Archive for the ‘The Non-Writing Life’ Category

Chile and Patagonia 2016 – Buenos Aires and Home!

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Dates Explored/Endured (this last regarding Air Canada F-Ups): February 18 – 21st

My last blog post about our four-week trip to Chile, Patagonia, and Argentina!

It was a wonderful trip, but Air Canada made sure we were extremely glad to be home. Talk about a cluster-frick.

But first, Buenos Aires!

We decided to fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires and stay a couple of nights before beginning the long journey back to British Columbia, because otherwise it would have been too exhausting. It was exhausting, anyway. That’s about the only downside to traveling to South America–it takes so long to get home. Otherwise, I love South America.

The flight to Buenos Aires is about 3.5 hours. We were already settled at the Ushuaia airport when I realized I had left my headphones at the Mysten Kempen B&B. This caused me much anxiety, because I was pretty sure I had left behind the headphones but I wouldn’t know for certain, having already checked my bags, until we arrived at Casa Calma in Buenos Aires. You can read my last post about how the Mysten Kempen and Casa Calma staff worked together to get my headphones back in my possession before Steve and I needed to fly back to Canada. Our travel-mates stayed two nights in Buenos Aires with us. The day we left for Canada, they continued on to Iguazu Falls. I would have loved to see the Falls, but four weeks was the longest my husband could take off work without them thinking he might have suddenly booked early retirement. So SILly and BILly continued on without us.

First, it’s a superb idea to stay in Buenos Aires before returning home. The Casa Calma is a wonderful little boutique hotel within walking distance to shopping, people-watching at outdoor cafes, steak houses, and about two kilometers away from the presidential palace known as Casa Rosada, or The Pink House. The folks at the Casa Calma can hook you up with whatever you want to do while you’re in town, whether it’s a half- or full-day city tour, restaurant recommendations, Tango shows, etc. They provide you with a list when you arrive, so you don’t have to book in advance.

We decided to book the half-day city tour for the morning after we arrived. It was raining, but the tour took us through the various neighborhoods, of which there are a ton. Steve and I returned to some of the areas the following day, once the sun was out. The half-day tour ends at the above-ground cemetery where Evita was buried (although I think her body was later stolen…). From there, we walked back to the hotel.

The San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Steve bought a soccer shirt in this neighborhood featuring a local junior team. He made the locals happy. :)

The San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Steve bought a soccer shirt in this neighborhood, featuring a local junior team. He made the locals happy. 🙂

San Telmo is very colorful, a really fun neighborhood to explore. I love this next photo. It’s a window in a bathroom:

Juxtaposition of "old" and "new."

Juxtaposition of “old” and “new.”

"The Pink House," the Argentinian version of The White House, the presidential palace. BILly and SILly had left for the Falls, so we just strolled around for the day.

“The Pink House,” the Argentinian version of The White House, the presidential palace. BILly and SILly had left for the Falls, so we just strolled around for the day.

One of the things you can easily do from the Casa Calma is walk Florida Street, which is supposed to be very elegant, but it was more like running the gauntlet when we did it. Constant hawking of wares. It’s an experience, but not one I necessarily feels needs to be experienced. You’ll be offered so many opportunities to exchange money, it’s not funny. And I have a hankering there’s a good chance you’ll be ripped off. But there’s an exchange kiosk in the Galerias Pacifico shopping mall, on Florida. We primarily used Santander Bank ABMs, both in Chile and Buenos Aires. Yeah, it’s a PITA because the banks only allow you to take out a wee portion of money and then slap a tourist tax on top, but at least you have funds. It’s Argentina! Take the hits and soak up the atmosphere!

It’s also a good idea to take along U.S. dollars. We didn’t use them a lot in  Chile, but in Argentina they were very handy.

The food in Buenos Aires was excellent. We only had one crappy meal, and it was during our only day on our own! We had lunch on the sidewalk near this beautiful park where we spent most of the day (our flight left at 10 p.m.), and it was the worst meal I had in South America. That's what I get for making fun of BILly. He cursed my meals after we parted ways.

The food in Buenos Aires was excellent. We only had one crappy meal, and it was during our only day on our own! We had lunch on the sidewalk near this beautiful park where we spent most of the day (our flight left at 10 p.m.), and it was the worst meal I had in South America. That’s what I get for making fun of BILly. He cursed my meals after we parted ways.

We returned to our room to find this nice note reminding me not to forget anything like I had in Ushuaia.... Ahem.

We returned to our room to find this nice note reminding me not to forget anything like I had in Ushuaia…. Ahem.

As for the trip home, don’t get me started. I’ll try to make this short.

We booked our flights on Air Canada through Expedia, and even though we booked them like eight months in advance, for some reason we weren’t assigned seats for one of the legs, between Houston and Calgary. We didn’t think much of this until we couldn’t print out boarding passes, because 24 hours before our flight, we still weren’t assigned seats.

So we decided to go to the B.A. airport early. It was very confusing, as most airports are when there’s a language barrier and your first flight leaves at 10 p.m. We did have assigned seats for the B.A. to Houston leg, thank God, because it was 10 hours long. The lovely Air Canada clerk in B.A. assured us in her broken English that we would be assigned seats for Houston to Calgary once in Houston. We settled in to be called for our flight when, in typical Cindy fashion, I stood up and turned and walked into a short table, and near about split my shin bone (I have a mark to this day).

We boarded our first plane–and noticed a woman was trying to sneak our entire row, LOL. We had made sure to leave an empty middle seat between us, crossing our fingers it would not be sold, and it wasn’t. But it’s not so unusual in South America for travelers to sit in the wrong seat on purpose. I’m not sure what they mean to accomplish, but we experienced the same behavior on our flight to Easter Island weeks earlier.

At first we thought we had suddenly gained a row companion, but she fled as soon as she realized the row wasn’t empty.

Ten hours is a long flight, but we’ve done this several times now, and if you can fly 14 hours from Melbourne, you can fly 10 hours from Buenos Aires. No problemo! Until we arrived in Houston.

There, we raced to get to the Air Canada counter (where we had been told we would be assigned seats), but the clerk said we were “too late,” even though we were well outside the 90-minute window. We headed to the gate regardless. At the gate, the Air Canada staff informed us, with no apologies or even a smile, that the flight was overbooked. We came to learn that the flight from Houston to Calgary is routinely overbooked, but this flight was overbooked by a dozen people! We were numbers 7 and 8. A single female traveler was #6, and she told us this had happened to her more than once in a two-month period.

The three of were sent to the United Airlines counter, a partner to Air Canada, and the single female arrived before us so managed to snag a seat on a United Airlines flight leaving a couple of hours later. The United Airlines folks were very nice and tried to help us, which is more than I can say for Air Canada (for shame). They placed our luggage on the next flight to Calgary and said to pray for a cancellation. We made it to the gate, but only one seat was available. Would I leave my husband behind in Houston to catch up with me later? Uh, no. We were either going together or not at all.

Lo and behold, at the very last minute, a passenger didn’t make his connection, so both Steve and myself got on the flight, just several rows apart.

The very first thing one of my row-mates asked was if I would take the middle seat instead of the window, to accommodate the fellow in the middle, who she didn’t know at all. Note, she wasn’t giving up her aisle seat for him but thought I might give up my window seat at her behest.

Uh, no.

LOL!

We wound up in Calgary to discover our luggage hadn’t made it onto the plane. Don’t ask me how, in this day and age, we managed to travel internationally without our luggage, but we did. It arrived home a day or so after we did, much bedraggled but with a wealth of memories I wouldn’t trade for anything despite the Air Canada travel woes.

But will I travel Air Canada again unless forced to because of scheduling restrictions? Uh, no. Now I understand why A.C. is my dh’s last choice in travel. Sorry, Air Canada, overbook your seats if you must but let the travelers know that’s what’s happening. I guess I should have clued in. A less expensive seat bought through Expedia meant…not much of anything at all. Too bad it wasn’t another country’s airline that treated us so shoddily, and at least we got home. But, man, that customer service sucked, Air Canada.

Adios!!

Chile and Patagonia 2016 – Australis Cruise, Day 2

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Date Explored: February 14th

Our Australis Cruise, “Fjords of Tierra del Fuego” on the Stella Autralis, departed Punta Arenas on February 13th, “Day 1,” but we didn’t have any excursions on that day. You’re led to your cabins, settle in, then assemble for an intro talk, drinks, and decide which expedition excursions to sign up for the next day, Valentine’s Day for us! The morning excursion featured two levels of difficulty for hiking/walking. We signed up for “Difficult,” but they also offered a Moderate or Easy route (I can’t remember which). Let me say, if you can’t hike up a slippery path, even with a rope to guide you, you have no business signing up for Difficult just so you can get a “better view.” I guess you don’t know until you try, but if you don’t hike in your regular life, opt for the Easy or Moderate outings. Opting for Difficult when you can’t handle it just takes the guides’ attention away from other guests. And I say this fully knowing there are times I shouldn’t elect the Difficult hike myself.

Saturday morning, when we departed on the zodiacs for Ainsworth Bay, was chilly but sunny. The afternoon was overcast. I want to show a photo of the Stella Australis. It’s from the afternoon excursion, thus the clouds:

AinsworthBay_Ship

Can you see that little craft to the very left of the shot? Those are the zodiacs, on which you travel for your excursions.

Here is a shot of our zodiac traveling to Ainsworth Bay, off the cruise ship:

AinsworthBay_Zodiacs

Isn’t that beautiful? You can see two more zodiacs in front of us. Luckily, even though I get seasick, going on a two-week Galapagos expedition-style cruise in 2012 taught me how to handle myself on a zodiac, and it all came back to me, like riding a bike. 🙂 So this time I could be brave and sit on the edge without death-gripping ropes, and take whatever pictures I wanted.

Note: If any rapids were around, I would have been hanging onto the ropes with the aforementioned death grip.

Travel Tip! If there are rapids, you are likely on a river.

Cruise Ship Tip! We selected deck 3 of the Stella Australis, and it was perfect. I don’t like to be too far up, because it’s better for motion sickness to be a bit further down, and mid-ship is also advised. We were in room 327, beside the stairs, and we had no issues whatsoever.

The view from our hike at Ainsworth Bay, along the glacial moraine (returning from the hike):

AinsworthBay_AMHike2

So beautiful and peaceful! That’s the Darwin mountain range in the distance. Remember, we went during their summer.

The weather can change quickly in Patagonia. We had a wonderful lunch back on board the Stella Australis, sailing west along the sound before traveling via zodiac again in the afternoon to the Tucker Islets, where we saw lots of sea birds and cormorants nesting, but, really, everyone’s there to see the penguins!

TuckerIsletsZodiac

En route to visiting the penguins. You can see there are four zodiacs ahead of us.

After traveling to Galapagos, where we saw cormorants drying their wings in the sun, seabirds weren’t really on our agenda. We did see a couple of penguins in the Galapagos, and unfortunately we didn’t book ahead enough in advance to see the Magdalena penguins on a day trip from Punta Arenas, but none of that mattered now, because we saw penguins galore at Tucker Islets.

Penguins for your perusal (this one guy wanted to pose for us very badly!):

TuckerPenguins1

The giant penguins are at Antarctica. I don’t know if we’ll ever go there. I love expedition-style cruises, where you launch daily on zodiacs to view wildlife, but there are a lot of other places in the world to visit, and I’m happy we chose the Patagonian fjords. Leaving you with my favorite penguin until next time, day 3 of the cruise….

TuckerPenguins4

TuckerPenguins3

TuckerPenguins2

Penguinnnnnnnn….out!

In His Pocket

Monday, December 14th, 2015

One of my favorite running socks has been missing for months. The remaining sock has been hanging on the lost sock rung in our laundry, getting more and more lonely. I nearly threw it out last week.

But you know what happens if you throw out a missing sock, don’t you? The mate is sure to turn up very shortly. So I left the lonely sock hanging there.

Guess what? This morning my husband put on a pair of pants he doesn’t wear often, and the missing sock was in his pocket!

I always knew I was in the man’s pocket, but for reals? The only thing I can figure is that pants and sock were in the same load of laundry and somehow in the washing and drying process the sock got shoved into his pocket.

This morning I went running in my favorite running socks. 🙂

Allie McBeagle Claims Shared Lineage with Westminster Best of Show Winner “Miss P”

Friday, February 20th, 2015

“Claims” being the operative word.

Since it was announced the other day that Miss P the beautiful beagle soundly won Best of Show at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show, I have been hounded day and night (by Allie) to prove they share a lineage.

Alas, all I can turn up is that they hail from the same kennel, owned by Ms. Lori Crandlemire, and from whom we purchased the rights to house the “princess” Allie McBeagle in our home, to walk her twice a day, hike her on the weekends, provide her laps, try to evade her attempts to steal cat food, allow her a Dairy Queen ice cream cone now and then, and generally be her slaves.

Yup, Allie might not come directly from champion stock (ain’t got a clue), but she has a pedigree. Her official name is Tashtin’s Allie McBeagle, and her mom and pop are Carbonwillis’ Twilight Melody and Laponderosa’s Humphrey Bogart.

Upon discovering that Miss P was in competition with a dog that belongs to Patti Hearst and another that claims cousinhood with American President Barack Obama’s pooch, Allie said, “Woof!” (Translation: “Go, Beaglah!”)

Allie would like to announce that although she is now 13, has grown several fat lumps since the age of 10, is getting a tooth pulled Monday, has a stage three heart murmur and melanoma of the iris (which might render her a one-eyed dog sooner or later), and is on human health-food-store supplements to prevent kidney stones, she is still enjoying life to the fullest, as every beagle does. Go, Allie!

And congratulations to Miss P.

La Baby Beaglah:

Two months old, December 2001.

Two months old, December 2001.

In Regal Old Age:

allie_closeup

Diamonds Really are Forever

Friday, February 6th, 2015

In mid-January, I had a milestone birthday. My Liege and I celebrated by flying to Cuba for two weeks. I would say I’m gonna blog about the trip, but we know how well I did with China (2012) and Australia (2013)….

A couple of days before we left for Cuba, he surprised me with a beautiful three-diamond necklace in a gold setting. Stunning. I love it. Adjustable chain, so it can be worn short or long.

I thought, if only I hadn’t lost my tiny diamond stud earrings–or one of them–last summer, they would go perfectly with my new diamond necklace (except the earrings, a gift for my university graduation decades ago, are a lot smaller).

Too bad, so sad, I had lost one of my earrings. I cursed my neglectfulness and went on with packing for our trip.

We’ve been back for a week and I’ve been digging myself out from under a ton of laundry while catching up on biz-of-writing stuff. Something kept clunking in the washer. After about four loads (and a few half-hearted attempts to find out what was clunking), I did a super-sweep of the washing machine. You’ll never guess what I found. The tiny diamond solitaire stud earring I lost last summer! Looking so sparkly and new!

Just this morning I was wondering WHERE it had gone. Under the dresser? No, I checked. In the return air thingie in the floor? No, I checked that, too, before we left for Cuba. When we returned, I emptied my jewelry box and checked every square inch (and the rectangles). I began to realize I might never see my university graduation earrings again. Le sigh.

After finding it–IN THE WASHER???–I announced my discovery to my husband, then ran upstairs and found the match. The match doesn’t look anywhere near as sparkly. I would put it in the washer, but it might get lost in one of the holes the water swishes around in.

I can not believe I found my diamond stud earring!

But I guess I should not be surprised.

My husband and I will have been married thirty years this coming August. In 1984, he gave me a diamond engagement ring comprised of two tiny diamonds and a larger one in the middle. It’s a very delicate ring–thin band, simple setting. In fact, it’s darn near wore out. The band part is very narrow and has worn away so much over the years that it’s about to wear through (even though I did get it repaired once already). Also, the band part is…bent (I got my hand stuck on something in the washer one year). Unless we’re traveling, I wear a simple 14k gold wedding band with my engagement ring, no diamonds or other stones on the wedding band at all. I wear them opposite from how you’re supposed to. Instead of wedding band THEN engagement ring, I wear the engagement ring first. I have to, because it’s so worn out that last summer, when it was in its traditional position, it slipped off my finger into a bag of movie theatre popcorn just because my fingers were…slightly butter-drenched. Sheesh.

Anyway, after about seven years of being married, we were in the midst of raising babies and toddlers, and I guess I hadn’t kept up with the professional ring cleaning like I should have. So one day I’m doing laundry (a common theme in my life), and as my hand came up out of the washer, I realized the middle stone from my engagement ring was missing!! Agh!! My Liege and I scoured the house, but the diamond could not be found. He said he’d buy me a new diamond. I didn’t WANT a new diamond! I wanted the diamond he gave me when he proposed. I was so incredibly upset.

I went to bed with a heavy heart.

The next morning, I got up and picked up the cat’s water dish (which sits on the portable dishwasher so the dogs we’ve had over the years won’t steal the cat food) to refresh the water…when I noticed something sparkly in the bottom of the cat’s clear water bowl.

It was the diamond from my engagement ring!

I kid you not.

I can not lose diamonds. They always find their way back to me, it seems.

Or maybe it’s what they represent that I can’t lose. A young love that I never expected, when I met him, to endure for thirty married years (and seven years of dating before that). When I moved hundreds of miles away to attend university only four months after we met, I thought, that’s it, one of us will meet someone else and move on.

But we never did.

I feel blessed.

Sweet Potato Recipes Filched from My Mom

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Whenever I am invited to Thanksgiving dinner, which invariably occurs because I never host Thanksgiving dinner, often I am asked to provide a sweet potato casserole of some sort. Considering I hate sweet potatoes, at first that struck me as sort of absurd. I had no sweet potato recipes! Alack, alas, a mess, turns out I can steal them from my mom!

It is Canadian Thanksgiving this coming weekend. Whether or not you are Canadian, you can make of these two sweet potato casseroles what you will. Apparently, they are quite tasty. Don’t believe me? Try them out. You can’t rely on me to tell you, because the only way I can handle eating one of them is by doubling the maple syrup ingredients.

My mother insists I am remarkably talented at making sweet potato casserole, so I must be doing something right. Your blood sugar, however, may not survive.

Maple-Sweet Potatoes:

– Preheat oven to 350°F. No, I do not know what the equivalent is in Celsius. Don’t worry about it. If you are Canadian, you know darn well that your stove is not in Celsius. Just suck it up that the stoves are still in Fahrenheit. If you are American, I’m sure you are thrilled that this recipe is in Fahrenheit. You’re welcome. If you are Canadian and you have a stove that is in Celsius, then you’re a lot richer than me, because I have no idea if they even exist.

– You want Celsius? Go outside.

– Take about eight sweet potatoes. Boil them in skins until tender. Cool them and cut them into slices.

– Do not ask me what happens to the skins at this point. They do not wind up in the casserole, so I am assuming they just kind of slide off after the sweet potatoes are boiled. If my readers are supposed to peel the sweet potatoes before boiling them, somebody please let me know in the comments and I will edit this post.

– Turn the potatoes into a baking dish that can hold all the potatoes. It has been a couple of years so I cannot remember if I grease the baking dish with margarine or cooking spray, or not. I’m thinking not. But if you thive on cholesterol, go ahead.

Here comes the sauce! Warning! Warning! Warning! The sauce in this recipe may be doubled. By that, I do not mean that you may choose to double the sauce if you wish. I mean that I might’ve doubled the sauce before writing it on the recipe card, but I do not recall.

SP Tip! If there are folks in your family who hate sweet potatoes, you may get them to eat the casserole by using my version of the sauce. If everyone in your family adores sweet potatoes, go ahead and cut the sauce portions in half. I would advise you not to cut the pecan pieces portion in half. I mean, who can have too many pecans?

You need:

– 1/4 cup butter, a half cup packed brown sugar, and a half cup maple syrup. Don’t scrinch on the maple syrup. Buy the best maple syrup you can find.

– Apparently you also need a quarter teaspoon salt and some pepper, but I don’t know why. Do with these condiments what you will.

Combine the butter, sugar, syrup, and salt – there you go, a use for the salt! Still no mention of the pepper… I tend to add pepper to practically everything I make, so take that under advisement. Combine all in sauce pan and heat to boiling. Lower heat and cook, stirring constantly until clear and thick. Then slop the sauce over the potatoes in the baking dish, and top with at least a half cup of pecan pieces.

Bake until bubbly. Voilà!

Sweet Potato Casserole:

This is a mashed potato type casserole. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

I do not like this recipe as much as the first one, but considering I eat about half a tablespoon of sweet potatoes every Thanksgiving, I am not really one to judge. Try both recipes and let me know what you think!

– Boil some sweet potatoes until tender. Do not ask me how many sweet potatoes to boil, because my mother leaves such things out of her recipes. The details are beneath her. I swear, she lives to mess with my head. Again, I am assuming that the skins somehow come off after they are boiled. I don’t know, that just makes sense? I should try it sometime with real potatoes. Hmmm.

– Judge how long it takes to boil the sweet potatoes until tender. While they are boiling, combine the following ingredients in a pot and heat until melted:

– Half a cup butter, a quarter cup maple syrup, half a teaspoon nutmeg, half a cup heavy cream, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. I do not think I have messed with these ingredients, because there is only one quarter cup of maple syrup listed. If I messed with the ingredients, there would be more maple syrup.

– Eat one of the tablespoons of brown sugar and then get another tablespoon to add to the sauce.

– Use only the very best maple syrup at your disposal! None of this using pancake syrup that is flavored to taste a bit like maple syrup instead of real maple syrup. Got it? Sheesh, I mean, we are Canadian here.

Once the potatoes are tender and the skins somehow come off, mash them. Really pound them. Destroy those suckers until they don’t have any eyes left. Potatoes are not steak. You cannot over pound them. Or maybe you can, and I just don’t know. Whatever!

Take the aformentioned heated ingredients (the stuff in the sauce pan) and beat it into the mashed sweet potatoes.

Transfer all to a baking dish and bake until bubbly. No, I do not have any conceptualization of how long that takes. Thanks, Mom.

I would show pictures, but I do not have pictures. If you use one of my recipes and it turns out, please send me a picture! If it doesn’t turn out, I don’t want to know about it.

*Blog post will be updated if I ever remember to take a picture.

Happy Early Canadian Thanksgiving!

The Number One Rule of Grocery Shopping

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

I know what my rule is. How about yours?

Well, I guess there are two rules. But they work in tandem.

  1. Only buy gourmet ice cream when it’s on sale.
  2. When I get home, it is my duty (and I’m not allowed to shirk it) to eat the part of the ice cream that’s softened. Like around the edges and the very top. I am simply not permitted to put the ice cream into the freezer until the softened stuff has been consumed. Sometimes, if I buy two carton-thingies (because it’s on sale and my husband loves ice cream), well, I gotta eat the soft stuff off both!

There’s a reason for this. Who likes refrozen softened ice cream? No one, right?

At least no one in this house….

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

Travel Bug

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

It’s been a week since my husband and I returned from a month-long trip to Australia. We had a marvelous time! Caught up with family members in Melbourne, met family we haven’t met before, stayed with friends in Perth who we met on our trip to the Galapagos two years ago, and did tons of exploring on our own. Even met up with an author pal from California who just happened to be in Sydney during the same time.

I am exhausted.

Traveling is a blast, but work piles up while you’re gone. So I’ve been slowly tackling the paper pile on my desk while trying my best to combat spring fever (it’s sunny out – I want outside!). The jet lag this year is killing us, possibly because, on top of losing a day on the trip there and then gaining a day on the trip back, we switched time zones within Australia itself four times. So that was six time/day changes in total in four weeks. Almost immediately upon our return, we needed to go out of town overnight, this time to somewhere fairly local, just as beautiful and intoxicating as Australia but different. Lakes instead of oceans. Trees instead of red rock and desert.

I fully intend to blog about this trip. I intended to blog about our trip to China last year to see our son, however, time and family events got away on me. So I might blog about Australia and then blog about China. We’ll see. First, I need to upload my pictures and sort through them. Well, before that, must continue clearing off my desk and then return to the writing project I last looked at in late February/early March. It’s been a long time since I had a new release. A new book is coming, the release date of which is dependant on editing schedules, and then I’ll return to writing the Love & Other Calamities short story series. Before all that, indeed very, very soon, is a little treat. If you haven’t yet read my books, stay tuned!

Just Chillin’

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

A lot has happened so far this year already, and not all of it good. Someone I’m very close to suddenly lost a loved one right around New Year’s. No warning at all. Not a very nice way to start a new year. This is the second year in a row this has happened to one of my family members or friends (as in they were the people who lost loved ones). Where’s my Not Like button? Because I want to press it about a million times.

However, recently, I had a chance to experience something very cool. Not so sure I’m excited to try it again any time soon, but I’m glad I’ve tried it once!

My husband and I had the opportunity to stay overnight at Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, which happens to house the first and (so far) ONLY cold sauna in all of North America! Cold saunas are very popular in Europe. If you’re a fan of The Amazing Race, one year participants had to endure the cold sauna experience, although I can’t remember where the sauna was located. Sparkling Hill is principally owned by Gernot Langes-Swarovski, former head of the Swarovski crystal company, so the resort is filled with crystals. It’s very beautiful. And it features a first-class view of Okanagan Lake.

For those not in the know, a 3-minute “walk” in a cold sauna at around -110 Celsius (MINUS 166 Fahrenheit) is equivalent to 15-20 minutes in an ice bath. So the saunas (cryotherapy) are great for athletes recovering from injury, those with arthritis, etc. Here’s an explanation.

So. My husband suggested that we try the cold sauna, because he’s nursing a knee injury. They instruct you to arrive in a bathing suit and bathrobe, and you enter the spa. There was a receptionist and our, um, spa assistant, I guess you would call her. She was indispensable! For all sorts of excellent reasons, you do not enter the sauna on your own. Someone from the resort accompanies you.

First, we each had to get our blood pressure checked. Mine was 127 over something good (very pleased with myself, considering I’d downed a cup and a half of coffee, which I rarely drink, an hour beforehand, and I was nervous). Then we removed our robes, donned masks over our noses and mouths, headbands over our ears, little booties on our feet, and two layers of gloves. I was dumb enough to bring along my only swimsuit that had a metal clasp between my breasts. So a headband also got shoved in my “cleavage” (as in, that’s where my cleavage would be if I, er, had enough bounty to warrant cleavage!). Our assistant, “Em”, explained the process while we stood outside the three-chamber unit.

We entered the first chamber. It was around -11 Celsius (12 Fahrenheit). “Not a problem,” I thought. It was like going outside in your bathing suit in February. Or stepping off a plane in Montreal. We spent about 2 seconds in chamber one before entering chamber two, which was around -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit). Woo-ee! At this point, I wondered if this was a good idea. However, we were assured that Europeans did this all the time. It’s only the North Americans who are wussies.

At -50 Celsius, you pretty much want to be bundled up, and your skin starts to tingle. But after maybe 2 seconds in chamber 2, we entered chamber 3, which was, during our 3-minute stay in that last chamber, -112.5 Celsius (-170.5 Fahrenheit). You still with me?

The first thing I noticed was that it was freezing!! I mean, really, really cold. But you don’t feel it inside your body. Just on your skin. The Bobby McFarrin song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, played our entire 3 minutes in chamber 3. Em was with us, thank God, or I would have left right away. We had been notified prior to entering that we would be advised of the 1.5 minute mark. Meanwhile, we were to walk in a slow circle, slowing waving our limbs, like dancing penguins, but not to dance too fast or we would create too much breeze, I guess, and then we would get even colder.

Tip #1. Don’t put on mascara before entering the cold sauna. They had advised us not to have any portion of our bodies wet before entering the sauna, but no one had mentioned mascara. Or maybe it only felt like my eyelashes were sticking together because I kept my eyes closed most of the time. When my calves felt like I’d developed frostbite, we hadn’t even made it to 1.5 minutes! But Em talked us through it.

My husband was having the same thoughts I was, but he didn’t voice them until later. So I thought he was enjoying himself. I expressed enough desire not to continue with the experience that Em asked if I was okay, and she also told me to remember to breathe normally, which was very good advice.

When the backs of my knees felt frozen, I reminded myself that if I could fly over the Nasca Lines in a loop-de-loop plane (I get motion sickness and am afraid of heights), and if I could go zip-lining not once, but twice (same fear of heights and motion sickness), then I could do this. What was more, if I left, then my husband could lord it over me that he experienced the entire three minutes. Lastly, if my freaking grandfather could go tandem skydiving for the first and only time in his life at the age of 100 (if you hit that link, scroll down to the second Q&A entry), then surely I could endure the three minutes. Honestly, it was the latter that kept me going.

The backs of my ankle bones felt frozen past the 1.5 minute mark. When the voice over the loudspeaker says, “1.5 minutes,” you’re pretty much thinking, “Ack!” And I said, “I am never, ever doing this again!” Em continued to talk us through it. We switched direction and kept penguin-waddle-dancing while Bobby McFerrin sang about being stupid happy. Then the loudspeaker voice began to count down, “Five-four-three-two-one!” and we escaped into chamber 2. Immediately, my skin began to tingle (as in defrost). Then, two seconds later, we were in chamber 3, at a mild -11 Celsius again. Then we were out of the contraption for good.

You sit down and slowly begin to divest yourself of your cold sauna do-dahs. Meanwhile, my skin was tingling like mad and was also bright red. As you slowly defrost, energy fills your body and you feel quite exhilarated. That said, Em enters the cold sauna up to three times a day. I can not fathom it. As she said, the trauma was mostly in our minds. Europeans do this all the time. In fact, athletes (like hockey players) stay at the Resort and will enter the cold sauna up to three times in one day to help speed healing. It’s like a massive ice pack.

So, I survived. And I never have to do it again. But I might, if given the opportunity.

Would you?

Discover the Galapagos on My Continuing Journey with Galapagos Eco-Lodge Blog

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

You know it’s Tuesday again, don’t you? And you know what that means! More exploration of the amazing Galapagos Islands!

On Day 6 of our two-week cruise on-board the Cormorant with naturalist guide Harry Jimenez (owner/manager of Galapagos Eco-Lodge on San Cristobal Island), we got to visit Egas Port, Espumilla Beach, and Buccanneer Cove, all on Santiago Island. It was a jam-packed day.

Click here to read my post.

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Next week…Genovesa Island, one of my absolute favs!