two, constipated, and if you are a kid you will have worms. Literally almost every patient has these, and it really complicates the medical treatment! I had a little 4 year old girl come in who had been poisoned by a neighbour, and had a kidney injury as result! We were trying to collect her urine but each day we came she only had a small cup half full to show us. So we finally asked how much she was drinking, and it had to have been less than 300 ml per day! We gave her the task of drinking 1-1.5 liters, and she couldn’t believe we wanted her to drink that much. The main problem is that there is no running water for the city or power most of the time, so almost every has to haul water from a cistern!

Maternity cases are their own special thing. Women here generally freak out if it is their first child and we often hear them yelling in the suite d’accouchement, the maternity building. I know this is coming from a male and I will never know what they are truly going through, but women go crazy here compared to Canada. I had a patient literally roll out of bed and start writhing on the floor with her IV arm dangling above her in the middle of labour, and those floors are not clean! The nurses here have seen so many dramatic labouring patients that they have a hard time telling if there is actually something wrong!

Another fun thing is the buildings here all have these shutter type windows that never fully close. The family’s of the ladies in labour find this out quickly. So imagine you’re in the middle of labour and having a confidential conversation with your doctor when your mother-in-law starts chiming in through the window! Next, if you are an Aka pygmy or just anxious to have your baby, you may just decide to take a traditional medicine to help kick in labour or make it faster.  In Canada someone would usually take something like cod liver oil that works worse than it tastes. But in the middle of a rain forest in the Congo, people have found some absurdly potent medicinal plants that act way too well! I frequently have someone in labour who shouldn’t be but is having huge and painful contractions because they have taken some of these plants! It sounds funny at first but is actually quite dangerous and often end in C-sections.

A usual patient in the medical ward has no choice but to be quite social because it consists of 5 stretchers (iron bed frames) laid out with old mosquito nets dangling over head. No walls. No privacy. Your business is everyone’s business. This is so typical for the Congo that people are completely unfazed. I mean, the usual home has around 10 people living in about 300-500 square feet of space! So when I am explaining a diagnosis to someone during rounds, I often see many more attentive faces hanging on each word. They also aren’t afraid at all to chime in with their thoughts for other patients as well. More than once a spirited debate has broken out during rounds with all the members of the ward!

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The one and only time Steph joined me on rounds, haha. A whole crowd of opinions!

The main drawback of this set up is with sensitive diagnoses, particularly HIV/AIDS. This is a diagnosis you will never here anyone say out loud in the hospital. Instead we use code word because there is a huge stigma surrounding HIV here. It is so bad that I have literally heard these words from a 24-year-old woman refusing an HIV test, “if I was HIV positive I would hang myself.” A 30-year-old woman I treated faced the same decision. Her husband was abusive and she had just had a miscarriage and was quite sick. She was losing consciousness so was transferred from the other hospital to ours for treatment (this happens not infrequently). She had a bad cough, was thin, and looking so ill we decided to order an HIV test. For 3 days in a row she agreed to the test during rounds but would later back out. Finally, we walked her to the test with her approval. It came back positive. Her husband promptly left and her father in law was one of the only one’s who stuck around to be here guarde de malade and to pay her bills! She came extremely close to dying, and I don’t think she could have waited another day to start the anti-HIV treatment.

One of my favourite patients I have is a 75 year old man who greets me emphatically every morning with a hoarse “Mbote Docteur!” and both hands waving! This acts to somewhat counteract the smell of incontinence emanating from his hospital bed, a hospital bed that has no shiny layer of vinyl but some sort of porous canvas to protect it from the ‘rains’. He has a chronic ulcer on his leg and has been in hospital for months, but you wouldn’t know it. His attitude in spite of all this is remarkable! He always has a smile on his face.

Some patients travel from a long distance to stay here. We were driving with a local missionary about 8km out of town and an Aka pygmy family flagged us down. Their daughter had just had a seizure from malaria!

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This was the Aka village we stopped at!

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The view from inside the hut. The little girl had just a seizure from cerebral malaria. The mother has her head covered because she had a severe bacterial eye infection! They are sitting on their bed (note that their bed is just wood planks with a mosquito net overtop!).

 

There are many more stories to tell like these so stay tuned! Let me know what you think in the comments, and I hope you enjoyed the read.

We will be traveling to a remote hospital in the Congo!

Yes, we are frightened.

L’Hopital Evangelique le Pionnier (HELP) is located in Impfondo, The Republic of Congo, Africa.  It is a 60 bed facility that has been transformed from a Communist youth camp into a hospital, serving the neediest part of Africa in the Congo River Basin Rainforest.

“Pioneer Christian Hospital serves an estimated population of 300,000 people, including local residents, villagers, and vulnerable people groups including indigenous peoples, refugees, the poor, elderly, chronically ill, and AIDS orphans and widows.”

Personally, the medical aspect of this trip frightens me the most. Although there are many well trained staff that are there to help in any circumstance, I will still be the only physician at the hospital for around 1 month. Given a preponderance of tropical diseases in the Congo, a lot of the medicine will be new to my practice. Traveling to this area lends a high risk of acquiring a tropical disease like malaria, parasites etc, and also has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

I also haven’t mentioned it yet, but I have been there before! 11 years ago. At that time thoughts of medical school were but a dream! I helped as much as I could, painting a whole lot of buildings but also helping out in the operating room as first assistant because the surgeon there at the time found it useful to speak to me in English!

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Reading some xrays!

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A view of the hospital.

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Sarah Speer working with pygmy tribes.

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The hospital! (former Communist youth camp)

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Walking out after surgery! Note that there were no IV poles, do they have to be held up by hand!

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In between surgeries.

We do have some needs! We will be supporting ourselves financially, but medical supplies are always running short due to inadequate government resources.

  1. Compresses, gloves, IV tubing (not the ones used in machines), IV needles/catheters (the usual ones), sutures.
  2. They are always in need of common medications used everyday, like tylenol, advil, benadryl etc.

If you would like to help support this amazing hospital, here is the link to donate:

https://missiongo.org/donate/projects-detail/pioneer-christian-hospital-congo

Homeless in Nepal!

The loveliest people and mountains are found in Nepal. My wife and I were recently privileged enough to make a 4 week trip to this amazing country. We arrived at the beginning of November after 33 hrs of flights (it seems about as far as you can get from Canada!). Here are 7 essential parts to being homeless in Nepal:

1. THE PREP. In many ways we were in a perfect position to leave the ‘Canadian versions’ of Ryck and Steph and become the ‘international versions’ of Ryck and Steph. Also, our beloved osprey backpacks were pressuring us for another international adventure (sometimes I like to think that our bags are sentient and when we travel we’re really just porters carrying them to new countries and over mountains).

Next, all of our belongings were already in storage unit, and we had no mortgage or even rent to worry about. You see, we are currently homeless. After leaving our home of 3 years in Saskatoon last year, we never achieved more than ‘no fixed address’ status. We have bounced from town to town working for 6 months around Canada and this has culminated in our current trip. When forms ask us for our address we smile and put in our parents address.

2. TO NEPAL! Nepal has held our thoughts for quite a few years. Some amazing friends made the journey before us and struck up the desire in our hearts. Being avid hikers, we also loved the idea of exploring the Himalayas. The land of giants that plunge as high as airplanes into the blue and poke holes in the jet stream.

Arriving at night, the airport was organized chaos. People were there to herd us to our next task, but no system was obvious or particularly efficient. We were shuttled from one desk to the next to get our visa on arrival and stood in lines we weren’t totally sure were intended for us or necessary, but finally made it to the final line. This line inexplicably had another security check complete with metal detector and X-ray scanner for carry on bags. Carry on bags! The ones we just got off the plane with may not be safe enough to carry into the country!

A little confused, I put my bag onto the conveyor belt and started to empty my pockets of a handful of Hong Kong coins, not wanting to set off a metal detector in this odd airport. But a security guard stopped me and just pointed that I should walk through. With a ridiculous amount of metal on me I started imagining what was about to happen after setting off this metal detector in spectacular fashion. The security guard simply nodded approvingly and sent me on without any trouble. The cherry on top was that the bag scanner wasn’t even on!

3. THE NEPALESE PEOPLE. A main highlight for me were the amazing people we met on our journey. The guide that we had arranged for our trek met us outside the airport, and with a big smile he adorned us with traditional Buddhist scarves as a welcome. Despite our fatigue we had lots of questions for him on our way to the hotel which he answered patiently. The cab ride was a soft introduction to the chaotic driving culture of Nepal where the only rule seems to be to honk before you do anything. Our guide, Bhabi, was an amazing, self sacrificing, patient and doting man that never had a bad day. Judging from the other guides we met this was the rule not the exception.

The Nepali were so welcoming and helpful everywhere we went. Their lovely nature and commitment to family is also evident in their language. To address one another they use bai/baini meaning little brother/sister, also dai/didi meaning older brother/sister etc. The truly great part of this system is that every time you address a stranger you first have to guess their age!

4. THE HIMALAYAS! These giants are an obvious attraction for anyone venturing to Nepal. Standing among them at high elevation fills anyone with wonder and awe. We spent 14 days trekking the Annapurna Circuit and it was phenomenal. The landscapes varied from jungle to desert to alpine to high altitude. Hot springs abounded and we sat in one thinking about how just 3 days ago we were at an altitude of 5416m (nearly 18000 ft) in -25 Celsius conditions at the Thorung La pass. Endless cups of tea were enjoyed resting our legs and backs from the days trekking. In total, we had 11 days of trekking travelling over 160 km with around 7000m of elevation gain! (That amounts to about 15km/day).

5. POKHARA! This is the second biggest city in Nepal, and though only about 300km west of Kathmandu it is a full days bus ride through some crazy terrain and traffic. The tourist area of the city borders the lake, and features an oasis of good food, drink and hotels that we fully indulged in after spending a couple weeks in remote towns! A highlight here was renting a party paddle boat for just the two of us to cruise about the lake in style. We set off down the shoreline of the lake and around the island temple, beers in hand. It was lovely.

6. CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK! This was something of an after thought on our trip and we only decided last minute to take a break on our way back to Kathmandu. It was meant as a small detour but travelling just 75 km on Nepal’s roads can easily take 4 hours!

To our delight, we didn’t have to go far to see elephants in town as they would walk right by you on the roads (accompanied by their owner of course). We stopped to pet as many as we could!

I was told Chitwan means the heart of the jungle, and jungle is what we got. Waking up at the crack of dawn, we spent an hour cruising into the park by canoe (picture a hollowed out tree with 15 tourists crammed in it and a local man standing at the back paddling). The next 4 hrs took us quietly back to town. We saw some spotted deer, rhesus macaw monkeys, wild boar, alligators and almost a wild elephant. The almost could also be translated as ‘we heard an wild elephant and if we waited too long could’ve been killed’. I will explain…

We had been informed at various points that wild elephants were more dangerous than alligators or rhinos, and we needed to carefully follow our guides instructions if we came across one. These words came back with force when suddenly we stopped and could hear deep breathing and the snapping of relatively large trees only about meters away! Our guide was listening intently and we received these helpful instructions in a forced whisper: “I’m 90% sure it’s a rhinoceros, but if it happens to be an elephant we have to run that way as fast as we can!” Poised to take off we watched anxiously as the gray outline of an elephant appeared with a long trunk sweeping through the trees! Luckily it was already angling away from us so the best course of action was to sneak away before he noticed us!

We didn’t get to see a single rhino on our long walk. So we decided to console ourselves with a relaxing lunch on the river facing the park. And what happens to just walk out just down from us, two rhinos! From the safety of the river bank we probably got to see them closer than if we had been hiking anyways!

However, the coolest thing we saw was actually a bird! Apparently, it is rare to see great hornbills but we were fortunate to get a few glimpses of them and hear their odd mating calls that sound like a barking/growling dog.

7. KATHMANDU/TEMPLES/STUPAS! Kathmandu was bustling and a bit chaotic, but also charming in its own way. There were still signs of the city rebuilding since the massive earthquake in 2015, and if you walk down any street long enough you’ll come across an amazing stupa or temple built some centuries ago.

My favourite place was colloquially dubbed the monkey temple and the name was immediately obvious on arrival. We had walked about 2 km to get there, so I stopped to buy some peanuts from a street vendor (something I hadn’t done yet on the trip but for some reason the urge just struck me). Admiring my bag as I made it across the street to the foot of the temple, I looked to find Steph who had gone ahead. The next thing I knew a swarm of monkeys (honestly like 10-15!) descended upon me! The next moment a large buggar climbed a statue and swung around it, extended his arm and smacked the bag. Reeling, I spun away and gripped the bag tighter. I now had monkeys bumping into my legs reaching their arms up at me like beggars. I looked down at them and was distracted just long enough for another to take a running leap behind me, elevating himself at least 3 feet off the ground. I noticed him just in time to yank the bag of peanuts higher. Bewildered and laughing, I now had no idea what to do. I could see all the locals and Steph were enjoying the show, and some were sympathetic enough to yell that I should hide the peanuts in my bag. Easier said than done with a pack of monkeys ready to take advantage of any misstep. Later on the way up I discovered that feeding them was possible (and fun) in small handfuls!

Our First Urban Hike! (Saskatoon)

IMG_4230So what is urban hiking and is this even a thing? These are 5 things you need to know!

1. The inspiration came from realizing that Steph and I will walk long distances up mountains with 40 lb bags, and not thinking anything of it. Yet on a casual weekend a walk of more than 3km seems like a cruel and unusual task.

2. A shift in perspective is needed to change a seemingly mundane task of walking through town into an adventure. It was actually quite refreshing to see the city in the same way we look at a typical hike.

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3. Embracing the winter is a key value Steph and I both hold. Making the most of cold weather can turn a long, dreary winter into a joy.

4. Exploring the city intentionally brought us to places we never even new existed. We learned more about Saskatoon and got to see some new parks and neighbourhoods along the way.

5. It actually is a thing! I got curious partway along the hike, googled it, and found an interesting community.

https://urbanhikersf.blogspot.ca/2014/07/what-is-urban-hiking.html

So we started off! Our plan was to follow as many parks as we could and end up at a new park area called the Northeast Swale (full disclosure I have no idea what a swale is).

We had a ton of fun together as tourists in our own city and discovering new parts of town. Due to a gross miscalculation, we ended up hiking for 24km over 6 hours! We really appreciated the urban aspect of the hike at that point and stopped in at the Yard and Flagon pub to celebrate!

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