Thursday, December 22, 2011

Return to El Salvador...

El Salvador is a sacred place to me.  It is where I truly became a surfer, a spanish speaker, a traveler, an idealist, and a writer.  I had strove to become all of these things for a long time, perhaps I still do, but my prolonged period in El Sal marked a point of marked achievement in all of my pursuits, which I can only ascribe to the peaceful surroundings, compelling company, and epic waves that this tiny Latin American nation consistently provides.

And so coming back here after nearly two years away was an important event in my life.  I had spent months and months learning the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of this country, from the people and the culture to the waves and the weather.  I spent Christmas and new years here for two years in a row, the family that ran the hostel where I stayed became like my own.  It was my home away from home, that one place in Latin America where I felt I could escape to when I felt homesick as I vagabonded around the continent.  And now I was back again, and so much had since changed.

Pulling in to El Tunco the road looked different.  It was no longer that rustic little pueblo with beaten down homes, small tiendas, and typical hostels lining the road.  It had become a classic, developed surf town, complete with a variety of hotels and hostels, restaurants, bars and even tourist agencies.  The night life used to be a single bar, lively only on the weekends when the San Salvadorans left the city to hit the coast, complete with drum circles and fire throwers.  Now every night a different bar or disco would throw a huge party, complete with expensive drinks, pat-downs and cover charges.

It was inevitable I suppose, such is the nature of these surf towns.  They grow in popularity and begin to lose their uniqueness as they try to emulate every other surf tourism destination.  More and more foreigners arrive, more buildings are erected, more parties, more drugs, more surfers... More money.  And really that is what it comes down to in the end, money.  Sustainability is trumped by prosperity, and the ability to see some sort of equilibrium between the two is distorted by the allure of more dollars and  the flawed idea that growth is the only way forward.  But in the end who is to blame? Poverty still remains, and with it desperation.  At least things hadn't gotten completely out of hand here, and hopefully community leaders will take charge and ensure some semblance of balanced growth.  It would be a shame otherwise.

If everything else had changed one thing had remained the same, the wave.  I had been out of the water for too long, save for a few sessions in the lakes and some hurricane waves on the eastern seaboard.  When I arrived mid-afternoon I checked in to a hostel, grabbed a board, and hit the water.  With just a 3 foot swell Sunzal was breaking perfectly, just as I remember it, long and perfectly formed point break waves.  Only this time I had a couple years more of surfing experience behind me and I paddled right out back with the locals, catching my first wave, showing them that I deserved a position in the line up.  I surfed that first day until the sky was dark, my waves only lit by the settling glow of the disappeared sun and the moon shining brightly in the cloudless sky above.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Returning to Guatemala: Part 2

The time had come to deliver the food aid to the affected communities, and so we rose that morning with a sense of purpose, my new friend Fernando picking me up from my hotel exactly at the stated hour – an act unheard of in this part of the world. The sun was already bright in the sky as we cruised down towards the Pacific coast from the highlands of Chimaltenango. The cool air blew against my face as I took in the landscape of towering volcanoes and green hills. We quickly found ourselves on level ground, the hills transforming into yellow-dry plains and the hot, salty air invading our car. It was a welcome change.

The food deliveries were much how one might imagine them to be. The people had received word that we were coming and were all gathered and ready for us, anxious to finally get some relief. Some words were said with the occasional prayer and the lists were checked off. One by one people would carry their heavy food bags away. On bikes, motorcycles, or simply on their backs – they did what they had to in order to get the food to their homes.

The rest of the day was much the same, with the exception of the growing number of local boys joining the caravan on the back of the truck and helping to haul the heavy bags as we moved along. I finished the day feeling satisfied, yet discontent. I had spoken to many families and taken lots of photos, I was starting to conceive just what these people had gone through. The rations I was sure would make a difference in their lives, but that night as I ate my own dinner, I could only think about those numerous families that showed up to the distributions and asked me, the Canadian, why they were not on the list.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction, further up into the Guatemalan highlands. The early morning drives in this country are always stunning. We climbed higher and higher up winding roads through thick fog, until eventually we broke through and fierce orange beams of sunlight began to shoot through the dissipating clouds. I was getting used to driving with Fernando, we had begun to get to know each other quite well and developed an unspoken bond. He was an incredibly kind soul, and despite the seriousness of the work he did, he had a devilish sense of humour and was always down for a laugh. He would tell me his interesting stories from the past as we drove, and as he delivered his numerous punch-lines he would glance at me with a semi-smirk, waiting for my approval before we both broke into hysterics.

This part of the country had been hit even harder, the heavy rains causing unstoppable landslides that killed several people and carried away numerous homes. Every few kilometers along the highway we would see huge cliffs that had crumbled, the rubble of rocks and dirt only recently plowed off of the roads. The people in this region were predominantly indigenous Mayans who wore traditional clothing and who’s first language was K’ichi. They spoke Spanish slowly with a sense of uncertainty yet clarity that I was able to understand so well. I had learned my Spanish years back while living amongst other indigenous Guatemalans, and so I was at ease speaking with them.

They had lost so much over the last few years as a result of the rainy season. In Canada as the fall approaches and we all begin to dread the impending winter, I realize now how lucky we are, and I can’t imagine the anxiety that faces these communities before the rainy season begins for them. Yet they hide it so well. They are all smiles and kindness when we arrive, and they thank us and bless us with a sense of sincerity that is like nothing I’ve witnessed before.

Before we left the last community, the leaders insisted on treating us to a sandwich. I’ve become used to accepting offerings from the people here, despite the fact that I know they are struggling for money. That is their nature, to give as much as they possibly can, even if it means a greater struggle for them the next day.

We had finally finished the food aid distributions and I withdrew to Antigua to rest and gather my thoughts. The retrospection was valuable, and I was able to define exactly what it was that I had learned over the last few days. I had often challenged people back home in Canada who blindly gave their money to aid and development organizations without actually acting on their own or doing the research to know where their money was going. And although I’m still sure there are various negative exceptions, I believe that this was typically what humanitarian aid looked like on the ground. The necessity for this aid and for the funds that brought it about was obvious – the gratefulness alone of the recipients was enough evidence in itself. Although not a long-term solution to the problems here, this aid would give many people a chance to simply stop worrying about feeding their families, even if only for a few weeks.

I had a few days of work ahead of me, but I also had some time for myself, so I decided to hop over the border to my old stomping grounds in El Salvador for some sun and surf, and for what would become an eventful weekend on the coast.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Returning to Guatemala: Part 1

Just ten days ago I was sitting in my friend's warm coffee shop, thinking about my impending life on the west coast, preparing for the next few weeks of cold that was about to hit Toronto, when my phone rang and I was offered a job in Guatemala.  It was just contract work, five days or so, but I was being sent back to Latin America, something I had been longing for, and it was being paid for.  I really couldn’t believe my luck, because really that is what it was.  Sure, I’ve worked hard to gain experience in international development and to become fluent in Spanish, but ultimately me getting this job came down to who I knew and where I was.  That’s how international development works, I suppose that is how most careers work.

I was as tired as usual, that same fatigued and sleepless zombie like state that I always seem to find myself in before I get on a plane and head overseas.  The excitement had kept me up the last two nights, and then waking at 4:45am to catch my flight didn’t help at all.  The three hours from Toronto to Houston was no good for sleep, aisle seats just don’t cut it.  I had to rush to my connecting flight and thankfully I had a window seat and an empty aisle.  I was able to stretch out a bit and catch a few minutes of half-sleep, but nothing substantial enough to change my overall demeanor.  I had a window for my attempted nap, and when I decided to open the shutter as the captain announced our starting descent, the bright sun filled my empty row of seats and the green mountains of Guatemala rolled away beyond the horizon.  I was here, and the open landscape brought with it a flood of memories that warmed my body and left me as anxious as ever to get off the plane.

I was greeted at the exit to the airport by Mardo, my local contact, and his son.  Mardo had the token kindness typical of most Guatemalans, and I instantly felt at ease with him and without hesitation accepted his offer to join him at his grand daughter’s first birthday party.  We drove through the city to what seemed a relatively poor but organized barrio where Mardo’s family lived.  There I was introduced to a flora of characters, from the “Doctor” who was working on commercializing his own take on recycled rubber and readily admitted to his alcoholic tendencies, to the “Captain”, an old navy man that was quick to dismiss the legalization of drugs in the U.S. as a solution to the narco-trafficking problem in Guatemala.  The party was for Mardo’s grand daughter who was turning just one year old, and the whole barrio came over to celebrate in the cul-de-sac that we had commandeered for a few hours.  No one could pass as we sat around in a big circle and watched the children destroy two large piñatas, each time candy fell the hordes of kids would surge to the middle in a mad dash, like seagulls fighting over food scraps.  I was tired and Mardo knew it, so after a few hours when the party had died down, he drove me downtown to a hotel where I quickly ate a snack and passed out to another restless sleep.

The next day we headed up to Chimaltenango, about an hour outside of the capital city, where the local organization that I would be working with was located.  My job was to observe an emergency food aid distribution for victims of the floodings, shoot photos, and write a story about it all.  So although I'll have to save the details for the official version, I'll try to share some of the more intimate moments.  That first day in Chimaltenango we visited the storage facilities where several people that were hired on for this project were bent over in the sun, counting and packing bags, then loading them onto the big truck to be transported the next morning to the various communities.  I took the photos that I needed then I jumped in, counting and hauling, but admittedly taking more breaks then the rest of them.  The work involved was exhausting, and I applaud the commitment of these people that were working to help others for what was likely very little remuneration.  The organization itself is a very progressive one, founded by Don Marco, a gentleman who I met that day and would later speak to at length.  He had lived through the civil war as an activist and supporter of the uprising against the oligarchic military government, he even played in integral role in the peace talks that ended the war.  The organization was originally created to assist victims of the war, but has since evolved into a diverse community development group of experts.  One employee that I spoke to told me that the name of the organization, Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn), was named after the small pueblo where Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia.

That night I strolled through the Central Park tasting some of the different street foods and watching some local kids play soccer.  The cold of the night, the bustle of the park, and the smell of spiced meat brought me back to my early days in Guatemala, when I lived in a small town in the highlands.  It felt incredible to be back, and I was grateful that I was given such an opportunity.  The next few days would act as a stark reminder that as happy as I was with my life at that moment, there were people here simply struggling to live.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Letter...

I've been corresponding with my grandmother for some time now via hand-written letters.  It is an age old tradition that is cherished by the well-read of her generation, but nearly lost now in the virtual frenzy of the 21st century.  While studying medieval history in university I had the opportunity to read many primary sources - often letters between loved ones - which gave us a candid glimpse into the ordinary lives of people almost one thousand years ago.  Today,with hard copies few and far between, and our correspondences simply floating around in cyber space, I wonder where future generations will look in their own attempts to unravel the past.  It is said that the internet is the way of the future, but as we continue to clean up our in-boxes and hit the delete icons, it seems the future will be sparse of the most revealing vestige of time - the letter.

Perhaps it is with such thoughts in my mind that I chose to continue corresponding with my grandmother.  She has a long and eventful history, born and raised in Germany, she survived the second World War before immigrating to Canada.  As a child, she would show me black and white photos taken in Europe in the early part of the 20th century while my grandfather told me war stories.  She lives in a large house alone with her cherished cats, every room filled with articles from years gone by.  Antique furniture clean of dust and mysterious boxes containing secret histories.  I know that it is contrary to her nature to throw away such things as personal letters, and so there is a comfort that I gain from knowing that my words will forever be a part of her legacy, a part of her house so full of mementos.

When I read her letters I picture her as a beautiful young lady with dark hair, those black and white photos of her come alive, for her written words speak with a wise youthfulness that is not so apparent when I see her and talk to her.  Her mind is as sharp and as sound as ever it has been, even as time creeps upon her body year after year.  Through her letters, she has often provided me with words of wisdom and a voice of assurance while I've taken difficult steps in my own life.  I know our letters provide a mutual and reciprocating comfort, and I smile when I think of her opening my letters with excitement, as I do when I open hers.

Lately I've been rather anxious, ready to take the next step in my life and move on again.  I've found it hard to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the everyday things.  As if she was reading my mind, the last letter that my grandmother sent me included the following words:

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
-Robert Brault

I'm going to do my best to take her advice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"What are these people protesting? What do they want to accomplish? I think that these people need to stop occupying and instead get occupations."  This was what a good friend of mine said to me as I called him from St.James park to tell him about the protest taking place.  While I gave him a well deserved chuckle for his wit, I also took note that his understanding of the protest was obviously quite poor.  I'm not one to get out and join a protest.  I've always found that there are other ways for me to express my discontent, like through writing for example.  That is not to say that I don't sympathize or understand those who choose to join mass protests.  The feeling of solidarity and connectedness that a positive protest promotes is unparalleled, and for many that feeling is the whole purpose.  I still remember vividly the protests that I witnessed in Honduras as a human rights observer.  People were protesting against a coup government, an illegal and false election, and a terrifying state of repression where activists were disappearing and ending up dead.  The final protest that I witnessed was a caravan through the hilly streets of the city of Tegulcigalpa where people came out in thousands raising their fingers in the air to show that they had no stamp, meaning they chose to boycott the elections.  It was a movement that stirred something inside of me, that forever left me with an appreciation for different forms of dissent.  Yet as the Occupy Wall Street protest arrived in Toronto, I found myself searching for answers to those questions that my friend asked me.  What is the point? What do you want to accomplish? I can't say I have a definitive answer, I don't think anyone can.  But just because such answers are elusive does not mean the protest is a failure.  On the contrary, the fact that such questions are being asked is a clear sign of success.

Simply put, everyone has their own reasons for protesting, and with experience comes perspective.  Many of my friends who have good jobs and who have always lived pretty comfortably can't understand why people are protesting.  There is this idea amongst many middle class North Americans that somehow everyone has it great in this country, that no one has a right to protest against our system because it provides so much.  Well it is true that compared to poor countries, one like Honduras for example, we do have it pretty good, but should relative prosperity on a global scale condemn us to a state of inactivity? Should we not always strive for something better?  I grew up in a middle class family and I know that I have a good life - that I am lucky.  But I've also witnessed the way we create class distinctions and inequalities within this very system that we call fair.  I spent the last six months doing manual labour, working in one of the most physically demanding positions there is, yet for minimal remuneration.  I provided a service that this society requires in order to function, yet the very people that we helped often looked down upon us, because our occupation implied that we were at the lowest of classes.  I worked with people who had no other options, and who struggled from week to week to provide for their families even though they were working harder than most people.  All because this great system that we call fair has deemed their labour as unskilled and therefore undeserving of fair remuneration.

It is these personal circumstances of different people that have fueled the fire of these protests, and regardless of whether the discontent will bring about a change in our system is irrelevant.  They will bring about awareness and discussion, and they will cause people who don't think about such things, like my witty friend, to do so.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nueva York...

I traveled to New York City a lot when I was younger, but growing up my own lack of culture and worldly knowledge denied me of any sort of appreciation for the giant metropolis.  It was just a huge, dirty city that never ended I thought, where consumerism and crime alike was rampant.  While the latter points may arguably be true, it is an incredible place that I only now am understanding. My latest trip left me stunned and exhilarated that such a place lays just eight hours away from my home city of Toronto, and I'm anxious now to return there.  I suppose when I was younger I wasn't really given the opportunity to explore, and I didn't really know what to look for anyways.  Now having spent several years traveling, the internationalism of New York City, and its appeal to global wanderers has become obviously clear to me.  New York seems to have something for everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from.  It is the epicentre of all things human, the epitome of modern day civilization.
I couldn't believe as I strolled through a neighborhood in Queens that I was in the United States at all.  I suddenly found myself back in Latin America, surrounded by tiendas and comedores, groups of old men sitting outside in the sun, vendors selling cheap items on the street.  I went looking for a clean razor shave with my brother and after passing about five peluquerías we finally settled on one where a group of young Dominicans in matching barbers robes laughed and spoke in their fast tongued native spanish as they carefully lined up other Latinos´ hair.  They spoke to me in spanish, english was not an option, it didn´t seem to be anywhere in this part of the city.  I was given a perfect shave and left a tip for the caballero, he deserved it spending extra time lining up my beard just perfectly.  I then walked out and we hopped in a taxi, and of course the driver only spoke to me in Spanish.  Even though he knew exactly where my hotel was located, as we headed there chatting and laughing I became lost, unsure if I was in NYC or back in Guayaquil, not wanting to leave that cab and those memories behind me.
That night I attended my cousin´s wedding and had an amazing time, bonding with my extended family, reminding me of why its so good to be close to home again.  The next day, after a night of great festivities, we went exploring in a completely different part of the city, the place where most tourists seem to flock.  We drove to Manhattan and strolled through Central Park, eventually making our way to Times Square.  It wasn´t quite how I imagined it to be, my imagination lacks scale apparently, because everything was so much grander and larger than I expected.  The giant flashing screens and lights, the towering buildings.  There was so much to take in, a lady posing in a bikini in the middle of bustling traffic, the activist shouting about the war, the military recruitment station with doors wide open.  
My time was so limited and I had to hop on a plane home that same night.  Sitting in the airport waiting, like I have so many times before, left me feeling confident and happy about where I was, both in that moment and in life.  I look forward to exploring NYC much more in the near future, I know that I have only touched the surface.

Monday, June 13, 2011


It’s a little disheartening when I pull out my trusty little travel writing computer and blow dust off of it. I’d just be guessing when I say that all writers go through points in their lives when they stop writing, when they feel uninspired. It is difficult to rationalize such feelings without a sense of loss - without a sense of losing myself. But looking back over the last few years I realize that it has been an ongoing process of losing myself, of evolving as a person through experience. So I keep my head high and realize that this simply is the next step for me, albeit one that seems very foreign.

It’s actually quite ironic. Coming home, finding a job, settling down – these are the things that are foreign to me. Not taking off to some distant land where people are fascinated by the way I dress and speak. We were to call it re-integration when we came back from our contract work in Ecuador, and our employers attempted to assist us through it with motivational speakers and reverse culture shock activities. But for all of us that went to work in Ecuador we all had different degrees of separation from this society, and so we all required a much different process of re-integration. I had spent the majority of the last three years living in Latin America, constantly on the move, constantly finding new people and new adventures. For this to all come to an end suddenly is something I’m still coming to terms with.

Some may ask why it has to end, and this is a question I ask myself more than anyone. Why should I not keep living by my free floating ethos, and let the nomadic life fully absorb me? Is this not what I’ve promoted throughout the writing of this blog? Perhaps I always knew that it was something that could not be carried on forever. Contemporary society dictates some level stability in ones life in order to be relatively prosperous and I would be lying to myself if I claimed that prosperity has not been a lingering thought as I’ve lived a rather austere life over the last while.

If there is anything that the last three years on the road have taught me it is that where you imagine yourself a year from now, will often be the opposite of where you end up. If life were not this way, we would not be human, and we wouldn’t learn from our experiences and use those lessons to guide us.

So here I am in Toronto, investigating different opportunities for my future, engaging in different commitments and activities that were foreign to me as a traveler - and it feels good. Regardless of the next steps that I take, the adventures and travels will never stop, and I'll always continue writing. People from around the world have touched my soul, and brought me to where I am now, and that is something that I want to carry with me throughout my life.

The Canadian that went to Ecuador to take over my position when I left sent me an email the other day which left me with a great smile on my face and forced me to choke back some tears. She said that she had begun to work with the community council – that group of people that I knew so well in Data de Villamil, Ecuador. As I read her words I pictured her sitting around the little wooden table at the side of the dusty road, listening to the wise words of those hardened coastal folk. She wrote to me that they were having a hard time pronouncing her name, so they had simply all decided to call her “Antonia”, and that I had left quite an impression on them. I only wish they could know the impression they have left with me, and I take that impression with me always as I move on to different things back in Canada.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The spirit of Montreal...

Montreal is quickly becoming my favorite place to visit from Toronto. Last week I was there as the first real warm weather set in, we spent the afternoon in the park tossing the Frisbee and letting the sun darken us. For me it was a special moment because I was able to do something I had been dreaming of for the last few years. Something so simple and so normal here, but almost unheard of in the places where I have been living. I was finally able to just take my shirt off and lay in the warm, green grass of a park and enjoy the sounds of the Canadian summer.

We had to stay outside and stay active. We wanted to be full of this new found weather, we needed it to replenish us, like people lost in a desert who have finally come upon a water hole. The Bixie bike system is incredible, something that should lead the way for the future of all cities. It is a series of bike stands set up strategically throughout the city, and with a credit card one can rent a quality bike and conveniently ride it to another stand and leave it there. Riding through Montreal is a joy, with specific bike lanes on the major roads, and a respect for bikers that seems to be non-existent in other places. It is a vehicle after all, the only difference being that it is powered by our legs rather than damaging fossil fuels. I have heard of systems similar to the Bixie bikes being set up in places like Mexico city and actually working to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions significantly.

On Sunday, after a long night of drink and celebration with strange and interesting people from around Montreal, we headed to Mont Royal for what is called Tam-Tams. It is a grand music festival that anyone can join, and it takes place every weekend of the summer. Approaching the park there is a massive and towering statue of an awe inspiring angel, around which the crowds slowly begin to amass. Gradually the sounds of the drum circles grow, and more and more people begin to gather. Anyone can join the circles, and if they don't have an instrument they can still be participate simply by dancing. So it was that I watched people from all walks of life letting themselves go to the beat of the drums. One large and unkempt man who looked like he sat behind a computer in a dark room all day, beat at his drum with a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, burning away. Another man in rather fancy clothes who could have been a stock broker by day, closed his eyes and looked to the sky as he let the rhythm carry him away. The drum master in the middle of the circle, with a magnificent looking djembe, smiled deeply and bounced around, his dark skin shining in the sun. The lone guitar player sat on the fringes, twanging to the different sounds, demonstrating his soul with the slow shake of his head side to side. The only thing these very different people all had in common was that they were there to escape, to let themselves go through music, and the satisfaction evident on their faces could be felt in the air that day, spreading across the park.

We sat on the grass as the area filled up, by mid-afternoon there was easily thousands of people. At one point we strolled up the hill to check out the medieval battles that I had heard of. We had seen random people walking through the park earlier donning shining armour, so my curiosity was at a high. As we entered the tree line it was like I was suddenly watching a scene from Braveheart. There were two long lines of people clad in armour of different shapes and colours, brandishing padded weapons of all sorts. They faced off preparing for battle, and when it began they moved toward each other quickly, slashing and spearing. Apparently it was on the honour system, where if you were hit directly without shielding you would lose that limb. So people would be down on one knee still swinging madly with their sword, others would be holding one arm behind them. Eventually they would be struck down with a blow to the body and one side would be victorious.

The spirit of Montreal truly showed itself that weekend, and the following day all of Quebec decided to vote for real change in Ottawa, a huge majority favoring the progressive NDP. It was like that vote simply reinforced the impression that I was feeling towards the people of Quebec, that they are truly a social people that understand the value of human compassion and of shared human experiences.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Election time...

I've been around a few elections over the last few years, and they have all been surrounded by passion and excitement.  I was in Latin America for two incredibly important elections.  The first was the United States Presidential race.  I remember sitting in a little restaurant in the mountain city of Quetzaltanengo in Guatemala, the kind local owner and I watching the night unfold on CNN Espanol.  I remember how we both watched with intense interest, and debated with one another in broken Spanish, both of us knowing how much was at stake.  Not long after I was in El Salvador leading up to the Presidential elections where the people were mobilizing to elect a new government.  The right wing party that dominated politics in El Salvador since the end of the war were about to be replaced democratically by the very Marxist Guerilla group that they fought against in the 1980's.  Then there was Honduras, where I was part of a human rights delegation during a more or less staged election put on by a de facto coup d'etat regime.  The former two elections were examples of peoples movements utilizing democracy to bring about significant change, the latter was an example of democracy being manipulated by powerful forces from above.  It is now election time in Canada, and I feel that Canadian democracy lies somewhere in between the examples listed above. 

I often express my indignation towards the establishment in my writing, or even more so when I talk to people.  I frequently criticize the politics of Canada and the Canadian government, I certainly criticize our electoral system.  In fact, I don't believe that what we have here in Canada is actually a democracy, but rather some twisted representation of what a democracy should be.  For these reasons I'm sometimes called a radical, or often a socialist or perhaps a tree hugger (the latter two are apparently synonymous in contemporary ideological groupings).  I will probably reinforce this label by declaring that I will be voting for the Green party this election - the only political party with a sustainable vision for the future.  What is certain is that I am not a radical but a pragmatist.  I believe in democracy and I believe that an organized democracy is the only way to bring about the changes that this country and this world need.  I believe this because I have seen it happen, especially in Latin America.  That is why despite my cynicism, I believe that elections are incredibly important.  There is so much at stake.  The longer that we neglect our duty to vote, the further we move away from a democracy and the harder it will be to salvage democracy when things start to get difficult - which is inevitable the way things are going.

Since this is my personal blog I'll now use this opportunity to push my own strong political views upon my readers.  In the near future I will be writing about the problems with Canadian democracy and why our current system does not work.  In the meantime, I strongly encourage people to vote Green.  For every vote that the Green party receives they gain legitimacy as a party in the public eye, and the only reason they have not gained a strong sense of legitimacy thus far (as was made clear by their exclusion in the leaders debates) is because they raise important issues that the other political parties do not want to address.  The Green party is the only party that will actively work to change our electoral system to make your individual vote worth more, so that there is a government in parliament representative of the entire population of Canada.  And they are the only party that will provide an active voice for the environment, at a time when Canada is becoming known around the world as one of the least-environmentally friendly developed countries.  Anyone who cares about the future of this country and this world should vote Green.

Monday, April 11, 2011


My friends jokingly call me a nomad, I wonder how much truth there is behind it. I don't follow the seasons intentionally or at least not consciously, but I always seem to be returning to Canada just as the last of the cold fades away, and then I leave again as it returns.
The other night I suddenly found that I was very warm in my apartment, so I opened my bedroom window before falling asleep. My room is on the tenth floor and the cool, fresh breeze gently blew against my head as I lay close to the window. I dreamt that night of many things, but I remember distinctly the sounds of nature. I believe I was on a lake, perhaps in a canoe, the details are blurry. There was a crashing thunder, louder than I had ever heard before, and somehow that thunder created a perfect setting in my dream, and the characters (who have all now faded from my memory) fit in perfectly. The images of their unrecognizable faces posing as the sound of thunder crashed behind them is vivid in my mind.
I awoke from my dream early in the morning to a heightened humidity in the air and the sound of light rain against the windows. Within seconds of realizing that I was awake thunder struck and the rain came pouring down. I pulled my blinds open all of the way and the low light of a cloudy morning sky filled my room. The thunder struck again, over and over, and I knew that spring had finally shown itself fully, and it felt good.
Spring in Ontario is one of the greatest times of the year. It is nature rewarding us in the grandest way for enduring the long and tolling winter. I arrived from a tropical climate just one month ago, and I missed most of the winter. But I arrived to the worst of it, and I got a good sense of the gloom that this long winter invoked. I grew up here after all, I know how difficult it can be. But the distinct four seasons that accompany this land are like no other, and each one is so powerful and moving that even after 27 years I am still left awed by the greatness of each season. The sweltering summer where the heat is almost unbearable fades into the crisp fall where everything becomes magnificently orange and red. Slowly everything dies and the nomadic creatures of the land head south and the cold, desolate winter sets in. The winter seems to last the longest, its pinnacle hitting just as people begin to come restless with the cold and wet streets. It becomes unbearable and people begin to question their ability to endure this harsh climate, when suddenly the air warms slightly, clouds fill the sky, and thunder announces the arrival of spring as the rain washes away the winter and our sad dispositions flow down the drains.
The rain eventually stopped that day and the clouds began to break, slowly the sun revealed itself until by mid afternoon its beams had dried the land and were warming the air. I had to get outside so I threw on a sweater, passing by my heavy winter jacket in the closet with a sigh of relief, and decided to head downtown to meet some friends. We went for a stroll in the city, walking around for the first time in t-shirts – always an incredible feeling. The streets were crowded with people, their toques and scarves replaced by smiles and energetic conversations. Somehow everyone’s eyes seemed to have come alive, as if their spirits had been hibernating for the long winter. We found a cafe and a patio and sat in the late afternoon sun, chatting and enjoying the awakened city.
It is the days like these that make the long winters worthwhile; that remind us of how incredible this land really is. I'm glad I was able to experience the transition from winter to spring, it is always a great way to find that appreciation for my home city that can so easily be lost when I leave. Slowly the days will become longer and warmer, and the cycle will repeat itself over the year. I wonder if I will ever experience that full cycle again.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Traveling and constantly changing my surroundings has become an important part of my life, but being home has really put things into perspective.  I started this blog three years ago when I decided to leave Canada with no particular destination in mind.  The adventures that followed shaped the person that I am today and no doubt helped me to grow as an individual and as a human being.  When I first left, I had the intention of truly finding some sort of personal truth, some state of enlightenment.  I’ve come to realize that this is a life long process and that the wisdom that I seek comes from a variety of experiences, not just travel, but also being in touch with ones roots.  Being back around the people that I grew up with and the places where I came of age has been surprisingly invigorating and has helped me to make some sense of all the experience that I have gained over the last few years.  My roots are my original connection to this world, and I once took that for granted.  So as much as I promote indefinite travel and alternative lifestyles, I also believe that returning to ones roots is a vital part of what makes us human, and is something that acts as a reminder of who we really are.  Perhaps I will leave again, in fact it is quite likely, but it will be so with a greater appreciation for my roots.  There is a saying that says "Those that wander are not necessarily lost", but I know now that as I continue traveling, were it not for my roots, I would indeed be lost.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Finding Adventure...

I write often about the disconnect that popular society has with nature and the world, especially because I believe that such a connection is a fundamental part of our being human, and that a lack thereof affects our ability to flourish. Coming back to Canada, the frustration sets in even further as I become more aware of the many options that are available to us to enjoy nature or simply just to find an adventure not far from home. That so many people are consumed by their material desires and their evening television shows when surrounding them is one of the most diverse and beautiful countries made up of an interesting mix of people and cultures, is a great tragedy. It is so easy to take off and find something new, even close by.

My need for an adventure set in quick upon returning to Toronto. The always epic battle between the winter and the spring leave the city wet and dreary, and make my suburban neighborhood seem sad and uninspiring. And so it was that I decided to take off to visit Montreal, a city just four hours away, yet a nation of its own. Getting on a bus was a great feeling that invoked nostalgia from my days in Latin America where I rode buses everywhere. Although I was just heading down the 401 highway, I was on the road again, traveling, and it felt good. I stared out the bus window for a long time as we sped along the wet highway, remembering my younger days when we would be driving down that same stretch, heading to a campground or a lake for an adventure with family and friends.

Arriving in Montreal one can immediately feel a different vibe altogether. The city seems more alive and more aware, the random smiles more prevalent. Everything is in French, a great challenge for someone like me who barely passed grade nine French class – one of my great childhood regrets. Ordering a bus ticket or asking for some sugar in my coffee suddenly becomes a nerve wrecking ordeal. I embrace the challenge though, knowing that such moments where I step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown I build character and become that much more connected. I’m reminded of the first time I was faced with such a challenge, it was about five years ago now, I was alone on my first trip anywhere outside of Canada, and I had just arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. The language, the culture, the people, everything was completely foreign to me, but I remember distinctly my first attempts at communication, and the amazing feeling that I had when I was finally understood. Now, here in Montreal, I’m amazed at the fact that anyone from my home city of Toronto can easily hop on a bus for four hours and throw themselves into such uncertainty. I wish more people would try it.

I met with an old friend who I knew through my days of human rights accompaniment work in Guatemala. We had a good long talk in Spanish about the interesting happenings of the world today. Speaking Spanish in Montreal at least made me feel somewhat more adequate – they are both Romance languages after all. I then met up with Tyler, Jesse, and Tasha Palov, an amazing family that just seem to get it when it comes to that connection with nature and the world that I write about so often. Tasha and I headed up to the Southern townships with a packed car, complete with Zoe the dog and Fiera the cat. We were intent on finding some silent time in the beautiful rolling countryside that is unique to South Eastern Canada. The snow and the rain were in a constant battle leaving the city of Montreal flooded and somewhat hectic, but as we crossed the great St. Lawrence river and headed out into the country, the cars and the people disappeared and the landscape opened itself up. We cruised along in the cool evening, catching up on the last six months to the hum of the engine and smell of Zoe’s panting breath from the backseat. We turned onto some back roads approaching the townships, the sides of the roads were lined with high piles of snow. Suddenly we had to slow as two large deer came climbing over the snow bank and trotted across the road in front of us. It was a reminder that I was home, back in Canada, and that spring was on its way.

It was a relaxing weekend in the country, with silent winter walks and warm chats beside the fireplace. Now here I am on a bus heading back to Toronto with another adventure under my belt and with a new sense of determination to explore more of this vast and magnificent country. I’ve headed west several times now, once by hitch-hiking across the entire country. Now my goal is to explore more of the east, and I anticipate many more adventures await me in the near future.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Six Months Later...

I guess nothing really has changed, but it all seems so different. It is me that has changed.
Through large windows pattered with rain drops, I am looking across the dark, cold and wet suburban sprawl of this city were I came of age. I am insulated in this building, protected completely from the stinging elements outside. It is a symbol of this North American society, sheltered from the struggles of the world around it, looking through a distorted lens. Every time I come back to Canada the contrast becomes ever more stark, and the flaws become ever more apparent in this perfection that we aim to seek. I think of it as a sterile society, both literally and figuratively. Everything is clean and often quite uniform, and even when it appears random, there is usually some method behind it. Here one can go to the grocery store and buy some lettuce and not worry about washing it before eating; one can walk down the street at night without worrying about a desperate fellow pulling a knife. This is what we have striven for, this perfection, this utopia. But really it amounts to a sterility that leaves much to desire. It is a sterility that perfects our society to the detriment of our characters and of our ability to evolve as humans, and to the detriment of our worldly perceptions. Perhaps we are better off having our heads up and our eyes open more often, perhaps the problem is that we rely too often on this sterility, and it is what breeds that political and worldly indifference that has become characteristic of our society.

I try to be positive when I am here, it is my home after all, and it is a beautiful land with well intentioned people. But I can't ignore the reality of things. I am not a better person than anyone reading this, but living abroad for a long time has undoubtedly expanded my perceptions of this world. The depth of analysis of issues and events becomes heightened when one can compare them on an international scale. To look upon Canada from the outside, especially from the perspective of the poor global South is to see a country much different than the one that I was raised to believe existed. Coming home it has become so much more apparent how little the masses know about what is happening not only in the world around them, but within their own country. There is much talk here in Canada, but the reality is that our actions fail to meet up to our words, and until we change our way of living, the future seems bleak.

Coming back to Canada is starting to become a vacation for me, like returning to a five star resort, where everything is served on a platter. The cold has been difficult to deal with after living an often shirtless life over the last six months. I thought I would enjoy a taste of the winter, but when I got on a plane at the Equator, and arrived the next day to record low temperatures in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, the shock was certainly unappealing. The one thing I am enjoying the most is the silence. Complete silence is the sound of winter and it is something that I missed dearly. Never in coastal Ecuador was it possible to find such natural silence. In Ecuador I could lock myself in an office and hope that the sound of car horns and music would be kept out, but here I can walk through a forest in the cold, dead of winter and hear absolutely nothing but perhaps the calm howl of the wind.

Indeed it is good to be back to see family and friends, to be reminded of why I built bonds with the people that I know here in the first place. I'm not sure how long I'll remain here in Toronto, but the desire to keep moving never abates. After four years of living abroad I have only just pierced the globe South of the equator, and most of the world still remains to be discovered.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

La Despedida Larga...

I walked down that long dirt road for the last time, on my way to the Community Development Committee meeting in town. Like so many times before, me and a local friend Juan Carlos casually strolled along the dark back streets of Data de Villamil, using my headlamp to reveal our path. As we walked, a well known dog came bolting out of his home barking and charging us from behind, demonstrating his fierceness. It is a game I have come to learn with the dogs. I’ll continue walking and they’ll charge my legs from behind with the intention of snapping at me, and when they get really close I bend down and pretend to pick up a rock to throw, which of course sends them running. I turn around and continue walking and the game repeats itself over again.

We continued our walk deep in talk, philosophizing about life, reflecting on my experience here in Ecuador. We approached the highway and a group of tiny green growing lights could be seen flickering in the shine of my headlamp. We came closer and the glowing lights slowly faded into the eyes of a flock of goats which parted as we passed by, grunting disapproval at being disturbed.

We sauntered on through the centre of town, Juan Carlos stopped for a cerveza; it was my final night after all. Several members were already waiting in the park as we arrived and they smiled at me brightly as I approached – those genuine smiles on their sun-darkened faces that reveal a unique sort of kindness particular to the folk of small town Ecuador. I thanked them for everything, and they each took the time to thank me. I left that meeting sad and proud, knowing that I was saying goodbye, knowing that they would move forward as a community.

Now I’m sitting in an airport in Houston connected to Wi-Fi internet, sipping on a coffee, waiting for my flight to Canada. Just twenty four hours ago was strolling for the last time through Guayaquil, pushing my way through the crowds in the Bahía, joking around with the incessant venders determined to sell me some cheap underwear. Just a couple of days ago I was paddling around in the Pacific Ocean, riding powerful waves with joy, strolling on white sand beaches. I am so far removed from that life now, so suddenly, like waking from a dream. I wonder what my friends from the small communities in Ecuador would think if they were to see me now, in this different world here in North America.

I often write about goodbyes, if only because they are so frequent in my life. I’ve never been a very emotional person, but saying good bye to Ecuador and to the people I’ve been working with here has been difficult. My degree of involvement in the lives of many people here has left me feeling committed and accomplished, but at the same time sorrowful and regretful. I feel as though I am abandoning the communities after becoming so close to them, even though I know that they will move forward whether I am there or not. Six months is a difficult amount of time to live somewhere. It is just long enough to build deep and meaningful relationships with people, but not quite long enough to grow any roots. I suppose this is the nature of my line of work, and something I need to get used to.

We left for the airport at 4am this morning, and over the last two nights I’ve slept for maybe five hours. I feel exhausted and down right now, as I often do in airports, but this low is well worth the long and meaningful goodbye that I experienced in Ecuador.

I said goodbye to all of the community members with strong embraces and words of kindness; to the Pacific Ocean with one of the most memorable surf sessions I’ve experienced in my life thus far. I said farewell to the different friends and acquaintances that I met along the way; to the owner of my favorite little restaurant in Guayaquil; to the security guard that smiles at me kindly every time I walk by. I parted ways with my work associates at the University and with the other people I worked with here in Ecuador; with my project supervisor that inspired me and taught me so much. Last night all of the interns went out for a final beer at a local bar that we often visit, I left early in order to pack and get some sleep. After dozing off for about an hour I was awoken by the door at around 1am, it was some of the local guys that we know, come to say goodbye and share a drink. And so it was that I spent my last hours in Ecuador sipping red wine beside the Río Guayas in the cool Guayaquil night, sharing memories of the last six months, discussing our hopes for the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Surfing Ecuador: The Final Sessions...

I’ve done a lot of surfing over the last six months, on a wide variety of breaks. I’ve had my ups, on those days were I was by myself in the warm water riding perfectly peeling waves, and my downs, when a wave put a hole in my eardrum and kept me out of the water for almost a month. Surfing has become an important part of my life, and I knew that it would play a large role in my overall experience here in Ecuador. So, after some often difficult and incredibly rewarding work, I treated myself to a few days of strictly surf before heading back to Toronto, Canada where I’ll be away from even the smell of the ocean for the next couple of months. I surfed in Montanita for a couple days, but knew the distractions of festivities would make it hard to concentrate, so I headed with a friend to Ayampe, my favorite beach break in Ecuador. Nature was somehow favoring my goodbye to the Pacific, and she provided me with a perfect swell to see me off. We surfed often and hard in those pounding waves, and our exhausted bodies fell into deep sleeps to the sound of chirping birds and the coastal wildlife outside the canvass of our rented tent. My final day on the ocean consisted of two of the most memorable surf sessions in my life thus far - one of sheer terror and one of pure bliss.

We woke up and had a relaxing morning, taking our time to get into the water. The swell was already hitting the beach hard; there was a clear difference in size to the evening before. It was almost too big for the spot, mostly just closing waves that crushed into a powerful rolling white wash. It was a very difficult paddle out and my arms grew tired quickly. We had been surfing for about an hour with a few decent drops here and there, when I got caught in the worst spot on the inside and the biggest set of the day came rolling in. I saw it rising in the distance as I was paddling hard but moving very little from the suck of the wash heading into shore. Every experienced surfer knows that feeling when they see a huge set forming. It is that point when they have to make a very important decision to either keep paddling and try to dive under the wave before it breaks or to hold back and hope it breaks before you and looses some power before it hits you. I opted for the former – I usually do, and it usually pays off. I made it past the first wave of the set after paddling extremely hard, and as I came up from my duck dive I saw the next set rising above me at its peak. I had no choice but to ditch my board and try to get underneath it, but as I let go of my board the force of the wave snapped my leash and sent me rolling underneath the water. I came up gasping and exhausted, more big waves were coming, I was a long way out from the beach, and I knew when I felt that leash come apart from my ankle that I was in trouble. The first thing I looked for was my friend and I spotted him in the distance on the inside – it would have taken him a while to get to me – I was panting, my arms were like jelly. My next hope was that my board somehow hadn’t got washed in towards the shore, I looked around frantically and finally I saw it bobbing about twenty feet away. I looked towards the horizon and saw the next wave forming. It was a race now, and if I didn’t beat that wave to my board, I would have been helpless and defenseless to the power of the ocean. I used all of the strength I had left in me, paddling for my life, and as my final stroke finally landed on the board, I experienced one of the greatest senses of relief that I’ve ever felt. I clutched that board like never before only to be smashed again seconds later by the next wave. It sent me rolling under the water but I wouldn’t let go of the board - it was my ticket into shore. My friend had reached me by this point and I finally was able to collect myself and get in front of a rolling white wash, letting it push me speedily towards the beach. I sauntered onto the sand, panting, exhausted, and somewhat in shock. My friend later told me that as that first wave hit, the suck of the wave from underneath that kept me submerged for so long also kept my board almost stationary, tomb stoning out of the water. He said he didn’t think I’d make it to my board before that second wave, and he was surprised at how fast I paddled to it. The mind can do amazing things to the body when in a state of distress I suppose. We headed to camp to relax and recover, it was my final day of surfing and I wouldn’t let anything stop me from a sunset session.

We got on a bus mid afternoon, heading towards Río Chico, a famous left-hand point break. I had surfed a lot of points here in Ecuador, but this was going to be the first left out of the entire six months, and being a goofy-footed surfer, I was ecstatic. The day before I had asked a local about Río Chico and he said that it was a super heavy and powerful wave that gets huge at low tide with a south swell beyond four feet. Well, we had a five foot or more south swell, and we arrived at Río Chico an hour before low tide. 
Río Chico is a beautiful, protected beach located within the lush coastal jungle of Manabí province. There is no development on the beach besides one small, eco-tourism focused hotel that had a beautiful garden with all sorts of flowers and trees that I had never seen before. We surveyed the water and the point looked rather unimpressive at first glance, but as we started to walk towards it and as the tide continued to go out, the waves kept coming in bigger and longer. We entered the water and made the long paddle around the breaking waves to the point in the distance, we were the only ones out there, and it was getting better every minute. We kept our distance from the point at first, weary of the way the wave peaked up so suddenly, and unsure of how fast it broke. After time though, as we felt that the wave was quite fat and heavy and we couldn’t paddle into it from the outside shoulder, we slowly moved closer to the point. Our Chilean friend that accompanied us caught the first wave, being the only one willing to wait in front of the rocks at the point, but after seeing him go we gained our courage. It was my final session after all; I needed to make the most of it. I moved towards the point and tried paddling into a few huge waves, but they were so thick that the only way I could drop into them on my short board was to basically catch it right as it was peeling over my head, which is incredibly intimidating in such heavy and big surf. But I was determined, and so it was that I committed myself to the wave, catching it at the last moment, dropping almost vertically down the huge slope of the wave and immediately turning up towards the top of the wave again in order to make the section before it crashed down on my head. After getting the feel of the wave I began to catch quite a few, getting more comfortable carving up and down the giant face of the wave. I surfed until I couldn’t feel my arms and then caught the perfect wave in, riding it flawlessly right from the point until it closed out near the beach, laying down on my board to let it take me into shore. I never imagined my final session to be so perfect, and as I cruised into the beach in that white wash I felt like my entire six months here in Ecuador, all of the ups and downs, culminated into that final wave.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Experiential View of International Development...

The field of international development is one of the most interesting manifestations of modern capitalist society. It is a field that thrives on the destitution of parts of the world, yet pays the salaries of generally open-minded, kind-hearted people who only want to eliminate such problems. Indeed, the field of international development uniquely has the main objective of making itself obsolete. It is an extremely complex field that inter-connects and overlaps with almost every other field in some way or another. This is what makes international development so hard to define. How do we define a word – development – that means so many different things to so many different people?

A Canadian mining company displaces an indigenous community in the Amazon, pollutes their only source of water with toxic chemicals causing generations of cancer and severe environmental damage, and creates relatively prosperous jobs for a quarter of the population. This is international development.
An organization from Switzerland sends a group of doctors to a community in Malawi where they use donated funds to rebuild, re-equip, and re-train doctors in new medical techniques that end up saving the lives of thousands of people. This is also international development.

How does someone working in the field of international development come to terms with the fact that they are part of a system that has the potential to do so much damage?
Such questions pervade the field and undoubtedly creep into the mind of any conscientious international development professional. If there is anything that I have learned over the last six months in working in Ecuador in the field of development, it is how I come to terms with such questions.

I applied for this position with a great sense of uncertainty – a feeling that followed me for several months right into Ecuador and into the communities where I found myself working. I was to be working in the area of sustainable tourism, which sounds pleasant to the average vacationer, yet remains a term mired in controversy in the field of development. I had lived in Central America for almost two years, and I had witnessed the socio-cultural and environmental damage that tourism can bring. I had worked in human rights in Honduras while it was under a coup-regime, where foreign-led tourism was given priority over the rights of the local people. It was clear to me that tourism had the potential to be a serious threat, and I feared that my position was going to fall on the wrong side of what I considered the opposing ends of international development. Despite such doubts I took the job, if only because I could not overcome one obvious contradiction that hung over my head: I am a tourist and traveling is my passion. There had to be a better way of practicing tourism, and I wanted to be a part of that.

After six months I can say that I believe that a specific form of sustainable tourism can act as a positive means of development, but my goal here is not to argue the merits of tourism. What is clear is that no matter what ones role in international development involves, there will always be a negative side. To argue that there is one perfect means of development that leaves nothing and no one behind is like arguing that there is one perfect political system where everyone will be happy. It is an ideal and nothing more, someone or something will always be left behind, and all that we can do is continue to work towards closing that gap between realism and idealism. While it is important for those working in international development to always consider such wider, philosophical questions, they must also consider the more subtle, simpler results of their work.

My position here involved living and working in a small community that had received very little support from the international community, let alone from their own government. I may very well be a foreigner, and some critics of international development will say that I have no business being in this country, invading this community. But the genuine sense of appreciation that the community members showed towards my presence was enough to convince me that my presence was positive, and that I was certainly wanted there. They demonstrated their appreciation not only by treating me with the utmost respect and professionalism, but also simply by working hard to organize and to prove that they desire and deserve such attention. So often in poor nations around the world, small communities or marginalized sections of society are completely forgotten and are left to fend for themselves. That foreigners come from across the world to pay attention to these groups often instills in them a new-found sense of pride, self-awareness, and self-respect. Whether the projects and initiatives that I undertook with the community will eventually be successful is a different question all together. What was important and what kept me going, was the fact that I knew that the community wanted me there, and that my simple presence was making a difference in their everyday lives.

This is how I come to terms with the fact that I work in international development. I consider the larger questions surrounding development only after considering the everyday impact of my work and the more subtle results of my presence. Perhaps there is merit to the argument that foreign presence does not contribute to positive development, and that the motives and objectives of development work are often twisted. But in many cases the alternatives are non-existent, and international development is a clear necessity. Ultimately, when someone working in development gets a firm hand shake, a bright smile, and a sincere thank-you from a community member that they worked with, it is that simple gesture that makes it worthwhile.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On Holidays...

As it turned out I spent Christmas eve with a welcoming local family in Cuenca, then the next morning got on a bus to Guayaquil to have Christmas dinner with the other Canadian interns here in Ecuador.  Who would have thought that the tastiest turkey I’ve ever had on Christmas would be in Guayaquil, Ecuador?

I travelled to the coast the next day, hoping to find waves and adventure without thinking about my work for a few days.  Within the span of three days I had gone from the cool city of Cuenca deep within the Andes mountains, to the dry coastal plains of Guayaquil, onto the lush tropical coast - this is Ecuador.  I checked into a tent camp in a little town called Ayampe.  I believe that this beach is the closest thing to paradise that I have yet to find.  It is situated within a portion of the coast where dense, lush tropical rainforest flourishes.  There are a few locally run restaurants and a series of hostels.  The beach is pristine and spotless, mostly covered in small rocks; it seems to keep the sunbathing crowds away.  The waves are absolutely perfect, and it is known as one of the most consistent beach breaks in the country.  While perfect, the waves are also incredibly powerful, and I sit here writing this now keeping my ear dry after receiving a wave to the side of my head and damaging my eardrum.

Before that little accident I had the opportunity to go scuba diving around Isla de la Plata, an island commonly known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos.  Fluttering 12 meters below the ocean beside a giant sea turtle as it looks at you from just a meter away rather disinterestedly is an incredible experience.  I was hoping to see a shark while diving but they are becoming more rare everyday, a fact only made clearer when I saw one the same day on the beach – dead, a by-catch of the local fishermen.

I headed to Montanita the day before New Years Eve, the same day that I damaged my ear.  By that point I wasn’t sure what I had done to myself and as the pain continued I went to the closest hospital to get checked out.  Now here is a word of advice, if you really don’t believe that what a doctor is telling you, seek another opinion.  Doctors are well trained, even in poor nations like Ecuador, but like everyone they are susceptible to human error.  In the emergency room of the hospital they were very kind, even giving me an injection for the pain, but they also told me that there was nothing wrong and that I just had water in my ear.  And so for the next few days I continued surfing without a worry in the world.  It wasn’t until a week later back in Guayaquil, when I went for a second opinion, that I was told that I had a large hole in my eardrum. 

Fortunately during the few days around New Years the pain had subsided and I was still under the impression that there was nothing wrong with me.  The New Years party in Montanita is not just on the 31st, but rather continues for three days.  Throughout the entire day and night for three days the beach was packed with hundreds of people.  The 31st consisted of endless fireworks and the burning of large paper mache figures referred to as Año Viejos.  Celebrating the new year in an international setting with people from around the world is always fun, but admittedly in Montanita, it was a little much.  By six am as the sun began to rise, seeing the passed out bodies strewn across the beach and watching the tide wash away the piles of garbage, I felt guilty and unimpressed.

I’m back in Playas now, buckling down for my final six weeks of work here in Ecuador.  It is an exciting time for both me and the people that I work with, as initiatives are beginning to come to fruition after a long period of uncertainty.  It seems as though I’ll be out of the water for a few weeks which definitely makes things hard, but I’m comforted by the fact that my accident could have been much worse, and that I’ll have a good few weeks of surf in the prime swell season before I leave for Canada.